ABOVE Leslie Clapp waters flowers in a cottage garden filled with herbs, vegetables, and annuals, including self-sowing sunflowers that rise 18 feet.
TEXT BY VIRGINIA M. WRIGHT
PHOTOGRAPHED BY HEIDI KIRN
On the edge of downtown Blue Hill, Leslie Clapp and Blaise de Sibour cultivate a collection of distinct landscapes, from a geometric arrangement of spring-blooming perennials to a boisterous jumble of annuals and vegetables to a spiral of leggy wildflowers in the middle of a lawn. Their 10-acre, park-like backyard isn’t visible from the road, but locals know it well. That’s because Clapp and de Sibour frequently invite the public in to see how different environments nourish and shelter wildlife, especially birds. The open houses typically support local organizations like Downeast Audubon, where Clapp has served as president for 18 years. “We’ve had 145 species of birds identified from this property,” she says. “The most recent was a mourning warbler — my first. I’m always listening and watching.”
When she and de Sibour bought the land in 1986, they knew little about plants. “There was a patch of rhubarb by the back door, and that’s about it,” Leslie Clapp says. “We restored some stone walls, and I planted a little row of tulips and a little row of marigolds. Then, we went berserk.”
ABOVE This white Muscadet oriental lily is a mid-summer bloomer with pale-pink stripes and raspberry flecks; the Norway maple snag in this formal garden is a remnant of a fire that destroyed a nearby barn; a carved wooden owl sits among verbena and ornamental grasses; Clapp and her husband, Blaise de Sibour, stand before a pond formed by excavating a small wet area; spiky pink gayfeathers contrast with shaggy-headed goldenrods.
As they expanded outward from the house, they developed a vision of planting arrangements that progress from formal to informal to nearly wild. Linked by a network of paths, the gardens are now so big and numerous that Clapp, a photographer by training, tends them full-time, and her sister, Jodie Morris, pitches in three days a week. “We’ve worked together for so long it’s like having a twin,” Clapp says. De Sibour, who works at Blue Hill Garage, a Clapp family enterprise for three generations, has built most of the gardens’ structures, including trellises, bridges, and dozens of birdhouses. (Morris is the green thumb behind the garage’s signature overflowing window boxes.)
Spring flowers give way to soft-green and silver foliage in the long, symmetrical garden nearest the house. It’s bisected by a stone-lined path that passes beneath a natural arbor formed by the branches of two Sargent crabapple trees and leads to a large Lunaform pot set in a square of low-growing perennials. To the north, monarch butterflies flit over a cottage garden burgeoning with cutting flowers, vegetables, and herbs. Come fall, Clapp will leave the dying plants in place so birds can forage for seeds.
ABOVE A transitional landscape separates the formal and cottage gardens.
Nearby is an orchard of apple, peach, mulberry, and pawpaw trees. Clapp has gathered their fallen and pruned branches and twigs into a heap that’s covered in vining morning glories. It’s one of several decorated brush piles placed throughout the property to attract juncos, cardinals, and sparrows.
For several years, de Sibour indulged a desire for a lawn by mowing a clearing adjacent to the orchard, but as he and Clapp learned more about pollinator habitats, they explored ways to make the area more productive without losing its openness. Now, he mows all but a whorl of wildflowers, creating a pattern that, much like a crop circle, delights and intrigues visitors. The air hums with bees.
The couple has added some native perennials and an annual wildflower mix to a meadow on the far edge of the property, but otherwise use a light touch. “We mow it once a year, after the first frost, when everything has gone by and the birds have flown south,” Clapp says. “It’s nice to just let it be wild.”