Sustainable, G.Y.I. (grow it yourself), and back-to-basics all describe the gardening trends for 2009. Whether driven by a tough economy or the increasing push to “go green,” area greenhouse/ landscape professionals and farmers are experiencing a surge of interest in growing food. With national news covering First Family Obamas’ plans for an organic garden on the South lawn of the White House, gardening, it seems, is making a big comeback.

Chuck McNally, co-owner of Donna’s Greenhouses in New Gloucester, says, “Last year people’s interest in vegetable gardening surged for the first time in 20 years.” McNally expects to see an even greater demand for vegetable gardens this year due to the economy and people looking for ways to save. He says it’s good to see the renewed enthusiasm.

“It [vegetable gardening] was becoming a lost art. I was speaking with a friend the other day – we both farmed all our lives. I said, ‘Aren’t you glad you had an education in how to grow things?’ He told me this year he was going pass down the tradition of growing gardens to his grandchildren, show them how to put a seed in the ground, teach them the techniques of gardening.”

Local growers are rising to the challenge of the increased demand for home vegetable gardens by serving as information centers for new and seasoned gardeners alike. Skillins Greenhouses, with three locations in Cumberland, Brunswick, and Falmouth, provide “how-to” gardening classes throughout the season.

“People can’t wait to get out and tend to their gardens after the long winter,” explains Mike Skillins. “And today, people have concerns about the environment as well as the economy. By raising their own vegetables, they get good food inexpensively and they want to learn how to do that.” Skillins adds that interest in growing food extends beyond vegetables and includes landscaping with fruit trees and incorporating small fruit plants into their gardens as well.

“It’s back to basics,” he says. “With the economy, people of all ages are slowing down and taking the time to grow and can their own food where, in the past, they were too busy and would just go to the grocery store.”

Kristen Glazier, co-owner of Roaring Brook Nurseries in Wales, agrees that people are concerned for their families and are looking to provide healthier, safer foods for them.

“We provide as much literature and information as anyone could need to start a garden,” she says. “Our Web site,, is a good resource for information as is the Maine Cooperative Extension through their workshops.” In the same educational vein, she and her husband, Jim, are seeing an increasing trend toward agri-tourism where farms are open to families for educational experiences.

The Glaziers are planning to expand Roaring Brooks’ farmer’s market and offer more produce and ornamental plantings for their customers.

An increased demand for heirloom vegetables continues to illustrate the “back to basics” appeal for 2009 gardens. According to Scott Jillson of Jillson’s Farm in Sabattus, heirloom varieties remain the tried-and-true, old-time favorites for gardening. “Heirloom tomatoes, like ‘Jet Stars’ produce early and grow all summer,” says Jillson. “Cukes have a shorter life so gardeners should plan on more than one planting.”

Provencher’s Landscaping and Greenhouse in Lewiston also gives the nod to heirloom varieties as good choices for performance. “Gardening this year is going to be big. We plan to have more vegetable plants and herbs on hand and we’re anticipating more interest in the heirloom varieties of seeds and seedlings. Heirloom seeds can be gathered from the fruit,” says Roger Roberge of Provencher’s. “And be sown at a later date to reproduce the same plant.”

Roberge also indicates people are utilizing fruit trees and bushes with the dual purpose of function and ornamentation. “People are looking for high bush blueberries for the fruit and the nice ornamental feature. Mac and Cortland apple trees remain popular choices as well as more disease and mildew-resistant varieties, including Freedom, that require less spraying.”

Container gardening for vegetables remains a good alternative for gardeners with less time and land. Gardeners should look for five gallon capacity containers with adequate drainage capability as a good rule of thumb when designing container gardens. With this size in mind, however, almost any vessels can be used, excepting pressure treated items that may allow arsenic into the produce.

With the excitement to get outside after a long winter and the new enthusiasm gardens are generating, Mike Small, president of Roak the Florist in Lewiston, reminds gardeners to be patient, as all good things come to those who wait.

“Memorial Day weekend continues to be the best time to begin planting in Maine,” he says. “Any earlier and gardeners risk potential for surprise snow and hardening frosts. Seedlings can be started in the house in April. Just remember, easy does it with putting plants in the ground.”

Once in the ground, plants take time to produce. Small encourages customers to ask questions before purchasing seeds or seedlings to educate themselves. Some vegetables produce later than others, some require more plantings for a larger yield. “All the greenhouses and farms are ready and willing to help gardeners make the best choices for their gardens.”

With a can-do attitude and the guidance of those with years of experience to share, gardeners young and old, novice or seasoned, can enjoy the fruits of their gardening experience while carrying on the age-old tradition of growing food for sustainability, health, and well-being.

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