Sunday, April 3, 2016

Spring Seedlings

As the snow flies outside I am hoping that spring will get here before my seedlings get too root bound. It seemed like things were going to get an early start this year and so I planted the cold hardiest among my seeds March 13th. I love to see Thomas Jefferson's "Tennis Ball" lettuce next to Johnny's Seed's "Cherokee". 

Here the raddichio "Perseo" promises to be a nice round head in late summer. These greens are some of my favorite salad additions for bitter flavor and long refrigerator life. Tatsoi is also a great keeper in the refrigerator, lasting three weeks.

Credit: Johnny's Selected Seeds-Radicchio, Perseo
It is so easy to start seeds indoors with just a simple set up. A couple of work lights from a hardware store over an old piece of plywood on some saw horses works just fine.  Something to consider while the weather takes its time warming up. Come on spring!! 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Good Companions

Remember summer? I admit that I love to look at pictures from summers past at this time of year. It helps me remember which plant combinations were successful so I can plan for this year. I like big contrast in foliage color to grab your attention. Here are a few pictures of things that worked out well.

Here is our chocolate Joe Pye Weed next to a Salvia elegans, or Pineapple Sage. Since Maine summers often aren't quite long or hot enough for this to bloom well, I buy this for the great lime foliage to contrast with the dark leaves of the Joe Pye Weed. 

We can't eat all the lettuces we plant, but that's the point! Lettuces can be beautiful for for color alone. Here is two of my favorites, Yugoslavian Red Butterhead and Cherokee from Johnny's Seeds. The only thing that would have made it better would be to add the lime of Thomas Jefferson's favorite butter head "Tennis Ball" into the mix.

 Here we have two Heucheras with lime and chocolate foliage along side a Hellebore and Bleeding Heart. Later in the season, the dark Heuchera looks stellar next to the white Astilbe.

Again, that chocolate and lime contrast with the Aralia cordata "Sun King" and the Dahlia Mystic Illusion. I can see that this is a pattern with me, the dark foliage next to light.

So when planning out where everything will go this year, thinking about height, flower color and time, don't forget to think about foliage color. This will reward you for the whole season!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Who Doesn't Love a Good Snag?

With all the activity around clean up this time of year, it is good to remember that dead trees have an important place in the garden as well. Snags, the name for dead trees that are left upright to decompose naturally, are so important that according to the National Wildlife Federation they provide habitat for close to one-fifth of the animals in the eco-system 

Here in our yard, snags are home and food for pileated woodpeckers. The largest woodpecker in North America, it is striking with its huge red crest, looking almost prehistoric. Their  loud call is very distinctive and so are the holes they make. Looking for carpenter ants, their favorite food, they make long rectangular holes. Their deep excavations attract other birds looking for food as well. These holes later make habitat for other birds such swifts, owls, bats and pine martens.

During mating season, these birds can be seen doing their ritual courtship dance. This dance consists of one bird bowing, scraping, and stepping sideways in a circle around another bird.
Last year we watched four pileated woodpeckers perform this dance, flitting around the forest making their distinctive calls. Pairs mate for life and prefer old trees in recently cleared forests.

Credit: Joshlaymon

Hollow snags are very valuable in winter as they are used by many species such as squirrels, raccoons and owls to name a few. They provide food storage places for mice, squirrels, blue jays, and woodpeckers. They provide perches for hawks and mourning doves and food for many. Keep this in mind before you think to clean your woods of "unwanted" deadwood. Nothing could be more full of life than these sentinels.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Early Witch-hazels


It is that time again this year when I am driven from my desk to go out and see the incredible witch-hazels in bloom. From far away they look like forsythia, glowing yellow in the sun, but they are much more delicate up close. We found this variety, Hamamelis × intermedia 'Pallida',  to smell strongly of fruit loops!

The most striking thing is they bloomed almost exactly one month later last year.  Here is the post I made last year when I first stared working here at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens from March.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Generalife Gardens at the Alhambra

The Generalife Gardens at the Alhambra in Grenada Spain are one of the only Moorish gardens left today. A UNESCO World Heritage Site destination that is well worth planning a trip, we spent an entire day taking in the country castles of the Alhambra and then walked across the ravine to the summer palace gardens of the Generalife.

Built by the Nasrid Emirates of the early 1300's, this castle complex (that was added to for over 600 years) was originally a court retreat for these kings from northern Africa and Spain that came to enjoy hunting in the Sierra Madres mountains and relaxing at night in the exquisite palace. Many people have written about the Alhambra, much of it romanticized, exaggerated, or blatantly misinformed, adding to its mystique. When you go there you can see why, as it is impossibly romantic and captures the imagination of everyone who goes there. Oh to live on top of a small mountain, with deep ravines all around for protection, with its own spring (a must criteria for medieval castles and gardens) and good hunting grounds only a short distance away!

 Just a short walk from this royal complex, with all its guards and their housing and offical functions, was the garden of the Generalife.

 Built in the earliest days of the Alhambra, the Generalife was humble country estate and garden, a place to get away from the social and civic duties required at the Alhambra. It reminded me a little of Marie Antoinette's pleasure gardens at the Petite Trianon.

The walk to the Generalife highlights the dominating feature of the gardens which are the incredible cypress hedges that are clipped very strictly. This art of a manicured hedge was fascinating to see it up close. As with all very old hedges, there is reconstruction happening all the time.

Above, notice a picture of the staff working on the hedge in the courtyard. Many hedges had training wires that held the growing branches within a framework. In this picture you can see the new growth before it is trimmed. To keep hedges like this trimmed so neatly, you need a large staff.  Take a minute to think about what it would have taken in the 1300's without our modern tools! Many are 25 feet tall!

This striking feature of the Moorish garden speaks of the luxury and staff (slaves and servants) that were part of the everyday life of the Nasrid kings of Alhambra. Like gardens today, the pleasure strolling gardens had many flowers like roses, lavender and ornamental fruit trees such a lemons and limes. I especially love the river rocks used from the Darro and Genil rivers below that were used in making these patterns walks!

Farther down the ravine were the extensive vegetable gardens that supplied the people who lived in this remote country villa. Since it was mid November, the gardens were not at full production. Once there would have been a bridge connecting the Generalife to the Alhambra.

Inside the walls is the Court of the Water Channel which is the main feature inside the estate. The buildings are modest and the water intimate. A pleasure estate with breathtaking views over the valley, this incredible monument to a past time and a glimpse into medieval life should be on your list to visit!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Poppies - My Favorite Reseeders!

I don't always know where they come from, but poppies seem to pop up everywhere around here. 
The trick is not weeding them out and knowing what the seedlings look like early in the season. 
This beauty may be from my friend, Julie Freund's garden. She had given me some seeds a 
few years ago but I didn't think they seeded. Maybe when the soil gets turns some seeds that were dormant come to life!

What do you have reseeding in the garden?

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Busy Spring with Additions

This spring has been busy this year for me with my new position at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens  and all the extra work from such a harsh winter. I get great doses of gorgeous gardens every day at work and then work every weekend on keeping ours together as well. This year we replaced the ailing cherry and peach trees in the herb garden and replaced them with two absolutely sensational Coralburst crab apples from Estabrook's nursery. Today, the crab apple "Tina" came out as well and the Prairie crab apple we planted 5 years ago.

The vegetable garden, or the "Land of a Thousand Lettuces" as I refer to it, has lettuce, tatsoi, raddichio from last year and escaroles ready to eat. Oh and bok choys! Good news since I ran out of room for seedlings and still have leeks and peppers to plant.

Besides the two Coralburst crabapples, we also bought this lovely Japanese Maple " Inaba Shidare" for the pond area. We would love to have a collection of different colored maples but will see how this one does in this harsh micro-climate in the lower yard.

The other small accident was the venus de milo statue that I have carried around for 30 years (nicknamed Minerva) toppled over while I was weeding quack grass out from under her (like that wasn't bad enough!) She came down with a terrible thud  that I will remember for a long time!We were able to glue her back together with an amazing concrete glue though that is grey. Unfortunately, her back is forever chipped, but she is even more soulful now. 

For a small instant we entertained the idea of buying a statue we saw at our favorite antique store of a terracotta warrior. It was of the fine concrete and well aged covered in lichen, but alas, I couldn't imagine a terrifying warrior amongst the herbs and crabapples. This garden is a small resting spot that even Lily the dog loves to smell all the plants growing there. I see her stopping to smell each one with a big smile. Nice to know that all animals love this garden including us!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Fiacre: Green for the Soul

One of my favorite places to loiter and get rejuvenated is Fiacre on Pleasant Street, in Portland, Maine. It is like entering another world. Exquisite hand-crafted greenhouse accessories combine with exotic flowers and plants to create a garden lovers paradise. Saint Fiacre, for those who don't know, is the patron saint of gardening, and those who grow vegetables and medicinal plants. An Irish monk who lived in Meaux, France in the mid 600's, he is commonly invoked for healing based on his skill with medicinal plants.

Run by Melissa and her partner Angus, you will always find something to treat yourself with or bring to a firiend. In winter there is always narcissus with hand-blown vases to grow them in, myrtle topiaries, and cut flowers not seen much in Maine (see above the gorgeous long stem french tulips!) She has hand forged tools and contemporary planters with an industrial edge. Some of her things have a reference to history and famous gardens, like the black raven statues she had last summer that were copies from Colonial Willamsburg.

When I was in the other day, she had just bought this stunning magnolia branch to bring the window to life. We all need to see things like this after this long winter! She has a eye for the extravagant accent. Excellent hand crafted terracotta pots, and one of a kind planters are everywhere. She was telling me that she has coming in some great mocha terracotta that she found outside of Rome. Each time I am in I buy another pot to add to my collection!

All the statuary and pots have that mossy look like they have already been in the garden for awhile. The concrete figures are beautifully cast and unusual. The air smells like the hand made soaps and salves on the shelves.

She has the classics soaps like Savon de Marsielles and Cucina as well as other smaller millers.

They have a fantastic selection of books on gardens, gardening and cooking. Again, her taste is selective with books by Netherlands garden design guru Piet Oudolf, and new sensations like Holly Herrick, the Charleston, South Carolina food writer (I hear her book on French sauces is fantastic!). Her partner Angus is the creator of all the wonderful colorful ceramics in the shop that are a nice addition to the neutral colors of terracotta and concrete. The atmosphere in the shop is casual and very down to earth, a great place for a pleasant conversation about all things garden with two people who are modest, yet incredibly knowledgeable.

When you are in you also might suddenly have two new friends who might follow you quietly around the store, so be careful where you step! Their two little terriers are often sleeping in the sun coming through the front door, but are happy to check you out when you come in.

I recommend a visit to this oasis after the long winter. Melissa goes to the flower market in Boston most weeks and she will have something irresistible for you!

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Drunken Botanist

One of my favorite parts of the day is listening to books in the car on the way to work. I just recently finished reading an incredibly well researched book by Amy Stewart. For all you botany nerds, for anyone who enjoys the craft of cocktails, and for those of you who enjoy the history of how we use plants - well this book is for you.  Written by New York Times best-selling author Amy Stewart, this book is about the botanical origins of the things we drink - alcoholic things we drink. First, she goes into great detail about which plants have been cultivated, for what drinks and by whom. In part two, she talks about how these ingredients are combined with other botanical flavorings and this is where it really got interesting. Herbs and spices like licorice, gentian, juniper and wormwood, and fruits such as citrus, figs, currants add their flavor so so many cordials and liqueurs. Trees like Angostura, Birch and Sugar Maple and nuts like the almond, hazelnut and walnut all add subtle flavors to the things we drink. Learning about all the small family cordial makers and craft distilleries that often have been making the liqueurs for generations was fascinating.

Caution though, this book may lead to this.....

After listening to this all week, I had to find something interesting to drink on Saturday in our local Bow Street Market. Something rare maybe, hand crafted, and wild. I knew I like herbal tasting gins. Then I saw this on the shelf! The Botanist! How could I resist!? A wild foraged gin made on the island of Islay (pronounced I-You-Wah in Gaelic!?) on the Inner Hebrides of Scotland! Having been to that part of the world when I was 20, I imagined (and waxed nostalgic for) island people who speak Scottish Gaelic, roaming the windy moors to gather the wild herbs on the cliffs, the caw of seagull rookeries below, the lonely lakes where wild brown trout live....this is before I even had any!
Such a beautifully made product, needed to be accompanied by a equally hand crafted tonic and so I picked up some Fever-Tree Premium Indian Tonic Water with real quinine and ginger. Less sweet than a regular tonic, these pure ingredients put the finishing touch to a Saturday night. Special indeed.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Witch-hazels in Bloom!

With spring taking its time to get here this year, I was overjoyed to see the witch-hazels blooming at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens this week! Even though you can't see the ground, these trees know spring is coming. As some of you know, I just started a new job at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens and so I will have access to many great photo opportunities in the future! As Interpretation and Exhibits Coordinator I have already learned so much and look forward to working on art exhibits, wayfinding and other interpretation. I feel honored to be part of such a great team!

Here is the Hamamelis × intermedia 'Pallida' witch-hazel in bloom on the path to the Visitor's Center.  This small tree was used by the Native Americans (usually Hamamelis virginiana) and early settlers to make an astringent. Used on sores and wounds, it is still commercially available today. I can remember that distinctive smell of the witchhazel we had in the bathroom medicine cabinet as a kid, and using it on my adolescent skin. It is an anti-oxident as well and has been used to help psoriasis and eczema.

At the Gardens, it is only three and a half weeks until the Visitor's Center is open and we are very busy getting everything ready. Hope to see you all after April 15th as we have an amazing line up of art shows, workshops and lectures, shop goodies and great food.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Redpolls and Robins

Laura Erickson, MN, Saks-Zim Bog, January 2009

Signs that the season is changing can be seen at the feeder. Only at this time of year do I get Common Redpolls in huge groups. You don't have to be looking out the window to know they are there as they announce their presence with their clatterous calls. Busy and frenetic! They are actually on their way home to the most northern regions of Canada. They are small like sparrows but have heavily striped side markings and a bright red cap. Unmistakeable! The males will show a bit a red on the breast. 

Bill McMullen, ON, Clarence-Rockland, March 2011

Females might fool you into thinking they are a sparrow, but then you see the bright red head and yellow finch beak. On their way back to the arctic tundra and boreal forests, they are only passing through looking for birch catkins and weed seeds. Your thistle or nyjer seed will be perfect for them. Click here to hear their call.
Garth McElroy/VIREO
Robins also have been passing through. These Robins seem a bit different though. Their bellies are much brighter and the white part of their bellies also is brighter white. Apparently sometimes Robins do not migrate far and can overwinter here in Maine, but this large group at the feeder seemed to be on the move. I hope the fruit and seeds will be plentiful for them along the way.
What interesting birds have you seen at the feeder lately?