Nature is messing with the calendar by which Mainers run their lives. I think it is because man has been messing with nature for a long time. We had the warmest June on record, and much of Maine was in some stage of drought until welcome rain came at a poor time over the Fourth of July weekend. Despite all that, gardens have been producing well – just not at the usual times.

The strawberries came very early this year, leaving few for Maine’s traditional July 4 dessert: strawberry shortcake. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Peas and strawberries are the garden crops most connected with the Fourth of July in Maine. But by the holiday weekend, we had only a few small, late-ripening strawberries left to pick. Our first berries ripened around June 7. We ate a lot fresh and still had enough for my wife, Nancy, to make two batches of jam. We still had peas to pick for the Fourth, but we had been picking peas for three weeks by then, so the novelty had worn off.

We planted both the traditional Sugar Snap and the new Super Sugar Snap pod peas, and they both produced as advertised. Super Sugar Snap produced edible pods first, giving us enough for a meal on June 20. The pods were plentiful, but they had stopped producing by July 1, when I pulled the vines. The traditional Sugar Snaps arrived a week later and tasted a bit sweeter. These were still producing plentifully over the Fourth of July weekend.

Raspberries were looking good over the holiday, and I expect to be picking them by the time this column appears in print.

It has been a warm, dry growing season, with the exceptions being the holiday weekends, and everything is coming early – not just the strawberries. Both the flower and vegetable gardens have required a lot of irrigation. The two-plus inches of rain we got over the Fourth of July weekend was a great help.

Peonies in columnist Tom Atwell’s garden this spring. The peonies bloomed for a long time. Photo by Tom Atwell

The flowers have been gorgeous. From the crocuses and trout lilies in early April to the hydrangeas putting on their show now, we’ve had a constant display of color. The azaleas and rhododendrons blossomed early and lasted a long time, with Nancy remarking that she couldn’t recall ever having azaleas and peonies blooming at the same time. They did this year. We had different varieties of rhododendrons in bloom from late April to early July. When I wrote about peonies in early June, I had no idea that this would be such a bountiful season for the species. They started blooming early and lasted well over a month.

We have been creating a native garden in a shady area next to the woods, and it is filling in well. We have had trout lilies for a long time, but we added new ones this year, and they seemed to last a lot longer than normal, as well.

Most digitalis, or foxgloves, are a biennial, self-seeding flower. That means they grow one year, die back to the ground for winter, then grow and blossom the second year, producing seed that will result in plants in the same vicinity in the future. We had foxgloves everywhere this year, but a line along a stone wall next to the raspberries was especially attractive. The perennial foxgloves are a pale yellow and bloomed in three locations in our gardens – nice, but they are never as showy as the purple-pink biennial foxgloves, which are garden standouts.

This is just the midseason report, though, and the future looks good. The tomato plants are mostly healthy, with blossoms and a few tiny fruits coming along. The exuberant exception is our Patio Delight tomato – designed for growing in pots, though we are growing it on the front steps because our patio is too shady – which already has green tomatoes the size of tennis balls.

An apple tree that was on the property when we moved here in 1975 is producing fruit for the first time. I pruned it over the winter, not to help fruit but to make it easier to put up decorative lights for Christmas. The fruit has been a side benefit – although I wouldn’t bet on the apples ripening. (Small apples often fall off the tree before they ripen, and untended trees – despite my lackadaisical pruning – tend not to do well.)

Mostly what we have gotten out of our garden so far this year is enjoyment. Yes, we love eating the food we are growing and looking at and cutting the flowers. But it is really satisfying to be outside, doing the work and seeing what that work produces.

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


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