Friday, February 19, 2010

Out in the Country!

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. KCB can also be found at

Long ‘power drives’ in the country is a favorite pastime of mine. It’s a way to think, unwind and regroup. A mystery or romantic novel in the form of an audio book resonates from the speakers. Detours, walks, and a quick lunch round out the time. It is widely known I no longer have the company of a canine companion so usually I venture out alone. This past weekend I had the good fortune to be accompanied by a friend. My cohort is residing in Maine for now but looks forward to returning to England their once and future home. I am so envious.

Not sure if I ever have written much about my feelings for England. Perhaps I was/am afraid. As full-blooded Irish lass, whose ancestry lies in the north of Ireland, I harbor conflicting allegiances. Lots of history between the Brits and the Irish. My upbringing was so that we couldn’t even drink English Breakfast Tea. Cadbury Chocolate was banned; Schweppes ginger ale would not find shelf space in our refrigerator. My morphing into an Anglophile would surely mark me as a rebellious child if parents and grandparents were still with me. I continue to honor and value my heritage yet justify my interest with the realization that my mother’s passport clearly sited her as a subject of the United Kingdom. As a child, the heartbreak in this discovery was kindred to the truth about Santa Claus. Or, more recently, the activities of Tiger Woods.

Now back to my Sunday ride in the country with a British companion. Our idea or perhaps it is my take on ‘country’ is different from theirs. I admit our adventure did not include estates of sprawling lawns highlighted with field stone cottages with roofs of slate or thatch. No moors of heath and heather or rocky cliffs above the waves did we pass. The country viewed from our window were the back roads that twist and turn between Freeport and Boothbay. All too congested to be ‘country’. Houses too close to the road, backyards of deep water frontage, boat docks, or outcroppings of ledge. Not much snow along our route. The visible lawns mimicked the color of the sandy beaches. It was difficult to imagine blades of green.

The lack of anything in bloom was a disappointment to my car mate. Surely by now the cupped petals of crocus and hellebores should be open to the sun. Wasn’t Maine further south than England? Aren’t we on the coast? Then where are the first buds of the Daphne? Some may not know this but the Cold Hardiness Zones of England range from the low of 7b (5 – 10f) to 10a (30- 40f). Even their low is higher than anywhere in New England. This is one of the reasons I dream of retiring to the Southern West Coast (the other side of the Atlantic) which boasts hardiness zones from 9a to 10a. A longer growing season without the heat of the south as we know it, could a girl ask for anything more? Perhaps but that will have to wait until another story.

My English friend is not a gardener yet our conversation this day included more than a few references. After all, I was in the car. He spoke of his parent’s gardens and the struggle to grow tomatoes while potatoes being no problem. Temperate climes do not necessarily mean full sun and I sited this as the reason for nonexistent fruit. Wanting to prove my theory my friend asked if his condo balcony would be a good place to grow tomatoes. The prospect was inviting. Waiting until June to start the process was not.

While tomatoes may not flourish in the gardens of our British allies we can learn a lot about gardening from the Brits.

Our garden talk highlighted the differences in the typical garden in The States vs. England. Across the pond gardening is more than a past time, it is an avocation. Everyone does it. Postage stamp yards overflow with herbs, roses, delphinium and peas. Containers and raised beds add additional space. Homemade green houses and potting benches are more common than propane grills and picnic tables. Lawns are reserved for larger estates. Tending beds is easier, better for the environment and more rewarding than a patch of sod.

The country manors of the gentile set aren’t all form and formality. Kitchen gardens are tended for generations. Herbs are meant to be picked fresh not purchased. Rosemary will over winter in all but the coldest of seasons. February will bring the first planting of peas and parsnips. There is truly no down time other than January. Not fair.

My friend finds it curious why we compartmentalize our gardens with veggies in one area, ornamentals another and a section for the herbs. With a true English Garden ornamentals are tucked among the vegetables, herbs even fruit trees and shrubs. Most city homes make the most of the space available. Beyond the front yard gate await a tiny plot filled with color and interest no patch of land or vertical possibility is left untended. Among the creative chaos is a serene sanctuary.

I explained that this trend is finally taking hold in ‘the states’ as they call our USA. In the gardens I tend I have included herbs such as lavender for texture and fragrance and chives as an ornamental and to keep deer at bay. Allium has become a staple. Tomatoes make good companions of marigolds. High or low bush blueberries are included for autumn interest. The berries, if not consumed by the birds are a bonus. Imagine a vine weaving along a path with yellow trumpet flowers and later sporting a pumpkin. (Small varieties work best). Add vertical interest with Peas, or pole beans. I once visited a display garden that featured cherry tomatoes growing along a trellis. The pops of red were stunning and were easily picked at the ready.

As far as lawns go, reduce the size. This was referenced in an earlier writing. My next will deal more on this subject.

With the temperature at 40 and the sky of blue I think I’ll venture out. This time for a power walk. The ride will have to wait until another time.

KCB for
Skillin's Greenhouses
February 19, 2010

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