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Highlights of the Brunswick Garden Tour

August 3, 2013

Deinanthe cerulea flowerOn a sultry Sunday in July, I met Carolyn of Carolyn’s Shade Gardens for a day of touring gardens in and around the mid-coast town of Brunswick, Maine. The garden tour was a fundraiser for the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program. The gardens featured were, for the most part, not professionally designed, but were gardeners’ labors of love.

There were large gardens and small gardens, gardens created by plant geeks and gardens whose owners cared only about creating beauty and not about the names of their cultivars, gardens that framed a view and gardens that were the view, gardens where the plants took center stage and gardens where plants were used to create a setting.

sky hy plantingThe garden I found most interesting was one of the latter. Bob Metivier’s “Sky Hy” garden is constructed as a series of terraces built into the side of a ridge. While there are beautiful plants in this garden, the plantings are not the main focus; rather plants provide the setting for social interaction.

What a visitor to Sky Hy is most aware of is not plants, but stone. There are stone ledges that have been integrated into the garden’s design, and amazing stonework, all of which Metivier, a potter, has done himself.  Patios paved with stone provide space for a dining area with tables and chairs

sky hy stone circle

sky hy conversation area … or for an inviting conversation area with a combination of sunshine and dappled shade.
Rocks and stones are used to create paths that lead a visitor through the garden from one social area to another. sky hy stone path

The work that has gone into creating this garden is mind-boggling, and the results are both exciting and inviting. It was easy to imagine myself at one of the parties or pot-luck suppers that Bob Metivier regularly hosts in his garden.

Geranium phaeumUltimately, though, for me gardens are about plants. So my favorite garden of the day was the one that introduced me to new plants and provided inspiration for my own garden. This garden had a number of distinct planting areas, some sunny and some shady. It was the shady areas that had the most to teach me, and I was particularly smitten with two shade plants that I had never seen before. (Happily, I was with a shade plant expert who could not only identify these plants but tell me about their growing conditions.) The first plant that I fell in love with was a Geranium phaeum (above) with dramatic variegated leaves. I want this plant in my garden, and I know just the spot for it. Now I just have to find a place to buy it!

deinanthe ceruleaThe second plant I was smitten by was growing with some hostas and other shade plants under some trees. It has large dramatic foliage and flowers that remind me of passion flowers (see the photo at the top of this post). Carolyn identified it for me as Deinanthe caerulea (also known as False Hydrangea). Thank goodness she was with me, because none of my perennial reference books mention this plant. It also turns out to be difficult to find, but a web search found it for sale at Plant Delights. I wanted this one so badly I could taste it, and I’m happy to report that it is already planted in my Serenity Garden (where some plants that were not thriving there were moved to make room for it).

I’m delighted that Carolyn invited me to join her on this garden tour; it was a fun and productive day, combining the pleasures of friendship, gardens, and gardening inspiration.

41 Comments leave one →
  1. August 4, 2013 1:54 am

    I think the Geranium in your pic might be G. phaeum ‘Samabo’. It looks like it anyway – I bought from Beth Chatto’s nursery several years ago. The flowers are very dark purple (not the light purple of the species). It covered an area under an apple tree in my garden very quickly from just one plant.
    The Deinanthe is lovely too – wish I had more shade areas to clothe.
    Thanks for the post!

    • August 4, 2013 2:56 am

      Sorry Jean – should be ‘Samobor’ …

      • August 7, 2013 10:06 pm

        Cathy, I’m not sure this was ‘Samobor;’ I think maybe the flowers were less showy. But ‘Samobor’ is one that I can probably find for sale and that would provide that same gorgeous variegated foliage. Thanks for the suggestion.

  2. August 4, 2013 4:11 am

    That false hydrangea is a new plant to me.

    • August 7, 2013 10:09 pm

      This plant seems to be a hidden gem. Thank goodness I was with the very knowledgeable Carolyn Walker; I don’t think I ever would have identified it otherwise.

  3. August 4, 2013 1:37 pm

    Wanting things so badly – hmmm yes exactly, that’s just what it feels like. Sometimes I think I’ve edged past that, to a place where I only buy things that will work, but then I fall again, unable to bear another moment without that new plant. This one looks like a worthy contender.

    • August 7, 2013 10:10 pm

      Jane, I’m hoping this one will work — although I find you never know until you actually put the plant in the ground and see if it’s still there the following spring. I do hope I’m past the stage of buying totally unsuitable plants that have no hope of success in my garden.

  4. August 4, 2013 1:52 pm

    Ah, Jean, you leave me feeling so isolated in my gardening here in darkest Africa! What a wonderful serendipitous plant for your serenity garden… Enjoy!

    • August 7, 2013 10:14 pm

      Jack, I am enjoying this new plant and hoping it will settle in comfortably. I had a setback when I went out the morning after I had planted Deinanthe cearulea (and several other plants) and found that the resident skunk had dug them all up during the night, leaving lots of holes in the ground and dirt and plants strewn around. Fortunately, the skunk wasn’t after the plants but yummy grubs that might be hanging out in that newly disturbed soil. I replanted everything and then put up a little fence around it to discourage a repeat performance.

  5. August 4, 2013 4:38 pm

    Beautiful gardens and I had never heard of the false hydrangea. I will note it if I can keep a shade garden when I remove the trees.

    Jean I have several Geranium phaeum that have different leaves and flowers. I find the darker flowers and leaves do seed around a bit. If you cannot find it let me know and I will send or bring you a nice piece when I finally visit.

    • August 7, 2013 10:15 pm

      Donna, That is a very generous offer and I may take you up on it. It’s good to be warned that this is a spready plant and that I should site it accordingly!

  6. August 4, 2013 9:19 pm

    Wonderful information and the photos were superb. I am always looking for new ideas so I enjoyed both gardens you reviewed. I stopped to research the plant suggestions before leaving a comment…thank you.

  7. August 5, 2013 4:16 am

    I have that Geraniium Phaeum too Jean, it gives fabulous early spring colour to my garden and is as hardy as old boots and does well in any aspect I’ve put it in. I usually cut the whole thing back as soon as the flowers fade and then I get a second flush later in the year.
    I agree with Cathy Thompson above, the geranium does look like ‘samabo’ and that’s the one I have, I bought it off Ebay.
    False Hydrangea is a new one to me but I shall be very interested to hear how it fairs for you and what you think of it.

    • August 7, 2013 10:17 pm

      Linda, When I did a search for Geranium phaeum, I found that it is much more readily available in the UK than in the US. Who knows why!

  8. Linda B permalink
    August 5, 2013 12:00 pm

    If you can’t find a plant anywhere else you can find it at Plants Delight. Many years ago my Master Gardeners group took a bus trip to the open house. It was rainy and cool but we gardeners did not mind.

    • August 7, 2013 10:26 pm

      Linda, I bet that was a wonderful trip. Plant Delights does have a couple of Geranium phaeum cultivars in their on-line catalog, but neither of them have those dark variegated leaves. They were the only source that I could find of Deinanthe cearulea, however.

  9. August 5, 2013 3:29 pm

    Hi Jean, I love the stonework of that patio. I would tend to fill the open area with pots but with stonework like that, I can see why it was left clear. It sounds like you had a very enjoyable time. Garden, friends and gardening are the perfect combination.

    • August 7, 2013 10:29 pm

      Sunil, The stonework throughout this garden was amazing. Although I wonder if I would have appreciated the plants more if the stonework wasn’t such a focal point.

  10. August 6, 2013 3:08 am

    The gardens are fabubous, even if those plants are not familiar with us, i love most that geranium! I wonder if the flowers will turn out lovely too.

    • August 7, 2013 10:30 pm

      Andrea, I love that geranium, too. There were a few flowers in bloom, and I remember them as self-effacing; the foliage was definitely the star.

  11. August 6, 2013 7:53 pm

    I too love the stone and rockwork. That meandering wall is wonderful! And though a terraced garden with so many public areas must have been a mind-boggling amount of work to create, I’d sure love to have one. In another life, perhaps : -)

    • August 7, 2013 10:32 pm

      Emily, Parties for dozens of people is definitely not my style, so while I very much enjoyed visiting this garden, I didn’t covet it.

  12. August 8, 2013 10:14 pm

    I could definitely see myself getting some of that Geranium – and the False Hydrangea is intriguing (there’s that “false” again)! I love that bench in the first picture.

    • August 9, 2013 9:52 pm

      Jason, The “false hydrangea” name for this plant mystified me — neither the flowers nor the leaves reminded me of hydrangea. This struck me as such a unique plant that it needs its own unique common name rather than one that suggests its a second-rate version of something else!

  13. August 8, 2013 11:07 pm

    If you can’t locate Geranium phaeum locally, one mail order source specializing in geraniums of all types, including the true geraniums, is Geraniaceae in Northern California ( ). I’ve ordered plants from this source before and they arrived in beautiful shape. The grower, Robin Parer, offers several varieties of G. phaeum. (I know because ‘Samobor’ is on my wish list.)

    • August 9, 2013 9:53 pm

      Kris, Thanks for this link; what an amazing collection of plants in their catalog! I was swooning just browsing through it.

  14. August 10, 2013 1:47 pm

    What a beautiful tour you photos took me on. I love, LOVE love the stonework patios framed so nicely by all the plant life. If it were me, I’d have a few pops of color in there but as it is it’s a very tranquil setting and maybe that’s as it should be.

    • August 20, 2013 10:23 pm

      Jean, There were colorful terraces in the garden, but I seem to have chosen to photograph the more tranquil ones. (I may have been seeking out cool tones because it was a very hot day :-))

  15. August 11, 2013 5:12 pm

    What a beautiful garden and how lucky you were to have such a knowledgeable guide. This kind of post just makes me yearn for shade, and shade I could sit in.

    • August 20, 2013 10:25 pm

      Pat, the photographs are actually of three different gardens — the one with the views of the water, Sky Hy (the one with all the terraces and stonework), and the one with the fabulous shade plants. All three gardens had beautiful spots where you could sit and enjoy.

  16. August 12, 2013 8:55 am

    What a lovely visit!

  17. August 14, 2013 1:19 pm

    Hi Jean, I want it also. I love the leaf variegation on Geranium phaeum almost like a Pelargonium. I bet your garden tour was a blast. .

    • August 20, 2013 10:28 pm

      Alistair, I have lots of hardy geranium sin my garden, but nothing with this kind of strong leaf variegation. Happily for you, Geranium phaeum varieties seem to be more readily available in the UK than the US. Happily for me, I can use it as an excuse to visit Carolyn’s Shade Gardens again and get one there.

  18. August 15, 2013 7:07 am

    Jean, thanks so much for sharing photos of Sky Hy. This is a garden after my own heart … one that incorporates natural conditions, i.e. stone outcroppings, into the design. I’d love to see it in person, but am happy to see it through your eyes.

    • August 20, 2013 10:31 pm

      Joene, I wish I had done a better job of photographing the ways that Bob Metivier used stone ledges in the garden — one, for example, that was planted as an Alpine garden. (See the last two photos in Carolyn’s post — here.)

  19. August 15, 2013 8:44 pm

    I’m blushing and apologize that it took so long to get here to thank you for your kind words. I obviously haven’t been blogging much, the weather is too nice. I love how you describe what all the different gardens did, you really caught the true spirit of gardening with that description. I enjoyed my day with you and was glad I could identify the two plants you admired. Carolyn’s Shade Gardens sells G. phaeum every year. Samobor and Sprintime are my favorite cultivars. Deinanthe is beautiful, such unusual flowers. The false hydrangea common name refers to the leaves whose veins and smooth surface look hydrangea-like without the notch. I am so excited that you already got one. Mine is small, and I think it could use a moister site.

    • August 20, 2013 10:35 pm

      Carolyn, No apologies necessary; I’ve been struggling a bit to keep up with blogging myself recently. After I wrote this, I noticed G. phaeum in your catalog — a good excuse for me to visit the nursery again. If the Deinanthe needs a lot of moisture, it probably won’t be happy in my garden, which defines the term “well drained”.

  20. August 17, 2013 12:18 pm

    This garden tour is very enchanting…what a great visit! I am delighted to look at this lovely garden! Going through this blog felt like a tour through the garden in real.

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