Good morning! Spring is certainly upon us as seen in the colors surrounding us — the purple of lilacs just passing, yellows of late daffodils and rainbows that speak to tulips poking up everywhere.

Deer, turkeys, raccoons and fox have already visited up here on the hill. Hummers, butterflies and bumblebees are busy in the garden; and there is quite the assortment of birds at our feeders.

You might find it interesting to take note of odd birds or butterflies you haven’t seen before. I saw a bright blue butterfly in the garden for the first time the other day. When I get a chance to look it up, I will lay odds my book lists its northern region about 200 miles south. That’s because all kinds of things are showing up that shouldn’t be here. The zone map for temperatures has been changed; and although there are no drastic changes here in Central Maine, the coast and southern areas did see some changes. Area gardeners have been telling me for several years that they’ve seen different kinds of butterflies and have been growing plants quite well that would have been marginal at best some 20 years ago.

Today, we are going to talk about several topics, the first being the concept of “just plain gardens.” This time of year, I get email after email from new gardeners asking, “What is the rule for this,” or “How should I do this?” It is extremely important that anyone who starts, plans, refurbishes or reorganizes a garden follow one simple rule — remember it is YOUR garden.

True, you must use common sense —  place shorter plants in front of taller ones, don’t overcrowd plants and find out if plants like sun or shade. But, it is your garden and, as such, there are no rules.

Gertrude Jekyll, the famous English woman credited with developing the formal English border garden, did so because she didn’t follow anyone’s rules, but quite successfully broke most of them. For all you new gardeners, take her as your example.

Plant your garden, tend it and grow it out of love or a desire to dig in the dirt or as an outward expression of who you are. If you like it and it makes you smile, have at it.

I have an aversion to red in my garden, for whatever reason. But my friend Fran, who is an artist, pointed out to me that there is no color in Mother Nature’s palette that doesn’t go with the other colors. It is all personal preference.

The flowers in the photos with today’s column belong, in most part, to my friend Garrick. You might remember that he and I went on an orchid buying adventure, the subject of one of my columns. Well, unfortunately, he suffered a severe heart attack about 13 months ago and came close to not worrying about his garden ever again. His cat saved him, but that’s a story for another day. Anyway, he decided to celebrate and set out on what I can only call a landscaping adventure. He has a huge field between his house and the Androscoggin River that he basically just mowed. Last fall, he planted hundreds of tulip bulbs as well as dogwood trees and other shrubs in what he calls a “celebration of the fact that I am here to do it.” What a great way to look at growing things. 

Despite my warnings that tulips are not long-lived and deer love them, he said, “I like them and they make me smile.” Enough said. It is his garden, his hard work and his celebration. So, no rules — just what makes him happy.

On another subject, I hope many of you have checked out the fabulous changes at Gammon’s Nursery on Route 4 just south of the Auburn-Turner line (look for the great watering can that is the nursery’s sign). I was on a road trip with my flower-loving friend Joyce and we arrived just in time for a ribbon cutting, speeches that were blessedly short and a really nice lunch (good timing, right?) .

Anyway, it has new landscaping and pavilions for various flowers and shrubs, and a much larger selection of hard-to-find things. Speaking of which, Gammon’s has the new “Bella Anna” hydrangea, which was hybridized by the same company that produced the lovely blue of “Endless Summer.” Bella Anna is pink and a perfect complement to that wonderful blue shrub. 

And speaking of hydrangeas, lots of folks are reporting some kind of blight on their leaves this spring. It browns and curls the leaves shortly after they appear. I have done some research, but have not come up with an answer. If you have an explanation, or even a good guess, please email me so I can share it. It is time to fertilize hydrangeas, which like rose food. Dig 5 to 6-inch holes about 1 foot apart around the entire drip line of the bush, put in two tablespoons of slow-release rose food and then fill the hole with dirt. Done for the season. The rose food helps them produce more flowers. Rick Gammon gave me this handy hint about 25 years ago. Thanks, Rick.

Don’t forget to cut the lilac blooms off your bushes as soon as they are gone. Also, now is the time to divide hostas, move plants to new locations, give your rhododendrons acid plant food as soon as the blooms have passed and feed the roses. Clematis like rose food, too. And, your dahlia bulbs should be in the ground now.

Until next time try to keep up with the weeds, watch for butterflies of different colors and make your garden grow anyway you want as long as it makes you smile.

Happy gardening.

Jody Goodwin has been gardening for more than 25 years. She lives in Turner with her husband, Ike, her dog and two cats. She may 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]

New annuals

I found some fun and new (at least to me) annuals in my travels this spring. So, if you haven’t finished your containers or are adding annual color to your gardens, you might want to consider some of these.

Clark’s Farmstand on Route 4 in Turner, Jack’s Greenhouse in Buckfield and Donna’s Greenhouse on the Hotel Road in New Gloucester just over the Auburn line all have fun and sometimes unusual annuals. They also have many of the new Proven Winner plants that you see in magazines; and their prices are good. Longfellow’s in Manchester also usually has quite a wide variety.

I found a “Mini-Me” double pink petunia at Clark’s that is amazing and looks super in containers. Its blooms look almost like a double rose impatien and about the same size. And there is a new pink and white rose impatien that is beautiful, but I lost the tag and can’t tell you its name. I got it at Jack’s.

Proven Winners and Proven Selections have come up with a bunch of new superbenas that are sensational. Verbena is a wonderful hardy bloomer that will tolerate heat and full sun, and keep on going. I found “Lanai,” which has a bright pink center with lighter pink outer blooms; and “Coral Red” superbena,  which is the exact pink as the bright one in “Lanai.” Obviously, they look great together.

For those of you looking for ground cover that will take total heat, bad soil and dry conditions, go for ice plant. No kidding. I was reminded by a recommendation for a new variety called “Fire Spinner” that has bright pink, orange and white flowers. Many of you, if you see this plant at a nursery will think sedum and, in Maine, it is frequently mislabeled. But I grew up with ice plant in Southern California, where it is used as an erosion control plant on banks. I have Siberian ice plant all over our property. It is great in a bright light green color and blooms rather sparingly in yellow. It does a superb job of covering ground where other things do not want to grow, including among rocks and ledges in rock gardens.

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.