We are a specialty nursery growing herbaceous ornamental wildflowers, grasses, and select hybrids and cultivars. In creating our plant selection particular attention has been given to plants that are hardy, robust-growing, and low-maintenance while embodying a more natural and wild aesthetic. Meticulous plant selection is at the heart of who we are as nurserymen, and it is this very same selection of plants we use as designers to practice the art of naturalistic planting design. We offer a hands-on approach to helping customers understand the plants in our nursery from both an ecological and design perspective, and often a sales exchange will result in a personal consultation concerning the development of the customer’s garden.
Naturalistic Planting Design
Nature is in a state of constant and dynamic change from season to season. Our focus is on herbaceous perennial plants which reflect this change while remaining beautiful, keeping our gardens attractive from spring into winter. Ultimately we chose to grow a particular plant, not for its rarity or popularity, but for the artistic effect it contributes to the garden as a whole. In harsher climates such as in Maine, plant foliage and structure play a particularly important role in the garden. Since flower color is relatively short-lived, we feel plant structure to be the fundamental aspect of ornamental plants with which to design our gardens as it is with us over a longer period of time, and color is best seen as an added extra (see resources: lists – “Plants with a long season of interest”).
We are keenly aware of the ongoing effort in the commercial plant industry to entice the public with an ever-increasing selection of plants. In our opinion, more often than not, most newly introduced hybrids and cultivars are no better than already existing tried and true forms or species, and this effort often leads to confusing the gardener rather than enlightening. From these new introductions, we pick and choose carefully. One exception is the renewed interest and introduction of native plants which we believe is a very promising and beneficial trend.
That said, we ourselves are active in selecting new plants for our own nursery while being careful not to duplicate those already commercially available (see resources: lists – “Campo di Fiori Selections”). These new selections are not only the result of the natural diversity found within the seeds we sow but of our ‘plant hunting’ efforts in which from season to season we explore different local habitats in an effort to find indigenous plants with unique qualities. As new introductions to our nursery, such plants have the added benefit of potentially helping to support a wider array of wildlife. While looking through our plant selection, a description with the words “A local selection” means it has been propagated from local genetic stock that has been conscientiously harvested from the wild within a roughly 30-mile radius of the nursery (see plants: “Native vs. Non-native . . . Species, Hybrids, Cultivars). A visit to the ocean and shores and tributaries of Merrymeeting Bay, as well as fragments of sandplain grassland and open woodlands, each with their own diverse flora, provide untold inspiration.
For us, naturalistic planting design is an aesthetic grounded in the natural world. More than the peaked aesthetic of highly controlled gardens, we look to the magic, spontaneity, and humility of natural areas to see how nature intrinsically ‘designs’ with skill, sensitivity, and ease. With its beautiful myriad forms and atmosphere of change, it is an artistic force that is expressed and appreciated throughout the world. Gardening is a living process that involves not only artistic vision but a basic understanding of the scientific disciplines of ecology, biology, and botany, and it is this pairing of art and natural science that makes it wholly unique as an art form. And complete artistic expression is not yet achieved until all that flutter and buzz, creep and crawl, find refuge in the plantings we create not only for ourselves but for them. As both gardeners and nature lovers, our goal is to inspire and encourage imagination in the art of garden creation with respect to the dynamic beauty and emotion of nature.
Campo di Fiori and its three different display gardens are not only a showcase for the natural beauty of plants but a place of ongoing experimentation in designing with them. Every year and every season is different, and these gardens by nature are forever works-in-progress.
Traveling past the sales area and through the white pine hedge is the largest display garden known as the Perennial Meadow. Here is the greatest diversity of plants with strong and long-lasting structures artistically juxtaposed in an informal, open-border, matrix, or meadow-like planting. The heavy clay loam supports large clumps of Calamagrostis, Eupatorium, Panicum, and Vernonia along the back, and in the middle and foreground is a semi-matrix dominated by the grass Sesleria with intermingled clumps of Sedum, Allium, Liatris, Echinacea, Persicaria, Penstemon, and Zizia, among several others. This garden is at its height of visual interest from early summer into early fall. A path runs through and behind the deepest parts of the meadow allowing one to immerse themselves amongst the plants and to experience the planting more intimately and from different angles.
Deschampsia Meadow/Roadside Meadow
This garden is located in and around the lower nursery area and parking lot and is a blend of two separate compositions partly due to variations in soil moisture. It is another variation of a matrix-type planting that strives to mimic a meadow or other type of open habitat such as prairie or steppe (or roadside), both dominated by grasses and forbs. The moister parts of the planting are largely the Deschampsia caespitosa cultivar ‘Bronzeschlier’, a native ornamental grass. Where there is increased dryness, the planting then grades into a matrix of Beteloua curtipendula. Within this mixed matrix of grasses emerge perennials such as Rudbeckia maxima, Parthenium integrifolium, Echinacea ‘Happy Star’, Solidago nemoralis, and Asclepias tuberosa, among others. The inspiration for the Roadside Garden comes from a mixed wild flora sometimes seen growing in dry roadside ‘meadows’ here in southern Maine.
Carex Woodland Meadow
This garden is located in the upper nursery area and is yet another example of a matrix-type planting but for dry semi-shade. Here Carex muskingumensis, an ornamental sedge native to the Great Lakes region, is the primary matrix plant that creates the woodland meadow-like feel. Species of Carex are particularly reliable and effective when put to this use. Under the part-shade (and roots) of a giant red oak, in well-drained silt loam soil, we are challenged to make a shade garden for our times. One that is beautifully adapted to our increasingly dry summers and the ubiquity of shade that prevails in heavily forested Maine – and that remains attractive through the seasons. So many beautiful native woodland species from around the world are spring-flowering ephemeral plants of moist humus-rich soils and significant summer rainfall, which unfortunately here in Southern Maine, is becoming a rarity. In our ongoing trials with this difficult garden location, we have discovered that many of the best plants for this site are native – plants such as Geranium maculatum ‘Alba’, Gillenia trifoliata, and Actaea racemosa. Combined with other tough non-native plants such as Hellebore, Hosta, and large structural clumps of the grass Spodiopogin sibiricus, the garden has become a unique example of how a planting can be made to fit these conditions, albeit in a minimalist fashion. A sitting area in the middle of this meadow overlooks the wild meadows which are the foreground of the Cathance River wetland.
For those with an interest in nature study or just wanting to take a walk, a mown path provides an opportunity to explore the fields and edges of the designated conservation land that surrounds the nursery and the Cathance River. (see “contact” for Google maps). In mid-summer one may find the less common Plantathera lacera or Smilax herbacea hiding amongst the grasses, and much more likely the ubiquitous yet attractive non-natives Trifolium pratense, Ranunculus acris, and Chrysanthemum leucanthemum. Bluebirds, bobolinks, tree and barn swallows, and a nesting pair of bald eagles are species of birds often seen utilizing and nesting in or around the fields. From here the very adventurous may make their way onto the abandoned railway bed and walk along and through the middle of the wetland and riparian areas adjoining the river where a whole other mix of native plants occurs to be viewed up close – Eupatorium, Lobelia, Lysimachia, and Lilium canadense to name a few.
The nursery, Campo di Fiori, is dedicated in memoriam to Andrew’s grandmother, Lucille Jewell, long-time gardener and caretaker of the family farm, avid botanist and bird-watcher, founding member of Merrymeeting Audobon, and long-time member of Josselyn Botanical Society, Sorrento Scientific Society, and Friends of Merrymeeting Bay. May these things in nature which she loved be allowed to persist for eternity.
“For many gardeners, what we enjoy most about gardening is not so much what we grow as who we become. We gardeners are healthy, joyous, natural creatures. We are practical, patient, optimistic. We declare our optimism every year, every season, with every act of planting. We engage in regular, purposeful exercise. We notice everything. We accept everything. We use everything that comes our way. We feel the birth and ebb and flow of everything. We are part of the pattern. We are rooted firmly in the natural world, as aware of the plants, soil, winds, and weather as any other natural thing. We gardeners are fully connected to the land of our living.”
Carol Deppe, The Resilient Gardener