Inspired and Inspiring: The Primozich Garden
About 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.
What 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, Donna 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.
Although 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.
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.
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.
Seating 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
…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.
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.
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.