May 9, 2010

Maine Gardener: Extension branches out for gardeners digging online

By Tom Atwell
Staff Writer

The Cooperative Extension wants to reach out to gardeners who are just beginning to grow vegetables who would go online for information.


BUY A rain barrel.

I BOUGHT MINE last year from the Portland Water District, and they are selling them again this year for $65, which is quite a bit less expensive than you can get them commercially.

THE BARRELS are made of recycled materials, hold 55 gallons of water and are easy to install. They can be ordered at or by calling 774-5961 by Friday.

BUT EVEN IF you don’t buy from the water district, you need at least one rain barrel. While talking with Lois Berg Stack about May baskets, we wandered off into the warm spring and how it will affect the growing season. And although we had a lot of rain in March, the early warm weather could evaporate a lot of water out of the ground, and gardens will be headed for a drought.

LAST YEAR we used the water in my rain barrel mostly for containers and on recently planted vegetables seeds, seedlings and perennials. And last year was by no means dry. I think the barrel will be more useful this year.

"We are looking to help people, probably nontraditional extension clients," said Barbara Murphy, an extension educator who works out of the South Paris office.

"These are people who would use the computer as a first line of interaction, rather than calling or, heaven forbid, walking into the office. And they are the new homeowners and new group coming into gardening."

The website is called GrowMaineGrow at

"We did a little bit of an online survey last fall with 200-plus responses," Murphy said. "The vast majority were interested in learning online, and were even willing to pay for online gardening classes."

Murphy is going to be the person answering gardening questions submitted to the website, and already has received a few of them.

"The No. 1 question is when is it safe to plant," she said. Her answer has been, despite the early weather, don't plant anything you aren't willing to take a chance of losing, despite the early start to the season.

It isn't just early-season vegetables that people were asking about; some are wondering about tomatoes.

Last year was when vegetable gardening became trendy again, and Murphy said she is getting questions from both people who have never planted a vegetable garden and people who planted last year, which with wet weather and blight was one of the worst gardening years in memory.

"Everyone seems willing to say last year was a disaster, but it wasn't my fault," Murphy said.

In addition to answering questions submitted to the website, Murphy also will probably do an online forum for a couple of hours each week, although that has yet to be set up.

The Grow Maine Grow website has quick links to extension articles on when to plant, where to plant and how to prepare the plot, what seeds to plant and harvesting.

It also has links to Maine Home Garden News, a monthly extension newsletter, as well as gardening programs and other gardening articles for all gardeners, not just beginners.

The extension also is on Facebook and Twitter, updating people about things to do and topics related to gardening.

"We put out timely updates on Grow Maine Grow as they are being done, or highlight certain publications that people might need," said Jennifer O'Leary, who handles communications for the extension. "We also notified people about a container-gardening video that people might want to see."


The American Horticultural Society has named two Maine residents connected with the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens as winners of its 2010 Great American Gardener Awards.

The Landscape Design Award went to landscape architect Bruce John Riddell, who works out of Bar Harbor and designed major sections of the Botanical Garden in Boothbay.

The B.Y. Morrison Communications Award went to William Cullina of Southport Island, plant curator and director of horticulture at the botanical gardens.

The society, based at River Farm in Alexandria, Va., names only 12 recipients all over the country each year, so it is a major award for both of them.

In announcing the award, the society said "Riddell's primary focus is on the design and construction of intimate residential gardens, but he has designed three public gardens in Maine -- Southwest Harbor Veteran's Park, Charlotte Rhoades Park, and the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens -- all of which have won awards for design excellence. Riddell's gardens typically combine native and naturalized plantings with site-specific elements such as gates, lights, fountains and stonework."

Riddell also is on the advisory board of the Beatrix Ferrand Society and is amabassador at large for Coastal Maine Botanical Garden.

Cullina is a frequent lecturer and, frequent readers of this column will recall, a personal favorite of the writer. He often appears on radio and television, including on "Martha Stewart Living" and "Victory Garden."

He has written five books, the latest of which is "Understanding Perennials: A New Look at an Old Favorite."

The awards will be presented June 10 at the society's headquarters, and Riddell and Cullina are planning to attend.

For more information or to reserve your ticket, call (703) 768-5700, Ext. 110.

Tom Atwell can be contacted at 791-6362 or at:


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