Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Award Shows Part 1 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.

There was a time in my life that I never missed a televised award show. The Grammy’s®, The Golden Globes®, MTV® Music awards even The Emmy’s® but my favorite of them all was the Oscars ®.

From an early age I was drawn to the Academy Awards and felt very ‘in’ when I had not only seen the Movie of the Year but guessed the outcome before the envelope was open.

Years later I enlisted my husband to participate in the quest to see all the movies nominated in the major categories. One year we were behind in our viewing which resulted in a mini movie marathon. Less than 48 hours to the Sunday night Red Carpet extravaganza we had four movies yet to view. The day of the event found us jumping from one theater in the multi-plex to another. Popcorn overload, butt numbing; those were the days. Or were they?

I am somewhat saddened yet gladdened that I did not see any of this years highly proclaimed and oft nominated movies. Nevertheless, I was prepared to spend the past Sunday night glued to the television to see people get dressed up and excited about a bunch of stuff I knew nothing about. Some how I could not stay focused. Something called to me. Ah, yes, the great outdoors.

Perhaps I was experiencing cabin fever. Maybe it had to do with the time of the storm as well as the day. When most people were tucked in the warmth of their homes quietly ending the weekend that was, I donned my flannel lined jeans, water proof parker and ‘Bean Boots’ to head for the streets. It was as if I was alone in the world.

The side streets of my neighborhood were barely plowed and the sidewalks were non-existent. The lack of motorized vehicles allowed for me to utilize the roads as my path. Soon I found my way to the area of Portland known as Back Cove.

The sky still heavy with precipitation glowed silver. My exposed nose and eyes tingled and through my minimalist view I did detect huddled mounds of coal gray along the frozen water surface. Tiptoeing to get a closer look I discovered a gaggle (or 2) of Canada Geese bunkered down for the duration. My muffled footsteps were more about the atmosphere than the covering on my ears.
A kind of a hush enveloped. Not a sound could be heard.

Alone, but not lonely. Windows of nearby houses put forth a gold haziness. Perhaps within their walls the occupants cursed the weather. I embraced it.

Alternatively, they may be glued to the television cheering for their favorite actor while I turned my back on the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. The out-of-doors is my science. Gardening is my art.

For years I fantasized that someday I will be among the beautiful people in attendance at the various world renowned award shows. An A-List attendee, a nominee, a winner. No matter, I would dress for the part. Somewhat a realist this aspiration as changed.

Nevertheless, there is one award show I will not miss. Preview Night at the Portland Flower Show is where you will find me this March 11th. Visions of a nomination, a win, a following, often occupy my thoughts. Will someone put a microphone in my face and ask ‘Who are you wearing?’ LL Bean, with a touch of vintage supplied by Goodwill. For now I will satisfy my soul mingling among the nominated and ultimate winners. Some I know very well. We have a common bond. The love of our art and science.

It is not often we have the opportunity to attend an event such as is the Portland Flower Show. With the canceling of the Bangor and Boston Shows, The Portland Company Complex will be as hot a destination as the Kodak Theater in LA. Don’t miss this opportunity to walk among the stars of the horticultural winners. See you there…

KCB for Skillin's Greenhouses
February 24, 2009

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Invited to Lunch by Dale Lincoln

Kind friend Dale Lincoln checks in a great story of some memorable "invites" throughout the year:

In late August 1943 a package arrived with the mail. It made me happy. The khaki shirt and khaki pants, (my back to school clothes from Sears and Roebuck), would make me look like a soldier when I started Grade 2. For a dress rehearsal my mother gave me a bath in the galvanized wash tub, dressed me up, and sent me on an errand to my grandmother’s store.
At the end of the half-mile walk “Grammie Thompson” showed enthusiasm when she told me how nice I looked. The day is remembered as being extra special because it was my first trip to the store alone. When a person “solos” they make their own decisions. When my grandmother asked if I would like a piece of freshly baked blueberry pie and a glass of milk, there was no hesitation with my answer. The milk was cold, the pie was delicious, my hair was red, and my khaki outfit was rapidly turning purple! Upon returning home my mother “showed enthusiasm” and commented about my appearance! I think some water, plus the bar of yellow laundry soap; the wash board;, and mother’s elbow grease, helped remove the blueberry stains. That was all part of my first time of being invited to lunch.
My mother wanted her kids to have good manners. She gave lots of instructions. Upon returning home, after those rare occasions of being invited to lunch, my mother always asked a series of questions: “Did you take your hat off in the house?” “Did you wait ‘til everyone sat down before you started eating? “Did you say “Please,” and “Thank You?” and “What did they have for lunch?” I became used to her routine. One day, as a teenager, my friend Maynard invited me to his home for lunch. After returning to my home, and before my mother started asking questions, I said to her; “The beans were good but the bread was dry. I told Maynard’s mother that the soldiers at Valley Forge would have really loved that bread because it was fresh then!” My mother started to have a fit, then learned I was only joking.
Sometimes the conditions that surround the luncheon or dinner make the occasion more memorable. On day my uncle and cousin invited me to lunch aboard their boat while they were dragging scallops in Cobscook Bay. The fried potatoes were delicious and the scallops, right out of the cast iron skillet, taught me the true meaning of “fresh fish.”
After completing the Boston Marathon on a cold rainy day in 1970, the racing committee invited all runners to lunch at the Prudential Center. A bowl of beef stew and a cup of tea couldn't have tasted better.
During World War II, a few months after my experience with Grandmother Thompson’s blueberry pie, my brother and I arrived at our Grandmother Spinney’s home at Eastport. Her daughter, our Aunt Evelyn, was also living there at the time. Her husband was in the service and stationed in Europe. We were invited to lunch and Aunt Evelyn was the cook. I have never forgotten how good the homemade bread and bowl of cream style corn tasted that day. It was like a fancy banquet! (For me, bread and cream style corn can make a good lunch any day.)

After the War, Aunt Evelyn became a world traveler. Several years passed before Aunt Evelyn and I had a chance to reminisce about her nice luncheon back in the 1940’s. She remembered the event and said it was very easy to choose what to serve us for lunch that day. The can of corn and bread was about all she had in the house!

About fifty years after the War, Aunt Evelyn made several summer visits to my home in Perry and she would stay a few days. During her visit she always took me and Elsie out to dine at a nice restaurant. One day Elsie had to take her mother to a doctor's appointment and Aunt Evelyn and I were home alone at lunchtime; There were a lot of groceries in my home--- but I was the cook. The lunch menu was simple: Store bread, butter, and cream style corn. Before the meal we took time to thank God for the food and for helping us in so many ways through the years. During lunch we had a nice chat about living back in “those good old days.” As the luncheon ended, Aunt Evelyn said she really enjoyed my cooking!

Even here in Florida, friends are still making good memories by inviting me to lunch!

Dale Lincoln of
Perry, Maine
for Skillin's Greenhouses
in Zephyrhills FL
Febuary 22, 2009

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Old Habits 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.

Old dogs can be taught new tricks. They can even win the most sought after prize as was evidenced by the Best in Show winner at the recently held Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

‘Stump’, a Sussex Spaniel, at the age of 10 years plus 6 weeks, is the oldest dog to ever have been bestowed the grandest of titles in “dogdom”. This feat in itself is remarkable added to the fact that Stump recently came out of retirement to become eligible for the “WKC”. The floppy eared, golden-red canine was forced to retire from the show ring when a mysterious illness had him facing death. A miraculous recovery allowed Stump to spend his days in a pampered pouch’s paradise.

With less than a week to show time, this often beribboned dog would be entered into the most prestigious dog show of them all. What prompted this rebirth? Since the show I have read countless quotes by Stump’s owner-handler. The word ‘insane’ and ‘crazy’ along with ‘miracle’ are peppered throughout the interviews. One of my favorite references is the simple ‘Why not?’

Then why do most humans hesitate at taking chances? Why do we become so set in our ways that life progresses as if on auto-pilot? For 17 years the Munjoy Hill neighborhood of Portland was my home. It would not be an exaggeration to say that at least 5 times a week I find myself driving the old familiar route to ‘the hill’.

Another old habit that transpired this past weekend was a visit to Skillin’s. For more years than I can remember, the middle weekend in February has been Open House weekend at Skillin’s in Falmouth. I knew quite well the event was rescheduled to March. I was drawn. A habit, a customary adventure. I needed spring. I was not disappointed.

Forsythia, Lilac, tulips and daffodils blinded me with color. I was intoxicated by the muskiness of mulch.

I milled with the crowds, made a purchase or 2 and smiled at the old familiar message in the bright new sign informing the masses it is time to purchase Spring Bonds. (Just click http://www.skillins.com/springbond.html to purchase those Spring Bonds!)

Some familiarity is comfortable such as my visit to Skillin’s this past weekend. Other routines are just old habits that would best be served forgotten. Alternatively there are those at least put to rest for a while.

As gardeners we have more opportunities to begin anew than perhaps the average impassioned person. With a new season are new plants, new products, new ways in which to renew our landscape. This year Skillin’s changed the date of their Open House. This means I still have it to look forward to.

More than any other in recent memory I am energized by the reemergence of the gardening season. I am filled with new and exciting ideas. Creativity in not only the design but the economics. The more I research, the more I find my visions and wishes bring me around to tried and true ways. Organics. Natives. Natural. The co-mingling of the new and old. A blending.

An old dog found his way back to the show ring, being his first time in the canine ring of rings. A chance was taken. On a dream and a dare the deed was done. Stump is retiring for good this time.

Some of my current habits will be shelved. I will retain a few. Others will be fetched from a long ago storage. Would that make these old habits?

How are you planning for the planting season? Perhaps you too can come out of retirement, try the new, keep the old or revive the cherished.

Whatever the upcoming gardening season holds, it is never too soon to start. Never too late as well, as Stump so sportingly proved this year.

KCB for Skillin's Greenhouses
February 18, 2009

Monday, February 16, 2009

Garden Talks Week of February 16, 2009

Happy Presidents Day everyone!

Good friend Hammon Buck of Plants Unlimited in Rockport ME sent out some very timely gardening tips recently and I am going to shamelessly share them with you. Plants Unlimited is a great operation and can be found on Route 1 in Rockport as well as at http://www.plants-unlimited.com/.

*Plan your Garden with Photographs

"Did you take any photographs of your garden last year? Why not gather them up, sort them by the season and maybe even put them in an album. Your garden photos will cheer you up on a winter day! Of course, gardening magazines also inspire, but since you're here on the internet, why not look at all the flowering plants available for 2009? Click here for our inspirational pictures and descriptions of our flowering shrubs."

(the link shown is from http://www.plants-unlimited.com/).

*Start New Houseplants

"February is a great month to start new houseplants! Water the plants the night before. Cut young shoots 3 to 4 inches long, dip their ends in a rooting hormone powder and then stick the cuttings in soil. Use a soilless mix in a pot or flat. Make sure it is sterile (most out of the bag soils will be) and moisten the soil before you stick the cuttings. Cover the cutting with a piece of clear plastic and keep them in a warm, sunny location. "

A good soilless mix to use for this project is Pro Mix--sold right here at Skillin's!

*Seeds to start in February

"If you want to grow your own celery, leek, or onion transplants, February is the time to start them because these slow growers need several months before they are ready to set out. This also is the time to start small-seeded flowers such as begonias and petunias. Plan for the next step when you will individual pots with moistened sterile soil and then gently transplant the seedlings into the pots. Set these in a bright warm spot or consider providing about 14 hours of light with artificial gro-lights."

We just got in great looking tuberous begonia bulbs and now is a great time to start these bulbs. I just had a great conversation with a veteran gardener from the Brunswick area on Saturday and he grows tuberous begonias every year. He plants them in big tubs and plunges the tubs into the ground. As he put it, the color his begonias produce is a "traffic stopper"! I highly recommend planting tuberous begonias this year; they will give you great color all summer and fall until the heaviest of frosts.

*Check your Indoor Bulbs

"If you potted bulbs for forcing last fall, check their progress. Soil should be barely moist. If tips have sprouted and have a few inches ofgrowth, bring the pot into a cool, bright room (50 to 60 degrees F). Gradually expose the plant to increasing warmth and indirect sunlight. Increase waterings. Feed once a week with half-strength houseplant fertilizer. To help the stems grow straight, turn the pot every day. When buds and foliage are fully developed, bring into full sunlight, and enjoy!"

If you have not forced any indoor bulbs, DO NOT despair! We at Skillin's have some wonderful indoor flowering hyacinth (my personal favorite but don't tell the crocus and tete a tetes!), crocus, tete a tetes, large daffodils and even some tulips!

*Forcing Branches for Indoor Flower

"If you didn't force any bulbs, you can still brighten up your home by forcing branches of spring-flowering trees such as forsythia, dogwood, pussywillows and crabapple. It's simple. Just cut the branches, place them in a bucket of warm water, and recut the stems to enhance water absorption. Then sit back and let nature take over. In a few days the branches should produce flowers."

We write about this frequently but it is worth repeating this time of year. Right now at Skillin's we have some cut forysthia that is just starting to "pop" yellow if you want to try some.

*Salt tolerance of plants

"With heavy snows comes heavy salting of roads, resulting in subsequent damage to roadside plants. Certain preventative measures, and selection of salt-tolerant plants, will help lessen the damage.

The symptoms of excessive salt resemble those caused by drought or root injury. They include stunted, yellow foliage; premature autumn leaf coloration; death of leaf margins (scorch); and twig dieback.

When conifers are injured by salt spray,the affected foliage turns yellow or brown in early spring. If spray is the primary cause of the salt deposit, discolored needles are soon masked by the new year's growth.

However, if salt is excessive in the soil, the new needles may die as chloride ions accumulate in them. This could be lethal to the entire plant if it occurs for several consecutive years.

One characteristic of salt injury that aids in diagnosis is that it is often confined to branches facing the road. Trees closer to the road suffer more damage than those set farther back.

Screens of fencing or burlap may be erected to ward off salt spray from roads. Salt and snow should not be piled around plants or in places where the resulting salt water will drain into plants when the snow melts. If weather permits, it's a good idea to flush the area around roots exposed to salt with fresh water as soon as the snowmelts.

Where new trees and shrubs are to be planted and where exposure to salt is likely, select species or cultivars resistant to salt injury. Examples of salt-tolerant evergreens include tamarack (larch) and Austrian pine. Salt-tolerant deciduous trees include yellow birch, Russian olive, honey locust, white poplar, white oak, red oak, and weepingwillow. Salt-tolerant shrubs include rugosa rose, tamarisk, tatarian honeysuckle and pfitzer juniper."

Hammon Buck borrowed the above from Dr. Leonard Perry of the University of Vermont ( a lot of salt is spread on those Vermont roads I bet!). If you know your soil received lots of salt in the winter, we recommend applying liberal doses of natural gypsum (sold right here at Skillin's) in the early Spring. Gypsum can pretty quickly rescue salt infested soil and minimize visible damage to your lawn and trees. Then follow up immediately with a good NATURAL fertilizer like Plant Booster Plus by Organica OR Plant Tone by Espoma. These fertilizers are heavy in natural bacterias that will help soon to restore "good natural biology" to your affected soil.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Turn the Corner Weekend!

Spring is in full force at Skillin's! Tim and the rest of our Falmouth staff has put together this nice landscape display in honor of our Turn the Corner Weekend here at Skillin's in Falmouth!

This weekend--the 14th, 15th and 16th of February--has traditionally been the weekend we celebrate our Annual Falmouth Open House. Many of us and you the customer refer to this weekend as when we Turn the Corner of Winter toward Spring. This year we will be combining all Spring Open Houses into one big Spring celebration starting in FALMOUTH the weekend of March 21 and 22 AND concluding in Brunswick and Cumberland the weekend of March 28 and 29. But for old times sake join us this weekend of the 14th, 15th, and 16th in Falmouth for door prizes, refreshments, flowers & flowers everywhere and lots of great home and garden items on sale!

Here are some of the sale items we have going on in Falmouth for the weekend:

*All Seed Starting Supplies are 20% off. Now is the time to get the jump on spring perennials and soon many vegetables.

*Tuberous begonias are 20% off. Tuberous begonias make an awesome summer and fall flower. Start them now in peat pots and by spring you will have great sized plants ready to go into the ground or any outdoor container!

*Coast of Maine Bar Harbor Blend potting soil is simply the best soil available for houseplants and flowering plants grown outdoors in containers. It is an all natural soil and locally produced. We have four sizes available and they are all 20% off!

*Tools--from snow shovels to brand new garden tools and pruners are 20% off.

*We have a great selection of bird foods and feeders--all at 20% off!
*And, of course, this Saturday is Valentine's Day and we have plenty to offer you and someone special to enjoy for that day and beyond! We are Maine's Favorite Florist, so we have the BEST in fresh flowers. For a gardener, we have many choices as well!

Come see us this weekend!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Most Valentine Cards Have A Short Shelf Life!

Kind friend Dale Lincoln checks in with a neat Valentine's Day story. This story first appeared on the Garden Log in February 2008 and as always from Dale this tale contains a great point at the end:

One cold day in February a package arrived with the mail at my home in Perry. The most exciting item in the catalog order from Sears and Roebuck was an envelope that contained fifty little cards. The pictures on them were bright and colorful and each card had a message: “Be My Valentine.” I was filled with excitement because there was going to be a party at school. Earlier that week the teacher came to school with a bright red, heart-shaped box, with a slot in the top. It was the most beautiful item in the school.
My mother said that all the kids at school, and my teacher, would receive one of those Valentines. The next day I returned from school with the names of all the kids in grades 1 through 4. My mother helped me write their names on the back of the cards. The next day my schoolmates watched me drop those Valentines in the slot at the top of that big red box.
The day of the party was a wonderful day. Lessons ended about an hour before the school buses arrived. The teacher and some of the kid’s mothers served us cake and cookies. We drank punch from little cups, sang songs, and played games. Then the teacher removed the cover from the box and distributed the Valentines. About twenty cards were with me when I arrived home. I looked at the cards several times that evening, and went to sleep thinking about them, ---but Valentine cards are not forever. None of those cards are with me today.
If you think the fun at the first party of my lifetime is over emphasized, you may need to be familiarized with my environment more than six decades ago. The Valentine party happened several years before electricity, running water, oil furnaces, telephones, radios, or automobiles, arrived at my home. With the exception of two electric light bulbs in the classrooms, those items didn’t exist at the school where I “did time” for eight years.

School parties on Valentine’s Day in following years did not generate the excitement of that first one I attended in 1943, but all of them were fun. The cards that warmed the heart in February often started the wood stove in March. Near Valentine’s Day of each year my mother often told her children: “My brother was the only kid at the Eastport school that didn’t receive a Valentine at the school party.” Years later I heard Uncle Millage tell the same story. Memories of not receiving a Valentine may last longer than a card!
One Valentine’s Day my daughter Carol, in Grade 6, returned from school and displayed her collected treasures. One heart-warming card had “Be my Valentine.” on the front of it. The hand-written words on the back were: “YOUR ENEMY, Lisa!” That Valentine card was different and stayed around our home for several years.

The love bug bit me in 1962. Soon after our plans to wed were announced I returned to my job on the oil tanker. Valentine’s Day 1963, my ship was many miles out to sea. At that time I was engaged to Elsie but I didn’t get around to sending her a Valentine card. However I talked to the Radio Officer aboard the S. S. GULFSEAL and he “wired” flowers to my “special nurse” in St. Stephen, New Brunswick. Returning home, after working eight hours at the hospital, Elsie was surprised and happy to find a large bouquet of red carnations in her room. She thought of me a few hours later, in the middle of the night, when she had to take the flowers from her room to prevent asphyxiation! The next morning she moved them to the kitchen table at the place where she was living at that time. In reality, those Valentine flowers had a short shelf life.

Our three children traveled with us to Fayetteville, North Carolina, in 1983. We all enjoyed Valentine’s Day that year but my wife didn’t receive a Valentine. Two days after Valentine’s Day I purchased a beautiful box of chocolates that were discounted 75 per cent. The kids and I ate the candy but my wife loved the beautifully decorated, heart-shaped box. For the next 20 years that same box decorated the door of our home in Perry, Maine during the month of February. It is still with our “treasures” today.
All of the pretty Valentine Cards I gave my wife during the past forty years have been deposited in the landfill. One year I almost forgot Valentines Day. Memory of burning the midnight oil on February 13, 1981 reaches me each year when a bright red poster re-appears. It contains pictures of our family and pictures of memorable events over a period of eighteen years. Hand written, two-liner poems, under each photo tells what we were doing on Valentine’s Day 1963 to 1981. It wasn’t a Valentine but it continues to have a shelf life.

Valentine’s Day can be fun. Giving a Valentine Card to that person who is very special to you is a nice thing to do, but don’t wait until Valentine’s Day to tell that person you love them. Do that every day.

Dale Lincoln
for Skillin's Greenhouses
Zephyrhills FL
February 7, 2008 (reprinted for 2009)

Valentine's Day!

Hello again,

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching! You and your loved one(s) need to know why we are consistently voted Maine’s Favorite Florist by the wise readers of People, Places and Plants magazine! Let our roses and lovely flower choices show you why.

You can come in and place that special order OR give us a call OR check out our wonderful choices at http://www.skillins.com/! Your choice—but with Skillin’s you can’t make the wrong choices.

P. Allen Smith reminds us that Valentine’s Day is a special holiday for gardeners because fresh flowers are on the top of the gift-giving list. It is nice to be surrounded by blooms just when winter is beginning to grow weary. If you are the recipient of long stemmed roses or another type of cut flower, there are a couple of things that you can do to extend the enjoyment of this romantic gift. The flower preservative packets supplied by Skillin's Greenhouse can be added to the water to keep the flowers looking their best.

Before you slip the flowers into the solution, re cut the stems under water at a slight angle; this is particularly helpful for roses. Also strip away any leaves that fall below the water line. Follow these steps for any flowers you may receive as Valentine’s gifts as well as those you prepare to give as presents. And remember to keep the flowers out of direct sunlight and away from sources of heat.With these techniques you can expect your cut flowers to last an extra four to five days!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
February 10, 2008 (reprinted for 2/11/2009)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Politics and Planting 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.

Doom & Gloom? That is all we seem to hear over the airwaves lately. The election is over, change is all around but we are told by talking heads and other pundits that it is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. As a self-proclaimed talk-show junkie I vow to go (almost) cold-turkey. I find myself scanning stations looking for easy listening music without lyrics when motoring or staying glued to HGTV when at home. You see, I refuse to listen. I refuse to believe.

Yes, I have been called a dreamer. Without dreams man may never have walked on the moon. No, I’m not burying my head in the sand. Many defeats are the result of self-fulfilled prophecies.

In looking to the future it is abundantly clear that I am in a service industry that some feel is a luxury. Perhaps for a few but not for all. I do hope my clients will continue to see value in my services. I am blessed to love what I do so much that if I was to win the ginormous mega billion bucks I would still continue to maintain my client’s gardens. Having said that, it is my livelihood and I very much have to keep it alive which means making money and pleasing people. This is my quest for self. Enough about me!

My quest for you is to offer a way to look to all the positive possibilities that lie within your reach.

I can not change the world. However WE can change our little corner. How? Embrace our selves, families and our homes, whether it is a sprawling estate, cute bungalow, modest condo or a cozy attic apartment.

One way to embrace yourself is to take care of yourself. Pampering body, mind and soul is well, good for the body, mind and soul.

Not possible to engage a 5 star resort for all the luxuries we wish bestowed upon us? There are ways we can treat ourselves; soak in a scented bath, sip chamomile tea, grill a steak (outside!) , imbibe in merlot or whatever simple pleasures you enjoy. Go sledding with children, grand or otherwise, take in a budget matinee. Read a romance novel that is otherwise reserved for beachside reading. Listen to an audio book while performing mindless tasks. Folding Laundry, snow blowing, anyone? Polish or whatever is that you do with golf-clubs in preparation for that first round of the season. Sharpen your gardening tools (much more on this subject in future postings). Sift through seed catalogs and devour gardening magazines. Ah, thus is the segue for embracing the home.

This piece may appear best suited for a time closer to the gardening season nevertheless, summers in Maine may seem to take forever to arrive but once it does it is here! We go directly from winter to summer, though some do refer to the brief interlude between as ‘mud season’.

Start now to dream, plan and eventually create.

This may be the year you decide to forego a winter get-a-way or table the summer vacation usually spent any place but Maine. Don’t despair.

Vacations last only a week or two but summer technically is 13 weeks. Not to mention the beautiful weather that often occurs before the official start of summer. Moreover, is there any place more breath taking than Autumn in Maine? There is a reason why we call this state Vacation Land. So what if you must work outside the home for most of those weeks? All the more reason to pay homage to nights and weekends.

Transform your out-of-doors to a private oasis. Create different ‘rooms’, say one for dining, another for quiet reflection, perhaps a corner for entertaining or just toasting marshmallows. Even the smallest yard, patio or deck can be a welcome retreat.

Thinking of selling your house? Curb appeal has become a buzz word in the industry and so vital in our current market. Within my circle of friends, clients and acquaintances are those who are looking to sell ‘someday’. Most do not want to wait until the last minute to have their home show house ready. A mature well maintained landscape is more welcoming than one that hasn’t had a chance to come into its glory. In any situation, punches of color can always be added by way of annuals and/or adding containers overflowing with blooms.

A project to groom your gardens and landscape does not have to be complicated or expensive. It just may be possible to do all, most or even just a little yourself.
Start small.

Where do you begin? Take classes (another shameless plug?), or simply ask your local family nursery or garden center. They do maintain a smaller, yet just as knowledgeable and helpful, staff year round. Other options for the DYI person who may want a little more guidance: pay for a consultation to get advice how to make the most of what you already have enhanced with a few finishing touches, or commission a garden design complete with plant list that you can easily install alone or with a little help from your friends.

So, out with the Doom and Gloom think Groom and Bloom! The whole country will be a little healthier if we begin at home!

KCB for Skillin's Greenhouses
February 10, 2009

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Gray Skies 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.

Is it really February? One of my favorite months for 2 reasons; first, it is the shortest month. Once February is over it astoundingly will be March and we know what takes place in March. Secondly, Spring Bonds at Skillin’s are now available. Last year I wrote of a Valentine’s Gift that was just such a Spring Bond. Perhaps it was the bond that set me on the course of one of my true passions?! Inspirational gifts for sure.

It is hard to believe that I have been writing for the Skillin’s Garden Log for over a year. In reference to the theme of my last writing, this is the longest relationship that I have had in recent memory. Well, other than clients and other assorted special people in my life. Please allow me to continue.

I consider myself very lucky to be a part of Skillin’s informative e-newsletter. Thank you all, especially the Skillin’s family and those who have introduced yourself to me along the way.

I must admit, I have found myself a bit antsy lately with much more than too much time on my hands. It is the first time in 6 years I am not employed at the call center of one of the largest outdoor and clothing catalogs. Nor do I have a dog to walk thus I find myself not wanting to do much of anything. Not good for body or soul.

How many of you find yourself in similar situations? Oh, you may have a job to go to, a family to tend to and a pet or 2 to feed and exercise, yet still feel, well, that there is something missing. There just might be.

If you are reading this you have some kind of affinity to gardening. Even those who limit themselves to house plants sense the stir of the need for something more. Not being a houseplant person, those that in my acquaintance are still somewhat daunted by the winter months. After all, keeping the house warm either robs the air or produces too much humidity. Gray days such as the one that is this day, donot exactly produce the needed sunlight. Moreover, what about those who enjoy giving their house plants a taste of fresh air? They must wait until well past frost.

For us out of door gardeners what is there to do? Lots!

The seed catalogs have either landed in our mail box or are on their way. It has been revealed before that I am not a sower of seeds, yet I anticipate these catalogs with as much vigor as the next wine tasting at my neighborhood market. I almost said the Sears ‘wish book’ but I believe I used that analogy last year. By the end of the season these bastions of bountiful by-laws of horticultural tips are priceless. I do admit, once you sign-up for one you will receive dozens more. If you prefer to have less clutter and go green (Note: most of the catalogs today are produced on recycled or post consumer paper) many of these same seed catalogs may be viewed on the company’s web site.

Other publications have me chomping at the bit, Nursery Catalogs. The Skillin’s Nursery and Perennial Catalogs are among my reference tools when out in the field. Make sure you pick these up as soon as they are hot of the press.

Ok, reading catalogs is satisfying; they showcase new as well as tried and true treasures. Nevertheless, is that all there is to filling the gaps until we can dig in the dirt?

No. There is much to bide the time, How about pouring some tea, snuggle in front of the fireplace and review your past gardening journals. What, you do not keep a journal? No time like the present to begin. I’ve written and spoke of the benefits and pleasures of the garden journal prior to this; it is a thread that I weave through many of my writings and teachings. Well worth the minimal effort.

Want a break from reading and/or writing? Take a walk, if the snow is too deep to walk around your property then walk within. Stop at each window and take in the views. I am such a proponent of landscaping for the 4-seasons. After all, where do we spend most of our time during these winter months? Who should your landscape benefit? Curb appeal is great nevertheless shouldn’t it be you who reap the most? If your property does not include Red-twig Dogwood, Virbunum, Winter Berry, Ornamental grasses, Hawthorne or Crab Apple trees, to name just a few, than make a plan to add one, two or more to your landscape next season. Not only will you enjoy the movement, color and texture, not to mention height, throughout the year, it is during our stark winters that they are the most striking-a treasure trove of goodness for our feathery wild life friends.

What else to do? Attend classes and workshops. Could I possibly be doing some self-promotion? Yes and no. It is no secret I facilitate some classes at Skillin’s in addition to a couple of Adult and Community Ed classes for surrounding towns. Yet, I look forward to being a participant as well. No matter how many Skillin’s classes I had (and continue to) attend over the years, with each and every one I learned something new while having the reaffirmation of tips which bear repeating. Classes such as those that are offered for FREE would cost upward of $50 or more thru other venues.

It is never too late to plan for the future. Tomorrow is another day. I will not be despondent over the results of the Big Game as my team did not make it this year. The temperatures are rumored to be a little warmer. Moreover, I will don something a little more geared towards the real world than comfy sweats and well- worn fleece. I will give myself the treat of a long walk. Spring is coming and I must get in shape. Whether the sky be blue or gray, I will embrace.

KCB for Skillin's Greenhouses
February 3, 2009

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Karen Azalea

Sheliah of Skillin's has sent some awesome pictures of a Karen Azalea that she has cultivated on her farm in Raymond.

The Karen Azalea is a great fit for almost gardening situation here in Maine.

Sheliah's gardens get COLD in the winter and HOT in the summer so if a plant can thrive there it can thrive almost anywhere in Maine.

See below for what Sheliah has to say!

"The Karen Azalea is the one semi evergreen azalea that is hardy enough to grow and bloom in zone four. There are other semi evergreen azalea's that will grow in zone four but often do not bloom because the flower buds die off over the cold winter months. Karen grows about three feet tall and wide. This azalea is beautiful while blooming and its foliage is beautiful all summer and especially during the fall. Fall foliage is green and bronze. She is an early bloomer, blooming about the time the PJM Rhododendrons are finishing up. This picture shows her true color which is somewhere between pink and purple. I do try to stick to the planting rule of one, three, five, seven or eleven. As you can see from the picture below the Karen Azalea looks lovely even if you plant just one. I have had this Karen for about ten years. If you live in zone four or five you can't go wrong with the Karen Azalea."

Don't these late Spring pictures give you the gardening URGE!

Thanks Sheliah!

Sheliah for Skillin's
reporting from high atop Raymond ME
February 2, 2009

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Lesson Unforgettable by Dale Lincoln

Kind friend Dale Lincoln returns with another great tale and lesson about life...

Less than two weeks after being graduated from Shead Memorial High School at Eastport, Maine in 1954, a neighbor lady invited me to a social event at the Perry Grange. It sounded like fun so I accepted her invitation. I must mention that I prepared for that event the same way I had prepared each day while attending high school: Doing only the essential homework, but ready to listen when the teachers covered important, or interesting items. The rest of the time I daydreamed about playing baseball, hunting, fishing, and other usual things teenagers daydream about. The teachers seldom asked me questions.

A few people younger than myself also waited in the “ Grange party room” as the Grangers met in a room on the second floor. With the meeting over, they came downstairs. Soon food was being readied to be served.

The place started to be quiet when an adult said; “Dale.”

I stood up.

The adult continued: “You have just graduated from High School. Please tell us what you liked the most about High School.”

In a state of shock I didn't say: “Teacher's stories; 3:30 pm; weekends; and vacations!

My ears started warming! Unlike high school students today, being interviewed after winning the basketball game, I hadn't trained to roll my eyes and make the first statement: “It was awesome !”

I was speechless. Perspiration ran like a river down my back!.

Adults tried to help by asking questions that required “Yes” and “No” answers, but nobody asked;

“Wanna Get away?”

Soon the questioning stopped, but the embarrassment of those moments have never completely left me.

In retrospect, the incident at the Grange social was a wonderful lesson. Learning to “Be Prepared” can help us all along the path of life. Here in Florida, during my morning walk near sunrise, when someone says: “Good Morning,” I'm never stuck for an answer!

Dale C. Lincoln
Perry, Maine
In Zephyrhills FL
February 1, 2009