Keep Your Head Up

There are two songs that I have been playing over and over this winter. One is by Andy Grammer and the other is by Ben Howard. The refrain from both songs is “Keep Your Head Up!” It has worked wonderfully until last week. I have been loving this winter with all of its snow and cold even though many are complaining about it. I know there is nothing that I can do about the weather other than keep my head up. What has put this mantra to the test is what we found after coming back from a wonderful vacation to Raleigh, Atlanta, and Walt Disney World. We drove down in mid January to see my mother in Raleigh. It was great to see her and catch up on things in my hometown even though the snow and cold followed us southwards. Then, we went over to Atlanta for the Junior Theater Festival. What a wonderful time and event. If you have children from late elementary to high school age, seek out and get them involved with junior theater. I could go on about the benefits but we love seeing what our kids are doing. After the fantastic festival, we headed south for a long-awaited family vacation in Walt Disney World. Carrie and I wanted to take our kids down as they are at that perfect age and we also wanted to celebrate the fact that we met at Disney as horticulture interns some 20 years ago.

The reason I am telling you this (I am getting to the plants, I promise), is to set up what awaited us when we got home. One day near the end of vacation, we called a friend to check in on our home. He called and said, “Whoa, it is really cold in your home and the water does not work!” Shoot! Turns out, the circulation pump on our boiler burned out and so our home had lost heat for several days. As we were waiting for the Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios, I am on the phone with the boiler repairman. Well, he fixed our boiler but the freezing of the pipes caused two sections of pipe to burst above our dining room. The water break occurred in the ceiling above our fan, which we had left on for air circulation. The ceiling fan acted like a water sprinkler and spread the water all over the dining room, living room, and into parts of our kitchen.

This week, we are living in a neighbor’s summer home as contractors repair our floors, walls, and ceiling. At the same time, we are tracking down all of the things we lost or were damaged (Carrie’s framed painting from David Armstrong that had a personal note to us on the bottom had water damage to the matting but hopefully, we can get the matting replaced). Every little thing, is gonna be alright, to quote Bob Marley.

Thanks for letting me divulge some of the chaos in our lives as I want to share what has also been keeping my head up through sub-zero temps, damaged home, and countless other little life surprises: new plants! (How was that as a segueway for what you really came here for?) At Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, we are renovating our entry walk to the Visitor Center and one of the large beds along the Great Lawn. We have another really cool, top-secret project in the works that I hope to fill you in on sooner than later. In the planting beds around the Visitor Center and Great Lawn, we are featuring a host of annual and perennial plants that really draw in various pollinators. The theme of our educational programming at CMBG this summer is on pollinators so we are tying in the plantings around the gardens to suit this theme.

This week, I am doing “take-offs” to determine the number of plants we need to order from various nurseries. It is always this fine line to walk between wanting the newest and best plants and making sure that the nurseries do not sell out of what you want to plant in the gardens. Here are 5 new plants that I am looking forward to using in the gardens this summer here in Maine:

– Lavandula x intermedia ‘Phenomenal’ (above) – Every time I come across this Peace Tree Farms introduction in nursery catalogs, the writers rave about its flowers, growth, and winter hardiness. It is supposed to be at least a 2′ x 2′ mound of phenomenal, lavender goodness.

– Agastache ‘Ava’ – Along with snowbirds from Florida and Texas, we get our fair share of hummingbirds in Maine during August. This hummingbird magnet is getting a lot of stage time at CMBG this summer. Ava’s hummingbird mint will grow 4-5′ in height with deep rose pink flowers and red calyces. These calyces are persistent so even after the flowers drop, you will get the bright red color until a deep frost. Ava is a High Country Gardens introduction and a hybrid of Agastache cana and Agastache barberi.


– Digitalis ‘Pam’s Split‘ – When it comes to watching others dance, I prefer there to be some sort of chemistry between the dance partners. One of my favorite dance scenes is the final dance with Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook. So when it came to pick a dance partner with Agastache ‘Ava,’ I was looking for another plant that would work well with her. The deep red throat of ‘Pam’s Split’ will serve as a nice anchor for ‘Ava’ and her bright colors. Foxgloves also are pretty stout and erect while the hummingbird mints tend to move with the winds. As in ballroom dancing, it is gorgeous when the lead is erect, yet stiff while the lady is free flowing and the center of attention.


– Thermopsis chinensis ‘Sophia’ – Thermopsis is one of the Rodney Dangerfield’s of the plant world. No respect. And since I have lived 41 years as a Rodney, I have a special place in my heart for such analogous plants. As hard as I have tried, Thermopsis caroliniana has never looked as I wanted it to in the garden. Sophia is a North Creek nursery introduction and an improvement on the standard false lupine. It also gives us a chance to showcase a lupine-like flower in a spot where we actually want it to grow. The west coast lupines have been difficult for us to cultivate in spots where we want them to grow. If you drive through Maine in early summer, you will see the roadsides covered with the west coast lupines which is really frustrating because it does not grow where you really want it to grow.

thermopsis sophia

– Salvia pratensis ‘Rose Rhapsody’ – The name conjures up blue music by Gershwin but this meadow clary sage has light pink flowers. ‘Rose Rhapsody’ was introduced by Jelitto seeds and can be started from seed. This sage can be differentiated from others with its large leaves that tend to grow towards the base. The flowers occur on stalks that emerge from the foliage around early summer. The flowers are a draw for bees and butterflies. By deadheading ‘Rose Rhapsody,’ you can prolong flowering through frost.

Salvia Rose Rhapsody

Images: Wayside Gardens, The Good Red Road, Saunders Brothers, Thompson and Morgan, Jardins Michel Corbeil


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rodney eason

Rodney Eason - Director of Horticulture and Plant Curator at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, father of 4, husband to a Renaissance woman. I spent the first part of my life in North Carolina, the middle in Pennsylvania, and now I am determined to become a Mainer  while keeping my southern drawl. I consider the rhetorical question, "you're not from around here, are you?" a compliment. I love great gardens, beautiful plants, and inspiring architecture. Because of this, I am on a lifelong quest to find a garden that artistically combines beautiful plants while being centered around an evocative building. For me, this would be Beatrix Farrand's Dumbarton Oaks, with the plants of Lotusland and Chanticleer, around Fay Jones' Thorncrown Chapel. My wife and I are now making our new home and garden in a 130 year old New England house with a farmer's porch near the Damariscotta River in coastal Maine. When our kids get into college, we want to hike the Appalachian Trail as a family over a summer break. My likes (in random order): the smell of fresh basil and rosemary, bold foliage, India Pale Ale, good running shoes, Top Gear, the smell of New England in the fall (it reminds me a bit of English Leather, which my grandfather wore), and the sound of our family laughing together around the dinner table. I dream of one day owning an old Toyota 4X4 pick-up and seeing the Avett Brothers in concert.

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