The Maine Garden Journal

By Lisa Colburn (Fern Leaf Publishing Company, 2012)

Reviewed by Maureen Horn, Mass Hort Librarian

To be in Maine in the summer is the nearly universal dream of suburban dwellers of Massachusetts. The Maine Garden Journal will nourish the dream for those already smitten, and it will likely add new aspirants.

Lisa Colburn
Lisa Colburn

Ms. Colburn, an avid gardener, is as enthusiastic about the state's varied climate and shifting geographic conditions as she is about the abundance of plants that can be grown there. She admits that the pervasive cold that often grips the state makes gardening an uncertain occupation, but the challenges make it just that more fulfilling.

Part of the excitement comes from Zone Denial, which is a personal determination to step out of the ordinary and try to grow even tropical plants. The most popular in Maine are cannas, raised for their large leaves, some coming out red, purple and striped. Less prevalent, but just as welcome when they appear are banana leaves, seldom with fruit in Maine. Their huge size, though, makes them awe inspiring.

Popularity is a chief theme of this overview of Maine's ornamental plants, and it is not based just on Ms. Colburn's favorites. Rather, she draws from surveys distributed to hundreds of Maine gardeners and the report of 130 respondents. Their answers express their passion for bringing life out of Maine's resistant soil and the joy of its long, light-filled summer days, when growth seems unstoppable.

Maine hardiness zone map
Maine hardiness zone map

The book is organized into four types of plants: Trees, shrubs, perennials (which are divided into vines, ferns, and grasses) and annuals. The four types are listed in order according to their popularity among Maine gardeners. Each plant is described with practical advice on sustaining its growth, and that advice is frequently attributed to specific gardeners. Opening the book to a random page gives you the pleasant feeling that you're being allowed to listen in on conversations among knowledgeable neighbors. They offer hints for success, but raves share space with rules, and raves are reinforced with gorgeous illustrations.

As all gardeners know, satisfaction from the job is often tempered by destructive pests, so in another section the organization of the book is reversed: the pests are identified in the order of their unpopularity.

The Maine Garden Journal could be subtitled a "saga of the zones". Ms. Colburn wanders from place to place throughout Maine and the time moves across the year. More than half of Maine in Zones 3B and 4A, with winters that are barely imaginable to those in warmer climes. Two pockets of relatively balmy Zone 6A can be found along the Down East coast. Ms. Colburn visits them all and reports what people grow and how they grow it. Research and listening to her respondents allowed the author to offer several lists of resources, including suppliers, clubs, events, books, and websites.

If you love gardening and you love Maine, this book is an invaluable companion.