• By Janine Pineo •
Chances are slim that I had ever been to Montville before Sunday.
Which is sad because it’s only minutes outside of Belfast and is, quite frankly, beautiful country.
I took advantage of Sunday’s perfect weather to participate in Open Farm Day, where Maine farms invite folks to stop in to see what is happening. I guarantee you it would surprise you.
I chose The Heirloom Garden of Maine for less than obvious reasons. I know you’re thinking heirlooms and a garden are right up my alley — and they are — but the business is also co-owned by someone I’ve known for nearly two decades.
In fact, Diana George Chapin and I started writing about gardening for the Bangor Daily News at about the same time. We’d connected again earlier this year, and I had been wanting to visit to see what had been keeping Diana happy all these years. With that Open Farm Day invitation, the sun shining and a tank full of gas, I was on my way.
I admit I missed the turn and ended up circling through Liberty and then back onto Route 3. But I found the dirt road that wound through the woods, with houses and businesses along more than two miles before the road opened up to where there was an historic house on the proverbial hill and the garden and greenhouses across the road with a vista that looks over miles of Maine hills.
I could see Diana in the garden with other visitors, and as I parked the car, a woman came out of a small building. I had my suspicions as to her identity and so introduced myself to Sandy George, Diana’s mother and co-owner of the business.
Sandy welcomed me amidst the baa-ing of sheep across the road. Those would be the seven lambs keeping them busy this summer. Sandy told me about the building we were standing in; it used to be a sheep shed, but her husband raised it, put it on a hay wagon and moved it to its present location. He added some height to the walls, for sheep aren’t too tall, you know. And then he refinished the inside with some lovely pine. Today, the building is the place where you pay for your purchases and displayed for sale are odds and ends you might find in an antiques store.
As I headed for the garden area, I was struck by the view down the gentle slope as grass turned to field and then woods. Beyond the treetops were the faraway hills, a swath of blueberry land slashed across one of them. The quiet heat of midday shimmered around me as I walked to the garden.
It has been dry for weeks in Montville. As I later found out, there hadn’t been rain for a month, and it showed in the brown grass and dry-as-dust soil. But most of the plants were managing, a sign of established roots and judicious mulching.
As I took pictures of the multitudes of flowers in bloom, I pleased myself by identifying a good many of them, at least which species or genus it might be. But it would be Diana who ticked them off when she looked at them later.
Nigella, larkspur, zinnia, sunflowers, tithonia, sweet peas, gaillardia and love-lies-bleeding were in full flower among the annuals. Chamomile, coneflower, bouncing bet, elecampane and black cohosh were some of the perennials going strong.
Diana and I finally met up, both of us declaring it was easy to recognize the other, probably in no small part from looking at each other’s column logo for years. She introduced me to one of her daughters, Emma, who was born during the BDN years. She is, of course, all grown up.
We sat under the shade of a canopy and talked about plants and the farm. Her husband wandered by to ask about something and then headed back. We spoke of chickens and sheep and mowing lawns and snacked on cucumber sandwiches. Diana talked about the land that has been in her family since the early 1960s. She said the farmhouse was actually closer to the road until her mother, as general contractor, moved it back to where it sits now. Diana and her brood live just down that way, she said.
Regretfully, I finally said farewell, if only because I know days are long and there’s always something that needs to be done. Two of the sheep had made their way to the slope by the road, eyeing me warily as they chomped away.
After taking their picture, I looked up and saw an arbor surrounded by golden grass, spotting a stone sitting before the leafy green structure. And wondered.
Stepping into the gift shop, I spoke again with Sandy, a quick goodbye turning into a long talk about being connected to the earth and finding peace there. And that stone by the arbor is where her husband is buried, he who said it’s where he wanted to be just a short time before his sudden death.
From there, she said, is the best view across the family’s land and over the face of Maine.
No, I’d never been to Montville before Sunday. It felt like home.
Published in the Bangor Daily News on July 28, 2012.
Diana George Chapin contributes the occasional piece about heirlooms on Garden Maine. Click here for more.
A number of plants grown at The Heirloom Garden of Maine have been featured in The Daily Plant on Garden Maine, including several this week, starting with tithonia.