Pamela Hargest, horticulturist with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, at the Gardens at Tidewater Farm, which she oversees. Photo by Tom Atwell

The Gardens at Tidewater Farm at Falmouth is growing.

Not just the vegetables and flowers grown for donations to food pantries and other charities, but in its mission and the infrastructure and acreage under cultivation on the site.

Pamela Hargest, a horticulturist with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension who has overseen the work at Tidewater since the start of the 2018 growing season, said about 40 regular volunteers do much of the planting, weeding and harvesting of the produce from the gardens.

Hargest is the only paid worker on the gardens, which opened in 2012, so she uses as many low-maintenance techniques as she can.

The garden now covers at least one-third of an acre, but that doesn’t include a large area that is mowed a couple of times a year and another area that is covered with tarps that will be future gardens. The total property is about three acres.

“It’s all about being a lazy gardener,” Hargest said, although I would have used the word “efficient.” I saw no signs of laziness in her.


For starters, all of the gardens are no-till. Tilling brings weed seeds to the surface, where they will sprout and create extra work. In addition, tilling allows moisture in the soil to evaporate more quickly, which is to be avoided especially as Maine has suffered through drier summers recently.

She also avoids tilling when creating new gardens, choosing to smother the existing vegetation with tarps for a year or more before starting work.

The paths between the gardens are covered with donated wood chips, and the crops are mulched with straw. In addition, she and the volunteers plant cover crops after the harvest each year, using oats and winter peas. I have used oats as a cover crop in our garden, but hadn’t heard of using peas. A bit of online research shows that not only do they add a lot of moisture-retaining organic matter to the soil, they fix nitrogen from the atmosphere and add that to the soil, as well.

When I visited in late August, a large area had a crushed-stone base where a new greenhouse and garden shed will be constructed soon and readied for use by next spring’s start of gardening season.

Hargest said the greenhouse will, of course, be used to start seedlings, giving the gardens a jump on the growing season. Although the greenhouse will not be heated, it will have double-poly walls and hold heat well.

She is more excited that the two structures – the first in Tidewater Gardens with electricity – and the picnic tables that will be installed at the same time will provide a good place to hold classes, as well as the annual Master Gardener plant sale held each spring.


Hargest is excited to be drawing more people to the gardens through the classes and any other programs.

The gardens – located at 75 Clearwater Drive in Falmouth, which is off Route 1 – are open to the public, with people free to walk around to learn about the crops (some a little unusual) being grown, as well as the gardening techniques.

Hargest talks about Malabar spinach, which grows well in the heat of summer. Photo by Tom Atwell

One crop I found especially interesting is Malabar spinach, with the botanical name Basella alba. It isn’t a true spinach, which doesn’t grow well in the heat of the summer. Malabar spinach does, and makes a good summer salad green. It is a tall vining crop and easy to pick while standing.

Most of the food harvested from the gardens is given to Wayside Food Programs in Portland, but some will go to other nonprofit food pantries. Cut flowers go to Ronald McDonald House and other public sites.

That is one crop that the volunteers were harvesting when I visited.

While Hargest’s salary is paid by the University of Maine Extension and the gardens get a little money from the university, most of the money for the gardens comes from donations.


The land the gardens sit on are owned by the town of Falmouth, but the university’s lease still has about 10 years left. The town offers help when it can, using heavy equipment to move heavy materials, for example.

“They seem pleased to have us here,” Hargest said.

She also said Tidewater cooperates regularly with its Route 1 Falmouth neighbor, Maine Audubon Society. Maine Audubon sometimes holds classes at Tidewater, and Tidewater buys some plants from the Audubon sale.

Visitors could spend a full day enjoyably at the two sites.

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

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