My husband and I have had this home on an island in the middle of the coast of Maine for nearly 40 years. When we bought it, he was teaching at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts on nearby Deer Isle, and his best friend, the painter Eric Hopkins, took us by boat to this island, where his family lived, for a visit. We were stranded here for two days due to dense fog. But at the time, Eric’s mother showed us an old dairy farm—it dates back to 1794 and had been abandoned for years—and said, “It’s perfect for young people like you who have a lot of time and no money.” We made an offer to buy it because we had nothing better to do.
I have two gardens near the house: one with lettuce, herbs, and peas, and a larger one with potatoes, cabbage, broccoli, eggplant, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, squash, peppers, and enough onions to feed my family for a year. My interest in gardening goes back to my childhood. When I grew up in post-war Japan, the country was still occupied by the United States and there was a severe food shortage. I lived with my grandmother, who was a wonderful gardener, and although her specialty was roses, she planted vegetables to support the family. When we got the house in Maine, there was only a small store on the island, so we couldn’t buy fresh vegetables. I also panicked because we raised our kid mostly in New York City and I didn’t want her growing up without any idea where a carrot comes from. So I started the garden out of necessity as well as to educate.
Eventually I began to see gardening as linked to my architectural practice. It takes a long time to realize a building, but gardening is almost instantaneous satisfaction. You plant a seed, it grows and it’s so nice to see results so quickly. In the long run, however, the most important thing is to cultivate a terroir. In architecture we do this by creating community: you have to have consensus, willingness and investment. In that sense, I would argue that architecture is closer to agriculture than to industrial production.
As a gardener, you also need to be incredibly attentive to the weather, pests and soil conditions. You must learn to weed and recognize bad ideas, the ones that can be harmful. It’s also about cycles. There are annuals and perennials, a distinction that provides an appealing metaphor for design. Annuals may be more intriguing to an industrial designer, but in architecture we try to plant perennials that grow stronger with age. I look forward to looking forward to a time when our primary building materials may be plant-based. So in a way, spending time in the garden is just part of the habit of creating, but it’s also a problem-solving exercise for me and an inspiration for the future. Sometimes I think that one day my buildings will become really edible.
This interview has been edited and abridged.