From stony soil, verdant beauty
McLaughlin Garden is one man’s horticultural masterpiece.
South Paris, Maine
In a state where gardeners are justifiably proud to coax anything, especially anything beautiful, out of their sour, stony soil and unforgiving climate, Bernard McLaughlin held an exalted status among his peers, who dubbed him the Dean of Maine Gardeners.Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. McLaughlin labored at humble jobs – bank teller and grocery clerk among them – but after business hours and on weekends, he poured exceptional talent and energy into his backyard, filling two acres of former farm fields and pastures with carefully chosen trees, shrubs, and perennials.
When he died in 1995, he left behind gardens that represented nearly 60 years of experimentation and accumulated knowledge, the record and product of his horticultural self-education.
The plants he chose sound conventional enough for this (Zone 4) part of the world – lilacs and azaleas, irises and peonies, roses and daylilies, sedums and asters, dogwoods, crab apples, and rhododendrons.
Over time, however, the number of species and varieties in the ever-larger beds and groves multiplied into the hundreds. His 200 lilac cultivars, for instance, compose Maine’s largest private lilac collection, and his perennial collections – hepaticas, hostas, trilliums, irises, and lilies, among others – were widely admired.
Visitors, as many as 2,000 a year, stopped by to see what he was up to. Sometimes they left with a recently divided specimen pressed on them by the gracious gardener, who presided over the Maine Iris Society for multiple terms and belonged to the American Iris Society and the American Lilac Society.
“He has seven different species of trillium, and I have no doubt that if he were alive today, he’d still be putting new things in the garden,” she adds.
The foundation, established by neighbors who rushed in to save the gardens after McLaughlin’s death, has rehabilitated and preserved McLaughlin’s 1848 farmhouse as well as the plants, keeping the property open to the public.
Because the garden charges no admission, the foundation relies on voluntary donations and plant sales from a small nursery and the garden’s gift shop (open all year), which fills several downstairs rooms in the farmhouse.