Winter is a gardener’s down time. All the gardens – at least in Maine – are asleep. And you could be, too.

But isn’t it better to get out and meet people and learn new things about gardens, gardening and nature in general?

It’s easy to do so. Nonprofit groups around the state, not to mention garden centers, offer gardening talks of all sorts throughout the winter. They’re worth attending and will keep you from just vegetating during the dark and snowy season. Three in particular piqued my interest, so I called to get a little more information.

 On April 10, Mark Brandhorst of Pond Hill Gardens in South Paris will be discussing perennial succulents at St. Mary’s Garden Club in Falmouth. The public is welcome.

Succulents – both those grown as houseplants and those left outdoors – are especially popular right now, and Brandhorst is capitalizing on that. He started growing them about 10 years ago and has been selling them for five or six years.

“I’d been putting them in my stone work,” he said. “I love seeing them spread and how many varieties there are and all the colors they come in.”


He estimates he has 180 varieties of sempervivum, or hens and chicks, on his own property, 80 sedums and 50 jovibarba varieties.

Many of the plants grow in almost no soil, Brandhorst said. They separate from the mother plant, end up in a crack in some ledge with a little bit of soil and you have another plant. Many can grow on vertical surfaces without a problem.

He said that while succulents do well in rock gardens, they will grow without the rocks. They do like a well-drained, fairly dry soil and won’t thrive in clay.

 On March 21, Lee Graham will be speaking to the Belfast Garden Club about growing asparagus. I called her to get some professional tips – the fact she was a high school classmate of mine is mostly coincidental.

About 15 years ago, when she was looking ahead to retiring from a career in education and seeking a project that would give her some retirement income, she put in 500 asparagus plants at the 72-acre organic farm she and her husband own in Woodstock.

“We didn’t want to be tied to anything all summer,” Graham said. Because traditionally in Maine, you should stop picking asparagus on the Fourth of July, the hard work would end then, giving her the rest of the summer free.


As a perennial vegetable, asparagus does not require a lot of work every year, and the demand for it is high.

Graham said that she fertilizes asparagus throughout the season, but every third year she puts on a heavy dose of composted manure, which has the unwanted side effect of producing a lot of weeds. She keeps the garden weeds in check by mulching with lawn clippings – which isn’t all grass because they don’t try to control lawn weeds either. They never till the clippings in, letting them get up to 8 inches high.

Sometime after July 4, Graham leaves the farm for a week as a way to force herself to stop picking. She finds the tender stalks too tempting. But after the spears have leafed out and formed frothy bushes of asparagus foliage, if she sees any spears later in the season, she will pick enough for dinner. They still taste good, and the late-season harvesting doesn’t hurt the plants.

 On March 22, Jean Potuchek, a retired sociology professor, will give a talk on garden record-keeping at McLaughlin Garden in South Paris.

“I keep all of my records online in the form of a spreadsheet,” she said, “and whenever I am planting something new, I do a computer graphic plan of what goes where. I guess I am one of those super-compulsive types.”

But her talk will be about more than what she does. She is seeking responses from other gardeners – she has about 50 so far – on how they keep records of their own gardens, both what information they keep and how it helps them. So if you attend her talk, you not will not only get ideas about keeping your own records or a garden journal, but you might also get insights into what makes other gardeners tick – and that might be illuminating.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:

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