Category Archives: Gardening

Jurassic Park in My Front Yard

IMG_0448“Hostas can be difficult to work into a garden because they have a tendency toward pride, a self-assertion that can be offensive….they seem so much more physical than other plants, muscular: the heavy-weight champions of the garden.”
—Stanley Kunitz, The Wild Braid

I know what Stanley Kunitz means. I have a patch of hostas that have gotten so out of hand that it looks like Jurassic Park in the front yard. The hostas are elbowing the daylilies, which aren’t exactly slouches, and I have to pull back the hostas from time to time to give the daylilies some breathing room. I should divide the hostas, but I’m not sure where I’d put the divided plants, and I’d hate to just throw them out. Kunitz decided not to plant anything else with his hostas. That way, they could muscle each other. A smart decision, I think.

Jurassic Park in the front yard


When I’m sitting on the patio, I always sit closest to the bee balm, right now in glorious bloom. Bees are indeed buzzing among the flowers, and I try to take a picture of them with my little point-and-shoot camera. I am not very successful. They’re not called busy bees for nothing. Bumble, bumble, yellow and black. They seem so slow yet they never really rest. (That might be a description of me as well.)

Not too bad but not in focus
Not too bad but not really in focus

Hummingbirds are also drawn to the bright red flowers, and it’s even harder to get a picture of them. I’m not sure why I keep trying. I know the limitations of my camera, wee wonder that it is. But when those tiny will o’ the wisps are thrumming almost within arm’s length of me, somehow I can’t resist. A couple of times, a hummingbird has stopped in mid-flight to consider me, but only for a few seconds. Not long enough for me to get a good picture.

Fortunately for me, the flowers and plants stay in one place unless there is a brisk wind.


Right now, my backyard garden is in peak bloom, and we had friends over for cocktails on Saturday. The weather was good enough for us to spend the entire time on the patio, where they could admire the flowers. Clif made his legendary grilled bread, and I made Maine mules.

Summer, summer, summer.

The End of June, 2015

All in all, it has been a very good June. In Maine, June is typically rainy. Way back in the old days, I remember my father complaining about rotting beans in his garden—sometimes he would have to replant—and my friend’s father wondering anxiously if the weather would hold for haying.

A couple of years ago, it rained for twenty straight days. The slugs and snails blissfully chewed their way through my gardens, and I participated in what can only be called slug and snail genocide. (A jar of soapy water filled with the little slimers is truly a disgusting sight.) But finally I gave up. There were just too many of them, and by July many of my plants were in ribbons.

In disgust, I took this picture of my own wet feet, which looked this way too often two Junes ago.

From two Junes ago

But this year, June has given us a break. Yes, it has rained, and this is good. We need rain. But we have also had a number of sunny days, and at the little house in the big woods, everything green is flourishing—the herbs in my small garden, my potted plants, the flowers. There have been slugs and snails, but so far their numbers are few, and the hostas, for the most part, remain unscathed.

Our green room the end of June
Our green room the end of June

The other day, as I was at the kitchen sink, I looked out the window and saw two downy woodpeckers, about the same size. However, one was feeding the other, a parent with a fledgling. Soon the parent will no longer be feeding “Junior,” but as my husband noted, Junior now knows where the feeder is. I will be sure to keep it full.

The lightening bugs have made their luminous appearance, and at night, as Clif and I sit in the living room, we see them on the screens on the windows. A little blinking glow in the dark night.

As lovely as the backyard looks, it is not always a peaceable kingdom. Female hummingbirds fight fiercely for control of the feeder, filled with a sugar and water mixture. (Jodie Richelle recently wrote about this on her blog.) It seems to me that they spend as much time fighting as they do feeding. Yesterday, my husband and I watched in fascination as over and over, the hummingbirds dived bombed each other. It didn’t look as though any blood was spilled, but it must be exhausting to fight like that.

“If only they would cooperate,” I said sadly. “There’s enough for all of them.”

“It’s not their nature,” Clif replied.

I guess it’s not. Unlike, say, crows, hummingbirds have evolved to be highly competitive, and I suppose it has served them well. But still.

July is just around the corner. Two more sweet months of summer. I try to enjoy each day to its fullest, to spend as much time outside as I can, to take pictures of the burst of flowers, the insects, and the rush of green.

Ah, summer, summer.

Daddy longlegs on a green fern



Irises—the Consolation of Rainy June

IMG_9255In Maine, June is typically a cool, rainy month more suitable for say, soup, than for barbecues and time spent on the patio. For those of us who love summer and being outside, June can be a bit of a trial. We want to wear shorts and t-shirts, but instead we are wearing  turtle necks and sweaters. (Today, I am actually wearing a corduroy shirt over said sweater and turtle neck. I am determined to use as little heat as possible.) Every year in June my lament is the same, “Where oh where is summer?”

It will come in its own sweet time, I know. Fortunately, while June might be a rainy month, it is also a beautiful month. The leaves and grass are still lush and green. There is just the barest hint of the slug and snail onslaught that begins in earnest during midsummer. But best of all, the irises are in bloom at the little house in the big woods.

Now, I love all flowers—even peonies, those show-offs of the flower world—but irises are my favorite. Because our yard is so shady, many varieties of irises will not grow here, but I have found two very beautiful irises that do not mind partial shade and the damp it brings. Even better, the irises are purple, my favorite color for these lovely flowers.


Why do I love irises so much? I think it’s because they are both bright and elegant, a delight to the eye and soothing as well. Peonies, on the other hand, with their gaudy explosion of bloom and  color, are just too darned much. Here I am, here I am, here I am, they shout. Full disclosure: At a friend’s house yesterday, I did admire her peonies, and my compliments were sincere. Still, when it comes to peonies, better her garden than mine.

This morning, before breakfast, I went out in the mist and took some pictures of the irises that have just started blooming in the backyard. Fortunately, the rain has not been heavy enough to beat down the irises. With any luck, there won’t be heavy rains for the next week or so, and the irises will bloom in all their elegant glory, bringing much-needed color to what can be a gray month.


Bitten by the Gardening Bug

Sherlock making sure the coleuses have been properly watered
Sherlock making sure the coleuses have been properly watered

All right, I’ll admit it. Now that all the library brouhaha is over, I’ve been bitten hard by the gardening bug, and once bitten the fever spreads fast. Modest budget be damned, what I want to do is head to the local garden centers and spend, spend, spend.

I won’t, of course. I am mindful of our modest budget. However, this weekend when I go get herbs and some tomato plants, I might slide in a few six packs of, say, begonias, coleuses, or dwarf snapdragons, all plants that do well in my shady yard. I’ll try not to look at at the garden ornaments, another one of my weaknesses, but I sure could use another cobalt blue ball to go with the bird bath out back.

Yesterday, I potted coleuses and impatiens. Today I’ll plant the dwarf snapdragons in the long bed by the patio. The cats and the dog will be nearby to give me encouragement.

Right now, in central Maine and at the little house in the big woods, the gardens are in a prebloom state and are mostly green. But the green is a vibrant green, and the slugs and snails have yet to do their worst on the hostas. Everything looks, well, so green and healthy. While I’m crazy about flowers, I’m also very fond of all the green. So fond, in fact, that I don’t think I would be happy in an arid climate where the colors are more muted.

Green, green, green


More green with a spot of black

For the next week or so, I’ll be working diligently outside. Along with potting flowers—a task I just love—there is compost to spread, beds to be fertilized, and plants to be thinned.

As Katherine White once wrote, onward and upward in the garden.

Our Liam, checking out the garden
Our Liam, checking out the garden


Almost in bloom
Almost in bloom