The warm winter and early spring combined to be the dominant point of this year’s garden season. Everything — flowers, berries, vegetables and garden lust — has come early. Some of it has been better and some of it worse, but it all has been early.

Southern Maine didn’t really have a winter, and the garden soil was dry and workable in mid-March. Stuck-in-the-mud fogies like me stuck to the rules and put in plants according to the traditional deadlines — Patriots Day for cold-tolerant plants and Memorial Day for tender plants. But garden centers said customers were pushing for tomato seedlings and geraniums in March — they just wanted to get out there and garden.

The perennial plants were between two and three weeks early. All of the bulbs came out very early, with crocuses in mid-March followed quickly by daffodils and tulips. We had asparagus in late April, which is about two weeks early, and our first strawberries Memorial Day weekend, about three weeks early. We started picking raspberries about July 7, three weeks early.

The only hiccup to this season was a three-day period, May 11-13. It got cold and dry, and we had frost. People who had put out geraniums and tomato plants especially early lost them, but it was their fault, and I don’t feel especially bad for them.

But people who grow professionally — strawberries, for sure, and apples, probably — got hurt through no fault of their own. The plants set their buds early because it was warm, and those buds got damaged. And that reduced the crop, and a lot of the berries were misshapen.

The Atwell garden produced about 16 quarts of strawberries, and we often get 50 or more. But the people who grow strawberries for a living got hit hard. Many who normally run pick-your-own operations did not do so this year. They needed all the fruit for their own farm stands.

And people who waited late to buy their strawberries for the traditional Fourth of July shortcake were out of luck. The crop had gone by, and the farm stands no longer had any.

We won’t find out until later this summer how bad the apple crop is going to be.

But there is some good news. The people who didn’t act like old fogies and planted their carrots, beets, radishes, peas, lettuce and all the cool-weather crops early had a lot of early vegetables. And even warm-weather crops are early as well. Native corn started arriving at farm stands 10 days ago, and summer squash and zucchini about three weeks ago. There is no reason to buy out-of-state vegetables until the first frost or later. It’s time to be a locavore. The markets are full.

And for those of you who care, the Atwell vegetable gardening is doing pretty well. We had great radishes and early peas, and we are still eating peas — although the first planting went by quickly. Those 90-degree days are tough on peas.

We have lots of lettuce and Bright Lights Swiss chard. The kohlrabi looks good, although the woodchucks damaged it the same night they destroyed the cabbage. Our tomatoes and peppers are behind what my neighbors are doing. I think I could get potatoes, but haven’t had time to dig.

Our flowers — everyone’s flowers, really — have been gorgeous. I think we are experiencing what amounts to a Cape Cod kind of summer, with the hydrangeas coming out early and getting huge.

In addition to warm temperatures, we have had plenty of rain. Yes, things got a bit dry at times, but never dangerously so. Hand watering sufficed.

All of the flowering trees and shrubs did very well. It was a pleasure to go driving around and looking at other people’s gardens, in addition to being proud of what we had grown for ourselves. Magnolias, kalmias, andromedas, lilacs and the like were all wonderful.

Our still-young Amelanchier, which those with good memories will remember I thought was dead a month after planting it as a bare root, had its best year ever. The rudbeckias, considered a summer plant, started blooming in June, and have been lasting very well.

Right now, the daylilies are dominating. They are big, bright and lush, with a lot of blooms on each plant. The yellows and oranges are especially bright.

I have been asked, however, if the gardens are going to have a terrible autumn. Everything is coming early, and people wonder if there will be no flowers left for the end of the year.

Don’t worry. There will still be flowers right up to the first frost and beyond — as long as you have a garden that includes a lot of fall blooming plants. Our garden has a number of plants — a rose of Sharon hibiscus, for example — that sometimes gets frosted before it blooms. That should do great this year.

Asters, chelone, fall-blooming anemone and fall-blooming sedums will keep on blooming, as will everblooming plants such as Stella d’oro daylilies.

You can help a lot of these plants along by removing the spent blossoms. That will keep them vibrant and producing more blossoms.

And if you are lacking color, go out and buy a few more annuals. Anything you like. The fall annuals such as chrysanthemums and such will probably be ready early, and you will be able to go out and enjoy them until the first frost.

It’s been a wonderful start to the gardening season. Enjoy it. Spend time in your garden, and buy lots of vegetables from your farming neighbors.


Tom Atwell can be contacted at 791-6362 or at

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