Maine Garden Mystery

It’s been a wild month for Ben and me, as we’ve finally settled into our new home in Phippsburg. One of the wonders (and key selling points) for this house is the gardens, which are vast and many. I’ve been daydreaming about a garden of my own for years now, studying up and lusting after others’ pretty green acres, but it turns out that studying in your apartment in Portland is an entirely different animal than being set down with a rake and a pair of gardening shears in the center of a thriving garden that’s suddenly all your own.

Consequently, there have been stages of acceptance in this process. At first, I was reluctant to touch anything for fear that I would ruin the whole place. The previous owner had set aside some time to go over things, and until that day came I was as timid as a turtle in traffic about pulling anything up.

“I’m pretty sure that’s a weed,” Ben said to me as I stared down a six-foot-tall thistle.

“What if it’s there for a reason,” I said. “Like, maybe they put it there because it repels bugs. Or putting a thistle next to the kale makes the kale grow faster.”

“Or maybe it’s just a weed,” said Ben.

I wouldn’t let him pull it. When Emily (the previous owner) came round, she looked at me like I was daft. “You’ll need to keep on top of the weeds or things will go wild fast,” she said.

“So you didn’t put this here for a reason, then?”

“It’s a weed. I didn’t put it there at all.”

Lesson learned. After Emily walked me through the place and bid me farewell, I dove in. I’ve been weeding ever since, with a few breaks in between for writing. I’ve learned a lot in the past week, but there are still many, many things I don’t know about this gardening adventure. For example, I learned shortly after our arrival that we’d inherited a garden full of cabbage worms and flea beetles, so it’s been trial by fire trying to keep on top of that.

And, to top it off, there were several plants that Emily didn’t actually recall the name of, or where they’d come from, so I’ve been researching and frankly have come up short. Which is where you, dear reader, come in. For those garden enthusiasts out there, I have several photos below of mystery plants I can’t figure out. Are they weeds? Can we eat them? Should I be plotting the garden around them, or tearing them out as fast as I can find them?

There are others, but I don’t want to completely take advantage of the unique skillset belonging to Maine Crime Writers readers. Though there are obviously some challenges to this new world set in front of us, I have to say that I’m having a wonderful time getting to know the house and the grounds. I harvested 35 garlic bulbs the other day, the kale looks like it’s starting to rebound from the cabbage worms, and I know the tomatoes will be ready before I know it. On top of that, there are blueberry, raspberry, and golden raspberry plants that have been yielding like crazy. Next comes conquering canning, freezing, and preserves for fall and winter. Come hell or high water, my larder will be full when the winter winds are blowing this year!

Jen Blood is author of the USA Today-bestselling Erin Solomon Mysteries and the Flint K-9 Search and Rescue Mysteries. To learn more, visit 

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16 Responses to Maine Garden Mystery

  1. C.T. Collier says:

    I loved this post, Jen! My mother had the green thumb in the family. Sounds like you could use a good basic Garden Plants book. . . or another friendly gardener to do some coaching. And, honestly, there are no disastrous results if you make a mistake! Enjoy! –kate

    • Jen Blood says:

      Agreed, Kate – I just finally got the requisite documents so I can get my card at the Bath library, and I plan to go straight to the gardening section this afternoon. There’s so much to learn!

  2. Great garden and great post, Jen. As established last week, I have a black thumb, but my husband thinks #2 is arborvitae, a member of the cedar family, and one which needs vigorous pruning. My mother used to have #1 in her garden, but I have no idea what it is called.

    • Jen Blood says:

      Thanks to both you and your husband! I’m getting the sense pretty much everything in this garden needs vigorous pruning. Right now I feel like I’m up to the task, but talk to me in September.

  3. Marilyn McEntee says:

    Hi Jen. Plant #1 looks like Brunnera. Your spotted plant is pulmonaria, otherwise known as lungwort. The leafy bush/tree could be a smoke tree, but I agree with Kate and get a gardening book. Just have fun!

    • Jen Blood says:

      Thanks, Marilyn — I’m headed to the library this afternoon to stock up on gardening books and continue educating myself. I’m definitely having fun with it, now that I’ve gotten over the concern that I’m just going to kill everything.

  4. Kate Flora says:

    No. 7 is anemone
    No. 1 is brunnera
    No. 2 is, maybe hinoki (sp?) cedar
    No. 3 is ligularia
    The green spotted guy is pulmonaria
    The reddish bush is a smoke bush, I think, and not a sandcherry.
    I don’t recognize the ratty looking guy.


    • MCWriTers says:

      oops…I meant hinoki cypress.

      And the ratty looking one? I used to have one but can’t remember it’s name.

      Try google photo, where you can post a pic and it will find you a match.

      Good luck. I’ve always wanted a big sunny garden. I make do with shade and thin soil and whole families of deer, woodchucks, and bunnies.

      Love getting to follow you on your adventure.

      Kate again

    • Jen Blood says:

      I knew I could count on you, Kate! I definitely plan on having a little gathering here for the Maine Crime Writers, perhaps in the fall. Ideally, things will be weeded and tended and (mostly) still alive at that point.

  5. Congratulations on the new home, Jen, and good luck with the gardens. It really is like learning to use a computer – harder to break than you might think when you are new to it.

    • Jen Blood says:

      Thanks, Brenda! I’m definitely starting to get more accustomed to this whole adventure now – I really can’t wait to get started on canning and preserves, though. That’s when the real fun begins!

  6. John R. Clark says:

    Even if you live to be a hundred, you’ll still be learning new insights into gardening. I was really lucky to have gardening parents and most of my summer satisfaction moments come in the garden. Congratulations on the new place and all the endless opportunities that accompany it.

  7. Lea Wait says:

    Good luck, Jen! At the risk of frustrating you .. when I finally moved to Maine full-time I planned to re-create the gardens my grandparents had here, add an herb garden and lots of lilies and … bottom line, I now take a day every fall to put in bulbs, and then write. Good luck! Gardening eats up incredible amounts of time .. but, the results can be fantastic! (Just not at my house.)

  8. Kay Bennett says:

    Seems the ones I know one of your commenters also knew. Yes the one is definitely a smoke bush. Love them. I love all the plants that are plants and not weeds (as stated in the one comment by Kate. Looks like you have a good bit of shade plants, some of my favorites. If you dont want to invest in a gardening book just yet, get some gardening catalogs. Sign up for free ones. Seriously I learned so much from them and was able to find the best gardening books once I had a decent knowledge of plants. White Flower Gardens/High Country/ Eden Gardens are just a few with great catalogs. Enjoy!!

  9. carolee says:

    As a former garden center owner, I’d say just pick a leaf of each mystery plant and take them to your best local one (NOT a big box store) and they will be happy to identify them for you. Buy a bottle of Bt spray while you are there (about $8 but it will last a couple years) for your kale…it’s an organic control for cabbage worms on your kale.

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