Gardens

Sound Plan

A patchy landscape is made worthy of its perch on MDI’s famous fjard.

Donna Reis standing in her Somes Sound Garden

ABOVE Donna Reis stands on a granite stairway whose edges are softened by pink astilbes and ferns. This perennial garden is composed of a series of beds meandering downhill to Somes Sound.

TEXT BY VIRGINIA M. WRIGHT
PHOTOGRAPHED BY HEIDI KIRN

With its sand-colored shingles, dark-green trim, and multiple stone chimneys, Donna Reis’s rambling house on Mount Desert Island’s Somes Sound might easily be mistaken for an early-20th-century rusticator’s cottage. But it’s just 20 years old, the design of New York architect (and MDI summer resident) Keith Kroeger. A 100-ton-boat master captain who’s fished commercially for tuna and halibut, Reis bought the 4.5-acre estate in 2011 for its deepwater frontage, but the rough terrain soon tugged for her attention.

Little landscaping had been done by the previous owner beyond a few nursery trees that had fallen victim to girdling and a grassy strip bisected by a path leading straight downhill to Reis’s dock. “It was so steep and slick that whenever it rained, there was a big washout,” she says. Elsewhere on the property, there was compacted soil and fields of ragweed.

Beauty Yellow and Reflections Pink marguerite daisies

ABOVE 1) Reis’s porch and raised vegetable beds offer a view of Fernald Point and Flying Mountain in Southwest Harbor. 2) Reis designed this soaking tub to look like an abandoned granite quarry. 3) Beauty Yellow and Reflections Pink marguerite daisies float in a stone birdbath she carved in a class led by Sullivan sculptor Obadiah Buell. 4) A ring of shrubs creates a hideaway, outfitted with a faux bios bench, overlooking the mouth of Somes Sound.

Reis relishes working outdoors, and she was up for the challenge. “I come from a long line of gardeners,” she says. Her parents had vegetable and flower gardens, her great-aunt grew tomatoes and dried them in the sun to make tomato paste, and her brother is a farmer in Connecticut. In the early ’80s, when she was training nights as an ob-gyn nurse practitioner, she took a day job as a plantsman. “I’ve never been without a garden. I don’t even know what that would be like.”

She started by rerouting the path to the dock so it winds gently downhill and divides the slope into sections for flowerbeds. Near the top is a granite soaking pool that she modeled after a quarry in Acadia National Park. Installed by Orland’s Freshwater Stone, the rock was cut from the top of a quarry, so it arrived covered in lichens, giving the impression, Reis says, that “it’s always been here.” Just below it is a frog pond with lily pads floating on its surface and Japanese and native irises growing in the crevices of its rocky border. The path then ambles past an overlook furnished with a faux bois (“false wood”) bench and weaves between beds of astilbes, clematises, coneflowers, delphiniums, gay feathers, and other perennials. Near the bottom of the hill, the flowers give way to native sods that are lush with bunchberries, clethra, hayscented and sweet ferns, mosses, and wild cranberries. “It’s a balance of native plants and cultivars that attracts plenty of bugs and birds,” Reis says. “There are bird nests everywhere.”

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ABOVE A hammock invites lingering in a wooded area, where Reis has laid down hayscented ferns and haircap moss sods.

Reis is guided by Doug Tallamy’s book Bringing Nature Home, which advocates choosing native plants to sustain wildlife. She cuts up dead trees and stacks the wood in piles scattered throughout the property to provide habitat for birds, chipmunks, squirrels, and other critters. She grows food for them too, at the edge of the woods in a plot planted with rhubarb and strawberry divisions and other surplus from her vegetable beds. “Instead of throwing them out, I let the animals have them,” she says.

Aside from her perennial and vegetable gardens, Reis aims for a landscape that appears to have been cultivated by nature, even though she’s had a hand in creating it. In July, one of the most beautiful spots on the estate is a grove of Scotch pines with an understory awash in Indian paintbrushes. Reis didn’t plant the yellow flowers, but she’s encouraged them by meticulously weeding out other plants. She takes a similar approach in a shade garden, pulling out what she doesn’t want so plush mosses can spread.

Reis is in the gardens daily, doing all the work herself along with one hired hand. “It’s relaxing and meditative,” she says. “I get so much out of it that I don’t think of it as work.”

bronze seal by Northeast Harbor sculptor Christopher Smith
Prairie Sun, a green-eyed variety of black-eyed Susan

ABOVE 1) Gayfeathers, native plants that attract bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators. 2) A bronze seal by Northeast Harbor sculptor Christopher Smith rests, unanchored, on the shore. 3) Another stone sculpture made by Reis under Obadiah Buell’s tutelage. 4) Prairie Sun, a green-eyed variety of black-eyed Susan.

Sound Plan

A patchy landscape is made worthy of its perch on MDI’s famous fjard.

Donna Reis standing in her Somes Sound Garden

ABOVE Donna Reis stands on a granite stairway whose edges are softened by pink astilbes and ferns. This perennial garden is composed of a series of beds meandering downhill to Somes Sound.

TEXT BY VIRGINIA M. WRIGHT
PHOTOGRAPHED BY HEIDI KIRN

With its sand-colored shingles, dark-green trim, and multiple stone chimneys, Donna Reis’s rambling house on Mount Desert Island’s Somes Sound might easily be mistaken for an early-20th-century rusticator’s cottage. But it’s just 20 years old, the design of New York architect (and MDI summer resident) Keith Kroeger. A 100-ton-boat master captain who’s fished commercially for tuna and halibut, Reis bought the 4.5-acre estate in 2011 for its deepwater frontage, but the rough terrain soon tugged for her attention.

Little landscaping had been done by the previous owner beyond a few nursery trees that had fallen victim to girdling and a grassy strip bisected by a path leading straight downhill to Reis’s dock. “It was so steep and slick that whenever it rained, there was a big washout,” she says. Elsewhere on the property, there was compacted soil and fields of ragweed.

ABOVE 1) Reis’s porch and raised vegetable beds offer a view of Fernald Point and Flying Mountain in Southwest Harbor. 2) Reis designed this soaking tub to look like an abandoned granite quarry. 3) Beauty Yellow and Reflections Pink marguerite daisies float in a stone birdbath she carved in a class led by Sullivan sculptor Obadiah Buell. 4) A ring of shrubs creates a hideaway, outfitted with a faux bios bench, overlooking the mouth of Somes Sound.

Reis relishes working outdoors, and she was up for the challenge. “I come from a long line of gardeners,” she says. Her parents had vegetable and flower gardens, her great-aunt grew tomatoes and dried them in the sun to make tomato paste, and her brother is a farmer in Connecticut. In the early ’80s, when she was training nights as an ob-gyn nurse practitioner, she took a day job as a plantsman. “I’ve never been without a garden. I don’t even know what that would be like.”

She started by rerouting the path to the dock so it winds gently downhill and divides the slope into sections for flowerbeds. Near the top is a granite soaking pool that she modeled after a quarry in Acadia National Park. Installed by Orland’s Freshwater Stone, the rock was cut from the top of a quarry, so it arrived covered in lichens, giving the impression, Reis says, that “it’s always been here.” Just below it is a frog pond with lily pads floating on its surface and Japanese and native irises growing in the crevices of its rocky border. The path then ambles past an overlook furnished with a faux bois (“false wood”) bench and weaves between beds of astilbes, clematises, coneflowers, delphiniums, gay feathers, and other perennials. Near the bottom of the hill, the flowers give way to native sods that are lush with bunchberries, clethra, hayscented and sweet ferns, mosses, and wild cranberries. “It’s a balance of native plants and cultivars that attracts plenty of bugs and birds,” Reis says. “There are bird nests everywhere.”

Advertisement

ABOVE A hammock invites lingering in a wooded area, where Reis has laid down hayscented ferns and haircap moss sods.

Reis is guided by Doug Tallamy’s book Bringing Nature Home, which advocates choosing native plants to sustain wildlife. She cuts up dead trees and stacks the wood in piles scattered throughout the property to provide habitat for birds, chipmunks, squirrels, and other critters. She grows food for them too, at the edge of the woods in a plot planted with rhubarb and strawberry divisions and other surplus from her vegetable beds. “Instead of throwing them out, I let the animals have them,” she says.

Aside from her perennial and vegetable gardens, Reis aims for a landscape that appears to have been cultivated by nature, even though she’s had a hand in creating it. In July, one of the most beautiful spots on the estate is a grove of Scotch pines with an understory awash in Indian paintbrushes. Reis didn’t plant the yellow flowers, but she’s encouraged them by meticulously weeding out other plants. She takes a similar approach in a shade garden, pulling out what she doesn’t want so plush mosses can spread.

Reis is in the gardens daily, doing all the work herself along with one hired hand. “It’s relaxing and meditative,” she says. “I get so much out of it that I don’t think of it as work.”

ABOVE 1) Gayfeathers, native plants that attract bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators. 2) A bronze seal by Northeast Harbor sculptor Christopher Smith rests, unanchored, on the shore. 3) Another stone sculpture made by Reis under Obadiah Buell’s tutelage. 4) Prairie Sun, a green-eyed variety of black-eyed Susan.


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