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Inspired and Inspiring: The Primozich Garden

August 12, 2012

primozich garden entranceAbout ten years ago, when I was first beginning to garden seriously, I attended a series of annual garden tours sponsored by Maine’s McLaughlin Garden Foundation, each focused on a different community in the Oxford Hills region of western Maine. These garden tours were an important part of my education as a gardener; they introduced me to new plants and helped develop my beginner’s understanding of garden design. One of the best of those Oxford Hills garden tours featured gardens in Norway, Maine; and the most memorable of those gardens was the shade garden created by Donna Primozich. When I learned earlier this summer that, after a hiatus of many years, the McLaughlin Foundation was once again sponsoring an Oxford Hills garden tour, that the featured community would be Norway, and that the Primozich garden would be on the tour, I was thrilled. I was eager to view this garden with more educated eyes and to see how it had developed during the past decade. I was not disappointed; the garden was every bit as wonderful as I had remembered, and then some.

primozich shady pathWhat I remembered was a large shade garden with paths that wound among the trees, punctuated by repeated plantings of large hostas. I remember Donna telling us that she had divided a few established hostas repeatedly to make the development of this garden affordable. When I entered the Primozich property from the road on this visit, there, bordering the driveway, was the large shade garden that I remembered. But the garden had also developed in the intervening years. Existing plants had grown and matured, and new plants and new garden areas had been added. (For example, the hosta collection has grown from a few repeated plants to over 450 different varieties.) I remembered a small sunny garden area behind the house on my first visit, but this area seemed much larger this time. In addition, when the Primozichs had a wooded area on the far side of the house cleared to install a wind turbine in 2009, primozich twisted daylilyDonna took advantage of the opportunity to add a vegetable garden and new sunny perennial beds. The expansion of the garden has also allowed Donna to indulge her love of daylilies (Hemerocallis), with more than 400 different varieties. The new area around the wind turbine includes a number of large varieties with twisted petals like this one, which whimsically echo the shape of the turbine blades. The garden now covers about 2 acres and probably includes thousands of different varieties of plants.

primozich sunny bedsAlthough the Primozich garden has clearly distinct garden areas with their own personalities (e.g., the shade garden bordering the driveway, the sunny borders behind the house, the new garden around the wind turbine), these are not divided into clearly defined garden rooms, but are designed to flow into one another, with subtle distinctions between one area and the next and gentle transitions between them. For example, the shade garden has wood chip paths and the sunny borders behind the house are connected by grassy paths. In the transition areas, you may find a grassy path that narrows and has shade-loving plants growing along it, or a shady path that is covered in moss rather than wood chips.

primozich path transition primozich shade to sun
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This is a garden that is designed to be in, not just to look at. The paths beckon you in and onward, and seating areas scattered throughout the garden invite you to stop, rest, and drink in the beauty.

primozich seating1 primozich seating2

I was particularly taken with the use of color in the Adirondack chairs below. This photograph was taken from a considerable distance away, and you can see that the chartreuse hue simultaneously blends in with and stands out from the woodland setting.

primozich seating3a

primozich shady path2Seating areas often serve as focal points in the in the Primozich garden. Garden ornaments and art also serve the dual functions of providing focal points and urging you to pause and bask in the visual pleasure. These ornaments include bird baths and the occasional container planting; but there are also major works of art in this garden. Two of my favorites were this metal sculpture of a great blue heron by Clinton Jones

primozich heron

…and this amazing feldspar snowy owl by Andreas von Huene which hangs by a steel cable from a large oak tree limb and seems to glide on the breeze.

primozich owl

There is no question that Donna Primozich is a talented and inspired gardener. As I walked around the garden the day of the garden tour, I noticed that many visitors were carrying notebooks where they jotted down inspirations for their own gardens. One particular inspiration for me was Donna’s use of trees in the garden. I have often said that I will not be planting trees in my own garden because it is surrounded by woods; but Donna Primozich, gardening in a similar wooded setting, has both incorporated the native woodlands into her garden design and added special specimen trees. The new garden area includes a young Metasequoia (Dawn Redwood), one of only a few species of deciduous conifers, which will be a striking presence in the garden when it matures. Another area features a Stewartia, with its gorgeous bark and camellia-like flowers. Most striking of all is this tricolor beech (Fagus sylvatica) that provides a beautiful focal point at the entrance to the shade garden.

primozich tricolor beech

As visitors gazed in awe at this garden, a frequent topic of conversation was the work involved in maintaining it, with speculation about how many gardeners were on staff. But I know from talking to Donna that she does all the work herself (except for mowing the grassy areas, which is her husband’s province).  She told me that once, urged to do so by friends, she had hired someone to do some gardening maintenance for her, but ended up wishing she had done it herself. She smiled, shrugged, and explained, “I really just like doing the work.” As I consider new garden expansion projects of my own, this reassurance of what one woman can manage was the biggest inspiration of all.

Even more than my first visit to the Primozich garden, this visit left me feeling renewed, inspired, energized, and eager to get to work in my own garden.

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26 Comments leave one →
  1. August 12, 2012 12:45 pm

    Truly an amazing garden. It all looks so seamless. And to think she does the whole thing herself. As you said, an inspiration.

    • August 13, 2012 9:49 pm

      Karen, “Seamless” is such a good word to describe the design of this garden. (I wish I’d thought of using it :-|.) I realized after I got home that I had taken very few photos of the new area of the garden, and I think it’s because that part is still looking a little raw and doesn’t yet blend in seamlessly with the rest of the garden.

  2. Nan Hyland permalink
    August 12, 2012 2:21 pm

    This is a great post! What beauty and inspiration this garden offers to the beholder and to all of us gardeners out here in the ether. I dont usually comment but I was impelled to do so by the stark beauty contained in the photographs and your lyrical descriptions. Thank you so much for sharing this amazing garden.

    • August 13, 2012 9:50 pm

      Nan, Thanks for commenting. This really is an amazing garden, much moreso than I could ever convey.

  3. August 12, 2012 3:38 pm

    Jean I am in awe that she does all the work herself. It is really a stunning garden full of inspiration. I need to do more dividing and creating from the lovely plants already in my garden….time to be more inspired…thanks.

    • August 13, 2012 9:51 pm

      Donna, I’m glad the inspiration comes through second hand. A couple hours spent in this garden is like a mini-spiritual retreat for gardeners!

  4. August 12, 2012 5:16 pm

    I like the paths through the shade garden and the bench. Are those Turk’s Cap lilies in the fifth picture up?

    • August 13, 2012 9:53 pm

      Jason, I don’t know if this is the species of Lilium that is usually called by the common name “Turk’s Cap” or a close relative. I love the way they’ve been planted together with the Actaea.

      • August 14, 2012 7:58 am

        Goodmorning!
        They are the Turks-cap lilies and all grew from one given to me many years ago.

        • August 14, 2012 8:12 am

          Thanks for the positive identification, Donna.

  5. August 12, 2012 7:55 pm

    Beautiful post and photos. What struck me the most is that the photos look like paintings — which is a testament to the art of gardening. I would love to sit in one of those green chairs and just breathe.

    • August 13, 2012 9:56 pm

      Kevin, What an interesting observation about the photos; I can see what you mean. I wonder if that painterly effect is a consequence of the weather conditions. As you can see in the first photo, it had been raining (actually quite heavily) as we started the day and remained overcast and very humid even after the rain stopped. I’m thinking that maybe the misty conditions and the wide aperture needed in the low light resulted in a kind of soft focus. A happy accident.

  6. August 13, 2012 2:08 am

    Eye candy for gardeners! Thank you Jean. Humbling to think she does it all herself. I’d always love to see a ‘day in the life’ diary of such a gardener, a list of their tools, their planning schedules etc. I can only think you need to run a garden like that like a large corporation if you’re going to do it single-handedly. (If that is not a contradiction 🙂 .)

    • August 13, 2012 9:58 pm

      Jack, What a great idea for a post! Maybe next year I’ll see if Donna would let me interview her — or, even better, work with her for a day in her garden with my tape recorder and camera at hand. I did feel as though maintaining this garden must be the equivalent of a full-time job.

  7. August 13, 2012 4:39 pm

    Now you know that I wish I had been able to join you in your visit to this gorgeous garden. A virtual tour is second best though. Thanks agin for inviting me.

    • August 13, 2012 9:59 pm

      Carolyn, You would love this garden (especially since you know so much more about shade plants than I do!). I have an open invitation to go back when there’s not a tour, so maybe we can arrange a visit next year.

  8. August 14, 2012 12:14 am

    For me it’s the ‘symphony’ of greens. All shades and hues seem to be represented, punctuated here and there with other colors, especially that gorgeous day lily. Nice post, Jean.

    • August 14, 2012 10:27 pm

      Hank, What a great description! One of the interesting features of that ‘symphony of greens’ is that it looks so fresh. When I look at that first photo, it looks more like the garden in late spring than in late summer.

  9. August 14, 2012 11:13 am

    Donna is truly a gardener after my own heart! How I would love to meet her and see her lovely garden. Thanks for giving me a peek. I love how she has taken the windmill, which I would probably consider an eyesore, and made a garden around it. The twisted daylily is a stroke of genius!

    • August 14, 2012 10:28 pm

      Deb, It is interesting to see how much the feel of the shade garden here resembles the feel of your woodland garden — even though you and Donna garden in such different climates.

  10. August 14, 2012 11:19 am

    Hi Jean, it looks like a wonderful garden to get lost in, really natural and beautiful. I find there’s nothing quite like wandering around a garden like this to lift the spirits. Thank you for virtually taking me there.

    • August 14, 2012 10:29 pm

      Sunil, I could have happily stayed in this garden all day.

  11. August 15, 2012 3:13 am

    What a scenic place to visit, it must have been a a joy to see it so well after ten years. 450 hemerocallis and I am caring so much for my only one!!! I am so envious of tall trees and green everywhere, I miss it very much! Thanks Jean.

    • August 17, 2012 10:06 pm

      Lula, We have a lot of tall trees and green in Maine! The comparison between 450 hemerocallis and one may be unfair to you; hemerocallis are very easy-care plants in this climate. Basically, you put them in the ground and they grow and bloom. 🙂

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