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Snowmelt and Crocuses: GBBD, April 2018

April 15, 2018

crocus blooming in snowSlowly but inexorably, spring is arriving in my Maine garden. It has been a hesitant, halting, two-steps-forward-and-one-step-back sort of spring. On Friday, the sun shone and the temperature rose to 60F, a great day for spring clean-up in the garden. Today brought snow and freezing rain – a great day for staying inside.

But the cold, snowy days are less cold and less snowy than they were a month ago, and in the strong spring sun, more snow disappears each day. Most parts of my garden have now emerged from under the snow.

April snowmelt

By the last week in March crocus ‘Pickwick’ had begun to bloom by the foundation. foundation pickwick
snowmelt and crocuses In the weeks since, as the snowpack has thinned on the slope by the driveway, bunches of crocus have pushed up through the snow and ice
… and bloomed. snowmelt and crocus blooms

Crocus Blooms_1

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted on the fifteenth of each month by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her blog to see blooms from gardens near and far, including those in which spring is considerably more advanced than it is in Maine.

crocus pickwick


MELTING … Melting … melting

April 5, 2018

snow melting 2018As March has turned into April, the snow is steadily melting and garden beds are reappearing. This is the first sign of spring’s arrival in my part of the world. We have now reached the tipping point when there is more bare ground than snow cover, and the snow pack that remains is mostly thin and easily melted. Even when temperatures are below freezing, the spring sun is strong enough to melt snow. Sometimes I wake up in the morning to find that areas that were snow covered at bedtime are now bare.

I can get out and begin spring clean-up in parts of the garden that are now snow-free – flower beds like the Serenity Garden, Serenity Garden clear 2018
B&Y clear 2018 … the Blue and Yellow Border,
… and the Lavender Walk. Lavender Walk clear 2018

Other areas, like the Fragrant Garden and the Fence Border, are very close to being free of snow and will soon be ready for my attention.

Fragrant Garden melting Fence Border melting2018
Deck Border snow 2018 The northeast-facing Fence Border, which is in the shadow of the house for most of the day and is also the depository for snow shoveled from the deck and the roof, is usually the last area of the garden to emerge.
But as the snow melts, new green growth appears.  The Blues Border, which is in a protected spot between the foundation and the steps to the front door, is showing not only new green shoots of Siberian iris, but even the first nubs of new hosta growth. new growth hosta
foundation crocuses Along the foundation, crocus Pickwick’ has bloomed, and is providing forage for the first bees of spring.

Pickwick with bee

Waiting for Spring: GBBD, March 2018

March 17, 2018

snowy house MarchI am a couple of days late with my bloom day post because I was waiting for amaryllis ‘Charisma’ to open its first flower.

Warm weather at the end of February and the beginning of March almost made me believe that spring had arrived. The snow pack was melting rapidly, and I walked around the garden each day seeing signs of new growth (and also, sometimes, of deer browsing on that new growth). But two and a half feet of new snow during the second week of March brought me back to the reality that March is still winter in Maine.

So I must wait a few more weeks for spring. And while I do, I continue to rely on houseplants for bloom. The potted cyclamen have been blooming since I brought them home from a local farm market in December.

pink streaked cyclamen March pink cyclamen March

Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) ‘Charisma’ has just begun to bloom and still has another flower stalk developing.  A second red amaryllis variety (possibly ‘Red Lion’) will open in the next few days. Together, these flowering bulbs may carry me through until I have outdoor blooms.


Charisma 2018 red amaryllus bud March

crocus coming upIf you know what to look for, there are promises that spring is coming. The ground has already thawed, and the March sun is strong enough to melt snow even when temperatures are below freezing. And there, pushing up behind the snow against the house foundation, is a crocus trying to bloom.

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted on the 15th of each month by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her blog to see blooms in gardens where spring has already arrived.

Thinking About the Front Slope

March 8, 2018

As the spring equinox approaches, the days get longer, the sun gets stronger, temperatures rise, the snowpack begins to melt, and I feel impatient for spring. But warm spring-like days at the end of February have been followed by a series of winter storms that provide a reminder that March is still winter in Maine.

While new snow has been falling, I have been getting my garden fix by making plans for this year’s big garden project, the creation of a large area in the new front garden that I am calling the Front Slope. The slope is a roughly rectangular area 36’ x 20’ that is bordered by the patio retaining wall and a walkway at the top, the driveway on one side, and the clover path on the opposite side and at the bottom.

front slope site

This southwest-facing slope is the sunniest part of my property, providing an opportunity to use sun-loving plants in a hotter color palette than is typical in my garden. I am also experimenting with a strategy that will allow me to include some native wildflowers that do not grow well in rich garden soil; I am dividing the slope into four horizontal bands with varying amounts of soil amendments. The richest garden soil will be at the top, where the slope borders the entrance garden. The bottom band will not be amended at all, providing a home for plants that thrive in my native lean loamy sand.  The borders between these horizontal bands undulate so that they weave into one another.

I began making lists of plants for each horizontal band last summer. This week I have been developing those lists more fully, using reference books, notes from last summer’s class with Bill Cullina at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens on how to use Maine native perennials in the garden, nursery catalogs, and an online list of native plants available for purchase from the New England Wildflower Society. My focus has been on creating a planting design for the lower half of the slope, and here is what I have so far:


The planting area is not a perfect rectangle; the driveway curves, as do the edges of the clover path. But this rectangular diagram is close enough for planning purposes. The bottom band will be planted primarily in spring wildflowers. (The exception is the fall blooming stiff flax-leafed aster (Ionactis linarifolia).) Most of these plants are already growing nearby. The only risky addition is the relatively rare native sundial lupine (Lupinus perennis), but it prefers exactly the kind of growing conditions I have here. Although most of these plants are spring bloomers, they are not spring ephemerals. The bluets (Houstonia caerulea) and moss phlox (Phlox subulata) leave behind mats of grassy foliage after they bloom.  The wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) and their yellow-flowered look-alikes, dwarf cinquefoil (Potentilla canadensis), send out runners of foliage that weave around taller plants providing an attractive groundcover.

The next band up will be planted in showier native plants that are happy in dry, sandy soil but don’t mind a little extra fertility. Most of these are plants that I have not grown before, so we will see how they do. As I move up to the top two bands, I will be dealing primarily with plants that grow elsewhere in my garden. I will be on more familiar ground both in preparing the soil on the top half of the slope and in choosing plants to grow there.  The alternating orange and green plants along the edge of the driveway are the common orange daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) and a simple green hosta that flowers profusely with tall wands of lavender flowers in July. This is a combination that blooms together along rural roads in Maine, so growing them together provides a sense of place. The hostas will also link this planting with the Side Slope planting that borders it as you continue up the driveway; there the hostas alternate with the hardy geranium (Geranium x cantabrigiense) ‘Biokovo.’ The orange daylilies tie the hot colors of this planting to a patch of Hemerocallis fulva growing at the edge of the woods on the opposite side of the driveway.

The size of this new garden area makes it a bit daunting, but having the beginnings of a design leaves me eager to get started.

Apple Blossom Time: GBBD, February 2018

February 16, 2018

apple blossom macroIt’s Apple Blossom time in my Maine garden. No, I’m not talking about apple trees blooming outside my windows. I don’t have any apple trees growing in my garden; and if I did, their bloom time would still be months away. In February, my outdoor garden is still buried under snow. I’m talking about amaryllis (Hippeastrum) ‘Apple Blossom’ blooming indoors on my window ledge. It’s been three years since this variety last bloomed for me, so it’s a treat to have it lighting up my world in mid-February.

amaryllis apple blossom in bloom 2018

It’s joined on the window ledge by the flowers of two potted cyclamen plants that I purchased in December and that are still blooming two months later.

pink streaked cyclamen pink cyclamen February

Meanwhile, I have two additional amaryllis bulbs that have flower buds, ‘’Charisma,’ which has bloomed faithfully for the past five years, and an unidentified red variety (possibly ‘Red Lion’) which I inherited from a friend and which bloomed last year. These promise more flowers for the weeks to come while I wait not-so-patiently for the outdoor show to begin.

charisma bud 2018 red amaryllis bud

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted on the 15th of each month by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her blog to see what other garden bloggers have in bloom this February.

The Shrubbery

February 8, 2018

Shrubbery siteNow that we are closer to the spring equinox than to the winter solstice, and as the days grow dramatically longer, my thoughts are turning toward the garden. This is the time of year for reading garden books and for making garden plans and lists of plants.

Mostly, I’m thinking about the coming year’s work on my new front garden. Last year, I finished planting the fragrant garden and then prepared and seeded the clover path and created a small rain garden at the front west corner of the house. One part of the garden that was originally in my plans for year three (last year) got deferred to year four (this year), the Shrubbery.


The Shrubbery sits at the front west corner of my property. The site is a woodland edge area that nestles at the wide curve in the clover path and is bordered by woods, by the dirt road along the front of my property, and by the front and side perennial borders. Its size and its location in the lower garden are intended to balance the patio on the opposite side of the house in the upper part of the front garden.

When I signed up last year for an October course at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens on “Selecting Native Woody Plants for the Maine Garden,” I delayed designing and planting this part of the garden, realizing that it made no sense to do so  before I took the course. And I was right; I came away from that course smitten by a whole set of beautiful native shrubs and with a list of possible candidates for the soil and light conditions in this part of my garden.

imageRecently, I sat down with my plant list and nursery catalogs and put together a tentative plan.  The biggest challenge in choosing plants was to meet both the light conditions (from partly sunny to mostly shady) and the soil conditions (low-nutrient, acid, sandy soil). My various reference books, nursery catalogs, and the materials from my course didn’t always agree on whether a particular plant will grow in full shade or needs several hours a day of sunlight, whether a plant needs high moisture or will tolerate those conditions but also grow in drier soil.

I had some difficulty approximating the shape of this planting area with my basic Microsoft Word drawing tools; but the size is approximately correct, and that is the critical factor for figuring out how many plants will fit in the space. I have then distributed those plants according to their light needs, with the shadier areas in among the trees and the lighter areas closer to the edges with the road, perennial borders, and clover path. Since my two-dimensional graphics are never more than approximations of the three-dimensional garden space, I expect to adjust the placement of plants when they go in the ground.

I included six different plants in this design, all shrubs native to the eastern United States, if not to Maine. The largest of the group is a pink-shell azalea (Rhododendron vaseyi); at 10’ x 10’, it will anchor the back corner. Also in mostly shady locations are three plants of maple-leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium), which should provide vibrant fall color. Like the azalea and the viburnum, Pieris floribunda, Forthergilla gardenii and Leucothoe fontanesiana all bloom in spring. In this planting, Diervilla lonicera (bush honeysuckle) is the exception, blooming in summer. I haven’t grown any of these plants before, so this is very much an experimental design. In addition, I couldn’t resist privileging flowering plants, and I probably didn’t pay enough attention to foliage size, texture and color.

Native plants can sometimes be a bit tricky to find (especially if you want the straight species, rather than a cloned variety). Several patches of volunteer bush honeysuckle are growing along the side of my driveway, and I plan to dig some of these up and transplant them. Most of the other plants are available from a local nursery. I’ll need to go a bit further afield, to the New England Wildflower Society in Massachusetts, to buy maple-leafed viburnum. The one plant that is not easily available is the American native Pieris floribunda, but I may have found a source for it in Connecticut.

I had hoped to prepare the soil for the Shrubbery last fall and be ready to plant in spring, but I got behind in garden chores and this planting area fell by the wayside. I did have some trees limbed last summer to let in more light. This spring, I will need to remove unwanted pine (Pinus strobus) and hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) seedlings and saplings, along with some unwanted sweetfern (Comptonia peregrina) and lilac (Syringa vulgaris) plants. Then I will amend the soil with compost to add organic matter, raise pH, and improve moisture retention. I hope to get plants in the ground no later than June.

Winter Blooms: GBBD, January 2018

January 15, 2018
Pink cyclamen1January in Maine is a cold, white season. But the potted cyclamen plants I bought in December are providing warmth, color, and a winter flower fix. Both plants have been blooming profusely for over a month now, and I never get tired of the way their petals are set alight by sun streaming through my living room window.
streaked cyclamen2 pink cyclamen 2018-2

hyacinth buds januarySince flowers in the garden are still at least two months away (the first crocuses bloomed last year on March 30), it is good that I have promises of more indoor blooms to come. The two hyacinth  bulbs that I bought last winter when I was desperate for color and fragrance and then never got around to doing anything with after they finished blooming have put up new growth and flower buds. They look like they will bloom in the next two weeks.

amaryllis bud 2018Each year, I wait with baited breath to see which of my dozen or so potted amaryllis (Hippeastrum) bulbs will make flowers. This week, I noticed a flower stalk coming up on this one. This is the first time it will bloom since I repotted all the bulbs three years ago, and I don’t know which variety it is. I thought it might be ‘Apple Blossom’ when I chose this celadon-colored pot for it. In a few weeks, I will know whether that guess was correct.

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted on the 15th of each month by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her blog to see other winter blooms from the northern hemisphere and some summer blooms from the southern hemisphere.