Skip to content

Groundcover With Fringe Benefits

May 31, 2018

strawberry groundcoverWhen I was designing and planting the side slope that runs from my house’s front entrance down to the driveway, I had just read Rainer and West’s Planting in a Post-Wild World (see Favorite Garden Books: Planting in a Post-Wild World), and I decided to implement their idea of planting a groundcover layer under the “design layers” of perennials and shrubs. Buying enough plants or landscape plugs to establish a groundcover can be expensive, so I looked around my property for likely candidates that could be transplanted. When I did, the wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) that grow everywhere in my poor sandy soil, called “Look at me; look at me!”

The strawberries had a lot to recommend them in addition to being free. They have shallow roots that won’t compete with the deeper roots of most garden perennials, and they send out runners that root themselves in uninhabited patches of soil between other plants. In addition, they have charming white flowers in May and delicious (albeit tiny) red berries in June. I popped strawberry plants out of the ground from places they would not be missed (like the gravel outside the entrance to my basement), tucked them into spaces between plants on the side slope, and waited to see what would happen.

strawberry leavesSome plants that flourish in poor soil will do poorly if transplanted into rich garden soil, but that is not the case with these strawberries. In their second year growing on the side slope, the little transplants have grown into big clumps with much larger leaves than they had growing in the wild, and they have sent out many daughter plants. They are doing admirably the job for which they were recruited – covering ground and suppressing weeds. As an added bonus, this year they are also sporting masses of strawberry blossoms. I’m curious to see whether the berries, like the leaves, will be larger on plants growing in richer soil. Whatever their size, I’m looking forward to a bumper crop of delicious strawberries in the coming weeks.

side slope strawberry flowers


Spring in Maine: GBBD, May 2018

May 16, 2018

new spring growth2018Less than three weeks after the last of the snow melted from my garden, things are happening fast. This is the nature of spring in Maine: long weeks of impatient anticipation followed by an explosion of new growth. Deciduous trees have bloomed and made new leaves, and the hillside by the driveway that was covered with crocus flowers two weeks ago now features new foliage of shrubs and herbaceous perennials.

Not many perennials are in bloom yet. Exceptions are the hellebores and the bleeding hearts (Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’) in the Serenity Garden.

hellebores 2018 goldheart flowers

Most of my blooms at this time of year come from wild volunteers, like this young pin cherry tree (Prunus pensylvanica) flowering outside my study window.

flowering pin cherry 2018 pin cherry flowers 2018
viola blanda I am happy to have sweet white violets (Viola blanda) seed themselves around in the entry garden, where I can enjoy their lovely flowers each spring. Here and there, some common blue violets (Viola sororia) have also appeared.
viola blanda flower viola sororia


Bluets (Houstonia caerulea) form carpets of flowers in spring. Another carpeting groundcover, moss phlox (Phlox subulata) has just begun to open its first flowers. bluets 2018
strawberry flower & buds Wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana), which I am encouraging as groundcover in many parts of the garden, have also just begun to flower, and their numerous buds provide a promise of delicious berries in the weeks to come.

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted on the 15th of each month by Carol at May Dreams’ Gardens. Visit her blog to see what’s blooming in other gardens this May.

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.