Saturday, May 31, 2008


Ever hear of a new sensation that's old? I have, and I'll explain after a few.

Memorial Day weekend is the start of the growing season here in Maine. One of the things I like about this weekend is the lilac festival held every year at McLaughlin Gardens, it starts the Saturday before Memorial day and runs until Tuesday. I believe its the only lilac festival in the state of Maine.

Bernard McLaughlin was truly an amazing gentleman. His homestead [was] is in the heart of South Paris at one of the busiest intersections in town. It is a century old farmhouse complete with a red barn and has two acres of garden land. Behind the barn is one of Maine's premiere wildflower and fern gardens.

Bernard McLaughlin started his gardens in 1936 with no formal horticultural training and single handedly tended his beds of mature hostas, phlox, daylillies, astilbes, iris, sedum, cimicifuga, sempervirums and over 2oo varieties of lilacs beneath a canopy of deciduous and coniferous trees. At one point, the farm, with its splendid garden, was opened to the public. Bernard did this at a cost of no fee, just a small donation box nailed to a post at the opening pathway.

A 20 year writer for DownEast magazine, Jane Lamb, recently published a book titled Master Gardeners of Maine. She dedicates it to many gardeners, Bernard McLaughlin being one. She writes: "Bernard McLaughlin who died in 1995 at the age of 98" thought "the secret of a long healthy life.......[was] is found in the garden." Interestingly she also dedicates her book to Currier McEwen who started gardening almost by accident in 1956 and spent the next 45 years developing spectacular iris hybrids. My mom has spoke of him as he was a long time resident of her area. Curiously enough, Mr. McEwen died at the age of 102.

The McLaughin Foundation has assumed the functions of Bernard's estate since 1996, its main mission is to keep the 20th century garden with all of its integrity, preserve the 19th century home and barn, and to create an educational center where horticulturists, hobbyists, and enthusiastic gardeners can experience all of the senses of life. The foundation, a nonprofit organization, has established a tea room where coffee and pastries are served. A gift shop that retails books, cards, prints and clothing. They have onsite volunteers that manage and run plant sales, rental of the facility for wedding and birthdays, and conduct many instruction workshops during the summer months. The educational center is a library that contains over 1000 books relating to gardening and botany, many of them being from Mr. McLaughlin's collection and many of them being donated. The Stephen and Tabitha King foundation has pledged funds to the library. The foundations infrastructure is a board of directors and a volunteer advisory committee who have worked very hard to open the garden gates to the public, and still .....admission is free.

All the pictures of the lilacs are photos I took on a trip to town on Memorial day. The garden was full and had no parking most of the pictures are in the back of the garden. I was very surprised to see the two people sitting so close to the lilacs and wondered if they were volunteers weeding the area. One of the nice ladies asked if I wanted her to move and that's when I saw they were having a picnic!! Apparently they had the same idea as us. The two pictures before the last one (the one with the lady) are photos from the intersection/parking area and it is the front of the garden. You can just see the farmhouse off to the left. The last picture is of a rose lilac....interesting.

Oh yes, a new sensation that's old? It was developed and sold as a new variety about 15 years ago, named Sensation. It gets to be about six feet tall, and looks ordinary until it opens its flower.......

It's planted in my yard, started about 12 years ago.......and is blooming for the first time.

New.....but old to me.......

Purple AND white rimmed, happily sending suckers this year.

I think this is the prettiest picture of all. Can't you smell the heavenly scent?

Having a long, healthy and sensational the garden.....

Friday, May 30, 2008

Stone in the Garden

The bloggers over at Gardening Gone Wild sponsor a monthly design workshop. I have not participated before, but since this is a type of post which is useful and which I would do anyhow, I thought I would get on board with this month's workshop.

This month's subject is "Stone in the Garden". I have already posted on making my home a part of the garden by adding this manufactured stone. It has been six months now and Mr. Fix-it and I couldn't be happier with the results. That's him hanging out in the driveway. The manufactured or faux stone has held up wonderfully and seems to insulate the house better. It is not real stone but has more advantages. The most being the cost and weight of it. The cost is generally lower than that for real stone, and the faux stone weighs less than real stone. Both benefits. I can't see any disadvantages of using faux stone. It can be custom made to order and is readily available.

The above two pictures are the two long sides of the same garden. The picture on the left is the east side, and the picture on the right is the west side and closest to the house. I call this my 'Center Front Garden' and it is the main part of my front yard. The below picture is the north end of the same garden. You can't see it, but the 'Road Shrub Border' is to the left of the garden on the east side and can be found in Making the Road Disappear.

This is the second season for this garden. Since this post is not about the gardens though, I will stick to the 'stone'. This stone is broken concrete. I know, it sounds kind of tacky but it was free! And it really works. It has been described as more like blocks of granite, but regardless of its looks, it serves a functional purpose.

The below picture looking south from the north, shows the low end. When we moved the split rail fence we had a lot of broken concrete from the poles. For lack of a better place (meaning landfill) I stacked the rounded concrete blocks on this garden end. I like the stacked look, and especially like the lambs ear growing in and around the new blocks of concrete. Works for me.

Lest you get worried that I don't have any real stone in my garden, I need to post at least one picture of some 'real' stone. I gathered this limestone from a fellow Freecycler last summer. It is great stone and is pictured below. I believe it is cut limestone? Though I am not an expert on stone, it may be something else.

Last year's freeze and drought caused three large white azaleas in this garden to die. The azaleas were planted just above this stone wall, but the wall wasn't there at the time. I never could reconcile myself to the slope of the soil in this 'Driveway Garden', and felt a bit unsettled even before the azaleas died. Once they died and were removed, I took the opportunity to add this short stone wall (isn't the timing just perfect) to level the soil. I then added three seedling oak leaf hydrangeas, hostas, sedum and lamb's ear. There is also an epimedium, alyssum and liriope in this area of the garden. This garden does get sun in the afternoon since it faces west, but is located under a large oak tree; which is to the left of the viewer.

I can see this garden from my office and am looking for really good things from it. The stone wall adds so much to it already and once the drapers (alyssum and lambs ears) begin draping, it will be even nicer. I had to leave a lower part of the garden flat since we back our cars up there and would likely run over the stones if I had not. The 'Powis Castle' artemesia on the low part in the back doesn't mind being run over. The ornamental stones on the lower part serve to stabilize the ground for our tires.

I recently changed another part of the 'Driveway Garden'. Above are before and after pictures. I must say a hearty thanks to my daughter Lizzy, she is building a house in Kentucky and was privy to a bunch of stone the developer says to "Take all you want". I am loading Mr. Fix-it's truck and trailer to its max as much as I am able with all this free stone. The stone is a lovely yellowish color; which is characteristic of most stone in Kentucky. It has neat little fossils in it, as shown in the picture below. I think it is a limestone? Maybe someone else who is better with stone can enlighten me. I just don't know what kind of stone it is, but it is stone.

The garden has changed a slight bit. I removed a ton a Perennial sunflowers, Helianthus 'Maximilian' from this garden, added the stones and built up the soil a bit. I now feel like it is has a more finished look and I am slowly refining it. Gardens as we all know, are works in process. I gave some of the perennial sunflowers to Frances and I hope she enjoys them. The rest may go to the Master Gardener sale on June 21st. We'll see how they look as it gets closer to the time.

Stone in the garden is very useful because the bees can't drill into it, the termites don't eat it, and the little lizards and toads all seem to love it. Almost as much as I do!

in the garden....

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Don Shadow & a Busy Weekend!

I know the months of May and June are pretty busy months in the garden, but did not realize just how busy and how tired out I would be at the end of the day-each day! The Montgomery County Master gardeners sponsored a bus trip to Winchester Tennessee to visit Shadow Nurseries. Above is a picture of the 'Venus' cultivar of Cornus kousa x Cornus nuttali that Don Shadow sells (and I believe patented). The dogwood is supposed to be an improvement on the standard Cornus floridus; which is a dogwood I am not a fan of at all. I purchased one of these trees and hope it does well. The bloom gets larger as the tree matures so be patient with small trees if you own one of these dogwoods. Now to find a location and to plant it...

Here is the entire group on the wagon Mr. Shadow drove us around his farm on. It was a VERY hot day to be in the sun and all people aboard were sunburned by lunchtime. Shan and I jumped off to snap the picture of the Venus bloom and we also snapped this picture of the group. His garden will be on the Montgomery Master Gardener tour on June 21st. I can't wait to see his because judging by all he purchased on this day, it must be extraordinary. He and his wife Susan were just some of the very nice folks I met on this trip.

Mr. Shadow is world renowned for his unusual plants and his amazing memory. He shared many many anecdotes and useful tidbits with our master gardener group. I was honored to have met him and to be around him. He even shared some knowledge my father-in-law imparted to me a few years ago about a special bush. I couldn't believe it. I will post on that another time and talk about 'mountain' people. Mr. Shadow has a fondness for mountain people it seems. I have read he has quite the 'Tennessee' accent, but I personally think it is more 'mountain'-the Great Smoky area of Tennessee, North Carolina, West Virginia and Virginia. One of Mr. Shadow's passionate interests is his animals. He has quite the zoo with many cranes, deer, antelope, llamas, emus and tons of other animals. The cranes cracked me up! The birds stood about 3 feet tall and took off running at us while we were on the wagon. They went airborne and DID NOT STOP when they came close to the fence holding them in. THEY CRASHED INTO THE FENCE! No, they were not injured but I thought it was too funny and was quite happy the fence was there. Time to clip those wings!!!! They missed clearing the fence by mere feet.

Here is Mr. Shadow himself. He is looking at his animals and shielding his eyes from the merciless sun. We on the wagon were happy he at least had a roof over his head as he is a red guy from all the sun he gets. This is one amazing gardener. While we walked through the greenhouses and gardens, he picked weeds. Now who amongst you can relate??? All gardeners have this habit of picking weeds, but what commercial gardener would do this?? I was impressed.

The day after my ALL day visit to Don Shadows Nursery, my great blogging buddy Skeeter and her husband the Saint visited Mr. Fix-it and I. What a pleasure. I wished we had had more time to visit but she had a family engagement to attend and we may have kept them overly long. Sorry Skeeter's Mom and sorry you had to rush Skeeter! Those who know me know I very rarely smile in pictures. While both Skeeter and I were hot and sweaty since it was so hot this Memorial Day weekend, I love this picture because you can see both sets of teeth! I think Skeeter may smile broadly more than me, but this is one picture I do like because I am smiling big too. I will try more often to smile this way-okay to my family?

in the garden...hoping for a slowdown.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Unexpected Visitors

Garter snake, aka Thamnophis sirtalis. A snake commonly found in gardens and backyards in North America. As a child I used to capture these guys and handle them with no fear. We used to have a grass snake as a pet for awhile, but not a garter snake. This particular fella was napping under a piece of plywood in my vegetable garden. I was certainly shocked when I picked up the board and found him. I grabbed my camera and had the Jimster pick up the board while I snapped away and researched this type of snake. This snake has eaten fairly recently. If you look closely you'll see a bulge about 6 inches away from its head. The website I used said garter snakes eat all kinds of things, small mammals, insects, toads, earthworms, snails and slugs. I hope its meal was a vole but I am betting it is a toad. We have tons of them in the garden.

While working on my computer in my second story room, this lizard calmly crawled around my window on the screen. I found out it is a male broadheaded skink, aka Eumeces laticeps. For more info on it check out this
website. I have previously posted on skinks as well. They are VERY common in my garden. The website says these guys eat earthworms, grasshoppers, butterflies, cockroaches and small beetles. In my opinion they are good to have around! This skink can be differentiated from the blue tailed skink by being larger and having more labial scales. Their nests are found under rotting logs and in sawdust. Its appearance may be attributed to the recent move of a large pile of firewood in my garden. Unfortunately for this skink, it was not faster or smarter then my little pest control named Orkin. Orkin captured him and was playing with him when Mr. Fix-it intervened. We hope the skink moves on because Orkin is pretty good at her job. She was QUITE miffed when her toy was taken away.

Both of these unexpected visitors WILL bite, but they are not poisonous and will not harm people (other than what could be a painful bite if the critter is big enough). I was bit by a blue tailed skink but it more surprised me than hurt. It did not break the skin, but I think this skink may do more damage and I will not be handling it. As long as these visitors do not eat my plants and don't pose a threat to us, they are welcomed
in the garden....

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Visit to North Carolina

On a recent trip to visit my in-laws in North Carolina, I was of course in the garden, though not my own garden. Maybe you could consider it my garden. First of all, let me say my father-in-law is an awesome gardener. He has taught me a few things about gardening and loves to garden himself. His main focus is on vegetable gardening. We have enjoyed many a fresh vegetable from his garden during our visits.

My mother-in-law is the one who really likes ornamentals. She works many, many hours at a local textile factory and does not have time to garden. A few years ago she and Jimmy's cousin, Sara, made up an ornamental garden in a highly visible spot. No vegetables allowed there. She purchased several plants, edged the bed with landscape timbers and added some ornamentation. It is a nice garden. I volunteered to tend it for her as I could. So on each and every visit I would either bring plants from my garden, or purchase whatever was in season (and on sale of course) and plant it in her garden. I have been doing this for two years.

The garden is located below a very thirsty Tulip Poplar tree, aka Liriodendron tulipifera. I think this tree to be a beautiful tree, but a very thirsty tree and somewhat of big bully. It is quite difficult to garden under tulip poplars, but this is where her garden is located. While visiting this time the tree was in full bloom. Since Frances showed me the macro feature of my camera, I was experimenting and took a good shot of the bloom. Most tulip poplar blooms are too high for enjoyment, but not these blooms. The first picture is of the tulip poplar bloom.

The second picture shows a 'Powis Castle' I planted two years ago. I was amazed at its growth. This is an ideal spot for the Powis Castle and you can tell it is quite happy in its location. So happy that it has rooted in several spots. I have not had this happen in my garden in Tennessee because I cut my Powis Castle back each spring. I like the effect at my mother-in-law's house, but she is worried it will take over. I assured her we want it to grow large and big as we gardeners dream of growing big plants. The bigger the plants, the less dirt, and less weeds! Works for me and I have her convinced. Alongside the Powis Castle are my favorite yellow irises. I also planted some lambs ears and tulips. The tulips were the biggest surprise for her this year and she enjoyed them very much. As mother-in-laws go, she is a pretty good mother-in-law because she raised such an awesome son, my husband. I am happy she has been able to enjoy this little garden and a piece of my garden. Now this particular tree is maybe a big part of Mother Nature, or maybe a big part of Mr. Don Shadow. On a recent trip to the Shadow Nursery in Winchester, Tennessee, I saw this stunning tulip poplar tree. Since I started the post with a picture of the bloom from a tulip poplar, I thought I'd share this picture of a variegated tulip poplar Mr. Shadow is working on. It was a sport he has worked with to grow and stabilize and evaluate for landscape use. The 30 or so of us gardeners who enjoyed the tour thought this tree was MOST unique. Look for it at some point in the future. I will be doing a post on this very educational trip very soon.

Speaking of Mother Nature, the Jimster was overjoyed to find a baby rabbit. He found two, but the other was dead. Both were victims of a cat. This little fella had one small puncture wound, but seemed OK. Sara, the Jimster's cousin, took the baby home with her to nurse it back to health. I was very relieved when the Jimster let him go so easily. We do NOT need another bunny here at Tiger Gardens. As much as we all hate bunnies in our gardens, isn't this baby the sweetest little thing? Just as tiny as can be, but his eyes were open and it had plenty of fur. We figure he is about 10 days old, but even at that age we are not sure of his prognosis. I don't think it good, but we won't tell the Jimster-will we?

in the garden....

Monday, May 26, 2008

Vegetable Garden Update-May 08

It is time for the monthly vegetable garden update. The garden has exceeded my expectations. I have been picking broccoli for quite some time, the peas are in and have been picked, all radishes have been heartily consumed, lettuce is being used and we also have spring onions. Yum!

It is all coming together nicely. If you'll remember, I
reworked this whole vegetable garden last fall due to it having to move. I added brick paths and built raised beds. So far this method has worked great, but I am stopping short of calling the design a complete success until I see the summer vegetables come in. They tend to overtake all in the vegetable garden-with barely any room for the gardener! So we'll see then if it is still workable. Vegetables do have a tendency to grow into paths, but I want to be able to walk comfortably. Two years ago while checking on the vegetables I brushed up against some foliage and was stung by a saddleback caterpillar. If you have never been stung by one consider yourself lucky. The sting was EXTREMELY painful. Like pouring boiling water on my skin. The bad part was I walked back through the area to find out what it was that stung me, and got stung again! I found the culprit and killed it. Be careful of saddleback caterpillars and foliage in the paths. To be fair to the vegetables, the saddleback caterpillar was on gladioli foliage that stuck out too far. I am not sure if vegetables host these caterpillars but be careful.

Here are the tomato cages with small tomato plants planted within each of the four cages. I have decided to downsize the number of tomato plants I plant this year. I usually grow about 6 or 7 plants but I get a bit overwhelmed with freezing all the tomatoes in the summer. It is SO hot that I don't want many tomatoes around so as to not to have to put them all up. I can't seem to give them away fast enough either, as I have certainly tried that route!

Here is a picture of the broccoli growing in its bed. I have been able to harvest this broccoli in amazing amounts this year. I am trying to restrain myself from pulling it while it is still producing. I have a bad habit of doing this when the summer vegetables start growing in, but it is kind of silly since the veggies are giving me so much fresh food. This bed is double planted. There are three pepper plants and one eggplant planted in between these broccoli plants. Skeeter posted about her vegetable garden and has a great picture of an eggplant.
Here is a picture of some of the broccoli. Since this picture was taken and this broccoli harvested, the amount of broccoli flowers have doubled. The more you pick the broccoli the more it produces. No loopers have shown up this year. Yahoo!

The below pictures show two beds across the path from one another. The first picture shows the rhubarb, companion planted with basil. I seriously lack space to grow all the vegetables I want to grow, so I overplant and double plant every square inch I can.

The picture right next to the rhubarb shows my sweet little red cabbage plants. To see what they initially looked liked when planted, click here. They have grown like crazy. They are planted closely together. I believe in planting very closely together so that when mature, the leaves of the plants just touch on another. This method ensures the ground is covered and shaded, thus reducing and even eliminating weeds. The soil in the vegetable garden is amended well with plenty of homemade compost so it can support the needs of the vegetables. You can see the outline of my banana bed just past these two beds in the pictures. The banana bed is edged with round concrete forms that look like millstones. The circles are all partial circles and not complete. Does anyone know what these things were originally used for?

Lastly, a picture of the long bed looking north to the house. You can see the A-frame, an indispensable part of my vegetable garden. Under the A-frame are the 100 or so onions I planted back in February. Growing on the A-frame right now are peas. They are interplanted with gourd seeds. The gourds will overtake this A-frame, and one other frame soon to be built. The gourds overtaking the peas will work out perfectly because the peas will be finishing up about the same time the gourds come into their own. I hope the gourds will shade the onions and lettuce growing under the A-frame. The shading may help to keep these cool season crops a bit cooler, thus increasing my chances of growing and harvesting lettuce and onions all summer. Just off to the right of the A-frame are my bananas, aka Musa basjoo. The bananas are growing well. Another winter with no problems.
Vegetables are coming in fast and furious and I find spring is a big month for vegetable gardening. The busy time comes with planting the summer crops while managing your cool season crops. The month of June should see most cool season crops finishing up and the warm season crops taking over. Once this happens, maintenance is the word. July and August will see you simply picking the vegetables with some watering if we have another drought. Let's hope not! Happy vegetable gardening to you all.

in the garden...

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Hedge Clipping

They talk about Curb Appeal on shows about selling your house. They say, Curb Appeal is the first thing a buyer sees. Well, not so true with me as the first thing I spotted was the front porch!

The Curb appeal to me consisted of an old fashion outdated look. Lots of evergreen bushes all in a traditional round shape. Some people like that look but I thought different with this house. Here is the way the hedge looked when we moved into the house. I snapped this picture on Home inspection day so lots of trucks were in my view...

I had a vision for the hedge and that is what we will dwell on today. We will look at the two planters above another time...

I am not sure what type bushes they are but I found a tag that read, Korean Wintergreen. I think they are very similar to Boxwood's. I decided to allow the bushes to grow together forming one long hedge rather then individual bushes. I liked that look when I was visiting English Gardens while in England. Yes, that is one long hedge to clip! The hedge is separated at the front walkway. We have 19 bushes on the left and 16 on the right side for a grand total of 35 bushes! The hedge is so lush and green with new growth.
I wish I did not have to clip it as it turns all yucky brown for a week or so until the new growth appears. But as you can see, we have a brick retaining wall behind the hedge. I must keep the hedge clipped below the wall or it will over take the wall and I don't think that would look good. What do you all think?

Keeping this thing clipped is a pain in the back and arms. My dad gave us Electric Clippers and I do use them. But I prefer to use the old fashioned choppers as they do a cleaner job with less stress on the leaves, thus less browning. I don't really mind the spring clipping as it is not humid yet and I usually do it at my leisure. But the first clipping of this year was painful on me as I had been doing other back breaking projects beforehand.

We really do enjoy the look of the hedge but it is so much trouble keeping it clipped. I usually clip it about 4 or 5 times per year depending on how much rain we have. Spring and Fall are not that bad but in the middle of the summer, it darn near kills me! With the last few clippings, I have done one side one day then the other the next day to ease the pain a bit.

I think the hedge sort of frames in the house and keeps the retaining wall from being exposed. I try to keep the hedge one brick below the wall. I sometime wonder just how high it would get if I stop clipping it...?.. I also wonder about cutting it back to just about a foot high but I don't think I could deal with the bare look for two years before it took off again. But I would not have to clip it for a long time! Ah... The Saint and I have talked about taking it out and starting over with something else but we fear we may destroy the paved driveway and that would be an issue. So in the end, we only talk. The Hedge stays where it is and I moan and groan and keep on top of the Hedge Clipping....

Any Suggestions?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Fiddleheads: New England's Okra

Whenever I see footage of Barbara Stanwyck I am reminded of my grandmother. In her early days the similarity between Barbara and my grandmother is uncanny. Unfortunately, I don't have a young photograph of my grandmother, but I 've seen 35 millimeter film in which my grandmother is being tricked by her girl scouts. The pack placed a whoopie cushion on her chair, and there is my her capris and button up sweater, falling for the joke.

One of the things my grandmother loved to do was fiddlehead hunt. I myself have never done such thing but I know it is a New England delicacy and more than likely served in every gourmet restaurant during the month of May. See, there is a two week span of time when the fiddlehead harvest happens, no time is set as it depends on the amount of rain and adequate temperature for the fiddles to make their appearance. Then a flurry of North American foragers descend on all of our woods.

I understand there is only one fern that qualifies as a fiddlehead and that is the Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris), it is aptly named because the fronds resemble an ostrich tail. They are fairly easy to identify as young sprouts....having grooves in the stem similar to celery, smooth not furry, and surrounded by a brown papery material that shouldn't stick to the stem. This is referred to as chaff.

When one harvests ANYTHING from NATURE, the rule of thumb is to not take more than what can be replenished. In this case, every other frond is acceptable. Timing is critical as the fiddlehead should not have more than a two inch stem when cut. Fiddleheads are named such because of the uncurling fern resembling a scroll head top of a fiddle.

I have put together a idea of how to cook these greens. Best thing to do is to start by soaking them in salted water for a few hours, this will rid them of bugs and insects. The next step is to parboil them, changing water twice, this removes the bitterness the fiddleheads tend to have. Do not overcook, soggy fiddleheads are not what you are looking for, desirable flavor comes with the veggie being crunchy. The final cooking is to saute them in butter with garlic, cook in stirfry, or simply marinate in vinegar oil. Either way the fiddles are commonly served with a vegetable and taste like a cross between asparagus and broccoli, or to some, okra and peas. Fiddles are a good source of vitamin A and C.

This picture is of a recent walk that prompted me to think about my grandmother, if you look close, Tartarus's nose is pointing to some fiddles on a island. This picture is of our brook that borders our back property line, there are more ferns in a little spot lower in the water. Tatarus did make it to the island on this day although no one knows how. Tatarus is such a gentle dog and can't go far from where I'm located.

I want to include a picture of the recent bloom in my yard.....painted trillium. I look forward to this every year because it means our spring might have a little Jack Frost left, spring being the key word.

This post is for my grandmother who I can picture sitting down at the table with a plate of fiddleheads atop of a pile of corn. Enjoying eating in her Barbarba Stanwyck, stoical, independent way, and for my grandfather who I know sat at the table with..... steak and potatoes.

with love and the garden....