Cold Enough

Once the nursery season is officially over, we wait for the temperatures to be consistently cold in order to cover plants in the retail and stock area. This is somewhat tricky on account of the fluctuating weather we may experience in the fall here in Maine. Many of the plants we over-winter are lined up and then covered in a specially designed winter ‘blanket’. Our ideal is to have the plants freeze and remain frozen, it’s the freeze-thaw-freeze-thaw that we’re most concerned about.

Still Green! Epimedium colchicum and Adiantum venustum

Our mission is to protect the roots of the plants. Because some of the plants will remain in their pots and not in the ground, the roots are vulnerable and susceptible to damage if left without protection. Therefore, more care and consideration is needed. Our annual ‘covering of the pots’ truly marks the end of our growing season, the last big chore in the nursery. Of course, we also have a tremendous amount of plants that are over-wintered in growing beds, these don’t require any extra defense and will rely on the earth (and hopefully good snow cover) to protect them. A patch-work of fall-related chores here at Fernwood as we welcome the winter season…we’ve processed this year’s supply of meat birds, the root vegetables are snug in the root cellar, and the firewood is (almost) all stacked in the woodshed. Hip Hip Hooray!
Oh, and bread making! Regardless of the season, there is breadmaking!

Beginnings

Years ago a dear friend suggested we write a blog for the nursery. It took some convincing. Actually, it took some needling and eventually she had to trap me in the backseat of their pick-up truck on the long drive home from a mountain hike and force me to come up with some words. That was the very first post. It was 2012. We had just spent a beautiful day hiking up at Gulf Hagas, our other dear friend, Moe, was with us as well. I love thinking of that day. I love my dear friend who had strategically tucked her i-pad-y thingamajig into her knapsack in order to hold me hostage in the backseat on the way home. She is a very clever friend. I remember feeling tired and a little hungry and being squished in the middle between Moe and Rick. Then without hardly a notice, I remember my friend turning around in her seat so that her face was close to mine and saying “start talking, this is your first blog post”.I was trapped, and besides, deep down I was pretty sure my friend was trying to do me a great favor. She was and she did, I see that now. (Also, let me just mention that I am fairly sure both Rick and Moe had dozed off at this point…a lot of help they were, those boys! ha!) That was seven years ago.
Initially, the blog was meant to feature the nursery and the plants we grow and if you scan back over the years you’ll find that, yes, there are many entries that talk about specific cultivars or about propagation or the running of the nursery. It’s true that much of our life centers around the nursery, propagating and tending to the plants we grow, raising vegetables and critters. However, I think the blog would have been a very different space if I had stuck to being a purist and only wrote about plants and gardening. There’s so much more that goes on in this life I live, certainly so much more that goes on in my head. Through the years, I’ve shared some stories and thoughts, some recipes and poems, and, hopefully, an insight into our life here at Fernwood. My friend was spot on when she suggested we write a blog. It does help our business. It does give us a ‘presence’ in the world of social media. A place people can go to find us, to check our hours, to get a sense of what we’re doing here. That’s all really good and helpful. The thing it has also become ( My friend knew this would happen…I know she did, remember I told you she is really clever) is a place for sharing and connecting. It has opened up a world of other blogs that I so look forward to reading, it has opened up a network of friends I feel I could pick out of a crowd even though I have never actually met them, it has created a place to share and connect and express. Sitting at the computer is never a seat I easily gravitate to, digging holes and tending plants wins the stronger tug. But, this blog means a lot to me. So, thank you…first and foremost, Kari, for your nudging. I really do believe it had to happen just the way it did… between two snoring men in the backseat of a pick-up truck after a long day of woods, and waterfalls, and friends. You’re so smart! And, thank you to anyone who has wandered over to this here blog of ours, I hope it has been at least a little interesting and entertaining. I’ve enjoyed each and every visit and connection and will try and keep the words rolling (very hard sometimes, I must admit).
Well, now, let’s add a poem to this rambling post. Sent to me by another friend, a new friend, who, like my friend, Kari, also possesses a dear and generous heart. Lucky gal, I am.
P.S. Do you see how I placed a link in the word Gulf Hagus? It goes back to that very first post. Yep, my friend taught me to do that too. To add links. She’s so clever. Enjoy!

The Things That Count
Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Now, dear, it isn’t the bold things,
Great deeds of valour and might,
That count the most in the summing up of life at the end of the day.
But it is the doing of old things,
Small acts that are just and right;
And doing them over and over again, no matter what others say;
In smiling at fate, when you want to cry, and in keeping at work when you want to play—
Dear, those are the things that count.

And, dear, it isn’t the new ways
Where the wonder-seekers crowd
That lead us into the land of content, or help us to find our own.
But it is keeping to true ways,
Though the music is not so loud,
And there may be many a shadowed spot where we journey along alone;
In flinging a prayer at the face of fear, and in changing into a song a groan—
Dear, these are the things that count.

My dear, it isn’t the loud part
Of creeds that are pleasing to God,
Not the chant of a prayer, or the hum of a hymn, or a jubilant shout or song.
But it is the beautiful proud part
Of walking with feet faith-shod;
And in loving, loving, loving through all, no matter how things go wrong;
In trusting ever, though dark the day, and in keeping your hope when the way seems long—
Dear, these are the things that count.

Gifted

These are the remains of a sewing basket that belonged to a dear and special friend of mine. Her name was Alva. She hemmed all of her own pants and fixed the holes in all of her older brothers work clothes. The last brother was Charles but everyone called him Peanut. She never married and she outlived them all. She sat on Saturday evenings in an old rocker who’s cushion was pieced together with collected remnants of cloth and she watched (religiously) the re-runs of the Lawrence Welk Show. She had also outlived her teeth, but her smile was the best most honest grin of anyone I knew. Her favorite foods were 35 cent ice cream sandwiches, fresh strawberries, and cream of wheat. She was kind, undemanding, and enjoyed life. She carried a huge old fashion pocketbook that was filled with essential things, like safety pins, and matches, and small notebooks for recording important information. She tucked a small wad of Kleenex up her sleeve just like my grandmother did. She remembered the dates of birthdays and deaths and weddings but never learned to drive, didn’t own a microwave, had never traveled out of the state of Maine, and didn’t own a cell phone. She wore two headscarves, one on top of the other…I don’t know why. When I sort through her little sewing basket, carefully and tenderly examining each little trinket, each little needle case, each little prize, I smile and feel glad and sad and privileged. Perhaps the thread will be used to make baby Violet a new pair of leggings. The fabric pieces will patch a pair of holey jeans. I’ll sharpen the scissors and line up her collection of thimbles on the sewing table. Maybe I’ll sit quietly in the evening, hand sewing and eat ice cream sandwiches.

Late Season Blooms

Tricyrtis hirta ‘Miyazaki’

While most of the gardens die back, a few very late season blooms are looking rather splendid. Tucked among the now golden leaves of hosta and ferns, Tricyrtis hirta ‘Miyazaki’ and Tricyrtis hirta alba are in full bloom. Aconitum carmichaelii is also just beginning to open as well.

Tricyrtis hirta alba

Aconitum carmichaelii ‘A

Hey, why not wait until the last minute? Why not let all those early ephemeral and mid-summer opportunists march right along and take center stage. The fall beauties we are enjoying now waited patiently for their moment of glory just before the curtains closed. The last finale. They are surely getting a lot of attention from their audience! Bravo, bravo! Very soon, all of these botanical performers will be taking a bow and will bid us adieu, retreating underground for a much-needed rest. And, how lucky are we, the gardeners, to have season tickets and amazing front row seats! We wouldn’t dare demand an encore. No, we understand that just can’t be. Instead, we applaud, take a deep breath, and say goodbye until the next season’s performance.

Cimicifuga ramosa ‘James Compton’ still looking magnificent

Our days are shifting now. The nursery will remain open for just a few more days and then it’s by appointment through the month of October. Each garden has its signs of decay and impending dormancy. The vegetable gardens are looking tired and we are finally ready to shift our daily eating habits from fresh green beans and yellow squash to roasted beets and potato leek soup. Knitting in the evenings are more likely and a long walk in the morning is possible. The sheep are still grazing, though it won’t be long before they are brought home from their summer pasture and will switch over to their winter diet of hay and grain. As of yet, we have not had to light the woodstove, but we know those cool mornings and nippy evenings are just ahead of us. We still have a large flock of meat birds to process in October (50 or so) and about 7 cords of firewood to finish splitting and stacking. I feel like I can take time to bake bread again and dye wool and make pumpkin butter without the feeling of urgency to get back outside and weed or mow or pot plants. A change in routine is good, I do declare!
This summer, we have had a wedding to pull off, a long visit from two little kiddos with tremendous (and delightful) energy, and a fast and furious and super busy nursery season. Yup, I’m tired. I’m feeling a bit whooped. So let the shift of this Fall season begin. Let the days grow shorter, and yes, a bit darker. I’m hoping that the steps I take don’t cover ground as quickly as they do during the hay days of summer. Let there be time to pause, to collect thoughts, to establish a quieter rhythm. It’s time. How are you all feeling? Ready to let go of summer or wanting it to linger a bit longer? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this melancholy transition from summer haze to fall crispness. In the meantime, with an intention to nurture a stillness of heart, I’ll mozy out to the gardens and start pulling onions for winter storage.

A Morning Walk Into The Bog

After tending to the sheep, I took a little walk in the bog. I love how the dew settles into that natural depression and creates a silken drapery over many of the plants. In the early morning, the bog still feels silent and still, though you can easily detect the night time activity that has passed through. Deer trails criss-cross through the spongy sphagnum moss that carpets the entire area. A fox leaves gentle footprints along the shore. Spiders have crafted their delicate webs among the branches of the larch. There’s a lot to investigate…the Labrador tea, the cranberry, the tawny cotton grass, Rhodora canadense, and so much more. Such an abundance of plant and animal diversity! You can read more about the different types of bogs and how they are formed here: https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/bog/
Do you ever have the chance to wander into a boggy area to investigate the unique habitat it provides? There are plenty of bogs in Maine to explore, many that have public access and often providing boardwalks that have been built above the sphagnum to protect the plants growing there. Bogs are fairly delicate habitats so there are some thoughtful guidelines to practice while exploring them. The bog that is close to us is not a public bog and we are very careful to walk primarily along the edge (slightly elevated from the bog itself) and occasionally along the deer paths that travel through it.
There is a bog open to visitors located in Orono and you can find information here: https://umaine.edu/oronobogwalk/bog-faqs/
Our own little bog is a canvas of red, gold, and orange hues at the moment and will continue to intensify as we head towards winter. Really beautiful. Here are a few photos from my morning excursion…

Retreat

I took a day off and went to the ocean. A quick retreat. Hardly more than 24 hours. I did, however, have the opportunity to hike a secret footpath along the shore. Glorious, glorious. I did sit looking out at the lobster boats coming in with their haul and was able to begin knitting little Violets sweater. I did have a meal of scallops and fresh tomatoes and homemade goat cheese. All in just a mere 24 hrs! Soul soothing.

Collecting

Paeonia japonica

Arisaema consanguineum

Always amazed by the structure of seeds and seed pods while we are out collecting. Blooms may be less frequent now but we are blessed with all the seed diversity in the gardens. Nature’s well thought out arrangement with regard to seeds, pods, and dispersal. Pretty cool, heh?

Clematis viorna

Echinacea purpurea

Scenes From Fern Class

It was a perfect day to have our fern class out on the deck of the studio. We set up the teardrop trailer for serving tea and scones and chocolate croissants. A lovely Sunday spent looking at green fronds and fern spores. A walk around the gardens and then into the woods for a little exploration. As we ease our way into fall and cooler days, the ferns continue to grace the landscape and the woodlands with their waving tendency and emerald hues. Lovely, lovely, I must say. There is a natural swath of New York ferns (Thelypteris noveboracensis) leading over to one of the cabins we have. In the spring the forest floor is covered with a blanket of false lily of the valley (Maianthemum dilatatum) and the combination of these two plants is quite extraordinary. Of course, in May, the false lily of the valley is in bloom, their fragrance sweetening the forest air. Divine. Nature surely has the patent on landscape design, don’t you agree? We are still plenty busy at the nursery with late-season chores and plantings. Customers are continuing to come knowing that they have time for changes and additions to their gardens. It is this time of year, however, that I feel a pull to roam…to roam the woods, to roam the rocky seashore, to roam the footpaths and mountain trails. I think it’s an attempt to catch my breath. A busy summer, a wedding to plan (and still to pull off), visits from our kids and grandchildren, and, also, of course, the day to day work that keeps the nursery afloat. The urge to slip into the woods, to go deep into the wilds, to sit still among natures green growth and tree canopy, is fierce at the moment. Lately, regardless of how late it is, I’ve been driving over to the lake ( just a mere mile, thank goodness) to a little-undetected spot and swimming. Sometimes it’s just before bedtime. The lake is quiet and the night sky reflects on the surface, I don’t see anyone else. It’s nice, it’s serene, it’s really quiet. I slip into the water like a seal and let the coolness soothe my soul. So restorative. Perhaps this is all the natural progression of a season winding down and I myself feel its influence. Many plants are leaning toward dormancy, the leaves on the trees are losing their chlorophyll, the deer are in the corn fields fattening their bellies for what’s to come. My own inner clock is searching for a different rhythm. I like that. I like the space in the day to be a little more reflective, I like wading into that big beautiful body of water, floating on my back, looking up at the night sky, and being able to hear the beat of my heart. Again, restorative. Hope you are all finding those moments to soothe your soul with an activity or a space that allows for stillness. It’s worth the search and for me right now…essential!

As The Weather Turns…

The heat seems to have subsided. I think we are all thankful. I know the gardens are thankful. I am not convinced that New Englanders, particularly northern New Englanders, are built for hot and humid weather. After a winter of 20 below and a snow that lasts until mid-April, we are often heard making reference to the ‘hot and hazy days of summer’. We make these comments as if we can’t wait for the near 100 degree days, as if we’ll all lie bare and prostrate into the beating sun and love it. This isn’t quite the reality or our response to the baking sun. Once those brutally hot days appear, once the thermometer readings travel into the nineties, we start moaning. We whine and then comment on places like Texas and Arizona, “how do they stand it”, we say. It scares us. It is way out of our comfort. We complain. Most people in Maine don’t have air conditioning. Most will still roll their windows down while driving to capture a breeze before they would ever consider turning on the AC. I’m not sure if our Subaru even has air conditioning. I know the old 1-ton dump truck we drive doesn’t, it has windows you actually have to roll up or down. Very old fashion.
Since the humidity has passed, Maine people are smiling more now. We have resumed the spring in our step. We’re back to our old selves.
So, yes, the days are shortening and the temperatures are cooling. The weather is tolerable. We still may get some Indian summer days when the temps rise, but they probably won’t be so oppressive. We’ll welcome the continuation of sunshine and gentle warmth. The worst of the heat is probably over so we’ll stop being babies and get back to facing our days without complaint. Afterall, we still have tomatoes to ripen and the eggplants wait for the deep heat to grow plump and turn that amazing hue of purple. The winter squash is relying on a long growing season to mature before harvest. The second cut of hay still needs cutting and days of good drying. And, we don’t have all of our firewood split and stacked into the woodshed yet. Yesterday, after collecting seed and working on propagation in the greenhouse, we did manage to haul some firewood as well. Cooler days will soon turn to colder days!
Certainly, everyone is familiar with the quote from Mark Twain, “If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.”
Luckily, this ‘wait a few minutes’ for the scorching heat to pass us by has come and we are feeling relief here in the northeast. Thank goodness!!