Peter Blackstone bought his house in Portland’s Munjoy Hill neighborhood back in the late 1970s and shortly afterward planted a kiwi vine, a seemingly strange choice for a climate where summers are short and winters often brutally long. But more than 35 years later, Blackstone’s kiwi has grown so strong and tall that it reaches past his second floor deck. In the heat of the summer, it also provides a cool canopy over the patio, where Blackstone sometimes sits and plays accordion.
Blackstone, who also grows orchids in a sun room off his kitchen, sees himself as an experimental sort of gardener. He likes to push the limits in terms of what can be grown in USDA plant zone 5b, where average extreme minimum temperatures run between minus 10 and minus 15 Fahrenheit. He attributes his kiwi’s vibrancy to an urban backyard that is very much protected from cold temperatures and saltwater breezes, a micro climate if you will.
While it may come as a surprise that kiwis grow so robustly in Maine, it is even more surprising that growing kiwi is nothing new here, according to MOFGA, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. MOFGA reports the hardy kiwi, especially a certain variety called Actinidia arjuta, can withstand temperatures as low as -25 Fahrenheit. The MOFGA article also says kiwis have grown here in Maine for decades. They can be found in the gardens of many of the older estates along the coast, and even in Acadia National Park.
Peter Blackstone says his giant kiwi vine took some patience to get started. For one, he needed both male and female plants to ultimately produce fruit, a botanical process called dioecious reproduction. Kiwis like lots of sun, 10 to 12 hours a day, and a little shade, too. They also need nutrient rich soil and frequent watering – two to three times a week. And once they start putting out shoots and canes, kiwis definitely need some support, just as an established grape or wisteria vine needs support. Blackstone says a plus for growing kiwi next to your home is that its roots are not overly invasive, so you don’t have to worry about damage to your clapboards.
On a mid-July day that is no doubt one of the hottest of the season, Blackstone plucked a kiwi from his vine and cut it open. The fruit is about the size of a large marble and still very hard. He says by the fall, however, the kiwi will be a little bit bigger, much softer and very sweet. When the kiwis ripen, he’ll be giving them away to family and friends, who will no doubt be amazed and delighted that the kiwis were actually grown right in his back yard in Maine.
One of the ultimate pleasures in life is a frozen popsicle on a hot summer day. Even if it stains your lips and fingers or gives you a big ol’ brain freeze, it’s worth every delicious, refreshing gooey drop. What’s even better is if that frozen treat is made with healthy ingredients from the local farmers market or from your own back yard. With berry season in full swing, here’s a round up of popsicle recipes from the web:
(tl) Blueberry Zinger Pops www.accordingtoelle.com
(tr) Chocolate Covered Raspberry Cheesecake Pops www.fooddoodles.com
(bl) Pure Raspberry Pops www.cookrepublic.com
(br) Blueberry Greek Yogurt Popsicles www.sharedappetite.com
(tl) Roasted Strawberry Rhubarb Custard Popsicles www.thekitchenmccabe.com
(tr) Coconut Rhubarb Strawberry Popsicles www.hungrygirlporvida.com
(bl) Blackberry Ombre Popsicles www.tutti-dolci.com
(br) Wild Blackberry Mint Popsicles www.stalkerville.net
We recently bought a new house in Bath and we’ve all been so busy packing and unpacking, none of us have had time for anything else. I say “new” but like most of the houses in this small historic shipbuilding city on the coast of Maine, ours is not new at all but pretty old. Built in 1900, it sits on a dead end road just outside the historic district and is just two streets over from the Kennebec River. It’s a classic New Englander with three bedrooms, two floors, a quaint front porch and front hall entry.
With an antique property, you really don’t know for sure what you’re getting into until you move in and live there for a time. Some things are apparent, others not so much. For us, the question became how much fixer upper could we handle? Old houses are a big commitment; they take lots of hard work, patience, determination, and, of course, money. This one had already undergone several smart upgrades, including new windows and a new front porch, while what still needed to be done seemed reasonable and within budget. We think the place has amazing potential and something for each of us – a patio and gardens for mom, a “man-cave” barn for dad and the boys, and a new kitchen and bathroom for all.
A big part of the moving process has involved moving plants from our old place to the new. There are certain plants that I consider too precious to leave behind: my green-yellow spider lilies, my monarda, my magenta rose campion, my small bed of lavender. Some I’ve enjoyed for years, others are living reminders of friends and family, others are just new favorites.
During this move, I also transferred a lot of my dirt, which I prize as much as my plants. (Who does that?) I am lucky to have a partner who understands this, and, in fact, Bill read my mind and loaded up the bed of his pick up without even saying one word to me.
A very pleasant aspect of moving into this new old house has been the discovery of what’s in the garden. It has 115 years of structures, dirt and plants including a variety of rugosa and miniature roses, day lilies, rhubarb and strawberries, plus a very old clematis that I look forward to pruning and nurturing back to health.
Over the next months, I’ll be sharing our progress on our new old house here on The Garden Spotter, especially on some of the outdoor areas of this small city lot. Stay tuned.