INHERITING WONDERLAND

words CYNTHIA HOSMER
photography courtesy BRAVE BOAT HARBOR FARM

Brave Boat Harbor Farm
Co-Owner Cynthia Hosmer and Vinca.
Liberty Bell and Trooper.

Only the stone walls, occasional pottery shards and headstone markers in the Burying Ground tell the stories of Brave Boat Harbor Farm's first families. Clearing the fields for livestock and farming must have been a monumental task, but the old white oaks along the stone walls are the only witnesses of that labor. This was a subsistence farm of the Raynes family dating from the 17th century.

Cal and Marion Hosmer, my husband’s parents, discovered this land as an abandoned farm in 1949 and bought portions of it beginning the following year. Eventually there were about 300 acres incorporating three farms. Now we are at about 100 acres, all covered with conservation easements of some kind, except for the three acres immediately around the house. Including the stone-faced Georgian-style house, there is a barn and outbuildings, all built by my father-in-law, and a caretaker’s cottage.

We are set well back on a hillside overlooking the ocean to our southeast, and surrounded on three sides by open fields. There is a walled front garden, vegetable and cutting gardens, a woodland walk, secret garden, hosta path and fruit trees. There are mown paths through the fields leading to the ocean and across to the surrounding forest. There is a Summer House overlooking our “fire pond” to the northwest and a Gun House to the east where we enjoy a glass of wine in the summer before dinner.

Marion was a horticulturist and avid gardener. Brought up during the Depression and raising a family during World War II, she was passionate about growing fruits and vegetables. She was curious about plants in general and eagerly sought knowledge from experts from the local universities and plant societies. She was also a member of two garden clubs and a well-known horticulture and design flower show judge. The gardens here were Marion’s labor of love. From the grounds cleared for building the house and barns, she started the structure of gardens that are here today. She collected and nourished the apple trees, keeping extensive records of harvests, started a collection of deciduous magnolias and increased the collection of lilacs near the old cellar holes. Her tree peonies in bloom are celebrated with parasols and tea parties.

My husband, also Cal, and I knew we always wanted to live here. From the time of his retirement from a career in the U.S. Army until we inherited BBHFarm in 1997, 14 years later, I stood by Marion’s side trying to absorb some of her vast knowledge. She was a most willing teacher, but just a small percentage of that knowledge stuck. Only by getting deep into the sense of the earth and studying the changes in the cycles of days does one gradually get in tune with the land and how to work with it. The compost pile is witness to failed attempts to impose a novice’s will on the landscape. During these past 20+ years, this land and I have come to understand and love each other, working in harmony to create our piece of paradise. Marion would say, “Heaven’s going to have to go some …” and she was right!

Where Marion was a collector, I have been the designer, making beds and organizing spaces to incorporate her collections. I have planted more magnolias to complement those that she started. We have added to her hosta collections and given them boundaries; and, planted trees for the next generation to look up to. I have had fun collecting driftwood as sculptural elements at various places around the garden, as well as stone sculptures by Cabot Lyford, Gary Haven Smith and Sumner Winebaum bronzes. As the climate softens, we have been able to extend the beds of roses that were started so long ago. We still plant the vegetables and herbs that we eat during the summer. We’ve had to replace some of the espaliered apples growing on the front of the house with more disease-resistant new varieties. Cal is keen observer, but the work is done by our wonderful caretaker and me. Often it takes several pairs of eyes to see an opportunity or realize a mistake. This garden is always a work in progress.

We often have visitors to BBHFarm. We have been part of the Garden Conservancy Open Gardens program for the past 25 years. I have close ties with the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden having been an initial board member and presently serving a second term. Many garden clubs book visits and we’ve had visitors from professional garden tours. There is a group of artists who come several times each summer to catch the late afternoon light and stay almost until dark. This garden has been featured in “Earth on Her Hands” and national and local magazines including Country Cottage and Down East.

By modern standards we are remote from the world, almost a mile from the paved road. Visitors are surprised to find us, but excited to learn our stories. Many remark that there is a sense of tranquility and peace here. I walk with people and talk about our history and then turn them loose to wander. Often we meet again in the front garden for refreshments. The happy faces and frequent questions are a sure sign that this experience has touched a chord. Some mention the waving leaves on a still day and the darting shadows. “Perhaps fairies” is my reply. I am convinced that I was put here to nurture this garden and then pass it on to the next generations. During this year of pandemic isolation, our days have been filled with projects. Now, we’re into the winter pruning of the fruit trees. As the catalogs come in the mail, we’re turning down corners and making plans for ordering plants and seeds. There don’t seem to be enough hours in a day to get everything done.

The days are already lengthening and soon we’ll see the snowdrops coming up along the garden wall. Lucky me to have been given this annual joy of renewal.

. . .

Access for visitors:
The Garden Conservancy “Open Gardens Day” (Hoping for the weekend of June 26 - 27.) Timed entry, masks required.

All other times, by appointment only. Contact Cynthia Hosmer: braboat@msn.com

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