Work in progress

I had a week off in June and decided to make the switch from pastels to oil paints. It has been a steep learning curve, no matter that I painted for a decade before we had a baby and I decided to use a less toxic medium.

Snow CliffI’m working from sketches and photos from last winter of this site in Acadia National Park, 18″ x 24″, oil on board.

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


Idea in progress

For 2012 I’m trying a new regimen of allowing all the vegetation to grow up together in the garden, vs mowing, weeding, or trimming. As we get to the hot, dry part of the summer I find that the garden beds are better insulated with all the extra ground cover and that even very aggressive “weeds” haven’t cut into my production all that much. This photo was taken yesterday and you’ll notice that paths and divisions between “beds” have largely disappeared over the course of the season. It’s not actually a bad look – very “abundant”.

the no trim garden

Sitting around the supper table last night (zucchini-bacon cakes with basil dipping sauce) R. brought up a TED talk he listened to in the car titled “Chef Dan Barber talks about his pursuit of a sustainable fish he could love”.  The farm he chose was one that had tens of thousand of acres under minimal cultivation, and the scale of the enterprise allowed other species to compliment as well as compete with his farmed fish. The farmer was even sanguine  about the percentage of his crop to flamingos who moved in once the marine life was  established (“Aren’t they a beautiful pink color!”).

I don’t have an extraordinary amount of land available, but I like the overall philosophy. The photo below is of garden beds for green beans, lettuce, snow peas and tomatoes (all of which would be much more evident if I was mowing down paths as in other years). The area is maximized for growth, minimized for labor.

the no trim garden II

After very cursory research, it seems this concept of large scale land use combined with minimal amendments for a (possibly) lower yield is labeled “extensive”  as opposed to “intensive” farming. I’ll be doing more research and planning for next steps as the active harvest season closes out in November. . . meanwhile, potatoes and grapes are coming in!

From the Wikipedia article on Intensive Farming:


Less labour per unit areas is required to farm large areas, especially since expensive alterations to land (like terracing) are completely absent.

Mechanisation can be used more effectively over large, flat areas.

Greater efficiency of labour means generally lower product prices.

Animal welfare is generally improved because animals are not kept in stifling conditions.

Lower requirements of inputs such as fertilizers.

If animals are grazed on pastures native to the locality, there is less likely to be problems with exotic species.

Local environment and soil are not damaged by overuse of chemicals.


Yields tend to be much lower than with intensive farming in the short term.

Large land requirements limit the habitat of wild species (in some cases, even very low stocking rates can be dangerous), as is the case with intensive farming

Raspberry season


August has arrived with crowds of houseguests (ours and other people’s), green beans, and 140 tour boats between now and October. And raspberries.

purple royalty raspberriesThere’s too much to do in the garden to be sitting around making a blog post, but sometimes the temptation to record the beautiful chaos of fruit and bloom is just too much. The purple royalty raspberries (above) are abundant and showy. The everblooming variety “Anne” is more subtle in taste and color, and the berries are hidden in the leaves.

Anne in handWe also grow Liberty, which is a plain red variety that taste exactly like red LifeSavers. I picked a mixed quart and made this jam tart from Smitten Kitchen with half jam, half fresh berries.  It was wonderful – pictures later!  Next up, blueberries. . .

Patriot blueberries

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!

Surround crop protectant

mix it up

Surround WP is my favorite pesticide. Surround and the occasional small dose of Bt is all I need in a good year, and in a bad year I add in some Serenade for the cherry trees that are particularly prone to brown rot.

Surround is 95% kaolin clay, sold in powder form to be mixed with water and sprayed, as explained in the Fedco Organic Grower’s Supply catalog:

Surround™ WP Crop Protectant Forms a particle film which coats the surface of leaves and fruits, creating a barrier which acts as a broad-spectrum crop protectant, reducing damage from various insects, mites and disease-carrying pests. Recommended for controlling European apple sawfly, plum curculio, Japanese beetles, leafhoppers, CPB, thrips and other maleficial insects on fruit crops and field crops, effective against cucumber beetles on cucurbits. 95% kaolin clay, Surround’s layer of white particles creates an unfamiliar environment for the attacking insects, prevents them from recognizing their target, and, if they land, the particles rub off on them causing irritation and excessive grooming. The white surface also reflects sunlight, preventing sunburn and heat damage. Michael Phillips at Lost Nation Orchard estimates that one 25# bag is sufficient to treat 10 trees for one season. Begin application before petal-fall. Apply 2–3 times the first week to build up a good coating and then every 10–14 days or as the film weathers or new growth appears, more frequently in rainy weather. Maintain a good coat until plum curculio season ends, around June 30 in central Maine.

seckle pear with Surround WP

Agricultural Solutions also has an informative entry:

Surround W. P. is made from 95% kaolin clay, a naturally occurring mineral. When applied to fruit trees, crops, and other plants, it forms a white film. Surround suppresses a wide range of pests, especially those which damage fruit crops including pears, apples, grapes, berries, and some vegetables. The manufacturers use a super-magnetic centrifuge in Georgia to refine the impurities out of raw kaolin and then filter the clay particles to a critical 1.4 microns in size.

I really like the part about the centrifuge.

The best technique I’ve found for my 2 gallon hand pump sprayer is to mix the 2 gallon dose of powder into a quart mason jar of water and shake well for at least 30 seconds, then dump the mixture into the full (minus 1 qt) sprayer. Agitate the sprayer during use. Several sources comment that hand sprayers are a good way to apply this agent because you can really pay attention to coverage. The best thing about Surround is that I don’t have to closely monitor what it falls on under the trees: it is rated for vegetables, it won’t harm the grasses and wildflowers, and it washes off the occasional Adirondack chair (although that takes a few days – move furniture and cover paving stones if you don’t want them temporarily decorated with faint white patches).

I also find that a good coating of Surround reduces deer predation. Perhaps it limits the aroma of an attractive plant? Here I’ve sprayed some mallow growing outside the electric fence – normally a tempting target and they’ve left it alone all season.

mallow with Surround coating

The weekend is forecast to be sunny and not too breezy – time to apply another coat!


Neglect as a gardening technique

I went away for a week and evidently the garden enjoys a bit of “alone time”. Almost everything in this picture is edible (except the giant spruce tree).

the view

The oregano hedge (like everything) has enjoyed the alternating rain and sun and nearly doubled in size in seven days.


Celery (which I use only for delicious celery seed because I never get around to blanching it), rose campion, and valerian; tall plants growing rampant at the back of the garden.

celery and rose campion

Briarseed bread poppies, each blossom opening and falling apart in a day but leaving plenty of seeds behind.

poppy seeds

Golden marguerite, mallow, Joe Pye weed, in a garden row for the bees.

golden marguerite

And finally, at the edge of the garden, a wall of angelica.


Great Spruce Head Island, 6/23 – 6/29/2012

Eight tubes of paint, five brushes (thanks, R!), stand oil and turp, paper towels, 5 boards (that’s way too many), 10 pieces of paper (ditto), a Mason jar of shellac and chip brushes, mosquito/tick repellant, sunscreen, hat, windbreaker, socks, running gear (hells yeah), 10 lbs of fresh herbs for Barney the Chef (not even kidding), a world of pencils, white plastic erasers, blue masking tape, Alleve and Absorbine Jr., 3 Kind bars, a Kindle Fire, a Tracfone, a pac of USB’s, camera, 2 memory cards for same, 2 Moleskine notebooks.  I think I’m ready.

Ready set go

TBC. . .

New work

This summer I’m trying out new techniques and a change of vision, inspired by looking at the Masters up close and personal in Paris a few months back. There are matters of scale and structure that never translated very well for me from textbooks. Now I have a laundry list of issues and a garden full of still life material and just need a few more hours in the day.

Zinnias and Cherry Tomatoes

Zinnias and Cherry Tomatoes, 20″ x 16″, pastel on board

July 4, 1968

While I was growing up my family had a set routine for celebrating the “Patriot” holidays. Washington’s Birthday was spent at Aunt Margaret’s house. Her husband, Bert, and my grandfather and the other white males in town spent the night at the Mason’s Hall in sacred rites and a fair amount of liquor. The women and children had dinner back at the house followed by charades and story-telling, possibly some entertainment at the piano. On Memorial Day we went to my grandmother’s house which was conveniently situated on a hill above the parade route and watched the veterans of the foreign wars and the fire company go up Jerome Ave. and down Tunxis from our picnic on the lawn. July 4 was spent at the middle sister Mildred’s house. Uncle Raymond stored the watermelons in the dairy cooler and we rode our bicycles at break-neck speeds around the old barn foundation. There were bruises later, and road-rash, and fireworks in the field at night. Here we’ve been dragged away from our fun and lined up for a mugshot.


Folks will have to help me out with identifying everyone – there are no names on the back of the photo. I’m on the far right in the blond pigtails and woe-is-me expression. Is that Stevie W. in the checkered shirt to my right? Are the twins in the middle John and Russell C.? Who is that in the overalls, and the one in back with the helmet? I bet somebody out there might recognize themselves. . . think back, folks, and let me know?