There are some myths attached to growing plants and flowers. A big one is that there is such a thing as a “black thumb,” which is the inability to grow anything, or to kill a plant that’s already thriving. But flowers, with their colors, shapes and fragrance can be rewarding to grow and worth the effort of curing that ailing thumb. And flowers attract butterflies, bees and other pollinators, and that helps the environment. Indoors, they clean the air. But bottom line is, flowers are beautiful and it’s not as hard to begin gardening with them as one might think. Here are some pointers and sage advice from local experts that will get you going down the right garden path.

Location and light
First, no one really has a black thumb. You may not have chosen the right location for your garden. And before you can choose a location, you must assess how much sunlight graces the area in which you may deposit those lovely flowers in the ground. Says Will Longfellow, General Manager of Longfellow Greenhouses in Manchester, who grew up working in the greenhouses established by his grandparents in 1977, “It’s widely accepted that for flowers that require sun, they need at least six hours a day of light. If they are labeled as shade plants, they need at least four hours of early morning or evening light – no direct mid-day sun.”
Some popular flowers of the sun type are pansies, violas, petunias, geraniums, marigolds and alyssum. For shade, consider begonias, impatiens, coleus or fuchsia.

“All the flowers we sell are appropriate for growing in Kennebec County,” adds Longfellow.
Many gardening books or online resources can help a beginner gardener plan a flower garden in terms of what to put where. But even choosing the right book or website can be daunting. Call on the local nursery staff. They grow the plants, after all, for this specific climate zone, and once the amount of light is determined, can point you in the right direction.

Ellen Withee has been working at Boynton’s Greenhouses in Skowhegan for 35 years and is the granddaughter of the original owners, Robert and Doris Boynton, who opened the business in 1952. When it comes to advice about soil, she said, “People have to know when their soil is going to become dry after winter. You can’t plant in a mud box. Is it clay? Is it sandy? Does it collect water?”
If you already know, you’re halfway there. If you don’t know, you can take a soil test, which the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service says, “will help you manage the mineral nutrition of your plants.” For details on how to take a test of your potential garden soil, see Bulletin #2286, Testing Your Soil.

Annuals or perennials
The simplest definition: annuals last a year, perennials grow back year after year.
“I grow both perennials and annuals in my garden,” said Withee. I love colorful annuals and have flowers everywhere.”
For a tried and true perennial requiring full sun, she recommends the easy-to-grow Coneflower (Echinachea) varieties.
“They prefer poor soil, attract pollinators like hummingbirds and butterflies and bloom in the heat of summer.”
For annuals? Pansies and impatiens are two that top the list.
Taylor Browne has been working at Black-Eyed Susan’s in Augusta for sixteen of their thirty-plus years in business.
“The best color blooms are the ones that thrive in full sun,” he said, “like geraniums, and a customer favorite, lisianthus. But breeders are doing interesting things and even in partial sun/shade you can now get spectacular color in flowers like the New Guinea impatiens with orange, pink, purple, yellow and white.”

If your soil isn’t ideal, or if the deck or doorstep need some plant life, consider container gardening. At Sunset Flowerland and Greenhouses in Fairfield, there since 1954, they prepare their own potting soil, perfect for starting that container project. Again, note the type of light in the area that will contain those containers and choose accordingly. Boynton’s Ellen Withee said, “Don’t give up if you can’t have a garden. When I had an apartment years ago, I had all kinds of pots of plants outside my door. Breeders are coming up with smaller plants better suited to containers.”
Turning that black thumb into a green one can happen with a simple trip to your local nursery and greenhouse. Those colors and perfumed blossoms beckon. Come summer, your yard or deck will be in full color, you’ll be astounded by the hummingbirds visiting your blooms and the effort will be well repaid.


For More Information:

Longfellow’s Greenhouses
81 Puddledock Rd., Manchester.
Call 622-5965 or visit
Open Monday – Sunday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Sunset Flowerland & Greenhouses
491 Ridge Rd. Fairfield.
Call 453-6036 or visit
Open Monday – Saturday 8 a.m.-5 p.m. and
Sunday 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Black-Eyed Susan’s Greenhouses
45 Stevens Rd., Augusta
Call 622-3927 or visit us on Facebook
Opens on April 20 and stays open through June.

Boynton’s Greenhouses
144 Madison Avenue, Skowhegan.
Call 474-2892 or visit
Open Monday -Saturday 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Closed on Sundays.

For more information on gardening in Maine,
visit the Maine Cooperative Extension website at
Or write: Cooperative Extension Publications,
University of Maine
5741 Libby Hall, Room 114 Orono, ME 04469-5741
or call 581-3792.

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