Skip to content

A Slow Unfolding: GBBD, May 2020

May 15, 2020

Maine’s usual flash-in-the-pan spring has been replaced this year by a slow unfolding. This past week, I have been particularly aware of the unfolding of new leaves on deciduous trees. The leaves of red maples (Acer rubrum), which flower in early spring, appeared first. These were followed by new leaves on paper birch (Betula papyrifera) and witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), and then by ashes (Fraxinus) and American beech (Fagus grandifolia). Finally, yesterday, I saw the first tiny leaves of red oak (Quercus rubra).

tiny leaves

lonely daffodilThe garden is in between the flowering bulbs  of early spring and the late spring profusion of blooms on flowering shrubs. In the back garden, one last lonely daffodil bulb is fading. But the promise of things to come is everywhere, in the buds of lilacs, rhododendron, cherry and viburnum.

spring buds 2020

Actual blooms are being provided by spring wildflowers that have been drafted into or have volunteered for service in the garden.

moss phlox flowers These include moss phlox (Phlox subulata),
sweet white violets (Viola blanda), sweet white violets 2020
wild strawberry flowers wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana),
and carpets of bluets (Houstonia caerulea). bluets blooming

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted on the 15th of each month by Carol at May Dreams Gardens, whose garden is particularly beautiful in May. Visit her blog to see hers and others’ May blooms.

Suspended Animation?

May 4, 2020

An unusually warm March jump-started spring in my garden, but it was followed by an unseasonably cool April, which slowed everything down. It has often felt as though the garden is in a state of suspended animation – much the way our lives feel in these pandemic times.

But slowly, almost imperceptibly, plants have been growing. This was obvious when I went out on this beautiful May weekend to take a close look.

side slope greenery

On the side slope, the crocus blooms have faded, but their foliage has been joined by the new growth of many other plants. Even the hostas have sent up new shoots. hosta new growth

Plants are growing especially fast near the foundation of the house. On the south side of the house, sweet white violets (Viola blanda) have begun to bloom. On the northwest side, the foliage of this goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus) is already a foot tall.

foundation violets foundation goatsbeard
blues border spring growth In the heat trap of the Blues Border, all the plants are well up out of the ground.

Throughout the garden, low-growing plants like hardy geraniums, heuchera and Lady’s mantle have produced lots of fresh green foliage,

New Green Growth

and I’m happy to see new foliage on my native sundial lupines (Lupinus perennis). lupine new growth

As I watch the new shoots of daylilies, phlox, peonies and asters getting taller,

phlox new growth peony new growth 2020
lilac buds opening and, especially, as I find lilac buds opening, I see the promise of wonderful flowers in the weeks and months to come.

Spring Has Sprung: GBBD, April 2020

April 15, 2020

Despite several inches of new snow less than a week ago, spring has definitely sprung in my Maine garden. The slope by the driveway is center stage at this time of year, with a cheerful display of crocuses.

hillside crocuses

I love the variety of colors in these crocuses, and the bees love them, too.

Crocus blooms-001

Crocuses aren’t my only flowers this Bloom Day.

A few blue hyacinths are blooming in the Blue and Yellow Border. blue hyacinths
red maple flowers against blue sky And red maple (Acer rubrum) flowers are blooming against a blue sky.
But the surest sign that spring has truly sprung is this butterfly, the first of the season, spotted in the garden yesterday. first butterfly

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted on the 15th of each month by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her blog to see April blooms from gardens where the season is more advanced.

Spring Cleanup

April 8, 2020

With an early spring in Maine this year and little else on my schedule, I’ve been getting a head start on spring cleanup in my garden. I find this one of the most pleasant of garden chores. It comes at a time of year when I am itching to spend time outdoors, when a fifty-degree day feels balmy, and when being warmed by the sun’s rays is a welcome pleasure. Even better, the annoying insects (black flies and mosquitoes) that will make gardening less enjoyable later in the season haven’t emerged yet.

I begin with a garden area that is cluttered with last year’s spent foliage, fallen leaves from nearby trees, and other garden debris.

side slope before

And after a few hours of work, I end up with a neat-looking landscape ready to welcome this year’s new growth. It’s an added bonus that, on this slope, the first growth is the cheerful flowers of crocus bulbs, now shown off to much better effect.

side slope after

Looking Forward: Plans for the New Front Border

March 26, 2020

In this time of pandemic anxiety and social distancing, gardening can provide a wonderful sense of normalcy and connection to nature. It’s too soon for me to begin working in the garden (with several inches of new snow this week), but spring is definitely on the way. I have been completing late winter pruning and walking through the garden each day looking for new spring growth. Soon I will be able to get to work on spring clean-up. Since we’re having an early spring, my goal is to get all the seasonal garden chores done by mid-May to clear the decks for work on the new front border (part of my multi-year front landscaping project).

Last year, I made a list of plants already on hand to go into this border. Some of these are part of the current Circular Bed, which will be dismantled and incorporated into the new, much larger front border. Some of the plants on my list have been in my holding area since I moved them out of the way of construction more than six years ago. I also have some plants on hand that were gifts from gardening friends, divisions of their own plants.


Earlier in the winter, I sat down with this list of plants, created a diagram of the new front border space, and went to work on a design. First I put in the shrubs that are already in place – one clump of lilacs kept from the old planting, and the beach plums (Prunus maritima) and northern bayberries (Morella caroliniensis) I planted along the property line last fall. Then I added another shrub, the native pasture rose (Rosa carolina) that has been biding its time in a pot.  As I began to put in the other plants on my list and to move them around on the diagram, I could see some gaps, which gave me a good excuse to peruse the winter plant catalogs and order a few more plants.

This is probably not the final version of this design.  I find that plantings always look different in three-dimensional space than on a two-dimensional diagram, and I will surely tweak this as I put plants in place. It’s also likely that some combinations will not work as well in actuality as they do in my imagination and will get moved around after a year or two. Nevertheless, this design gives me a place to begin. Now I just have to wait for the gardening season to truly begin.

An Early Spring: GBBD, March 2020

March 15, 2020

I  almost wrote “April” instead of “March” in the title of this post, because the state of the garden seems so much more like mid-April than mid-March.  We have not had any snow in weeks, and March temperatures thus far have been above average. Much of the snow has melted from the garden, and I have been able to get out this week to do some late winter pruning and begin spring cleanup.

red lion 2020

In the house, the last of my potted amaryllis (Hippeastrum) bulbs to bloom this year, ‘Red Lion’ is showing off its flame-colored flowers.

But, as the spring equinox approaches, it is time to transition from indoor flowers to outdoor blooms. Near the south-facing corner of the house, the first flower of Crocus vernus ‘Pickwick’ has opened, about two weeks ahead of schedule.

1st pickwick 2020a

…And many more crocus blooms will follow soon.

pickwick budsGarden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is a monthly garden party hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her blog to see March blooms from from a variety of climates and latitudes.

Favorite Garden Books: Native Plants for New England Gardens

March 8, 2020

There was a time when many ornamental gardeners eschewed native plants, considering exotic imports and highly bred cultivars as more refined and garden-worthy. Today’s gardeners are more likely to be aware of the importance of native plants in supporting other native species and of the role that ornamental gardens can play in environmental conservation. Still, it can be challenging to see native plants once regarded as common wildflowers or weeds with new eyes.

For gardeners in my native New England, Native Plants for New England Gardens by Mark Richardson and Dan Jaffe (Globe Pequot, 2018) provides that new perspective on native plants. The book begins with a brief introduction that addresses the sometimes vexing question of how to define “native” (the authors settle on ecoregions rather than on political boundaries and on European discovery as a proxy for when plants began to be transported across oceans), introduces the principle of using the right plant in the right place, and provides guidelines for creating and maintaining ecologically beneficial gardens. It ends with useful appendices that include lists of plants for various conditions and a map delineating New England’s ecoregions. The heart of the book is the 200 pages in between that introduce us to garden-worthy herbaceous plants, trees, shrubs, ferns, grasses, sedges, vines and lianas.

A typical entry in Native Plants for New England Gardens takes up two pages, with a half-page or full-page photo of the plant and an accompanying description. Some entries focus on a single plant species, while others encompass several members of a genus (e.g., asters or goldenrods). The authors pack an impressive amount of information into these relatively short descriptions. There is information about the garden-worthy features of a plant. We learn, for example, that “Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) has one of the most interesting and exquisite flowers of our entire native flora” and that it “… is a subtle but exquisite shrub in the winter landscape” (p. 133). The entries tell us when a plant is at its best in the garden and often include suggestions for companion plants. All descriptions conclude with the sun, soil and moisture conditions appropriate for the plant and with the cold-hardiness zones in which it grows. My only quibble with these plant descriptions is that, having defined “native” in terms of ecoregions rather than political boundaries, the authors fail to tell us in which of New England’s ecoregions a plant is native.

Ecoregions mapQuibble aside, this book can provide inspiration for any gardener who wants help in looking at native plants in a new light; and it is a particularly valuable addition to the library of gardeners in New England or in neighboring regions of Canada and the United States that share ecoregions with New England.  All the dog-eared pages in my copy provide an indicator of  the many hours I have spent looking at the beautiful photographs, reading with excitement about plants that I never before considered including in my garden (although some of them grow wild nearby), and making lists of plants to add to my garden.