Now a vibrant, humming center of life—with a plum orchard, flock of sheep and pond buzzing with dragonflies and bullfrogs—Vermont’s Two Scottie Farm was once a dilapidated, abandoned property in complete disrepair. Nearly a decade ago, Diana Bingham, a farmer, social activist and former chef, was searching for a farm, using “stewardship,” “sustainability” and “community” as her watchwords. When she stumbled upon the 45 acres near Brattleboro, she knew she’d found her paradise, which she named after a pair of beloved Scottish terriers.
Rolling rocky pastures, aged fruit trees, wooded hillsides and a pond-like area fed by a natural spring graced the property, which was already protected under a conservation easement. However, the pastures and fruit trees were neglected, and the tiny clapboard farmhouse was beyond salvaging. Still, Diana saw a utopian potential. “Healthy forests, managed fields, a flock of sheep, loving canines and a community of likeminded people are my dream,” she says.
Diana donated the crumbling house to the fire department to use for a fire drill. She then worked with restoration experts to turn an early 19thcentury barn (deconstructed elsewhere and brought to her property) into her primary residence. Once the home was complete, gardener Rod Payne-Meyer helped Diana develop a garden plan.
Naturalized plantings of native and non-invasive exotic perennials fill stone terraces and line the drive that leads to and circles the house. Signature plants in the ornamental areas include Japanese dogwood trees (Cornus kousa) and redtwig Siberian dogwood shrubs (Cornus alba), native ferns and non-native hostas, speedwell (Veronica spp.) and herbs such as angelica (Angelica archangelica).
Masses of spring-blooming bulbs such as snowdrops (Galanthus spp.), Glory of the Snow (Chionodoxa forbesii), daffodils and tulips cheer Diana through the long, cool Vermont springs. Hardy clematis (Clematis spp.) and hydrangea (Hydrangea petiolaris) scramble up and over the rock walls and pillars, softening hard edges and further settling the weathered building into the site.
A nearby pond completes the idyllic rural scene. In spring and fall, it invites cavorting peepers, toads and bullfrogs; summer brings snakes, fish, fireflies, dragonflies—and swimming; while winter’s activities include ice skating followed by hot tea.
Bringing back a farmer’s glory
Diana employed horticulturist and shepherd Clarence Boston to help establish a flock of 24 Dorset sheep and restore Two Scottie Farm’s pastures and trees. Remains of the orchard included plum trees (Prunus spp.), highbush blueberry shrubs (Vaccinium corymbosum) and sugar maple (Acer saccharum) trees.
“The seasonal rhythm of a small farm, while truly wonderful and miraculous on a daily basis, should not be romanticized,” Diana says. “Everyone involved spends a lot of time up to their elbows or ears in mud, manure and insects.”
For Diana, being involved in the cycle of life—raising, preparing and sharing food with fellow parishioners at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Brattleboro—is worth the effort. Boston helps her manage the breeding and lambing of the sheep, which she raises for meat. He also oversees the care of the plum trees, which produce bountifully almost every year, although Diana says the recent drop in bee populations has negatively impacted the orchard.
Rebuilding with a twist
Although Diana had the house and farm up and running again, something was still missing. The remnants of an old dry-stacked stone wall ran along the road, and Diana commissioned stonemason Ben Bowen to restore it.
A Vermont native who grew up surrounded by the region’s traditional stone walls, Bowen worked on Diana’s wall for more than seven years. “The traditional dry-stacked stone wall of our area is long and straight with perfectly sloped sides for stability,” he says. Bowen took Diana’s wall in a decidedly nontraditional direction. He uses “accent rocks” to build designs into the wall, including a protruding seat, a mushroom shape and a giant X. He loves watching the wall transform over time and the serendipity of weaving bits of old farm machinery seamlessly into the wall.
“Some days I’ll look down the hill and see Ben standing there, looking at the wall, a palette of newly collected stones beside him,” Diana says. “He’ll just stand there for a long time—he’ll walk up and down the wall looking at the spot he’s working on from different angles. Sometimes I think he waits hours before placing another stone.”
Rather than marching straight along to mark a boundary between Diana and the rest of the world, this wall seems to skip and dance with whimsical twists. Its rolling rises and descents, humorous additions and welcoming arches—complete with window portholes on either side of the drive’s entrance—are intriguing and uplifting.
Diana’s garden wall doesn’t restrict access or the view to Two Scottie Farm. Like the restored farm as a whole, the garden wall is a beautiful example of the wisdom of sustainability and reuse and the fun in rethinking tradition.