Through the garden gate — Garden envy

Published 3:51 pm Friday, November 4, 2022

A few weeks ago, I escaped to Maine to explore some gardens and late-blooming native plants there. Obviously, the growing season is shorter, and the weather is different. There’s far less humidity, and summer days are milder with cooler nights. Hunting for native plants there is like getting an extra season. What I missed here, may just be beginning to bloom there. Plants that I have to travel to the mountains to see in Virginia are everywhere in Maine. The dwarf dogwood or bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), for example, is only found in five counties in Virginia and is considered critically imperiled. It looks exactly like a tiny dogwood tree and is everywhere there.

Gardens along the coast where I was – Camden to Northport – inspire tremendous envy, at least for how they appear during the summer. Maine is heaven if you want to grow the most luxurious hostas, rhododendrons, ferns, and hydrangeas ever. The cool days mean that hostas can be planted in full sun and will thrive; they’re so huge that they look prehistoric. Other plants, such as peonies, lupines, and bellflowers abound. Oh, to have those shades of blue and cream in my garden.

As you might expect, however, there is a downside. Spring is late and preceded by both mud and mayfly seasons. The winters, well, they’re not for the faint of heart, but during the summer gardeners are very busy. I visited one garden overlooking Penobscot Bay where the owner had a massive vegetable plot filled with squash, heirloom tomatoes, and the most beautiful carrots and celery I’ve ever seen. Perfect carrots! She also had terraced flower gardens sloping down to the bay that featured phlox, Russian sage, oriental lilies, daylilies, Echinacea, and lavender. There were massive rhododendrons around her house. And masses of lilies and hydrangeas. So many types of hydrangeas.

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Families in the area I visited tend to be serious gardeners. Garden clubs are very active, even during the summer, and have a special membership for summer folks. Summer meetings are dedicated to visiting carefully selected gardens so that everyone gets a chance to see what can be grown successfully in Maine and learn from the host’s successes and failures.

I’m back in Virginia now, back to the reality of gardening here. My hostas will never be as large or lush as the ones in Northport, and my hydrangeas will always require some shade and extra water during the summer. Nevertheless, my Sum and Substance hostas this year were well over six feet wide, and my Grateful Red hydrangea was covered with scores of dark red blooms. And there is no mud season here. And I don’t have to bring in yards of topsoil.

It’s all right to have garden envy, but it’s also good to understand that, as a gardener, it’s best to deal with the conditions you have at hand. If you need me, I’ll be in the garden planting the 30 new daylilies that arrived while I was gone and weeding. Endless weeding. My mother used to say that weeding engendered patience and a Zen-like state, but I’m not convinced. As far as I’m concerned, weeding leads to aches and pains.

Dr. Cynthia Wood is a master gardener. Her email address is