Taylor Browne walks along a path south of his driveway among the squash, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers that grow there.

“My neighbors are nice enough to let me come a little bit over the line, and I let them have veggies,” he says.

The vegetable gardens with lush, green plants stretch from the front of Browne’s property to the back on both the north and south sides of his old cape home on Pleasant Street in the heart of Waterville. The flower gardens take up the rest of any green space around the house.

It is a fairy land with paths that meander in and around the most beautiful flowers imaginable and of every size, shape, variety and color. Sunflowers 8 to 12 feet tall rim the gardens, which are nearly invisible from the street, as hedges obscure most of what lies within.

There are poppies, delphinium, echinacea, salacia, hydrangeas, bee balm, lilies, petunias, black-eyed Susans, baby’s breath, roses, hibiscus and much more.

Browne, 32, leads me down a garden path through a wooden arbor past a mini-pond with a copper-colored Buddha statue. He bends down and swipes his outstretched hand over a soft plant.

“I love the smell of lavender,” he says.

It is Friday and Browne is hosting a tea party in honor of his paternal grandmother, Lucy Browne, who would have been 100 that day. She died in 2001 at 84.

“I grew up with her. Our house was built onto her house in Vassalboro,” he says. “She always had a garden and I was allowed to have a little patch.”

Browne spent many hours in his grandmother’s garden, helping her weed and watching everything she did. He grew to love the outdoors, and gardening in particular.

His grandmother also had tea parties every day and would invite family and friends for tea and cookies.

She took out her best china for the occasion. At her 80th birthday celebration, which also was a tea party, she was presented a quilt containing 99 squares, each designed by a family member or friend and carrying a special memory.

Browne, whose grandfather, Paul Browne, created Natanis Golf Course in 1965, told me these stories as we wandered through his residential wonderland past a pumpkin patch containing a basketball-size pumpkin near a swathe of strawberry bushes. Along the way, we met groups of cheerful guests sitting in lawn chairs sipping tea and nibbling on cookies.

We reached the backyard, where a table was set up that bore his grandmother’s china cups and saucers, as well as plates of raspberry-filled and peanut butter cookies.

“My aunts have helped. They brought her teacups,” Browne said.

As we walked the gardens, his yellow Labrador retriever, Bella, 6, plodded along ahead of us.

“She’s always right by my side,” he said. “She’s my faithful assistant. Actually, I call her my ‘supervisor.’ She’s had many car rides where she shared the car with all the plants I’m bringing home.”

I was an unexpected guest at Browne’s party. I had been invited by his maternal grandmother, Debbie Giroux, of Vassalboro, who thought I’d like to see his spread.

He gracefully welcomed me in and shared the secrets of his prolific and healthy gardens.

“Lots of compost, lots of water,” he said. “I have 6 yards of compost delivered right here. People think you don’t need water because it rains, but that’s not so. This year has been much better because we’ve actually had rain. One day last summer, I watered for hours. That’s how long it took to water the whole garden. City water is nice. You never run out. You just have to pay the bill.”

Gardening in the city is, in many ways, easier than in the country because one can plant much earlier in the season, he said.

“In the middle of the city is one of the benefits, actually. I could use a little bit bigger lot, but it’s warmer in town. I can start planting here about May 8 to the 10th, when other people have to wait until the third week of May or later. And anybody who thinks they can’t grow a vegetable garden because they have a small space — it isn’t true, as long as you have great sunshine.”

Browne acknowledged he often has more vegetables than he uses, so he shares with family and friends and even sells some to restaurants. He also shares his gardening knowledge with students from Albert S. Hall School, which is near his house.

Mary Dunn, a teacher there who helps children grow vegetables in the elementary school’s garden, comes with classes during the year and Browne gives them garden tours.

“They make their own little packages, and they pick seeds from plants of their choice,” he said. “They all take the seeds, and the next year, theoretically, they’d grow their own from it.”

Browne’s employer, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, donated seed potatoes to Dunn’s classes so the children could plant them.

“Johnny’s had extra and was looking to donate, so the class took 25 pounds,” he said.

We entered the porch, where large green tomatoes were growing outside by the door and four geranium boxes were perched on the roof. His late grandmother’s quilt hung on a wall inside the porch near a straw hat she wore years ago.

In the cool interior of Browne’s dining room, Giroux, his other grandmother, chatted with guests who were sitting around a table bearing more plates of cookies.

“Ever since he was a child — when he was little — he’d build his own little village,” Giroux said of her grandson. “He’d take a seed pod from a tree, stick it in the ground and it would always grow. I guess it just stayed with him for the rest of his life. His gardens are spectacular. It amazes me that he likes to spend so much time doing it. I love it.”

The love of family also was evident in that room, where Browne and his relatives told stories about his gardening experiences from the time he grew his first weed in a tiny patch in his grandmother’s garden to when he spread his wings and planted a large garden on his parents’ land.

There, as he grew older, he spent many hours seeding, weeding, watering, tending — and nurturing.

“My family called it ‘Taylor’s World,’ and that’s where I was always hiding,” he said. “It’s all I know, really. I’ve been doing it pretty much since I could walk.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter for 29 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

filed under: