News Feature

Deer Isle
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, July 24, 2014
Plants and pollinators star in tour of Island Heritage Trust and historical society gardens

An early colonial garden in Deer Isle

Lee Fay discusses the early colonial garden at the Deer Isle-Stonington Historical Society in Deer Isle, Maine in July 2014. This garden contains plants introduced by the first European settlers of the Island.

Photo by George Holderness Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by George Holderness

A small crowd gathered on the grounds of the Island Heritage Trust and the Deer Isle-Stonington Historical Society on Thursday, July 17, to tour the gardens and learn about the Island’s plants and the insects that pollinate them.

The Heritage Gardens and Orchard are a joint effort of IHT and the historical society; the property boundary runs through the orchard. The tour, led by Master Gardener Lee Fay and naturalist Marnie Reed Crowell, was the first event that spanned both campuses.

The plants are grouped into several different gardens, and each garden represents the flora characteristic of a certain period in the history of the Island. “The gardens are a combination of the Island’s natural heritage and human heritage,” said Fay.

The first two gardens contain native plants, which grew on the Island before Europeans settled here. Ferns, Canada mayflowers and mountain cranberries grow in the shade garden, and goldenrods, Canada lilies and lupines in the sun.

Many of these native plants still flourish at the trust’s preserves. The wood lily, for example, will be blooming brilliant red at Scott’s Landing next week.

The early American garden showcases plants from the Colonial era, such as catnip, mullein and mugwort. Many were introduced for medicinal purposes, but they have spread.

A late 1800s garden contains novelty plants that gained popularity as residents became more affluent.

The grounds are also home to a World War II Victory Garden. “We have almost all the same varieties of plants as original Victory Gardens,” said Fay.

Pollination is critical for any garden. Maine has about 30 species of native wild bees, which are different from domesticated honeybees. “But bees are only the tip of the iceberg of pollinators,” said Crowell. Thousands of species of flower flies and sweat bees also pollinate by day, and moths by night. “I photographed a hundred species of moths in three nights,” said Crowell.

Nature and technology may seem like opposing forces, but Crowell highlighted ways the two can go hand-in-hand. Island Heritage Trust now has QR codes on many of its signs, which send a user to the Nature section of the Chamber of Commerce website. There, visitors can discover guided walks, aerial photographs, and species almanacs to complement their experiences on the trust’s preserves.

Fay offered several tips for local gardeners. “Make your landscaping diverse, and keep the species that ‘volunteer’ to grow,” suggested Fay. She also recommended leaving a section of your yard unmowed to provide a habitat for pollinators and natural pest-controllers.

“Watching a garden is kind of like birdwatching,” said Fay. “At first sight, there’s nothing. But then you start to notice all kinds of pollinators.”

Both Island Heritage Trust and the historical society rely heavily on donations and volunteers. The historical society has no paid staff, and IHT has only a director and a few part-time positions.

A late 19th century Deer Isle garden

This late 1800s garden in Deer Isle, Maine contains decorative flowers that became popular as Island residents became more affluent in the second half of the 19th century.

Photo by George Holderness
Native shade plants of Deer Isle

These plants, which include mountain cranberries, ferns, wintergreen and Canada mayflowers, grew in shady spots on Deer Isle and Stonington, Maine before the Europeans arrived.

Photo by George Holderness
An early colonial garden in Deer Isle

Lee Fay discusses the early colonial garden at the Deer Isle-Stonington Historical Society in Deer Isle, Maine in July 2014. This garden contains plants introduced by the first European settlers of the Island.

Photo by George Holderness