BELFAST — Kate McLeod creates. The Belfast resident created her own landscape design firm, Kate McLeod Design, in Belfast. McLeod also created a hotel in Nicaragua on the shore of a lagoon — inside a volcano. She recently opened an Airbnb at her design business on Belfast’s Patterson Mill Road. All these endeavors created employment opportunities for people in the communities served by her entrepreneurial energy.

McLeod has never held a job, outside of scooping ice cream in high school, that she hasn’t created for herself — and her creations are spectacular.

Dozens of the most breathtaking gardens in Midcoast Maine are the work of Kate McLeod Design. Her client list is extensive, loyal and extremely satisfied.

“We cannot recommend Kate highly enough,” said Rockport resident Anne Clark, “for her genuine love of gardening, her strong work ethic and enthusiasm. She goes out of her way to please her clients, sharing new plant discoveries and offering suggestions on how best to combine new colors and textures.”

The gardens designed and maintained by McLeod and her crew are often described as living art and provide regular stops for local garden tours.

“We make people’s lives more beautiful,” she said. “I love the process of creation, and I like to work.”

She comes by all of this naturally. Born in New Brunswick, McLeod said her parents were avid gardeners and much of her youth was spent “playing” in the gardens they kept and maintained. There she developed a sense of the annuals and perennials that work in a maritime environment and discovered her passion for the creative process.

McLeod attended art school at McGill and Concordia universities in Canada, where she studied art history and developed a social conscience. During a summer break she traveled to Guatemala.

“There was a war going on,” she said. “I went to see how I could be helpful.”

McLeod returned to college and followed that up with a stint at the New Brunswick College of Craft & Design before moving to Belfast in 1994.

By this time, McLeod had two young daughters, Eve and Sage, and spent time in her own garden with them while considering how to create her design business. She opened her design firm a few years later with an early client list almost exclusively from Camden and Rockport.

McLeod’s approach to her clients is consistent.

“I want to learn what they like, what they don’t like,” she explained. “What colors and textures appeal to them. I make my own suggestions, but it’s important to understand their vision.”

Window boxes are a specialty of Kate McLeod Design. Photo courtesy of Kate McLeod.

McLeod and her team will then learn about the land, soils, terrain, structures and surroundings to turn that vision into reality.

The next step is the work in creating that vision. While some gardens can be designed and installed within a season, most take a year to several years before they are complete. McLeod seeks to keep her gardens weed-free and her firm uses only organic materials during installation and maintenance. The make-up of any garden may change from year to year based on a client’s preference, or from McLeod’s suggestions.

“I love native plants,” she said, “but I also love tropicals and things that are a bit more exciting. We love to mix it up.

Gardens designed, installed and maintained by Kate McLeod have been referred to as living art. Photo courtesy of Kate McLeod.

With her daughters graduated, McLeod’s mind wandered south.

“I remembered how I always thought I’d have a hotel in Central America,” she said. “So I went to Nicaragua and started looking for a place to buy.”

McLeod and her late brother Harvey found and purchased Casa de las Aves, a hotel/retreat on the shore of Laguna de Apoyo in Nicaragua. The hotel sits 800 feet below the rim of the dormant Granada volcano.

“It’s magical,” McLeod said. “You can float on your back in the lagoon and look at the stars through the rim of the volcano.”

Kate McLeod’s hotel/retreat in Nicaragua is located beside a lagoon and inside the dormant Granada volcano. Photo courtesy of Kate McLeod.

McLeod spends much of the winter months at Casa de las Aves, gardening, and cooking for guests. The hotel/retreat has a staff of eight, all locals who otherwise might not find ways to support their families.

The five-room hotel is decorated with McLeod’s unique gardening touches, but she says its location alone is the draw.

“It’s ancient,” she said of the land surrounding Casa de las Aves. “It’s in a sleeping volcano with vents that warm the water to around 85 degrees. The dining room is only 100 feet from the beach.”

Casa de las Aves has become a place for McLeod to recharge through the winter as she prepares to head north and create living masterpieces throughout Midcoast Maine. While in Nicaragua, she works to improve the lives of her “southern” community. She recently led an effort to purchase mattresses for older women, most of whom have never slept on a mattress in their lives. She also adopts, and occasionally rehomes, Nicaraguan street dogs.

McLeod has recently added and Airbnb to her Belfast property on Patterson Mill Road, a property with a 3/4-acre garden. She dreams of hosting workshops in that garden in the near future.

“It would be for groups of, like, 20 people,” she said. “I’d like to use my garden as a home base. They could come and have a garden tour and hang out, drink tea, eat cake and enjoy a workshop.”

Given Kate McLeod’s track record, creating this latest vision might just be a piece of cake.