Text by Tovah Martin
Marion and Calvin Hosmer were unabashed Anglophiles and made no excuses about it. So when they bought a coastal Maine farm in 1949, they built the closest replica of a classic Georgian manor possible. Calvin puttered in his “gun house” (the mid-century version of a “man cave”) on the ocean’s edge while Marion dug into the land. For half a century, she forged a landscape with deep and meaningful roots. She shaped the mature fruit trees into statuesque form. She planted a walled pastel blue and yellow (with a touch of pink) perennial garden overlooking the water with a battalion of lilac shrubs framing the view and espalier fruit trees against the house. She installed a little vegetable plot on the protected side of the house where a slew of poppies appeared every spring. Geraniums were in the windows and magnolias grew beside the paths. The garden was legendary.
When Marion passed away in 1997, her son, Calvin, and his wife, Cynthia, became stewards of the land. “She was a renowned horticulturist and collector,” Cynthia fondly recalls of her mother-in-law. The farm’s fame made Cynthia’s responsibility to care for the land doubly daunting. “Until you sink your hands into the soil, you don’t know how it feels to steward a garden,” she says. “I was very hesitant at first.” Although she knew plenty about gardening, her husband was in the military and their family relocated every 18 months. “All I could plant were spring bulbs and vegetable gardens,” she recalls of her nomadic years. “I left daffodils all over the country.” Nonetheless, she courageously shouldered the responsibility of Braveboat Harbor Farm and succeeded gloriously—and her secret to success lay in defining the garden in her own terms.
Cynthia wanted to preserve the majesty of what she was given, but she also brought her eye and talents to the venue. Cynthia is a flower arranger keen on color echoes and rhythms. She vowed to keep the beauty and intent of Marion’s garden strong but also add her own personality and contributions to the land. “You can make this garden yours,” her mother-in-law had wisely urged. In taking that approach, Cynthia developed a personal relationship with every square foot of her land. “I want to make this as beautiful and productive as possible,” she says. Cynthia knew from past experience that change was inevitable, explaining that “a garden is never frozen in time.” So she planted trees that would continue to thrive and pick up the beat when older trees were lost.
In many cases, the garden showed her how to proceed. At one point, she tried to expand the color range in the walled garden facing the ocean, adding reds and oranges. “They were so awful,” she discovered before returning to the original yellow and blue motif. Because gardening is always evolving, Cynthia rolled with the punches. When roses proved unhappy in the coastal dampness, she switched to tree peonies instead. When the daylilies became too heavily shaded by the canopy of mature trees above, they were moved. She installed tulips (especially Tulipa clusiana ‘Cynthia’) and dahlias on an annual basis for her flower arrangements and added shrubs to achieve more structure. She increased the produce in the vegetable garden while keeping many of the cut-flower elements. Her mother-in-law had planted fruit and berry trees on the property, maintaining meticulous records of their yield. The current Hosmers harvest the bounty, sharing the overflow with friends and local food pantries.
Cynthia continues to grow and evolve with the garden. The courage that was necessary when she first accepted responsibility is required daily to make decisions necessary for the garden’s well-being. Every action she takes is carefully, respectfully, and lovingly weighed. “The goal of my stewardship is to leave to the next generation a well-loved landscape that is solidly anchored in the past with bright promise for the future.” Every morning while slipping into her garden boots, calling the dogs to her side, and stepping out to tackle whatever project is currently underway, she is mindful of that pledge. This land is in good hands.