When it comes to memorable views at The Dunes, the buck doesn’t stop at painted skies and ocean vistas — we’ve witnessed many a jaw drop at the sight of our vibrant flower gardens, greeting you at several points throughout The Dunes. Gardening fanciers, grab your gloves — we’re unveiling some of our top gardening secrets that make our flowerbeds such a sight to see year after year.
Soil? What Soil? The Ground’s a Little Different at The Dunes
It’s The Dunes, after all — the ground under our feet is pure sand. Sandy soils, in combination with the ocean salt, does a lot to dictate what types of plants will survive our sandy soils. Some plants that make it into our gardens year after year include (but aren’t limited to):
That’s right — milkweed. We have a mission to support native plant and animal species. Milkweed is a boon to bees and other pollinators like the Monarch Butterfly. Hundreds of Monarchs used to fly to The Dunes each fall, but with a recently-dwindling population, we’ve been doing all we can to support the growth of milkweed. If you see a Monarch butterfly gracefully hovering past your cottage, our milkweeds may be helping the butterflies as they travel.
The Magic of Compost: Improvisation!
Flowers can’t grow in the sand without organic matter. We add compost to our flowerbeds and lawns each year. Plus, we make compost from our own collection of grass clippings, leaves, and spent flowers — we use this compost to begin new lawns or beds. Some beds also have a bark or pine needle mulch, and, to keep the microbes that feed the roots of the plants happy, we only use organic soil amendments and lawn treatments on the entire property.
Note: We have no built-in irrigation — we depend on gold standard living soil to grow green.
Our Grass is a Special Blend
With 11 acres to tend to, we have our work cut out for us here at The Dunes. Grass always needs to be mowed with extra care to keep it stress-free and happy. Our maintenance crew changes their mowing patterns regularly to suit the weather patterns and the growing season of the lawn.
For sandy soils, we also work with grass varieties that love this environment. In 2017, we found a new grass mix that includes a microclover. Unlike regular clover, microclover keeps flower heads below the height of lawn grasses. This gives us the benefit of nitrogen fixing, assisting with grass growth, without the drawbacks of a lawn filled with clover — let’s cross our fingers that the grass blend likes it here as much as we do!
Planning, Planning, and More Planning
Our garden-planning process begins as early as January when we order our plants and seeds, but it’s never cut-and-dry. Sometimes, we get all of the flowers we order; at other times, crop failure denies our plans. On some years, we can get into the ground and start working as early as mid-March. On others, the snow and frost keep us waiting with bated breath until the end of April or later.
Regardless, our goal is to get the plants get fully-rooted by late June when we begin to treat them with fish-seaweed fertilizer. By mid-August, there’s a vivid palette of colors decorating The Dunes.
We Have Some Favorites, But We’re Always Adapting
A lot of our garden beds are a mix of perennials and annuals. Each year, the mix changes — some of the annuals that we tend to grow every year are:
While we see our share of frequent flyers, we’re always on the lookout for hardy plants to experiment with. On the list of newcomers: BeeBalm (a new variety that risks the fungus), Rattlesnake master, and, if you see some yellow outside your cottage window, don’t worry — you’re not going bananas.
Even before the earliest echoes of spring, we’re completely dedicated to our flowerbeds here at The Dunes. Those vivid wildflowers and daylilies aren’t the only things that make our landscape special, though. As you look out from your coastal cottage, don’t forget to look into the negative space — if you look where nothing is, you’ll know: the sea and sky paint the backdrop, and the gardens humbly frame the portrait of southern Maine at its finest.