As Marie Wolf takes a visitor around her garden, she opens with an apology. “I’m very boring.” She makes that comment while pointing out the 300-plus varieties of rhododendrons crowding the hillside beside her riverside home.
It is a rapid-fire rap, filled with names and colors, and how she picked each plant directing her late husband to place it in the perfect location.
Some were not planted at all. They just showed up. Rhodies and other plants, especially the hostas, throw off volunteers. “If they want to come (into her garden) they just come,” she said.
The gardens were special to her late husband, George, she says as she points out each one by name.
Some of the rhodies came from the West Coast, others from all around. Some even came from Reny’s. “One year, they had lots of them,” she said.
She points to a stream meandering down the hillside as it disappears into a jumble of rhodies, ferns and hostas, large and small. Some stand alone; others hide, just peeking out from under the brush. Near the bottom, the stream tucks itself under a graceful wooden bridge. She said George crafted it to resemble Claude Monet’s bridge in Giverny.
But, as Marie lectures about her remarkable garden, it becomes clear she is really telling a love story that happens to involve the garden.
A tiny woman with bright blue eyes, she admits, reluctantly, that she is in her late 80s, and can no longer spend 12 hours a day tending her plants. She is looking for a helper and apologizes that now she has to hire someone to mow the grass.
As a fine mist turns to rain, she invites visitors to enter her home, leaving behind the weathered porch overlooking the gardens, the lawn and the Damariscotta River.
Pulling off her green L.L.Bean rubber boots, she sits in a living room decorated with pictures and other treasures. And, she smiles as she relates that she met George when she was an undergrad at Fordham in New York. “We decided to get married and had to drop out and take night classes.” They were married for 64 years, had three daughters, seven grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.
She took classes at various institutions until she was awarded a Ph.D. leading to a professorship teaching English and literature at Bergen Community College. Her eyes began to twinkle as she explained the faculty of the two-year institution liked to refer to themselves as “the Harvard of Community Colleges.” As she climbed the academic ladder, George, who died in 2016, began his long career with New Jersey Bell and, after the Bell phone system was broken up, he worked for a successor firm, Verizon.
“He could fix anything,” she said. “He started out climbing poles and retired as a managing engineer.
George loved to hunt and fish and, of course, he tied his own flies. His fly tying bench still sits in an alcove upstairs. On another wall, not far from a pair of mounted deer heads, is a bearskin.
“George shot that bear, but it got even,” she said with a grin.
“He was hunting not far from Missoula, Montana when a game warden approached him and asked him what he was seeking. He said he was just looking.”
The game warden said there was a wounded bear nearby who had been preying on young deer and asked him if he would mind destroying it. He agreed.
Walking down a hill into a valley, he spotted the bear and shot it. He tried to lift it, but it was too heavy to drag out of the woods, so he just skinned it, threw the pelt over his shoulder and walked away with his trophy. The bear didn’t tell him it had a visitor – a tick.
“George brought the skin home but started feeling bad, and I sent him to the doctor, who asked him where he had been. When he said he had been hunting in Montana, the doctor treated him for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Fortunately, George recovered.”
The couple retired in 1989 and moved to Maine in the summer, and Florida in the winter. They bought their present home in 1995 and began to fill the hillside with rhodies and the rest. Looking out the window, she paused for a moment. “George loved the garden. I picked out the spots, he did the digging. We never knew when to stop,” she said.
“Just look at it. It is so … It is full of flowers. You know,” she said, turning to a visitor. “ I have woods. I have water…I know I am so boring. Thanks for listening,” she said.
No, Marie. Thanks for telling us a love story.