The February meeting of the Scarborough Garden Club was filled with laughter – a wonderful antidote to the winter blahs. Long-standing and talented members of the club, Pat Corea and Elaine Toher, demonstrated the art of establishing your very own terrarium. They work well together and even managed a few one-liners that produced hearty laughter from an eager audience.

The meeting began with the monthly horticultural moment by June McClean. She set up a sign to introduce her talk, “Surprising Things About Worms.” After the chuckles died down, she explained that present-day worms were imported to the United States with the early settlers – indigenous worms were all killed by our Ice Age. Most worms are vital for healthy soil, but some types, particularly those used by fisherman, can be detrimental. Worms are hermaphrodites, having both male and female sex organs. When cut in two, the part with the head can grow another tail, but the tail end part will probably not survive. Her humorous presentation was much appreciated by her audience.

Pat and Elaine brought a motley collection of glass containers with them – all shapes and sizes – to emphasize that with the correct choice of plants almost any wide-mouthed, clear vessel with a cover could hold a lovely indoor garden – even a plastic bakery container from Hannaford! To make your terrarium you will need pebbles, activated charcoal, potting soil and small plants.

First, place a 1?2-inch layer of pebbles in the bottom of the container. Sprinkle a layer of the charcoal on top (this will keep the soil smelling sweet) and then add potting soil. Install your plants, being careful to leave room for them to grow. Do not overplant! Push the soil aside, place plant in the depression and then firm the soil around it. At this point, everyone laughed when Elaine brandished her own invention – a cork stuck on the end of a long skewer – but everyone agreed it made the perfect tool for tamping down the soil. Now Pat got a good laugh – when it was time to settle the plants with a bit of water, she brought forth her unique watering can, in the shape of an incredibly ugly cat!

If you wish to use succulents, add some sand to the soil and be careful not to over-water. All of these terrariums need minimum moisture and bright light, but should not be placed in direct sunlight. Never fertilize the plants and when they get as big as you want, try pinching off the newest growth to achieve a bushy effect. If you have a container without a cover, substitute a sheet of Saran wrap – but remember to remove it when you have company!

Elaine and Pat then explained that terrariums can serve as holiday decorations. Add an Easter egg, a Christmas ornament, or a little United States flag for the Fourth of July. For daily enjoyment, add a few seashells, or tiny figures – a splendid opportunity to use your imagination.

For me, Feb. 22 is still a holiday that I continue to celebrate as the birthday of George Washington, Father of our Country. This year I was also reminded of a portrait I glimpsed in the Senate chamber of our state Legislature on a recent trip to Augusta – General Henry Knox, good friend of Washington, his constant companion during many Revolutionary War campaigns, Secretary of War in his cabinet, and finally, builder in Thomaston, Maine, of the elaborate three-story mansion that he named “Montpelier.”

Henry Knox was born in Boston in 1750. He was a bright child, enrolled in Boston Latin School, but he was forced to end his formal education at the age of 12 when his father died. He took a job as a clerk in a bookstore to support his mother – six years later he opened his own bookstore on Cornhill, specializing in military matters. He supported the Sons of Liberty, but in 1774 he married Lucy Flucker, much against the wishes of her wealthy parents who were British Loyalists.

After the battles of Lexington and Concord, the Knoxes sneaked out of Boston, and Henry joined the militia army besieging Boston. Using the artillery expertise he had managed to teach himself while in his bookstore, he directed the rebel cannon fire at the Battle of Bunker Hill. When George Washington arrived to take command of the army, he was impressed with Knox and they soon were working together on artillery matters. It was at this time that Knox came up with the idea of bringing the cannon recently captured at Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point in New York State to Boston to enforce the siege. This involved hauling 60 tons of cannon and other armaments by ox-drawn sled across 300 miles of treacherous icy rivers and over the snow-covered Berkshire mountains. It took six backbreaking weeks to accomplish this, but it allowed the Continental Army to fortify Dorchester Heights, forcing the British to evacuate Boston. Ironically, Lucy’s parents also fled the city, as a result of the efforts of their son-in-law.

Knox continued to accompany Washington, participating in many battles as head of artillery, ending the war as a major general. He then served President Washington as Secretary of War. He finally retired to Thomaston in 1795, re-assembling the large parcels of land in Maine that had been confiscated from Lucy’s Loyalist parents at the beginning of the Revolution, and building their new home, “Montpelier.” He engaged in cattle farming, ship building, brick making and real estate speculation and gained an unfortunate reputation for harshly evicting those who could not pay their rent or who were squatting on his land.

Upon his death in 1806 (he developed an infection after swallowing a chicken bone and died three days later) it was revealed that he had been operating on borrowed money and was bankrupt – an unfortunate end to an illustrious career. Nevertheless, he was buried with full military honors on his estate in Thomaston.

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