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We Live in a Gardener’s Haven

This New England transplant finds our warm summers and mild winters great for growing a wide variety of plants

From where I come from, I wonder if you properly appreciate all of your Maryland gardening advantages. I lived and gardened in central New Hampshire, where summer includes the last two weeks in July and the first two weeks in August, and where winter temperatures can drop to 30. So I know that gardening in middle and southern Maryland is heavenly.
    The long colorful springs months, warm summers, long falls and relatively mild winters all are conducive to growing a wide variety of plant species. Our winters are cold enough to allow us to grow a large number of northern species yet mild enough to grow many southern species. Plus, we get a long vegetable gardening season.

    New Hampshire, the granite state, is true to name. The soil is mostly acid and stony. Piles of stones are common near many home gardens. The large stones were used to build stone walls, while the small stones filled the voids between the large ones.
    We were grateful for paper-white birch, balsam fir, red, white and black spruce and especially sugar maples. My brother and I made maple syrup from the sap of sugar maple trees growing in nearby woods and along country roads.
    For shrubs, we had witchhazel, hills of snow and PeeGee hydrangea — plus mountain laurel in very sheltered areas. Only the branches of forsythia that were covered by snow for most of the winter could flower. But every home had a lilac.
    Of beautiful crape myrtle, colorful hydrangea, camellias, pyracantha, photinia, nandina or Japanese, Chinese and English hollies, we were deprived. We never had dogwoods or purple-flowering redbuds growing wild in the woodlands. I managed to grow a star magnolia in a very sheltered area but it seldom flowered.
    On the other hand, the cold climate was conducive to growing many cultivars of apples and pears, high- and low-bush blueberries, cranberries and many different cultivars of raspberries. Every home had a rhubarb patch. But it was impossible to grow figs or peaches.
    We did not dare to plant the vegetable garden until late May except for peas and potatoes. Asparagus were not ready to harvest until early June.
    We could grow cold-loving crops — broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, celeriac, kohlrabi, parsnips, rutabaga and turnips — all summer long. But I could never grow okra, peppers or large watermelons.
    Tomatoes could not be transplanted into the garden until early June, and by early September they had to be harvested for either ripening behind the kitchen stove or for making pickle-lily. All my fall crops had to be harvested by late September.
    March and April were known as the mud months because the snow melted dirty brown and left mud puddles along roads and sidewalks.

    Turn to Maryland and spring is a continuous blast of color starting with serviceberry, dogwood, redbud, spice bush and mountain laurel. In home landscapes, camellia, flowering quince, cornelian cherry, forsythia, flowering dogwood, Korean dogwood, rhododendrons, azaleas, Andromeda, mountain laurel, cherry laurel, leucothoe and skimia all flower in succession.
    In Deale, which I consider Southern Maryland, I  enjoy gardening from early March until just before Christmas. The first crop to be harvested in the spring is sweet and delicious parsnips.
    As soon as the soil can be tilled, in late March, while soil temperatures are below 60 degrees, I start planting potatoes, bulbing onions and peas. By mid-April, the asparagus is producing shoots that are harvested two to three times each week.
    Seeds of carrots, beets, radishes and parsnips can be sown in cool soils as well. So can broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, kohlrabi, lettuce and spinach plants that have been properly conditioned in early April.
    As soon as soil temperatures rise above 60 degrees in early to mid-May, seeds of sweet corn and snap beans can be sown. Thus, we can eat freshly harvested sweet corn on the Fourth of July.
    By late May to early June, seeds of melons, squash and cucumbers will sprout within days of being planted. Soon after night temperatures stop dropping below 50 degrees, tomato and pepper plants can be transplanted and seeds of okra can be sown. 
    In late July or early August, the cold-loving crops of the cabbage family can be planted for harvesting from mid-October until Christmas. Nothing like eating freshly picked Brussels sprouts at Thanksgiving dinner and at the Christmas banquet.
    Peas also do best planted in early August, giving me seven or eight harvests before a hard freeze kills the plants. However, spring-planted peas in Maryland can be harvested only twice before the weather becomes too warm for the plants to continue flowering.
    Short-day onions can even be grown in a cold frame or tunnel during winter.
    I still miss the fun of ice fishing, snowshoeing and skating in New Hampshire. But the joy of being able to grow a wide variety of flowering plant species and harvest from my garden eight months each year makes it all worthwhile.


Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.