Born Dec. 30, 1935, in Boston, Mass., Peter was the middle of three children, and the second son of Ruth K. Dolliver and Morris A. Dolliver, both originally of Mount Desert Island.
Peter attended school in New Jersey, where his parents had moved to follow his father’s career. Peter’s lifelong interest in gardening began with a victory garden he tended with his father during the Second World War, and was later encouraged by Professor Frank G. Helyar, a neighbor and teacher at Rutgers University, where Peter later received a BA in horticulture. Peter was also a talented basketball player in high school, and later at Rutgers, where his 6’3” height served him well. Following the USAF ROTC, Peter joined the Air Force where he flew jet fighters for 10 years, attaining the rank of captain. He served in the Vietnam War, but rarely spoke of his service, saying only that he had lost too many good friends. Following the Air Force, he flew as a flight engineer on private jets, and for PanAm. Peter often said that if it had a jet engine, he had flown it at one time or another, and had set foot in every country in the world, except China and Russia.
Though he had the option of continuing his career as a pilot, Peter was drawn back to plants, to the soil, and to raising his three children. While flying commercially, he was already using his days off to work for a landscaper in Southwest Harbor, his family’s hometown for many generations. In the early ’70s, he chose to return to Manset and began Deer Meadow Landscaping, run from a property that included a piece of the original 1600s Dolliver land grant. His business began small, but grew into one of the larger landscaping businesses on the island. Many young people found their first job with Peter, and he was willing to give anyone a chance to work hard and to learn something about plants, or about themselves. Peter took pride in the fact that many lifelong gardeners began their careers at Deer Meadow, including his daughter, Wendy, and son, Kyffin. Many of his landscapes are still beautiful and thriving today.
While running the landscaping business, Peter always maintained an immaculately tended vegetable garden in the backyard, and putting fresh vegetables on the plates of friends and family remained a great joy in his life.
Following retirement in 2004, at the age of 69, Peter continued to farm the Deer Meadow property, expanding his small backyard vegetable garden into several acres of produce. Peter marketed his “Poppa Grew It!” vegetables, fruit, and flowers to local shops, restaurants, and to visitors to his farm stand, often putting in hours that belied his “retired” status. Late in life, Peter said that even as a young child tending his victory garden, he thought that being a farmer was the best thing anyone could do. He was captivated by the amazing power of seeds, and the ability of a person to nourish others by working the soil.
Throughout his five-year struggle with cancer, Peter’s physical perseverance often astounded his doctors, and he continued to seek out gardening as his greatest contribution to his community. He often gardened alongside close friends and family, and he was harvesting and working the soil only days before his death. His gardens continue to thrive, and friends and family will see his vegetable garden though this year’s harvest in honor of his work and of his love of the land.
Peter was preceded in death by his parents, Ruth K. Dolliver and Morris A. Dolliver, both of Southwest Harbor, and by his sister Margaret D. Kinneer of Centennial, Colo.
Peter is survived by his daughter Amy D. Young, her husband, Michael Young, and their son Wilder A. Young of Southwest Harbor; by his daughter Wendy P. Dolliver of Southwest Harbor; by his son Kyffin H. Dolliver of Morrill; by his brother David Dolliver of Shelton, Wash., and by his best friend Jerri Clemens of Southwest Harbor.
A celebration of life will be held at Deer Meadow, 286 Seawall Rd., Manset, on Oct. 3, 2015, from 1-4 p.m. Visitors will be encouraged to tour Peter’s gardens, bring a box to glean produce, and to bring a portion of the harvest home to share a meal with friends and family in Poppa’s memory. Donations may be made through Bar Harbor Savings and Loan to the Peter H. Dolliver Scholarship Fund for Studies in Farming and Horticulture, Attn: Bill Weir, Bar Harbor Savings and Loan, 103 Main St., Bar Harbor, ME 04609.