CUMBERLAND — Dave and Brenda Elliott watched as Skillins Greenhouses workers loaded the bed of their pickup truck with bags of lobster compost and potting soil.

Even though there was still some snow in their yard in Windham, the urge to start digging in the dirt was strong.

“We can’t wait to get out there,” Brenda Elliott said.

The Elliotts were among the ranks of backyard gardeners who showed up in droves at greenhouses and nurseries on a rare warm weekend day Saturday.

This has been a spring to try even the most patient gardener in Maine, where people know to keep their vernal expectations low.

But this year gardeners have also had to contend with a particularly dismal spring.


First gardeners had to wait for the ice layer lurking under the winter’s snows to melt, and just when the last crystals finally disappeared, epic winds blew in, ruining any plans to rake up the leaves no one got to last fall because of the early snowfall.

Then they had to sit back while an April snowstorm covered the landscape once again last week. The ground just about everywhere is simply too wet to do any digging, said Terry Skillin, president of Skillins Greenhouses.

Cheryl McCall, left, and Carol Mackey, both of Cumberland, check out the house plant selection at Skillins Greenhouses on Saturday in Cumberland. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographe

“It is not always good to work with wet soil. You don’t want to break up the soil structure,” Skillin said.

And  it is way too early to plant anything outside, even peas, which Mainers traditionally sow by April 15.

“There are some who are going to plant their peas by April 15, no matter what,  but it is still a little early,” Skillin said.

He said peas can be safely planted up until the middle of May, and a fall crop can be sown in mid-August.


But the discouraging weather did not keep weekend farmers from dreaming Saturday.

Sister Pat Mooney of St. Catherine’s Convent in Portland loaded up her trunk with flats of pansies, sprouting daffodils and daisies.

“We have our pansies that are smiling,” Mooney said.

The daffodils were headed for an empty spot where the bulbs planted last fall didn’t come up.

“I think the young man put them in upside down,” Mooney said.

She also bought some  herb seed packets, looking forward to filling the sisters’ four raised beds and tending their six flower gardens.


“We’ll  have tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and zucchini, and I will make pickles, relish and tomato sauce,” Mooney said.

She said there will be enough to partially keep the convent’s 16 residents in vegetables for a while.

A customer pulls a wagon full of plants up to the cash registers at Skillins Greenhouses in Cumberland on Saturday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographe

Beverly Jensen of Portland cruised the greenhouse aisles with her granddaughter, Meghan Tranch of Portland, seeking inspiration and breathing in the sweet smell of geraniums.

“We are looking for ideas and pansies,” Jensen said.

Shutting the tailgate on his pickup truck, Dave Elliott said he planned to wait on planting his peas this year, even though he and his father used to compete each spring to be the first to get their pea seeds in the ground.

The thing is, he said, it didn’t really matter who won.

“Because we always got the peas at the same time,” Elliott said.


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