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After the Hurricane: The Resurrection of a Wild Garden in Maine


After the Hurricane: The Resurrection of a Wild Garden in Maine

July 31, 2020

Built on Maine’s Mount Desert Island in 1916, three years before Acadia was established as the oldest national park east of the Mississippi, a privately owned Swiss-style chalet and its teahouse sat peacefully inside the park’s boundary for nine decades. Then came the hurricane.

In 2008, Hurricane Hanna roared up the East Coast, leaving a swath of destruction and desolation. The storm struck the  Mount Desert Island property while a remodel was underway to convert the teahouse into guest quarters. Says landscape architect Matthew Cunningham, who saw the teahouse after the storm, “Only an exposed, depleted, and raw cross-section of earth remained, and it was rapidly eroding into the sea.”

Cunningham, whose practice is headquartered in Winchester, Massachusetts (on the northern outskirts of Boston), was the right landscape architect to hire to come up with a plan. Having grown up near the park, he was familiar with the wild, untamed beauty of Acadia (in which there are 184 private properties on which the National Park Service holds easements). The plan Cunningham came up with won a 2014 Honor Award from the American Association of Landscape Architects.

Working with a client who wanted the garden to look natural and unstudied, Cunningham created a mossy fairyland fit for the rocky Maine coast:

Photography courtesy of Matthew Cunningham Landscape Design.

Above: Built in 1916, the main house resembles a Swiss chalet. Retaining walls of dry-laid fieldstone and paths of local granite are new storm-proofing features, to aid drainage and prevent erosion.
Above: Landscape architect Cunningham chose each piece of granite personally, subjecting it to a “barefoot test” to make sure it was smooth enough to walk on without shoes. Native mosses grow in the joints between pavers.
Above: To create a woodland garden setting evocative of the greater surroundings, several kinds of fern–including Christmas fern, sweet fern, interrupted fern, and hay-scented fern (Shown)–grow in the garden.
Above: Granite-edged pathways paved with pine needles meander around the property, leading to scenic overlooks above Somes Sound. Running alongside the walkway is an unobtrusive infiltration trench designed to collect and filter rainwater.
Above: Low-growing native bunchberry is planted in the center of the ribbon driveway that leads to the house.


Above: When Hurricane Hanna hit the Eastern Seaboard in September, 2008, it scoured the terrain surrounding the property. Granite walls tumbled and tall spruce trees toppled, leaving an eroded landscape.


Above: A fire pit terrace is shaded by the boughs of a massive pine that survived the storm. Bayberry, winterberry, and ferns grow around the perimeter and granite boulders are daily reminders of the glaciers that shaped the land.
Above: Granite stairs bordered by ferns are cut into the hillside.
Above: A dining terrace with panoramic views across the Sound is bordered by a hedge of ‘Annabelle’ hydrangeas (in the Foreground). To learn more about ‘Annabelle’ see Expert Advice: The 10 Best Hydrangeas to Grow.
Above: Granite retaining walls direct water flow away from the house and minimize runoff.
Above: Foxes and other wildlife are daily reminders of the proximity of the national park.
Above: The garden’s plant palette includes bunchberry, laurel, and low-bush blueberry. White spruce, striped maple, and paper birch trees are focal points in the landscape.

Meandering through Maine? See more of our favorite spots to visit:

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