TEXT BY AURELIA C. SCOTT
PHOTOGRAPHED BY ABBY JOHNSON-RUSCANSKY
When graphic designers Nancy Montgomery and Jack L. Vreeland bought their Portland Queen Anne, their young nephew said it looked like a witch’s house. With its front door hidden by overgrown junipers, rotting clapboards shrouded in knee-high weeds, and tower with a conical roof (sometimes referred to as a “witch’s hat”), it certainly appeared foreboding. But, 30 years later, the restored home is a testament to the beauty that can blossom from “a lot of love and hard work,” Montgomery says, which began on the day Vreeland took a chainsaw to the junipers.
Today, rambling pink roses by the front door perfume a sloping purple-and-white bed with tumbling mounds of catmint, snow-in-summer, and geraniums interspersed with spiking irises, vanilla foxgloves, and peonies. A Camperdown elm with one of its long branches woven through a trellis marks the entrance to a grassy side yard decorated with a bank of lady’s mantle and a mini allée of hydrangea trees. Inspired by a circa-1900 carpenter’s pattern book, the trellis was designed by Vreeland and built with the help of neighbors.
ABOVE Nancy Montgomery estimates 30 people stopped to thank her and Jack L. Vreeland last year for beautifying their Portland street.
Neighbors also pitched in to construct a shared deck in the backyard, where a giant Norway maple provides a vaulted “ceiling” and white snakeroot, Solomon’s seal, Virginia bluebells, and Blue Heaven and Blue Mouse Ears hostas thrive in the dappled cool. “If you hear voices, it’s an invitation to take a drink out and chat,” Montgomery says.
The plantings were a group effort too. An acquaintance on Peaks Island gifted the Solomon’s seal. “We took wheelbarrows on the ferry,” Montgomery says with a laugh. The iris tubers came from her mother in Seattle. Packed into a cloth suitcase for the flight to Portland, they’ve flourished. The friend who introduced Nancy to Maine gave her peonies and bluebells. Another friend passed along the foxgloves that his wife did not live long enough to propagate — “now I do it in her stead,” Montgomery says.
ABOVE In June, their garden burgeons with irises, catmint, forget-me-nots, and snow-in-summer; the shady backyard features white snakeroot, Solomon’s seal, Virginia bluebells, and Blue Heaven and Blue Mouse Ears hostas.
Just beyond a patch of foxgloves on the property’s southern side, the back section of the patterned stone driveway has been transformed into a Mediterranean-inspired patio set off by pots of lavender, basil, tomatoes, and a container-grown bay tree from O’Donal’s Nursery, in Gorham. Ken Fengler Landscaping, of Scarborough, installed the driveway using a mix of traditional and permeable pavers to reduce runoff and winter frost heaves.
On the day of our visit, Montgomery pots up annuals on the patio while Vreeland repairs a porch step nearby. Yes, the garden is an ongoing labor of love, they say. So it’s important to enjoy the process. “Building soil, improving hardscape, choosing plants, moving plants, moving them again” — Montgomery looks up from her pot and smiles — “it’s work and it’s fun.”