The summer is short and the winter long, and by mid-March all of us have become so anxious for spring that we can almost taste it. We do have a few ways to alleviate our anxiety.

Visiting flower shows is one way to make the transition from cold, snowy winter to warm, delightful spring. The Bangor Flower & Garden Show gives us the opportunity to view both new and old flower species in real space and time. Growers force flowers and shrubs to bloom and then set them up in a realistic display. This allows us to walk about and inspect plants up close.

For me, the smells of fresh-dug dirt, wet peat moss and blooming flowers act as a soothing balm, signaling that the new season has finally arrived. That alone seems worth the price of admission. Besides that, seeing firsthand how others use plants in a landscape setting stirs the imagination and also allows us to adopt these gardening and landscaping schemes and apply them to our own situations.

Flower and garden shows don’t just concentrate upon in-ground plants, either. Here we can see, perhaps for the first time, new gardening products. Outdoor furniture, fencing, stonework and so much else awaits us at flower and garden shows. Viewing these in typical situations lets us determine if whatever is being presented is something we might want on our own land.

Come prepared

While just visiting and strolling about, looking and listening works fine, it pays to take full advantage of the presentations at flower and garden shows. That means bringing a small notepad and also, a camera. While memory is one of our more important gifts, it often fails to supply all the details that we might wish to study later. For that reason I like to bring my camera and take photo after photo. Then, back home, it’s easy to call up those pictures and peruse them when time permits.

Also, the value of handwritten notes cannot be overstated. Notes written on the spot can, when read later, jog the memory and supply needed details. These shows have grown so large over the last decade or so, and there are so many vendors, that sometimes just looking at someone’s business card isn’t enough. So come prepared to jot down anything that might later come in handy.

Many of the vendors at flower shows offer their wares for sale, and sometimes these sales represent a considerable savings compared to buying plants at other, more traditional venues. Here’s a for-instance. Perhaps 12 or more years ago, a vendor at the Bangor show was selling pussy willow plants that were grafted on different rootstocks. These aren’t weeping pussy willows, but they have a tangled, semi-weeping form that from a distance somewhat resembles a fountain.

I bought one of these for a few dollars. It came in a tiny cup, and while I expected that it would grow to a somewhat larger size, it far surpassed my expectations by ballooning out as much as it grew up. This now stands in front of my house and even in winter, serves as a real eye-catcher for anyone walking up the path to my little house.

And besides that, songbirds use it to hide under. No hawk in the world could ever grab a little bird so hidden. In essence, this tiny, inexpensive little pussy willow has become one of my favorite shrubs. And shrub it is, because even as a mature plant, it stands somewhat less than 3 feet tall.

This year’s Bangor Flower & Garden Show runs from April 12 to 14 and is held at Cross Insurance Center, and the Maine Flower Show in Portland goes from March 27 to 31 and is held at Thompson’s Point in Portland. Both shows offer a world of enjoyment and education. And while I mostly contain myself to visiting the Bangor show because of a dislike for southern Maine traffic, the Portland show’s earlier schedule has much appeal.

To learn more about the Portland show call 623-6430 or visit For the Bangor show, the organizers don’t list phone numbers or email addresses, but you can find them online by typing in “Bangor Flower and Garden Show.” Note the that theFriday premiere begins at 3 p.m., so plan accordingly.

Early birds

We’ve all been there. It’s a Saturday in spring and things are growing. The lawn needs mowing and a dozen other outside chores await us. And then we find that we need some home-and-garden-related item. So we go to our favorite garden outlet and find it packed. And even worse, because of the sudden demand, the item we need is sold out. There is a better way.

Fortunately, stores gear up for the gardening season early, while it is still late winter. Because of this, gardening seems terribly far away, which causes people to put off getting things they will need in only a month or so. Here’s where the provident gardener can get a leg up on the season.

Now, while things are still quiet and there is yet no sense of urgency, we can sit down and go over our gardening needs. Most of us will have long ago ordered garden seeds, so that isn’t a problem. But for hard goods, we usually wait until the last minute and that, quite often, stands as a great error.

The answer is to get these things done now. In my case, I’m aware of the need for another garden hose as well as a two-way adapter so that one hose can be dedicated to watering the main gardens in front of the house and the other hose can serve a small garden of flowering bulbs out back. So by going out now and buying these items, I’ll have the best variety to choose from. But if I wait until that first hot day in May, the best of the best may already be sold out. This is not to mention crowded conditions. But now, at the very beginning of spring, we can treat ourselves to hassle-free shopping.

The same goes for greenhouses, as well as garden centers. While it is far too early to even consider buying seedlings, it makes sense to stock up on other items now. For instance, I use lots of wooden plant markers and need to replenish my supply every other year. And then we have such things as fertilizer, potting soil, plastic sheeting for mulch, grow lights, plant trays and even twine for lining out rows.

By stocking up on everything we’ll need later, we can then take full advantage of those glorious days in spring by eliminating the need to visit crowded garden centers at a time when all we want to do is get out and work on our own grounds and gardens. This is kind of like stocking up on firewood by always having a two-year supply (which for me is something always hoped for but seldom achieved). But at least we can try. Besides, whatever we get done now is just something that we won’t need to deal with later, and that’s always a good thing.

Disposable society

In today’s world, much of what we need and use is designed so that when it stops functioning properly, it’s easier and cheaper to buy a new one than to fix the old one. For some this extends to flowers. And that’s a shame, since many of the flowering plants we buy deserve more than a one-time use.

For instance, consider Easter lilies. We buy these in bloom and for several weeks, enjoy their beauty and also their sweet scent. And then after Easter our lilies get a one-way ticket to the trash heap. That’s a shame, since Easter lilies are perennial and once set out in the ground, will come back again and again. One of my old friends had a spacious bed of Easter lilies along one side of his house and it was a stunning sight. Also, the fragrance was alluring and soothing.

Easter lilies aren’t the only potted plants that can go outside after cheering us inside. In a recent column I wrote about kalanchoe, a plant with lots of flowers and shiny, dark-green leaves. These, too, deserve a second chance outside after their indoor use has ended.

Going further, primula, or primroses, those low-growing plants with dainty, multi-colored flowers, can go out in the perennial garden after their time indoors has passed. For me, seeing such as these return again and again imparts a good feeling, knowing that I’ve made the best use of my beloved plants. You can do the same. It’s worth the slight effort it might take to re-use your potted flowers. The fact that so many others have “disposable fever” doesn’t mean that we gardeners must succumb to it.

Tom’s tips

Trying to start a power tool only to have it refuse to fire is a big and mostly needless headache. Modern gasoline is unfriendly to small engines, to say the least.

So before it’s time to put that tiller or lawn mower to use, try starting it and if it won’t cooperate, take it to the repair shop. But wait until spring and you’ll have a long downtime, because everyone else will be in the same boat. So be proactive and make sure your power tools are in tip-top shape now and avoid downtime later.