Gardens

pool garden

Everyone Out of the Pool!

ABOVE It’s not uncommon for homeowners to build a garden atop a pool they no longer use, but it’s unusual to keep the deck, as Harriet Robinson has. It forms the frame for her garden and makes for a convenient work area. The color has mellowed over time. 

TEXT BY VIRGINIA M. WRIGHT
PHOTOGRAPHS BY MOLLY HALEY

This garden blooms swimmingly with well-timed plantings.

When Harriet Robinson’s children were young, they splashed away summers in a swimming pool sunk into their backyard, a meadowy Otisfield hilltop with fine, unobstructed views of the White Mountains. As they grew older, though, the pool lost its allure. “We were spending a lot of money on the electricity for the pump and the chemicals to clean it, and nobody was using it,” Robinson says. “When it came time to replace the liner, we said, ‘Let’s just fill it in.’”

Robinson saw a chance to express her own garden aesthetic, which she’d honed tending the professionally designed beds along the front of the family’s house. The pool’s concrete deck would serve as the frame for a formal knot garden, but instead of a traditional boxwood hedge, cobblestone paths would form the Celtic knot pattern. Now, it’s a mature garden, where plants have been carefully placed within the paths’ loops to provide season-long blooms, starting in May with daffodils and ending in November with monkshood and, in their second flush, Johnny-jump-ups.

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Right about now, Robinson is enjoying peonies, mostly old-fashioned varieties that came out of her parents’ garden, their flowers big and heavy in magenta, pink, and white. Opposite them, on the paths’ north side, are daylilies, so placed because their soon-to-open flowers are inclined to angle toward the sun; this way, they’ll turn their faces toward the paths too. As with the peonies, she prefers simple varieties from the ’50s and ’60s over their frilly modern counterparts. Likewise, she’s fond of historic irises, many developed by the late Currier McEwen, a renowned hybridizer from Harpswell.

Robinson uses plenty of annuals to fill gaps in her parade of blooms and bring pollinators to the raised vegetable beds and blueberry bushes outside the formal garden. Potted plants are scattered through-
out. She crafts her own hypertufa containers in a variety of shapes. The artificial-stone pots, made from Portland cement and peat moss, are particularly suitable for succulents like hen-and-chicks, and Robinson credits the “dean of Maine gardeners,” the late Bernard McLaughlin, for her fondness for these cute, tough plants. She never met him, but as a member of the Foothills Garden Club, she volunteers at the McLaughlin Garden and Homestead in South Paris, where hen-and-chicks flourish in the cracks and crevices of stone walls.

The wide-open site does present challenges. Steady sun all day means Robinson is vigilant about moisture. Plus, the soil is sandy, particularly over the old pool, so she’s continually amending it with loam and compost. None of this is too daunting though. It’s fun, Robinson says, and she dives right in.


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