The Garden Spotter

Victoria Mansion at Christmas


Shop Visit: Vena’s Fizz House in Portland


To call Vena’s Fizz House simply a craft beverage shop or a bar would be doing a great injustice to this two-year old establishment in the heart of Portland’s Old Port District.  To be sure, Vena’s is a one of a kind – a store, bar, soda shop, and history lesson all rolled into one.  craft cocktails

Vena’s Fizz House is the creation of Steve and Joanna Corman, whose great grandmother was one of the leaders in Maine’s temperance movement in the 1920’s.  The shop is named for Irvina, also known as “Vena.” Initially, the pair sold only sodas and mocktails, but later added alcohol to the menu. They also sell the ingredients they use to make the drinks they sell, drinks that carry names like Tootsie Soda Pop, Ginger-tini, and Elderflower Vodka Collins.

craft cocktails

These aren’t just craft cocktails or mocktails, but, in many cases, drinks from much earlier times. Thankfully, the Cormans provide some explanations on their menus. A shrub, for example, is a vinegar drink that dates back to American Colonial Period. Bitters are a concentrated extraction of herbs, bark, roots or flowers that were once used as a digestive aid. Phosphates are an early form of soda that went out of vogue in the 1950’s. And simple syrups are nothing more than a syrup made from sugar and fruit. craft cocktails

craft cocktails

The Cormans obviously like to share everything. They stock hundreds of ingredients, many of them organic and sourced in Maine, and they have a website that has a special recipe section for trying the drinks at home. If you’d like to acquire even more knowledge about mixing craft cocktails, you can even take a class at Vena’s, or attend a tasting event. And if you’re wondering what to give your Valentine this year, think about a trip to Vena’s to enjoy a Love Potion#9, Lumberjack Love, or maybe a delicious-sounding Chocolate Cherry Cordial. The word around the Old Port is “they work.”

If You Go:

Halloween at Evergreen: A Garden Cemetery


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Whoever came up with the idea that cemeteries have to be scary? Late 18th century Romanticists may have been onto something when they built what they called garden, or rural, cemeteries more than a century ago. In theory, garden cemeteries were a place where life and death could converge.They were a peaceful resting place for the departed—a sort of heaven on earth—but also a park to be enjoyed and used by the living. They were both aesthetically pleasing and functional.

Evergreen Cemetery in Portland is just such a location. Established in 1855, it is the largest cemetery in Maine at 239 acres and one of the largest green areas in the city. It was designed by City Engineer Charles H. Howe and modeled after the nation’s first garden cemetery, Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, which was, in turn, modeled after the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

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Evergreen is many things. Complete with ponds and one of the largest stands of maple trees in Portland, it is a wildlife sanctuary and destination for migratory birds. It is a tourist destination, drawing hundreds each year for historical walking tours. To local residents, it is a place to walk dogs or run. And it serves as an outdoor museum with some of the most beautiful stonework of the 19th century.

Below, one of the Weeping Lady statues:

evergreen garden cemetery 068 (1) Evergreen has more than 60,000 grave sites, including those of more than 800 Civil War veterans, former governors, U.S. congressmen, merchants, architects, sea captains and some of the city’s most prominent citizens. The gravestones are a thing of beauty, and a cause for reflection:

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See, nothing creepy or scary. Nothing scary at all.

If You Go: Evergreen is located at 672 Stevens Ave., Portland, ME

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Maine Gardens: Oh, Munjoy


Destination: Portland, Maine. Or, to be more specific, the Munjoy Hill neighborhood near the Eastern Promenade overlooking Casco Bay in Portland. It’s a funky place full of shops, art galleries and coffee houses, and it has some awesome little Maine gardens. We emphasize “little” because Munjoy Hill, once a very poor secton of Portland but now a hot spot for artists, musicians and young urban professionals, has little noticeable open space. So in this part of town, every spare inch of every small yard is bursting with plants and color, creating a sort of artsy take on the whole Yankee ingenuity thing.

Maine Gardens: oh, Munjoy

Upcycling at its best – old broken china becomes an eye catching part of the garden path.


Maine Gardens: Oh, Munjoy

Is this lovely or ridiculously overgrown?


Maine Gardens: Oh, Munjoy

These Maine gardens feature brightly colored doors that add color to the landscape.


Maine Gardens: Oh, Munjoy

On Munjoy Hill, every bit of sidewalk becomes a place to garden.


And when the yard has no more space, there is always room on the window ledges.

And when the yard has no more space, there is always room on the window ledges.

Do you have limited space to garden? We’d love to hear how you have made the best use of your space. Leave us a comment, if you’d like, using the field below.




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