A Tour of Snug Harbor Farm with Garden Designer Tony Elliott
This multitalented horticulturist, farmer, and foodie gives us a tour of his farm, where art meets the land.
In our November issue, we showcase topiaries created from otherwise ordinary plants ("The Shape of Things"); and Tony Elliot, gardener extraordinaire and owner of Snug Harbor Farm in Maine, was our featured expert. In addition to sharing some wonderful techniques for making topiaries at home, he also opened up his beautiful farm to us so we could display the plants in their natural habitat.
Combining his love of traditional English landscape design with a deep appreciation for the natural topography of his home, he's built an estate that includes five greenhouses, a shop, a barn, a nursery, and vegetable fields. In addition, his contributions to the community—including designing neighbors' farms and gardens, and hosting workshops and events at the farm—have earned him the fitting moniker "gentleman farmer." Here, the New England–based landscape gardener gives us a glimpse into his everyday life on the farm.
Snug Harbor Farm stretches over five acres in the seaside town of Kennebunk, ME, and brings in millions of visitors each year. How much has it grown since you bought the land in 1998?
When I purchased the property, it was just the house, barn, milking shed, and farm stand (currently converted into the Design Center, the creative pulse of the property). It was built in 1785, and I'm the third owner. I added the dovecote, and gradually, all five green houses and lots of planting and infrastructure.
You're a self-professed "landscape gardener" but originally studied agronomy at Ohio State University. What drew you to landscaping?
I wanted to study landscape architecture, but everyone talked me out of it. I decided on agronomy because of my interest in both plants and animals.
After graduating, I decided I wanted to make the world pretty rather than feed it, so I moved to Maine and got a job in a nursery. I love the third-eye perspective landscaping provides—having a vision and seeing it realized.
What's your philosophy behind landscaping?
To make my work appear that it has always been there. Japanese wabi-sabi [the art of finding beauty in imperfection] and organized chaos both appeal to me.
You're raising a variety of animals at Snug Harbor, including peacocks, pheasants, ducks, chickens, geese, pigeons, ponies, poodles, sheep, and, more recently, bees. Have you always had animals on the farm?
I can't remember a time without them. I have tall ties back to my childhood, living on a small farm.
Why do you have so many?
Snug Harbor Farm is pretty with fancy fowl, and recently restored Wardbrook Farm is more functional. Next, I'm looking into cranes.
Do you have names for all of your animals?
The ponies and dogs have names. The ponies are Maggie, Tate, and Izzy, and the dogs Albert, Lucy, Bonnie, and Clyde. Maggie and Albert are my favorites.
What sparked your interest in beekeeping?
I love beekeeping for many reasons: I love supporting them in their hour of need and observing how organized they are in the hive—and I, much like Pooh Bear, love honey.
You frequently host workshops or art openings at the farm. What's coming up this fall?
Our calendar is constantly in flux—big workshop season is post holidays, but coming up we have our final Forage & Feast on October 12, Halloween Masquerade Ball on October 28, Holiday Tablescaping on November 19, and Christmas Prelude Party on December 1.
In addition to designing Snug Harbor Farm, Tony's also helped neighboring gardeners, farmers, and homeowners with their projects. King's Vegetable Garden in nearby Cape Porpoise, and Molsen Farm and Wood's Summer Street in neighboring Kennebunkport, ME, are some of his favorite collaborations to date.
Thank you, Tony!
Learn more about Tony and Snug Harbor Farm at snugharborfarm.com.