Garden Tour

Field Days

In Freeport, native plants restore a landscape ravaged by invasive weeds.

native plant garden in Freeport, Maine

ABOVE Vanessa Nesvig walks along the stepping stone path through her Freeport garden. 

TEXT BY AURELIA C. SCOTT
PHOTOGRAPHED BY HEIDI KIRN

Ten years ago, Vanessa Nesvig and David Cummiskey went looking for a rural home within reach of Boothbay, where she coordinates exhibits for Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens; Lewiston, where he teaches philosophy at Bates College; and Portland, where they enjoy dining out. They found it in Freeport — an 1860s farmhouse with an attached barn overlooking 4½ acres of field and woods. The field grew as much invasive multiflora roses and glossy buckthorns as native plants, and the yard around the home bloomed with other troublesome vegetation, like bishop’s weed. But the house was in lovely shape, the shingled barn could be salvaged, and lilacs and a 250-year-old sugar maple decorated the gentle slope down to the field that had once grazed horses.

Nesvig, a painter and botanical illustrator whose studio overlooks the field, is more interested in foliage, shape, and texture than flowers, and she and Cummiskey both favor function over mere prettiness. So, the past years have been spent learning the ecological role of native plants, ripping out invasives, and returning the property to a managed version of its natural form.

ABOVE 1) Astilbes and painted ferns light a patch shaded by Miss Kim lilacs. 2) Hops, a host plant for Question Mark butterflies, climb the arbor separating the house garden, blooming with black-eyed Susans and nepetas, from the barnyard’s cattails and milkweeds.

These days, the deep pine woods are dappled with pale river birches, which, Nesvig says, illuminate the view and are resistant to birch borers. The field’s dry and wet microclimates are repopulating with “what wants to grow.” Black gums, cattails, and sensitive ferns flourish in the damp ground, bayberries and winterberries on drier soil. In between are asters and goldenrods. They have added more biodiversity with beebalms, black-eyed Susans, buttonbushes, foxgloves, and white turtleheads — most of them started in the basement from saved seeds. “They all attract specific pollinators,” Nesvig says.

Thus far, the couple has identified six different butterflies, including pearl crescent, tortoiseshell, and little wife, which particularly love the bayberries; and four moth species, including hermit sphinx and Harris’s three spot, which prefer the winterberries. Cummiskey mows the area in a paisley pattern that encourages new growth — and, he says, looks wonderful from their upstairs windows.

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ABOVE Nesvig and Cummiskey enjoy wine and oysters with friends on a small stone wall-edged patio surrounded by boxwoods, poppies, flowering dill, and lilacs, including Japanese Tree lilacs.

Near the house, a stone and pea-gravel circle centers on a statuary Venus that has accompanied Nesvig’s every move since she bought it at age 25. “What can I say, it was cheap,” she says with a laugh. Coral Burst and Prairie Fire crabapples ring the circle, along with black-eyed Susans, poppies, sunflowers, basil, dill, lettuce, squash, and tomatoes, among other flowers, herbs, and vegetables. Wooden benches framed by a low, L-shaped stone wall nearby afford a view of the wilding field below and, next to the house, graceful old lilacs mixed with American Beauty roses, American spikenards, coneflowers, hostas, and sweet pepperbushes.

“We like to sit out here on summer evenings with a glass of wine and savor what’s happening in the garden,” Cummiskey says. A question mark butterfly that’s laid eggs on the hop-covered hemlock trellis, for example. The hole-nesting bees that have discovered the “insect hotel” the couple made from the hollow stems of cattails, rhubarb, and old bamboo stakes. A baby apple tree found while mowing the field. Even a lettuce leaf that’s been nibbled. “Once upon a time, I would have been upset,” Nesvig says. “Now I’m pleased it’s being used.” She smiles. “There’s so much happening that I could stay here until I die and still find something fascinating to learn.”

black-eyed susans
Rhubarb’s giant leaves soften a nook beside the farmhouse wall.
Stepping stones offer a convenient path to herbs and leafy green vegetables interplanted with perennials and annuals.
Nasturtiums

ABOVE 1) Black-eyed Susans help add biodiversity. 2) Rhubarb’s giant leaves soften a nook beside the farmhouse wall. 3) Stepping stones offer a convenient path to herbs and leafy green vegetables interplanted with perennials and annuals. 4)Nasturtiums, beautiful and edible, blossom throughout the grounds. 

Field Days

In Freeport, native plants restore a landscape ravaged by invasive weeds.

native plant garden in Freeport, Maine

ABOVE Vanessa Nesvig walks along the stepping stone path through her Freeport garden. 

TEXT BY AURELIA C. SCOTT
PHOTOGRAPHED BY HEIDI KIRN

Ten years ago, Vanessa Nesvig and David Cummiskey went looking for a rural home within reach of Boothbay, where she coordinates exhibits for Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens; Lewiston, where he teaches philosophy at Bates College; and Portland, where they enjoy dining out. They found it in Freeport — an 1860s farmhouse with an attached barn overlooking 4½ acres of field and woods. The field grew as much invasive multiflora roses and glossy buckthorns as native plants, and the yard around the home bloomed with other troublesome vegetation, like bishop’s weed. But the house was in lovely shape, the shingled barn could be salvaged, and lilacs and a 250-year-old sugar maple decorated the gentle slope down to the field that had once grazed horses.

Nesvig, a painter and botanical illustrator whose studio overlooks the field, is more interested in foliage, shape, and texture than flowers, and she and Cummiskey both favor function over mere prettiness. So, the past years have been spent learning the ecological role of native plants, ripping out invasives, and returning the property to a managed version of its natural form.

ABOVE 1) Astilbes and painted ferns light a patch shaded by Miss Kim lilacs. 2) Hops, a host plant for Question Mark butterflies, climb the arbor separating the house garden, blooming with black-eyed Susans and nepetas, from the barnyard’s cattails and milkweeds.

These days, the deep pine woods are dappled with pale river birches, which, Nesvig says, illuminate the view and are resistant to birch borers. The field’s dry and wet microclimates are repopulating with “what wants to grow.” Black gums, cattails, and sensitive ferns flourish in the damp ground, bayberries and winterberries on drier soil. In between are asters and goldenrods. They have added more biodiversity with beebalms, black-eyed Susans, buttonbushes, foxgloves, and white turtleheads — most of them started in the basement from saved seeds. “They all attract specific pollinators,” Nesvig says.

Thus far, the couple has identified six different butterflies, including pearl crescent, tortoiseshell, and little wife, which particularly love the bayberries; and four moth species, including hermit sphinx and Harris’s three spot, which prefer the winterberries. Cummiskey mows the area in a paisley pattern that encourages new growth — and, he says, looks wonderful from their upstairs windows.

Advertisement

ABOVE Nesvig and Cummiskey enjoy wine and oysters with friends on a small stone wall-edged patio surrounded by boxwoods, poppies, flowering dill, and lilacs, including Japanese Tree lilacs.

Near the house, a stone and pea-gravel circle centers on a statuary Venus that has accompanied Nesvig’s every move since she bought it at age 25. “What can I say, it was cheap,” she says with a laugh. Coral Burst and Prairie Fire crabapples ring the circle, along with black-eyed Susans, poppies, sunflowers, basil, dill, lettuce, squash, and tomatoes, among other flowers, herbs, and vegetables. Wooden benches framed by a low, L-shaped stone wall nearby afford a view of the wilding field below and, next to the house, graceful old lilacs mixed with American Beauty roses, American spikenards, coneflowers, hostas, and sweet pepperbushes.

“We like to sit out here on summer evenings with a glass of wine and savor what’s happening in the garden,” Cummiskey says. A question mark butterfly that’s laid eggs on the hop-covered hemlock trellis, for example. The hole-nesting bees that have discovered the “insect hotel” the couple made from the hollow stems of cattails, rhubarb, and old bamboo stakes. A baby apple tree found while mowing the field. Even a lettuce leaf that’s been nibbled. “Once upon a time, I would have been upset,” Nesvig says. “Now I’m pleased it’s being used.” She smiles. “There’s so much happening that I could stay here until I die and still find something fascinating to learn.”

ABOVE 1) Black-eyed Susans help add biodiversity. 2) Rhubarb’s giant leaves soften a nook beside the farmhouse wall. 3) Stepping stones offer a convenient path to herbs and leafy green vegetables interplanted with perennials and annuals. 4)Nasturtiums, beautiful and edible, blossom throughout the grounds. 


One Comment

  1. Loved this article. Looks like a fabulous place. Lots of work though.

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