So far, this has been the year of shade-tolerant shrubs. Their bountiful blossoms have carried us through drought and heat punctuated by the occasional wind-driven downpour.

Our azaleas started this parade in mid-May, followed by the rhododendrons, with blossoms continually from the PJMs (the rhododendron variety we have), in late May to one reclaimed rhododendron that had never blossomed before but this year was blooming on the Fourth of July. It was white, so it isn’t the “Independence” typically planted for late blooms (though given the holiday, that would have been apt). After that splash, the mountain laurels began their show, filling the understory with their intricate and varied flowers until early July.

This is just what we saw on our own property, but I noticed similar successes in other people’s yards.

If I knew what weather conditions caused this abundance, I would order a repeat. I had feared that many of the spring-blooming plants, which form their buds the previous year, would have suffered during the subzero temperatures in December and January. But maybe the cold just toughened them up and made them more determined to put on a good show.

All of these flowers came on plants we have had for years. Writing in April, I had listed several annuals I was planting to bring excitement to the summer. The results have been mixed.

The big success has been blue borage. It is an attractive plant with blue flowers and silvery leaves, and has been interesting to watch develop. It is pretty and delicate. I have not yet picked any to add to salads or decorate birthday cakes, but might give that a try later this month.

The rest of the annuals were less successful. The French Alouette Imperial Larkspur never sprouted. Instructions said to plant it February through April, and it was early May when I got to it. That’s where I’ll put the blame for that.

I was also planning to grow two new poppies, the “Black Peony” and “Danish Flag” varieties. They haven’t blossomed yet – but that isn’t to say they won’t, later this year or in some future year.

But blue borage is a success story for 2018.

One of the rules of our vegetable garden is that the vegetables are planted among self-seeding flowers, and one of the most common are bread-seed poppies. In the areas where I planted these specialized poppies, other poppies already were sprouting – and I couldn’t tell one from the other. So far I have seen no blossoms that match the “Black Peony” or “Danish Flag” description, but I expect that sometime this year or next while picking cucumbers or zucchini, I’ll see these distinct blossoms. Hope remains strong.

The strawberries we planted this spring have taken hold and are doing well. I actually remembered to remove all the blossoms to let the plants develop. We will be picking a lot of berries from those plants next year. The strawberry bed that is dwindling produced for three weeks, giving us enough to eat and for one batch of jam.

The blueberry bushes are going strong, and we have had a few berries already and more are ripening. They haven’t liked the dry weather, though, and I should have been more diligent about watering. At least I know my methods for fighting the winter moth are working (I used a dormant oil spray to smother insect eggs on the blueberries. Once I saw winter moth caterpillars in nearby oaks, I sprayed them a second time, using Bt).

We ate asparagus for a month, and when we stopped cutting asparagus, the peas – both sugar snap and the shelling varieties – were ready for harvest. The heat-tolerant Wando peas that we planted so we would have some for the pea-loving Florida relatives arriving next week seem to be on schedule. I love it when a plan I make comes together.

The tomatoes, peppers, summer squash and cucumbers are progressing well. We have had one summer squash, which reached an edible size earlier than all the others, but a lot of small ones are coming. We also have small peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers on the vines. The raspberries are just now coming in.

All of that success came with a large increase in our water bill. We have done a complete watering of our vegetable garden four times and a watering of the other gardens twice – in addition to hand-watering new plants and plants in containers. It has been worth the effort. As of July 10, Southern Maine was in a moderate drought, about 4 inches below normal for the year – and we were above normal as of the end of April. The rain on Tuesday doubtless helped.

A surprise that has come from letting part of our property go wild is that we have currants – the wild, native kind. We did not plant these, but we do have them.

Currants and all members of the ribes family are illegal in Maine, largely because the European black currant is a co-host for white pine blister rust, which can kill pine seedlings and damage the tops. Since Maine has a large industry harvesting pine and is nicknamed the Pine Tree State, government officials banned currants and even – before the money was needed to fight spruce budworm – had a program to eradicate currants.

The wild, native currants that we found on our property won’t hurt the few nearby pines.

I hope that writing about this doesn’t result in me facing any charges.


TOM ATWELL is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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