Good morning! And a very happy Father’s Day to all of you daddies, dads, pops, bumpas, poppies, pepères, grandpas and great-grandpas. I hope all of you have a wonderful day and that you are enjoying the beautiful flowers the snow-covered winter and spring rains have given us. The lupines are wonderful as well as plentiful this year, and the daisies are exuberant. The peonies are gorgeous, the hostas have risen and spread their lovely leaves for all to view, and the flowers seem to be growing even as you watch.

Well, yes, so are the weeds. But we will talk about weeds a little later.

You could call today’s column my annual warning about the “dark” side of gardening.

Gardeners often tell you about this flower or that bush and how well it is doing or how the lamb’s ears wintered or how the roses are blooming or a dozen other things. They don’t talk about the poison ivy that somehow crept into that flower bed, or how many products they have used to keep the mosquitoes at bay or the tick search that needs to be conducted every time they come out of the garden.

But gardeners do need to be watchful and knowledgeable about these things. So here we go …

Poison ivy is a woody, perennial climbing vine or ground cover that pops up everywhere in New England. Because of Maine’s overabundance of trees and forested areas, it is simply inevitable. Some of you city dwellers may be lucky enough to not have the worry. But for the rest of us, the best protection is knowledge.

The first step is learning to recognize the plant. Just because you haven’t had it, doesn’t mean you can’t get it. Seeds come from birds, from bringing new plants home and from it spreading into your garden. I have included a picture with this column. If you are not familiar with it, cut the picture out and put it on the frig. Once you have identified it a few times, you won’t need the picture anymore.

Don’t ever try to burn poison ivy because breathing the smoke infects your lungs. Don’t compost it. And in your attempts to get it out, touch it as little as possible, using only plastic or rubber-coated gloves.

I have two gardens where it shows up every year. On a day when I am out gardening, I do all the gardening first and leave the poison ivy for last. I fill a plastic pail with water and some bleach. Wearing long pants and sleeves plus gloves, I cut the plant as close to the ground as possible, place the cuttings in a plastic bag and then dig out as many roots as possible. I go from spot to spot doing this until they are all cut.

I put the plastic bag full of cuttings into another plastic bag, secure it and put it in the outside trash can. I put all of the tools in the bleach water to soak. I take all of my clothes, including the gloves and the shoes, and put them in the washing machine and run them through twice. Run them once with soap and hot water and the second time with just water. I then take a very long shower. I have never gotten the rash while following this routine. I have, however, gotten it several times as a result of weeding barehanded and not paying attention. Oh well, live and learn.

Be sure to shower

The next two topics – ticks and mosquitoes – are also a never-ending problem in Maine.

We have always had ticks but not ticks with Lyme disease. The best information in this case is to know your ticks. The common tick, referred to frequently as the dog tick, is seen most. When you find it attached to your dog or to you, it is usually a light grayish-tannish thing about the size of a pencil eraser. They are just yucky but don’t carry Lyme disease. Deer ticks are smaller, darker and much harder to see. They have to stay attached for at least 24 hours to transmit the disease and are usually found at the hairline, behind your ears or under your arms. A good shower right after gardening usually does the trick. If they do bite and you find a circular red spot or what looks like a bull’s eye target, see a doctor. Wearing long pants with socks over the pant legs and long-sleeved shirts is recommended. I don’t garden looking like Martha Stewart, so I depend on the shower part. I don’t wear cute little straw hats, either.

Now to the mosquitoes.

They used to be just a major annoyance but now that they have started carrying fairly frightening diseases, repellents should be on your every-time list. There are dozens of them and, according to experts, the more DEET the better the protection. My reaction to DEET is not good, so I always end up trying new products. For the last two seasons, I have used OFF Botanicals, a new plant-based repellent. It works great for me and for my husband. It is a cream and smells good. We haven’t taken it fishing yet and that is always the final test. But just be sure to wear something that works for you and try not to garden at their favorite feeding times.

For more information on insects and poisonous plants, go to PRONewEngland.org. This is a cooperative effort of the six land-grant universities in New England and offers extensive information.

And finally, back to the topic of weeds, I am sure you all have those “to-do” lists somewhere. I keep mine on my counter as a weekly reminder of the what, where and whens of my life for the next seven days. This time of year, several have something to do with planting, weeding or pruning.

This week, in rather large somewhat hostile letters, I wrote “Church Garden” at the very top. It gained that place by being on the list in a lower position for the two preceding weeks. You know how they always say, “You have to work your way up the ladder.” Well, at my house, you have to work your way “up the list.”

Anyway, I made several check marks by completed tasks on this week’s list, but that church garden entry was still staring at me. The forecast was for rain but it hadn’t started yet; and in the back of my mind, I could hear my mother saying, “You don’t melt, you know.” So I headed out the door, loaded the necessary tools, buckets and fertilizer and wound my way through the back roads to north Turner.

I took note of the quietness that envelopes our little church while at the same time enjoying the wide array of bird songs all around me. But as I carried my paraphernalia the short distance to the garden, those bird songs turned from lovely and melodious to sharp warnings. As I worked from one end to the other pulling clover and dandelions, the birds returned to their lovely songs. I guess they decided I wasn’t a threat after all.

Winter was good to the garden and it is prospering and that morning of lowering clouds was not so much a chore on my list but a peaceful respite shared with the birds. As I planted the deep purple annuals destined for that spot – the ones left on my deck for three weeks – I just enjoyed gardening.

A very good friend of long standing stopped to visit on her daily walk home from the post office and brought the gentle smile she always wears, along with encouraging words. It started out as just another chore at another country church on another country road, but it had turned out to be far more than that. How many people are lucky enough to start a dark, cloudy day in a peaceful place filled with bird songs while planting beautiful flowers and being blessed by a friend’s smile?

Until next time, cut some of those peonies, bring them in and let them fill your house with their amazing scent; enjoy the butterflies and hummers as they flit here and there; take some daisies to church – and try to recognize those little gifts when they fall into your lap.

Happy gardening!

Jody Goodwin has been gardening for more than 25 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]



Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.