BRIDPORT — Beds of color dot the yard around the Howlett farmhouse. Across the road farm vehicles sit dormant below two large silos and a carved “Howlett” sign on the barn. The dairy farm is retired now, but the garden belies an ongoing dedication to the land: it is sprawling and colorful, brimming with fruits, vegetables and flowers.
“My father bought this farm when I was in high school,” said Esther Howlett. “We’ve been farming it since 1945.”
In 1979, she and her husband bought the farm from her father and ran it until they retired, just a couple of years ago. She has had a large garden on the land for about 20 years.
She fingered a small bunch of what looked like grapes, hanging from a vine in a shady corner of the yard.
“It’s going to be a good kiwi year,” said Howlett. They wouldn’t get much larger than this, she said, but when they ripened in a couple of months, they would taste exactly like a larger kiwi.
Her table grapes were coming into season, and the raspberries were almost done. Across the yard was a vegetable garden, where short rows of plants were lined up in the sunshine.
“I haven’t done vegetables since I started doing flowers,” she said. “Flowers are more fun.”
Now her husband grows vegetables, but they occupy only a small portion of the yard — most of it is her territory.
“It’s nice having a lot of space,” she said. “And it’s nice having access to a lot of organic matter.” She gestured across the street, to the row of farms stretching down the road.
Although Addison County soil has high clay content, Howlett has spent years adding composted manure and other organic material to condition the soil. Now it is perfectly suited to growing flowers.
She pointed out the themed beds around the side garden — the daylily bed, the white bed, which had not yet bloomed, the pink bed.
“But mostly I just have lots,” she added with a laugh, pointing to the mingling flowers in all of the other beds.
Trees shade the garden beds at the back of the house, sheltering plants in decorative pots, statues and low, fragile herb beds. Behind the beds is a four-foot picket fence built by Howlett’s son, and beyond the fence a field runs down to Lake Champlain.
Howlett spends five hours a day working in the garden — the rain this season has been good for the weeds and pests.
“But I don’t have to water,” she said brightly.
She is always adding new flowers to her garden. For inspiration, she visits nurseries and other gardens with friends. She and her friends also trade plants, growing new things together to experiment.
“I grow whatever looks like fun,” she said. “I’m always adding things.”
Her gardening philosophy is similarly carefree.
“Do what makes you happy,” she said. “Don’t listen to the experts. Just get out there and garden.”