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Susan Choma restores romantic Turrets Garden
August 3rd, 2004 - Garden by the Sea
On Susan Choma's dresser in her Ohio home sits a picture of a stone Madonna nestled among yellow flowers in an overgrown, seemingly abandoned garden. The photo, said Choma, has always meant a lot to her, having been taken by her then-teenage son, Logen, in a garden she had loved for years, the sunken garden next to Turrets at College of the Atlantic. "It has a spirit of its own," Choma added. "It's like being in a beautiful ruin, a perfect setting for a garden."
Choma, a gentle woman with silver-grey hair and deep eyes, has been coming to Mount Desert Island for many years, along with her family. On shopping days in summer-crowded Bar Harbor, they would escape the bustle of town with a lunchtime picnic in the college's gardens. Most special to her was the one by Turrets, the one she always spoke of as "The Garden by the Sea." When she hurt her back last year, and couldn't carry on the usual work that summers in Maine entailed, she decided she needed a project. "Why don't you work on the garden?" said her son.
"I have a degree in horticulture," explained Choma recently. "And I always felt that this would look so lovely if we could find the perennials that are in there, that I know are there." After making sure her help would be welcome, Choma began coming to the college weekly, garden tools in hand, to weed and cultivate this small, secluded garden entered through a stone archway and dotted with stone and cement sculptures. "My original objective was to weed and cultivate the garden so that whatever perennials are there would spread," Choma explained, adding, "I love being in it, it's lovely and peaceful being on the campus and near the ocean. I've enjoyed every minute of my work."
Built on the grounds of two old estates, COA's campus is laced with gardens, among them a large, terraced expanse created by the noted landscape architect Beatrix Farrand. While the college does basic work in all its gardens every year, it has had to prioritize its restoration work and so has focused its efforts on the Farrand gardens.
Choma, a hospice volunteer and substitute teacher at her home in Shreve, seems a bit surprised at the attention her efforts have entailed. Her work is for the garden, she has said, not for the acknowledgment. Yet word of her work has spread, inspiring others. Recently, COA president Steven Katona mused over its significance, saying, "Susan's work has been more important to me than she can imagine. She has made the world more beautiful not only by reclaiming the loveliness of the garden, but also just by her presence and example. Seeing her at work in the garden and sensing her joy in that gentle, quiet place refreshes my spirit. The countless hours of hard work she has donated are a gift to all of us."
After weeks of Choma's loving care, the garden is no longer a tangle of weeds. The brick paths winding among beds and stone statuary are now lined with lilies and sweet peas. Still, the garden is every bit as mysterious as it once was. On a recent hot August afternoon, four girls sat inside what was once a stone fountain, only they were calling it their clubhouse. The girls, about 7 or 8 years old, were busy debating the name their club, along with it's mission: The Garden Girls? The Mystery Garden Girls? The Celtic Circle? As they talked it over, one girl began to repair the garden's brickwork, another demurred. "I love it just as it is!" she declared.
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