Maine’s not the first place you’d expect to find plants usually found in dry, desert climates with a natural aversion to the wet and the cold.
But over 90 varieties flourish in Etna under the loving, attentive hands of Hannah Todd, owner of Brickhouse Succulents.
“I find office environments very difficult. I like to be outside,” Hannah says sheepishly, peering out at me from under her straw hat as the summer sun beats down on us at a worn picnic table outside her main greenhouse. “I just find the work very enjoyable, working in dirt. Which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but is definitely mine.”
“When I graduated I thought, what will I do? But then I got a job on a farm and that was it.”
But it wasn’t until she started working for Bangor-based Everlasting Farm under its then owners Michael and Gail Zuck that Hannah was introduced to succulents. She immediately fell in love with the plants, joking that they were her “soulmates,” and the Zucks kept her duties primarily succulent-based.
A few years later when the two decided to retire and close up, “the kindest people in the world” offered Hannah the entire succulent collection and a greenhouse for “very modest prices” because of how much she loved the plants. If it weren’t for Hannah, hundreds of succulents from 90 different species may have hit the compost pile.
Now she “carries on the legacy” of two “phenomenal growers” and “wonderful people” — two people who mentored her through her first seasons on her own. They’d come to her greenhouse space in Etna and watch her work, telling her when she was over- or under-watering, or what types of succulent needed trimming in what season. Michael offered a plethora of valuable tips on how exactly to heat a greenhouse through Maine winters.
That’s right. Hannah heats a greenhouse through Maine winters. Which is why, she suspects, succulent tending is so limited in the northeast. “No one I know is as crazy as me to heat a greenhouse through the winter,” she said, looking up at the blue sky and staring momentarily into the distance in thought. Then she laughed, smiled, and turned back to me. “I’m assuming that’s the drawback? They must not love them as much as me!”
And while Hannah’s tweeked some of the Zuck’s processes for succulent care, mostly she runs her business exactly how they told her to.
Well. Except for the “odder containers.”
I first fell in love with Hannah’s favorite plants The Rock and Art Shop in downtown Bangor. Tiny little, negligence-friendly succulents of many shapes and colors overflowed from a collection of teacups and teapots at the front table, mixed among the other wares. I immediately snatched one up, exclaiming, “This is so cute! Where did this come from?” The quest to find out led me straight to her.
It was actually time spent working at One Lupine in Bangor that initially started to turn Hannah’s mind from seeing her succulents through the lens biology and gardening to art. She would get comments all the time from artists coming in and out of the shop about what an interesting media it was to work in, with all the textures and the colors.
“There are thousands [of different species.] They range from, you know, blues to reds to greens to yellows to oranges,” Hannah says, describing a painter’s palette of living things. “And their textures are bubbly or spiky or flat. They’re just, they’re amazing plants.”
Hannah spends her mornings wandering her greenhouse, collecting small sections of the plants to poke into a variety of containers with a long knitting needle. When she first started she was very strict about how many varieties she’d allow herself per arrangement, but now she just lets herself “go crazy.”
The succulents, she says, have taught her patience. Art. Joy. She’ll always be thankful to the Zucks for introducing her to the loves of her life.
555 Old County Road, Etna, ME