It Doesn’t Get Sweeter Than This Belfast Backyard

A garden designer turns her studio into an enchanting guest cottage immersed in flowers.

A garden designer turns her studio into an enchanting guest cottage immersed in flowers.
By Virginia M. Wright
Photos by Dave Waddell
From the Summer 2023 issue of Maine Homes by Down East

During the uncertain early days of the Covid pandemic, Kate Mcleod invited her daughter, Eve, a graduate student in Canada, to wait out the shutdowns at home in Belfast. But first, they agreed, Eve would quarantine, so Mcleod quickly prepared a place for her in the atelier at the edge of the perennial gardens that Mcleod, a garden designer and artist, has planted over most of her one-acre lot.

Though not built for habitation, the 425-square-foot, two-room studio was charming. Its builder, Belfast’s Joe Holmes, had used boards he milled from pines felled on the property not long after Mcleod bought it in 2010, and incorporated some of her many yard-sale finds, including multi-paned doors salvaged from a South Carolina hotel demolition. Mcleod cleared out her paint cans, brushes, and rags and set up a bed alongside a small antique dresser. Then, as the garden was coming into its spring glory, Eve settled in for a stay that proved to be less exile than idyllic holiday. “Oh my God, I love it out here!” she told her mother.

Mcleod realized she had a guest cottage in the making. Between her midcoast garden business and her boutique hotel in Nicaragua, she rarely had time to paint anymore, so she asked Holmes to help her complete the studio’s transition in time for her other daughter Sage’s wedding in the gardens the next summer. “Joe’s a typical millionth-generation Mainer: he can do anything,” Mcleod says. “He grows vegetables, he fishes for lobsters, he landscapes, he builds. And he’s got a good eye. He’ll take an old piece of wood and turn it into a beautiful counter.”

Catmint, dahlias, peonies, and rare day lilies nearly engulf the ivy-covered cottage, though Mcleod has carved out a spot for a wood-fired hot tub and a deck with an outdoor shower.

Holmes built a deck and stairs and installed a kitchenette equipped with a two-burner cooktop, mini fridge, and cast-iron sink Mcleod found in a field in neighboring Monroe. Plates and mugs are stored in a pair of wooden crates attached to the wall. Mcleod, wanting to create a romantic space for Sage and her future husband, stenciled a floral pattern on the bedroom’s hemlock floor and furnished it and the kitchen/living area with antiques and curios that suit the rustic interior. Belfast’s Ambiance lamp-repair shop rewired her grandmother’s beloved crystal chandeliers, and she hung one in a whitewashed bedroom corner and gave the other to the couple as a wedding gift.

Since the wedding, Mcleod has continued to make improvements. She expanded the gardens, so the cottage, now covered in glossy green ivy, is fully immersed in fragrant, brilliant blooms from spring through fall. Gravel patios furnished with tables and chairs extend the living space and connect to paths wending throughout the terraced flower beds. Behind the cottage is an outdoor shower and wood-fired hot tub. Inside, beneath her grandmother’s chandelier, is a bathroom sink that Mcleod picked up at a trash-and-treasure barn for $25. The exposed framing serves as shelves for miscellanea, like the mid-century milk-glass vases and hammered-aluminum pitchers she collects. There’s a record player and a collection of 1960s and 1970s albums, but no TV or internet. “A lot of my guests come from the city,” she explains, “and I want them to have a whole different experience.”

May 2024, Down East Magazine

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