The bountiful Trotochaud/McDowell Garden and Everyday Pottery Studio will open to the public as part of Belfast Garden Club’s Open Garden Days on Friday, Aug. 12 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., 103 Northport Road, Belmont.

“If people want to see what it is to garden, that it is not all glamour and successes [they should come to our garden],” said Mary Trotochaud, one half of this husband-and-wife gardening duo.

She and partner Rick McDowell show, through their gardens, that an abundance of beauty and sustenance can be grown in less-than-ideal conditions with hard work, conviction and a willingness to experiment.

After the feat of successfully growing an herb-and-salad garden while living in Baghdad, the creative gardening couple bought a home and a few acres in Belmont and began their most recent garden project. “There was no good topsoil to start,” Mary recalled, pointing to roots sticking out at the edge of the garden area. The property was filled with dense overgrown brush, and not much lawn or garden space existed.

Each year Mary and Rick have pushed back the scrub brush, extracted roots, rototilled a row or two more, and experimented with additions to enrich the soil, such as seaweed, manure and straw. Five years later the result is a substantial yard with a mosaic of flower beds, and rows of vegetable and herbs radiating around a lush grape arbor which boasts five varieties of grapes.

As visitors delve into this relaxed but tidy garden they will notice the attention to detail and design, which has been conceived and implemented by the couple, a potter and carpenter by trade.

The approach features a circular Dahlia bed with a sculptural birch and stoneware birdbath (made by Mary) at the entrance to Mary’s studio, and a zen-inspired stepped stone walkway up to the house designed and built by Rick from a photograph of an entranceway Mary admired. The steps are complimented by graduated beds of ornamental grasses and succulents.

In the back yard, the view opens wide with bursts of yellow, purple and red of annuals and perennials such as calendula, rhubeckia, sunflowers, zinnias, and Jerusalem artichokes. A sea of texture and shades of green from the diverse vegetable garden make a lovely backdrop to the floral color. A curvaceous rock wall has grown up from all the rocks removed from the garden over the years, and adds definition to the garden as well.

Several of the garden beds feature miniature ceramic bird baths, made by Mary in her pottery studio at the front of the property. A potter for 35 years, she describes the form of her work as heavily influenced by Japanese pottery. As for color, “I used to work primarily in neutrals, but the light, and nature I’ve experienced living in the Middle East and in Maine has inspired me to experiment with blues and greens lately,” she said.

Her studio is filled with salad bowls, cups, vases, pitchers and birdbaths, which glisten with a wide spectrum of colors all made with the layering of only eight glazes. The pottery studio will be open during the garden tour.

Mary and Rick’s gardening method includes many natural pest controls, such as companion planting for bugs, a solar electric fence for deer, and netting and chicken wire for birds and little creatures that forage the garden from the nearby forest. A small greenhouse helps extend the vegetable growing season, allowing tomatoes and eggplant a jumpstart in the spring, and for fresh salad greens to be harvested nine months out of the year.

The garden produced 30 quarts of tomatoes last year, and the couple is just finishing up the stored black beans from last summer’s crop. Their harvest this year will also include leeks, onions, swiss chard, potatoes, squash, and carrots, as well as fruits: raspberries, blueberries, cranberries, and strawberries, much of which they will can, freeze or store in their bulkhead root cellar.

Soon they can add apples, cherries, plum and peach to their fruit list from eight orchard trees they have planted. Rick is especially excited about a new path into woods he’s been cutting down a charming old farm road lined with apple trees. At the end of the path is an experiment with mushrooms; two kinds of Oyster, and a Shitaki cousin, which they look forward to harvesting later in the year.

Despite some adversity, but with the benefit of being willing to learn as they go, the two have created a luscious backyard garden rich in sustenance of food, beauty and peacefulness well worth visiting.

Directions to Trotochaud/McDowell Garden, 103 Northport Road, Belmont:

Take Route 52 from Belfast to Ryan Road on right (look for white sign with blue lettering “Pottery 1.9 miles”) Drive 1.9 miles (Ryan Road becomes Northport Road). Once you get close look for the yellow Open Garden signs.

Tickets for Belfast Garden Club’s Open Garden Days can be purchased at each garden, on the day of the tour for a donation of $4. Proceeds from the 2011 Garden Tour will benefit the Club’s civic beautification projects.

The 6th annual Belfast Garden Club Open Garden Days, features 13 gardens in the Belfast area (Belfast, Belmont, Searsport, Searsmont, Bayside and Northport). One garden per week will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Fridays through Aug. 26, rain or shine.

BGC Open Garden Days next garden will be Friday, Aug. 19 at the Anderson Garden at 93 Kaler Road, Belfast. Originally a hayfield for a dairy farm, this open, sunny location is now a CSA garden serving about 10 families who can come and harvest their own vegetables.

Flowers and bushes around house include blueberries, quince, magnolia, lilac, honeysuckle and an ancient oak tree can be seen down the hill by stream. Straw mulch and tomato cages made from concrete rebar maintain order when the northwesterly winds blow across the garden. Look up and you may see the nesting bald eagle in tall pine trees across the road or swooping across the sky. Handicap accessible.

For more information about Belfast Garden Club’s Open Garden Days call Diane Allmayer-Beck at 338-3105 or Martha Laitin at 948-2915 or email a question to, or visit

This article was written by Annadeene K. Fowler.