Snow Brook Gardens
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Name:            Snow Brook Gardens

Address:        Mary Betts

                       Snow Brook Gardens

                       315 Bridge Road

                       Parkman, Maine  04443-3330

Phone:            207-876-3220

Products and Services:

-hardy perennial plants


-cut flowers

-dried flowers

-ground covers

-tours and demonstrations

-landscaping small gardens occasionally

-patent owner of two new iris varieties

-large selection of daylilies and iris

-fancy lilacs - thirty different varieties


Mid-May through end of June:

Wed. through Sun. - 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Summer: by chance or appointment

Monday and Tuesday by appointment only

What Makes Snow Brook Gardens Unique?

In a small rural town in Piscataquis County where less than one thousand people reside, one woman has quietly devoted much of her life to creating magnificent gardens.  Through word of mouth, people have learned about Mary Stirniman Betts of Parkman.  She is a self-taught gardener.  Although she doesn’t advertise much and doesn’t own a computer, her collection of flowers and highly unusual plants has garnered quite a bit of attention in the gardening world.  Through a great deal of reading and studying of garden books and journals she has successfully tackled the challenging process of patenting two interspecies cross irises.

Mary is one of ten children born to the late James and Wanda Stirniman.  Her mother was part of a family of farmers from Iowa and her father was a mechanical engineer. Edward Stirniman, her grandfather, had the opportunity to travel to many places when he was an engineer for Caterpillar tractors and he often brought home some very unique plants.  Mary’s father held a patent for a skein and ball banding machine.  Mary has followed in her beloved grandfather’s footsteps with her love for unique plants in her gardens.  Like her father, she has patents, but rather than being machinery-oriented, her patents relate to two varieties of irises.

Through a great deal of reading and self-teaching, Mary has developed an appreciation for all types of plants.  She is a member of the North American Rock Garden Society, the International Lilac Society, the Maine Iris Society, the American Iris Society, the Siberian Iris Society, and SIGNA (Species Iris Group of North America). She specializes in growing many kinds of iris and daylilies.  Her collection of over sixty colors of Siberian Iris has become quite well-known. Visitors flock to her gardens to enjoy all the irises in bloom in June. Her daylily collection exceeds 120 varieties and visitors are drawn to Parkman to see them in all their splendor in July and August.

Some Midwest varieties of plants such as the compass plant, rattlesnake maker, Amsonia, and Baptisia can be found at Snow Brook Gardens. Mary explained that these Midwest plants are able to easily tolerate the cold climate in Parkman. They all develop a deep root system  growing in prairie land and this adaptation is also well-suited to the Maine environment.

Mary and her husband, Peter Betts, cleared all the land where the gardens are located.  They built their home from the trees that they cut down.  It has a very distinctive look with its steep forty-five degree angled roof.  Mary explained that they felt it fit in well with the other old Maine homes in the area that were built so that the snow would easily shed from the roof.

Accessing her large library of garden books, journals, and newsletters, when time allows,  always brings a sense of contentment to Mary.  She shares her home with her husband and five cats.  She enjoys sewing, knitting, and handcrafts.  She is a member of the Pine Tree Quilters Guild, Inc. and the American Quilt Society.  A photo of one the quilts she designed and made for the Pine Tree Quilters Guild Show, that was entitled “Cherries and Cream, ” has been included in this profile to illustrate her handiwork skills.

Mary’s father, James Stirniman, enjoyed volunteering in the community.  He served on

various school boards for many years and helped transport veterans to appointments.  Mary has also reached out and donated her time to several causes.  A few years ago she made twenty-two quilts for the children and young adults served by the Charlotte White Center Angels. This past year she made thirty-six quilts for the Linus Project that donates quilts to youngsters in need.  Mary planted and tends the beautiful garden by the “Welcome to Parkman” sign that is located across from the Parkman Grange Hall at the “four corners in Parkman.”

Mary Betts played a significant role in the iris gardens that were planted at the display garden at the University of Maine’s Rogers Farm in Stillwater.  She helped to coordinate the donation of over 135 plants of eighty-nine cultivars of iris in the demonstration gardens.  A large amount of the iris plants were donated by Mary and members of the Maine Iris Society.  

The two fifty-foot long crescent gardens at the Rogers Farm demonstration gardens contain three rows of plants.  Mary explained that Siberians and species varieties were planted on the outside edges and the Japanese and the tall Siberians were planted in the center row.  The gardens contain many iris that were introduced in Maine, as well as some national award winners.  She has returned to the gardens on more than one occasion to deliver a talk on the propagation and division of iris for the Penobscot County Master Gardeners’ evening program.

It takes a very short period of time to realize that Mary Stirniman Betts is a very generous individual.  She and Peter have set out thirty taps to gather sap to make maple syrup for gifts. She asked Unique Maine Farms to deliver some of her teasel as a gift to Susan Watson of Midsummer Night’s Meadow Farm in Garland.  Teasel is a plant that provides a natural comb for cleaning and raising the nap on wool.  Susan is a fiber artist who raises sheep in Garland.  A profile of Midsummer’s  Night Meadow Farm has been included in this project.

Although Mary’s husband, Peter Betts, works full-time and does not raise the flowers or tend the gardens, he has always been extremely supportive. Each Mother’s Day, Mary’s son, Gabriel, devotes the day to helping out in the gardens.  Organic practices are carried out in Mary’s gardens.  When various plots have to be re-worked, lime, manure, sawdust, and wood ashes are added to the soil.

Flower gardening is just part of Mary’s life.

She was a professional flutist for thirty years

and an accomplished musician in all genres of music.  She and Peter added on a studio at their home and she enjoys knitting and sewing. She also maintains a vegetable garden as a source of their food.

Although she does not attend plant shows because she prefers to stay close to home and tend her gardens, she has sent iris roots as required three years in advance to national iris conventions. Mary Stirniman Betts is the patent owner of two interspecies cross irises.  She has cultivated Mainestream Spring Iris - a light cornflower blue iris and Mainestream Tempest - a dark purple iris.  These sibcolor irises thrive in damp and cool conditions. 

Streams and brooks seem to play quite a role in Mary’s life.  Her gardens were named after the Snow Brook that runs through a corner of their property.  The versicolor wild iris that played a role in the Mainestream new iris varieties originally came from the Main Stream which is the primary stream running into the Sebasticook River.  Mary added an “e” to “Main” because of the origin of the flowers in the state of Maine.

While several agricultural courses and opportunities exist throughout the state of Maine, and many farmers and gardeners today rely on a computer and the Internet to advance their knowledge, Mary Stiriman Betts is a great example of an individual who has been able to succeed in the gardening world through self-study, extensive reading, and individual determination.  Her success in running a gardening business and acquiring patents for irises serves as an incentive to those who wish to pursue a career in gardening.  She gives hope to those who have decided not to enroll in a traditional agricultural school program because of personal choice or restraints due to finances, geographic access, or schedule limitations.

This “Cherries and Cream” quilt was made by Mary Betts for the Pine Tree Quilters Guild Show

(photo courtesy of Pine Tree Quilters Guild website)

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