This spring Marc Fournier started as horticulturalist and arborist at The Trustees of Reservations’ Japanese-style garden, Mytoi, on Chappaquiddick. When he accepted the job, he wasn’t familiar with tending Japanese gardens, so he dove into learning about them through books and talking with Don Sibley, Mytoi’s former gardener of 25 years. Luckily for Mytoi, Marc’s enthusiasm and energy much belie his 65 years of age — and his job qualifications are another plus.
Marc was assistant director for grounds management at UMass Amherst for 24 years before working as deputy director of public works and highway superintendent for Andover, the job from which he retired just days before beginning his job at Mytoi on April 3 of this year. His work experience includes running resource management organizations of 80 to 100 people, teaching university courses, doing finish carpentry, and designing landscapes. He is also a Massachusetts-certified arborist, and has been working with trees since he was 12.
In the few months at his part-time job at Mytoi, Marc has tackled a lot of different kinds of issues and projects. He has reinvented the composting and recycling program, had the soil and compost tested, and worked to identify plant diseases in the garden. He has made repairs to the tea house, tended to the neglected plant nursery, installed new benches, fences, and a ramp to the bridge, and made a complete upgrade of the seating area at the entrance to the garden, all the while working away at the regular maintenance jobs of planting, weeding, pruning, mowing, and hardscape repairs.
Marc puts to use his M.B.A. in environmental management and organizational behavior, as the job includes looking at the big picture as well as tending to the nuts and bolts of maintaining a garden. He conferences regularly with Joann Vieira, TTOR’s horticultural director, and meets weekly with longtime Mytoi volunteer Lindsay Allison and others to discuss the larger questions as well as the day-to-day priorities. In making decisions about changes to the garden, Marc sometimes has to take into consideration conflicting needs or points of view.
A small example involves the stone pathway before the main bridge across the stream, which consists of an uneven surface of field stones set into the dirt. “The point of them is to make you slow down so you look at what’s around you,” says Marc, “but that doesn’t work for accessibility issues.” He finds this out when he offers to push a visitor’s wheelchair across them, partly to see if it can be done. When it can’t be done comfortably, he takes the woman on a small path across a side bridge. In the process he notices a place that will need some dirt filled in around protruding roots. The bridge will need to be made wider for wheelchairs, but it will work, allowing the stone path to remain as it was designed.
One of the big issues at the garden is plant labeling. Neither labeling nor mapping has been a part of the garden in the past, so there is no record of what’s been planted where. Marc believes that labeling is important, especially for the younger generation who will want to look up the plants on their smartphones — but not everyone favors labeling, so decisions of whether or how to label have not yet been made.
Education is something Marc feels strongly about. He has taught sustainable operations management courses at Umass/Boston, and volunteered on and off at Polly Hill for about four years, where there is a more developed education program. He has already reached out to some student groups to explore the possibility of getting them to build a plant database and a GIS map of Mytoi. Meanwhile, he’s begun work on a map himself that includes the locations of plants, their Latin and common names, and how to best take care of them.
As Marc works, he’s happy to stop and talk with anyone who has a question, or just to say hello and welcome people to the garden. He says, “I like to talk with people. Half of the job is education, being a steward of the environment, the plants, and trees.”
Marc’s outgoing nature has already resulted in a connection with a neighboring family who spent four hours helping Marc reinvent the welcome area just inside the first gateway, something he’d been dreaming of doing since he first came to the garden: “The seating area is the front door. It has to invite you to come into the garden.”
Where gravel and wood chips had mixed over time, now there is a nicely composted planting bed with an in-cut curving edge, defined by a low, single-rail bamboo fence around the seating area where three benches are set in tidy stone dust. The benches are set at different angles and distances apart, and the fencing posts are set at uneven distances apart as well. Areas with defined borders are an important aspect of Japanese gardens, as are triangles, sets of three, curves, and asymmetry.
About other changes to the garden, Marc says, “I’d like to make some really nice formal places that are representative of a Japanese garden, then create natural, sustainable areas,” like turning a mowed area into wildflowers. He wants the garden to demonstrate beneficial gardening practices, so that people can use the information in their own yards, and also can understand the effects of climate change.
Because of his background in resource management and interest in sustainability and climate change, Marc says, “Everything I do, I have that lens on.” He’d like to make Mytoi more sustainable in terms of maintenance by amending the soil, assembling a palate of plants that are used in Japanese gardens, and then choosing the ones that grow well in the various conditions there, plants that need less watering and care.
Marc first came to the Vineyard 26 years ago to help a friend with some carpentry, and fell in love with the Island. Seven years ago he and his wife, Nan, bought a house in Vineyard Haven. He travels back and forth from the Island to Andover, where his wife is still working and they are restoring their 1748 house. At Mytoi, Mark ends up putting in many volunteer hours outside the paid ones, because there is so much to do and so much he wants to do.
“I love this garden. I love this work,” he says. And besides, as he says, “My brain is always going,” which seems to be reflected in his bountiful energy as he goes about the tasks at Mytoi.
When he’s not at the garden, Marc likes to walk and talk about trees, visit with friends and help them with carpentry projects, and read books about trees, climate change, and sustainability. He occasionally reads old detective novels for a break from his mind. For now Marc is pretty busy, but as far as future plans, he says, “What I really want to do is find a small wooden sailing boat to restore. That’s my dream.”