ABOVE “I come from a family of gardeners,” says Rich West, who started planting as soon as he moved into what, 27 years ago, was a fixer-upper. The nearly three decades since? “It’s been a surprising, wonderful journey full of plants and people,” he says.
TEXT BY AURELIA C. SCOTT
PHOTOGRAPHED BY HEIDI KIRN
Feel free to stop and admire the container garden that enlivens Rich West’s 1904 bungalow on Shore Road in Cape Elizabeth. He creates it as much to please passersby as himself.
Clay crocks of silver artemisia, red geraniums, pink petunias, and sunflowers mingle with boxwood, hostas, and rhododendrons beside a dry stone wall that runs between West’s property and the road. From there, a cobblestone walkway leads to an eye-popping display on his front steps. Pots of alyssum, dahlias, impatiens, geraniums, hydrangeas, lobelia, marigolds, petunias, salvia, and zinnias fill the staircase. Overhead, swaying baskets of peach begonias dangle from the porch roof, and boxes of ageratum, cleome, and pansies decorate the second-floor windows. “I’m color blind and can’t discern one pastel from another,” says West, a professor of communication studies at Boston’s Emerson College. “I grow bright plants for selfish reasons.”
On one side of the steps, containers of marigolds and poppies, and pink, blue, and yellow watering cans blaze beneath a Japanese maple and two dappled willows. On the other, tricolor violas sprout alongside the driveway, which leads to a cozy deck adorned with houseplants and petunias. “I’m letting the violas see where they want to grow,” Rich West says. “Come to think of it, that’s a metaphor for living. Let things evolve.”
It’s also how he gardens. The property needed extensive repair when West purchased it, in 1995. “I started with some hanging plants to distract the eye from what needed doing,” he says. “Then, obsession set in.” Today, 82 pots and four window boxes of annuals, which tend to have the boldest shades, embellish his house and yard. “Planting in containers allows me to shift them around, which matches my personality,” West says. “I’m on the move all the time!”
West credits his dazzling results to Estabrook’s nursery, in Yarmouth, YouTube videos, and copious amounts of Miracle-Gro. He also deadheads frequently, waters three times a day, and rearranges the front-steps spectacle at least weekly to ensure the plants receive a balance of sun and shade and “give the locals something new to see.”
Many who visited during the 2017 Cape Elizabeth Garden Tour still stop by. Wedding parties on their way to Fort Williams for photographs often stop and ask to pose in front of the blooms. Trolley tours slow when they pass. Bicyclists shout their approval. A woman with multiple sclerosis visits whenever “she needs to be reminded that there is color in the world,” West says.
He particularly cherishes the memory of a husband and wife who parked across the street every Sunday after church to admire the show. When the wife died, her husband brought West a gift, saying, “She wanted me to thank the man with the flowers.”