When Lisa Colburn moved more than 200 miles from St. Agatha to Orono, she had to learn how to garden all over again.
“I felt I had mastered Zone 3 gardening,” she said in a recent telephone interview. “I knew who had the best deal on compost and soil, and I had kindred spirits I met with to talk about gardening.”
In Zone 5 Orono, where Colburn went to finish her college degree after age 50 and still lives, she didn’t have those contacts.
“I ended up buying soil and getting less than I paid for,” she said. “I knew the garden centers that had the best marketing budgets, but you and many other gardeners know that the best garden center can be the one at the end of a dirt road somewhere.”
So she put advertisements in publications for Maine’s Master Gardeners, the Garden Club Federation of Maine and the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association asking people to fill out surveys about gardening. She also sent the surveys to other serious gardeners who aren’t members of any of those organizations.
All of that information has been compiled in “The Maine Garden Journal: Insider secrets from Maine people who love to put their hands in the dirt.” The people surveyed were eager to share the information, and they are credited in the book for their ideas and recommendations.
The surveys were not just fill-in-the-blanks forms. Colburn asked people to tell about their favorite trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and tropicals. She asked about the best garden centers, garden tours and public gardens. She includes garden catalogs, both in-state and out-of-state, because a lot of Maine gardeners buy from catalogs. She lists the various plant societies in the state. She includes information about garden pests, whether they are insects, plant diseases or invasive plants.
“Those enthusiastic gardeners gave me a hodgepodge of information,” Colburn said, “and it took me about a year to get it all organized in databases. I wanted to make sure I had all the right information.
And I wanted to get all the taxonomic names, because common names mean different things to different people in different parts of the state.”
She notes there is a big difference between a red maple and a maple with red leaves. One can be a native plant that works well in the landscape, and another can be the Crimson King, which is a sport of the Norway maple, an invasive species.
“With the taxonomic names, people can take the book to the garden center and tell them, ‘This is the plant I want,’ ” Colburn said.
Colburn formed her own company, Fern Leaf Publishing, to publish the book rather than go through a traditional publisher.
“I belong to the Garden Writers Association,” she said, “and I heard tales there of other garden writers who spent so much time writing wonderful books, and when they were sent to the publisher, they became the property of the publisher. They would remove entire chapters, and sometimes the photos weren’t correct.”
So she wanted to have the control she would have by publishing it herself.
“I formed Fern Leaf Publishing because if you buy one ISBN (International Standard Book Number), it doesn’t cost much more to buy 10,” she said. “The thought in my mind was that I could use the other numbers for books that I might develop or that others might develop and want me to publish.”
Colburn said the book is selling fairly well. She majored in marketing at the University of Maine, so she is doing the marketing herself.
The book is available in stores from Caribou to York – but not in St. Agatha, because there aren’t any bookstores that far north in Maine.
“I have it in bookstores but also in gift shops, because it is sort of a touristy item as well as a resource guide,” she said. “People go on vacation somewhere, and they often want to go to garden centers and botanical gardens, and this is a guide to that.”
The book is also available at Amazon and other national book websites as well as at MaineGardenJournal.com, where there is a lot of other information about Colburn and the book. It’s a large-format paperback with 188 pages loaded with more than 300 color photos. It costs $29.99.
Since this is the time of year when Mainers can’t spend a lot of time in the garden, it’s a good time to read about gardening. Next week, I will write about some of the other good garden books that have crossed my desk during this past year.
Tom Atwell has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth and can be contacted at 767-2297 or at: