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Garden Blog
Dig It! Garden Blog

Category: Gardening

Preparing Bearded Iris (Iris germanica) for winter hibernation.

Tuesday, October 6th, 2020

I am very fond of most any flower that is currently in bloom, but if I had to live the remainder of my life on a desert island and could only bring one plant with me, it would have to be a flouncy, ostentatious bearded iris. They remind me of colorful, over the top, ball gowns that scream to be noticed. The conditions of my garden also make them the most challenging plant to grow successfully.

In my garden, bearded iris grow best and successfully survive our cold, wet winters as long as I adhere to a strict regimen of summer fertilizing and fall garden cleanup. My heavy clay soil is not ideal for iris, which prefer well-drained sandy loam, and so they struggle to increase in size in the summer and are prone to rotting in the cold, wet soils of early spring. Iris are also plagued with iris borer from early May through August, which, if left unchecked, can wipe out entire colonies of plants in one season. Leaf spot, a fungal disease, is also an issue during the humid months of summer. Keeping a clean garden and understanding the life cycles of iris borer and leaf spot fungus are the best ways to minimize the damage they can bring, ensuring that your plants thrive and easily survive our long winters. Read More

Horticulturist and Grower Dan Robarts on Gardens, Daylilies, and “Playing Bee”

Thursday, August 13th, 2020

I grew up in a small town in New Hampshire and spent lots of time outside and amongst plants, learning to tend and grow plants through work in our large family garden. While in the throes of this homesteading education, I became entranced with the idea of plants as garden ornament. My first love and interest in ornamental plants came with daylilies – stalwarts of the New England landscape. Visits to the local nursery were always adventures into the exotic and unknown when I was little. I was amazed with the diversity of size, color, and form daylilies could display. At first, I collected those that seemed farthest from the rusty orange and simple yellows that had grown up with – acquiring pinks, purples, and bi-colored blooms. Ruffled and narrow, spidery forms in any hue – it seemed as though there were no limits to the variation. For almost a hundred years before I found them, plant breeders had been working with daylilies to create those fancy hybrids. All of the modern selections available today came from humble origins of yellow, dull orange, and brown-red flowers found in naturally occurring daylily species. Read More

Fields of Gold: For the love of goldenrod.

Thursday, August 6th, 2020


Before I begin waxing rhapsodic on goldenrod (Solidago spp.), let’s get one myth buried: goldenrod is not the culprit behind the agony of late-season allergies. Though goldenrod takes the brunt of the blame, it’s an insect-pollinated plant rather than a wind-pollinated one, meaning the pollen is heavy, sticky and stays put until a pollinator goes foraging for nectar. It’s the wind-pollinated, simultaneously-blooming ragweed responsible for the miseries of hay fever. Read More

Five Backyard Mosses

Monday, May 11th, 2020

One of the biggest things I’ve learned at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is what I don’t know. They say that’s the first step in knowing- well we’ll see about that. What I might know about though, are a few common mosses found in Maine that are distinctive, easy to ID, and will get you on the road to learning more about moss identification! Read More

Morning Hummingbird Meditations

Thursday, April 23rd, 2020

I awoke this morning listening to the cacophony of birdsong. The spruce edges were filled with rapid twitching movement as new spring arrivals jockeyed for position at the feeding stations. In that moment, I felt grateful for the steadfast traditions of nature in the face of such uncertain times.

Amidst the morning chaos, it occurred to me that there was one feeder missing—the hummingbird feeders. These tiny magical creatures have always been some of my favorites. I thought about these little birds, weighing about as much as a penny, making their way 500 miles across the Gulf of Mexico. It’s no surprise that they might be hungry when they get here!  With their arrival happening in the first week of May, it might be time to dig out the feeders and check my “hummer”-friendly plant list for spring.
Read More

Feathering the Nest: Birdhouses and your Garden

Thursday, April 9th, 2020

Sometimes attracting songbirds to your yard is as easy as hanging a well-stocked feeder and planting the right kinds of seed-bearing perennials. But what if you’re interested in going beyond caring for the current population to building upon it?

If you’re looking for a project these days, maybe try installing (or even building) an attractive home or two to accommodate your favorite species. But did you know that, when it comes to birdhouses, one size (and style) does not fit all?

Of course, if your sole aim is to add a bit of charm to your yard, well, it doesn’t much matter the style of house you choose. But what if your goal is to attract specific species? In that case, a bit of research is in order.

What we think of as “regular” birdhouses, officially called “nest boxes,” attract only cavity-nesting birds. But not every bird fits the bill, so to speak. For example—did you know that purple martins like to nest in colonies? Or that robins prefer to settle on platforms open to the air? Read More

Starting Your Own Cut Flower Garden – Flower Selection

Monday, April 6th, 2020

When starting your own cut flower garden, choosing from amongst the enormous variety of seeds out there can be a little overwhelming. I end up wanting one of every variety of every flower known to mankind. The best advice I can give is to limit your selection to a handful of easy-to-grow flowers, and then pick a couple varieties of each, giving yourself some bouquet and arranging options for later in the season. This is even truer if you are a beginner, or have a limited amount of space. Picking one of everything is so tempting, but you are likely to become overwhelmed very quickly, giving the whole thing up as a bad job.

In my experience, the plants listed below are some of the easiest and most rewarding to grow. I have also listed some of my favorite varieties of each, but in the end, it comes down to your own personal preference of color, form, and size. I largely select varieties in (and a variety of) shades of pink, salmon, lilac, purple, carmine, and peach. That’s just personal preference, since I tend to reach for those colors when making arrangements or bouquets for loved ones. But it’s fun to experiment—maybe try to find flowers tending towards blue and grey. Read More

5 Crops For Your Victory Garden

Wednesday, April 1st, 2020

These days, terms like “Victory Garden” and “Make Do and Mend” rise up from collective memory, coming readily to mind. If we can separate these sayings from the wartime periods they evoke, we’re left with a positive, sustainable, life-affirming, and powerfully independent message to inspire a bit of proactive activity in a time of deeply unsettling uncertainty.

While figuring out where to begin can be overwhelming, one place to start is with a few of the following easy-to-grow veggies (and here in Maine, we’re lucky to have some local seed companies—Fedco Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and Pinetree Garden Seeds, many of whom feature seed collections for easy garden-starting), a bit of soil, and either a bit of yard space or a few containers.

Here’s a list of five crops to begin with: Read More

Indoor Seed Starting 101

Monday, March 30th, 2020

Winters in Maine are long, cold, and mostly gray. If you’re a gardener like me, sustained by beauty and color in the natural world, winter can feel like an endless starvation diet. By the end of February, I am desperate for a taste of spring and flowering plants. Two of my favorite strategies for keeping winter’s gray-scale at bay are growing orchids (more in another post) and starting seedlings indoors—the germination and growth of leafy seedlings is a huge spirit-lifter.

Starting your own seeds is an easy, enjoyable, and exceedingly economical endeavor—you can easily grow hundreds of plants for the price of one gallon-sized potted perennial. The keywords here are EASY and FUN. Read More