Hidden Gardens of Munjoy Hill

Photo gallery
The organizers of the Munjoy Hill garden tour couldn’t have wished for a more perfect day – clear skies and comfortable temps with a nice breeze – for taking in the eleven gardens on this tour.

Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization

The neighborly feel on Munjoy Hill is palpable.  At every garden, people obviously knew each other and were catching up on the latest happenings in their lives.  The community activities as well as the various entertainment venues, such as the North Star Music Cafe, restaurants, and cafes bring neighbors together regularly.

Many residents are involved with the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization, started in 1979, that offers a wide array of social services and activities to improve the quality of life on Munjoy Hill.  These services and activities, staffed by many volunteers, include publishing a neighborhood monthly newspaper, offering food and employment programs to those in need, as well as executing other projects such as community policing, spring clean up, flower boxes on Congress Street, and promoting economic and community development.

The annual Munjoy Hill garden tour was started in 2005 by Pauli Daniels as a way to raise funds for a community cause.  After two years, the garden tour group joined forces with the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization, which hires a manager each year to oversee the organizational details of the garden tour.  And Solange Kellerman did a fine job of seeing that the tour ran seamlessly from advertising, finding sponsors, putting together an interesting mix of gardens, publishing the brochure, selling tickets, to putting signs at each garden and staffing them with knowledgeable volunteers.

Munjoy Homes and Gardens

The homes on Munjoy Hill are a mix of single and multi-family dwellings.  The lots are small (up to 200 to 300 sq. ft.) so the owners have to be creative to get the most out of each square foot.  It helps to know how you want to use the space – for a wonderful floral display, a vegetable and herb garden, a sitting area for after dinner, a place to enjoy the view, or all of the above.

I was impressed with just how much you can do with a small space especially given limitations, such as having all shade. Several owners hired designers to make the most of their space and with good reason.  You want someone who not only has expertise about plants but can design features such as low stone enclosures, walkways, and sitting areas, and incorporate the right plants into what is an outdoor living space.

Designing this area is not unlike the concept of the Colonial Revival garden popular in the early 20th century.  The Colonial Revival garden was meant to connect the indoors with the out through a series of “rooms” that extended from the house onwards connected by paths.  In the case of Munjoy Hill, it would only be the one room, of course, but most definitely one that allows you to enjoy the outdoors as an extension of the house.

Munjoy Hill – The Lay of the Land

Once a working class enclave for the Irish American community, Munjoy Hill is now home to a more well heeled population, in general, given that the real estate is more coveted.  While it’s part of the city, it is a quiet, residential area on the northeastern part of the peninsula, overlooking the downtown and harbor to the south, Casco Bay and islands to the east and south, and Back Cove to the west.

The Eastern Promenade, which follows the shoreline, was designed by the Olmstead Brothers.  It offers views of two lighthouses, a small power plant (okay, maybe not a desirable view!), and Fort Gorges battlement.  It offers something for everyone including trails for walking, cycling, or running, public gardens, ball fields, playgrounds, a boat launch, and a beach.  There’s also a museum featuring steam and diesel tourist trains along the Casco Bay shore.

Congress Street is the main drag in the neighborhood and home to the Portland Observatory and an arts center with its resident company Good Theater that stages shows, concerts, and the like.  Munjoy Hill has several cafes and restaurants as well as a variety of eclectic shops.  The people here are big on shopping locally, so no Starbucks here!

Hidden Gardens of Munjoy Hill 2012

Each of the gardens offered something unique.  Some that stood out for me were:

Garden #1 on Morning Street featured a variety of vegetables and herbs in raised beds with trellises, bordered by perennials. It truly made the most of every square inch along with a sitting area on the deck to enjoy an ocean view and scents from the garden.  Interesting stone fountains sprinkled throughout the garden provided added interest throughout.

Garden #2 on Eastern Promenade had as its centerpiece a formal raised bed herb garden.  It was divided into four curved side sections that formed a circle around an armillary sphere made in England. (Armillary spheres have the earth positioned inside a mesh of bronze hoops, symbolizing the course of the planets as known at the time.)  A salad table offered an attractive, easy-on-the-back way to grow greens.  An adjacent space was a sitting room area bordered by perennials featuring daylilies from the owners former home.

Garden #3 on Eastern Promenade you were greeted by a Roman-like statuary stone planter overflowing with plants on a white wrought iron table.  A border of hostas and other perennials led you to the back where a lovely teak wood patio set was backed by a low stone wall bed filled with a variety of perennials and shrubs, such as mountain laurel, hydrangeas, a Chinese dogwood, roses, peonies, and clematis.  A stone bench with a colorful mosaic decorating the seat added an interesting focal  point to the array of plants.

Garden #7 on  Melbourne Street the front gate opened to a path lined with evergreens, such as holly and pieris (also known as andromedas or fetterbushes that bloom in the spring), on one side and a low stone wall bed filled shade-loving perennials opposite.  This led you to the back with a sunny garden of viburnum, dogwood, crabapple, peonies, hydrangea, and perennials that offer color from spring through winter.  The driftwood sculpture of a seagull on the wooden fence added visual interest.

While these stood out for me, the truth is each garden caught my interest in some way.  Garden #6 on Waterville Street is one to keep an eye on for future tours as it was installed only last summer.  The owners are creating an organic garden of fruits and vegetables alongside perennial beds of flowering plants and shrubs that attract hummingbirds and bees.

My husband and I truly enjoyed visiting this neighborhood.  We had breakfast at the Front Room, which was packed on this Sunday morning.  But the service was swift and the food terrific.  We look forward to walking the Eastern Promenade with its glorious ocean views and perhaps taking in a performance at the Good Theater or the North Star Music Cafe.  So if you’re in Portland, visit Munjoy Hill and, if you can, stop and enjoy its sites, restaurants, and shops, and, of course, keep an eye out for next year’s tour.  You won’t be disappointed!

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