TEXT BY VIRGINIA M. WRIGHT
PHOTOGRAPHED BY ERIN LITTLE
Donna Roggenthein’s shingled cottage sits among towering spruces on Friendship’s Flood’s Cove. With that view, she’d have had no need to beautify her surroundings were it not for what she calls “the swath of destruction” — a path ripped downhill from the camp road to her house by the contractor who installed her septic system. After grooming that rough track into a terraced, peastone walkway, Roggenthein, a Florida transplant, began sowing perennials and shrubs along its edges, uncertain if anything could survive in the shaded, shallow soil.
In the years since, only a few varieties have proven tough enough, but Roggenthein has discovered that harmonious arrangements of the same few colors, shapes, and textures are as charming as a rainbow of blossoms. She’s had luck with cranesbill geraniums, creeping Jenny, gooseneck loosestrifes, hostas, hydrangeas, lady’s mantles, and sweet woodruffs. Naturally growing ferns and lilies of the valley contribute to the serene mix.
The cottage faces Bremen Long Island, where decades ago Roggenthein, on a vacation with her first husband, vowed to make Maine her home. When she bought the dwelling in 1997, it was a rustic camp, the handiwork of a teenaged member of the Flood family for whom the cove is named. Since 2006, when she and her second husband, Ron Leeking, moved to Portland from West Palm Beach, “we’ve slowly turned it into a more comfortable home.” In fact, they’re now spending more time in Friendship than in the city.
The dappled sylvan surroundings have brought out the sprite in Roggenthein, who expanded the gardens into the woods and sprinkled them with puckish and spiritual elements, like a black-spotted green ceramic toadstool nestled alongside a snag, a concrete Buddha’s face floating in a moss sea, and a concrete gargoyle peering from chartreuse ferns. An artist who works with found materials, she lined up vintage glass electrical insulators for the outdoor shower’s privacy screen, and wove blades of tall ornamental grass into a curtain for her meditation space in a small clearing carpeted with moss. For her grandchildren, she installed a Tolkien-esque “hobbit house” (made by Unity’s Wooden Wonders) and planted its domed roof with raspberries, vining impatiens, moss, and ferns. “I wanted it to look magical,” she says. Nearby, dozens of driftwood signs, hand-painted by houseguests, decorate a stand of trees. Most bear the names of the visitors’ hometowns, but not all: Roggenthein’s favorite reads “Middle Earth.”
ABOVE Whimsical elements, including a “hobbit house” planted with moss, ferns, and a few faux blooms, and an outdoor shower screen comprising vintage glass electrical insulators, abound on the Friendship plot Donna Roggenthein has nurtured for 16 years.
The woods are tranquil, yet dynamic. “Spruces are always falling to storms, and new stuff is growing up to replace them,” Roggenthein says. She’s accustomed to loss and renewal in the gardens too, and routinely fills gaps with divisions from her most reliable plants. “Whatever survives,” she says with a shrug. “It changes every year.”