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Lessons from the Land: Finding a Lost Landscape on the Coast of Maine

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Lessons from the Land: Finding a Lost Landscape on the Coast of Maine

September 18, 2017

The story begins on Mount Desert Island, Maine: “This five-acre site at the edge of Acadia National Park was once the summer home of Charles William Eliot, president of Harvard University and pioneer of the American landscape preservation movement in Maine,” says Cambridge, Massachusetts-based landscape architect Stephen Stimson.

The estate that Eliot bought in 1879 eventually fell into “benign disrepair” in the 20th century, until Stimson’s clients bought it decades later. As construction began on a new house, Stimson’s firm began to uncover forgotten history: “The notion of a lost landscape became our primary focus,” says Stimson. “We delved deeper into the history of the region, fascinated by the early photographs of Eliot’s estate and paintings of Mount Desert that depicted coastal meadows, salt marshes, and other landscape scenes far more varied than the monoculture evergreen forest that now covered the property.”

The story continues: Stimson won an Honor Award in the just-announced 2017 American Society of Landscape Architects’ Professional Awards for the design for Northeast Harbor, a Restoration on Mount Desert Island.

Read on for a ramble along the woodland trails, winding through a garden of lichen and moss toward the sea, on a restored “primitive piece of coastal Maine.”

Photography by Jonathan Levitt courtesy of ASLA.

A granite bridge capable of supporting vehicles spans a restored stream. &#8\2\20;A gravel entry drive crosses the restored stream over a new granite bridge. The dwellings are one-story from the road, embedded in a grove of red maples and native birches,&#8\2\2\1; says Stimson.
Above: A granite bridge capable of supporting vehicles spans a restored stream. “A gravel entry drive crosses the restored stream over a new granite bridge. The dwellings are one-story from the road, embedded in a grove of red maples and native birches,” says Stimson.
After crossing the granite bridge, the gravel driveway leads to a carriage house and a main house.
Above: After crossing the granite bridge, the gravel driveway leads to a carriage house and a main house.
&#8\2\20;The dwellings are one-story from the road, embedded in a grove of red maples and native birches. A stone terrace and small play lawn extend from the lower level of the main house and open to expansive views of the Cranberry Islands,&#8\2\2\1; says Stimson.
Above: “The dwellings are one-story from the road, embedded in a grove of red maples and native birches. A stone terrace and small play lawn extend from the lower level of the main house and open to expansive views of the Cranberry Islands,” says Stimson.
The site plan. Photograph by Stephen Stimson Associates/ Landscape Architects. See more of the project at ASLA.
Above: The site plan. Photograph by Stephen Stimson Associates/ Landscape Architects. See more of the project at ASLA.
An homage to the designs of \20th-century landscape architect Beatrix Ferrand, an edible garden has gravel paths to separate linear beds and includes ornamentals such as verbena and dwarf Russian sage.
Above: An homage to the designs of 20th-century landscape architect Beatrix Ferrand, an edible garden has gravel paths to separate linear beds and includes ornamentals such as verbena and dwarf Russian sage.
A small lawn and play area connect to woodland trails.
Above: A small lawn and play area connect to woodland trails.
From the play garden, a mossy trail winds past a woodland overlook.
Above: From the play garden, a mossy trail winds past a woodland overlook.
A steel wall at the edge of a stairways of granite pavers and gravel blends into the natural surroundings. New plantings include trees (birch, poplar, and spruce) and perennials (hay-scented ferns, and blueberry and huckleberry bushes).
Above: A steel wall at the edge of a stairways of granite pavers and gravel blends into the natural surroundings. New plantings include trees (birch, poplar, and spruce) and perennials (hay-scented ferns, and blueberry and huckleberry bushes).
A crushed granite path is bordered by a newly planted woodland of deciduous and evergreen trees.&#8\2\17;
Above: A crushed granite path is bordered by a newly planted woodland of deciduous and evergreen trees.’
The landscape architects &#8\2\20;reintroduced red maple wetlands, birch thickets, witch hazel groves, alpine meadow and pockets of lawn over eighty feet of grade change. Intensive planting involved the physical layout and placement of soils, boulders, trees, shrubs, ground covers, mosses, and even seedlings.&#8\2\2\1;
Above: The landscape architects “reintroduced red maple wetlands, birch thickets, witch hazel groves, alpine meadow and pockets of lawn over eighty feet of grade change. Intensive planting involved the physical layout and placement of soils, boulders, trees, shrubs, ground covers, mosses, and even seedlings.”
A granite footbridge crosses a swale garden planted with ferns, winterberry, and inkberry to control runoff.
Above: A granite footbridge crosses a swale garden planted with ferns, winterberry, and inkberry to control runoff.
Sources for the dry-laid granite used through the site include salvaged Acadia granite from Sullivan Quarry andWoodbury gray granite from Swenson Granite Works.
Above: Sources for the dry-laid granite used through the site include salvaged Acadia granite from Sullivan Quarry and
Woodbury gray granite from Swenson Granite Works.
From the guest house to the pier, a gravel and granite path is bordered by birch and spruce trees as well as blueberry bushes that turn fiery in autumn.
Above: From the guest house to the pier, a gravel and granite path is bordered by birch and spruce trees as well as blueberry bushes that turn fiery in autumn.

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