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Dig It! Garden Blog

Category: Horticulture

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

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.
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Spring’s Raw Beauty

Thursday, April 16th, 2020

Every year, spring’s early visitors often ask what time of the year is my favorite in the Gardens. This never allows for a quick answer, because each season hold its own special charms here. Inevitably though, my answer is always early spring.

The landscape of late March and early April appears raw, even barren. However, a closer look reveals stunning beauty, small oases of texture and color that stand out in stark contrast to the still-dormant landscape. Compared to the riotous colors and abundance of summer, these seemingly minimal expressions of early flora, pushing through dry brown leaf litter, are certainly understated at first glance. But upon closer inspection, they are a lovely, ethereal feast for the eyes. 
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Once in the Springtime

Friday, April 3rd, 2020

You may find yourself suddenly realizing that it’s spring.
And you may find yourself listening to birdsong and the drip-dripping of snow thaw.
And you may ask yourself, “What happens to all those sweet, slimy amphibians when temperatures plummet during the winter?”
And you may ask yourself, “How did they get here?” after letting the winter days go by and seeing them again just in time for the warmer months.

Okay, then. Here’s the story (and it’s an interesting one!). Many amphibians hibernate through the winter in their adult stage. In fact, some amphibians can even survive being frozen solid! Freeze-tolerance has been studied extensively in wood frogs, who prepare for the frigid temperatures by creating a sort of “antifreeze” in their bodies, the main component of which is an accumulation of glucose (sugar) in their blood. Other amphibians exhibit this freeze-tolerance as well, and many employ the additional protection of burrowing under leaves and forest debris—with snow piled on top, that creates some nice insulation for these ectotherms (cold-blooded animals unable to create their own body heat). Some amphibians even take it a step further and actually burrow into the forest floor below the freeze line. 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

Wetland Edibles

Wednesday, March 25th, 2020

Early spring (aka “mud season”) is the perfect time to take a walk around your property to discover any low-lying areas where water collects or where drainage might be a tad slow. Since wetlands are our theme this season at CMBG, while we’re out there, let’s take another look at those low-lying areas. While there are plenty of planting options for boggy soils, what about dedicating that marshy area to a series of edibles all too happy to dance with damp feet?

The following four edible plants will thrive happily, bringing both use and beauty to swampy grounds.

  1. Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) is a tasty herb that can grow up to four feet high and just as wide. You might be familiar with the harvested leaves and bulb-like clumps commonly used in Asian cuisine. All sorts of soups and chicken and shrimp dishes pair well with lemongrass. Not much of a cook? You could also try growing the East Indian species of lemongrass (Cymbopogon nardus), commonly known as the source of citronella oil—definitely a useful plant in Maine!
  2. Read More

What’s in Bloom September 9, 2019

Monday, September 9th, 2019

Lovers of black-eyed-Susan and panicle hydrangeas will not be disappointed this week. Be sure to check out the incredible blue flowers on the various types of gentains. And the very unusual flowers of Tricyrtis or toad lilies are sure to impress. Even as the season begins to wind down, there is still plenty of color!

Entrance Walk:
Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ – giant hyssop
Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ – panicle hydrangea
Rudbeckia subtomentosa ‘Henry Eilers’ – sweet coneflower

Founders’ Grove and Café:
Clethra alnifolia ‘Sixteen Candles’ – summersweet
Hylotelephium ‘Autumn Joy’ – sedum

Lerner Garden of the Five Senses:
Anemonopsis macrophylla – false anemone
Clethra alnifolia ‘Ruby Spice’ – summersweet
Gentiana ‘True Blue’ – gentian
Hibiscus moscheutos ‘Blue River II’ – rose mallow
Hydrangea paniculata ‘Bulk’ – panicle hydrangea
Ligularia dentata ‘Othello’ – bigleaf ligularia
Lobelia siphilitica – great lobelia Read More

What’s in Bloom – August 12, 2019

Wednesday, August 14th, 2019

Coneflowers and August go hand in hand. The Echinacea and Rudbeckia are amazing this week. Be sure to look for the stunning scarlet Lobelia cardinalis or cardinal flower. Hummingbirds love them. Lilium selections look and smell amazing! The bottlebrush buckeye, a butterfly magnet, is in full flower. Hydrangea paniculata or peegee (panicle) hydrangea are in full bloom, showcasing huge white inflorescences.

Entrance Walk:
Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ – giant hyssop
Aesculus parviflora – bottlebrush buckeye
Asclepias incarnata ‘Ice Ballet’ – swamp milkweed
Calycanthus ‘Aphrodite’ – sweetshrub
Calycanthus x raulstonii ‘Hartlage Wine’ – sweetshrub
Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ – panicle hydrangea
Ligularia japonica – Japanese ligularia

Founders’ Grove and Café:
Hosta ‘Allan P. McConnel’ – hosta
Hydrangea arborescens ‘A. G. Anabelle’ – smooth hydrangea
Ligularia japonica – Japanese ligularia Read More