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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.

Promises, Promises: GBBD, February 2020

February 16, 2020

apple blossom openingFor weeks, several of my potted amaryllis (Hippeastrum) bulbs have been promising to provide winter blooms as an antidote to the snowy landscape outdoors. In my cool winter house, the flowers are slow to develop inside their buds, and the stems get very tall during this process. I was amazed one year, when I went away for the holidays and left several potted bulbs in the care of a co-worker who kept them in her overheated office, to come back in early January and find that they were already blooming – and on much shorter stems.

Today, the flowers on Hippeastrum ‘Apple Blossom’ finally opened, making good on the promise of those buds. This is a beautiful flower, well worth the wait, and I love the fact that its pollen is pink.

apple blossom flower apple blossom anthers

This bud only contained two flowers, instead of the usual four, which probably means that it is time for me to repot the bulb into some fresh soil. While I enjoy the flowers of ‘Apple Blossom,’ I am keeping an eye on the developing buds of ‘Charisma,’ ‘Red Lion,’ and ‘Green Goddess,’ all of which should open in the weeks to come.

amaryllis buds 2020

Meanwhile, my faithful potted cyclamen continue to bloom their hearts out.

cyclamen february 2020

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted on the 15th of each month by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her blog to see other gardeners’ February blooms.

Year Five of My Six-Year Front Garden Project

January 25, 2020

imageAttentive long-time readers may have noticed that my five-year front garden project has now morphed into a six-year front garden project. That is because I accomplished so little in year five.

When the 2019 garden season began, the tasks required to finish this project seemed quite doable: (1) plant a row of shrubs across the front of the property, and create a perennial border between those shrubs and the grassy path; (2) create a small woodland border above the shrubbery between the grassy path and the woods; and (3) replace the battered and kitschy “wishing well” cover over my well with something like a fake rock that will blend in with the landscape. Almost none of this got done.

What happened? I think I had trouble getting moving on this after the big push of getting both the shrubbery and the front slope (a total of about 1000 square feet) finished in year four. I suffered a similar lack of motivation the year after I finished the side slope garden. (See New Front Garden: Year 3 Progress Report.)

This year, my motivational slump was exacerbated by uncooperative weather.  A rainy spring that lasted well into June put me behind on all my garden chores and delayed getting started on the front border project. (I was still trying to finish routine May garden chores the first week in July.) Then July turned hot, too hot for me to be out doing heavy work. The result was that I didn’t really get started on the front garden tasks until August.

With summer already turning into autumn, I scaled back my goals and focused just on getting the row of shrubs planted along the front property line.  I removed existing vegetation, including digging out several scraggly lilacs that had never been happy in this location and a volunteer aspen that had snuck in and established itself among the lilacs. Then I got to work amending the soil in a strip six feet wide by thirty feet long. By mid-September I was ready to get plants in the ground, and I took advantage of the fall sale at a local nursery to get what I wanted.

I chose native shrubs that are well suited to my sandy soil, two northern bayberry (Morella caroliniensis) and two beach plums (Prunus maritima).

front border shrubs

I planted these on the property line. The area between the shrubs and the dirt road will be left wild; native plants already growing there include wild strawberries and dewberries, bluets, goldenrods, flax-leafed aster, and sweetfern. The area between the row of shrubs and the grassy path will become a perennial border, and the existing circular bed at the turn into my driveway will be dismantled and incorporated into this border.

I already have many of the plants I intend to include in the new front border, and I will spend time over the winter designing it. I hope to get the soil amended in spring and early summer, with the goal of getting plants in the ground by the end of June. That will leave several months of good gardening weather that I can use to create the new woodland border and to replace the well cover. When all that is done, my five six-year front landscaping project will be complete.

Winter Blooms to Warm a Snowy Day: GBBD, January 2020

January 15, 2020


streaked cyclamen 2020Although the days are beginning to lengthen again after the winter solstice, my Maine garden is entering the coldest, snowiest weeks of winter, with three snowstorms this week. The garden is tucked in under a blanket of snow, enjoying its long winter nap.

pink cyclamen 2020At this time of year, I look to brightly colored indoor blooms for warmth and cheer; and my potted cyclamen (Cyclamen persica) almost never disappoint. On a sunny day, the reflective qualities of the snow magnify the light and the backlit flower petals glow like flames.

amaryllis first bud 2020As I enjoy the blooms on cyclamen, the first flower buds have appeared on my potted amaryllis bulbs (Hippeastrum), promising more dramatic blooms in the weeks ahead.

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted on the 15th of each month by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her blog to enjoy January blooms from many gardeners.

A New Year for an Inconstant Blogger

December 31, 2019

Cover 2020I don’t normally make New Year’s resolutions, but I do enjoy using the New Year as an opportunity to get organized and make a fresh start. One of the places I’d like to get a fresh start is with this blog, where I have been an inconstant blogger this past year. The problem has not been with finding things to write about, but with making the time to write. The new year would be a good time to refresh my blog theme with a more current image from my garden and to recommit myself to at least two (and preferably three) posts per month.

While I get myself organized for a new year of blogging, here are some images from the past year in my garden as assembled in this year’s Jean’s Garden gift calendar for family and friends. (Click on any image to enlarge.)

January 2020 February 2020



March 2020 April 2020



May 2020 June 2020



July 2020

August 2020



September 2020 October 2020



November 2020 December 2020



Copies of this calendar can be purchased from

Happy New Year!