Gardens are created in steps: one plant at a time, one plot at a time, one season at a time.

McLaughlin Garden in South Paris last year created a master plan that incorporates the neighboring 3.5-acre Curtis property into the 4.5-acre McLaughlin property. Now, it has taken its first steps in making that plan a physical reality.

Crews have started work on two major parts of the master plan. Two other projects are scheduled to get underway shortly. Also, a historic garden that wasn’t part of the master plan has been added.

Along with these physical changes, the garden staff is seeking to make the garden a community resource, providing outdoor spaces and activities for children and families.

“We believe that these projects will have the most immediate impact on the visitor experience, enriching and diversifying our gardens,” McLaughlin Director Donna Anderson said.

The most noticeable change so far – at least for me – is that the slope above the original garden created by Bernard McLaughlin has been cleared of invasive species. Using a $6,000 Project Canopy grant, matched by McLaughlin Garden, professional crews cleared out bittersweet, multiflora roses and other invasive species.


A crew cut the plants down in January and February, Anderson said, and in April a heavy-duty chipper turned them into mulch. This spring, the area where the invasive plants had been, sprouted with such wildflowers as trillium, bloodroot and ferns.

The woodland garden that will be created in that area – one of the four projects being undertaken – is being designed with the assistance of community and health organizations. The completed garden is expected to include several trails and places for sculpture, performance, creative family activities, meditation and forest bathing (sitting and enjoying nature), the benefits of which I learned from “The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier and More Creative” by Florence Williams. (I wrote about it in a books roundup last November.) The staff already has created a permanent fairy garden for children in one section of that space.

Also underway on the Curtis plot is the first iteration of a meadow using the principles of Dutch landscape architect and plantsman Piet Oudolf, which use mostly herbaceous perennials and large swaths of color.

“So far we’ve chosen plants that will be most transformative and achievable in the short run, but it will change over time,” Anderson said.

The two projects from the master plan that aren’t yet begun are necessary but less exciting than new gardens.

One is to reinvigorate the historic garden Bernard McLaughlin tended from 1936 to 1995. That garden is now shadier than it used to be and some of McLaughlin’s plants are getting old, hence the work is needed. The goal is to have more color to complement McLaughlin’s lilacs.


The other project is a perimeter fence both to improve security and to limit damage from deer. Deer damage is nothing new, but now that the invasive plants are gone from the wooded slope, the damage has gotten worse. Anderson said the fence would also improve the streetscape along Route 26, which is also South Paris’s Main Street.

“We’ve been working with the town planner, and the goal is to have more beauty and visibility on Route 26, and maybe inspire the rest of the town to think about streetscaping in a new way,” Anderson said.

The addition of a historic garden of irises created by Currier McEwen, who lived and gardened in Harpswell after he retired as a distinguished physician, came together serendipitously.

Harriet Robinson of Otisfield, who is president of the Maine Iris Society and a longtime McLaughlin volunteer, discovered that Maine did not have a garden recognized by the Historic Iris Preservation Society. Robinson thought that McLaughlin Garden would be a good site for such a garden. In 1985, McEwen had even named one of his iris introductions ‘Bernard McLaughlin.’

Space was found to plant 34 McEwen irises at the McLaughlin Garden, with divisions of the irises coming from Robinson, Jeff Dunlop of Windham (another iris hybridizer and a friend of the late McEwen) and Ann Standridge, McEwen’s daughter who still tends the property her father used in Harpswell.

Few of the irises blossomed this year, and more cultivars are being sought, but the garden will just get better over the years.


Along with the physical changes, Anderson said the garden is offering more programs that cater to children and families.

Where the pumpkin patch was in previous years, horticulturist Kristin Perry created a twig teepee with scarlet runner beans growing on it. It’s surrounded by other large, striking plants. Several trails wind through the plants.

The summer Gardens Illuminated program, where lanterns light up the gardens after dark, had a fairy garden and gnome theme. And this year’s Jack O’Lantern Spectacular will have a Harry Potter theme.

“These children’s and multigenerational programs are helping to draw in the next generation of gardeners,” Anderson said. “Part of what the garden does is storytelling, and we do have a lot of good stories to tell.”


Tom Atwell has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth and can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:

[email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.