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Jeff Marshall: Sustainable gardening and a legacy

Looking out the bay windows in a cozy nook of his cluttered living room, Jeff Marshall introduces the spectacular view ranging from southwest to northwest in what he calls “my nature theater” with a gracious, sweeping gesture.

Out on the shore of Doughty Cove here on Sebascodegan (Great) Island, huge sheets of ice are stacked up randomly near where spring-fed streams flow into the tidal zone. Marshall recalls seeing a pair of bald eagles feeding nearby on what might have been the carcass of a coyote and otters feasting greedily on running smelt.

“Mother Nature is my spiritual guru,” he explains before offering a tour of the gardens he has established in the front of the house, built in 2007, which he bought in 2010 as his retirement home. There, a visitor is introduced to an astounding array of apple, cherry and pear trees, herbs, vegetables and berry bushes that provide Marshall with an abundance of produce each year. The variety is proof positive of what’s possible despite the sometimes-harsh realities of Maine’s climate.

“It amazing how many plants do well here,” Marshall said. “I think kids – and their families – would learn and benefit from seeing this bounty.”

To that end, Marshall has decided to join the ranks of those making a legacy gift to Harpswell Heritage Land Trust (HHLT) and is leaving his house and his 1.7-acre property to HHLT in his will.

“I don’t have any children, and all my relations are quite solvent,” Marshall said. “But I want to do this for their kids and for the children of Harpswell and ultimately, in some small way, for the environment of our planet.” The bequest comes with no strings attached, he added, but he hopes his gift can provide a learning experience.

“Legacy gifts like Jeff’s are extraordinarily valuable,” said Reed Coles, HHLT executive director. “They give us the flexibility to sustain our work for the benefit of Harpswell’s future generations. We are humbled by Jeff’s generosity and very grateful for his planned gift.”

A native New Yorker, Marshall, 74, grew up in a truly communal community called Hickory Hill in Rockland County, just outside the city. He graduated from Pratt Institute and worked for years as a freelance commercial artist in New York before shifting gears and going to work at a nursery back in Rockland County. He ran his own business – Marshall Arts Landscaping and Design (Green Belt) – for 15 years before retiring.

His Maine connection stems from a family farm in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, which he visited throughout his life. On the way north, he always stopped in Freeport to shop at LL Bean. When his plan to retire to 100 acres he had purchased in Cape Breton fell through because of his inability to gain Canadian citizenship, his focus shifted to Maine. A cousin’s son was attending Bowdoin College and that connection ultimately led to Harpswell.

Marshall wanted a place on the water and a piece of property where he could pursue his interest in sustainable gardening. He found it on the shore of Doughty Cove, surrounded by 600 acres of largely undeveloped land, including the 222-acre Austin Cary Lot. He moved to Maine full time in 2011. He became involved with the land trust and along the way, someone suggested he should make out his will. That process brought about the bequest to HHLT.

“I thought the best thing would be to take an environmental perspective on the whole thing,” Marshall said. “It’s all about future generations.”