Rayne Grace Hoke beelined through the annuals and past rows of waiting pots for a rhododendron bush.

“I need something pink,” Hoke said, clipping a branch for an arrangement.

Hoke is the floral manager at O’Donal’s Nursery in Gorham. She wasn’t the only one in search of something colorful Wednesday. The nursery was buzzing with shoppers who were taking advantage of the warmest day since September to start their spring gardening.

“Everyone’s been waiting for this,” Hoke said. “People have been chomping at the bit to get their hands dirty.”

The most recent day above 80 degrees in Portland was Sept. 27. Most places in southern Maine had also cracked 80 degrees by noon Wednesday, and the temperature at the Portland International Jetport hit 90 degrees as of about 4 p.m., according the National Weather Service in Gray, falling 1 degree short of matching the record for May 2 set in 2001.

“We’re in spring now,” said William Watson, a weather service meteorologist. “All indications are that we have turned that corner.”

For O’Donal’s, that is certainly true. Between early planting and prom and Mother’s Day, May is the busiest month of the year for the nursery. Employee Martha Buisman said she has finally been able to start selling tomatoes this week. She pointed eagerly to the new petunias with stripes, spots or unique colors.

“There’s the little black one, it’s so chic,” she said with a laugh.

Linton and Bonnie Studdiford, both 76, of Brunswick took advantage of the nice weather to make their annual trip to O’Donal’s. They are Master Gardeners, and this year, the weather pushed their planting two weeks later than usual.

“You were pruning in the snow,” Bonnie Studdiford said to her husband.

Cousins Megan Southard, 24, and Andi Francis, 25, wandered through the nursery with Southard’s boyfriend, 26-year-old Shaun Harlow. They read the labels on the different plants and pointed to unique varieties, but they didn’t really come to buy.

“We just wanted to see some actual plant life,” Harlow said.

Gardeners weren’t the only people antsy for spring. At Smiling Hill Farm in Westbrook, a group of children was on a field trip with Laugh & Learn Preschool in Wells. Having already taken a tractor ride and eaten ice cream sandwiches, they screamed in delight as they rolled down a grassy hill.

Teacher Kim Levesque said the preschool organizes field trips every month, but they need to come up with indoor destinations like museums during the winter.

“They’ve been stuck in a long time, so this is like a day from heaven,” Levesque said. “I think the adults wanted this more than the kids.”

For Casco Bay Lines in Portland, higher temperatures mean higher revenues.

“The four months – June, July, August, September – are the only months we operate in the black,” General Manager Hank Berg said. “They make it so we can survive the rest of the season.”

The lines at the ticket window weren’t long Wednesday afternoon, but a dozen people still sat in the lobby waiting for the next ride. Berg said he was starting to see ridership increase for the season, from day-trippers to summertime islanders.

Sisters Denise Fairchild, 71, and Liz Lozier, 67, waited to board the next ferry to and from Peaks Island. Fairchild lives in Portland, and Lozier drove in from Buxton. The breeze on the water would help them cool off from a sunny walk in the Old Port. After a long winter and a fickle spring, it might finally be time to put winter clothes away, they agreed.

“My boots are still in the closet,” Fairchild said.

Even on a beautiful day, Mark Gatti of Mark’s Hotdogs in Portland joked that a few people were actually griping about the heat.

“We live in Maine, so if it’s not 71.5, some people are going to complain,” he said.

Staff Writers Randy Billings and Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.

Contact Megan Doyle at 791-6327 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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