The pine on the ground was blown down during a storm in December. Those that are still standing were later taken down by neighbors who feared the next storm would blow them over, too, and damage their house. Photo by Tom Atwell

Our garden experience, especially in the area my wife Nancy and I call our vegetable garden, is going to be a lot different this year. I think the changes will be for the better, but they will require some adjustments.

For years now, at least half of the vegetable garden has been shaded by a line of huge pine trees, several with multiple trunks, on a neighbor’s property to the south. Much of it was shaded most of the day.

In late December, during the first of several high-wind events over the winter, a huge section of one of those trunks blew down onto our property. Fortunately, the only damage was to a semi-permanent pea fence and supports for our raspberry bed. But the neighbors, worried that a northeasterly wind could drop a tree onto their house, hired an arborist to remove the remaining pines. So this year, our vegetable garden will be in almost full sun.

The first obvious change will be that we can plant tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and squash anywhere we want without having to think about shady areas to avoid. And because the shade from those trees blocked all of the garden at least some of the time, every plant will get more sun. We’re especially excited for our bell peppers. In past experience, lack of sun meant they stayed green; this could be the summer or red peppers. Nancy dices and freezes them to use throughout the winter.

Because the garden includes a lot of self-seeding flowering plants, both annuals and perennials, the change of light will mean that what grows there will change. It will be interesting to watch the changes that occur naturally, and maybe to introduce a few changes on our own, too.

We plan to add some woody plants to the section of the yard near where the pines stood. Previously, the neighbors’ pine trees delineated the boundary. We get along with the couple in the house, but plot-line plantings give yards a finished look. We are considering adding a saucer magnolia to that spot. We have successfully grown star magnolias, which produce white flowers and can withstand more shade, but the more colorful saucer magnolias we planted decades ago did not survive. Last year, when our peach tree produced no fruit and half its branches died, we pulled it out and replaced it with saucer magnolia. It seems to be doing well, and we’d like more of them.


Another project will be to deal with runoff from the roof of our house. We have gutters, downspouts and rain barrels, but after heavy storms, water from one downspout washes away part of the garden next to our patio and even the lawn. The solution, we hope, will be a French drain. This will involve me digging a trench from the downspout downhill to a part of our yard that we are re-wilding. We will put a perforated pipe in the trench, and cover it with pea stone and then lawn on top of that. I hope that eliminates the occasional washouts.

We also hope to increase production of our all our fruits. Last year, we covered our blueberries and strawberries with nets to prevent birds and rodents from eating the fruit. But the cloudy, rainy summer prevented good yields. This year, fingers crossed, will be the real test.

Mostly, I just want to get outside and do something productive. The almost snowless winter and rain-soaked March have meant few outdoor activities. And when it should have been spring, it became winter. Warm sunshine, warm breezes and solid (non-soggy) soil under my feet are what I need now.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at:

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