The Deer Factor

During our unseasonably cool Fourth of July weekend, I noticed that many of our flowers were just getting ready to bloom.  Having planted a number of them and watered all of them, I was eager to see the splash of colorful blossoms and how the flowers looked in our setting.

Unfortunately, it was not to be.  When I left yesterday morning to take my walk, I saw a flash of a white tail in the distance and a deer bounding away through the underbrush.  And then when I checked on our flowers, I was disappointed to discover that something had neatly clipped off, and presumably happily consumed, the flower buds that were just ready to burst, leaving only the bristling stalks behind. 

I’m guessing that the deer is the culprit.  And when I checked on other flowers we’ve planted, I saw that some had also been trimmed of their tender and delectable buds — although some had been left alone.  Apparently, the deer of Stonington have discriminating tastes.  Only the flowers that are in the fenced-in part of the yard, and the thorny wild roses that grow from the rocks next to the house, were totally safe from the scourge of deer teeth.

I’ve checked into what you can do to discourage deer from eating your flowertops, and frankly the cure sounds worse than the disease.  The Better Homes and Gardens website notes that smelly things might work, at least temporarily, and suggests placing odorous objects like mothballs, fishheads, and “processed sewage” that might repel the deer.  The problem is that they would no doubt also repel us.  The other alternative is to try to create physical barriers like rigging hidden fishing lines, putting up netting or fencing, or hanging shiny objects like aluminum pie plates.  Again, this seems like it would interfere with our enjoyment of the grounds, and in any case is unworkable due to the size and nature of the area that needs to be addressed.

The last option is to go for “deer-resistant plants.”  But the BHG website page on “deer-resistant plants of the northeast” cautions: “There aren’t really any plants you can truly say are deer proof. And the animals are smart and unpredictable — so the deer in your yard may love a particular plant, but avoid it in a garden down the block.”  And it seems like planting presumably deer-resistant plants that hungry deer might decide to eat anyway isn’t going to keep them from devouring the other tasty perennials that I’ve already planted.  

So it looks like we’re stuck.  I guess I’m just going to have to start appreciating the rare beauty of denuded flowerstalks.

New Beds In The Downyard

It was a glorious weekend in Stonington, with sunshine and temperatures in the low 60s — perfect weather for yard work and gardening.  We seized the opportunity to do some gardening work in the down yard that we’ve been wanting to do for some time. 

Our outdoor work began on Saturday, with some weeding and clean-up work in the areas that we were going to tackle, followed by a trip to the Mainescape garden store in Blue Hill.  We donned our masks, headed into the store’s extensive outside plant display areas, and were immediately overwhelmed with the choices. 

As Kish aptly observed, for a novice like us, going to a garden store is like a non-gearhead going to buy a car.  You’ve got only the most superficial sense of what you want, without any real insight into which options would best serve your needs.  Mainescape takes a decidedly low-key approach, so we spent a lot of time wandering around looking at the potted plants and trying to figure out which ones would work best in the spaces we identified for some new beds. 

We had decided, in advance, that we wanted to get perennials, rather than annuals, and would try to focus on hardy native plants that would be best suited to surviving the rugged Maine weather.  We settled on some Goldsturm black eyed susans, some purple Phlox — which has to be the greatest name for a flower, ever — some Husker red beardtongue (also a great, and curiously evocative, name for a flower), which is supposed to produce a tall array of small white flowers, and a white lupine.  There’s lots of green in the down yard already, between the grass and the ferns and the shrubs and the trees, so we figured white, purple, and yellow would stand out well.  We also bought some gardening soil and cow manure mixture to provide the most welcome setting possible for the new plants.

Yesterday was spent spreading the garden soil and cow manure and doing the planting.  Between carrying bags of soil and manure and then lugging and repositioning rocks to outline the new flower beds and also display some of the rocks we dug out of our yard — not to mention lots of stooping and digging — gardening gives you a pretty good workout.  It’s also a fun, creative outlet, as you figure out which flowers to put where and also think about whether you can add some little flourishes to make your garden areas special.

For me, a big part of the whole gardening experience is trying to make the garden and flower beds fit into your intended space in a natural way.  I admire the Japanese approach of trying to make your garden an extension of nature and the natural, physical surroundings.  In the down yard, the principal physical characteristic is rock — lots and lots of rocks, large and small.  Using rocks as a key feature of the flower beds therefore wasn’t a difficult decision.

I decided to use some of our rocks to edge the new flower beds, but also use the beds to frame and display some of the more interesting granite rocks we’ve found in the yard, in terms of their different shapes — like the round rocks shown in the photo above — and their different and often striking colors and patterns.  The whiter rocks show up very well against the green grass and provide a nice contrast with the black garden soil. 

I also like symmetry, so we positioned the plants we put into the crack between the two gigantic granite rocks so that the flowers would be a kind of mirror image from the middle out, with the two tall beardtongues in the middle, one of the phloxes to each side of the beardtongues, and then the black eyed susans at the two ends of the bed.  We’re hoping that we’ll be able to enjoy the mix of colors and the symmetry when we look at this particular flower bed from the vantage point of our deck.

It was a full weekend of yard work and gardening.  I endured a lot of bug bites, but it was a lot of fun and quite satisfying, too.  I’ve posted some before and after photos of two of the areas to give an idea of what we did.  Now, we’ll need to work on watering.  

Flower And Stone

If you’re anywhere near coastal Maine, you’re going to be around granite. There are outcroppings pretty much everywhere.

The granite makes a nice setting for flowers, if you can get them to grow on or about the rocks. The sun-bleached stone makes every color of a flower seem more vivid, and on a sunny day like today the hues can be eye-popping.

These purple beauties are just wildflower ground cover that grew naturally in the crack of the huge rock near our front door. You couldn’t have planned a better presentation if you hired a landscape designer.

Certain Spring

Spring is taking its time this year, arriving at an amble and not at a sprint. Although there is still a decided chill to the air, you can see certain signs of spring if you look carefully. Green shoots and soon to burst petals can be found in many of the sidewalk flower beds.

But our welcome floral friends aren’t the only indicators that spring is upon us. Spring is traditionally a time for cleaning, so discard traffic is also an indicator — like this impressively dead Christmas tree a neighbor put out yesterday. It’s the brownest, deadest Christmas tree I’ve ever seen, and looks like it would burst into flame at the slightest suggestion of heat.

If Christmas is finally over, and spring cleaning impulses are at work, can spring — warm, bright, glorious spring — be far behind?

Schiller Summer Splendor

The Schiller Park gardeners have done a fine job this year, and the flowerbeds around the gates to the park are particularly splendid. The beds are colorful and vibrant and are one of the things that make Schiller such a great ornament for the German Village community.

Now, if we could just get the few thoughtless jerks to stop littering . . . .

In Lupine Land

Lupines are found throughout Downeast Maine. They are beautiful and easily identifiable through their pine cone-shaped flowers and circular leaves. Even better, they grow anywhere and everywhere and require about as much care and feeding as your average weed.

If you come to Maine in June and early July you’re bound to see lupines in bloom. These beauties are in the driveway next to our cottage.

Water Treatment

Several people have asked about the poor, desiccated potted plants that I featured in a blog post a while back. Although some people said the plants looked like they were beyond redemption, in fact some careful attention to watering — and lots of unusually cool July and August weather and rain — has made all the difference. The plants in the two small pots are flowering again, and the plant in the big pot is sprouting lots of green leaves. We’re hoping flowers aren’t far behind.

I also got a useful tip to try the next time we’re on the road. You fill a wine bottle with water, plunk it down into the soil of the pot, and let hydraulic forces do the watering while you’re traveling. I’m going to give that technique a try. There’s only one problem — where in the world will I be able to find an empty wine bottle?

Redefining “Vivid”

Every time we visit the tropics I’m struck anew by the boldness of the colors of the native flora. They redefine “vivid.” Especially after a monochromatic midwestern winter, a short sojourn in the tropics reawakens the visual senses.

Is it any wonder that Gauguin found inspiration on an island? Were ever reds so red, or purples so purple?

Hopeful Signs

After this cold, dank, never-ending winter, a sighting of the first flowers heralding spring is very welcome. These hardy crocuses, which are traditionally among the first flowers to bloom in our region, sprouted between two bricks to greet the sun’s rays on a dazzling day.

It is wonderful to see a splash of bright color and sunshine after months of wintry gloom.

A Question For The Gardeners Out There

In the past, I’ve dabbled with gardening.  I particularly enjoyed planting flowers at our old suburban home and watching them bloom and grow and flourish.  I liked getting my hands dirty and seeing the product of my manual labor, and I even accepted weeding and watering our small flower beds as a useful weekend activity.

img_0090But all of my experience with flowers is Ohio-centric, from having a sense about the kind of flowers that seem to do well here, like the zinnias I planted at our old house, right down to following Mom’s admonition that you shouldn’t plant flowers until after Mothers’ Day.  I’m guessing that a different rule of thumb would apply in a different climate, like Maine, where the weather might not really warm up until well into June.  Drawing exclusively upon midwestern Ohio experiences and trying to apply them to a rocky northern coastal area that is constantly exposed to salty air and experiences periodic nor’easter storms seems ill-advised.

So, a question for the expert gardeners out there:  if you want to learn about gardening practices in Maine, or any other new location, where should you go?  Is there an authoritative guidebook or website that provides information by region and can get into detail about the basics, like the native plant life, the safe time to plant flowers and which ones are most likely to thrive given the climate and soil conditions, whether planting seeds or seedlings is the best course, and whether particular kinds of grasses or shrubs are more prone to succeed or fail than others?  Can you trust the folks at the local hardware store or gardening shop to only offer plants that have reasonable prospects for success given the local conditions, or is that approach doomed to failure?

I feel like a newbie here, and I’m not sure that doing random internet searches and trusting to the Google Gods is the best way to go about gathering information.

Mummified

The mums are out in force at the Greenbrier, which adds some serious dashes of color to the already beautiful scenery.

This may be the perfect time of year to visit the Greenbrier, and the mums are only part of the reason.  The weather has been bright and clear, warm but not too hot during the day and cool in the evening.  The leaves are starting to fall, letting us feel them crunch underfoot as we walk the trails and walking paths.  Throw in the soothing clip-clop of horse hooves from the carriage rides, and you’ve got a beautiful place to spend a weekend.