Tag Archives: garden boxes

May Flowers & Other Nice Things Around the Yard

Red Hawthorn --Crateagus iracunda

Red Hawthorn –Crateagus iracunda

So I’ve become interested in learning the names of plants growing wild around me. I “blame” (in the best, most thankful way) this on a local herbalist/organic farmer, Cynthia, at Piper’s Knoll Farm just over the town line in neighboring Newfield, Maine. Cynthia has begun offering monthly foraging and identification walks, and after participating in the first one a week ago, I’ve been compulsively LOOKING.

A simple walk up the road now becomes a wild-things expedition. This week I was drawn to the white flowers on this shrub, and, looking more closely, I was captivated by the dark pink anthers clustered in five pairs of stamen on this red hawthorn. NOT that I knew it was a red hawthorn. I had to go home and look it up. Which is fabulous fun, kinda like a treasure hunt, so thank you, Cynthia!

I don’t even have to walk up the road to explore the wild things and not so wild things around me. So what else is growing around my yard right now?

Two days from Memorial Day, the garden boxes begged me to plant something even though it is risky here in Maine to jump the gun. At the Newfield Farmer’s Market this morning, I couldn’t resist purchasing the first few plants–a lavender perennial to go next to the French tarragon, three varieties of tomatoes (going into the box over the septic tank in hopes the heat will appeal to them), a green bell pepper, and a sage. Except for the lavender, they all went into that same box so I could cover them with a sheet last night. I may be impatient, but I’m not completely out of my mind.


Neighbor Debbie was kind enough to give me a lemon balm from her garden, so I stuck that in the garden box as well, right next to the chocolate mint. That mint will be watched, of course, as we all know how they like to spread and spread.

Now for Mother Nature’s garden beds. These plants live near or beneath the beech trees in front of my house. It’s a forest in miniature!

Wild Strawberries, Fragaria virginiana


Partridge Berry (Squaw Vine) Mitchella repens


Lady’s Slipper, Cypripedium acaule


Fringed Polygala, Polygala paucifolia


Starflower, Trientalis borealis


Canada Mayflower,Maianthemum canadense


False Solomon’s Seal, Maianthemum racemosum


It is so much fun to walk around the property now. I am determined to get myself a plant identification guidebook, though the internet is a great resource, as is Neighbor Debbie who has documented many of the native plants species over the past couple of years.

What do you have growing wild in your yard? When you find a minute to take off the gardening gloves and set down your trowel, drop me a line. Remember, it doesn’t get more local than your own back yard.

Pumpkin Star

Pumpkin Blossom

Dear Reader:

‘Tis the season of squash–zucchini, yellow, pumpkin. The blossoms burst open every morning, surprising beneath the dark green plates of the light-gathering leaves. I stand at the window with my morning coffee and gaze out at the beautiful golden-orange stars and wonder, “Will I actually get any fruits from these flowers?”

The answer, I am happy to report is “Yes!” In spite of some weird blossom die-off and more than a couple of shriveled, aborted little summer squash that died on the vine, this morning I was pleased to pick not only one, but TWO good-sized summer squash.

They are reclining inside on my windowsill now, keeping my first heirloom Brandywine tomato company. Tonight I will slice them up and sautee them in a little bit of olive oil along with some green garlic from around the crab-apple tree and basil and oregano from the garden.


And look how pretty the eggplant blossoms are. I love the delicate pink-purple color and the shy way the blossoms bend their heads toward the ground, like Victorian young ladies demurely casting their eyes down and waiting for some eligible young scions from good families to ask them to dance.

Ladybug on the Dill

All is not sweetness and light in the garden today, however. I was disgusted to discover the extra-large “leavings” of some large-breed’s morning constitutional right IN MY GARDEN BOX. The stupid dog must have had to work really hard to balance just so over the corner of that box. I will spare you photo evidence, but I’m considering buying a super-soaker water gun to fill with dye. Red? Green? What do you think would be the most annoying splotch on the backside of a purebred Collie? (I’m pretty sure the neighbor’s male is the culprit).

Anyway, the star of the day is the pumpkin blossom. I’ve been reading about stuffed squash blossoms and thought I might look up a recipe or two. The favorite combination seems to be a soft cheese with herbs for the stuffing, dipping the blossom in egg and beer batter, and frying until golden brown. Click HERE for a recipe from the 99 Cent Chef blog if you also have a bunch of squash blossoms sparkling in the firmament of your summer garden. (Of course, I recommend finding a local source of chevre or some other soft cheese, local eggs, and a good local microbrew for your recipe. It’s also the perfect time of year for a nice basil pesto to go along with the stuffed blossoms.)

And that’s it for today…Outside the Box.

Eating Cold Strawberries on a Hot Summer Day

Local BerriesDear Reader:

Summer is here! Summer is here! Nature is ushering in the season with temperatures in the eighties and a haze of humidity, and I am sitting here eating my fill of cold strawberries harvested at a nearby farm and sold at our local branch of a corporate grocery chain. The juxtaposition of cool berries and hot air seems to mirror the juxtaposition of local produce sold, ironically, at a multinational chain store.

Is this ideal? Of course not. Ideal would be me rising early and biking up the road to Dole’s Orchards to pick berries grown at my neighborhood farm, paying cash to the neighbor-farmer who will reinvest in the farm and community, and biking back down the hill to my house to bake a strawberry rhubarb pie with the berries, rhubarb from my garden, and a pastry made from Maine whole wheat flour and lard from a real farm in Pennsylvania and purchased from the locally-owned, Amish-inspired store in a nearby town.

If I’ve learned one thing from my three years of blogging about localism and sustainability and community-building, it is how idealism is the beacon and how reality falls somewhere on the scale that measures between the shade of utter failure far from that beacon and the light-filled space of near-success.

Garden Boxes Summer Solstice

Take my garden boxes, for example. In my head, the ideal garden overflows with lush, green plants beginning to blossom and fruit. No pests reside here, just rich, moist garden soil, fat and happy earthworms, and the occasional bee and butterfly to pollinate and enliven the mini-ecosystem. In reality, the compost dries out much too fast because I really should have added in peat moss and vermiculite, the plants aren’t growing as fast as I wish, the eggplant and cabbages have holes in the leaves (and some leaves completely gnawed) where some tiny, marauding insect has plundered the succulent vegetation. The plants in the herb bed look yellowish. The micro greens in the greens beds are still micro-micro–too small to harvest even after a month of growth.

Peas and Zuccini

I sit outside with my coffee and contemplate the state of my garden and realize that even though it isn’t perfect, it is quite lovely and has the potential for productivity. The peas yearn upward toward the turned-on-its-side tomato cage I placed there for support. The zucchini and summer squash and cucumber plants spread wide palms to the sun. The hot-pink annuals–geranium and petunia and portulaca–burst with color in their corners next to the “black” Japanese shiso plant, the sweet potato vine, the chocolate mint in the pink & black garden box.

Wild Roses

I turn from my garden boxes and look at the wild edge. Here near a tumbled rock wall, the wild roses remind me that Nature often does a better job on her own. This year’s rosa rugosa blooms sweeten the air with their scent even as they glow against the gray backdrop of those old stones some farmer used to mark a field a hundred-fifty years ago. Earlier, there was a profusion of wild strawberries dancing at the feet of those rose princesses. Near the compost bin, a sturdy mullein thrusts out its plush, velvety leaves.

When I reach out to touch a rose, it falls apart, petals showering over my hands.

Perfection is not necessary in this world. The beauty is in the attempt, in the growth, in the trial-and-error. It is the appreciation for what is as well as the striving toward what could be.

Later this week, I will make my way to Dole’s to pick strawberries. I’ll probably drive my gas-powered automobile. Doing what is better than nothing really is better than doing nothing at all.

Spring Box Step

Repurposed Futon Frame Potting Bench

Dear Reader:

Happy May Day to you! May 1st was (and is) a celebration of the beginning of the growing and grazing season, the beginning of summer in our Euro-Pagan past, celebrated with garlands of flowers, bonfires, and earthy fertility rites. Here in modern-day Maine, we still celebrate the old ways with the creation of May baskets filled with flowers, or maybe some candy, hung anonymously on a neighbor’s door. When I was little, my sister and I would hang baskets and then run. The recipient gave chase and would try to kiss us. What fun!

Crab Apple Blossoms

Even though May 1st is supposed to be the beginning of summer, in Maine we are still smack in the middle of spring. The daffodils have blossomed and are beginning to fade just a bit. Dandelions dot my sparse lawn. The perennial beds are bursting with fresh greenery and a few early bleeding hearts. Best of all, the cutest little johnny-jump-ups are truly popping up everywhere in cheerful little clumps near my front walkway. Even the dark pink crab-apple is blossoming nicely this year. Ahhhh, spring.

I missed my garden boxes last summer while we visited D.C., so this year I am itching to plant. I had purchased four new pre-cut garden boxes at Ocean State Job Lots last spring, so I dragged those out and set them up right in front of my house where I hope they will get more sun than the old boxes. I also moved one of the old boxes up with these four, turning them on the diagonal for what I hope will create some interesting plantings near my front door.

Empty Garden Boxes

I put these right onto the grass, and then I lined them with a few layers of newspaper I’ve been saving down in the cellar (cellah’) for years now. A trip to Lyman to Tibbett’s Family Farm yielded a truck-bed full of the most gorgeous finished compost you’ve ever seen. Tibbett’s removes manure from area dairy farms, mixes it with other materials, and turns it into a rich, moist, crumbly, non-smelly compost just FULL of worms! To a backyard gardener like me, this stuff is pure gold–for the amazingly low price of $35 for a cubic yard!

Garden Gold...Compost!

Not only did the load of compost fill all five new garden boxes, I was also able to top off the old boxes (they were down to about half full), and I still had enough for some small piles I will use to top dress the perennial beds. This stuff is so awesome, I’m sure I will go back for another load and finally get to create the permaculture “Apple Guild” I’ve had in mind for the front of the property for the last couple of years. Permaculture guilds are the planting of companion plants that all work together harmoniously, mimicking the work of nature. In an apple guild, you can plant daffodils and garlic around the tree to deter pests and suppress grass. Artichokes and comfrey as a living mulch. Yarrow, chicory, and plaintain to help get nitrogen and other nutrients out of the ground. Some of these plants also attract beneficial insects for pollination. Plus, it will be pretty!

While outside working with my boxes (which are, in essence, big planter containers), I decided I wanted to make a potting bench. I went “shopping in the cellar” once again and came back with two white-painted arm-rests from a now-defunct futon frame. I figured a couple of plywood boards on top would work fine. Of course, I couldn’t find the power screwdriver thingy machine. I propped everything up the best I could and proceeded to pot up my poor Christmas cactus which definitely needed more room. Later, when I told hubby about my plan, he kindly took over and built my bench. I think it came out pretty snazzy.

New neighbors down the road, D.& D., recently added their mailbox to ours, creating this handsome stand. My contribution would be flowers. I transferred some of the jump-ups to pots and dug the pots into the ground next to the mailboxes. I also amended the salty, gravelly soil with some potting soil (and later, some of the good compost) and transplanted a few little perennial sprigs–ground geranium, bleeding heart, a yellowish-green ground cover, some other dark browny-red no-name plant I know I should look up and record for gardening posterity. And then I took all my old leftover seeds–peas, beans, marigolds, and who-knows-what and pushed them into the soil. I will water the tiny mailbox garden when the soil gets dry, throw some more compost down there every so often, and we’ll wait and see what pops up this summer.

I have very high hopes for a productive and beautiful front yard this summer. How about you? Drop me a note, share your favorite tips, let me know what you’ve been up to this spring. I always love to hear from you, my dear readers. Happy spring!

Next up: Planting peas and lettuces, our cool weather plants. And getting ready for straw bale gardening . . . Outside the Box.