The Garden Spotter


Garden Advice: A Thought When Laying Out a Garden

img_0082 Every notice that the best advice is often the briefest advice? No mincing words, no going on and on and on.

This was my exact thought when I came across (more…)


Spotted: Michelle Obama’s White House Kitchen Garden Sets Permanent Roots

As the 2016 presidential election draws closer, the campaign seems to be getting nastier and nastier. But let’s forget about all that for a bit, shall we? And talk about something more positive that has happened in Washington lately.

On the South Lawn of the White House last week, First Lady Michelle Obama joined a group of school children for what no doubt will be her last harvest of the White House Kitchen Garden, at least as a resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Bearing fresh-picked greens and her signature wide smile, Mrs. Obama also announced plans for the continuation of the garden she created seven years ago, regardless of who takes office next January.

Thanks to a $2.5 million grant from Burpee, the White House Kitchen Garden will be funded for at least the next 17 years, the first lady said, and it will continue to be maintained by the U.S National Park Service.

White House Kitchen Garden

Groundbreaking in 2009/White House photo

Planted in 2009, the White House Kitchen Garden helped promote Mrs. Obama’s Let’s Move initiative to end childhood obesity. Over the years, it also produced food for White House meals, state dinners and even local hunger programs. It was the subject of a 2012 book by Michelle Obama, American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America. And it has no doubt inspired many other Americans to grow vegetables in their own backyards.

“This garden represents the transformational change we’ve seen in just the last six and a half years, as well as our collective hopes for growing a healthier nation for our children,” Mrs. Obama said in a news release.

The White House Kitchen Garden also has grown physically over the years, now spanning 2,800 square feet, almost tripling in size from its beginnings. It not only grows vegetables, but fruit and herbs as well, and even has a beehive and compost pile. As in any garden, not all has gone smoothly: there was a lead scare back in 2011 and a bee scare in 2015.

While the White House has always had formal gardens, vegetable gardens have only made a sporadic appearance, with the last full commitment being Eleanor Roosevelt’s Victory Garden during World War II. Victory Gardens were planted in public parks and private residences throughout the U.S. and Europe during the wars to ease the stress on the public food supply. In later years, the White House grounds staff seemed uninterested in anything but formal gardens.  In the 1990’s when Bill Clinton served in the Oval Office, the Clintons reportedly wanted to build a garden , but the White House poo-pooed the idea, and instead they grew veggies in pots on the roof.

Now the 2016 Democratic nominee, Hillary Rodham Clinton, has indicated she will continue the garden, if elected, and plans to invite Michelle Obama back to the White House kitchen garden for plantings and harvests.

Republican nominee Donald Trump, meantime, has not said whether he and his wife, Melania, have any interest in gardening at the White House should he be the winner next month. To date, neither has shown a propensity for a green thumb.


Market Visit: Crystal Spring Farm in Brunswick

Head out Maine Street in Brunswick, past Bowdoin College, out Pleasant Hill Road, and you suddenly enter a vast stretch of rural farmland. The land flattens out, you see rows of vegetables in various stages of growth, some of them already gone by.  There’s a rolling hill and, at the top, a big white barn with a clock and, if it’s Saturday morning, you’ll see a mass of tents and farm trucks across the road. This is the Brunswick Topsham Land Trust’s Farmers Market at Crystal Spring Farm, named “Best Farmers Market” by editors of Yankee Magazine.
crystal spring farm (more…)


Easy Peasy Dried Tomatoes


img_0350 Looking for a super easy way to preserve those last tomatoes of the season? I’ve recently discovered how to dry tomatoes using my own oven. No fancy dehydration apparatus. No big mess or production in the kitchen. Just a few simple ingredients, and some time. (more…)


Spotted: The Common Ground Country Fair

common ground 052 It’s Common Ground Fair time, time to get your tie dye and flower crown on. This is the 40th year of the fair, billed by its sponsor, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, as a celebration of rural life.

But it’s way more than that. The three-day event, which starts Friday and is expected to draw thousands to tiny Unity in central Maine, is a place to learn about the latest in organic farming practices, hear what’s new in green legislation, (more…)


Flower Profile: The China Aster


china aster

China Aster

(Callistephus chinensis)

One of the true old-fashioned flowers, the china aster was very popular in Europe and America in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was one of many flowers that came originally from China, where gardening was done for entertainment, and flowers were appreciated for their beauty, form and fragrance. Flowers introduced to the West during that era include many of those we have in our gardens today – hollyhocks, peonies, lilies, clematis, forsythia and many more. The story goes that when a Jesuit priest brought the aster back to France from China in 1731, its popularity burst wide open. And by the late 1800’s, when hybridization and flower gardening were at an all time high, one American seedsman boasted more than 250 varieties. (more…)


Garden Visit: The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden

abby aldrich rockefeller garden abby aldrich rockefeller garden The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden in Seal Harbor has been on my bucket list of Maine gardens to visit for several years, but I always seemed to miss the chance at winning a spot on their limited calendar. The garden, designed by the legendary landscape architect Beatrix Farrand for John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and his wife Abby Aldrich Rockefeller in the 1920’s, is open only for private tours on Thursdays from late July to mid September. So this year I felt like I won the lottery, because not only did I get a reservation, I was granted a visit on the year the U.S. National Park Service and nearby Acadia National Park were to celebrate their official centennial. (more…)


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