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.


May showers bring June flowers

That’s how the saying would go if the poet had lived in Maine. Flowers here in April are few and far between, especially when the bergenia has an off year. (I think of bergenia as indestructible, but it was a poor performer in 2012.) By May, we have:

Isatis tinctoria, Dyer’s woad. The leaves produce a blue dye famous in olden times, until it was supplanted by indigo. The blossoms are always full of bees.


Papaver alpinum, alpine poppies. Short-lived but amazingly generous in self-seeding everywhere.

papaver a

Hesperis matronalis, Dame’s Rocket. Another generous volunteer year after year.

Hesperis m

Tree peony, unknown variety because I bought it at Marden’s, our local salvage chain. The box was labeled as a yellow flowering type and I imagine that’s why it ended up there for $5.00. This plant has been growing on an exposed hillside for 15 years and has 15 buds on it this spring. I hear the peonies in the Emperor’s garden had 100 each. . .can’t wait.

peony covered in beeeeezzz

I think the buds look like strawberry ice cream cones.

single scoop

Centaurea, cornflower. This particular plant has proven a little too generous with the re-seeding – and it’s difficult to weed out, so I can’t recommend it. On the other hand, the bees love it in the morning. I’m still going to try to limit it’s range next spring.


July garden tour

A few days ago, I posted a photo of the garden in the morning when was still dewy and a little misty around the edges. It was a pretty shot, but quite a few people asked if they could “zoom in” and see the individual beds in more detail. Other people asked if they could get a list of what plants are growing in what area. I’ve just begun the work that will eventually build out “guilds” and “poly-cultures” of plant communities, but it’s not a bad idea to have a list of where I started for my records. This is by no means a complete inventory, but here we go:

This bed is in the “upper” garden, hard by the house. In “Gaia’s Garden“, Toby Hemenway talks about siting often-used vegetables close to the house. He suggests going out to snip a few herbs for an omelet and a side-dish of greens in the early morning in your bedroom slippers and robe. If you come in wet around the edges, the herbs are too far from the house. I can definitely snip greens from this bed without getting damp in the morning. Made of three layers of cinderblock, this bed is fairly deep. Even on the south side of the house it stores enough moisture for mustard, lettuces, radishes, and a few sorrel plants. Around the edges, in the cells of the blocks, grow anise hyssop, Thai basil, forget-me-nots (they’re everywhere), and alpine poppies. All the beds in the upper garden are ringed with strawberry plants, so that they benefit from the moisture and shade.

More in the upper garden: three beds of tomatoes surrounded by calendula and interplanted with bulls blood beets and white globe turnips. One of the tomato choices I made this season was Fedco’s Heirloom Tomato Mix.  I’m looking forward to seeing what comes out of that over the course of the season and possibly picking out some new favorites for next year.

Down in the lower garden this bed contains Provider green beans, haricot verts, and started out with a lot of radishes that provided quick shade for the sensitive bean sprouts. I’ve since picked the radishes and the Carpet of Snow alyssum has grown up enough to provide a living mulch. I sow the alyssum at the same time as the radishes in the very early spring. Purple bread poppies grow wherever they like and provide full seedheads for bread and pastry and resowing in the fall.

This is one of the squash beds, set on the hillside for ease of walking around fragile trailing vines. The deer don’t bother the stouter vines, so these pumpkins and Hubbard squash can clamber up the hill and outside the electric fence. They are interplanted with nasturtiums (just for color – I don’t think these hybrids protect against bugs or nematodes) and green beans. These green beans are planted about two weeks after the beans in the bed mentioned above so that the harvest is staggered.

Corn! Two rows of Silver Queen white sweet corn, potentially growing to 9 feet and producing 3 or 4 ears per stalk in a good year. These are not interplanted with anything. I’d love to try the Three-Sisters method of corn stalks in mounds surrounded by pole beans and squash, but I have yet to convince my partner-gardener of that. This year he allowed mulch, so maybe there’s hope. That said, it’s wonderful corn.

Potato boxes with varieties Ratte, German Butterball, Green Mountain, and All Blue. The potatoes are planted in about a foot of dirt at the bottom of the box and boards and hay are added as the plants grow taller. I had a very poor yield in the 2010 boxes due, I think, to droughty weather and too much hay/too little soil to start. The vines are much healthier as we get into the really hot part of summer this year, so I have hopes for a good harvest. This is certainly a space-effective way to grow potatoes. In the late fall I dump the boxes over and use the soil, mulch and old plants to make a new bed.

Lilies and apple trees seem to go together well. The lilies provide a nice living mulch to cool the roots,  retain moisture, and shade out weeds. These are very old Tiger lilies from my grandmother’s garden in Connecticut growing under “Westfield Seek-no-Further”, which is covered in little green apples this year.

I have another whole group of close-ups for a post this weekend. We’ve had some rain so if I can stop picking green beans for a minute  I’ll make another post this weekend!


Fedco tree order for the 2011 season

The main reason I started this blog three years ago was its value as a personal gardening record. I’ve made many failed attempts at keeping track of plant varieties, dates and success/failure rates: spreadsheets, journals, copies of correspondence (I write to other gardeners every chance I get) and odd scraps of paper in the pockets of my out-door clothes, smudged with ink that turned out not so waterproof.

Nothing works as well as posting my experiences online in this little forum, listening to the comments down the line, and being able to search my own writing for information I’ve forgotten or decided willfully to ignore. For example, how many times have I decided NO MORE ROSE BUSHES because given my soil, climate and ability to pamper them they are nothing but expensive annuals? Six times, including the ones in this order for 2011. Oh well.

Quoted text is from the searchable Fedco Tree catalog.

2562 – Anne Raspberry

I am a new convert to “all season” varieties of small fruits. The Seascape strawberries that we planted in spring 2010 bore fruit after six weeks and continued until Thanksgiving. That might have been enough (strawberries! at Thanksgiving!) but they were also delicious. That experience led me to order “Anne” raspberries:

Late. JEF-b1 (Amity x Glen Garry) Flavorful everbearing yellow raspberry, ripens earlier than Kiwigold and is actually yellow, not a washed-out pink. Large cohesive fruit with good flavor. Tall rangy productive plant may sucker less than other everbearing types. Mulching or adding organic matter to the soil will encourage more suckering which should, of course, improve yield. Like other everbearing types, you may cut it right down to the ground after the season. Z4.

2700 – Royalty Purple Raspberry   My first set of Royalty canes produced beautifully for 10 years. This summer I dug them all out along with the Killarney Red, which were fine but not spectacular and are therefore not being replaced. We’ll go with the yellow Anne and purple Royalty and see if the resulting color jam is beautiful, or disgusting. Either way it will taste great.

2787 – Seascape Strawberry  We tried this variety in 2010 and have been delighted with it. Fifty more plants, please.

3485 – Pinus koraiensis Korean Stone Pine  For bonsai. And many decades hence, for pine nuts.

4927 – Abelia mosanensis Fragrant Abelia  For the bees, and the swampy, acidic parts of the garden:

4-6′ x same. Delicate showy exceedingly fragrant pink campanulate (bell-shaped tubular) white-centered flowers. Somewhat loose plant with graceful arching stems. Best as a specimen or hedge planting. Blooms in late spring. As fragrant as hyacinth or even Korean spicebush. Glossy green foliage turns orange-red in fall. Full sun to partial shade. Easy to grow. Prune after flowering. Tolerates most average soils but prefers acid, moist and well-drained. Native to Korea.

5204 – Itea virginica Henrys Garnet Virginia Sweetspire

3-5′ x 5-6′ Swarthmore College, PA. Spreading shrub with an erect clustered branching habit. Fragrant white flowers on upright racemes up to 6″ long in early summer. Bright green foliage, brilliant reddish-purple fall color. Will form colonies. Henry’s Garnet has both superior flowers and fall color. Winner of the prestigious Styer award and the 1999 Michigan Growers’ Choice award. Recommended for moist or wet areas although quite drought tolerant as well. Sun or shade, pH adaptable. Species native to eastern U.S.

5474 – Rosa Magnifica Rose  Here I go again. . .

4×5′ R. rugosa x Ards Rover. Dr. Walter Van Fleet introduction, U.S., 1905. Large clusters of 3–5″ loose double deep fuchsia-purple-red flowers with showy bright golden stamens, spicy fragrance, and 30 petals per bloom. Dense shrub with large glossy dark green foliage and a vigorous wide-spreading habit. Orange-red hips. Very disease-resistant. Walter Van Fleet (1858-1922) was a physician who dropped out of medicine at age 35 to follow his passion for plants. Twelve years later he introduced Magnifica, an unusual cross between a rugosa and Ards Rover (a fragrant red pillar rose from Ireland just introduced in 1898). From 1910 until his death, Van Fleet worked as a breeder for the USDA.

5723 – Symphoricarpos orbiculatus Coralberry  It has four common names, which is a sign I should have a specimen. Also, a bit of Devil’s Shoestring over the door keeps out zombies.

3-5′ x 4-8′ Also called Red Snowberry, Buckbrush, Indian Currant and Devil’s Shoestring. Low-growing spreading arching shrub. A good wildlife plant for banks and hillsides. Dense clusters of small pinkish or purplish-green flowers in early summer followed by clusters of small purple-red berries that persist into winter. Will attract insects, bees and birds. Some say unattractive to deer, but others say otherwise (hence the name Buckbrush.) Red fall foliage. Adaptable to most soils, moist or dry. Shade or sun. Native eastern U.S., west to OK and north into parts of Canada.

6741 – Perovskia atriplicifolia Russian Sage  This plant has only increased in popularity over the last five years – it’s everywhere but in my garden, until now. The bees will love it.

6871 – Verbascum Caribbean Crush    You can’t have too many giant, towering, gaudy variaties of verbascum.

6972 – Scrophularia nodosa Figwort  This plant sounds like something I must have – although I had never heard of it before.

A slim stalk studded with many small waxy dark maroon flowers with yellowish centers. The flowers look like little open mouths singing in unison. Toothed leaves and square stems. Aerial portions infused to make a massage oil that benefits the lymphatic system. We do not recommend internal usage without consulting a seasoned herbalist or naturopathic doctor. Also an excellent plant to attract pollinators. Lauren says, “I have never seen any plant more covered in bees when it is in bloom.” Holly has seen these lovely European natives growing wild in the woods near Sand Beach on Mount Desert Island.

7022 – Verbena hastata Blue Vervain A beautiful bee plant.

North American native with tall branching flower spikes of a deep green-grey hue. Tiny bright purple-blue flowers whorl around the spikes one ring at a time. It will re-seed readily in the garden and around your yard. Commonly used as a nervous system tonic, mild sedative, for a variety of menstrual problems, neck tension, and many other complaints. 5–7′ tall.

Garden Tour

Today was a perfect day for a garden club tour;  a bit of rain and clouds to discourage the casual observers but not enough wind to damage the white begonias, cool enough to walk energetically in a heavy skirt and sensible shoes, misty enough so that I didn’t regret forgetting my hat. This particular garden had not previously been open to the public. The cutting and kitchen gardens are visible through the wrought iron fence from the street, but it was wonderful to get up close and personal with the sunken Italianate formal garden, the mossy pergola that faces the cove, and some really lurid roses that were nevertheless enjoyable under the low, gray clouds. Oh, and the shingle style dog house with slate roof, dutch doors and window boxes was just the right touch of surreal.

My pen dropped out of my pocket somewhere along the 1/2 mile entrance road, and my batteries ran out before the kitchen garden, but here are what notes and images I managed to take away:

Artichokes – beautiful plants and evidently productive here. The head gardener went on at length about daylight and temperatures requirements for full maturity, but honestly I wouldn’t care if I didn’t get a whole lot of fruit – the plants were striking in themselves. Of course, he doesn’t have that luxury.

Cold frames extraordinaire: I went over to look at some cold frames – 15′ x 2′ high on the short end, rising to 4′ and faced with glass panels. When I looked in to the frames, I realized that they had been excavated to a depth of 10′. There were ladders built into the walls at either end for access. With that much berming they must be very cozy even in early spring, and if I thought I could dig a hole 12′ deep on my lot I’d try it out.

Smoke bush in bloom with Madonna lilies rising through the mist of blossoms – quite a striking effect.

Datura was everywhere, and lent an exotic air to the otherwise common assortment of border flowers: ligularia, phlox, mulliens, begonias and thalictrum.

Pluck not the wayside flower;

It is the traveler’s dower.
~William Allingham

Last May I was wandering down our gravel road and found a ladyslipper growing in the dust and slash on the shoulder. It was beautiful and fragile and I looked for it as I went to and from work, wondering if someone might have driven over it or innocently picked it to bring home to  mother.  The blossom lasted through June and then shriveled naturally in the heat of July and the leaves blended with the weeds.

I checked today, and this year there are two!

I wonder what Spring 2011 will bring? Will they be able to form a proper colony in such an inhospitable place?

From the Vermont Ladyslipper website:

Cypripediums, like all orchids, begin their life cycle when their seed (pro-embryo) is invaded by a microscopic fungus (endophyte). Since orchid seed has no endosperm (stored starch reserves that kick start most other plant species), the fungus in essence forms a surrogate root system for the seed.

If the soil nutrient levels and pH are correct, the fungus becomes a symbiont and provides small amounts of carbohydrates to the growing seed(protocorm). This is a very delicate process whereby the fungus infiltrates the growing orchid seed to a certain stage and then the orchid seed defensively responds by producing a group of chemicals that actually dissolves the fungal filaments back.

After having its filaments dissolved, the fungus will then reattempt to invade the protocorm and supply more carbohydrates and the protocorm will grow again ever so slightly. This process is repeated until the protocorm has grown large enough to produce a small dormant eye bud and root system (seedling). Once this occurs, the following spring the cypripedium will produce it’s first green leaf and begin to use photosynthesis as its primary energy source. Once the seedling relies on photosynthesis, the cypripedium will reject the micro-fungus almost completely. This heterotrophic phase can take anywhere from 3 to 7 years to occur in nature. It can take an additional 5 to 10 years to reach flowering size which means the Cypripedium can take anywhere between 10 to 17 years to bloom, in the wild, from initial seed dispersion!

This above heterotrophic growth sequence only occurs when all the habitat and soil conditions are right. This is the primary reason for the natural rarity of cypripediums and not that the fungal symbiont they use is rare. Indeed, under many soil conditions, the fungus that the orchid requires can become a pathogen and destroy the orchid seed. There are several micro-fungi that have been isolated in cypripedium roots and the truth is that there are probably many more that could perform the symbiotic function given the right soil conditions.

Columbine season

Aquilegia, the Columbine (Latin from columba, “dove”) is in full bloom. This spring we’ve had enough rain that flowers are appearing in the margin of the gravel driveway and in the walkways where last year’s seed hitched a ride on the soles of my shoes.

This year the plants are over four feet tall. They are remarkably generous and tolerant of neglect, and the deer don’t seem to bother them. I had dark red blossoming plants from my parents (A. atrata) and a few of the bright blue A. caerulea that is the state flower of Colorado to start with, but over the last 10 years I’ve accumulated every shade of purple, pale pinks and creams and a few that are nearly black.  I don’t think about them much at all, except that lovely interval in May when they bloom above healthy, lush green crowns of foliage and then retreat again before they can become boring – the botanical version of a house guest with perfect manners.

Potato cage match

Every year I try a new way to grow potatoes. Maine is justly famous for the huge tracts of land, mostly in The County, dedicated to the potato harvest. Aroostook County schools are scheduled around the harvest – one of the last holdouts of agriculture over curriculum in the US, and there are “potato bucks” and enough tuber-related traditions up there to fill several books. My Uncle Cyp tells the story of his younger brother held by his ankles down through the door of the potato cellar, gathering dinner from the great piles stored beneath the house. But Northern Maine has soil for big fields, where the seed potatoes are planted and harvested with huge machines and hand-sorted on conveyor belts. Here on the island I need to conserve space and dirt is scarce, especially for what is esentially a root crop doing its best business in the dark and deep. Enter the potato box.

The boxes are constructed of pine 2 x 4 x 8’s (cut in half as a 2 x 4 x 4′) and 2 x 6 x 10’s cut into 2′ lengths – very economical. I’ve fastened the bottom two boards in place. I’ll fill it halfway up with soil (6″ or thereabouts), plant the seed potatoes and then fill to the top board. I’ll probably throw some mulch or landscape fabric over the top. When the plants have grown out of that much soil, the next layer of boards go on, soil is added (not to cover more than 2/3 of the plant at one time), and so forth until the top board goes on and you just let the plants spill out the top. At harvest, one bottom board is removed and the oldest potatoes harvested first.

This method seems to be a good use of soil and appropriate plant habitat – and I like the option of an early, partial harvest. There’s nothing better than new potatoes in late August, yet that’s way too early to dig up a whole plant. I have lumber cut for another four boxes to accommodate plantings of: All Blue, Dark Red Norland, Salem and Nicola.  Proof will be had in a creamy leek and potato gratin along about Labor Day.

Meanwhile, it has been a beautiful Spring. Woad is blooming in the door yard, with red columbine and blue Chinese forget-me-not.

Signs and portents

This afternoon the thermometer read 36 F in the afternoon sun so I ventured out to the greenhouse and brought in seed trays and ProMix. The lights have been set up down cellar for two months while the earth turned on its axis toward spring, ever closer to the time a sane person might start seedlings.  Today I find I can’t wait any longer – even though the temperature right now is 8.6 F and the ground is hard as iron.

Tomorrow I’ll start:

Blue Vervain – Stratify, needs light to germinate; can take up to a month

Mautitanean Malva (Mallow) – start early, thin to 3′

Queen of the Meadow – surface sow in moist area, stratify/chill in fridge 1 week, slow to germinate

Southern Charm Verbascum – takes 2 – 3 weeks to germinate