Shady Lady

Donna Primozich’s sprawling gardens flourish under the trees in western Maine.

Photographs by Kathleen Clemons
Shady Lady
Donna Primozich is so passionate about hostas that she and some gardener friends rented a van to attend the American Hosta Society Convention in Philadelphia in June.

Instead of perennial borders with flowers arranged by height, like schoolchildren in a class photo, Donna Primozich’s garden mingles with the woods around her home. Paths wind among wild trees (dogwoods, maples, and evergreens) as well as planted ones (tricolor beeches, butterfly magnolias, and gingko bilobas). Flowering hydrangeas climb their trunks. Big, lush hostas carpet their feet.

Spreading over 2 to 3 acres on Norway’s Holt Hill — Primozich doesn’t know exactly how much — the garden is one of the finest in Oxford County, according to Harriet Robinson, a vice president of the Garden Club Federation of Maine and a resident of nearby Otisfield.
Primozich has been growing her garden since 1975, when she and her husband, Chuck, built their home on what was then a densely wooded lot. They removed some trees and put in a lawn, and Donna began digging beds. “I became addicted to daylilies,” she says, “and then, as the trees that we planted grew and it became shady, to hostas.”

The latter dominate on a sylvan slope on the south side of the house, but with more than 400 meticulously labeled varieties, they’re anything but repetitive (the cultivars’ names alone are entertaining: Kinky Boots, Jolly Green Giant, Komodo Dragon, and The Fonz, to name a few). Astilbes, Japanese primroses, and ferns flourish in a wet and mucky downhill section that Primozich allows to “just fill and take care of itself.”

Uphill, she welcomes the native pagoda dogwoods that have popped up here and there. The trees have deep-blue berries that attract pileated woodpeckers. Scattered throughout are Dutchman’s breeches (their white flowers look like pants hanging upside down on a clothesline), blue- and yellow-flowering corydalis, several varieties of Solomon’s seal, and epimediums, which Primozich calls “the perfect plants.” “They make a pretty ground cover,” she explains, “and no one eats them.”

Shady Lady

A steel sign reading “Hosta,” made for her by the late South Paris recycle artist Colin Wilson, rises from a luxuriant green pocket of the garden near an old stone wall. It’s one of the few ornaments that Donna added to the garden herself. The many others are whimsical surprise gifts placed by Chuck — all the sweeter to her now because he passed away last year. They include metal dog silhouettes, birds made out of old hammers, and a wine rack that holds a growing collection of cobalt-blue bottles, some rescued from the trash on a garden tour, others contributed by friends.


Primozich is still passionate about daylilies, and there’s plenty of sunshine to nourish the more than 160 varieties that grow in island beds in her backyard and a small field on the house’s north side. “I love it,” Primozich says. “I love it all.”

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