Seaside Splendor

A decade of blooms follows decades of neglect in this off-the-beaten-path MDI garden.

Turrets Seaside Garden
By Jesse Ellison
Photographed by Douglas Merriam

Tucked away on the College of the Atlantic campus on Mount Desert Island, the Turrets Seaside Garden is easily overlooked. In fact, the 4,000-square-foot space it occupies was overlooked for decades. It was a tennis court in the earliest days of the giant stone “cottage” known as Turrets, a fortress-like residence built in 1895 by Bruce Price (the architect behind Quebec’s Château Frontenac) for an Ohio candle-manufacturing magnate and his bride. Only later did the family replace their court with a grand Italianate garden.

And then, for years, it wasn’t so grand. By the time COA bought the building in 1973, Turrets had been bought and sold repeatedly; the building and grounds had fallen into disrepair. For the next few decades, students periodically cleared brush from the old garden, but mostly it languished, overgrown and forgotten.

Until 2005, when a COA senior named Eamonn Hutton made a project out of reviving it. He designed a layout inspired by the original garden, but adapted to keep out deer and accommodate COA’s minimal budget for upkeep. He planted classic, English-style perennial gardens using cool-toned flowers like lavender, catmint, and globe thistles, inspired by the garden’s singular coastal setting at the edge of Frenchman Bay.

“The most striking thing,” says Hutton, now a Boston-based landscape architect, “is you have the foreground of the garden and then the view out to the bay, which is just really stunning.”

The Turrets Seaside Garden is open to the public during daylight hours spring through fall, and Hutton visits about every year. “It’s like seeing your friend’s kid after years,” he says. “You’re like, ‘Oh, wow, you’re so much bigger now. I knew you way back when!’”