June 18, 2016

My Surprising Visit to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

I have to be honest here - there are some very important plant destinations which are near me, and which I have never visited. Most embarrassingly, I have to admit that I have yet to visit the venerable Arnold's Arboretum in Boston, and the Mount Hope Cemetery - even Dan Hinkley when he was here a few weeks ago made sure to take in these must-see plant destinations, but then there is the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden, which I have heard terrific things about from many, many plant enthusiasts, but which I had yet to journey to.

Located in Boothbay, Maine, on small penninsula directly on Boothbay harbor is is (dare-I-say) picturesque (because after all, it is the coast of Maine. Not that far north of Portland, or Freeport, it is just a couple of exits up from the L.L. Bean flagship store in Freeport which we frequent. I really have no excuse for not visiting before. I think that is going to change now that I have spent a couple of stunning, June days here, because believe me when I say this - this is one botanical garden you must see. It is worth the drive.

I was blown away by this planting of Knophofia ovary 'First Sunrise'. I may need to remind you - THIS IS MAINE! Not South Africa. I was told by the horticultural staff that because of the gardens location, they are considered Zone 6b, but they do cover this kniphofia in the winter, so....I am going to try it. I am. I am.

It's rare to see kniphofia in New England, and especially in Maine, but with some protection and the selection of a more winter hardy variety, clearly, there is a future for Red Hot Pokers in some parts of the North East. The massive granite  slabs may help keep this part of the garden warmer in the winter, acting like a foundation.

I had been invited to speak and teach a class on how to plant an alpine garden a few months ago, and I accepted for many reasons, mostly because I had wanted to visit and see what everyone was talking about. As you will undoubtedly notice over the next few weeks, this Month will be very busy for me. Travels include this trip to Maine, then to Denver for the opening reception of the North American Rock Garden Society annual meeting at the Denver Botanic Garden later this week, and then off to a week of hiking, talks and meetings in Steamboat Springs, CO for NARGS as well. Following that, a brief vacation for Joe and I in Jackson Hole and Yellowstone, and then off to Salt Lake City. Accepting to create a new presentation and to sneak a couple of days in Maine really wasn't what I wanted to do right now - but, I am so glad that I did.

Alliums, planted this closely, helps hid the dry foliage, always a problem with the larger alliums.

As you can see from these pictures, the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden is spectacular, it offers something for everyone, a great children's garden, a garden for all of the senses, a water garden, an amazing collection of plants, both natives and interesting plantings - kudo's to the horticulture team here, it seemed to rival that offered by the Denver Botanic Garden. I too so many photos and left with so many ideas on what I could plant in my garden, that I sort-of wish that it was April again, so that I could order many of these plants this season.

June 8, 2016

As busy as the birds and the bees

No wonder poets, song writers and yes, even garden writers pine on about June. It's long days are packed romance, vigor, abundance and vitality and it all seems to come at once - especially to those of us who garden. Yet really, is there any other time of year so rich with life?

Around here, it's all babies all the time now. Baby plants, baby bunnies, baby spiders - even baby canaries ( three eggs hatched last weekend!), but really, it's the garden which is consuming most of the time right now. I imagine that for most of you, it's pretty much the same. Here we are a week after Memorial Day in the US - traditional tomato planting season for the old timers, and the unofficial start of summer for everybody else.

This somewhat rare nasturtium - Tropaeolum 'Hermine Grashoff' is very special. It's an old Victorian, sterile sport which means that it has been handed down for generations between one enthusiast to another as a vegetative cutting - it does not produce seed. It's watermelon pink color is quite special too. It makes a nice potted plant for the summer terrace.

'Puppy', which is what we are calling the puppy since she has to leave us so, has decapitated a dinosaur in the gravel bed garden. I suppose it's better than her decapitating any more lilies, as she has destroyed far too many nice ones.

A little yarn nest finally tempted the canaries to raise a successful clutch of three. Both mom and dad are feeding our three new songsters. Hashtag Canary Birds!

My collection of annual sweet pea species - Lathyrus species, is starting to grow nicely. I've transplanted a few of the taller species, and moved them to the deck which we just painted.

I am only growing a few rows of Spencer Sweet Peas as cut flowers this year, but they are starting to look fine. I am training them as single-stem cordons, in the English method so that I get long stems. Check out my Mandarin orange tree - it's still covered in fruit - right here in Massachusetts!
Here is a slightly different view.

I have always wanted to try growing dwarf sweet peas - but the seed has been difficult to find lately. I found some this spring, and a pot is just starting to bloom. I can't wait, they are so tiny!

While on the topic of bamboo canes, I have used some extra ones as early stakes for the dahlias. Name tags are essential here, as we plan to exhibit some at our local Dahlia Society shows.

Bamboo canes always look nice in the garden.

Weasley checks some of my spelling.

Joe's nephew Curtis, who is staying with us for a while, has been a great help. He was fascinated with the bottle brush flowers on the Callistemon that he helped move out of the greenhouse.

A very nice chocolate Baptisia. Name tag lost, but I still like it.

More Spotted Trout Backed Lettuce in a raised bed. It stays so clean when grown in these beds, and - dare I admit, I don't have to bed over to pick them (and the dogs can't pee on them!).

A lovely alpine plants, this Saxifraga longifolia is monocarpic, which means that it will die once it blooms. Sad, but it does appear to be forming some runners. It's blossoms are like a cloud of butterflies. 

June 1, 2016

June Envy

Even if you are not a gardener, or even an outdoorsy-person, I think that it's safe to say that June is the month that of the other months hate.  Even I am a bit envious, but mostly because Joe's birthday is in June, and mine is stuck in early January. No outdoor pool parties for me! 

We had lost most of our Japanese selections of Primula sieboldii over the past few years, so a breeding program needed to be started.  Not much of a 'program', really, more like "save the seed, and sow it in flats every winter.". Now, we are starting to get many interesting forms once again. Later blooming than early spring Primroses, Primula sieboldii blooms around June 1, and acts more like a woodland plant, let's say Phlox, than it does potted or polyanthus primroses, which you may be more familiar with. This is one which is hard to find at most nurseries. Look for it at specialist nurseries.

June is also about baby bunnies (see our drama below), late primroses (like these pretty amazing Primula sieboldii crosses we are making), and just about every other garden flower as long as they are a biennial or perennial. Sure there are later blooms to come, but really?  The Iris selections alone, not to mention peonies, roses, delphiniums, you name it, June brings it all with abundance and fragrance. If only we could spread all of this goodness around the rest of the summer!

I have been busy staking and tiring cut flower sweet peas (almost every day after work for an hour of mosquito swiping and muddy knees), and I've been getting the garden ready for - oh, a few hundred dahlias. Not to mention more exhibition chrysanthemums, and alpine troughs. We painted the decks this weekend, so that consumed more time than I had planned. I suppose everyone is a little behind with their chores.

Snow in June. Some of Joe's crosses of Primula sieboldii -white selections.

I should warn you - this  is a rather random post - there is just so much happening around here in the garden, and when you factor it the fertility-level of our water (every living thing having babies around here (thank God we are all guys!) we are almost crazy with babies!

Since Joe took a few days of vacation, I am left tending surprise newborn canaries (3 little things), wild bunnies (that the dogs found), Indian Runner Ducklings (that still needs a heat lamp during our cool nights, and yet a dip in a pink kiddie pool during the day), and of course our still un-named puppy (who is waiting for her shots to be finished so that she can take a plane ride to Amsterdam with Joe - yeah, another vacation.)

. I barely have time to focus on more pressing matters - like more chrysanthemum cuttings, those dahlias that still need to be planted, some veggies like tomatoes that are long over due for transplanting, and then all of the general-everyday garden work which has totally gone unheeded.  This includes mulching, grass cutting, weeding, tree trimming, hedge trimming and container planting. Oh, did I mention sweet peas? Yeah. I am running out of time - it was bound to happen.

Bamboo poles. I need to order more. Remind me.

Calla lilies bloom in a large container on the gravel path outside of the greenhouse. These are tender here, and since this is such a large selection (7-8 feet tall!), it takes some muscle to move the pot from the greenhouse, outside. It's always worth it, thought. These stems are tall and stronger than the leaves which are still weak from being under glass.

Last year I added a couple of Rhododendron X 'Narcissiflora' selections to the garden. They have bloomed late this year due to our colder spring, but their delay did save the blooms from frost. Soooooooo fragrant!

I should just do a single post on some of these Californian plants -maybe that will come soon, but I just had to share this Monkey Flower, or Mimulus bifidus, that I bought from Annies Annuals last year. You don't need to live in the West to grow this well, it survives perfectly in a clay pot for me.
This must be my year for unusual annuals! Another Californian native, Limnanthes douglasii is a difficult-to-raise annual for us in the Eastern US but it can be mastered. Sow in the autumn, keep in a cool greenhouse and be ridiculously careful when transplanting to minimize root damage. These are gracing a tough garden on the deck this spring.

We had a couple of hot days, so the bonsai needed a good soaking. This Metasequoia is one of three which we winter over in the greenhouse. It goes completely dormant in the winter, but every spring, it pops into the amazing, green miniature of - well, talk about Meta-Metasequoia!

Every year I am more and more impressed with the value that Baptisia brings to the garden. Sure, they are slow to establish, but by the third year, one can see why these plants are becoming more and more popular with those who know their secret.

Some Baptisia have interesting colors. This B. varicolored 'Twilight' is still a new plant in our border (three years now) but it  is just starting to look impressive. Patience pays off with this long-lived plant.

With Baptisia, the flowers are considered a bonus, as the foliage is nice enough on its own. They can look like small shrubs.

These baby Eastern Cottontail bunnies were discovered when Doodles saw them through a temporary fence that we have put up, while the long fence for the dog-section of the garden is being extended. They are all safe and sound, but we had some drama....

After Doodles informed us with her very 'Lassie-like' barking, that 'Hey, you guys - there are bunnies over here and you had better do something about it!", her mother (right) Lydia, took over. (That's the nameless puppy, on the left - Doodles daughter). Granny Lydia is very mommy-ish, and decided to take the matter into her own hands (or mouth).

Liddy 'relocated' the bunnies by not by killing them, but by carefully carrying them away - into the house to a bedroom, where she felt that she could take better care of them. No worries thought - Eastern Cottontail moms visit their nest twice a day, once at sunrise, and once again at dusk to feed their babies, so all bunnies were placed back into their nest, and we saw their mommy feeding them at dusk. Our very trailer-park-worthy temporary fence such hold anxious terriers at bay.

Those Indian Runner Ducks that hatched 2 weeks ago are not much bigger It was cold Sunday so our friend Jess brought some hats that she had made for them. 

Seeing all of those images of cacti in bloom at the Chelsea Flower Show last week, reminded me of when I first saw the very same displays about ten years ago. I never realized how easy they are to grow - and how floriferous the genus which flower well are to grow, like Lobivia, Rebutia and Mammilaria. With hundreds of selections, most only are a few dollars each, they make super-easy house plants and if exposed to cold, dry winters, you can get blooms like this.

I spent 2 hours last week ordering a hundred more plants here! Mesa Gardens has many varieties.

Another image of those Nemesia which I started form seed in September. They fill two large pans on the deck, and just never seem to stop blooming. As I mentioned before, I added Cal-Mag (calcium magnesium blend) to their fertilizer, which made a significant difference in their health. Now - wait until you see my petunia and snapdragon selections this year! Tweaking nutrients really works. 

As my brother reminds me "Matt, don't you grow any vegetables?" The answer is yes. Here are some heirloom Flashy Trout Back Lettuce and dwarf 'Rosain' bib lettuce growing in a large, cedar container.