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Garden Fever

One of a series of articles on the topic of wellness. Click here for more.

By Becky Gallery, Harpswell Garden Club

Snow-covered garden (Becky Gallery photo)

It’s just the beginning of March, spring is still around the corner, and I am itching to get outside to start working in the garden. I love winter, and snow, and the beauty of sea smoke hovering over Casco Bay on a cold winter morning, but I really want to be digging in the dirt, getting up close and personal with Mother Nature.

The gardens spring to life in the coming weeks. Crocus, daffodils and tulips all poke their green stems through the soil, producing flowers to remind us that another winter has finally finished with Maine. With the spring blooms we see the pollinators start to work, flitting from dandelion to daffodil, gathering the nectar, collecting bits of pollen to share with other blossoms. Soon, the lilacs will be in blossom, and the apple trees too, with their lovely scent filling the air.

As the seasons evolve, so does our relationship with nature. Through the winter we “hunker down” during the storms, hoping the power does not fail. As spring approaches, we spend more time outdoors, clearing winter’s debris, raking out those leaves left from autumn, and dreaming of the flowers and vegetables to come, the shade of the tree, and birds, bees, and butterflies.

Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on lilac blooms at Centennial Hall (Becky Gallery photo)

So while we think about the good things to come as the weather warms, we begin to plan our garden. What new plants will we try this year? Is there space in the vegetable garden for some potatoes? Will we try an heirloom tomato, to taste and savor when the warm August days arrive? And flowers, those colorful bits of happiness. Which annuals will catch our eye when we visit the nursery to pick up some flats of lettuce? Should we try to find space for another perennial? And what about that shady strip of soil on the north side of the garage? Wouldn’t that be a great location for a shade garden, with foamflower, wood asters, and Canada anemone?

When you are planning your garden, keep our native wildlife in mind. The native bees and butterflies all have specific plants they prefer. The Monarch butterfly lays its eggs on our native milkweed. The Monarch caterpillars, when hatched, eat only the native milkweed. Without this plant, which has largely been eliminated from the landscape, the Monarch cannot survive.

Our native birds rely on native insects to feed their chirping infants in the nest. Later in the year, they will need additional insects and nutritious berries to supply the energy needed for those long migrations to their warmer winter homes. I often see cedar waxwings eating berries. Perhaps a serviceberry bush, winterberry or a hawthorn would attract the waxwings to your yard and provide a nutritious meal for the flock.

Think about adding native plants to your garden. By providing native plant material for the wildlife, you help ensure the well-being of our native fauna. Avoid those “new and improved” flowers designed to appeal to your eyes, and select the plants that will support our wild neighbors. If the plant has a name in single quotations it is a cultivar, or clone, and will not add to the biodiversity in your landscape. For instance, Rosa virginiana is a native variety, while Rosa ‘Sunny Knockout’ is a cultivar. The University of Maine Extension Service offers serveral sources for learning more about native plants.

  • Click here for information on plants to use in landscaping.
  • Click here for information about where to buy native plants.

Every spring Harpswell Heritage Land Trust offers a morning full of speakers about native plants and a native plant sale. Click here for details.

I have Garden Fever. I can’t wait to start digging in the dirt. And while I am outdoors, digging, enjoying the view, chatting with neighbors, I will know I am contributing to the wellness of nature and providing food and shelter for our native insects, birds and animals.

March 2019