Monday, June 23, 2008

Touring Gardens and Other Delights

KCB is a professional gardener and friend who does wonderful work in the Greater Portland area. KCB is also an accredited Master Gardener by the Cooperative Extension Service and we are honored to have KCB as part of our Skillin's Garden Log family.

It has been said that I posses the imagination of a child. What is wrong with that? It was all set anew first by a natural element, the radiance of a rainbow that let loose the fanciful meanderings in my mind.

Late Friday afternoon, the sky opened and Mother Nature released a forceful flow. Shortly after the asphalt steamed and the hazy sky reflected the fire of an expansive arch. The full color spectrum was visible in the elongated bow with its curves ending somewhere over Casco Bay.

I knew in my heart there were certainly pots of gold to be found yet I would have to don snorkel or perhaps full diving gear to retrieve the watery loot. I was more than half tempted to seek the treasure just to view a leprechaun in a wet suit and fins. Would the suit be green with curled toes on the flippers? Will little bells reflect the glow from sun to gold to toe? What about the prerequisite pipe? Will air bubbles replace smoke rings? Someday I’ll let you all know.

Second stir of flights of fancy was prompted by one of the gardens I ventured to over the weekend. It was our last stop on the tour that had us visit magnificent mounds of beauty on palatial landscapes dotted along the countryside and some more inhabited streets of Yarmouth, Cumberland, Falmouth, and even Portland.

Beds that were nearly 40 years old coupled with others in their infancy at 2. All beckoned the small group of people that were my companions on the Welcome Summer Garden Tour this past Saturday. As a Master Gardener, I felt blessed to be asked to serve as guide on a bus from one of Portland’s senior housing centers. More than 24 hours later, I become more energized by the memory of the day.

Mother nature threatened to again open her floodgates yet kindly withheld until we had nearly completed the tour of our last garden. Once the rain came, using their garden tour programs as a head covering, my group dashed to the bus while others hastened to their individual modes of transportation. Being wet didn’t matter to me. I didn’t want to leave and I vowed to the owner of this small cottage garden that with her blessing, I would return.

Before the bus even stopped at this picket fenced pocket of medicinal and fragrant herbs, flowers and vegetables, I noticed the hand painted signs with sayings in Gaelic. This ancient language was my mother’s mother tongue. Someday I will learn it for myself.

Within moments of our stepping into the borders of this magical landscape, I spied a garden full of gnomes and fairies posing as statuary. The mischievous were hiding among the foliage and blooms. Some frolicked openly while the humans looked away. The fairies seemed to weave in and around the large drops of rain. I smile as I recall how one of the garden imps stopped a droplet in mid fall to use it as a mirror. From my view it magnified it’s face so that I could even count the specks of fairy dust that fell with every flutter of wing. When I questioned the garden owner (does one ever really OWN a garden?) about the large fairy house that was under construction she beamed while indicating it was for her granddaughter. I revealed I had no such excuse to which she winked and replied, I do but it wouldn’t matter, it's me she is taking after…

Gardens are just not for the young of age, but always for the young of heart. One of the gardens on our tour is tended by a husband and wife team of Master Gardeners whose last birthdays had them being ‘in their 80s’. This landscape would be a chore for much younger bodies, as it is a series of hills, vales, dry river, & raised beds. Native plants dug from the fields and woods skirting the property flourish and at times take over. Along a fence were peony blooms the largest I have ever seen. Perhaps the rich magentas, creamy whites, and petals with a hint of pink morphed into flower heads the size of basketballs as homage to the Celtics first NBA victory in over 20 years. It was difficult to take it all in while I pondered over the labor of love that was evident as we first stepped onto their front yard scape. Today, I shake my head again at the notion of moving a dozen or so clay pots housing the giant that is the Lily-of-the Nile to their place at the front of the property. To see these purple passions of a plant amass bordering a path offered the illusion of walking through the tropics. This Hardiness Zone 8 plant will not survive a Maine winter so each pot is moved to the onsite greenhouse each fall and back out again in the spring. When speaking with the homeowner he proudly boasted he and his wife at one time could do it themselves, now they hire ‘college kids’ to do it.

When on a garden tour I learn so much. The lessons are not in the plants, shrubs, or decorative elements but in the people. Those who grow, those who open their homes and hearts for the show. These tours are fundraisers for various worthy causes often costing the keeper of the gardens much in time and money. As a gardener, we can only do so much. The elements of nature including wildlife often have their own agenda. Somehow, the Peonies survived the torrential rains and still managed to offer their multi petaled perfection to the sky and onlookers.

Saturday June 21st was a day of Garden Tours for the Greater Portland Area. There were 3 that I knew of; actually, a 4th tour was ending this same day. That of the American Horticultural Society ‘Charming Gardens of Coastal Maine’. I learned of this tour by way of the stopping of a luxury tour bus stopping in front of the somewhat shabby apartment building that I call home. A bus on this street is well, a never before happened event.
As in the imagination of a young girl becoming famous, I fantasized that those exiting the bus were stopping to meet me. My fictional self was now a famous writer, world-renowned garden designer with her own Gardening television series, and now a tour destination.

Why the bus? Because I have the blessing to live next to a writer of gardening books and articles with a garden often a tour destination.

As a gardener, or not, the next time you hear of a garden tour, take the time to smell the roses, lavender or just the clean air of the day.

As with all the gardens on my recent tour, and in my care, I live vicariously through the beauty of nature. I feel lucky that she/he or whatever we believe to be God or goddess, Mother Nature or our own personal higher self, allows us to offer our assistance in helping to beautify our earth.

Hmmmmmmmm now to find snorkeling gear……

Monday, June 16, 2008

Ramblings-The Week That WAS and Soon WILL BE!

KCB is a professional gardener and friend who does wonderful work in the Greater Portland area. KCB is also an accredited Master Gardener by the Cooperative Extension Service and we are honored to have KCB as part of our Skillin's Garden Log family.

Did you enjoy our ‘dog days’ Monday and Tuesday?

What a week. I am so grateful for this rain as it will keep me inside today. Much to attend to but first I must share……….

Wednesday I spotted my first Monarch. Early? According to a Google Search Monarchs were first spotted this year on May 15th at Kittery Point. Usually with the first blooms of the Cone Flower I notice the Monarch. This day he simply hovered over the Salvia and did check out a peony bloom.

This same day I witnessed a close-up feeding between a Robin and her 2 chicks, spotted a variety of other colorful moths & butterflies (8?) and lost count of the number of song changes and ranges of a boisterous male mockingbird. I recently read that it is the unattached male whose repertoires are the more melodic and uplifting. This makes me wonder, to attract with a serenade a potential mate or a boisterous expression of glee to be without one?

Take time to notice such things while working away. Even on a day like today, take in the crystal pools collecting in the foliage of an Autumn Joy Sedum or lounging in the leaflets of Lupines. Aaaaaaaaaaaaah!

With all the sun we have had this past week and the current gentle rain our gardens are going to pop!

Your gardens will be full if the purchasing activity of the local nurseries and garden centers are an indication. Shelves bare were soon back-filled with the next bevy of blooming beauties. Additions to perennial gardens as well as augmentation with colorful annuals abound. After all what is a garden if it doesn’t have color?

It is tempting to gather all that currently is in bloom. Keep in mind that our gardens can offer interest and color up to the first frost and beyond when we make an effort to do so. Remember the plan. For every plant you purchase that offers an ‘early summer’ or ‘summer’ bloom time, look for a plant that offers ‘late season’ display. You will also see a notation on some plant tags that will say ‘winter interest’.

Come mid-August, September you’ll still want color and these plants may not be available. Think Russian Sage, Black-eyed Susan’s, Joe Pye Weed. Aster, Coneflowers. Moreover, do not dismiss the Montauk Daisy.

Now for current ‘timely tips’;

Roses are coming into their own. Do not be afraid to prune back straggly rogue stems. This will offer a fuller shrub and direct energy to producing blooms.
One of the rose bushes I attend to had aphids. Yuck. Then I noticed Lady Bugs—Yes! I was happy and sad all at once. When you spot aphids, knock them off with a strong spray of water. Most dislodged aphids will not be able to return to the plant, and their honeydew will be washed off as well. Using water sprays early in the day allows plants to dry off rapidly in the sun and be less susceptible to fungal diseases. Other controls are Insecticide soap, or neem oil. At this time of year, I do not use a stronger chemical spray unless forced to by total infestation. I would rather live with aphids than hurt any beneficial insects.

The same landscape that contains ‘aphid bush’ produces many glorious rose bushes. All were fed systemically with an insect and disease control early season and receive a dousing of Messenger every 3 weeks. Since only one bush had signs of aphids, I wonder at the cause. The more stressed a plant, the more susceptible to insects and disease. I feel the lack of water could have been the source of stress. I repositioned a soaker hose to better serve this bush, ever careful not to give way to ‘wet feet’. Most of these roses will produce blooms through out the season.

Last year one garden still had blooms mid-November when I made my last rounds. In addition to good soil and conditions, deadheading is key. Remove faded flowers before they can develop seed. Do not be intimidated by day-to-day maintenance of roses. Cut the dead flowers off the cane just above the first set of five leaflets. The cut should be on a slant, downward to the inside of the shrub. If the cane is week, cut back further to strong wood that can support a new flower. A therapeutic activity that pays for itself by way of fragrance and accomplishment.

Speaking of deadheading, as I was individually removing spent blossoms from a row of Fire Witch Dianthus their heady spice infused scent transported me to a summers eve in Morocco. Not that I have ever been to Morocco but if this North African Kingdom, situated on the Coasts of the Atlantic and Mediterranean, wanted a scent to call it’s own, it would look to the Dianthus. I have the luxury to be able to cut each spent bloom individually for the front garden. This will encourage the dianthus to continuously bloom throughout the season. For the back beds, I simply sheer when all blooms are spent to promote another wave of blooms. Once this perennial tires of blooming, the spiky blue/gray foliate looks great next to the neon succulence of the mounding ‘Neon’ or ‘Brilliance’ Sedum or the dark intensity of the ‘Vera Jameson’ spreading ground covering sedum.

One final note, for the bluest Hydrangea blossoms, use Miracid, or other acid infused plant foods. Be careful if your hydrangeas share a bed with Lilacs as this shrub prefers an alkaline soil. If pink blossoms are your wish, than add lime around your hydrangea. Peegee and climbing hydrangea blossoms cannot be altered. Love ‘em for what they are!

Next outing will feature, whatever the pressing issue of the garden world offers.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Tantalizing Timely Tips

KCB is a professional gardener and friend who does wonderful work in the Greater Portland area. KCB is also an accredited Master Gardener by the Cooperative Extension Service and we are honored to have KCB as part of our Skillin's Garden Log family.

There are just not enough hours in the day to do all that I have to do especially try to win at Spider Solitaire. Worse yet, one of my favorite television shows of the past is now a must see movie….will Carrie and ‘Mr. Big’ actually marry? I use to joke ‘sleep is over-rated’ but unfortunately, sleep takes over shortly after the sun sets.

Early to bed/early to rise is not making me healthy, certainly not wealthy and heaven knows, not wise. With the first chirp of a bird in the AM, I vow to jump from the cocoon that is my bed. Do I? No………..

As a ‘professional’ gardener, my passion lies in the work and results, not the scores of paper work that is the side effect. The saint that helps with my taxes spent the better part of this past Saturday installing a program that will enable him to generate my invoices; I just need to supply him with all receipts and the number of hours I spend with each client. Easier said than done. If I could do that I think, I would do my own billing.

If I’m not working in the dirt, I’m either thinking about it, writing about it or thinking about writing about it, So Instead of my assignment of gathering invoices and data I decided to share some gardening thoughts with you while still fresh in my jumbled mind.

Things to do now:

Plant golf tees. While this will not produce a lawn to rival a putting green it will help you locate dormant bulbs long after the foliage has disappeared. Not sure, about you but many a time I started digging a hole for a new or trans-plant only to find I’ve disturbed bulbs. I now ‘plant’ tees surrounding any new bulbs. For older bulbs, I merely press in a tee w/my thumb along side the still visible foliage. Later when you decide to fill the space you know you are in bulb territory when you spot a tee.

Purchase plants to hide disintegrating foliage. Most know that with tulips, daffodils, hyacinths so on and so forth, it is best to let the foliage die a slow, natural death. This can be painful for those wanting a well-groomed garden full of life. Camouflage is key. Recently the Skillin’s newsletter shared a tip from DK stating he plants daylilies next to his tulips. Other plants that work well, hosta, Sedum, such as Autumn Joy, Neon or Brilliance, Shasta Daisy, Stokes Aster. Look for plants that offer lush mounding foliage that is flourishing the same time the leaves of our spring bulbs are fading. Companion planting such as this also helps hide fading foliage of bleeding heart and alliums.

Feed and Deadhead Azaleas & Rhododendrons. It is also time to prune.
· Cut them back immediately after flowering. When removing dead wood...dip or spray your pruning shears with alcohol or 10% Clorox between every cut.
· Look for borer holes, cut back until the stems are whole.
· Deadhead by simply and carefully removing spent blooms by hand.
· Feed with an acid based fertilizer. Espoma’s Hollytone is excellent.
· For drier locations, add thin top later peat blend compost.

Pinch back any perennials that may become leggy, such as New England Aster or Chrysanthemum's. Pinch them again, every 6 inches or so, as they grow.

Container Gardening & Add color with Annuals: All threat of frost is over for now. Knock your self out and the sock off of all your neighbors!
The following is more of a shopping list. Keep these products on hand. Use according to manufacturer’s directions.

Messenger. Use every 3 weeks on peony, roses, and this year I am trying on Hydrangea and selected perennials.

Coast of Maine Penobscot Blend or Jolly Gardener Shrub & Tree as a planting mix for new and transplants.

Bayer Advanced All-In-One Rose & Flower Care.
Bondide Plant Starter
All purpose water-soluble plant food.

That’s all for now-----I’m already late for where ever it is I have to be!

KCB for Skillin's Greenhouses
June 9, 2008

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Lilacs and Containers, Oh My!

I have lilacs planted in a spot where heavy stony ledge lies just a few inches underneath their roots. Consequently they are a little thin in their appearance. In a week or so after the buds drop I am going to give them a good solid trim of a couple of feet. Also, I am going to drill a few holes in the ground around each plant and pour some Plant Booster Plus by Organica down into those holes.

Plant Booster Plus is a pretty unique product that is inoculated with a select array of highly beneficial soil microorganisms. These tiny powerhouses have the ability to improve the soil profile by improving soil-fertility, minimizing nutrient loss through leaching, improving the soil structure and increasing humus levels by degrading organic matter. In addition to improving soil conditions the microorganisms can directly improve plant growth and development by naturally accelerating cell division and providing increased resistance to environmental stress. Sounds good doesn’t it!In short Organica's Plant Booster Plus will provide you with benefits standard fertilizers are not capable of providing. Utilize it when planting your shrubs, trees and veggies to promote establishment and enhance viability. Use it throughout the growing season to maintain adequate plant nutrition and promote healthy sustained growth!

Those hands you see raised over there are the folks at Espoma who make a product called Bio Tone Starter Plus (sold right here at Skillin’s) that can be used the same way. Bio-tone® Starter Plus is an all natural plant food enhanced with biostimulants, beneficial bacteria and mycorrhizae.

I recommend EITHER Plant Booster Plus or Bio Tone Starter Plus for planting any plant material: trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and vegetables. These products will work for either ground plantings or container plantings.

You might say, “Mike, I have never heard you recommend these products before!”. And folks, this is true! But these are exciting times for gardeners! Old time fertilizers are on their way out and better natural products that feature beneficial bacteria and mycorrhizae components are here.

So, back to my lilacs. The roots and the limited soil around the roots need some help! I will try the Plant Booster Plus for the soil around my lilacs.

I also have some containers to plant and I think I will try the Bio Starter Plus. Let’s see how these products work! I am confident they will both work well. Tell me what you think!

Speaking of containers, this year again I plan to use the all natural Bar Harbor Blend potting soil by Coast of Maine Organics for my outdoor containers. Quite simply, Bar Harbor Blend is THE BEST potting soil I have ever used. It is locally produced (and we need to all we can to help our local companies in this economy) and it also the BEST priced soil we have here at Skillin’s. I will be potting my containers with the Bar Harbor Blend and mixing in some generous portions of the Bio Tone Starter Plus.

Once my plants (both flowers and veggies) are planted in the containers, I will be feeding them weekly with Fish and Seaweed fertilizer by Neptune’s Harvest (produced just 100 miles away by some great folks in Gloucester MA.)

Now you might well say, “Mike, you just said that you are using the BEST potting soil ever AND using a cutting edge soil enhancer like Bio Starter Plus by Espoma ( or Plant Starter Plus by Organica). Why do you need to fertilize weekly?” My answer is “Good question, but this is Maine folks! I love Maine, but let’s be serious, we have a short season and if we want productive vegetables and beautiful flowers, our plants need all the GOOD HELP they can get! As my friend Paul Tukey used to say, ‘if you can garden in Maine, you can garden anywhere!’, so for best performance I want to use the best soil, the best soil enhancer and the best in natural fertilizers!”