The Working Waterfront

Gardening is a balm for worldly worries


Barbara Fernald
Posted 2020-07-27
Last Modified 2020-10-04

Like many of my friends, this spring, I have found great solace in my garden. Whenever I feel pandemic depression take hold, I try to get outside. The minute I connect my hands with the earth I feel better.

I’ve weeded grass from places I’d ignored for years and my berry bushes are thriving as a result. I will actually have the whole flower garden weeded and fed before summer starts, and I don’t think I’ve ever bothered to do that before.

This year I really need my garden and it is anything but a bother.

I think most island gardens are looking spiffier than ever. The weather has been dry, making most days good for spending time in the dirt.

It’s obvious many of us are finding serenity there. Seeds and seedlings are shared on social media. What someone needs, someone else has extra. When Cliff and Jeanne Smith arrived last week, they put out a request for spare seeds. Within three days they planted their garden without breaking their quarantine.

My happy round garden was installed by Gary Allen about 25 years ago, when he was well known for his farm and the cedar fences and gates he built on both Little and Great Cranberry Islands. I wanted an area for growing vegetables in the center and a full perimeter of perennials.

One of the best things about Maine is it has the cool climate many perennials like. How great for this mediocre gardener to have my paltry vegetable attempts so well hidden by columbine, poppies, campanula, astilbe, and ferns.

When a visitor walks by and says, “Hey, nice garden!” I just nod and say, “Thanks!” From their angle, it looks like I’ve done a lot of hard work, but it is Mother Nature who should get the credit.

I’ve been getting ready to add to this outdoor goodness since March. For the first time in 40 years I bought seeds to start indoors. I went hunting in the shed for those little plastic pots I had saved “in case,” and had potting soil sent over on the mailboat.

Through April and May, I lovingly tended the seedlings of tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, eggplants, and snapdragons on my large windowsill in the dining room. In April, I planted baby bok choy, spinach, arugula, peas, and parsley outside. By the end of May, I had planted carrots, onions, beans, lettuce, dill, cilantro, bachelor buttons, calendula, and most of my indoor seedlings.

From one packet of zinnia seeds I grew the equivalent of six, six-packs of flowers. I saved money and I didn’t have to drag boxes of plants across on the mailboat.

So far, everything is doing pretty well, though the cucumbers and the zucchini still look pissed off at me for moving them out of their cozy pots into the cold dirt. So far they’re still alive. The center of my vegetable garden looks almost as good as the periphery and it’s about to get even better.

Bruce has been fishing only two days a week and has been looking for projects to keep busy. He just finished building an 8-foot by 10-foot green house for me. I have a few plants to put in right away. I’ve never tried growing eggplants until this year, but I think they will love the greenhouse. I also have a pot of Mexican sour gherkin plants which will grow tiny 1-inch cucumbers with enough warmth.

I have some learning on how to best use my greenhouse, but I am ready to try growing anything. I have dreams of sitting in it next winter, just to smell some warm dirt and perhaps pick some fall-planted greens.

Meanwhile, summer is on our doorstep and the short growing season is here. Many of us are already being nourished by our gardens well before we start harvesting the fruit.

Barbara Fernald lives, writes, and gardens on Islesford (Little Cranberry Island).