The time is right to plant your vegetable garden!
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Egg Plants in the vegetable garden.



In my many years of gardening, I have never grown eggplant. My father never grew it in his garden and our family ate everything that he grew, but never eggplant. When I think of eggplant, I think of it as a traditional Italian vegetable (you know -- Eggplant Parmesan?). But you'd probably have a hard time thinking of any other recipe that would use eggplant, right? Eggplant is an unusual looking vegetable, like a squash with a shiny smooth skin and no seeds inside. The traditional eggplant is black or purple---and I cannot think of any other vegetable that I have eaten that is black or purple. New hybrids are white, rosy-pink, lavender, and purple with white stripes. This still adds no appeal to my fresh picked vegetable plate.

So I decided to research why my dad never grew eggplant and why we never ate it. My dad was French Canadian, a head chef for a gourmet restaurant in Scituate, Mass called P. J. Country House, for many years. He was written up in the Boston Globe by food critic Anthony Spinnazola for several recipes he develop using all types of fresh fish and a Canadian crepe stuffed with chicken and more.


The first sentence of one of my gardening books gave me a hint. "To grow eggplant you'll need to outwit pests, especially in the North and protect the eggplant from the cold." That gives a quick answer, as we lived in Auburn, Maine and could never plant any warm climate vegetables until Memorial Day, if we were lucky. The next sentence said, "Eggplant will sulk in cold soils and long periods of chilly weather can injure plants, and frost ends their season." This plant called the eggplant was one vegetable that had no chance of growing in the family vegetable garden because of the weather requirements to start with.

Here is a list of what you will need to do to grow eggplant in your garden. The soil should be fertile and well drained. Add additional organic matter such as compost or animal manure every year before planting the garden. Eggplant is a hungry plant; one inch of organic matter is REQUIRED. Pre-heat the soil with black-colored plastic mulch at least two weeks before planting the garden. Cut a hole in the black plastic mulch and insert plants. Because the plants are young and accustomed to a warm greenhouse, it would help plants adjust to the garden if you could place bricks or stones in a circle around each plant to help collect heat during the day and release it at night. You can also cover the plant with floating row cover cloth to help keep plants at 60 degrees if the weather should get cold. You could also grow the eggplants in pots, move them outside during the day and back inside at night. Are you kidding me--who has that much time on their hands?


Water plants regularly but never use overhead sprinklers. Wet foliage will allow disease and insects to spread more quickly, so add water directly to the ground, not on this fussy little plant! Fertilizer is required regularly, but be careful not to add too much Nitrogen or the plant will make a lot of leaves and little to no fruit.  Fish and seaweed  is the best fertilizer when used every two weeks, or you can side dress every month with a balanced organic fertilizer. Eggplant must be staked in the garden so fruit does not touch the ground, or it will flatten and lose its shape. Try cages to keep plants growing upright and prevent sunscald of the fruit, because the foliage shades the fruit preventing sunburn problems. If you want fine flavor from your eggplant, harvest them while they are small and young, about half grown. Shiny skin fruit is desirable; if the skin is dull it will be bitter and woody tasting. The plant has sharp spines on the stems so be sure to wear long sleeve shirts and gloves to harvest the fruit. Sharp spines sound dangerous to me just to harvest a few vegetables from the garden. Cut the stems with a sharp knife and be sure to leave one inch of stem attached to the stem to help keep the fruit from drying up before you use it. Eggplant, once cut from the garden, must be eaten within the week or it will go bad!


Another book recommended keeping the floating row cover cloth on the plant all year to help hold heat around the plant and keep bugs off the plant. Bugs love eggplants and if there is only one Colorado potato beetle in your entire garden, it will be on the eggplant. Flea beetles, aphids, tomato hornworms and many other bugs love this plant too.


My dad loved to work in the garden more than cooking, but this plant required too much time and work with little results. When he finished caring for the five of us kids, the garden was his refuge but eggplant was more work than the five of us kids together. Now potatoes--that's a vegetable! Grown in our Maine climate, little to no work, high return without all the fuss. Potatoes come baked, mashed, boiled and fried but not Parmesan, I like that. George Hampson, of beautiful Cape Cod, this story is for you and my dad. Plant potatoes and buy eggplant.


Flower and vegetable can be grown together in harmony


 Sometimes gardeners appear to be senators on opposite sides of the aisle. Vegetable gardening or flower gardening? Each will have their very strong opinions as to why they have chosen one or the other. But in the spirit of bi-partisanship, why not do both in the same garden?


If taking such a grand leap into the other party's dogmata is just a bit too scary, why not inch into it? If you are a vegetable gardener, create small arcs of annuals on the outside edge of each corner of the garden, creating a surround of color just as you would your mailbox. Flowers attract pollinators, which in turn pollinate tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and other fruiting types.


Flowers provide nectar and pollen to the beneficial insects which in turn prey on pests. Confuse insect pests searching for their favorite vegetable plants to feed upon by mixing up the beds with flowers. And flowers will attract birds looking for seeds, but who are delightfully happy to settle for eating insects that are unwanted in your garden. This is especially helpful if you're gardening organically!


Whether your vegetables and herbs are being grown in big, raised beds, in window boxes, or in containers, the same rules apply. We are always searching for a variety of color, texture, and color, along with varying height. Lobelia, with over 350 species, is an ideal addition to any container garden, whether you're opting for the trailing varieties, with billowing masses of blossoms, or more compact bedding types that seldom exceed 6 inches in height. As they sport to inch wide flowers that come in red, white and blue, a container filled with all lobelia could be a patriotic nod for your Fourth of July barbecue.

Why not add snapdragons for height? Plant them in the back of your container, with a center of herbal plantings, and a border of trailing lobelias. The dwarf varieties grow to about 10 inches, while the taller types grow to a height of 18-24 inches, and come in a fantastic array of colors, from red to orange, yellow, lavender, and white.


The bright blue of bachelor's buttons (also known as cornflowers) is an attractant for pollinating bees. Candytuft, an old-fashioned annual, attracts hoverflies that are excellent pollinators. It also provides nectar for other beneficial insects and a cover for good-guy beetles. The easy-to-grow calendula feeds many predatory insects with its abundance of pollen, along with nectar for butterflies; a visual enchantment. The tall, fern-like cosmos adds height and cheeriness to your late summer veggie garden. It's a jack-of-all-trades, attracting bees, hoverflies, parasitic wasps, butterflies and many small birds.

One favorite annual in a vegetable garden was also a favorite of the Aztecs, who believed that marigolds protected their crops; planting a ring of them around the garden wards off parasitic nematodes. Plant them in amongst the vegetables and they will draw many pollinators and parasitic wasps. They will bloom all summer long, need little attention, come with pompom flowers or tiny, daisy-like blooms, and even have the distinction of the National Garden Bureau having named 2010 The Year of the Marigold.


Keep in mind a cardinal rule of an interesting garden, whether it be a vegetable garden or a flower garden, is that variations in height will always be more interesting to view. Start with a border of sweet alyssum which hides the beetles that feed on insects and pests. The flowers are a rich source of nectar for a number of pollinators. Then add in vining and dwarf forms of nasturtium, which are strong pollinators and a great trap crop for aphids. When planted alongside cucumbers and squash, they confuse attacking pests.


Top it all off with big, bouncy, colorful sunflowers. They attract many beneficial insects, produce nectar for butterflies, and bring birds to your garden to nosh not only on their seeds, but also on proximal insects.

If you have created only flower gardens, flirt with the other side by incorporating edible herbs and vegetables into your beds. Bergamot, or bee balm, is a perennial herb with minty leaves and attractive flowers that will attract bees and hummingbirds. Garlic chives provide a light flavor and scent, and look like tall clumps of grass; their pretty white flowers self-seed prolifically. Combine with onion chives, which sport purple flowers.


Scented geraniums provide a wonderful variety of aromas; rose, peppermint, lemon, lime, orange, strawberry, apple, almond, and mint, with a variety of foliage available. As scent is so important to a flower garden, a must-include is lemon thyme, which likes a lot of sun. Mint spreads rapidly, and will tolerate the shadier sections of your flower garden; perfect for brewed tea, and a grand garnish in sorbet.


With the recent rise in the popularity of Thai-inspired cooking, lemongrass is a perfect herb to include in your flower garden, with its lemon-flavored leaves that are an attractive blue-green shaded ornamental grass. And of course, our personal favorite, rosemary, with its strong aroma and variegated spikes, adds height, scent and taste to your flower garden.

While we dealt here with adding herbs to your flower gardens, there are many vegetables that will accomplish the same ends. Kale and cauliflower add color, texture and taste, especially to your late-season garden. Eggplants have very attractive purple flowers. Lettuce and Italian parsley add texture and fullness to the garden, and will allow you to eat your way through the color! And if you want not only a fresh and delicious vegetable as a centerpiece in your flower garden, but also a conversation-starter, plant the spinach 'Malabar' where it can vine upwards, sporting tiny, purple flowers with beautifully thick green leaves. Pluck the leaves, rinse them off, and pop them into your salad!


So, let's join forces and recognize the assets of both vegetable and flower gardens. When the bill of fare includes color, texture, scent, attractiveness to bees, birds, butterflies and hummingbirds, and taste that enhances our dining pleasure, isn't that one bill that simply must be passed?


Secret Garden - Powered By Nature

Secret Garden -

 Powered By Nature

Bleeding Heart for your shade garden



Did you know that a bleeding heart is a wild flower that grows as a native plant under the deciduous tree canopy in the forest from New York to Georgia? The variety that grows wild is called Dicentra eximia or fringed bleeding heart, and is also known as dwarf bleeding heart. The larger-growing variety, known as the old-fashioned bleeding heart, came from China.


There are two distinct types of plants: the larger growing, taller growing and spring flowering, bleeding heart Dicentra spectablis and the dwarf types that bloom later in the season and throughout most of the summer. If you have a shade or partial shade garden, these plants should be in your garden. If they aren't, add them to your list to plant this spring. And yes the flower looks like a heart that has broken, with a tear falling from it.


The old-fashioned bleeding heart (Dicentra spectablis) is one of the earliest flowering perennials in our gardens to bloom. It will begin in mid-spring/late April and last well into June. When your tulips, daffodils and crocus are in all their glory and your forsythia, dogwoods, and wisteria are the show makers in your yard, the bleeding heart is the king of the perennial garden.

The foliage is almost fern-like and deep green in color (though there is a cultivar with almost golden foliage). This foliage develops early--a soft fluffy mound of greens that quickly grows 2 to 3 feet tall and just as wide. Once the foliage is formed, look for tall growing arching branches that will grow another foot tall with no leaves on them; these will develop all over the plant. Then the flowers begin to form in the shape of deep pink hearts that develop quickly on the tip of the stems. As the flower matures and grows in size, they seem to break open at the base of the heart and a tiny white tear-like flower emerges. The flowers develop in rows along the tip of the stem and may number a dozen or more in each row, making the stem arch even more with the weight of the flowers. Each flower will grow to an inch in diameter and last several weeks on the plant, especially if the weather is cool.


The bleeding heart is a perennial plant that needs little to no care once established in your garden, so leave it alone and do not move it around once it has been planted. If you divide the plant, it will take several years to recoup from the division--especially the mother plant. You're better off to buy new plants if you want more plants for your garden. When the heat arrives in July, the plant will begin to turn yellow and go dormant for the summer unless you have a cool moist summer. Just cut it back to the ground and wait for next year as the plant did give you a beautiful flowering plant from April to July.

Plant the bleeding heart in a soil rich in organic matter--the more organic matter the soil contains, the larger the plant will grow and the more flowers it will develop. Compost and animal manure are the best soil conditioners but peat moss and well-rotted bark work well also. I always use "Soil Moist" granules when planting to help hold moisture around the roots, especially if the soil is on the sandy side. Keep the soil moist when plants are in bloom and place a 2 inch thick layer of compost or bark mulch around the plant to control weeds during the growing season and to hold moisture around the plant when it gets hot out during the summer.


Fertilize with Plant Tone fertilizer in the early spring when you see the plant emerge from the ground; no additional feeding will be needed during the rest of the year. You can lime the garden if you begin to notice moss growing in the garden or in the grass around the garden to prevent the soil from getting too acidic. These plants are very hardy and will tolerate -10 to -20 degrees below zero during the winter and even thrive in a climate as far south as northern Florida, where winters are cool.


Most of us know this plant with the deep pink flower with the white tear, but did you know that a red or white heart is now available with the white tear. The all-white or red and white flowering types do not grow as large but will stand out in your garden. Plant them with other shade loving plants like hosta, astilbe, primrose, lily of the valley, helleborus, and ferns.

The dwarf- type fringed bleeding hearts, Dicentra eximia, grow differently but do develop a dense mound of deeply cut fernlike foliage much like the taller growing type. The foliage is gray-green, more feathery looking and stays closer to the ground. This variety is a summer bloomer and it will flower most of the summer despite the heat as long as you can provide enough moisture to keep it happy. It is heat -resistant and will take a bit of morning sun but you will have to water more. I add "Soil Moist" when planting and that will help a lot in the long run to keep moisture around the roots when you forget to do so.

The flower stems are like the spring-flowering types, with no leaves on them; they contain fewer flowers per stem, but the plant produces many more stems during the season. The plant will grow 10 to 18 inches tall and spread the same width. If your soil is rich with organic matter and you provide moisture during the hot days of the summer, your plant can grow up to two feet tall and just as wide. If your soil dries out with the hot weather, your plant can turn yellow and go dormant earlier than normal. The plant will not die but will stop growing for that year.


The dwarf varieties will vary on height and spread, some staying small--under a foot tall--so be sure you read the plant label when you purchase the plant and check with the salesperson for more information. Also like the spring-flowering types you can select white, pink, red and coral pink flowers varieties. The flowers on the smaller growing varieties are not as dramatic looking, with big heart-shaped flowers of spring flowering types, but look very nice in your garden during the summer.

Both types of plant will produce a flower stem that can be cut and used with other flowers in a vase of water on your table. The flowers will last well over a week as a cut flower. Insects and disease problems are few and the plant is not eaten by rabbits and deer--a real plus if these animals come to your yard.


Both plants will attract butterflies, birds, and hummingbirds to your garden. Use bleeding hearts in perennial borders, mixed planting flower beds, plant them as wild flowers under tall growing trees to create color in a wooded lot, in shrubbery beds as a foundation planting around them for additional color--and they look wonderful when planted along shaded streams on your property with other wild flowers.  Enjoy!




"Why do potatoes make good detectives?
Because they keep their eyes peeled.
Secret Garden Silent Wings
Secret Garden Silent Wings



Ground Phlox for your rock garden



Back in the days when this country was considered "The Colonies," our gardeners exported phlox plants to Great Britain. That's right, North America is the home to the entire phlox family of plants. Of the 70 species of phlox available, all but one is native. The botanical name for phlox in Greek means "flame," because the plants grew flowers in bright hot-looking colors. If you were a botanist, you would call the flower that the phlox makes a "salverform" bloom. A simple definition of "salverform" is a tiny tube-like flower that opens into a trumpet-shaped flared or flattened face with five petals. Most species produce these flowers in clusters that are rounded and believe it or not, even the ground phlox produces flowers in this rounded flower cluster. Next time you're out in your garden, lift up a side shoot from your clump and look closely at the flowers. What looks to be a carpet of single flowers is really small clusters of flowers covering the plant--check it out.


When most gardeners think of phlox they think of the tall-growing phlox with beautiful ice-cream cone shaped flower clusters. They think of the warm summer nights with cool colors of lavender-blue, purple, mauve, pink red and white flowers standing up tall your garden. Summer-flowering phlox is nice, but to me the ground covering varieties are more exciting, because at this time of the year color in the perennial garden is still very limited. Most perennials are still dormant or just beginning to poke through the soil, but this wonderful plant is in full bloom. Not only that, but the perennial ground phlox is evergreen to semi-evergreen, and on those cold winter days when snow is not covering the ground the phlox is greener than your lawn. The ground phlox will tolerate temperatures down to -40 to -50 degrees--how many of your perennial flowers can tolerate that and stay green all winter long? Not many!


Ground phlox grow like a carpet, hugging the ground. They are creepers, covering even rocks in your garden and creating a mat of foliage that will cascade or trail over a short wall. Ground phlox will grow on or over any surface as well as obstacles; truly a unique flowering plant. During April we all crave color and the weather can still be cold and unsettled, but this plant does develop flowers that will stay in bloom on the plant even if the temperatures dip below freezing. For this to happen, your plant must have good drainage; otherwise it will suffer from root rot during cold, wet weather. The roots of the ground phlox grow don't grow very deep in the garden. If your soil is on the sandy side you may have to water during the summer months if the plant is growing in full sun or the summer is hot and dry.


Ground phlox will flower for 2 to 3 weeks during April or early May. In a more northerly growing area the spring time temperatures always determine the flowering time. When plants finish flowering, shear back the plant to help control the size of the plant and encourage it to stay full and thick. As the plant ages, it will begin to die out in the center; that is normal. Dig it up, divide the plant into sections, and remove the dead sections from the clump. Plant the outer edges as clumps, with fresh soil that you have conditioned with compost or animal manure. If you can add mycorrhizae when planting, it will help stimulate the new roots to form more quickly and the summer weather will help new growth to develop.


Ground phlox flowers come in shades of white, pink, purple, red, lavender-blue and a new hybrid pink and white striped variety called "Candy Stripe.' This plant can spread 2 to 3 feet wide and will grow to 6 to 9 inches tall. When the flowers fall the Kelly green foliage will begin to grow, it can spread 6 inches or more each summer. When you plant a young plant, the foliage will feel soft and smooth but as the plant ages, the foliage gets prickly and becomes needle-like, almost like a spruce tree. The once soft and flexible green stems will also get woody, turn brown, rough, and more rigid. This is your signal to divide the plant into small clumps 6 to 8 inches in diameter.


A soil that is slightly acidic to alkaline will work well to encourage new growth and many flowers. If your garden is near oaks and pines, I would suggest that you apply lime, wood ash,  every year to keep acidity levels down. Fertilize in the spring when the flowers begin to fade with a good perennial fertilizer such as Flower-Tone or Natural Alternative 5-5-5 garden fertilizer.


If you plant ground phlox in the front of your border, it will creep out into your lawn if not pruned after flowering. Grass will also grow into your flower bed from the edge and can create a problem if you do not edge the perennial bed every year. If the grass gets into the plant bed it may be necessary to dig it up and manually pull the grass and its roots from the clump. It is best to set plants 12 inches from the edge of the bed to prevent problems.


If you have a steep bank that is difficult to mow and you're looking for a ground cover, the ground phlox could be the right plant for you. Space plants on 18 inch centers in staggered rows and in a couple of years it will all grow together, creating a wonderful flowering hillside in the spring. When the flowers fade use the lawn mower to cut back the plants to keep them short and thick growing. Fertilize over the top of the foliage with organic fertilizer when rain is in the forecast or use your sprinkler to wash the food off the foliage into the ground.


Insects and disease problems are minimal, but if you see the foliage begin to bleach out a bit, it could be red spider mites. If this occurs spray the foliage with Tree and Shrub Systemic Insecticide to control the problem. The ground phlox does not get powdery mildew like the taller growing summer-flowering phlox does. Powdery mildew is the most destructive disease of the taller growing relative and many people do not grow phlox because of it. New resistant varieties are now available and better systemic fungicides are also available. If you want spring color that will brighten up your gardens at this time of the year there is no better plant than the ground phlox. Enjoy!



How to Identify Fiddleheads
How to Identify Fiddleheads


Fiddleheads Vinaigrette


Fiddleheads are a delicious wild fern that is unraveling its delicately coiled spiral frons in the spring time. They grow near a river, stream, or wet areas in the northern part of the U.S and all of Canada. The fern is called The Ostrich Fern and it is the only fern that is safe to eat. The Maliseet Indians of New Brunswick are credited for having discovered these edible ferns and their nutritional value. If you live in this part of America and all of Canada you are in for a real treat right now. This fern grows in clumps and if you're picking them always leave half of the Fiddleheads in the clump so the plant will return next spring. Pick in the early morning while the plant is still crisp. Break of ONLY the tightly curled head that are not higher than 6 inches tall. To clean fresh Fiddleheads uncurl each head a bit and shake off the brown scaly husk and rinse with cold water several times to remove this material. Fiddleheads are sold in the springtime at farmers markets, supermarkets and from a pick-up truck on the side of the road by the picker. That is where I purchased my fiddleheads last Saturday near Wiscasset, Maine and I ate half of them and blanched the rest and froze them for a treat this summer.


a pound of Fresh Fiddleheads

2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice

tablespoon of Dijon mustard

6 tablespoons of olive oil or truffle oil

2 tablespoons of minced shallots or leeks

Salt and fresh ground pepper to your taste

Garnish with thin slices of lemon. Serves 2 people or 1 French Canadian like me!


1} Steam or boil the fiddleheads until tender, if boiling do not cover and cook for 8 to 10 minutes.

2} Drain and rinse under cold water if you not eating right now. Wrap in paper towels and place in the refrigerator until you're ready to eat. If you're eating them now rinse with hot water and put to one side, but keep them hot. Refrigerated Fiddleheads should go into a food storage bag until you're ready to eat, and heat in microwave before adding the vinaigrette.

3} Before you cook the Fiddleheads make the Vinaigrette so it is ready to use when you serve them. In a small bowl, stir together the lemon juice and the mustard. Gradually whisk in the oil, stir in the shallots or leeks and the salt and pepper to taste.

4} Just before serving, gently combine the vinaigrette and the Fiddleheads, garnish with thin slices of lemon and serve. If ferns are left standing they may turn brown, so dig in and enjoy while they have the beautiful dark green color. Enjoy!





Garden Journal

        Garden Journal - A garden is a friend you can visit any time. Gardens require planning and cultivation, yielding beauty and joy. This garden journal helps make planning and organizing easy. This book makes a great gift for gardeners, family, friends, birthdays, Christmas, new home or as a self purchase.

Cover holds a 5 x7 or 4x6 photo, Heavy-duty D-ring binder

1. 8 tabbed sections
2. 5 garden details sections with pockets for seeds, tags....
3. Weather records page
4. 6 three year journal pages
5. Insect & diseases page - 3 project pages
6. 3 annual checklist pages
7. Plant wish list page
8. 2 large pocket pages
9. Sheet of garden labels
10. 5 garden detail sheets
11. 5 graph paper pages for layouts
12. 5 photo pages holds - 4- 4x6 photos in landscape or portrait format

Journal, Planning, Inspirations. 

 To Order call 207-590-4887

Regular price $34.95  Special Price $31.95!  special!


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