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Native Intelligence

Native Gardens of Blue Hill hosted a lecture by renowned landscape architect Patrick Chassé on Wednesday, August 17, at the Bagaduce Music Lending Library's Performance Hall (BMLL). Chasse's talk "Native Intelligence" accompanied the unveiling of NGBH's master plan for a public garden of native Maine plants being created on BMLL's campus on South Street in Blue Hill.

photo by Jen Traub

Chassé spoke about the role Acadia's Wild Gardens, at Sieur de Monts, played in his own journey from botany to landscape design. Chassé gave an overview of the way plants have been used in American gardens, and details of some of the native plants he has found most useful and appealing in the gardens he has created.

Maine's flora has approximately 1500 species of vascular plants, a modest number, though a very diverse group representing the five ecoregions found in the state. Chassé has a pallet of natives he frequently uses, but he stressed the importance of knowing how each plant grows and what it needs to thrive. For example, bunchberry (Chamaeypericlymenum canadense) is a common wild ground cover in Maine that also performs well in northern gardens, but has limited heat tolerance in gardens where summers can be hot.

Understanding soils, topography, even the geography of a site - consulting its genius loci - these are the fundamentals, along with planting choices, that have made Chassé's gardens successful. Chassé has designed gardens all over the country; he has worked on garden restoration as well. Two nearby projects are the renovation of Beatrix Farrand's final garden at Garland Farm in Salisbury Cove, and the reconstruction of Jens Jenson's work at Edsel Ford's "Skylands" in Seal Harbor

Chassé listed some of the challenges increasingly faced by gardeners and gardens. For four centuries invasive species have been unleashed by gardeners enamored of a new plant whose behavior is untested or unknown. "Zone creep", the very manifest evidence of a warming climate, is the term used for the USDA's Hardiness Zone Map's near constant revision. Sourcing native plants from reliable, ethical propagators is another worry for gardeners and landscapers interested in using anything but the most common native species.

NGBH will be building its garden at the BMLL site over the next five years. The group, begun by three local landscapers, is relying upon volunteers, donations, and community support to carry out its vision. Patrick Chassé has been interested in the project from its inception, aware of the value of a public, teaching garden. His talk was an inspiration to the overflow audience at the Performance Hall, and his support of NGBH is much appreciated.

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