New work – Acadian bouquet

A still life of all the flowers that grow along the paths and roadways on the island: mallow, borage, goatsbeard (Aruncus), echinecea, sage, and thistle. I’ve made myself a note not to try borage again for a while – it was incredibly difficult to make sense of in the drawing!

Acadia bouquet


Acadian Bouquet, 24 x 18 inches, oil on panel

Taraxacum Season, blown away

A post of just a few weeks ago included photos of a sea of yellow dandelion flowers in full bloom. Today the gold has turned to silver as every floret matures into a seed, and each plant can produce up to 2,000 seeds. Multiply that out by the plants in these photos and you can see next year’s dandelion forest in the making.

The bee colony in as a rock in a river of gray flower-heads:

2000 seeds per plant!

Dandelions guard the path to the driveway, with some centura and valerian waiting in the wings.

dandelion path

Also in bloom this week; Dyer’s Woad.

dandelions and dyers woad


Dandelion time

We had our first rain in nearly a month yesterday, and the dandelions developed really stunning height and heft practically overnight.

yellow rules

Taraxacum is native to Eurasia, and was introduced to North America by early settlers. The entire plant is edible. It makes excellent bee fodder, especially here in Maine where the only other blossoms out right now are the maple buds. The thick tap root and lush leaf growth also increase the soil depth considerably every year on these thin hillsides.

taraxacum oMore rain is predicted for tonight and tomorrow. Soon the forget-me-nots and Centaurea montana will catch up and turn the hillside blue. Meanwhile, early and drought ridden, yellow rules!

dandelion closeup

Winter gardening

I only needed two pieces of equipment in the garden today, but I think these are the best of their kind: Deer Scram and studded Muck boots.

Deer Scram and Muck Boots

Muck boots come in lots of variations, but these have high, water proof, insulated uppers and metal studs all over the soles. Very punk-culture and very handy for navigating the packed-down, frozen paths on our hill.  I think I picked these up through the awesome folks at Sierra Trading Post a few years ago, but their inventory comes and goes – I don’t know if this particular model is still available. If you find them I can guarantee you’ll never slip on ice or snow again. You’ll have to take them off before you go back inside because they’re holy terror on floor boards, but it’s totally worth it.

Deer Scram is another great invention – powdered deer and rabbit repellent so you don’t have to use a sprayer in sub-freezing temps. This afternoon I followed deer tracks out of the woods and into the gardens to broadcast powder wherever it seemed I could head them off, paying special attention to particularly attractive targets like the cherry trees. It seems to discourage the deer establishing pathways where I don’t want them to go – and where they wouldn’t intrude if the electric fences were on.

Meanwhile, the structure of the garden becomes more evident in the snow – a good lesson for the gardener/designer. This is the start of a willow deer fence that should be fully trained by 2014,

Willow fence

and the withy holding back the south slope improves in size and density every year.

Willow withy retaining wall


The August garden

The Principe Borghese tomatoes are coming along, with a few Juliets and the big, buttery Paul Robesons. I picked a cookie sheet full to finish ripening in the house. After a few weeks of drought the weekend rains will swell the fruit and cause the skins to crack. This coming weekend I should have enough to can a batch of sauce.

principe borghese tomatoThe Dolgo crab apple has fruit so brightly colored it looks unnatural, especially following its pure white blossoms in spring. The tree is an excellent pollinator for the other apples, and the fruit makes wonderful sauce.

Dolgo crab apple

The peaches won’t be perfectly ripe until early September, but they look good and are beginning to cast a wonderful aroma on a hot, still afternoon. I’ve been looking into drought gardening – dust mulch and other techniques – and the caveats for smaller fruit with lesser yields per tree balanced by extraordinary flavor sounds very familiar. It’s very much how we’re gardening at present with some extra hints for preserving as much moisture in the soil as possible. Can’t wait to learn more about it, but that’s what winter is for.

Peaches ripening

Eupatorium purpureum, Joe Pye Weed or Queen-of-the-Meadow, is 10′ tall this year. I’m not sure if the new height is a function of the age of the planting (3 years), or if it just really likes extreme heat and drought. Our bees love it, no matter how tall it gets.

Eupatorium purpureum Joe Pye weed

At the opposite end of the height spectrum just a few feet away, heather “Wave” is only an inch tall, but has spread out to about 30″ square. It also attracts pollinators.

Wave Heather

This sprawling mass of pink blossoms is one plant of Bouncing Bet, or Soapwort. The bees aren’t so fond of the blossoms, but the plant is doing very well for not being watered since June and the deer don’t bother it – both real plusses for the gardener.

bouncing bet soapwort


The office bouquet

office bouquet

My friend and co-worker Cathy M. and I each bring a bouquet for the receptionist desk on alternate weeks in the summer. We generally bring very different flowers and I’ve found, as summer progresses, that we grow vastly different gardens. I would not have thought that two “home gardeners” could differ so widely in such a restrictive climate: where I have calendulas she has infinite varieties of digitalis, where she grows buddleia I grow elecampne, her garden is awash in different colors of monarda and I have golden marguerite everywhere.

I’ve decided to begin documenting our weekly bouquet, so this is a photo of my contribution for the week starting today, July 16. It contains: angelica, elecampne, feverfew, celery and hosta “Blue Angel” flowers. Stay tuned for next week’s collection from Cathy!

In the gloaming

I have a post nearly finished about Sunday’s hive inspection, but I was out in the garden tonight and it was so beautiful that I took dozens of photos. The combination of a wet spring (groundwater tables are finally above drought levels) and my 2012 resolution not to mow or weed-whack where it wasn’t absolutely necessary has produced a really lush environment, especially for Maine.

The valerian jungle hasn’t quite spread to the entire yard, but it’s a near thing.

valarian fields forever

This is a very photogenic patch of Fedco’s “Freedom” lettuce mix.


The view down the south hill, with newly clipped withy and a row of elecampne in front of the bog garden.

withy in the gloaming

Red oakleaf lettuce growing through garlic and chives.

garlic forest

The view out back, into the alpine garden.


Still green

Today I worked on the perennial/alpine/small stuff garden on the north side of the house. This section of our yard is over the septic field, so I chose non-edibles with small, uncomplicated root systems for that location. I flunked the “root” test by planting a ground sand cherry here almost a decade ago and by the time I got wise to its evil, septic-tank-clogging ways the trunk caliper was 4″ and its root system was immense. Digging it out was a nightmare.

After that I thought I was being very conservative with my plant choices for this garden: daylilies, heaths and heathers, varieties of sedum and geraniums, candytuft and anise hyssop.  Today while cutting stalks and mulching for the winter I noticed that the Sweet Cecily (Myrrhis odorata) had spread to a dozen new plants – it’s easy to see this time of year because it’s still green and ferny after the frost.  I dug some out to transplant and surprise! A very impressive root system.

Cecily, or Sweet Cecily, is a member of the family Apiaceae and the only species of the genus Myrrhis. There is a North American relative, but my plant is the variety native to Central Europe. The leaves stay green and fresh almost all year round and the whole plant is highly fragrant of annis. The unripe seeds can be offered as an after-dinner mint, the dried leaves make an excellent mothproofing sachet, the root – along with dill and caraway, is used to flavor akvavit. It would probably make a nicely flavored vodka, too, if it wasn’t growing over the septic tank.

I’ve transplanted six “daughter” plants around the yard, and next year I may try flavoring vodka for Christmas lunch, when the Swedes say the herb “helps the lutefisk swim down to the stomach”. Skål!




The garden in August

Cephalanthus O. has expanded into a multi-trunked thicket down by the lower driveway in the culvert ditch that leads to the swamp. Over the years the seeds (which are really “nutlets”) have dropped into the run-off in the spring, traveled through the culvert and seeded themselves along the stream into the swamp in a meandering trail of white, puffy blossoms buzzing with bees. The Buttonbush, or Button-willow, is a member of the coffee family and native to the NE US.

Bouncing Bet, or Soapwort, is in full bloom and covered with bees in the afternoon. They don’t seem to like it as much in the morning, perhaps it needs to warm up to produce a nectar flow? The plant contains up to 20% saponin (careful- toxic!) in the roots while in bloom, and even the leaves and stems will make a nice lather.

The peaches are coming along in the front yard. I expect the first ones to ripen in 3 weeks or so. Anise hyssop (for tea) and calendula o. (for salve) surround the tomato beds in the background.

Meadow-sweet has spread through the wild garden as cattails have increased the ratio of soil to water over the years. Next year I’m going to try harvesting the cattail shoots. The bees are all over the meadow-sweet which, like goldenrod, blooms in the heat of high summer.