Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Dating or How to Find the Right Plant for the Right Place by KCB

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 proud to tell you that KCB rules as the 2008 Maine Master Gardener of the Year. And we are honored to have KCB as part of our Skillin's Garden Log family.

Dating is not an easy thing. Not at my age, anyway. Not sure how many reading this are married, in a ‘committed’ relationship or singular by choice or chance.

Living alone, for me, is refreshing. While I do miss having a faithful canine companion, the 2 legged roommate is best left to someone else. Yet it would be nice to have a special person of the opposite sex in my life. Some one to date.

If this was spring, summer or even fall I wouldn’t even have time to think about dating. Alternatively, it’s hard to be attractive when there is dirt under your nails, your knees are caked with compost, you sport a uniform of cargo pants (or shorts), tank top and hiking boots.

I must admit said hiking boots make for interesting tan lines when replaced with strappy sandals after work hours. This in itself can be a conversation starter. I’ve tried wearing garden clogs or other low slip-ons yet for some of the garden gymnastics I find myself doing, ankle support works best. Did I mention dirt? Not only are my clothes streaked with the stuff, my face sometimes gets a dose. I won’t even begin to talk about the scent of a woman during the dog days. Ah, I can hardly wait to be that person again. For now I will lament over the pros and cons of dating.

I do realize that this is a blog about gardening. For those of you who are faithful readers (thank you one and all) you have come to expect everything that touches my life, perhaps yours as well, has something to do with gardening.

Dating and gardening conceivably have more differences than similarities nevertheless both can be heady experiences in the beginning. One comparison would be the new trendy place to meet after work vs. your favorite local nursery and garden center.

Imagine you are meeting some friends after work at the hottest place in town. You’ve heard good things about this restaurant for starters they have the best Nachos and Margaritas this side of the Rio Grande. It is a social Mecca for all walks of life. Singles and couples alike fill the seats and all around you are streams of smiling faces. The wait staff is eager to please and all seems right with the world. Sustenance, merriment and beverages, adult or otherwise, fill the bill. Electricity pulsates throughout and within as you make your way to a seat at the bar or a waiting table. You peruse the room and few interesting prospects catch your eye. So many people, so little time. You are giddy and nervous all at once. You don’t want to appear too eager; people will think you don’t have a life. This Friday Happy Hour is a tradition for many. Who knows a special friend may just be in your future.

Now compare this to the garden center in May, not to mention June, July, ok for me August, September and who can forget October when the bulbs are available. Nevertheless, there is nothing like those Spring visits….. OK, now where was I?

The garden center is a buzz of activity. The staff is all smiles and eager to please. Fellow gardeners are milling about. Currents of excitement emote from plant and person. Couples, families, singles all are there for a different kind of nourishment. You look around and see many interesting prospects. Color, texture even fragrance abounds. You are giddy and nervous all at once. You don’t want to appear too eager. Those around you will think you don’t have a life. So many plants, so little space (or money). For many visiting garden centers are a ritual all with hopes that a special plant, shrub or tree or two will be in their future.

An understandable difference between the bar scene and the nursery is that you simply are able to walk up to a plant, pay for it and make it your own. Some may say buying a drink or 2 for someone is a far reach of the same scenario but I am trying to be somewhat sensible, at least for now.

When taking plants home it is permissible to take 3 or more of the same or many different kinds. You can mix and match, marry them as in perennials, shrubs or trees or just enjoy a brief affair as in annuals.

With people only a fool or a glutton for punishment would attempt to be involved in more than one intimate relationship at a time.

You want to be careful when dating. In trying to keep this light and somewhat short I will highlight the most obvious. You want to choose carefully. There may be a lot of beautiful and interesting people out there but not all may be right for you. You want someone who is healthy in mind, spirit and body. Someone with whom a true relationship can grow and offer a sustainable future.

In choosing plants for your garden careful choices are also advisable. Only healthy plants should make their way to your garden. You want plants that will grow and offer sustainable beauty. You may have to try several plants before you find your one true love.

Okay, who am I kidding? When it comes to ornamentals I for one will never have one true love. There are plants and shrubs I love for the woodland setting, others for the sunny border. Then there are those that attract wildlife. What about most loved fragrance? It is all about variety while still adhering to the right plant, right place rule.

I can not wait for spring. Will finding just the right date ever be as easy as finding the right plant? Moreover, since I can not seem to find my one true love of a plant as I so love them all, is this the burden I must bear throughout other aspects of my life? So what to do tonight? And the next?

My first reaction would be to just get a Golden Retriever. Since no dogs or cats are allowed in my new home perhaps I will just get a goldfish.

Please do not think that this is a thinly veiled ploy for another way to get a date. It is just a way of sharing.

Some of you will know what I’m talking about, others should be glad this is one ritual they have left behind. There may be some who long to be playing the field. For those I warn, the grass may just BE greener on the other side.

KCB for Skillin's Greenhouses
January 28, 2009

Friday, January 23, 2009

What is a Gardener? by KCB

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 proud to tell you that KCB rules as the 2008 Maine Master Gardener of the Year. And we are honored to have KCB as part of our Skillin's Garden Log family.

What is a Gardener? Unabridged (v 1.1) lists as their second definition, ‘any person who gardens or is skillful in gardening’. I am grateful that the definition utilizes the conjunction ‘or’ instead of ‘and’ as for me, not sure if skill has much to do with it.

Skill seems so technical, mechanical. So allow me to check another definition: skill–noun 1. ‘The ability, coming from one's knowledge, practice, aptitude, etc., to do something well’.

Having discovered the book definitions of ‘Gardener’ and ‘Skill’ indulge me while I offer my definition of a gardener as ‘One who Gardens’.

Simple enough? Yet it still doesn’t feel right. To borrow a line from the Jimmy Buffett song, Manana ‘Don't try to describe the ocean if you've never seen itDon't ever forget that you just may wind up being wrong.’ Nevertheless I’ve seen the ocean yet I often can not find the words to describe all it encompasses. I am a gardener yet am humbled by the term. How can one word describe so much?

Last week I attended a function that all in attendance were gardeners. It is no secret that I have the honor of being a Master Gardener as part of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. The more events I attend, the more projects I participate in and the more I surround myself with other like souls I realize a gardener is so much more than ‘one who gardens’. The same feeling washes over me with every class I facilitate, every trade show I visit.

So what is it that I am trying to say? A gardener, to a great extent, does more than tends a garden.

Gardeners are passionate. We love life or else we wouldn’t dirty ourselves making things grow. We are generous as we wouldn’t welcome the opportunity to share our successes and mishaps so others may benefit. We are artistic as we are sensitive to the aesthetic beauty that is nature. We are patient as who else can put a part of what they are on hold until the weather breaks. Or wait for the first bud and bloom. We are lovers of wildlife as we plant for butterfly, bee and bird and welcome them to partake of our efforts. We love to eat as to why else grow our own food. We are hard workers with no further explanation needed.

Gardeners are believers in all that is good, why else would we start gardening in the first place especially in a climate that can be less than ideal. Above all, Gardeners believe in ourselves. In our ability to assist mother nature to bring forth life from the land. Lesser people take what is offered but we offer so that others may take and enjoy.

In time our bodies may not always cooperate, for others it may be a change in real estate or the combination of both. Nevertheless we garden, in containers, window sills, vicariously through others and perhaps solely in our hearts.

Gardeners are people--People who persevere. No matter who is in The White House, or the state of the economy we do what we feel we are meant to do.

Please indulge me once more while I say,

God Bless Gardeners and
God Bless America!

KCB for Skillin's Greenhouses
January 23, 2009

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Skillin's "Basics" Comments by Customers

Hello again,

Just yesterday I sent out an article called Skillin’s Basics which provides some history of Skillin’s. We received some very nice responses to the article. Here are some of the responses that mention some very nice people who have been a big help to us and some nice additional tales. Thanks to everyone who shared their comments!

Abigail L. writes:

“Loved it.
I grew up nearby and Grampa Skillin, Young Alex and Florence were part of our universe. I remember marching as a Brownie Scout in Falmouth's Memorial Day parade from Skillins to Pine Grove, watching the big boys playing baseball on the opposite corner, the huge blanket of flowers over Young Alex's grave. Then there was Johnny (John Skillin and company) building the aster house, Sadie Lunt transplanting seedlings, the Skillin's guys (around 1955 or 1956) rescuing my mother prized orchids collection during a house fire one winter night. They kept their vehicles running with the orchids inside to keep them warm.”

Chris B writes:

“Thank you Mike for the heart warming history. Skillin's is a wonderful place. I do all of my shopping for my garden and house plants etc. there. I don't expect you to know me but I do say hello often times when I see you there. I've mentioned this before and I' m always happy to mention that from the moment I enter your business I find the staff to be the most helpful and hospitable than any other business I go into. They are amazing! I also want to mention Mary who is so knowledgeable and helpful with a nice smile and pleasant conversations.Thanks to all of you and give yourselves a pat on the back, you deserve it! Thanks Mike for your emails I do enjoy reading them. Great job!”

Linda S. chimes in:

“Hi Mike, Once again, I've loved reading the history of the Skillin family and business enterprise. I am your most loyal customer and sing your praises to who ever will listen. And I agree with you about Gordie in Brunswick. He is a gem!!!And yes, we'll get through this economic crisis - we always do!”

Barbara Gardener adds:

Thank you, Mike. I have been looking forward to another chapter in the history of the Skillins family. I thoroughly enjoyed last year's story and was happy that you promised to write more. Thanks again for a promise fulfilled. You certainly have an amazing family! You all must be so very proud of all that the Skillins family has achieved! I'm feeling proud to even know you! I don't know your dad but I sure loved and miss John along with hundreds of other people.

Helen K tell us:
"Thanks for this wonderful history of Skillins. I have frequented your wonderful store and garden center many times in the 18 hears that I have lived in Maine. I grew up on a farm in Texas and I know what hard work the agricultural world poses for us. My dear mother always had the most beautiful vegetable and flower gardens. I can still see her walking behind the plow creating furrows for planting the potatoes! We are all much better for those years of work - I was born in 1926. I believe that the current crisis will make us better people that appreciate the simple life of gardening and enjoying the beautiful nature that God has provided for us - we need to care for it and relish it every day. Thank you again for my favorite place in Falmouth. I live in Gorham. "

From Lynn T:

"Your history brings back many favorite memories of growing up in Bath. My Grandmother was an active participant in the garden club and a judge in the exhibition building at Topsham fair. Thank you so much for sharing! "

To Lynn T (from Mike S.):

"The Topsham Fair!

My first real job for Skillin’s was selling apples, cider, peanut butter and peanuts, oh—and pickles—in the hallway under the grandstand at the Topsham Fair. This would have been around 1970 and 1971. I was about 8 or 9 and a little scared but it gave me chance to spend some time with my Dad Dave Skillin and that was a very good thing for this young boy!"

Lynn T:

"I remember the pickles. I use to love hanging in the garden with my dad. One year I got a blue ribbon at the Topsham fair for my potatoes. My brother always had ribbon winning pop corn."

Pat F tells about some great gardening events, etc:
Well, I've heard your history several times, but I read it again today. Thank you. It was important to many of us who are getting very down about what is happening world-wide to hear inspiring stories. And yours was.My Grampa "Nick" ("Joe" Nickerson) of Lincolnville would have liked that story. He and my Grandmother Elsie farmed their land from 1920 until he died in 1982. And we have continued to have smaller gardens there still, until my grandmother went into a nursing home, then through several temporary occupancies of nieces, nephews, and grandchildren. And my mother of 82 years is still gardening, after she returned 10 years ago to the home where she was literally born. And she's still canning, pickling, etc.I garden on my small lot in nearby Belfast, am a Master Gardener of 7 years, and visit your Brunswick store perhaps twice a season while helping a gardening-challenged retired friend in Brunswick. I am retired and volunteer at the Troy Howard Middle School's award-winning garden project which operates all year long. They have a great website at and they love volunteers to work with them, and welcome visitors (call ahead). I know you have garden programs in your nearby schools, but you should really visit Steve Tanguay or Jon Thurston sometime and see the fine work this school does -- in a community not known for top-of-the-line school programs. [We DO, however, have top-of-the-line flower gardens in downtown Belfast, thanks to our volunteers of the Belfast Garden Club and others.Again, thanks. You made my day. Now, if the next 5 weeks would just rush by so we could truly look forward to Spring and gardening for real!!!OH . . . I almost forgot. You didn't mention anything about Roger Doiron's work on promoting a Victory Garden at the White House. We in Belfast think it is a no-brainer to do this, for lots of good reasons. I hope you might share some of your thoughts on that idea sometime this Spring.

Skillin's "Basics"

Hello again,

It is a New Year and many of you email subscribers might be fairly new to Skillin's so I quickly want to review Skillin's history. If you do not like history, you may want to pass on this letter but next week we will be back to gardening advice.

As you may or may not know we have been a family enterprise since 1885. We currently are in our 5th generation of Skillin's. Alexander "Pa" Skillin and his brother Charles founded Skillin's way back in 1885. At that time, Skillin's mostly catered to the crowd of people who populated Falmouth and other area estates in the summer. We sold our summer friends fresh cut flowers, garden plants, vegetables and knowing "Pa" we gave away lots of free stories. The business was indeed on the present Route 88 site in Falmouth. Charles soon drifted away to other pursuits but "Pa" stayed at it. I am not sure what “Pa” did year round but I do know he spent many nights shoveling coal into the furnace to keep the cold at bay.

Through the early 20th century the business grew as year round population started to become more and more common. By this time, Skillin's was doing much yard and tree work for people and "Pa" had been joined by his son Alexander or "Alec". My Aunt Sally fondly remembers "Alec" as the nicest man she has ever met (not bad considering he was her father in law). The business was growing into the year round selling of plants and we were also becoming a florist; my Aunt Florence (Alec's sister and daughter of "Pa") helped in the greenhouse and floral areas and also did the bookkeeping.

Aunt Florence had no children but Alec fathered John and David Skillin--the third generation--and many of you might know of them today. Tragedy struck in 1950 as Alec died of cancer. "Pa" was getting along in years (but still working, only taking less naps), John was attending college at UMO, and David was only 13. The decision was made for John to come home on weekends and work but for him to finish his education, for Dave to hopefully "turn out all right" and for Aunt Florence to "hang on" and wait for John. Aunt Florence was one brave lady and her contribution to Skillin's should never be forgotten.

John arrived on the scene fully in the spring of 1952 and the business was in tough shape. Alive but hurting. Times were tough and Skillin's owed many people a lot of money. Good and wise friends who knew finances were telling John and his family to give up the business--it could not work. John went around and promised to make good and then some on what was owed. If you ever knew John Skillin, you would trust him and believe him. Because he was John.
He delivered.

Dave Skillin arrived from the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture and a bout with the U.S. Navy in 1957. Aunt Florence was still on board. Larry Leeman, a trusted family friend, also came on board. "Pa" died in 1958 but momentum was strong--the Skillin's modern era had begun. John and Dave were young, personable, visionary and absolutely dedicated. Skillin's as you know it now was beginning to form. John and Dave used to visit many Massachusetts and Connecticut garden centers on trips to pick up the best in plant material. I have good memories of those trips as a child. They borrowed many good ideas and came up with a few of their own and developed Maine's first garden center and nursery. By 1966, our Falmouth gift shop was built with the help of good friend Fred Chase. Bright glass greenhouses were hauled up from Massachusetts. Skillin's Greenhouses was now a full scale greenhouse, nursery, garden center, gift shop and florist!

Skillin's was also one of the leading landscapers at the time. Dave Skillin headed this area of the business along with trusted and important friends like Al Lappin. Terry Skillin--the leader of the fourth generation--and Joel Leeman, still with Skillin's after 40 plus years got their start with Skillin's as landscapers. But Dave and John wanted to start a new store and make new friends, and this led to our opening of our second store in Brunswick Maine in 1969. The landscaping side was eventually closed as we focused on making Skillin's in Falmouth and Brunswick the type of stores you see today. John and Jeff Skillin built energy efficient true Solar greenhouses during the energy crisis days of the 1970's.

The early days were kind of quiet at times in Brunswick as Dave would often mow the lawn in the front just to let people know that we were there. Long days and nights were spent selling apples, cider and peanut butter at the Topsham Fair just so we could meet people. But as the greater Bath/Brunswick/Topsham area has grown so has Skillin's in Brunswick. Gordon Merrill and many others have picked up the baton from Dave Skillin and we have a first rate store and a first rate staff with people like Charley Madden and Chris Gill from our past leading to Hilda Green and many others who are part of our present and future. And Gordon Merrill deserves special mention again--his dedication over the years has paid off in a model operation.

During the 70's and 80's we had 3 successful Mall stores at the Maine Mall, Promenade Mall in Lewiston, and the Windham Mall. Terry Skillin (fourth generation) came on board to lead our Mall store effort. Jeff Skillin, his brother, graduated from UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture and has modernized our all important plant production. Terry and Jeff are sons of John and now lead the business. Back in Falmouth, we salute the efforts of good friends like Larry Leeman, Rick Price, Al Lappin, Jesse O'Brien, Sally Bolstridge, Laurie Jameson and many others who have helped us greatly and who we will always be grateful to. Mary Mixer came to Skillin's via the Maine Mall in 1975 and is still our hardest working person here. Sally Bolstridge (on her second tour of duty), Tim Bate and Sue Destefano are here daily and offer over 70 years of experience between them to help our customers. Rick Price just completed another year of helping us--he has been part of the family since the 1960's. Equally important are our behind the scenes people like Lisa Skillin (Jeff’s wife) and Elaine Warner who staff the office, answer the phone and support the retail staff (and many times are right there with the retail staff) in so many ways and capacities. Sally Skillin (John’s wife) still provides her own brand of wisdom and is a connection to important people of the past like Frances Olson.

Melissa Skillin Smith and Mike Skillin are Dave Skillin's children and we try to help wherever we can! And Dave Skillin is still very active in the business!

John Skillin passed away in 2002 but he has touched us all. That same year saw the arrival of the 5th generation, Chad Skillin (Terry's son) who like his grandfather John graduated from UMO; with a degree in landscape design and he has brought a new angle to Skillin's.

In 2003, we combined forces with the Allen Family in Cumberland and now operate Skillin's Cumberland. Phil Allen has passed away but his wife Wendi works with us and she has become a valued and trusted friend.

We all work hard here at Skillin's and we love it. But without the support of our families at home we could not so easily do our jobs.

We owe a special and biggest thanks to you, our customer. I have listed a lot of names and dates here but your loyalty has kept us going over good times and bad. We are looking forward to 2009 and cannot wait to see you.

As this article is being revised for 2009, it seems this country faces huge challenges unlike any other times. A new president will be inaugurated in just a little under a week and his promises bring hope to many. We wish our new president the best but also realize that we have all gone through so much and Skillin’s too has seen many sunny and cloudy days since 1885. We have survived wars and depressions; untimely passings and lived to thrive in many times. We have emerged from other scary times and will again.

Survive then thrive! We are all in this together!

Thanks for reading this and please let us know if you have any gardening questions,

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
January 14, 2009

Friday, January 9, 2009

Sheliah checks in with another great plant recommendation:

This is a picture of one of my favorite Clematis. This one is called the "President" and it is truly a fabulous variety. This picture was taken the second year after planting. Usually it takes three years for a clematis to really establish and bloom their pretty little heads off. The "President" didn't get that memo and was filled with blooms it's first year. The flowers are extremely large (about 5" across) with different shades of purple. The "President" will bloom for about a month. Clematis love full sun but like to have their feet cool. I plant a low evergreen at the base to achieve this. When I purchased this variety at Skillin's I was not sure if it would be happy living at my zone 4 home. Happy it was! The "President" has far exceeded my expectations! The nice thing about all the different clematis at Skillin's is that they are inexpensive to buy, I find them fuss free, and they get bigger and more beautiful every year!
Clematis (The President)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Like a Log Jam on a River

Kind friend Dale Lincoln returns to the Skillin's Garden Log with a story that will make you say "oh my gosh..." and then I think you will chuckle! Then "re read" the last short paragraph and I think you will appreciate the story even more.

For many years people living along the coast of New England have enjoyed many meals that contained fresh fish. People living inland like the wood choppers in the deep woods practically lived on dry fish, potatoes, biscuits and molasses. The men of the logging teams knew the basics for living. They knew how the logs traveled down the river and they knew what to do when a log went sideways and caused a log jam. Back then and in the days of my youth fresh haddock, pollock, and cod, plus dry fish, were plentiful. They were inexpensive and people usually purchased the whole fish.

Before the age of four I loved fish dinners any way my mother prepared them. At meal time there was always warnings: “Don’t eat too fast!” “Watch out for bones!” “Don’t get a bone in your throat!”

I listened to those warnings and to this day I haven’t had a bone caught in my throat.

Fish processing has made fish dinners less hazardous to a person’s health. Today it is easy to purchase fish fillets that have all of the bones removed. Can you imagine what happens if a person swallows a large fish bone? I’ve been in the know of that subject for about seventy years.

One cool blustery day in October I was having fun around the house like three year old kids do. My dad and brother were not home. My mother was tending to my little sister, doing house work, and probably thinking of cooking supper. After the fish dinner the previous evening, it is likely that making fish hash was on her mind when she heard the words: “Haf’ta go poop!”

It was breezy and cool when she put me on the pot in the shed.
Then it happened!

I screamed and hollered!

Mother came running! I pointed to where it hurt. She found a fish bone and knew what to do. It was like a log jam on a river. She carefully bent the fish bone in the shape of a hair pin and removed it. Soon everything started moving down the river, and things returned to normal.
I wish I had saved the bone because in my lifetime there has only been one bone like it. I could have made an ear ring out of it and be wearing it everyday, or something!.

In the future:

Enjoy your fish dinner; Don’t eat too fast; Don’t get a bone in your throat! And take time to think of those good old days!”

Dale C. Lincoln
Perry, Maine
In Zephyrhills FL
January 4, 2009