What a difference a year makes.

Last year, we had our peas, carrots and lettuce in the ground during March. This year, we still had snow at that time.

We are ready to get out in the garden. It was a thrill over Easter weekend to spend time removing leaves from the higher and drier parts of our property and feel the sunshine on my face. The winter was not historically cold, but it was snowy, and long. I’m glad it’s over.

Nancy and I have no big plans for changes in the garden this year — just some minor tweaks, new varieties and a couple of experiments, both a side benefit of construction we had done this year.

The first experiment is going to be a cold frame, which I have never used before. We replaced some windows in our house last year, and we have some aluminum storm windows that I was going to take to the dump. Our carpenter, a vegetable gardener himself, talked me into using them to get earlier produce from the garden.

As soon as the garden is dry enough to work — and it should be by the time this appears in print — I intend to plant some lettuce and carrots in hopes of getting some produce a couple of weeks earlier. I will also plant some outside the cold frame to compare production.

I won’t even need enough lettuce for a salad. A couple of lettuce leaves on my lunchtime sandwich will do. But we do want to have a lot more carrots than we have had in past years.

We also had several lengths of copper piping taken out of the house when we remodeled a bathroom. I have converted that piping into a triangular trellis, and plan to use it to grow decorative but edible beans. I ordered a multicolored pole bean mix from Fedco.

I plan to put the trellis right up next to the driveway, so we can see it when we drive in, which will remind me to pick the beans before they go by.

Fedco was out of the “Beer Friend” soybeans I wrote about in January by the time I ordered, so I will be growing Shirofumi soybeans instead. A reader advised me to expect them to be devoured by Japanese beetles, but I at least want to try.

I am adding Iona Petit Pois to our pea collection this year. It produces smaller gourmet peas. Since I never got around to planting a second crop of peas last year, I have a lot of my regulars from Allen, Sterling & Lothrop left over, and I wanted to try something different.

We already have the Jasper cherry tomatoes from Johnny’s Selected Seeds planted in pots in our cellar. We also have some mini bell peppers from Renee’s Garden Seeds that we’re starting inside.

We will buy the rest of our seedlings at the farmers market or various farm stands.  

ONE THING Nancy and I have promised to do this spring — and I advise you to do the same — is make a chart and write down where your bulbs bloom. Also mark out the places where you would like to have daffodils, tulips or some other bulb in future years. Then write yourself a note on the August or September page of your calendar; tell yourself to buy bulbs.

That way, you will know for certain where to put the bulbs you are planting this fall. And we have decided we can never have enough spring bulbs in our garden.

TRIPADVISORtripadvisor.com — has rated Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay as the No. 1 botanical garden in the United States.

Nancy and I use TripAdvisor before we take any trip, and Nancy has regularly written reviews of hotels where we have stayed, and has been informed she is in the top 10 percent for TripAdvisor readership.

We like and trust what they have to say.

Here is the report on Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens:

“Spanning 250 acres, travelers are invited to explore the spectacular grounds at this New England garden. In the springtime, more than 11,000 dazzling tulips bare their colors, while a brilliant blend of other flora and fauna blossoms throughout the year. Open year-round, tickets are $14 for adults, $12 for seniors and $6 for children ages 3-17; children 3 and under get in free.”

Other gardens in the TripAdvisor Top 10 public gardens include some long-established, high-reputation gardens. And while I have seen some of them, there are quite a few that I still have to see. We knew CMBG had beautiful gardens and great plant labels. Now the rest of the world knows as well.  

The other gardens on the list, in order, are Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pa.; Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis; Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino, Calif.; Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson; Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet, S.C.; Hillwood Museum and Gardens in Washington, D.C.; Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Mich.; Sarah P. Duke Gardens in Durham, N.C.; and Chanticleer, in Wayne, Pa.

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:

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