Someone once told me that poppies don’t do well in Maine and it was almost a waste of time to plant them. But that didn’t ring true.

I knew all the while that Oriental poppies certainly do thrive in Maine. This becomes quite evident when driving along coastal Route 1, where old sea captains' houses often sport massive plantings of poppies growing along the foundations. And while some of these are of recent vintage, many are derived from original plantings of Oriental poppies brought here in the 19th century by sea captains and to plant around their stately homes.

One poppy bed next to an old home in Lincolnville Beach dates back to the days of tall ships. My friends own the house and I’m told that the poppies were there back in the early 1960s, when they first purchased the property. But these same poppies, or their offspring, date back to the 1800s, proof positive that poppies are quite at home in our Maine environs.

Oriental poppies, long-lived perennials that stand up to 2 feet high, prosper in well-drained, semi-rich soil with lots of direct sun. These two ingredients are all anyone needs to enjoy blazing color for several weeks in June. And if you don’t already have blooming poppies in your garden, perhaps this is the year to incorporate them into your garden scheme.

Oriental poppies, P. orientale, make the best and easiest choice. Another poppy, Papavar nudicaule, only grows to a maximum of 1.5 feet tall. These poppies are short lived, so it makes little sense to plant them instead of P. orientale, which persevere for many years.

Oriental poppies come in a variety of colors. “Beauty of Livermore” boasts deep-red flowers. “Bonfire” sports large, bright-red flowers and “Brilliant” has blazing-red flowers. Other varieties offer flowers in salmon, violet and even white.

After making your choice of poppy type, plant it or them out in the garden. It is necessary at this time to consider that mature oriental poppies will occupy up to 3 square feet of garden space. This is important because after the two-week flowering period, the entire plant dies back, leaving a void in its place. In order to avoid having a blank spot in the garden for the remainder of the season, we need to either let annual flowers fill in the space vacated by the poppies or, and this takes some planning, have other perennials nearby that will, by the time the poppies die back, become large enough to take over the vacant space.

If you already have poppies in your ground, remember that they need dividing after five or six years. This allows the gardener to either replant the now-divided poppies or, perhaps, give the divisions to friends and neighbors.

Also, the clumps you lift from the soil when dividing your plants will leave small bits of root tips behind. These will form new plants if you dig them as well and root them in wet sand.

Finally, once you get your poppies in the ground, it’s time to sit back, enjoy your handiwork and contemplate the years of bright color down the road, thanks to Oriental poppies.

Lupines, too

June has yet another floral ambassador. These are lupines and they, too, come in a variety of types. The common, wild blue lupine, L. perennis, catches our eyes as we drive down the road. Lots of retailers sell lupine seed, which is gathered from wild lupines.

Lupine is rated as somewhat difficult to grow, but with a bit of care anyone can have blooming lupines year-in and year-out. Lupines abound around my place, adding color and form to field and wood edges. To achieve this display, I simply gathered seed (this needs to be done in midsummer, when the seedpods become dry, but before they twist open and disperse seeds on their own) and scattered it about wherever I wanted to see lupines.

This simple method usually succeeds. The thing to remember here is to disperse more seed than you think you need. Do that and you should have lupines blooming on your property in a few years. After that, the lupines will take care of themselves. In fact, they can become bothersome weeds if left to their own devices. But that doesn’t bother me. The more, the merrier.

Hybrid lupines are a different matter. Russell lupines, the result of a breeding program, came about in the early 20th century with British plantsman George Russell. Hel planted different kinds of lupines side by side, letting bees pollinate them. At season’s end, Russell would lift all but a few hundred of the most striking lupines. After that, he would save seed from his favorites of that season and plant them the next season. The results achieved worldwide fame, but Russell was reluctant to sell his creations. Then, in 1937, he showed his lupines at a Royal Horticultural Society flower show, and the rest has become history.

Russell lupines include a number of cultivars in different colors, including mixed colors. My introduction to hybrid lupines came 30-some years ago and my plants thrived in the middle of the perennial bed. Lupines cannot tolerate excess heat and are best suited for locations with cool nights. Maine fills the bill splendidly.

Lupines prefer rich, acidic soil. Plant them in full sun or partial shade and add a coat of granular fertilizer around the plants. Make sure to water well and then, once established, provide somewhat moist soil and your lupines should do well.

One of our more stately garden flowers, lupines, especially Russell hybrids, lend an air of dignity to any setting.

Still time

While most in-ground sites are already planted, it’s not too late to plant in containers. I recently started two containers of herbs. These are in large clay pots and as such, dry out faster than plastic pots. But clay pots have such a classic look and appeal that the trade-off to plastic wasn’t worth it.

My clay pots sit in front of the house, right next to the garden hose. This makes it easy to stop, turn on the hose and water the pots even when the main garden beds don’t require watering.

Fortunately, retail outlets still have a decent selection of herbs remaining and because the gardening season is well under way, sellers often slash prices. Any herbs will do for container gardening, and this year I chose Genovese basil, winter savory and purple sage. These were from started plants and once set in the soil of the containers, began growing almost immediately.

For most herbs, it is good to provide lots of sunlight, and when growing in containers that requirement is easily met because if your original choice of location offers less-than-optimal sunlight, it’s simple enough to just pick up the container and move it to a sunnier spot.

None of the herbs in my containers will grow terribly tall, so something else was needed for form. I chose rainbow chard, Swiss chard that comes in a variety of dazzlingly bright colors. These I planted in the center of the pots, so that they were surrounded by the herbs. Thus, when the chard matures, the arrangement should have an eye-pleasing, symmetrical shape.

Instead of rainbow chard I might well have gone with other herbs. Standard-size dill comes immediately to mind. But this year I wanted lots of dill, so instead, I planted a whole row in a garden bed.

Some gardeners choose cherry tomatoes for center position in their containers, but here again, my two tomato plants growing in an EarthBox should supply me with more than ample tomatoes for fresh eating. There is such a thing as too many tomatoes.

Here’s another benefit of planting herbs, and even some selected vegetables, in containers. When frost threatens, just move the container to a sheltered location and set outside again after the danger of frost has passed. And at season’s end, if those herbs are still putting out new growth, the containers can go into an unheated greenhouse or even inside, near a south-facing window or door. Look at it as a way to extend the season on your favorite herbs.

So if you have thoughts about adding some herbs to your garden, don’t hesitate to visit your nearest retail outlet and pick up a selection of herb plants. By now, the plants will be fairly large and it shouldn’t take long at all for them to catch up with varieties that were planted earlier.

Deer damage

Now, in June, most of us are not yet thinking about deer eating our gardens. But that will happen soon enough and it’s important to take steps now to deter the ravenous critters.

I have in recent years been compelled to run an electric fence around my gardens to keep out deer, raccoons and woodchucks. But electric fences aren’t exactly attractive and also, are kind of a nuisance because they require lifting handles when entering or leaving the gardens. So the later the better for the electric fence.

However, procrastination can have a negative outcome. Wait too long and deer will certainly remind you that they have your precious flowers and vegetables on their minds. So what steps can we take, other than erecting the electric fence earlier than necessary, to thwart the ungulate invaders?

I recommend topical application of any of a number of products designed to keep deer away. My favorite and the most effective I have found thus far is called “Deer Out.” The company also offers “Critter Out,” a rodent repellent. Either ask for this at your garden center or visit

Finally, in a future column, I will mention a deer-control product that you definitely shouldn’t use, because it is ineffective and a waste of money.

Tom’s tips

This year seems the worst year for ticks in memory. These disease-carrying pests have become ubiquitous and we don’t have to walk through the woods to pick them up. All we need do is step outside and ticks can land on us without our knowledge.

For complete safety, a daily tick check is required. This might best be accomplished at night. And remember, the night you forget to do a tick check will be the night a tick will become thoroughly embedded in your skin. So be diligent here. Your life may depend upon it.