On Maine’s rugged coast, interior designer Mallory Marshall furnishes her seaside dream garden with a hardy mix of sea-smart blooms.
Article: Rebecca Sawyer-Fay
1 of 7Photo: Lynn Karlin
Coastal Garden Challenges
Creating something from nothing—a daunting task under any circumstances but especially when that something is a lush garden that manages to survive a wind-whipped island’s brutal winters off the coast of Maine. “Sixteen years ago, this garden didn’t exist,” says homeowner Mallory Marshall. In its place, Mallory, an interior designer, and husband Peter Haffenreffer had a gravel driveway and parking pad that flooded regularly. Without a garden to anchor it, the white clapboard dwelling “looked as if it might run away,” Mallory says.
2 of 7Photo: Lynn Karlin
Tackling the Coastal Climate
The garden faced huge challenges: a harsh climate, miserable drainage, and a booming deer population. To solve the drainage problem, Mallory called on landscape contractors to bring in tons—literally—of gravel, crushed rock, and sand.
“The process took about three years,” Mallory says. “They even moved and replanted two sugar maples I couldn’t live without.” The contractors also created multiple levels for planting several gardens. “My plan was to make a green living room near the house,” she explains. “I wanted to bring the indoors out.”
3 of 7Photo: Lynn Karlin
To tackle the weather extremes of this mid-coast Maine location, Sue focused on proper mulching and plant selection. In late autumn, she covers the raised oceanfront perennial beds with a generous layer of spruce boughs. “The point isn’t to keep the plants from freezing,” Sue explains. “It’s to prevent them from thawing. You want them to remain dormant.”
She also uses seaweed collected on the beach as nutritive mulch, so plants receive trace amounts of boron, iodine, and other elements that encourage growth. And slugs steer clear because of the salt in every cartload of seaweed.
4 of 7Photo: Lynn Karlin
Planning Your Coastal Garden
Mallory chose plants for maximum visual impact as well as hardiness with the help of landscape and garden designer Sue Hatch, a lifelong resident of coastal Maine with a keen understanding of this climate and both native and non-native species. They considered foliage shape and texture, not just blossom color, so the garden would look appealing in any season.
5 of 7Photo: Lynn Karlin
Mallory and Sue also stuck with tried-and-true perennials and native trees and shrubs, such as paper birch and spruce, to further increase the garden’s survival odds. They opted for plants deer find less tasty, such as perennials with gray or felted foliage and plants with a pungent aroma.