Skip to content

Learning About Maine’s Native Plants

August 24, 2016

CMBG native plants classFor three days in mid-August, I drove out to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens each morning for a course called “Introduction to Maine’s Native Flora.” The course was part of my certificate program in Native Plants and Ecological Horticulture, and it was taught by Melissa Cullina, staff botanist and Director of Education for the garden. Like all classes at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, this one combined lecture and hands-on exercises, time in the classroom and time in the field, and was deliberately kept small to facilitate interaction (there were about 15 of us).

This was a challenging course, with a lot of information to be mastered in just a few days. The goal was for us to be able to recognize and identify a wide range of native plants from a variety of habitats. We were introduced to between 50 and 100 native plants, and had to master 30 of them well enough to be able to look at a sample branch in a vase and identify the plant by botanical name (genus name and specific epithet) and botanical family. I have made it a practice to learn the botanical names of plants, but I hadn’t previously learned the family names, so that was a new challenge. On the morning of the first day, we were introduced to various characteristics that are used to identify plants: leaf arrangements and shape, shapes of flowers and inflorescences, types of hairs on stems or leaves. In the afternoon, we went out into the garden to look at plants (mostly trees and herbaceous perennials) and to practice using our newly-acquired vocabulary to describe them. On the second day, we added more plants to our repertoire, including ferns, and also learned how to use various kinds of identification keys. On the third day, we focused on shore and salt marsh plants.

CMBG goldenrodsIt’s been a long time since I tried to commit this much information to memory in such a short period of time, and I sometimes felt like my brain was about to explode. But the amount of learning was also exciting. I had always felt overwhelmed by trying to figure out the minute differences among the various types of goldenrod (Solidago) that grow on my property. By the end of the first day of this course, however, I could see the differences clearly and was able to identify four different species growing in and near my garden. (These are Solidago juncea, Solidago bicolor, Solidago canadensis, and Solidago rugosa. There may also be a fifth species, but I will need to get out my hand lens to look more carefully at the shape of the stem and whether/where it has hairs to be sure.) Learning to identify the goldenrods has given me confidence to tackle another confusing set of related plants in the Asteraceae family– all the different wild asters growing around my house.

Next month I’ll be able to build on my native plant knowledge as I go back to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens for two more courses, one on collecting and propagating seeds of Maine native plants and one on invasive plants in Maine.

The Season of Summer Phlox: GBBD, August 2016

August 16, 2016

phlox Bright EyesAugust is a month when the garden can begin to look tired and bedraggled. That is especially true this year, when our drought conditions mean that foliage that would normally be green is shriveled and browning, some plants are splayed open at the center (as though trying to get as much moisture as possible into their crowns), and many flowering perennials are blooming sparsely or not at all.

The daylily (Hemerocallis) season in my garden is mostly over. In the entry garden, ‘Mariska’ and ‘Vanessa Barth’ are coming to the end of their blooms.

Mariska last flower Vanessa Barth

autumn minaret flowersMany of my late-blooming varieties did not get enough moisture in July to make flowers. One exception is ‘Autumn Minaret;’ but even its delicate flowers are shorter, earlier, and less profuse than they would be in a more normal year.

Among the plants that are waiting in pots and bags to go into the new side slope garden, two late-blooming varieties of daylily, ‘Southport Delight’ and ‘Olin Criswell,’ are showing off their beautiful flowers.

Southport Delight Olin Criswell

David against fenceEven in a difficult year, the tall panicles of summer phlox (Phlox paniculata) can be counted on to make a beautiful display in the August garden. In the back garden, flowers are fading on the early-blooming variety ‘Blue Paradise,’ but ‘David’ is just beginning to bloom. It’s white flowers make a beautiful display against the fence. The real show, however, is in the entry garden, where three varieties of Phlox paniculata are blooming at the back of the Porch Border.

At one end of the border, Phlox paniculata ‘Bright Eyes’ is blooming with cleome by the front entry. Phlox Bright Eyes with cleome

In the center, the flowers of ‘Robert Poore’ are blooming with cosmos. I love the way the rich color of ‘Robert Poore’ pops against the white railing of the front deck.

phlox Robert Poore with cosmos phlox Robert Poore pop
Phlox Miss Pepper The far end of the border is anchored by the flowers of ‘Miss Pepper.’ Because my bedroom has a glass door leading out onto the deck, when I open my eyes on these August mornings, I am greeted by this colorful display of phlox, cleome, and cosmos.

The best-looking part of my garden right now may be the Lavender Walk, featuring plants which are happy in relatively dry conditions. The lavender plants have put up a second flush of flowers. On one side of the walkway, their flowers mingle with those of Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus.’ On the other side of the walkway, there are still a few flowers of ice plant (Delosperma) ‘Table Mountain’ blooming amid the lavender, and sedum ‘Autumn Fire’ is full of buds promising more blooms for September.

Table Mountain flower Autumn fire buds

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is a celebration of flowers hosted on the 15th of each month by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her blog to join the celebration or to see what other gardeners have blooming this month.

Cherry Tree Under Stress: Tree Following, August 2016

August 12, 2016

cherry under stressMy part of Maine is officially in a “moderate drought;” it has been many weeks since we had any significant (1” or more) rainfall. I imagine that some of my garden blogging friends in the west would scoff at the idea of this as a drought, but I garden in what  is normally a water-rich region of the country. The biggest employer in my small, rural town is in the business of extracting and bottling our local water for export (Poland Spring water).

We had several weeks of dry weather last year, too, but it followed a winter with record-breaking snowfall amounts. When we got very little snow this winter, no one complained; we felt we deserved an easy winter after last year. But then a winter of low precipitation was followed by a warm dry spring, which was in turn followed by this warm dry summer. The river near my house is running lower than I ever remember seeing it before, and many people’s wells have begun to run dry.

So how is my little cherry tree (Prunus pensylvanica) faring in these stressful conditions? Although two young forsythia transplants nearby are looking sadly wilted, the cherry is standing up tall, and its leaves do not look desiccated. A closer look does reveal a number of leaves that are turning brown and falling, a sign of a tree protecting itself by going into dormancy. I also note that, although I saw two clusters of blossoms on this tree in June, no fruit ever developed.

cherry tree leaves

All-in-all, though, I am pleased with how my little tree is doing. This native cherry tree seems better equipped to handle moderate drought conditions than do my non-native forsythias. Its response of cutting off water and nutrients to a small proportion of leaves seems similar to what I’m seeing in mature oak trees growing nearby.

Happily, while I was writing this, a thunderstorm moved through, bringing heavy downpours and about .5” of rain in a few minutes. More showers are forecast during the next several days. I am hoping that this is the beginning of a new weather pattern and that my thirsty plants will finally get some of the water they need to thrive.

Tree following is hosted by Pat English at The Squirrelbasket. Visit her blog to learn about the trees other bloggers are following.

The Entrance Garden: Lessons from the First Year

August 2, 2016

entrance garden annualsAs I continue to slog away on year two of my front garden project, I thought it would be a good time to look at the results of year one’s efforts, particularly the two flower beds that flank the walkway from the front entrance of my house to the patio.

I wanted these flower beds to provide some privacy and sense of enclosure as people approached the front entrance so, especially along the front of the porch and deck (on the right side of the walkway), I included fairly tall varieties of garden phlox (Phlox paniculata), New England asters (Symphyotrichum novi-angliae ‘Alma Potschke’) and astilbe (Astilbe x thumbergii ‘Moerheim’s Glory’). At the front, the walkway is bordered by lower-growing plants of Heuchera ‘Raspberry Regal,’ Geranium x oxonianum, and Tradescantia virginiana ‘Pink Chablis.’ Daylilies (Hemerocallis) are grouped between the taller plantings at the back and the shorter ones at the front.

You can’t really see any of those plants, can you? That’s because I decided that my first-year planting needed some annuals to fill in the space until the perennial plants bulked up to their mature size. I bought a six-pack each of cleome and cosmos and divided them between the flower beds on the two sides of the walkway. There were two things that I didn’t anticipate when I made this decision:

  1. Especially on the porch side of the walkway, the perennial plants grew much larger in one year than I expected. The three phlox, two astilbes and two asters at the back of the border are already big mature-looking plants. At the front of the border, each of the four small pieces of a single heuchera that I divided grew larger than the original plant had ever been and bloomed much more profusely.
  2. I had never grown either cleome or cosmos before, just admired them from a distance (for example, while driving by) in other people’s gardens. I didn’t appreciate just how big those tiny seedlings I tucked in between the perennials in late May would grow by July! They are both taller and much bigger in diameter than I ever imagined they would become.  I wanted these plantings to provide a sense of enclosure at the entrance to the house, but I didn’t want people to feel as though they had to walk through narrow tunnel in order to get to the patio! Moreover, they have completely stolen the show from the intended stars. As the photo below taken from the back side of the patio border (on the left side of walkway) shows, the annuals are hiding the daylily blooms that are supposed to be the featured plants at this time of year.

entrance garden daylilies obscured

Another problem with the planting in the first year has been the extent to which plants impinge on what is already a narrow walkway. As soon as they bloomed, the tall spikes of the heuchera began to flop over onto the walkway. The cosmos have also tended to lean into the walkway, and the geranium plants have crept outward.

Fortunately, all of these problems can be fairly easily corrected, and I have learned a lot from the process. Here are the lessons I’ve taken away from these too-exuberant plantings:

  • Plants growing in my newly prepared flower beds grow quickly. I don’t need annuals to fill in while they mature.
  • I would love to grow some annuals (cosmos, cleome, some zinnias) in my garden, but this is not the place for them. I will not replant these here, but I will consider how they might be incorporated in the more informal plantings of the lower garden when I get to it.
  • I need to keep plants from flopping onto the walkway. Next year, I will make a discrete ‘fence’ of linking stakes to keep the flowers of geranium, tradescantia and heuchera up off the walkway.

I have enjoyed my new entrance garden this year, but I look forward to enjoying it even more next year without cosmos and cleome, when it will be more the garden I envisioned when I designed it.

Daylilies, Daylilies

July 28, 2016

Those who have been following this blog for any length of time will know that one of my favorite flowering perennials is the daylily (Hemerocallis). I’m not usually a big plant collector, but I make an exception for daylilies and love to add new varieties to my garden.

Grenier gardens daylilies

This week is the peak of the daylily season in my area, and peak daylily bloom is a great time to shop for new plants. On Monday, I drove over to a local daylily nursery, Grenier Gardens, to look for daylilies for my new side slope planting. Since my design for this area calls for 2 groups of peach-colored daylilies and 3 groups of yellow daylilies, those were the colors I was looking for; and I took photos of several promising prospects.

Grenier English Cameo Grenier Daydream Believer Grenier unidentified peach

I like to plant daylilies in groups of three varieties that are similar in color, but have somewhat different heights and bloom times.  I didn’t actually buy any daylilies this week, because this garden area won’t be ready for planting for another 3-4 weeks. I will go back to Grenier Gardens in another week or two, check out the later-blooming varieties they have for sale, and make my selections then.

Primozich daylilies2016Yesterday I got to see how another gardener uses daylilies in her garden when the Foothills Garden Club visited the garden of Donna Primozich.  This is one of my favorite gardens to visit, and I have written about the garden before (see Inspired and Inspiring: The Primozich Garden). In previous visits, I’ve focused more on Donna’s beautiful shade garden, but the focus of this visit was on daylilies.

In the older parts of Donna’s garden, the daylilies often grow in partially shaded areas.

Sometimes the daylilies are one component of a varied plant composition, as in this planting by the house. Primozich daylily planting by house
Primozich edge of woods daylilies And sometimes, they are in plantings that are predominantly daylilies, like this island bed near the edge of the woods.
But generally in these part-sun/part-shade flower beds, soft colors reign. Primozich daylily soft colors

In a newer, sunny part of her garden, however, Donna Primozich has indulged her love of hot colors. The result is dazzling, and I was eager to absorb lessons that I can apply to my own hot-color planting-to-be on the front slope.

Primozich hot color combination For example, it would never have occurred to me to combine these vibrant reds, oranges and yellows with purple tones, but it works beautifully.
I also love the combination of these orange, yellow, and red daylilies with the hot pink bee balm – and I note the harmonizing effects of touches of white and silver. Primozich plant combinations

I currently have 55 different daylily varieties planted in my garden. Even when I add more in the various parts of my new front garden, I will have far fewer than Donna Primozich. And in any given year, some of my daylilies won’t bloom. Last year, when I planted the new flower beds of my entry garden, two of the daylilies that I moved from my holding area had not been happy there and were mere shadows of their former selves. One had so little mass left (a few small roots and one stem) that I doubted it would survive. I was happy to see both these plants growing happily in my garden this spring and much larger than they were when I planted them a year ago. I don’t mind that they haven’t put up flower scapes this year. They’ve clearly been putting their energy into bulking up and growing roots, and I expect them to bloom next year. I have other daylilies that are not blooming because they have been literally overshadowed by other plants and are not getting enough sunlight to make flowers. In some of these cases, the daylilies will get moved to new locations; in others, the overhanging plants will get thinned out or cut back.

Even with some non-bloomers, I have had thirty different varieties of daylilies blooming simultaneously in my garden this week. And there are still more varieties to come. But this week also saw the beginning of declining bloom as some of the earliest varieties opened their last buds and came to the end of their blooming season. From here on out, for each new variety that begins to bloom, one or more will come to the end of their bloom. As July turns into August, the daylily display will get smaller; and by the time August turns into September, only a few varieties will be left.

Our extended drought, while nothing compared to the serious multi-year drought of California and other parts of the West, has depressed daylily bloom. I’ve noticed misshapen buds on some plants, and some buds have dried up and fallen off without opening. Many varieties have made fewer flowers than they normally would. Even in a relatively bad year, however, daylilies are the stars of my July garden. I leave you with these images of the daylily varieties currently blooming in my garden that were not blooming when I last posted about daylilies two weeks ago:

peak daylilies

This Is For You, Mom

July 23, 2016

Lavender WalkWhen my parents were in their early seventies and my father had retired from his job in a steel forge, they sold their house to my younger sister and bought a mobile home in a nearby retirement park. This mobile home park really was park-like. The lots were generously sized, and when the place was built, each lot had been landscaped with several specimen trees. My parents had a hemlock, two flowering hawthorns, a flowering dogwood, and an enormous blue spruce that dominated the back of the lot. The family that owned the park included at least one gardener who created interesting plantings in the public spaces. (I was particularly fond of several places where clematis had been trained over boulders.) And many of the people who lived in the park planted flower gardens. I remember my parents taking me to look at the park before they decided to buy there and being wowed by the beauty of the landscaping.

The unit my parents bought had a clump of lilacs (a plant my mother could not be without) outside the bedroom window, and rhododendrons growing under the windows at the front. It also had perennial plantings of peonies, bearded irises, and lily of the valley. Over time, my mother added some additional perennials – hostas, rudbeckia, and shasta daisies. After the blue spruce tree came down one year in a winter storm, I created a circular perennial garden for her to fill the space and ease the loss of the tree.

One plant my mother always wanted to grow at the mobile home was lavender. But, although I bought her gift plants of lavender on a number of different occasions and tried out multiple varieties in a number of different places, we never succeeded in getting lavender to grow in her garden. So, when I was thinking about my new front garden, I knew that I wanted to create a planting of lavender in memory of my mother.

The realization of this desire is the Lavender Walk, two small flower beds that flank a narrow 10 ft. long section of walkway that leads from my new patio to the fragrant garden under my bedroom window. The fragrant planting of lavender provides a transition from the front entrance garden, which includes relatively few fragrant flowers, to a planting focused on fragrance.

lavender & ice plant2The Lavender Walk features eight plants of Lavendula augustifolia, four on each side of the walkway. In designing this planting, I had to figure out the best companion plants to go with the lavender. One side of the planting sits at the top of a retaining wall, and here I chose sedums as companion plants. The three plants of Sedum x ‘Autumn Fire’ planted behind the lavender are looking very happy and will bloom after the lavender has finished. In contrast, the four plants of the beautiful groundcover Sedum spurium ‘Tricolor’ that I planted at the top of the retaining wall, in hopes that it would not only spread across the ground between the taller sedum plants but also trail down the outside of the wall, are looking very unhappy. Earlier this summer, when Craig Cote and Rex Beisel of Barred Owl Daylilies gave me a division of another groundcover plant, Delosperma (ice plant) x ‘Table Mountain,’ I divided it into three small pieces and planted them between the lavender plants at the front of this planting. The results have been very gratifying, as the plants have not only settled in, but grown dramatically and bloomed profusely. If the groundcover sedum does not survive or continues to look sickly next year, I may replace it with pieces of the ice plant, which I think would be happy to cover the top of and trail down the outside of the retaining wall.

Magnus bloomOn the other side of the walkway, the Lavender Walk planting backs up to the front deck of my house. Here I used Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’ as a companion plant. This choice was inspired by one of my mother’s neighbors in the mobile home park who had lavender and echinacea growing together by her front door. I always loved the way the combination looked and knew I wanted to replicate it here. The four lavender plants are at the front of this border, with three of the taller echinacea plants behind them. The echinacea has just begun to bloom, and I am very happy with the result. At the front of this planting, I added another Sedum spurium variety, ‘John Creech’ as a groundcover between the lavender plants. Unlike ‘Tricolor,’ John Creech is looking healthy and happy and is covered with pink blooms.

lavender inflorescense John Creech & lavender

Because the Lavender Walk has special meaning to me, I had a big emotional investment in its success as a planting. In its first year, it has exceeded my hopes. Each day, as I walk through this part of my garden, I am filled with wonder at its beauty and filled with love for the very special woman who inspired it and in whose memory it was created.

July’s Floral Bounty: GBBD, July 2016

July 15, 2016

lavender walk July 2016July is the time of peak bloom in my Maine garden. The garden hasn’t reached its peak yet; that is still a week or two away. But I am experiencing that beautiful floral crescendo that will peak in late July.

The first flower beds in my new front garden, planted less than a year ago, continue to amaze. The Lavender Walk is abloom with two varieties of lavender (Lavendula augustifolia ‘Munstead Strain’ and Lavendula augustifolia ‘Hidcote’), ice plant (Delosperma ‘Table Mountain’), Sedum spurium ‘John Creech,’ and the first flowers of Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus.’

Lavender Walk flowers

walkway to patio July 2016In the Porch Border and the Patio Border, flanking the walkway to the patio, Heuchera ‘Raspberry Regal,’ Geranium x oxonianum, and Tradescantia virginiana ‘Pink Chablis’ continue to bloom profusely. But they have now been joined by some of the earlier daylily varieties, by the tall, pale pink panicles of Astilbe x thumbergii ‘Moerheim’s Glory,’ and by flowers of annual cosmos and cleome.

patio walkway flowers

The astilbes are at their peak right now, especially in the Deck Border. There, ‘Moerheim’s Glory’ is joined by lavender spires of Astilbe x arendsii ‘Cattleya,’ the delicate arched flowers of Astilbe x thumbergii ‘Betsy Cuperus,’ and the beautiful Astilbe x thumbergii ‘Ostrich Plume.’


But it is the daylilies that steal the show in my July garden. These began to bloom the last week in June. By mid-July, one or two varieties are opening their first flowers each day. Here is a sampling of those currently in bloom:

early daylilies 2016
Daylily varieties, left to right, top to bottom: Unnamed large gold daylily from Barth breeding program, Mary Todd, Happy Returns, unnamed wine-colored daylily from Cellars breeding program, possibly species daylily Hemerocallis citrina, unidentified red spider daylily, Lily Munster, unidentified yellow-orange daylily, Sheepscot Valley Sunset, Boothbay Harbor Gold, Alna Pride, Hemerocallis fulva.

And these represent only about 25% of the varieties I am growing, with many, many more still to come in the days and weeks ahead.

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted on the 15th of each month by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her blog to see an amazing array of blooms from gardens around the world.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 409 other followers