Gardens

Sowing Stones

A naturalistic landscape tames a daunting slope in Hancock.

TEXT BY VIRGINIA M. WRIGHT
PHOTOGRAPHED BY NICOLE WOLF
stone garden Hancock, Maine

ABOVE This stone stairway and garden on Kimberly and Jim Goff’s property have the ambiance of ruins, yet they are only a few years old.

Sowing Stones

A naturalistic landscape tames a daunting slope in Hancock.

TEXT BY VIRGINIA M. WOLF
PHOTOGRAPHED BY NICOLE WOLF
stone garden Hancock, Maine

ABOVE This stone stairway and garden on Kimberly and Jim Goff’s property have the ambiance of ruins, yet they are only a few years old.

Kimberly and Jim Goff’s house sits above Hancock’s Taunton Bay alongside what appears to be an abandoned quarry. A wide granite staircase winds between boulders and hewn stone blocks, their edges softened by hay-scented ferns, European ginger, low-bush blueberry, and bunchberry. At the foot of the stairs, a small close is snugged within a jumble of rocks, one of which stands upright, pointing skyward, and another which lays flat like a bench, inviting sitting. How lucky are the Goffs to have such a delightful, randomly created landscape feature in their yard?

But there never was a quarry here, and there’s nothing random about the arrangement. All the rocks were trucked in and installed with an eye toward creating a beautiful setting and solving a problem: “This was a steep and slippery slope, and we wanted to make it safer to be walking around,” Jim explains. “Now, the property is accessible throughout the year.”   

A retired broadcasting and media executive, Jim bought the 43-year-old post-and-beam Cape in 2002, drawn by its setting among towering trees that offer shade and privacy without obstructing the view of the bay, which narrows into a channel here. He embarked on a series of renovations aimed at updating the house and opening it up to its surroundings. When he married Kimberly in 2007, she immediately took an interest in the landscape. A grant writer for University of Maine and a passionate gardener with an extensive knowledge of plants, she created several large ornamental beds, anchoring them around the house and detached garage, as well as a gnarled apple tree, a small pond, and a stone wall. In contrast to the graceful curves and informal designs of these flower gardens, raised beds surrounded by a fence to keep out deer.

To find a creative solution for the forbidding slope, she turned to Boothbay landscape architect Bruce John Riddell, whose work she’d admired at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens and on residential garden tours. “Bruce exploits natural stone, instead of using pavers or bricks, which can look artificial,” Kimberly says, noting that he personally picked out each stone and worked with Mount Desert landscaper Gordon Robb to install them. “There were parts of Bruce’s design that I wasn’t crazy about, but I trusted him and didn’t question. And, sure enough, he was right.” Among the features that won her over once installed: that skyward-pointing monolith, a dramatic focal point in a contemplative corner of the garden.

ABOVE A sun-bleached oyster shell rests among hen-and-chicks, a succulent so named because each large rosette, or hen, produces at least four plants, or chicks, every growing season. Kimberly plucks sea holly from her cutting garden. The pretty white barn was moved to the property from the center of town by a previous owner.

Kimberly and Jim Goff’s house sits above Hancock’s Taunton Bay alongside what appears to be an abandoned quarry. A wide granite staircase winds between boulders and hewn stone blocks, their edges softened by hay-scented ferns, European ginger, low-bush blueberry, and bunchberry. At the foot of the stairs, a small close is snugged within a jumble of rocks, one of which stands upright, pointing skyward, and another which lays flat like a bench, inviting sitting. How lucky are the Goffs to have such a delightful, randomly created landscape feature in their yard?

But there never was a quarry here, and there’s nothing random about the arrangement. All the rocks were trucked in and installed with an eye toward creating a beautiful setting and solving a problem: “This was a steep and slippery slope, and we wanted to make it safer to be walking around,” Jim explains. “Now, the property is accessible throughout the year.”   

ABOVE A sun-bleached oyster shell rests among hen-and-chicks, a succulent so named because each large rosette, or hen, produces at least four plants, or chicks, every growing season. Kimberly plucks sea holly from her cutting garden. The pretty white barn was moved to the property from the center of town by a previous owner.

A retired broadcasting and media executive, Jim bought the 43-year-old post-and-beam Cape in 2002, drawn by its setting among towering trees that offer shade and privacy without obstructing the view of the bay, which narrows into a channel here. He embarked on a series of renovations aimed at updating the house and opening it up to its surroundings. When he married Kimberly in 2007, she immediately took an interest in the landscape. A grant writer for University of Maine and a passionate gardener with an extensive knowledge of plants, she created several large ornamental beds, anchoring them around the house and detached garage, as well as a gnarled apple tree, a small pond, and a stone wall. In contrast to the graceful curves and informal designs of these flower gardens, raised beds surrounded by a fence to keep out deer.

To find a creative solution for the forbidding slope, she turned to Boothbay landscape architect Bruce John Riddell, whose work she’d admired at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens and on residential garden tours. “Bruce exploits natural stone, instead of using pavers or bricks, which can look artificial,” Kimberly says, noting that he personally picked out each stone and worked with Mount Desert landscaper Gordon Robb to install them. “There were parts of Bruce’s design that I wasn’t crazy about, but I trusted him and didn’t question. And, sure enough, he was right.” Among the features that won her over once installed: that skyward-pointing monolith, a dramatic focal point in a contemplative corner of the garden.

garden tools
radishes
allium seed pods
window box flowers

LEFT TO RIGHT Garden tools are arranged by function in the barn (that’s Kimberly’s librarian training finding expression); freshly harvested radishes are ready to brighten a dinner salad; allium seed pods are nearly as beautiful as the bloom;  bright-red geraniums tumble from a window box on the barn.

ABOVE Garden tools are arranged by function in the barn (that’s Kimberly’s librarian training finding expression); freshly harvested radishes are ready to brighten a dinner salad; allium seed pods are nearly as beautiful as the bloom;  bright-red geraniums tumble from a window box on the barn.

Riddell admires Kimberly’s handiwork too. “It’s a huge garden, and she tends all of it on her own,” he says. They often collaborated on the marriage of stonework and plantings. Their plan for the shady slope east of the stairway, for example, involved the removal of tiered flowerbeds supported by railway ties. In their place, Kimberly has mass-planted cranesbill geraniums, which with Siberian irises and Itoh peonies are her “workhorses,” used liberally throughout the property.

Riddell designed the front walkway in deference to the plantings that were already there. Granite stones are laid out in a swirling pattern that echoes the tidal flows of Taunton Bay. Not that the Goffs need to be reminded of the beauty that surrounds them. “We get up every morning and look east to where the sun is rising over the bay,” Jim says, “and we say, ‘Isn’t this lovely!’”

ABOVE Kimberly has mounded the earth in this crescent-shaped garden, brimming with goatsbeard, Jet Trail quinces, purple cone flowers, and several kinds of violets, to raise the plants and improve drainage.


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