April 8, 2020

Long Live Cloying and Oppressive

Elecampane punctuates the scenery in Montville

Janine Pineo Photo | Elecampane punctuates the scenery in Montville

• By Janine Pineo •

Give me cloying and oppressive anytime.

A couple of stories I’ve read over the past few months have had some sort of complaint about Northeast flora. A newspaper article called spring in Maine “cloying,” while a gardening magazine said the East’s greenness in summer is “almost oppressive.”

Hedges of rugosa roses line the beach at Roque Bluffs

Janine Pineo Photo | Hedges of rugosa roses line the beach at Roque Bluffs

Them there’s fighting words.

After momentary consideration that both writers were comparing our territory to — of all things — desert (and, thus, both were delusional from being in the sun a little too long), I decided it was my duty as a tried and true Mainer to defend our cloyingly oppressive seasons on behalf of you, the outraged reader.

OK, all you dehydrated desert dwellers, try living here in snow-encrusted January and February when the bone-chilling, nose-nipping cold easily bottoms out at 30 degrees below zero. And that’s the daytime high.

Along comes March (spring? where?), then April, when the weather taunts you and your plants with hints of warmth and sunshine. The days pass and still the snow falls, then melts to reveal a brownish muck, only to be covered again in another layer of snow.

The sun sets in Milbridge in late July

Janine Pineo Photo | The sun sets in Milbridge in late July

The world continues this deceptive seesawing until, one May day, spring debuts. The temperatures still hover near freezing at night, but nature, in its persistence, begins to show signs of life: a maple tree here, a grass patch there.

By June, if we all haven’t drowned in yet another wave of rainstorms, spring is merrily coming to a close. The fresh green spring is darkening into the verdant summer that colors our world for only a few short weeks.

July and August are days in which to bask. The gardens have become a jumbled jungle, each plant sporting its own shade of green.

But that’s not the only color of summer. The views are not an endless sea of green, like some computer-generated horror flick. Nature punctuates this greenscape we call home and does it very well.

Sheep eat their way down a rise in Montville

Janine Pineo Photo | Sheep eat their way down a rise in Montville

There’s the golden light of dawn as diaphanous ribbons of mist rise off the hayfield. There’s the brilliant blue of the sky as the sun shrugs off the clouds to shimmer through the leaves of the front lawn’s shade trees. As day slowly ends, there’s the glow of twilight, nature’s own rose-colored glasses.

And there, sparkling in any light in that oh-so-oppressive vista, are jewels nestled in green velvet: the flowers and fruits of summer.

From the eye-opening red of blossoming scarlet runner beans to creamy yellow nasturtiums, the garden is overflowing with bits of color that make a striking picture.

The loud yellow squash blossoms herald the births of pale green French zucchini, deep green can’t-give-’em-away zucchini, and yellow crookneck and butterstick squash, not to mention the half-dozen other varieties that have become tagless under the rampaging foliage. And did I mention the out-of-control, no-name pumpkin plants that are producing long, warty mutants for offspring? I thought not.

The smaller, but no less loud, cucumber blossoms turn into yellow gems and green gold. Each variety has its own distinctive coloring, from the glossy green Kidma to the pale yellow Boothby’s Blond.

Emerald is enchanting when it comes in the form of crisp green peppers and robust celery (who wants that pale white when you can grow it green?).

If you’re looking for rubies, search no farther than under the foliage of a potato plant. The red beauties roll boldly out of each hill and easily make a matched set with the sapphire hue of All Blue (straight through) potatoes.

Vying for attention are eye-catching tomatoes, the brilliant reds a garnet beacon shining through the tangled vines.

The jewel in the crown goes to the eggplant in a shade that amethyst would envy. The deep-purple vegetable is a stunning standout as it grows to harvest size.

And who could argue over the brilliance of the August flower garden as annuals strive mightily to outdo the flourishing perennials? In every shade imaginable — and still I’m surprised — the plants are giving us one last fling, from the cool white of the Casablanca lily to the velvety magenta of an amaranthus and the scarlet of a delicate poppy.

Too soon, this sparkling collection of color will fade into the fire of autumn and then that seemingly perpetual brown and white haze will surround us until spring debuts again.

It’s easy being green; it never lasts long enough.

That’s oppressive.

First published in the Bangor Daily News in August 1996.

2012 note: I can’t recall where I read these stories originally, but I was offended all over again and thought I needed to share it on Garden Maine. However, I realize there are people who actually like a desert or a cityscape compared to lush trees and glorious gardens abloom and fruiting. To me, Maine is a glorious state, unrivaled for its beauty in any season. That I live here and can traverse its byways to see what nature gives us is a blessing.