Saturday, May 15, 2010

The First Phase of Planting Completed !!!

After nearly three years of planning, tree cutting, more planning, earth moving, and more planning, the first  phase of planting the re-creation of Jonathan Fisher's orchard took place this morning.

Rufus Wanning planting a tree, in backgound, l-r, are Caroline Werth, Andrea Hendrix, Karen Anthony

Although the Fisher House has been open as a Museum for 55 years, displaying many of the arts and furnishing of the man, the two acre home grounds surviving of the original 300 acre farm were long neglected, and had overgrown with invasive bittersweet, bracken and swamp maples. As the board of directors started to take control of this jungle, the remnants of stone walls began to re-appear, and the 19th century lay-out became apparent. Fortuitously, Fisher's hand-drawn map of those two acres survives in the collection of the Farnsworth Library & Art Museum in Rockland, Maine, complete with a chart of the fruit trees planted there originally. The board of the Fisher House decided to bring the agricultural story of the property to the fore, and to recreate the orchard.

Jonathan Fisher's c. 1820 map of his home grounds, showing orchard and listing varieties (Collection of the Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, Maine)

Learning of the project, Fisher's 4 x great-granddaughter, Louise Fisher Abbot, who had studied landscape at Radcliffe, asked that she be permitted to fund the restoration of the fields, in memory of her three late sisters. (Jonathan Fisher had also had four daughters) With this generous gift in hand, the Fisher House board was able to proceed with planning. Enter at this point, the current Congregational minister, Robert McCall, author of the Awanjanado Almanac, who himself maintains an orchard at his parsonage. He brought to the committee Leslie Cummins and Tim Seabrook of Five Star Nursery in Brooklin, Maine, who have made their life work the preservation and propagation of early varieties of apples grown in Maine.

A page from Jonathan Fisher's Sketchbook, c. 1815, showing two apples, believed to be Golden Russets, on a pewter plate (watercolor, collection of Jonathan Fisher House)

Planning commenced. Fisher's chart was examined, the space available measured, practical considerations like budget and manpower available weighed, and a plan began to take shape. It was decided that a reduced scale adaptation of the orchard could be achieved. Amazingly, one huge tree, labeled on the original plan as a 'St. Germain Pear', survived from 1820, and now anchors the new orchard.

Detail from Morning View of Blue Hill Village, showing the Fisher Farm, orchard at right center.
Looking toward the house today. The 200 year old pear tree partially obscures the ell, with a newly planted section of orchard to the right.

Another fascinating feature of the orchard was that Fisher clearly intended it to be ornamental as well as useful (He often ventured from this post on the Eastern frontier to Boston, where he saw urban schemes and the new country estates then being built around Boston, and visited with relatives, including the landscape painter Alvin Fisher). Radiating out from the parlor windows of the house, splitting the orchard in two, he indicated a fan allee, widening from the house as it took in the spectacular view from his hilltop of Blue Hill Mountain, Blue Hill Village and Bay, and the mountains of Mt. Desert Island in the distance. This is probably the earliest known planned landscape feature in Maine. It was considered essential to duplicate this feature, although the view is long since lost to tree growth (and were the trees to disappear today, would focus directly on the rear of a supermarket a quarter mile away between Fisher House and the Harbor.)

  Tim Seabrook giving a demonstration for proper planting of the trees.

Fisher descendant Louise Abbot, turns the first spade of soil to plant a descendant of the original cherry trees

Rev. Rob McCall, Louise Fisher Abbot, and Leslie Cummins of Five Star Nursery plant and stake the cherry tree,

For trees, two of Fisher's original varieties, golden Roxbury Russets and a Pippin could be located. It was decided to also make the orchard a public home for other known pre 1850 (Fisher died in 1847 varieties that were known to have been grown locally. Additionally, cherry trees descended from Fisher's original stock of 'English cherries' still existed, handed down from his son Willard to Lawris Closson's father-in-law, and thence to the Gordon Emersons, who in turn donated scions to the Fisher House.. Lastly, scion wood was taken to be grafted from the Pear tree, to ensure continuity for years to come.

Cages are then erected around the trees to protect them from Giant Maine Hooved Rats, a marauding pest sometimes more picturesquely referred to as 'deer' by the tourists.

Which brings us to this morning. The trees were put up for 'adoption', and all were spoken for, and this morning, with apple trees in bloom, members of the community gathered and planted 'their' trees, in the spots where Jonathan Fisher had planted similar ones nearly 200 years ago. Rev. McCall spoke a few words to bless the trees, and with that, Fisher's great-great-great-great granddaughter helped to plant one of the cherry trees descended from those first ones, in the very spots where the originals had grown.

Over 30 people showed up to help, and the first 9 trees were planted in two hours.

Andrea Hendrix, with the tree she donated and planted in honor of her grandchildren

What remains is to bury a modern electrical entry wire, and to construct a picket fence in front of the house, and the appearance of Fisher's homestead will closely resemble the view in Fisher's famous painting of Blue Hill in 1824
Spring, by Jonathan Fisher, 1820 (Collection of Jonathan Fisher House)

Thank you to the Fisher house volunteers who made the day run smoothly, picking up supplies, planting and staking and caging the trees, and providing delicious refreshments (two kinds of apple cake, appropriately---recipe please, Marilyn)

And thank you to all the donors who made this ambitious project possible:


Louise Fisher Abbot
Mr. & Mrs. Daniel Dennett
Owen & Ruth Evans
Mr. & Mrs. R. Andrew Fletcher III
Millenium Communications Group


David Abbot, in honor of his wife, Louise Fisher Abbot
Anonymous Donor
Leslie Becker & William Loomis
Ellen Best & Geoffrey Anthony
Mr. & Mrs. Gordon Emerson
Andrea Hendrix, in honor of her Grandchildren
Pamela H. Holden, in Memory of her husband, Dr. Randall Holden, Jr.
Marilyn Heineman
Linda Hoskins & Rev. Theodore Hoskins
Seymour Lipkin
Mainescape Nursery & Garden
Members of the Board of the Jonathan Fisher Memorial
Sarah Pebworth
Ellen Werner, in Memory of her Father, Dr. Harry B. Werner 

William Petry, Caroline Werth, Jane Garfield, & Barbara Rossow


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Fisher Orchard Planting May 15th

After 3 years of research and planning on this Saturday, May 15th at 10:00 A.M. the Fisher Memorial will begin planting it's restoration of Jonathan Fisher’s fruit orchard with historic varieties duplicating Fisher's original choices as laid out in an 1820 plan of the orchard.  The orchard is a major part of the design to reproduce the broader context for the house and furnishings of the first settled minister in Blue Hill whose tenure spanned the early years of the village until 1837.  Reverend Fisher’s famous 1824 painting “Morning View of Blue Hill Village” shows his orchard from the vantage point of Greene’s Hill.      
 Jonathan Fisher's 1820 plan of his orchard, including an allee from the parlor windows (Jonathan Fisher Collection, courtesy Farnsworth Art Museum & Library
 The heritage plantings, Golden Russet, Roxbury Russet, Ribston Pippin, have been grafted and nurtured by Tim Seabrook and Leslie Cummins of Five Star Nursery and Orchard in Brooklin, plus two cherry trees descended from Fisher’s original trees have been donated.  The field has been cleared and readied thanks to a donation from Louise Abbot, a great-great-granddaughter of Jonathan Fisher. On Saturday, in a wonderful bit of continuity, Mrs. Abbot will turn the first spade of soil for the hole in which will be planted a cherry tree directly descended from the 'English Cherry' that Fisher planted, in the original location indicated on his plan.  Reverend Rob McCall of the First Congregational Church of Blue Hill, an orchard keeper himself, will bless the orchard.
 The Fisher Farm, detail from 'A Morning View of Blue Hill Village, 1824, showing the Fisher house at left, with orchard below.
8 trees will planted this year, with 7 more to follow next year.  For a couple of years, the trees will have to be protected against deer and raccoons with rather unauthentic chicken wire and stakes, but we anticipate that in five years, the orchard will once again bloom in spring as it did nearly 200 years ago.
The Tree Planting Ceremony is planned for Saturday, May 15, at 10AM.  Refreshments will be provided and the public is invited to attend.  For those who wish to (support) become more involved in this project, a tree may be (adopted) purchased for a $150 donation to the Jonathan Fisher Memorial, Inc.  This will include the cost of the tree, planting, fencing and maintenance.  Or, any donation to this heritage project will be greatly appreciated.