How To Avoid Garden Overwhelm

I’ve talked with several friends this spring about their gardens and many of them are feeling overwhelmed. Life is really busy…

I’ve talked with several friends this spring about their gardens and many of them are feeling overwhelmed. Life is really busy for most of us these days. Ticks and other biting insects keep us indoors. The somewhat dismal spring weather we’ve had has weeds flourishing and seeds rotting in the ground. With all of these factors working against us, how can we avoid garden overwhelm?

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Life throws us countless curve balls. By missing a week or two in your garden, things can really go downhill fast. When you finally get out to the garden, it’s hard to avoid garden overwhelm. Unless your vegetable or flower beds are completely carefree, they do need weekly attention.

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A weedy spot in our garden.

Don’t Take On Too Much

When spring finally hits we can feel unstoppable. When drawing up a garden plan it’s easy to plan way too much. When I look through seed catalogs, I circle everything that catches my eye. I reason that I have plenty of space for this or that. I know what you’re thinking. You don’t just want peas, you want green and purple podded ones. You want 4 kinds of garlic and 28 tomato plants of different varieties. The struggle is real! It’s just not possible for every gardener to grow everything. Another consideration is harvest time. If you don’t have enough time to deal with crates of tomatoes and 100 radishes all at once, plant fewer plants. You could even try planting several different types with different maturity rates.

So many things to do…

A trip to the nursery is no better. I may start out with a list but then my eyes hit those colorful seed packets and fresh, young seedlings stretching out on tables before me as far as the eye can see. You go in for a few basic things and end up with a carload. Just planting may cause overwhelm.

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Seed packets.

So, what can be done to eliminate garden overwhelm? Make a list and stick to it. Leave a little bit of room to possibly try something new. This year, I purchased a few geraniums for the porch and some annuals for the shed window boxes. Other years, I’ve tried to cram flowers in so many pots here and there. Then, I find I have little time to water them. It can be hard when you are staring at endless lines of hanging baskets that are just gushing with flowers. Ask yourself, will I have time to water and deadhead them? Why not choose a few high impact plants rather than many smaller ones? If you’ve been reading Everlongardener for any amount of time, you are familiar with the many ideas I’ve shared for simplifying your garden.

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Zucchini are finally up!

Check Your Garden Daily 

I know that this may sound like a lot, but checking on your garden daily can head off future problems. Just taking your morning tea or coffee out to the garden can be a refreshing experience. Try an after work detox by strolling through the garden. Maybe some post-dinner weeding during the cooler part of the day. This way you can see what needs water, check if any pests are eating leaves or you might notice that a certain weed is taking over your carrots. A few minutes a day may not even feel like work. Make sure that when you pull those weeds you get the root. This means it will take longer for them to come back!

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There’s always something to weed!

When harvest time comes, if you neglect checking on the garden, you may even miss the harvest completely. Imagine if you didn’t look over your cucumber or zucchini plants for a week! The harvest would completely get away from you.

Mustard greens going by.

It’s better to do a few things well than to do many things haphazardly. Focus on a few things if you are strapped for time. I made a few simple suggestions in 5 Easy Vegetables For The Beginner Gardener. If you can’t pull off having a vegetable garden every single year, consider joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Members pay a local farm for a weekly share of fresh produce. This gives the farm spring capital and provides the customer with plenty of weekly vegetables. I have a friend who wondered why she was growing lettuce when the farm down the road sells a head for $1.50. She has a point. Another option is to make a weekly trip to your local farmers market. Anyway that you choose, eating local, consciously grown food is one of the joys of summer!

We joined two of the garden beds last week.

Amid all that spring entails and the speed with which summer passes by, try to get out while the weather is warm. Garden if you can and if it makes you happy. Just don’t get overwhelmed. Hope you liked seeing some of my weeds this week! We’ve been picking away at one project at a time around here. Many other things are going on. We are now in for some gorgeous Summer days in mid-coast Maine. Here are a few shots from the garden. Thanks for checking out Everlongardener this week and don’t forget to subscribe in the sidebar!

Hilary|Everlongardener

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Second round of basil, hope it makes it!
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A few strawberries!
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Peonies are opening!

From my garden to yours, over and out!

Grow a Reliable Crop of Mizuna Mustard Greens

One thing about being a gardener is the opportunity of trying new veggies and interesting varieties. It’s fun, delicious and colorful to plant different things every year. From the Brassica family of Asian greens or mustard greens, comes mizuna. If you want to add color and mustard flavor to your table, add mizuna to your planting list!

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I’ve grown many types of mustard greens over the years and I really do love them all. One drawback to growing them is that they do suffer from insect damage. After a while I realized that the mizuna, particularly in shades of red, are unharmed by flea beetles or aphids. Sometimes referred to Japanese mustard greens or spider mustard, these greens are great in salads or sandwiches and you can use the more mature leaves in cooking if you like. Just treat it like spinach.

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‘Ruby Streaks’ mizuna.

My favorite variety of red Mizuna is ‘Ruby Streaks’. It’s lacey leaves have greenish undersides with burgundy red streaks stretching across the top. Mizuna is as beautiful to look at as it is to eat. This type is widely available from most seed suppliers. Other types that may appeal to you include ‘Red Splendor’, ‘Early Mizuna’ or ‘Scarlet Frills’. One review from Baker Creek Seeds describes it as being the “easiest green to grow for my tough soil/weather conditions, including shameful neglect. Grows all seasons for me (and holds in most winters) without any problems.” Sounds like a winner! I’m sure we can all relate to that part about neglect.

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‘Ruby Streaks’ mustard.

What can you expect for flavor? Well, as the name mustard greens denotes, these greens have a very mustard essence about them. ‘Ruby Streaks’ has a surprisingly sweet, hot flavor. The hotness is not overpowering though and you can still taste the flavor of the greens. Each nutrient packed variety of mustard greens that you choose to grow will have it’s own unique flavors and qualities.

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Mizuna leaves add so much to a salad!

Mizuna can easily be used for microgreens. In the garden, plant in spring through fall for a summer full of mustard flavor. Mizuna only takes 21 days for baby greens to mature and 40 days for adult leaves. Even if warm temperatures cause mizuna to bolt, continue to harvest it’s leaves as long as you like the flavor. Their pretty yellow flowers are edible too. With small sprigs of mizuna sprinkled through a salad, the mustard taste will add quite a zesty pop! Because of it’s long growing season, mizuna could quickly become one of your 4 season favorites! Mizuna is a hardy addition to a fall planted garden and will readily self-seed if allowed.

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The small flowers of mizuna.

What are some of the unique crops that you love to grow? Speckled beans, purple podded peas? Of course, most of us can’t grow everything but it keeps things fresh when we try new colors and flavors. With these hot days this week the garden has really shot up. Beans are continuing to poke through the ground, the peas are reaching for the sky and the irises are blooming like crazy! Along with the warmth, the evening mosquitoes are attempting to carry us away! I’m leaving you with a few garden pics of what’s going on here. Have a great week out there!

Hilary|Everlongardener

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Peonies in bud!
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The bees are crazy for the rhododendrons.
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Iris in the evening light.

How to Create the Perfect Salad Garden

If you have just a small space for a garden, why not try growing a salad garden. It is one of the best ways to utilize a tiny space. Short on time this summer? A salad garden can be the perfect solution to a busy schedule! Downsizing your garden? Just starting out? Low maintenance and with very little commitment, a salad garden may be all that you need!

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First of all, what is a salad garden? Growing salad greens? No, not just salad greens. A true salad garden uses a small space to grow all of the components of a salad. Each salad garden can be tailored to individual tastes and needs. This will give you the most crop variety using a very limited size garden. Many of these veggies take up very little space compared to beans or squash for instance.

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Several types of tomatoes!

What to Grow

The foundation of any salad would of course be the greens. Do you like spinach? Adore arugula? Head lettuce or loose leaf? Lettuce mixes may be a great place to start. A variety of colors and flavors to brighten your plate. Baby chard or beet greens can add color and flavor. Kale is another great green to put in a salad garden. Try growing 2-3 rows of various greens. Look for some heat tolerant greens for mid-summer harvests. I use ‘Summer Lettuce Mix’ from Fedco.

Kale is a delicious green for the salad mix!

A few cherry or grape tomato plants will provide your table with a continuous harvest once they start producing. Plant a few slicing tomatoes if you have space. You will probably end up with more than enough tomatoes. These fruits are known for their intensely sweet flavor from ripening in the sun. Sometimes they don’t even make it back to the house! For a smaller garden, choose 2 plants and for a larger space try 4 plants.

A bountiful harvest.

Radishes are among the quickest crops to grow in the salad garden. Spring and fall are the best times to grow radishes. They prefer cool temperatures. Their tiny seeds can be sown in between rows of carrots or lettuce. Choose radishes that are mild or spicy hot! Radish varieties like ‘French Breakfast’ and ‘Cherry Belle’ mature in as few as 25 days. That’s less that a month away from garden goodness! If you plant a few seeds every 2 weeks, you will have a continuous harvest instead of them ripening all at once.

 

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Radishes are great addition to the salad garden.

Growing a few rows of short season carrots can make a big splash in your salad bowl. Homegrown carrots have a flavor that can’t be beat. Use smaller carrots as you thin them. A quick growing type like ‘Mokum’ takes a mere 48 days to reach 5-6″ long. Grow purple, white or yellow carrots for a color show that your won’t believe.

Colorful carrots in a salad!

Get it on Paper

Measure out the area that you can use for your salad garden. Do you have room for a 3×6, a 6×6, 5×8 or maybe a more ambitious 12×5 plot? Even the smallest choice will provide a weekly harvest from the garden. Draw your space on paper to see how you will arrange it. Taller plants such as tomatoes should be in the back of the garden. A larger garden could include small amounts of chard, broccoli, peas, peppers and beet greens. Try mixing in herbs such as basil, dill or parsley for adding to salad or for cooking. Scallions or chives can be great for flavoring too! What would your perfect salad garden include?

A variety of seeds!

When you’ve decided where and what you want to plant in your salad garden, prepare the ground. If the soil needs amendments, add a few inches of compost. Plant directly into the soil. Some organic granular fertilizer can also give the salad patch a boost. For some tips on how to start from scratch, check out the article How To Start A New Garden.

Succession Planting

By leaving some space at planting time, you will be able to sow more seed for carrots, greens or radishes every few weeks. This means that you will save some of your seeds for later. As some crops go by, the new ones will be maturing. Succession Planting ensures continual salad garden success throughout the gardening season.

Tender fresh greens!

A wonderful salad garden could easily be modified for container or deck planting. If you have very little land or are an apartment dweller, salad gardening may be for you! If a large vegetable garden seems totally out of reach, why not grow a salad garden this year? It’s not too late to put the perfect salad garden in!

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Gorgeous bowl of salad greens.

I’ve been itching to get back in the garden! June is upon us! Hopefully this dreary, damp weather moves along for good! It was so good to feel the warm sun on my back yesterday! Most of the veggies are up in my garden. I still have a few things to plant. More carrots, maybe more salad greens, the rest of the onions and scallions. This weather has been great for growing weeds. Some of my wilder garden spots need attention. What’s up in your garden so far? I would love to hear from you! I very much appreciate you stopping by to read Everlongardener this week. With some warm, sunny days coming, try to get out and soak up some sun!

Hilary|Everlongardener

4 Season Salad Gardening, What to Expect

Most of you know by now that here at Everlongardener, salad greens make the world go round. About ten years ago I was introduced to growing salad greens year round in an unheated greenhouse. Well, as they say, the rest is history. Some of you may be hesitant to try 4 season salad gardening. In this weeks blog, I will tell you exactly what to expect if you give these techniques a try.

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Although I call myself the Self Proclaimed Salad Green Queen, I’m not growing this fabulous stuff to feed the masses, I just happen to have salad greens growing throughout the whole year. For some of you in southern climates this may seem hard to believe. Gardening on the colder side of the calendar goes back a few hundred years so it’s not a new concept.

What To Do

By planting cold tolerant lettuce, kale, arugula and spinach seeds in late summer and early fall, plants can become established enough to survive even a harsh winter. This past year, I didn’t get most of my seeds in the ground until nearly October. They grew, but it was slow going. To ensure success, seeds should be planted when it’s still somewhat warm out.

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‘Ruby Streaks’ mustard.

Protection from the elements is key for salad green success. If you have access to a greenhouse or hoophouse, you are in business. But what if that is totally out of reach for you? Are there any alternatives? A cold frame or basic hoop will do. For a cold frame, simply sow seeds in the existing soil. If you plan to construct your own small hoop, plant your seeds directly into the garden.

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Lettuce picking in spring!

Your Structure

To make your own mini hoop, you will need some 6 mil plastic, something to make the  hoops from and a few heavy objects like rocks, bricks or small bags of sand. There are many videos out there on constructing a quick hoop. Just search using the phrase ‘quick hoop videos’for many different ideas. We use our 12×20 greenhouse but also utilize one outdoor raised bed. Since lettuce bolts quicker in spring in the permanent greenhouse, we supplement with the outdoor bed. The past few years we have used a structure made from scrap lumber and plastic. Next year, we hope to make a cover that can be easily moved from bed to bed. A design is in the works!

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Homemade greenhouse over a raised bed.

Of course, this homemade greenhouse isn’t very attractive but it works really well. As cooler weather approaches, a second layer of insulation is needed. The insulation must be suspended over the salad greens. Use thin metal hoops or even half of a hula hoop will work. Just push each end into the soil and you are ready for the covering. The best product is floating row cover. This fabric is breathable and allows moisture in. It is also self-venting, which is handy.

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Floating row cover suspended over greens.

This is a photo of my raised bed garden under the plastic. It’s amazing how well protected the greens really are through the winter. This system creates a zone within a zone. Very simple but highly effective. Mice and other rodents can be a problem. They will search for food anywhere they can find it in the winter. I keep traps set under the row covers. They especially seem to like spinach! Good taste I guess.

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Salad harvest in the snow!

What Happens Under the Hoop

Moisture is another factor. Sometimes, even with a cover, a bed can become too dry or too moist. For dry conditions, you can water on a warm day or as with my greenhouse, I shovel some snow onto the stone floor. As it evaporates, the snow adds to the overall moisture level of the greenhouse. When conditions are too moist, simply vent the structure on a day where temps are above freezing.

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Row covers over greens in the greenhouse.

There are times during the winter that I just let things go. I usually take a break from harvesting greens in January and start again in late February. If I had enough planted, I could harvest through those colder months but I just let things rest. The sun is so low at that time, greens will cease to grow. If you pick it all, it will not start growing until the sun gets higher in the sky. This past winter, my young plants were quite small so I let them be.

So, what happens when the days start to get longer? Growth starts to slowly happen. In late February, I can pick a small bowl and by mid March twice as much. By April, we are back in full swing and I can pick one or two large bowls a week. These wintered greens have such delicious flavors that I have become a salad snob of sorts. There is something about the weather that makes the greens so tasty and sweet!

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‘Black Seeded Simpson’ lettuce.

Cost

It would be hard to really break down the exact cost of winter salad growing. Seeds will cost $1-4 per packet. Multiply that by how many types and varieties you want to grow. Plastic can be free or cost around $10. Check with your local hardware store or greenhouse for scraps. Real greenhouse plastic is very durable but costly. The floating row cover fabric is about $12 per package. After cutting, you can cover many beds from one package. As for your structure, you can make one for free, like the one pictured above or you could purchase a greenhouse kit. Just make sure that whatever you make can withstand a snow load. My large greenhouse was given to me so all I needed to purchase was the plastic. I’ve had the same plastic on the greenhouse since 2009. Not too bad. If you consider store bought salad greens are priced from $3 for conventional greens to $5 or more for organically grown, you will quickly recoup your supply costs.

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This weeks harvest! Probably a half of a pound of high quality greens!

For the last month or so, we have been harvesting two bowls of salad greens per week. It happens to be some of the best salad I have ever eaten. Even though things are booming in the salad garden right now, I know that summer heat is on it’s way and it will soon squelch my delicious greens. I’m usually able to pick until July from the winter greens. The summer, heat tolerant varieties have been sown in between the rows of winter lettuce now. With Succession Planting, we can ensure continual harvests for the whole summer.

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Baby lettuce coming up between the rows of winter lettuce.

I’m so glad that I’ve been able to share the ins and outs of 4 season salad gardening this week. Winter salad production is at the core of my gardening life. If you are interested in more in-depth reading on 4 season growing, check out my inspiration Eliot Coleman and his book The Winter Harvest Handbook. My latest favorite book is called Year-Round Vegetable Gardener by Niki Jabbour. If you truly want to immerse yourself into winter salad production, check out these fine publications. Feeding your family from your own garden is one of the most satisfying things! Thanks for stopping by this week!

Hilary|Everlongardener

5 Early Spring Blooming Perennials

The month of May brings a flurry of color to the garden. The first snowdrops, the patches of blue scilla, then the daffodils and tulips start to open. Thrilling and fleeting, spring bursts with color. On the heels of the spring bulbs comes the earliest of the spring blooming perennials. Here are 5 easy spring perennials perfect for any garden!

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Perennial plants are a cost effective way to achieve flowers year after year. Many plants can be obtained once and carry on for years. One aspect of a great perennial garden is continuous blooms. If your garden is bare in early spring, try a few of the these plants. Some you will know, some may be new to you.

Hellebores

Probably little known to some home gardeners, hellebores can be the earliest to bloom. This blooming perennial is hardy in zones 5-8 and can bloom in winter in milder climates. Where the ground freezes, such as in Maine, hellebores bloom in early spring. Foliage is leathery and dark green. It’s long lasting blooms come in shades of green, white, pink and more.

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The green-mauve hue of this hellebores blossom.

This perennial is among the most unique of blooming plants. Blossoms last for a long time, remaining seemingly unchanged over a period of weeks. If you have a shady wooded site, this may be the plant for you. Clusters along a woodsy path would be perfect.

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The light green brings a refreshing change to the garden.

Common names include ‘Christmas Rose’, ‘winter rose’ and ‘Lenten rose’ because of it’s capability to bloom in winter in some areas. Even though the word rose is used, it is not related to the rose family. Not always among the more common greenhouse perennials, hellebores are becoming more widely available. They happen to be very photogenic and a gardener could easily get suckered into obtaining one in every color!

Brunnera

If you love Forget-me-nots, you’ll really go head over heels for brunnera (Siberian Bugloss)! A perfect addition to a shady border, this plant comes with solid green or variegated foliage. I prefer the variegated because it adds so much contrast. It’s frosted appearance really pops in darker settings. Mix a few in with a stand of hosta plants for an amazing display.

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Brunnera looks like forget-me-nots.

Hardy for zones 3-8, this plant can fit a wide variety of applications. With it’s heart shaped leaves, it looks so different than many common garden plants. This shade loving perennial starts blooming in May and carries on through June. After blooming, the foliage remains for the rest of the summer. The height only reaches 12″, so it won’t block any of your later plants.

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The gorgeous contrasting leaves.

Because of their low growing habit, brunnera makes a great ground hugging plant. They can also be grown in a container and used for cut flower arrangements.

Creeping Phlox

This ground cover perennial may seem pretty common but what a beautiful flower show in spring. Also known as ‘Moss pink’ or Phlox Subulata. Creeping phlox is easy to care for and once established can provide years of spring blooms. Winter hardy in zones 3-9, it comes in an array of colors from white to pink and purple. Perfect for naturalizing on a banking or in a rock garden. Plants thrive on a rock wall or in poor soil.

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The cheerful pink flowers of creeping phlox.

When flowers emerge, they turn into masses of bright blooms. As flowers fade, the garden is left with handsome evergreen foliage. When the plant matures, simply trim older stems that stop putting out flowers. If left unattended, weeds can be a problem so pull any grass that appears under the plants. Bloom time is around Memoral day here in Maine. Plant along the front of Forget-me-nots, ‘Basket of Gold’ alyssum or ‘Snow in Summer’.

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Pink is the most commonly seen color of creeping phlox.

Some may be hesitant to use creeping phlox because it’s so commonly seen in cemetaries. I have to say that it fits perfectly into the home garden as well. Growing creeping phlox can be a solution to problem areas and can be a low maintenance choice.

Bleeding Heart

One of the old-time favorites of the cottage flower garden. Often seen by the foundation of farmhouses, this blooming perennial is the glory of the spring garden. Bleeding heart or (dicentra spectabilis) can be a large, fountain of color, making quite a splash. Then, as the summer heat rises, the plant actually dies back. This makes way for the next round of garden color. Bleeding hearts self seed readily and love shade or dappled light. Bloom time varies but usually happens in May.

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Stunning white bleeding heart plant!

Old fashioned bleeding hearts come in pink and white. Both add so much to early spring beds with their long arching stems. These flowering plants are extremely hardy and fit well into spring bouquets. If you don’t have a bleeding heart in your shady garden, maybe it’s time to borrow a bloomer from your grandmothers garden of old! There are later dicentra varieties that flower in the summer and have a lower, more compact habit. I think the early bleeding heart is my favorite though. It’s a classic!

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Bleeding heart with Solomon seal.

Solomon’s Seal

When it comes to blooming shade perennials, this early bloomer really stands out. This sweet white flower can be used as pretty vase filler. As the stems of Solomon’s seal rise up from the ground, they grow straight up them arch gracefully. Even as the flowers fade, the plant adds structural interest to the garden for the rest of the season. Notice how well it goes with the bleeding heart pictured above.

Solomon’s seal is an elegant addition to any shady garden.

Solomon’s seal or polygonatum, is a must-have for the shade garden. Once established, this plant spreads slowly but is easy to propagate by division. This is a quiet participant in the garden but stands up under poor conditions. White dangling blossoms turn into black seed pods for further garden interest. If you’ve never seen Solomon’s seal, give it a try!

These are just a taste of the perennials that offer early spring blooms. These 5 can be found at most large garden centers. If you have gaps in your bloom times, why not plant a few of these colorful flowering perennials? This way you will see continuous color in your garden from early spring right through to fall! Here at Everlongardener we have been dodging the black flies while planting much of the vegetable garden. The weather has been a bit of a roller coaster of temperatures. It may hit 90 today! Enjoy your week and happy planting!

Hilary|Everlongardener

Attract Pollinators In 3 Easy Steps

Some of the hardest work in the garden is done by our pollinators. With all of the challenges we face as gardeners, attracting pollinators to our gardens can be something we may overlook. Why not make your little patch of earth a haven for these garden helpers. Let’s see how you can attract more pollinators to your garden this season with just 3 easy steps!

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Many critters contribute to pollinating. These include bees, wasps, moths, butterflies, bats and birds. In this post we will learn 3 ways to keep these important workers around.

Butterfly weed is a pollinator magnet!

Plant for Pollinators 

Those of us who are flower gardeners tend to plant what we love. The list of flowers that I like is pretty long. Annuals, perennial, bulbs…I really love ’em all. I so often pick the colors and shapes that appeal to me. Although I feel strongly about certain plants, I’m gradually learning what the pollinators prefer. Planting in masses gives pollinators an easy place to forage pollen. Like a giant landing strip to bounce from flower to flower on. Bees love native wildflowers such as wild asters, goldenrod and purple coneflower. Herbs include basil, lavender and oregano. Even trees and shrubs are great, like blackberries, roses and willows offer food for pollinators. Some plants recommended for pasture planting are alfalfa, buckwheat and clover. I’ve been reading a new book called 100 Plants to Feed the Bees. This book is packed with plant info for anyone looking for ideas for a pollinator garden.

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Herb flowers make great bee food!

One place to start is by noticing when food is available for our pollinators. With the very beginning of spring, the insect world quickly comes alive. By mid April, bugs are out and about. What will they find for food? The question really is, what does your landscape have to offer? Spring bulbs and tiny wild flowers are the first to appear. If you hold still and look, you will see them coming to the flowers.

Some pollinators on the rambling rose.

By allowing some areas of your property to go wild, you allow more native plants to be available for the early and late pollinators. These days, more farmers are encouraged to leave bands of wild plants on part of their farms. This encourages diversity and more pollinators.

The tiniest of bees on the Gypsophilia.

A Hospitable Habitat 

Many people put out bird houses and hummingbird feeders. Why not put out something for the pollinators. For centuries, gardeners have catered to pollinators by putting out bee skeps. People keep bee hives for honey and pollination. We have a bat house that houses some of our bat population.

Attract native bees to your garden for extra pollination.

Native bees or mason bees are terrific pollinators. They are solitary bees. These bees do not belong to a hive. In their short lives, they simply lay eggs, pollinate and then die. Since they do not need to bring pollen back to the bee hive, they aren’t as picky as honey bees. This is an example of a mason bee house elbow. The name ‘mason bee’ comes from how they lay eggs in a hole of some kind, then pack mud or clay in front of it. Look close at the holes and you will see that many of them are occupied.

The bees have been busy!

A mason bee house should be positioned toward the east so that the bees can benefit from morning sun. Also, place the house near a source of mud. There are many styles out there. Some can be made from recycled items and others can be purchased. Native bees look for hollow stems and crevices to lay eggs in, so keep some plants standing for them in the fall.

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This is a bee house that was made from recycled and found materials.

This mason bee house was easy to make and can be a great project to do with kids. Learning about bees is fun and kids love them. Last year we even made a butterfly and bee watering station.

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A mason bee house purchased from a garden supply company.

Eliminate Toxins

You may think that you have a very natural environment around your property. You may also think that you have a great home for pollinators. Consider the products that you may be using. Many lawn care products are toxic for bees and other insects. By allowing dandelions and clover to reside in the lawn, you are providing much needed sustenance to our native pollinators. I know that a few of you will cringe over this thought but it’s something to consider. Most of us know that bees have been on the decline for many years and that pesticides are a huge factor. Try seeking alternative treatments or products. There is so much information out there today about how to tackle problems naturally. Your local extension website will cover just about any topic.

Dandelions are among the first flowers available in spring.

It is possible to grow a productive garden using organic techniques. Just because a product eliminates one problem, it may carry future unseen consequences. There is a wealth of knowledge out there and most experienced gardeners are happy to share it with others.

Even common flies pollinate!

Many pollinators play a role in our gardens. It doesn’t take much to make them a safer place to live.

 

A small wild bee looking to lay eggs in the garden.

The hummingbirds are already back in Maine. Time to get your feeders out. Other birds are all making nests in their usual places around our yard. We have been steeling away a little time here and there to work in the gardens but the weather has been very chilly. I hope that you get a chance to take notice of the pollinators in your yard soon. Diversity makes a better garden on so many levels. Thanks for taking the time to see what’s going on at Everlongardener this week. If you would like more gardening tips, subscribe in the sidebar. It’s free and you won’t miss a thing!

Hilary|Everlongardener

Growing Better Beets

Oh, the reasons to grow beets in your home garden this year!

Oh, the reasons to grow beets in your home garden this year! If you are anything like me, you may have tried growing beets for years, only to end up with a few beet greens and some pathetic gnarled beet roots. With a bit of care, you too can start growing better beets!

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Beets are literally a vegetable for all seasons. Early beet tops can be added to salad greens for a colorful mix. Beet greens are the delicious thinnings from rows of beets. Tender baby beets are harvested after as little as 40 days to allow the others to grow bigger. Steam them and top with butter for a spring supper delight. Then comes the fall crop of plump, flavorful whole beets. A late summer sowing can give you a quick fall harvest of greens. It’s easy to see why beets are so versatile. Beets and greens are packed with nutrients as well as good for digestion.

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Beets seeds in all colors!

Kaleidoscope of Colors

Although red is the typical color for beets, one look at any seed catalog and you will find that they truly do come in a kaleidoscope of colors. Slice them open and you will see rings of beauty before your eyes. Beets come in round and cylindrical shapes. Varieties of red beets include ‘Bull’s Blood’, ‘Detroit’ and ‘Red Ace’. White beets such as ‘Albino’ or ‘Avalanche’ offer a very different look. Golden beets like ‘Touchstone Gold’ or ‘Bolder’ are extremely popular. Or try ‘Chioggia’, a peppermint striped Italian heirloom. I’m growing something totally different this season, ‘3 Root Grex’ from Fedco. An heirloom mix that includes ‘Yellow Intermediate’, ‘Crosby Purple Egyptian’ and ‘Lutz Saladleaf’. Sounds totally exotic and should be interesting to say the least.

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Colorful beets are a joy to look at!

Although all beet greens are good for eating, ‘Early Wonder Tall Top’ leads the way for spring beet greens. Often sold at farm stands early in the year, beet greens are a local old time spring pleasure.

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Beet greens ready for the cooking pot!

When To Plant Beets

Beets are one of those vegetables that can be seeded out very early. Some of our local markets plant under the cover of greenhouses for an extra early crop. Beet seeds can be planted as soon as the ground can be worked. If your garden is dry enough, go ahead and plant. Beet seeds are actually a cluster of seeds in one so you may get more than one plant sprouting from each seed. Give them a spot full of organic matter and they will grow like crazy! Last year my aged bunny manure was the ticket to getting lovely beets!

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Planting out beet seeds.

Bringing in the Beet Harvest

With so many stages of the beet season to enjoy, don’t miss out on any of them. After about 45 days, it may be time to harvest your first beet greens. Carefully harvest a few greens from the rows. Make sure to leave plenty for the baby beet stage. When beets reach 1-2″, pull some for a feast of tender, sweet baby beet roots.

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Gorgeous beet greens!

During the summer in our garden, beets and chard are planted in the same area for an edible ornamental color show. Beets have few if any pests so they make an easy crop for new gardeners.

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Beet leaves are among the prettiest plants in the garden!

Through the summer, allow some beets to grow to full maturity. Given the space, beets can grow to enormous sizes. I like about 3″ but they can grow much bigger.

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Solid, whole beets maturing in the garden.

As fall approaches, harvest beets for immediate use or prepare them for storage.

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Whole beets keep well for winter use.

Storage and Uses

Beets can be stored for most of the winter by removing tops, washing them and storing them in the refrigerator. Start using them up if they seem soft. They do need proper humidity for good storage. Keep an eye on them. For more storage info, go to Beets and Beet Greens. Canning and pickling are also tasty ways to preserve your beet harvest. Once you start growing better beets, you will want to enjoy them most of the year.

Add beets to your menu with borscht soup, beet salad or roasted beets. Beets are a regular feature of my roasted one-pan meals such as Simple Roasted Vegetables. Beets are great just peeled and boiled for a no-fuss addition to any meal. If the skin is tender, try eating the skin. Otherwise, skins peel off easily after cooking.

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Beets are a star player in my sausage vegetable bake!

For a colorful garden this year, choose beets! They may not be everyone’s favorite but they really pull their weight in the garden. I just got my beet seeds in the ground. Soon, those red and green leaves will be popping up through the soil. Thank you for looking into growing better beets this week. Don’t forget to subscribe in the sidebar and you won’t miss out on helpful weekly gardening posts.

Hilary|Everlongardener

What To Plant Right Now!

It may be too early to set out your peppers and tomatoes, but are there any seeds to plant now? If you have the right conditions, many cool season crops can be planted very soon! Get your garden ready and plant these vegetables right now!

Some veggie seeds can be planted well before your local date of last frost. In seed packet directions it’s not uncommon to see the expression ‘as soon as the ground can be worked’. This means that the frost must be out of the ground and the garden has warmed up. Moisture level is another factor. If the soil is too wet, seeds will surely rot in the dirt.

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Good soil is the key to a successful garden!

Working your soil too early can also destroy the delicate soil structure. Digging or tilling will compact the garden, making it less able to dry out. Try the old squeeze test. Grab a handful of soil and squeeze it in your fist. The garden soil should be fluffy and light, not forming a ball in your palm. The type of garden you have may also determine when you are able to plant. Traditional gardens may take more time to fully dry out, while raised beds tend to dry out more quickly. If a garden is in a low area, soil may take longer to get to the proper moisture level.

What to Plant Now

If you want to plant early, think of cool season crops. Root crops such as carrots, radishes, parsnips and turnips can be planted.

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Radish harvest.

Many salad greens seeds can be pushed into the soil with great growing success.

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Chard is a wonderful addition to the edible landscape.

Beets and chard thrive in cooler temps and it’s a great time to think about getting members of the onion family in the ground as well.

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‘Ruby Streaks’ mizuna.

Different varieties of mustard greens excel with the absence of pests in early spring.

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Peas climbing on wire.

Planting peas is one of the first things we do. My neighbor is an avid gardener and we are always watching for him to plant his peas. The age old goal is to have fresh peas by the 4th of  July and usually we make it. I soak my pea seeds the night before planting. This gives them a little head start when they get into the ground. If the forecast is calling for a week of rain, hold off on direct seeding. Wait until it’s a bit drier and your seeds will thank you.

Under Cover Crops

If you are concerned about night time temps, a secured floating row cover could be placed over newly emerging seeds. Some growers plant and then place a milk jug over the plant to act as a mini greenhouse.

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Floating row cover suspended over greens.

The brassica family includes broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts. Seed packets will tell you to plant seed directly in the garden maybe 3-4 weeks before date of last frost. I don’t know anyone who directs seeds around here. Let me know if you do. Your best bet is to start seeds indoors 8-10 weeks before last frost or purchase healthy seedlings at your local greenhouse. Then, 2-4 weeks before last frost, set out seedlings into the garden. Watch the weather and night temperatures. You could also erect a temporary greenhouse to get a jump on the season. If you can successfully grow brassicas, you will love the flavors!

Choose the Right Varieties

When choosing garden seed for cool season crops, read seed packets carefully. Choose varieties that do well in cooler temps. Some lettuce types love cold weather, where summer varieties keep going through the heat of summer. Certain carrot varieties can withstand cool or very cold weather. I explain figuring out seed lingo in Decoding The Seed Packet, a post designed to help gardeners understand seed packet information.

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Pea seeds soon will go in the ground!

Better to Wait

Warm season veggies should be set out after all danger of frost. It’s just so much better to wait for things like tomato and pepper seedlings. I usually direct seed cucumbers, beans and squash in late May here in zone 5b Maine. Early planting of these vegetables may lead to killing the plants and making you a very discouraged gardener! So, be patient and you will enjoy a more successful garden.

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Early season seeds!

If you plant soon, you will be thinning those first beet greens out of the garden before you know it. Within the next few weeks I will be sowing some of these cool season seeds in my gardens. I plan on getting my heat tolerant salad greens and radishes in the ground soon too. i usually put the seeds that I want to plant first into a small basket. Every time I have a few minutes, I go out and plant one or two things. Check out your garden. Planting time may be sooner than you think !

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Garden harvest.

“April hath put a spirit of youth in everything.”-William Shakespeare. I saw this quote the other day and it made me think of many that I know who want to be in the garden but cannot because of poor health or circumstances. That is a harsh reality but I do hope that this post has made you feel like getting out in your garden. Spring chores can seem overwhelming. Just pick away at them a little at a time and you will get there! Thank you!

If any if you are going to be in the Rockland, Maine area this Saturday at 1pm, I will be teaching a mason be class at ArtLoft Rockland. We will be learning how to attract our native bees to our gardens and making bee houses from natural and recycled materials. Go to ArtLoft Rockland to register!

Hilary|Everlongardener

How To Protect Yourself in the Garden

With this gorgeous warm weather we’ve been having, everyone is heading outside with wild abandon to get gardening! But I’m warning you that you need to protect yourself. In the midst of all of the flowers and butterflies, there are dangers my friend and lots of them!

Now, I know that you are sick of cold weather and just want to get outside. That’s how I feel too. By taking a few precautions, we can all have a safer, much more enjoyable garden season this summer!

Here Comes the Sun

When I was younger, gardening seemed like the perfect opportunity to work on my tan. As time went on though, I started to see that the sun wasn’t necessarily my friend. I began to seek the shade. I started wearing a straw hat every day. Some logger friends of mine had always worn old dress shirts to keep cool and cover the skin. I started doing the same. These days you can even purchase clothing with an spf factor built right in.

A straw hat is invaluable!

If you plan on working all day in the sun, try to work in shady areas in the most intense part of the day. Typically between 10 and 2 using the day. Keep hydrated and take breaks as needed. Don’t forget to apply sunblock throughout the day.

Bugs, Oh My!

In Maine, there is this brief span of time before the black flies come out. A time when you can easily forget about them. Just as they start to die down, then come the dreaded mosquitoes! These can be worse in wooded areas. Thankfully there are some pretty decent natural bugs sprays out there. I’ve found that a bug net is effective if you can tolerate wearing one. Of course these ravenous, blood-hungry insects will bite right through your shirt so sometimes working outside is a bad idea. Freshly washed hair smells really nice to them too. If you plan on being outside, put off the hair washing  for later.

Ticks are a huge concern around here. Try tucking your pants into your socks. Do regular tick checks. Nymph ticks can be the size of a grain of sand. Quite a few essential oils are good for keeping ticks at bay like Rose Geranium, lavender and Texas cedar. Another trick is using diluted white vinegar sprayed on your pants. Getting sick from ticks is serious business. The consequences of Lyme disease can ruin your life, so take as many precautions as you can.

Leaves of Three

If you’ve ever come in contact with poison ivy, poison oak, hogweed or any other similar plant, you know how miserable a reaction can be. A number of years ago I came in contact with one of these and proceeded to accidentally smear the plants oil all over my body. I was out of work for days and even needed a Prednisone shot! Just become familiar with the plants that are a problem in your area. If you come in contact with anything suspicious, wash your clothes in hot water. Clean your hands, tools, pets, anything that has potentially come in contact with the plants.

Gardening Gear

Comfortable, practical gardening clothes are one of the best ways of protecting yourself in the garden. Canvas work pants or jeans are ideal, although I’ve been know to do some early morning lettuce picking in my pajamas!

Many of you love the feeling of dirt on your hands. A good pair of gloves can go a long way to protecting your hands against cracks, splinters, cuts and blisters. As you can see, I keep a glove around for every job. Soft leather is my personal fave and a nice rubber coated glove is great for keeping your hands dry. Line them with a thin pair of knit gloves, and your hands will stay warm on colder days.

A great selection of gardening gloves.

Footwear is extremely important for protecting your feet and your back. I’ve noticed that if I’m not wearing the proper shoes for the level of gardening that I’m doing, I pay for it later with sore feet and fatigue. Light garden chores generally require no special shoes. Some jobs may only require sneakers, while edging is so much easier when wearing work boots. A good pair of boots will last for years to come for most home gardeners. A pair of rubber boots can make it possible to garden in wet weather. It’s no fun having wet feet!

Boots are always a good idea.

My Aching Back!

One of the first things that bothers me in the garden is my back. Most of the time it’s because I’m working in the wrong position or leaning over when I should be sitting. This is where being mindful of your posture is very important.

The right equipment can save on your back.

Items like a kneeling pad can prevent aching knees and are comfortable to sit on too. I try not to work on my knees very much anyway. A garden seat is an excellent way to do gardening tasks need a lower level. The seat is great for harvesting lettuce and makes gardening during pregnancy possible. True story!

One of my favorite indispensable garden tools is ‘the claw’. Pictured above is my garden cultivator. I use it for so many things. When edging,  I break up the sod with it instead of using my shoulder. It makes it so much easier especially with bigger chunks. You can use it to distribute mulch or compost. It can also be used to break up masses of weeds.

Remember, take care of your tools and they will help you in the garden. Keep them clean and sharp. Keep them nearby and ready to go. For tips on keeping your tools in tip top shape, go to How To Take Care Of Hand Tools.

I have been through many things in my years of gardening. I’ve been attacked multiple times by fire ants. Attacked and bitten three times by a customers psycho cat. Still have the scars to prove it. Come in contact with  horrible plants that cause raised, painful, oozing blisters. These are just a few examples of why it’s important to be careful out there. Just take a few precautions before you start and your gardening experience will be so much more enjoyable!

The rhubarb has emerged!

Along with last weeks frog emergence, we now have frog eggs floating in our vernal pool. The rhubarb is just starting to put on leaves. It grows so fast! Daffodils are up about 5″. Flowers soon!

Baby garlic!

Found these cute little baby garlics in last years garlic bed. At first I didn’t know what they were. We quickly moved them to the new garlic bed to let them grow there for the summer.

Salad greens in full swing!

Lettuce picking is in full swing around here. Wintered over salad greens are the best! We have been raking leaves and trying to get rid of all of these acorns. What a job! Are there any gardening topics that you would like me to write about? Leave me a message in a comment, I would love to hear from you! Get out there and be careful. But most of all, enjoy it. Thanks for coming along this week!

Hilary|Everlongardener

Gardening With Herbs

Want to add spice to your garden this year? Planting herbs in your garden and landscape contributes more edibles to each seasons harvest. Perennial, annual or biennial, gardening with herbs brings tasty rewards!

Whether you want culinary herbs for cooking or herbs for making tea, gardening with herbs can be a real joy. Herbs have so many uses. Flavor soups or spice up other meals. Add them to homemade soaps, room freshening pouches or you can use along with flowers in floral design. Many herbs have medical qualities too!

Dill is gorgeous in floral arrangements!

Perennial Herbs

When you purchase a perennial herb plant, you are likely going to have it for many years to come. Herbs such a oregano, chives and mint, once planted will probably take up permanent residence in your garden. Planted in the wrong places these can quickly become invasive. If you want to control them more effectively, cut flowers after bloom so the plants don’t go to seed.

Peppermint is a hardy perennial herb.

Planting herbs such as mint in a pot, then planting the pot, can contain it from turning into a sprawling mess. Oregano easily creeps its way through the garden bed if left unattended. Creeping thyme is wonderful for establishing between pathway stones and rock work.

Thyme blooming providing food for bees!

Sage, lavender and culinary thyme can become great structural plants in the herb garden or elsewhere. These all have a woody stemmed base and should not be cut down. They are usually drought tolerant and hardy once established. Use perennial herbs in a dedicated herb garden or intersperse them throughout your herbaceous borders.

Lavender has many places in the garden.

Annual Herbs

More tender herb plants may include basil, parsley, cilantro and dill. With the exception of parsley, these herbs are not likely to survive a frost and generally need replanting yearly. When properly used, these potent herbs can produce all summer long in most northern climates. Rosemary, although not an annual, is a woody evergreen that is hardy in zone 8. If you live outside of this area, rosemary must be brought inside for the winter. I usually manage to kill every rosemary that crosses my threshold. I keep trying though!

Basil is so prolific!

Parsley is actually a biennial herb. Parsley can be wintered over in a cold frame or unheated greenhouse when given an extra layer of protection. Floating row cover is very helpful in making sure parsley survives the winter. Wintered parsley often goes to seed, so use it through the winter months. Do you prefer flat leaf or curly parsley?

Hardy parsley plants!

Plant herbs in your perennial herb garden or grow along with vegetables. Garden herbs are well suited to container growing and can be grown in window boxes or pots. By placing containers of herbs on the deck, the need for a garden is eliminated. Mix with annual flowers for a stunning summer look.

Basil is great in containers! Photo by L. Labree

For The Bees

Humans aren’t the only ones who love garden herbs. Bees and other pollinators benefit from flowering herbs. Some favorites are basil, borage oregano, hyssop and lavender. By adding a variety of herbs to your existing garden, pollinators have more plants to choose from.

Herbs such as Oregano make great bee food.

Seeing all of these lush green pictures is making me want everything to grow right this minute! I really need to be patient. There’s plenty to do before it’s time to be harvesting herbs. Plant a few herbs this garden season. Freeze or dry them for winter use. So many of the herbs and spices we use can be produced at home. Here is a simple herb garden plan for all of you! This plan uses perennial herbs and leaves spaces for annual herbs and beneficial flowers.

A small garden plan mixing annuals with established herbs. Painting by Hilary Mank.

Gardening with herbs makes you more self-sufficient. Once you get started, growing herbs makes cooking with herbs very economical. These herbs mentioned here are the very basics. The world of herbs is truly vast. If you have personal favorites, by all means grow them!

The frogs are croaking here in Maine this week. The ice is leaving our lakes and the gardens have awakened. I thank you so much for reading Everlongardener this week. There is more to come this spring including mason bees and ways to protect yourself in the garden. Sign up to subscribe in the sidebar for all things gardening!

Hilary|Everlongardener