Growing Together

A gardening trio creates a blooming oasis in downtown Brunswick.

By Virginia M. Wright
Photographs by Douglas Merriam
Herlihy’s front entry is filled with potted plants, some destined for her clients’ garden beds.
Herlihy’s front entry is filled with potted plants, some destined for her clients’ garden beds.

The vines in Alison Harris’s garden are playing a beautiful trick. They appear to be a tangle of four different clematises, but really, there are just two, each with deep-purple flowers in two stages of bloom. The trellis that supports them, Harris points out, is a castoff from her next-door neighbor, Claudia Knox. The puffball hydrangea in a nearby corner, she adds, is a gift from Jean Herlihy, who lives across the street. The dragonfly ornament on the shed? That’s Claudia again. The deep-yellow-orange daylilies and the Rozanne geraniums? More perennial divisions from Jean.

“Gardeners are the most generous people,” Harris says. She and her friends have been trading plants, ornaments, advice, and inspiration for nearly a decade, transforming their piece of this Brunswick neighborhood into a lush pocket of complementary gardens.

The Harris and Knox yards blend into each other seamlessly, thanks in part to a crescent-shaped bed that straddles the property line. Harris works one side (globe thistles, Shasta daisies, miniature purple astilbes), Knox the other (pink liatris, crocosmia Lucifer, butterfly weed), and they garden the middle together (irises, Rozeanne geraniums, poppies). It’s a fitting location for the annual picnic of the Topsham Garden Club, to which all three women belong.

The merging gardens of Harris and Knox.

Herlihy is the gardening pro in the trio, hired for her green thumb by homeowners all over town. Her small, recessed lot is tucked at the end of a driveway she shares with the multi-family houses on either side. Except for a grass path, every square inch of her yard is garden that she hand-dug and has filled with 300 varieties of daylilies and rare plants, like marshallia, with its shaggy-headed white blooms; White Tiger Solomon’s Seal, with leaves that look like they’ve been brushed with snowy paint; and white lady’s slipper. Her “absolute favorite” is Deinanthe caerulea, which produces intricate, nodding flowers with small lavender petals around a thick ring of anthers.

Potted plants spill down Herlihy’s front steps and onto the driveway, some destined for clients’ gardens, others for her own. “I have to do triage because I’m running out of space,” she says. Surplus plants need homes, like the beds she’s filled along the sides and fronts of both multi-families, much to the delight of passersby, not to mention her friends across the street. “A garden is a gift,” Knox says. “It’s a gift to everyone who walks by.”

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