Garden Surprises and Successes

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At this time of year, when my outdoor gardening starts winding down, I take the time to look at photos I’ve taken throughout the year. It’s time to acknowledge some of the surprises and successes. It’s time to give thanks and be grateful that I am a gardener – there’s really no better pursuit where one can create beauty and cultivate food for the body and the soul.

One of the gadgets I got this year was a rain chain. I’d been lusting after one for a number of years. Consider rain chains functional garden art – beautiful to look at, mesmerizing to listen to and a fascinating downspout you’ll want to place in a prominent location. The rain chain came from Rain Chains Direct.


One of my biggest surprises this year has been the Albion day-neutral strawberries planted last spring. I planted them in raised beds and kept lightweight row cover on them all summer – to protect them from insect pests. They were mulched with straw so developing berries were never sitting on bare soil. I’ve been picking strawberries since the end of July. I added another layer of row cover for additional protection from frost at the end of October. I picked my last berries in November!

Albion Day-neutral Strawberries

I’ve had a fabulous year in the greenhouse where I grow tomatoes – planted directly in the ground. I grow several kinds of tomatoes. I’m particularly fond of the big Beefsteaks for sauces and sandwiches but the workhorse of my greenhouse is definitely the grape tomato. By the end of the season, they have climbed all over the greenhouse dripping clusters of tomatoes as they grow. Visitors are always amazed at the lavish display. My favorite is Red Pearl available from Johnny’s Seeds. They’re nearly seedless so perfect for dehydrating.

'Red Pearl' grape tomato from Johnny's Seeds

I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll mention it again because I just have to rave about the abundant, show-stopping blooms of GauraRosy Jane’. I had just one plant, located on the edge of a paved driveway in full sun – a tough location – hot and dry. Now, even with frost and cold winds, it’s still looking great. The long flower stems always seem to be swaying in the wind like whirling butterflies, one of its common names. It’s shown in this photo with Verbena bonariensis, Japanese forest grass and a dark-leafed canna. Wow!

I've mentioned it before and I'll mention it again because I just have to rave about the abundant, show-stopping blooms of Rosy Jane gaura. I had just one plant, located on the edge of a paved driveway in full sun - a tough location - hot and dry. Now, even with frost and cold winds, it's still looking great. The long flower stems always seem to be swaying in the wind like whirling butterflies, one of its common names. It's shown in this photo with Verbena bonariensis, Japanese forest grass and a dark-leafed canna. Wow!

Every year I plant sunflowers. I’ve been particularly fond of the standard big, golden yellow ones, but this year I planted a packet of mixed sunflower seeds. I was surprised to find a few new favorites. The rich color of this sunflower has inspired me to start painting again.

Zone 3-4 Image 4

This must be the year that I take a crack at flowers in new colors. At first, I was taken aback by the color of Queen Red Lime zinnia but the more I used it in floral arrangement, the more I loved how it complemented dark-colored flowers particularly burgundy. It’s now a must-have zinnia on my list for next year.

'Queen Red Lime' Zinnia

Filler, Spiller and Thriller!


I love placing containers throughout my gardens. I’m particularly fond of large, glazed clay pots. They elevate plants up to eye-level where they can be best appreciated. Soil in pottery containers warms up faster than the surrounding garden – great for large-leafed tropical plants that also benefit from the reduced root competition. Tropical plants are heavy feeders and welcome reliable moisture. I water almost daily with a weak solution of high nitrogen fertilizer.

I typically follow the container planting guidelines that suggest you have a filler, a spiller and a thriller.

Canna 'Pretoria', Scaevola 'Topaz Pink', and Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost'

In this container my thriller is Canna ‘Pretoria’, and a combination of two plants acts as both a spiller and a filler. Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ and Scaevola ‘Topaz Pink’ grow through each other and create a fabulous contrast with this deep burgundy pot.


Alocasia 'Calidora', Coleus 'Redhead'. Coleus 'Smallwood Driveway, begonia and pale blue lobelia

I always plant a few containers with elephant ear plants.  This glazed pickle crock greets people as they come to my front door. (Note: make sure to drill a few holes in the bottom of pots for drainage.) The thriller is a large, impressive elephant ear plant. The fillers are two kinds of coleus and a begonia. A delicate pale blue lobelia is the spiller. As you can imagine, this container, packed with plants, requires lots of attention to continue looking its best. I water it almost every day.


My end-of-June garden


My garden was featured in a garden tour at the end of June. While June can be a fabulous month for garden tours in most of the country, my garden is usually at its best in July. I think my garden looked better the week after the garden tour! and, two weeks later, it’s even prettier.

While I’m weeding my gardens, I pay special attention to volunteers that have popped up throughout my ornamental and vegetable gardens. I’m particularly fond of this Dianthus that’s been appearing throughout my gardens.

Dainthus sp.

Dianthus always seems to find the right place to volunteer – this time near a small water feature.

One of the delights of having a garden is being able to eat fresh salad greens all summer long. Right now, my spinach and lettuce are at their best.

Heirloom Bloomsdale Longstanding Spinach and Black-seeded Simson lettuce

Heirloom Bloomsdale Longstanding Spinach and Black-seeded Simpson lettuce

Heirloom Bloomsdale Longstanding Spinach has a fabulous yield and is slow to bolt. I’ve been plucking small leaves to put in salads and we’ve been enjoying it with dinner – steamed with a dab of butter.


One of the secrets to using fewer pesticides on my food crops is using floating row cover to keep the insects away from the plants.

Floating Row Cover

Floating Row Cover keeps the insects away so I don’t have to spray.

In these photos you see my broccoli and kale under cover. The kale leaves are always perfect and my broccoli is beautiful!


I’m loving being outside to experience my garden in bloom. My oriental poppies stunned everyone with their size and color this year.

Oriental Poppies

Oriental Poppies

Because we had a cool spring, they bloomed later than usual. The last ones to bloom are extending the show. They were definitely one of my WOW plants!


My garden shed has been flanked by a few large-leafed, moisture-loving plants for years. This year, they’ve grown so large that we’re having a hard time getting into the shed.

Astilboides tabularis on the left and Duck's Foot Rodgersia on the right.

Astilboides tabularis on the left and Duck’s Foot Rodgersia on the right.

On the left is Astilboides tabularis and on the right is Duck’s Foot Rodgersia (Rodgersia podophylla). For the time being, we’re squeezing through the foliage, looking for dinosaurs.


I love to have a touch of whimsy in the garden. This year, I took advantage of a tree trunk that houses a chickadee family.

Tree lady

Tree Lady

Tree lady protects her flock.

Snowbird Gardener Inspiration – Vacation to Sunny Florida!


What does a snowbound northerner crave after a brutal winter? GARDENS!

I’ve had the good fortune to be able to visit the fabulous Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, Florida during spring break for several winters. Many of the tropical plants grown at this garden inspire my gardens in Maine in the summer time. Here are a few of the plants that got my attention this year.


Caladiums – Who needs flowers with leaves like this? I’ve had good luck growing them in Maine as long as I give them a head start in the house. They detest cold soils and may fail to sprout if planted directly in the ground in spring.


Staghorn Ferns make fabulous houseplants. Several of my friends grow them in Maine.


I’ve grown plenty of Alocasia in my garden in the summer but I’ll be looking for this very different one. I love the white markings. Envy!! I start these in a warm area in the house to give them a head start.

Tropical pitcher plants

Tropical pitcher plants will become a conversation piece houseplant.
(Nepenthes sp.)

Tropical pitcher plants

Tropical pitcher plants love the warm greenhouse at the Marie Selby Botanical Garden.

Tropical pitcher plants

Tropical pitcher plants.

Australian Tree Fern

I have a love affair with fern leaves. This Australian Tree Fern towered over me – beautiful, lacy, sculptural leaves. I’ve got to try it as a houseplant.


The Marie Selby Botanical Garden is know for its world-class orchid collection.


This tropical orchid is related to the beautiful lady slippers that grow in northern areas.

For more information about growing these beautiful tropical plants go to the Marie Selby Botanical Garden website:

I highly recommend a vacation to a warmer area – for gardening inspiration and to recharge your creative energy. When I return to Maine, I’ll be ready to put my hands in the dirt and start my gardening. My suitcase will certainly have room for a few “green travelers” from Florida! (An Australian Tree Fern, perhaps?)

The Benefit of Snow – YOU CAN GROW THAT!

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It’s been a particularly snowy winter in Maine. Skiers and snowmobilers have been ecstatic with the accumulation of the white stuff… but gardeners only measure how much snow has to melt before we see the ground.

On the positive side:
Snow can make a plain little table into a piece of art!


Birds like snow art too!


Snow insulates the soil, buffers the extremes in temperature and protects all my dormant plants.

Snow gives you a different perspective on your garden.


I’ll have to be content to look outside through these windows…


..with my houseplants, patiently awaiting Spring.

October in a Maine Garden


There’s still lots of color to be found in my Orono, Maine garden.

Hydrangea 'Strawberry Vanilla'

Hydrangea ‘Strawberry Vanilla’ – Pure white in summer and brilliant pink by fall.

Castor Bean Pods

Beautiful castor bean pods (Ricinus communis) command attention but beware, they’re poisonous


Spirea japonica ‘Firelight’ displays a remarkable mixture of pink, gold, orange and red.

Rudbeckia hirta 'Indian Summer'

Rudbeckia hirta ‘Indian Summer’ blooms and blooms and …

Verbena bonariensis

Verbena bonariensis volunteers throughout my garden

Delphinium Envy

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I’ve had Delphinium envy for a long time.
This year it’s particularly intense.

Betty's pale blue delphinium

Betty’s pale blue delphinium

I’ve been coveting my neighbor’s tall blue spikes for weeks.
They’re poking up all over her garden.

Betty's dark blue delphinium

Betty’s dark blue delphinium

I can see why the centers are called bees.

Delphinium bees

Delphinium bees

I’m so glad that my very good friend and neighbor is a gardener.
I can borrow the view across the street.

Next year I will have delphiniums!!