Join Jody and her friend as they travel from nursery to nursery in search of “goodies” for their gardens.

Good morning! Well, summer has officially begun. No, not according to the calendar. By the calendar, we don’t get there until June 21. But everyone in “Vacationland” knows that summer begins Memorial Day weekend when our out-of-state visitors begin to arrive to experience “the way life should be.”

Now I enjoy traveling as much as the next guy, but, sometimes, adventures are right around the corner and we pass them by because they are too close to home. Just about everyone has or knows someone who has a secret fishing hole, a hiking trail that no one knows about, a great diner hidden in some tiny hamlet or a place with the “best” flowers.

Well, there is no place with the best flowers.

There are, however, in most gardeners’ minds, as-yet-undiscovered places with great flowers. Hence, the nursery-tour adventures begin each spring with unabashed joy and fun.

Grab a friend and go

My good friend and gardening companion, Lorraine, and I try to take three or four of these whirlwind day trips before planting season. We call them our gardening “loops.” We have one for each direction, except north. The stops on these loops vary and new ones are continually added – some never leave the list. (We also go to all the local nurseries, but we sneak them in while we are supposedly grocery shopping.)

In keeping with providing you with “fun” information along with “how-to-kill slugs” kind of guidance, this column will give you a broad-stroke outline of where to find some gems for your gardens.

So, grab a gardening friend, pick up “The Maine Atlas,” take a vehicle with lots of carrying capacity and “head out on the highway, looking for adventure.” (These tours all begin from Turner, so if you live somewhere else, adjust accordingly.)

Southern loop: Our southern loop begins in Gorham, so we try to leave by 8 a.m. Our first stop is one of our newest favorites and is called Ossipee Trail Gardens on Route 25 outside of Gorham. This is new to us, but, perhaps, it has been there for some time. They have about six greenhouses, mostly filled with annuals and perennials that can be used in pots. But, these aren’t just white geraniums. These are new hybrids, geraniums with colors that pop, ruffled and miniaturized coral bells and every new color of coleus you could want.

They also have unusual shrubs and trees, roses, tree peonies, regular peonies and perennials. The staff is very helpful and will search for some particular item you might want. They have some fun garden art as well.

When you leave here, it’s not far at all to O’Donal’s Nursery on the County Road in Gorham, not far from the Maine Mall. O’Donal’s has a wide variety of herbs, any gardening tool or trellis you might want, a wide selection of perennials as well as roses and peonies. We have also found some of our most unusual annuals here.

When you leave here, go toward the Maine Mall area and pick up Route 295 north. Get off at a Falmouth exit for Route 1. Allen, Sterling and Lothrop is in the midst of shopping centers. This is not a large nursery, but it has some wonderfully fun plants.

We found pink forget-me-nots this year as well as peach-colored verbena and coral portulaca. Put that portulaca and verbena together with a bright yellow patio dahlia and lime-green miniature coral bells – and WOW is what you get. This is also a source for many organic fertilizers, for garden lime and phosphate, Sluggo and some of the most unusual and inviting garden art we have seen. Their variety of perennials is wonderful.

Just a short distance from this stop is the turn onto Foreside Road to one of the Skillins greenhouses. Skillins is large and carries most of the new annuals and perennials you see in gardening magazines, plus table after table of annuals. They also carry the Coast of Maine compost and potting soil products.

When you leave here, take Route 1 north to Yarmouth. About halfway there, you will see the 233 Diner on the right. Great place for lunch and a little rest.

Just off Route 1 in Yarmouth, on East Main St., is Estabrook’s. If you are searching for a particular perennial, look here. They have lovely annuals but not a wide variety. However, little treasures are hidden in their greenhouses. I found a wonderful yellow ranunculu here that is perfect for a mixed pot. The nursery/gift shop also features some fun stuff. I found a blue watering can with a big green frog for my granddaughter with a matching trowel and fork (so she can dig up that ranunculu when I’m not looking).

At the turn onto East Main St. before Estabrook’s is a sign for Plainview Farm. This hidden garden, off Route 136, is a treasure trove for the unusual. This is where I discovered Goodwin Creek lavender, the only one that will winterover and bloom in the house, which is a wonderful treat in January.

They also have several different kinds of annual poppies (impossible to find normally), new annuals and hard-to-find perennials such as hellabores and dwarf lungwort. The garden art here is expensive but exclusive, and this year there was a topiary dragonfly with a wingspan of about 4 feet. It would be really outstanding on the corner of a shady patio.

Take the Freeport Road back to Lewiston and, if you didn’t dawdle, you should have just about enough time to reheat leftovers for dinner.

Eastern loop: This loop begins on the North Parish Road in Turner at Sunnyside Gardens. These English border gardens are at the home of Edith and Joel Ellis and reflect Edith’s love of the Brits. Edith carries Maine hardy perennials, a wide variety of daylilies and the tried and true. With Edith’s advice and plants, even a beginning gardener will do well.

Head north from here to Route 219 and go east. If you have time, stop at Gingerbread Farm on the Old Winthrop Road in Wayne for bedding plants and perennials. I found a double bloodroot here that I have never seen anywhere else. When you leave here, head for Winthrop and Route 202. Near the Winthrop/Manchester line, stop at D.R. Struck’s on the right. This is a small nursery but home to Sarah’s Superb Herbs, Jeeper’s Creeper’s ground covers, American Daylilies and the new Volcano Garden Phlox.

Take a right toward Manchester and then a left on Puddledock Road. About a half mile on the right is Longfellow’s. This nursery has just about everything you could want. With more than two dozen greenhouses, allow a lot of time. Perennials are outside and they have a wide selection of roses and peonies. If you don’t see what you want, just ask. They can usually find it. They also have the most extensive supply of fertilizers, garden aids such as rings and stakes and soil amendments I have seen. They have a marvelous gift selection, birdhouses and supplies, houseplants and pots. Lots of time is the secret here.

Western loop: This loop contains the largest number of “down-home” nurseries. Take Route 117 west toward Buckfield. Turn left onto Route 124 to the end. Just before the corner is Roundabout Farm. This family farm offers a large number of perennials but has extensive offerings of both Oriental and Asiatic lilies and sedums of every description. I found my Canadian Explorer roses here and about a dozen different kinds of sedum.

Go back to Route 117 and go left to Buckfield Village. In the village, cross the bridge on the right and take the North Buckfield Road. Just follow it through the countryside and follow the Jack’s Greenhouse signs. Go right on Earl Jack Road to the top of the hill. The road ends at the nursery. The Jack family has five greenhouses on a hillside among fields with cows and horses. In my opinion, this is Maine at its honest best. The family grows mostly annuals with some herbs and perennials. Many perennials for containers are sold with the annuals and at the same cost. There are always a few new annuals here but tried and true remains the tenet. This is not a stop for anyone who might have trouble walking uneven ground.

Go back to Buckfield Village and follow Route 117 over Streaked Mountain to Norway/South Paris. On Main Street in South Paris you will find the McLaughlin Garden on the right. Even if they aren’t having one of their plant sales, it is well worth the trip to walk the paths of this historic garden.

Also on Main Street, you will find Maurice’s. A lovely old home houses this French restaurant, which has a wonderful lunch menu that includes quiches and superb soups as well as salads.

Caution: Don’t forget “The Maine Atlas” for some of these loops. But then, on the other hand, what’s that line about “taking the road less traveled?” Lorraine and I have had some of our most memorable and laugh-filled adventures when we made a wrong turn. That means, I think, it wasn’t wrong at all!

Until next time, watch for the butterflies and enjoy the hummers – they are back! Have a picnic with a youngster and let him or her dig in the dirt and do some planting. The reward in a decade or two may be a bouquet of flowers on your kitchen table and the joy of success on a loving face.

Happy gardening!

Jody Goodwin has been gardening for more than 20 years. She lives in Turner with her husband, Ike, her two dogs and two cats. She can be reached by writing to her in care of the Sun Journal, 104 Park St., Lewiston, Maine, 04243-4400 or by e-mail at [email protected]