Belfast Garden Club's open garden series begins June 20

Jun 12, 2014
Photo by: Nancy C. Hauswald Elisabeth Wolfe and frogs-to-be

The Belfast Garden Club kicks off its ninth year of Open Garden Days on Friday, June 20, when the public is invited to visit the intriguingly diverse series of gardens that Elisabeth Wolfe and Michael Cunning have created at their home in Belfast.

In the past 10 years, they’ve created a frog pond, self-sowing annual garden, two organic vegetable gardens, a small shade garden and numerous patches of perennial gardens. Those who wish to take a five-minute walk on a path through woods will be rewarded with the sight of an enormous field of lupines in bloom.

Highlights of the property are the two vegetable gardens that were inspired by Ruth Stout (1884 – 1980) and her “no dig, no work, permanent mulch method.” Elisabeth explains, “This translates into 12- to 18-inches of mulch [hay, sawdust, seaweed and compost], and no tilling, weeding or much fertilizing need happen. No waiting on someone to till, no manhandling piles of manure, no pretending I’m following the proper rules for composting. Simple. Easy. Fun. Although I’m not sure about the “no work” part – I love working in my garden! My garden is not about neat and tidy rows or carefully manicured beds,” Elisabeth says. “I have no overall landscape plan.”

The smaller herb garden is adjacent to the house and enhanced with a raised fountain in the center. It provides a lovely, natural transition to the frog pond and woods beyond. The larger vegetable garden is a short walk from the house and greets the visitor with a charming, rustic “front door” that Michael built, integrating it with the high, protective wire fence that encloses the garden. Elisabeth gives full credit to Michael for being the brains and brawn behind all of the hardscape, which is extensive and includes stone walls, a patio, twig archway and wattle fences.

Inside the vegetable garden are approximately 20 rows of deeply mulched beds that provide a rich, earthy environment for budding peas, beets, lettuces, parsnips, broccoli, cabbage, asparagus, leeks, carrots, kale, and hops, among other goodies. Much of the food grown in the Wolfe-Cunning gardens is used in especially creative and delicious menus by their son, Galen, a chef in Portland.

New this spring is small footbridge that straddles a swale near the frog pond. Michael has capped it with an intricately woven “roof” made from twigs and limbs harvested from the woods, a salvaged nine-pane window that frames the frog pond, and a buoy bell. It’s delightful.

When Elisabeth isn’t outside, she’s inside looking out at her gardens from her favorite spot in their house, a screened-in porch. In early May, the sounds of peepers complemented a chorus of a dozen or more birdcalls and songs. “My garden is for the birds,” Elisabeth laughs. She is a knowledgeable birder and suggests that visitors on June 20 might want to bring their birding binoculars. Among the birds they might see or hear are pine warblers, chipping sparrows, black-throated green warblers, woodpeckers, sapsuckers, rose-breasted grosbeak, catbirds and blue jays.

The small shade garden serves as a green oasis that divides the driveway leading to Elisabeth and Michael’s lovely yellow cape that’s nestled in a clearing in the woods. A small table and chairs provide a place to enjoy hostas, astilbes, ferns, perennial geraniums and azaleas. Framing the house is a low stone wall and split rail fence that serve as a backdrop to plantings of tulips, poppies, iris, lupine and a climbing hydrangea.

Walking with Elisabeth through her gardens is like being with at least seven different people. She is a birder, naturalist, antique scavenger, cook, artist, craftswoman and all-round champion of the natural environment. Her enthusiasm for simply being outdoors and seeing what is chirping, hatching, growing or rooting is infectious – “Oh, look! Look at this! A Jack-in-the-pulpit is popping up!”

Elisabeth has a weakness for found objects (“My friends know I can’t say no to a piece of rust or an old piano’s innards or chipped china”) and an artist’s eye for using those objects to create charming vignettes in her gardens. A tiny parade of mismatched, broken dinner plates brightens a spot near the porch steps; a tired and tarnished teapot adds a bit of glimmer to a young hosta; more discarded china serves as planters for sedum that are perched atop tree trunks.

The Wolfe-Cunning garden, at 46 Herrick Road, will be open on Friday, June 20, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. From Belfast, go south on Route 1 to Perkins Road; bear left at the “Y.” The garden is a quarter-mile on the left.

This is the first of eight Open Gardens, all of which are on Fridays, rain or shine.

The next, on June 27, is the Russell-Oakley seaside garden in Belfast, which features extensive stonework and intricately designed beds that lead visitors from the street to the sea.

All eight Open Gardens can be visited by purchasing a $25 season pass (available at The Good Table or Brambles on Main St. in Belfast, or at Scallions in Reny’s Plaza, or at Aubuchon Hardware on Route 1) or by making a $4 donation at each garden. For a complete schedule, visit belfastgardenclub.org or pick up a brochure at numerous retail businesses in and around Belfast. For more information about Open Gardens, call Martha Laitin (948-2815) or email marthalaitin@yahoo.com.

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