Spring continues to be cool and rainy as it inches toward early summer, but the rains, combined with some sunny days, help seeds to push their way through the soil and transplants to stay perky. Our tomato seedlings were on the small side, so we made miniature cloches for them from recycled plastic juice bottles, cutting out the bottoms and pushing them into the soil around the plants, while leaving the caps off so the mini-greenhouses would have adequate ventilation. It’s mind-boggling to think of what we go through here in the north to get a juicy, ripe tomato, while in southwest Florida, if left to their own devices, tomatoes will reseed themselves and become kudzu-like pests, climbing all over beds and garden structures — that is, if a hurricane doesn’t lay them to waste first.

Because of the cool late spring, we were able to forage for ramps, those garlicky wild leek/onion plants that grow in the hardwoods at higher elevations. In Vermont, we ventured out this past week to see if the ramps were beginning to flower and found them just right for harvesting, even though the spring wildflowers had already begun to bloom, painted trilliums, spring beauties and jack-in-the-pulpits mixing with slowly uncurling ferns to cover the dry brown leaf litter of the forest floor. Although we have large swaths of ramps growing in the sugarbush, we’re careful to take only one in every ten of the bulbs, so that they can spread and thrive. It’s become obvious that their preferred habitat is the deep rocky ravines that fill with years and years of leaf mold, which means the growing medium is so loose it’s possible to snake your fingers down and work them under a bulb, separating it out from the others in its clump without disturbing them. This year’s favorite recipe was ramp biscuits (your favorite biscuit recipe with finely chopped ramps mixed into the dry ingredients before adding the wet) topped with poached eggs and a green-flecked blanket of ramps gravy (your favorite bechamel made with finely chopped ramps cooked in the butter before adding the flour and milk). In these fractious times, these are the breakfasts that soothe the soul.







lt’s often the case that, like Manhattanites who’ve never visited the Empire State Building or Statue of Liberty, we take for granted the attractions close to home, in this case the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay. Others have taken notice of this world-class facility, which has become one of the largest public gardens in the country and is currently starting a multi-year, $30 million expansion, thanks to a recent federal ruling that settled two lawsuits filed against the facility expansion by the Town of Boothbay and an abutter. The botanical gardens, regarded as “substantially similar to and compatible with an educational facility” by the Town of Boothbay, will have a permanent conservation easement on 75 acres of its land within the watershed of Knickerbocker Lake, which neighbors had argued was too fragile and could not withstand further deterioration.

It’s true that success such as that of CMBG can be a burden on the surrounding neighbors. Its original master plan was based on a predicted attendance of 40,000 annual visitors, a number that was surpassed in its second year of operation. Last year, attendance surpassed 190,000. In addition, its staff has grown from 10 full-time and 12 part-time employees to 52 full-time and 50 part-time employees. That’s a lot of cars and parking and traffic in a small space. But this kind of pressure is also in place in all of our national parks and monuments, and we have to be both thankful for the vision that inspired their founding and creative in finding ways to allow visitors to experience these places.

Perhaps in acknowledgment of the difficulties involved in juggling these elements of public access to natural places, The American Horticultural Society (AHS), which annually selects 12 of the country’s most influential gardeners and horticulturists to receive their Great American Gardeners Awards, this year included among them William Cullina, president of CMBG, who received the professional award for a public garden leader who has inspired public interest in horticulture. Cullina was cited for both leading the development of the 10-year master plan to double the size of the gardens, and for the sharing of his extensive native plant knowledge through books, scores of articles in popular periodicals, and nationwide lectures.

If you’ve visited CMBG before, starting in June there’s a new exhibit sure to delight children of all ages: a Native Butterfly and Moth House. The hoop house enclosure allows guests to discover the eggs, larvae and adult forms of black swallowtails, monarchs, luna moths and others while learning about the host plants favored by each species, and to visit butterfly gardens highlighting the intricate web created by landscapes filled with native plants and pollinators.