Becoming the master gardener of four seaside acres is no easy task, but every day Cynthia Hosmer carefully cultivates the fruit trees, flowers, shrubs, and vegetable patches that are her family legacy.
Fishermen who regularly troll offshore say that the fragrance of Hosmer lilacs wafts all the way to their boats. But they’re
not the only ones who have caught wind of the garden near Brave Boat Harbor; word of this fabled Maine plot has floated around
gardening circles for decades.
Roots run deep here—an English family first settled the property in 1638. (Their burial ground still sits among the lilacs.) When Calvin and Marion Hosmer bought the land in 1948, they built a Georgian-style stone house and designed 4 acres of garden around it. Marion deftly sculpted the grounds for 45 years until her death in 1997, when her son and daughter-in-law, Calvin and Cynthia Hosmer, continued her work.
On the house’s ocean-facing side, a walled garden shelters the blooming delphiniums, lilies, and geraniums that surround tables
where the Hosmers eat breakfast.
Fruit-bearing trees—Cortland apples, kousa dogwoods, crabapples, plums, and pears—give depth and contour to the expansive lawn, and a natural wall of shagbark hickories takes the brunt of the Atlantic winds.
The vegetable and cutting gardens lie to the side of the house, buffered by raspberry bushes and capped with a rose-covered arbor. Growing a lavish cutting garden is all about planning for the right ingredients, so Cynthia chooses poppies, daylilies, roses, alliums, asters, and hollyhocks. She calls upon the hostas—both flowers and foliage—as filler for her bouquets.
Learning to care for a vegetable garden at water’s edge was a feat in itself, but she has a few tricks. She uses the ocean’s
finest fertilizer—seaweed—to spread over her garden in autumn to prepare for the following season’s food crops. To keep her
Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, and cauliflower healthy and free from cutworms, Cynthia lops the bottom off
a 4-inch plastic pot and places it like a collar around the veggies’ base. And even though potatoes are reluctant to grow
in rocky soil, she has a secret method: She goes the above-ground route, slicing the bottom from a 5-gallon container potted
with a potato plant.
Nothing would have been possible without efforts to forestall the fierce gusts coming in from the water. The hickory grove buffers the winds immediately offshore, and a walled garden shields the front garden while also forming the manorial courtyard. But Cynthia’s biggest success has been the balancing act between honoring her inherited garden’s past and updating it for future generations. “The sense of this garden is still intact,” she says.
Shrubs such as ninebark, viburnums, ‘Gold Thread’ chamaecyparis (pictured), magnolia, and weigela do double duty as filler
in arrangements. Cynthia finds versions with colorful or variegated foliage.
Shrubs such as buddleia (butterfly bush) and lilacs furnish flowers; lilies, hosta flowers, and foxgloves lend height; and
coreopsis, feverfew, lady’s mantle, gladiolus, and ferns are filler.
Cynthia plants a progression of alliums, from the large, round ‘Globemaster’ to the electric blue caeruleum and late-blooming
Her westerland roses (pictured) add beautiful color to her cutting garden, as do her poppies. She picks poppies in the morning when they’ve just opened, singes the stems, and plunges them into warm water.
The Hosmer garden is open to the public through the Garden Conservancy Open Days Program on July 24 and 25. For more info, visit gardenconservancy.org/opendays.