Friday, December 6, 2013
By Catherine Gentile
YARMOUTH – Twenty-two years ago, when we bought less than an acre on an island hilltop overlooking Casco Bay, I fell in love with our property. It turned out to be a great move for my sailor husband but not so for me, a gardener. Our house was located on the poorest soil in Maine, in an area plagued by voracious slugs, groundhogs and deer.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Catherine Gentile of Yarmouth is a freelance and fiction writer.
• Readers may submit original 500-word essays about Maine life via email for this column to email@example.com. Submissions must include the full name, address and daytime phone number of the author.
Desperate to plant lush gardens, I became a Master Gardener. I learned of natural ways to deal with the critters. But it took me a few growing seasons and more money than I care to admit to accept the fact that Cousins Island, infused with sand and marine clay and buffeted by ocean winds, is a growing zone unto itself.
Before that hard lesson took root, I purchased bulbs, seedlings and saplings from brightly colored catalogs. Many purchases limped through the spring and summer, then failed to survive our tough Maine winters.
Frustrated, I turned to plants that were thriving – all native to the area. I searched for ostrich ferns, cinnamon stick ferns, day lilies and low-bush blueberries and transplanted them from wooded areas to what would become the first of many gardens.
As a Master Gardener, I'd been trained to test and amend the soil, but I chose not to. The reason? I didn't want to disturb the legions of jack-in-the-pulpits and yellow trout flowers that bloomed each spring. I had no reason to upset the chemical balance of the soil to which those beauties were partial. I was learning to let Mother Nature lead the way.
Not amending the soil worked well as long as I kept my gardens within the few loamy spots by our house. When it came to other parts of the yard, I encountered a different challenge – small impenetrable rocks used in leaching fields, long defunct. An entire section was so caked with small rocks that the tip of my shovel barely penetrated the "soil."
My options were twofold: build raised beds or plant only where the soil was rock-free. I designed a group of raised beds in the shape of a star and, outside this area, planted in soil that welcomed my shovel.
Whenever I received a gift of a native plant from a garden that was being dismantled, I located my "orphaned" plant in a patch of rock-free soil. As I acquired new plants – native, mind you – I included them alongside my "orphaned" babies. I transplanted rosebushes, a couple of peonies and some of the black-eyed Susans and daisies that had self-seeded. Before I knew it, I had a full-fledged garden, outside my raised beds.
After 20-plus years of living on our scrappy piece of island real estate, we now enjoy a small vegetative kingdom. Honoring Mother Nature has given us a pleasant vista and a modicum of lawn to mow. We preserved native plants and have established a plant rescue that provides perennials for new gardens and those being joyfully expanded.
If I were to move, would I undertake this kind of landscaping again? Yes, indeed. But if I consider buying another piece of property, I'll have the soil tested first.
– Special to the Telegram