The Garden Spotter


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, shop for organic produce and unique Maine-made textiles and products, brush up on your homesteading and folk craft skills, get educated about food preserving and herbal remedies, and eat food that is (mostly) organic and from Maine. What you won’t find at the Common Ground Fair are Ferris wheels and carnival games with barkers shouting “Three balls for a dollar,” monster truck shows and demolition derbies, cotton candy machines and fried dough. Common Ground is not your average, everyday agricultural fair.

According to MOFGA, the fair came about shortly after the association itself was organized in 1971, prompted in large part by Scott and Helen Nearing and their book, Living the Good Life: How to Live Simply and Sanely in a Troubled World (1954), which sparked a whole back-to-the-land movement and a rise in the popularity of organic gardening. The first Common Ground Fair was held in Litchfield in 1977, and grew so successful it had to be moved to the Windsor Fairgrounds and eventually to Unity, where it now has a permanent home.

Forty years hence, there’s renewed interest in the Common Ground Fair and all things organic. Attendance in 2015 was an all time high – 65,098  – prompting traffic pile-ups in Unity and fair organizers to respond by making buses available around the state for people to commute this year and reduce their carbon footprints.

The schedule of events is jam packed, so plan ahead what you’d like to see so you can fit everything in. This year, I’m planning to zone in on some of the workshops on home gardening, crafts and plant dyes. Who’s in?

For a complete agenda and other information, visit the MOFGA website.

If You Go:


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…)


A Short History of the Seedless Watermelon

IMG_9954 See something unusual about the watermelon in this picture? That’s right, it has seeds, unlike the watermelon you see in most grocery stores.

It wasn’t always that way. When I was a child, the watermelon my parents picked up at the store or farm stand was always full of tiny black seeds, and there was a certain joy that came from eating them outside in the hot summer sun, letting the cold juice run down our chins as we spit them as far as we could. Would they sprout right there on the lawn, we wondered? Would they spawn a whole field of watermelon that we could maybe sell or at least have our fill of anytime we wished? It never did happen, but it was fun speculation. (more…)


Garden Tours: 6 Tips for Visitors

garden tours Throughout the Maine summer, garden tours abound. One weekend may find you meandering through the historical estates of Camden, while another you might be touring the colorful urban garden plots of Munjoy Hill in Portland. (more…)


Round Pond, Maine: Saving the Lupine Field

lupine When residents of tiny Round Pond Village, Maine found out last year that their beloved lupine field could be developed into condominiums, they took quick action. (more…)


Recipe: Strawberry Shake

strawberry shake It’s strawberry season, and we’re experiencing a bumper crop, which means lots and lots and lots of strawberry shortcake. But if you’re looking for something a little different, something that’s quick and tasty, how about a refreshing strawberry milk shake? (more…)


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