Dig It!
Garden Blog
Dig It! Garden Blog

Starting Up

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

Over the past couple of weeks, Sharmon Provan has been starting seeds and potting up small plants in the greenhouse so we will have an abundance of plants to add to the gardens in late May and early June. Sharmon uses a spreadsheet that lists all of the plants being added into the gardens this year in order to determine which seeds need to be started and when they should begin. Growing plants from seed allows us to grow a large variety of plants on our own at the fraction of the cost of buying in finished plants from nurseries. Currently, we have one heated greenhouse with hopes of adding heat to our second greenhouse this year. Even though these two greenhouses can only provide a fraction of the plants being added, starting plants from seed allows us to grow unusual vegetables and annuals that we may not be able to find as finished plants.
We also buy in some of our plants as small plants called plugs. Once these plants come in, Sharmon can pot these plugs into larger pots and grow on in the greenhouse. By the end of May, these plugs will grow into sizable plants, ready to planted right into the gardens.
When you visit us this summer, feel free to ask any of our horticulture team about the plants in the gardens and if we grew them right here in our greenhouses. As we grow as a garden in the coming years, we hope to add several more greenhouses in order to produce more of the plants right here, on site.
-Rodney Eason, director of horticulture and plant curator

Returning to the Gardens

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

The middle of December I had made my way along the Haney Hillside. I raked and hauled and did the last of my fall primping before heading back to the barn. I parked my cart and put way all my tools. I shut down my computer and cleaned up my space. With a few hugs and farewells, I left the Gardens for my winter break; knowing that spring was months away, I filled my mind with plans for my winter vacation.

Hanging up the gardening tools for the winter

Winter hit hard and I almost forgot what my world looked like without a covering of white. I shoveled and carried firewood. I played with the dogs and ventured into a new business. I cursed the cold and then relished it when my skates hit the pond and I lost myself in the wonder of a seemingly endless journey around the pond. I found some time for projects and did what I could around the comfort of the wood-stove.

February blew in and I found myself swirling with the arrival of seed catalogs. I rushed to the mailbox and like a child at Christmas, felt giddy with the excitement of what was between those colorful pages. I poured myself a cup of coffee and settled upon the couch. With catalogs on my lap, I soon drifted to another place where sunshine touched my face and the aroma of freshly tilled soil filled my nostrils.

Not long after the rush of catalogs, came my first arrival of seeds. I was ecstatic, like the arrival of the first child. With shaking fingers I opened the box. I hesitated, should I rush in, or savor the moment? Do I dump them all out at once, or take them one by one and stretch the pleasure out? I dumped. I was all but drooling as I spread the packets out on the dining room table. I lined them up. I smiled at the choices I had made. I picked them up, one at a time and read them and felt pride in what each one could become.

It was hard to handle the storms that came after that. I tried to focus and not get ahead of myself, but thoughts of planting, of growing, of the feel of fresh earth between my fingers haunted my every moment. I dug deeper into my projects around the house, but couldn’t stop my mind from wandering. Like a baby learning to color, I could not stay within the lines. My focus drifted in and out. It was wearing me down. I had to succumb. I started my first flats of seeds.

A bag of potting soil isn’t the same as a newly tilled garden, but it was as close as I could get at the end of February. It eased the pain of this garden junkie. It soothed my nerves and gave me the chance to focus on the last of winter. It helped to keep me in check until I found my way back to the Gardens.

It is the middle of March and I am back. The Haney Hillside is buried deep in winter still. I walked atop the snow, and ventured to the bottom and to the Meditation Garden. The sounds of spring were still quieted by the silence of winter. The stones appeared as souls in waiting. I stood and closed my eyes. I am back I said. Somewhere in the last of the winter wind, I heard it. Welcome, it said.

– Patty Robbins, Horticulturist

Heating Our Greenhouse At CMBG During The Winter

Monday, March 9th, 2015

Greenhouse March 2015
After the bitter cold New England winter of 2013-14, Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens decided to turn off the heat in our greenhouse this winter. Well, sort of. We compared the cost of what we paid for fuel during the 2013-14 winter months to what we paid for annuals that were brought in from outside nurseries. Believe or not, even with buying close to 10,000 plants, plugs, and seeds, it was almost the same amount of money.
We have one Quonset hut greenhouse approximately 20 wide by 60 feet long heated by a propane-powered, forced-air, Modine heater. The frame is covered by two layers of clear plastic, which are inflated by a squirrel-cage blower. Last winter, we had the thermostat set at 40 degrees Fahrenheit in order to overwinter select tropicals and tender perennials as specimen and stock plants. On nights when we dipped to subzero temperatures, the steam plume just billowed out of the heater’s smoke stack, along with dollar bills. Keeping a greenhouse warm with a 50 degree delta between inside and outside temperatures was just too much for our utility budget to handle.
The Turducken
I have since spoken to a few nursery owners who are faced with similar dilemmas. Many are choosing to turn their greenhouses off during the winter, fire up the heaters in the spring, and then finish growing plants that are shipped in as plugs for late spring and summer sales. The question that I faced as we headed into this winter was: what about the one of a kind annuals that many wholesale plug suppliers are not producing? How would we keep these plants and build up their numbers for future display designs?
Heat inside of the Turducken
Ingenuity kicked in and an idea was born: our team used leftover greenhouse plastic to build a makeshift mini-greenhouse over a bench inside the existing greenhouse. To heat the small greenhouse, they bought two electric powered, oil-filled radiators. A wireless remote thermometer allowed our plant recorder to monitor the temperature from her desk. The horticulture team nicknamed the makeshift contraption “the Turducken” after the infamous Thanksgiving meat treat. Sure it received some laughs but on the nights when we went down to subzero temperatures, the Turducken stayed above freezing. So far, we have been able to overwinter some of our specimen banana plants along with other exotic annuals using this greenhouse-within-a-greenhouse method.
As our growing operation continues to expand, we will need to seek other creative ways to grow plants year-round in such a cold climate. The fuel we use should be sustainable, relatively inexpensive, and easily available. Electricity is of course one option but I am also beginning to explore external, wood-fired boilers. Along with using a main heat source, we need to pursue other creative ways of keeping our plants warm including heat curtains, insulated side walls, and radiant floors and benches. We are extremely interested in hearing what growers are doing and experimenting with in Maine and other parts of New England. Drop me an email so we can continue this conversation about creative and sustainable ways to keep our tender plants alive during the long and cold winter months.
You can reach me at reason@mainegardens.org.

-Rodney Eason, director of horticulture and plant curator

Dick Zieg is Retiring

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

dick zeig-DS6_0711
This week marks the end of an era at the Gardens. After 11 years and eight months of dedication and hard work, Dick Zieg is retiring. At his retirement celebration, I did not speak up with a funny story or memory about Dick for fear of an embarrassing display of emotion and tears. I know that Dick knows how I feel about him, but it is important that everyone else understand why he is so special, if they don’t already get it from simply knowing him.

Dick is the reason that I came to work at the Gardens. My first experience with Dick was as a volunteer bulb planter in the Rhododendron Garden, our only major display garden at the time, over ten years ago. Once the smaller bulbs were in the ground and the other few volunteers left, it was down to just three of us. Lacking in manpower, Dick brought out the mattock and we quickly got those larger bulbs in the ground working as a team. He joked about doing the work of ten men, but we all know, as I did then, it is true. Just look at what he has helped to create in his 11 years and eight months at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens.

By the next spring, I was lucky enough to be an official part of that team. It is impossible to list all of the things that I have learned from Dick, especially in those early years when I didn’t think I knew everything already. I was taught how to use a chainsaw, drive large machinery, fix whatever needed to be fixed, build whatever needed to be built, plant whatever needed to planted, and still got answers to my endless how and why questions. Unbeknownst to him, these tasks, which may have seemed small or mundane to him, empowered me. In my time here, Dick has been my boss, my coworker, my teacher, my office-mate, my friend, and my family. When I first arrived, I thought I had a good understanding and working knowledge of a strong work ethic, loyalty, and integrity, but I was wrong. Dick expects much of people, but most importantly, he always led, and continues to lead, by example. He is, however, the first to admit that patience may not be his virtue. “What, are you going to make a day of it?” is one of his most frequently used expressions. That, and “wonky.” You know something is not right if Dick says it’s wonky.

So if Dick is one of the main reasons that I came to the Gardens, and this is where I met my partner, with whom I extended my family, I truly owe a lot of my happiness to Dick. And, while I am happy that he is going to be able to take more time for himself and his own family, the Gardens without Dick here will always feel a bit wonky to me.

– Sharmon Provan, Plant Recorder and Horticulturist

The Gardens are wide awake and full of surprises this fall

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

Many of our guests arriving at the Gardens this fall have commented how surprised they are to see just how much there is in the Gardens this late in the season. We have had a wonderful summer, which has segued into a crisp fall. The pleasant and warm summer temperatures have allowed the permanent plantings to grow and thrive without the undue stress of heat or drought. Most of our perennials are selected to thrive here along the Maine coast and that they do with fervor.

Many perennials are starting to show signs of dormancy or going to seed, but we have avoided an early frost here in Boothbay, which would push most plants into a winter slumber. Along with the pleasant fall, we have continued to provide a moderate amount of drip irrigation. This slight amount of moisture allows the plants to continue to uptake the nutrients from the soil and avoid falling into dormancy. The above is a general explanation of why the perennials still look good, so let me explain why most of the annual plantings are still look pretty good as well.

Many of our newer annuals were ones used in the conservatories when I worked at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania as cool season annuals or permanent plantings. These plants were trialed to survive and still look good at temperatures around 40 degrees Fahrenheit, which was the lowest temperature any of the major conservatories would dip to in the winter time. Here at CMBG we have had a few nights in the low 40’s, but the exotic kangaroo paws, hibiscus, begonias, cuphea, and ornamental rice still look great.

As the saying goes, a good thing cannot last forever and in this case, the closer we get to freezing temperatures, the more apt the gardens will be to fall into their winter slumber. Come on out and visit the gardens again! There are plenty of beautiful plants to see and enjoy along with over 1,300 gorgeous pumpkins.

– Rodney Eason
Director of Horticulture

The Great Pumpkin Hunt!

Join in! The Great Pumpkin Hunt on October 25th

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

The Great Pumpkin Hunt!
Saturday, October 25, 2014
Rain date: Sunday, October 26
1:00 – 3:30 p.m.
FREE and open to the public

1:00 p.m. The Hunt and Activities begin
2:00 p.m. Pumpkin Pie Contest judging
3:00 p.m. Pumpkin Carving Contest judging

Enjoy a fun-filled fall afternoon at the Gardens during this free family event filled with games, contests, activities and prizes! Enter the pumpkin carving contest or submit your pie into the best pumpkin pie contest.

Kids can hunt for the “Golden Pumpkins” – the lucky finders win gift certificates to purchase their family’s Thanksgiving meal! Each child will find and choose a free pumpkin to enjoy for Halloween. This is a garden-themed re-imagining of the Frozen Turkey Hunt of former years.

Donations to the Boothbay Region Food Pantry at the door will be gratefully accepted.

New York Asters

What’s in Bloom this Week

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

Norweb Entry Garden
Hydrangea ‘Limelight’
Clematis I am™ Red Robin ‘Zorero’

Entry Walk
Alstroemeria ‘Sweet Laura’
Asclepias curassavica – Tropical Milkweed
Digiplexis ‘Illumination Flame’
Chasmanthium latifolium
Begonia ‘Whopper Red Bronze Leaf’
Phygelius ‘Devil’s Tears’
Salvia ‘Golden Delicious

Lerner Garden of The Five Senses
Aster novae-angliae ‘Alma Potschke,’ ‘Purple Dome,’ ‘Chilly Winds’
Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’
Campanula ‘Kent Bells’
Rosa ‘Knockout’
Hibiscus ‘Blue River II,’ ‘Pink Elephant’

Great Lawn
Hibiscus ‘Midnight Marvel’
Anigozanthos ‘Big Roo Red’
Salvia ‘Lighthouse Red’
Echinacea cv.’s
Schizachyrium scoparium ‘The Blues’

Rose and Perennial Garden
Asclepias curassavica – Tropical Milkweed
Oryza sativa ‘Black Madras’
Origanum ‘Rosenkuppel’
Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora’
Rosa ‘Kent’
Agastache ‘Black Adder’
Sedum ‘Frosty Morn’
Rosa ‘BAlmas’

Burpee Kitchen Garden
Tropaleolum ‘Spitfire’
Helianthus annus ‘Earthwalker’
Various sweetpea cultivars
Ipomoea purpurea ‘Kniola’s Purple’
Agastache ‘Tutti Frutti’

Alfond Children’s Garden
Asclepias curassavica – Tropical Milkweed
Coreopsis tripteris
Vernonia noveboracensis
Aralia ‘Sun King’
Allium tuberosum
Lonicera sempervirens ‘Major Wheeler’
Geranium ‘Jolly Bee’ & ‘Gerwat’
Heuchera villosa ‘Brownies’
Echinacea ‘Milkshake’
Pycnanthemum muticum
Actaea cordifolia Appalachian Bugbane
Dahlia display at ACG greenhouse
Vernonia noveboracensis New York Ironweed
Helenium ‘Red Jewel’
Hydrangea paniculata

Haney Hillside
Eupatorium ‘Gateway’
Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’

Giles Rhododendron Garden
Lobelia cardinalis
Geranium Rozanne

Cleaver Event Lawn
Helenium ‘Red Jewel’
Hydrangea paniculata Pink Diamond
Phlox paniculata ‘Franz Schubert’
Hydrangea ‘Pinky Winky’

Shown: Red Admiral butterfly enjoying September morning sun in the asters.

Monarchs at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

Caterpillars, Chrysalises & Butterflies: Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is a Certified Monarch Waystation

Monday, September 15th, 2014

Q&A with Horticulture staff member, Sharmon Provan, Plant Records Coordinator & Plant Propagator and Monarch Waystation project manager at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens.

Q. Why and How did Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens (CMBG) become a Monarch Waystation?
A. Finding no Monarch butterflies at CMBG last year, after many years of great numbers of them, we wanted to aid in supporting and increasing the Monarch migration which has been greatly affected by deforestation and loss of habitats for Monarchs (and other wildlife) for development in Mexico and the U.S. According to Monarch Watch over 6,000 acres a day of land is developed per day in the U.S. alone. Also, the use of non-selective systemic herbicides, such as glyphosate, which is heavily used in farming, and even heavy roadside mowing, are wiping our native milkweed plants, the Monarch’s main food and nectar source. In celebration of our 2014 theme, “Pollinators!”, becoming a Monarch Waystation was one more way we could ‘educate-by-doing’, or lead by example, to make everyone aware of the importance of pollinators in our ecosystems and how easy it is to get involved. We contacted www.monarchwatch.org and followed their basic directions to get certified.
Q. What did you have to do for CMBG to become certified Monarch Waystation?
A. First, we had to commit to providing enough of the right types of plants, especially Milkweeds, to support a population of Monarch caterpillars. We are a colossal size garden and have committed over 5,000 square feet and most of our upper main campus to this project. Plant density is important, so we have made sure we have at least 2-10 plants from the Monarch Watch list per square yard. We’ve learned more is always better! We supplemented our existing nectar and other food source plants by bringing in many new types of plants, including annuals, perennials, and shrubs. We started so many extra milkweed plants in our greenhouse this spring that we could barely walk through the aisles!
Monarch Watch has a comprehensive list of plant species that are nectar sources for monarchs. It does not take much for a home gardener to be involved – one square yard is enough to get started. Monarch Watch also provides milkweed plants for those who do not have another source, but most nurseries and garden centers are starting to carry the plants, if they did not before, due to the increased interest. Submit an online application with Monarch Watch – it’s easy!
Q. What is the expected (hoped for) outcome of the Monarch Waystation project?
A. Hopefully, we have succeeded in providing a habitat for the migrating Monarch butterflies. We did see a number of tagged Monarchs around the gardens, so they came in from somewhere else. We also raised Monarchs here this summer, and the butterflies that we released, and the numerous additional butterflies, caterpillars and chrysalises we are finding in our gardens this summer give us hope we have made a difference in the protection and support of the Monarch species.
Q. What are your observations based on summer 2014. Successes and surprises?
A. We have learned a lot about the process of raising Monarchs, and realized just how many eggs they lay, and just how much they actually eat!
Q. What are the ‘next steps’ in being a Monarch Waystation
A. We have committed to being a Monarch Waystation, so we have committed to providing the food source for the Monarch butterflies indefinitely. I would like us to start the tagging process next year so progress can be tracked as the butterflies migrate. Maybe we will get proof that our own butterflies made it to their winter destination.

Chelone lyonii ‘Hot Lips’

What’s in Bloom this Week

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

Norweb Entry Garden (along Barter’s Island Road):
Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’
Clematis ‘Zorero’

Entry Walk:
Senna didymobotrya
Asclepias curassavica (Yellow Form) – Tropical Milkweed
Oxypetalum caeruleum
Phygelius ‘Devil’s Tears’
xDigiplexis ‘Illumination Flame’
Hydrangea ‘Limelight’ standards

Great Lawn:
Clethra alnifolia ‘Sixteen Candles’ – Summersweet
Salvia splendens ‘Lighthouse Red’
Sprobolus heterolepis
Hibiscus ‘Midnight Marvel’
Anigozanthos ‘Big Roo Red’ – Kangaroo Paw

Rose & Perennial Garden:
Oryza sativa ‘Black Madras’
Origanum ‘Rosenkuppel’
Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora’
Rosa ‘Kent’
Agastache ‘Black Adder’
Sedum ‘Frosty Morn’
Rosa ‘BAlmas’

Lerner Garden Of The Five Senses:
Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘Aurora Borealis’
Hibiscus moscheutos ‘Blue River II’
Molinia caerulea ssp. arundinaceae ‘Skyracer’
Begonia boliviensis ‘Santa Cruz Sunset’ baskets
Zinnia marylandica ‘Zahara Sunburst’
Gentiana triflora var. montana

Burpee Kitchen Garden:
Tropaleolum ‘Spitfire’
Helianthus annus ‘Earthwalker’ – Sunflower
Various sweetpea cultivars
Ipomoea purpurea ‘Kniola’s Purple’ – Morning Glory
Agastache ‘Tutti Frutti’

Alfond Children’s Garden & Terrace Loop:
Coreopsis triptis
Vernonia noveboracensis
Aralia ‘Sun King’
Allium tuberosum
Lonicera sempervirens ‘Major Wheeler’ – Honeysuckle
Geranium ‘Jolly Bee’ & ‘Gerwat’
Heuchera villosa ‘Brownies’
Echinacea ‘Milkshake’ – Coneflower
Pycnanthemum muticum
Actaea cordifolia – Appalachian Bugbane
Dahlia display at ACG greenhouse
Vernonia noveboracensis – New York Ironweed
Helenium ‘Red Jewel’
Hydrangea paniculata

Haney Hillside:
Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ – Sunflower
Lobelia cardinalis – Cardinal Flower

Cleaver Event Lawn:
*Chelone lyonii ‘Hot Lips’ – Turtlehead
Digitalis purpurea ‘Candy Mountain’ – Foxglove
Dahlia ‘Kyodi Yusaki’
Geranium ‘Pink Lady’ – Cranesbill
Calicarpa dichotoma ‘Early Amethyst’
Hydrangea pan. ‘Kyushu’

Giles Rhododendron Garden:
Lobelia cardinalis – Cardinal flower
Geranium ‘Gerwat’ – Rozanne Cranesbill
*Chelone lyonii ‘Hot Lips’

*Shown above, Chelone lyonii ‘Hot Lips’ – Turtlehead