Here in Maine we’re in the midst of something approaching a perfect horticultural year. There was heavy snow last winter — a good thing, on the whole, because it provides a thick free layer of insulation for low-growing plants, protecting them from premature thawing and frost-heave and other such calamities. Spring was marvelously sunny, though slow to warm up: not at all unusual in these parts. But summer has just been superb. At least from the plants’ POV.

We’ve swung back and forth between hot, sunny spells and week-long bouts of drenching rain. For a while it seemed to rain every night, clear around daybreak, turn sunny and humid for most of the day, then cloud up again by sunfall.

Maine being what it is, no blessing is wholly unmixed. I’m starting to worry (though just a little bit, so far) that all this horticultural bliss might lead to heartache down the road. Everything in my garden is looking much more cheerful than it ought to, in a perfectly rational biosphere. The plants in the photo above are growing in crappy contractor fill along the side of my year-old woodland cottage. There is no “soil” to speak of — rather a disheartening mix of sand and rocks compacted during the building process under the weight of heavy machinery. There’s a minimal layer of organic matter in the form of fallen leaves and other forest debris, and I sprinkle the area now and then with seaweed extract and fish emulsion. Also, let it be said, the boys like to pee off the deck.

This morning I noticed fresh new growth on a couple of Japanese maples — a recent interest of mine. Most  reference books insist that these trees (which are mostly hybrids within and among the species Acer palmatum, A. shirasawanum and A. japonicum) are reliably hardy only to USDA climate zone 6. This part of Maine — a stretch known as the Midcoast, bordered by Penobscot Bay — is mostly zone 5 territory, with winters dipping below minus-10F on a fairly regular basis. But my feeling is that you can’t let yourself be deterred by such considerations. Winter-hardiness in plants in a complicated business that is influenced by many factors besides raw temperature, including the overall health and vigor of the plant, the drainage characteristics of the soil, the degree of exposure to parching sun and wind, and the skill of the gardener. So I’ve got eight varieties of Japanese maples out there, all very young grafted specimens in their first season away from the nursery.

Now two of these baby trees — A. palmatum ‘Purple Ghost’ and A. p. ‘Katsura’ — are putting out new foliage, rather late in the season by Maine standards. It’s cool to see, and a vindication of my regimen of tough love, soil amendments and constant monitoring. But is it really a good thing?  Will there be time for this new growth to “ripen,” harden-off and then go fully dormant in time for winter? Time will tell.

I’ll try to get a picture of one of these trees when my camera recharges.

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