Monday, October 3, 2011

Michael Dirr at The Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

Blackrock Farm is a great place to work for a lot of reasons, but one that sticks out for me this week is the field trips.  As long as you’re a lover of learning and enthusiastic about the subject and destination of the trip, Helene makes sure to get you on board.  Last Wednesday six members of Blackrock woke up early and drove to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens to attend a “walk and talk” lecture of sorts by tree and shrub rock star Michael Dirr.  You can find more information on him here.  For almost four hours we had the honor of walking the grounds of the CMBG with him, learning what makes certain specimens work in the landscape, what makes them remarkable, or simply just the history of their species.  If you’re a woody plant fanatic Michael Dirr is a must see and a must read.  
We got home to Kennebunkport at around five o’clock, but the day really flew by despite its length. 
It’s a lot of fun to get out there and break up the workweek with a trip like this, but I believe (and I think Helene does too) that part of what allows a little nursery like ours survive is the enthusiasm of the employees.  Grinding out weeks of maintenance and installations can really take the spirit out of you, but getaways like this recharge us and help us to remember why we stick with this work when we’re tired and sometimes, I’ll admit, bored. 
There was nothing boring about Michael Dirr.  His knowledge was vast, but he was never boring as we walked with him and a few of the curators of the Botanical Gardens.  He does not talk at you, but with you, and demands interaction and participation.  He constantly refers to ‘the quiz’ that will be administered at the end of the walk, but with good humor.  He encourages questions and never seems to be stumped by one.  Put simply, I was amazed; I didn’t say much, as I was way out of my league, but as we walked I often reflected on the value of seeing and talking with such a knowledgeable member of our field. 
On Sunday afternoon I got a frantic call from Helene, and through her excitement she told me Michael Dirr had come by Blackrock to visit the nursery and walk around a bit.  I’ll make sure she posts about it, so I won’t go into details, but his visit marks what is probably the most important person in the plant industry ever to walk our modest grounds.  More to come from Helene.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Minute to Complain

This is a very difficult time to be in the landscaping and nursery business, and i don't just mean because of the economy.  Here at Blackrock we hire a lot of college students, and even a few teachers on their summer vacations, during the busy season in order to keep up with the work.  Our crew swells to around 15 during the summer months, and while it is a logistical nightmare we certainly have enough hands to get the work we need to do done.

As the season starts to change to fall all these seasonal helpers head back to school and we are left with a skeleton crew.  The only problem is the work is still steady.  Now the crew is down to three on a good day, with a few able to be salvaged from the vegetable division when they have a minute.  Sometimes I make lists and as i get to a second page I start to panic a little bit.

It's like this every year, and I fully realize we'll be able to take care of the work, but it seems like i can never get used to this time of year and the drastic change in the way this business operates.  

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Colin Lewis at Blackrock Farm

Colin Lewis is coming to Blackrock Farm on August 11, 2011.

We've been struggling over how to best present this gentleman to our advertising outlets because it just doesn't seem right to put "You Guys Just Don't Realize How Big A Deal This Is" in a newspaper advertisement.

But that's pretty much what we want to say, and the blog is an excellent place for me to be able to be up front like that and get away with it.

The man is a highly acclaimed teacher, artist and writer, and is a consultant for the Lars Anderson Collection of Bonsai at the Arnold Arboretum. The list goes on, but you could visit his website at to see more about his resume. If what you find there isn't enough to be convinced I don't know what will be.

Colin has recently moved his collection and school to his house just a few minutes drive from Blackrock, and we felt we would be doing our community a disservice if we did not make his work and his move known to the public. Like I said, to both the artistic and landscaping communities, this is a pretty big deal.

His knowledge and calm, focused delivery had me wanting to get involved with this art form the minute i met him, and I know that I will be in attendance on the 11th with the hope of gathering enough information to get started on a Bonsai of my own. It turns out that a some Bonsai start out as heavily cut back shrubs or trees. If they are still producing new growth from the bottom they can be dug up and trained into smaller and smaller containers to become Bonsai. It always saddens me to rip out perfectly good living shrubs, and I hope i can learn to save the promising ones for a second chance at life.

As i understand it, this is one of the ways Colin has made some of his artwork (i'm not entirely sure if the piece pictured above was started that way, but it's gorgeous nonetheless). Obviously, i have a lot to learn, but i'm very excited to have a chance to get my questions answered by a master on the 11th.

Mark your calenders!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Blackrock Farm Open House May 21, 2010

Blackrock Farm
Open House 
May 21, 2011

Come and join us for a day of friends, neighbors, staff and garden nuts from all over.  We have some nice food to eat and lots of new things here at the farm.  I promise the sun will come out!
293 Goose Rocks Road in Kennebunkport.  

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Redwinged Blackbirds and the end of winter

This morning was amazing!
It is Saturday and all the chores that are sometimes carried out by Adam and other people who work here are all mine for the weekend.
And so....I walk out to feed the animals and get to be alone, something that does not happen a lot here at the farm.
Incredibly it has snowed in the early morning.  It was 50 something yesterday and sunny and today the earth has been covered with white.  This is rare.  Usually winter winds down in a rather ungraceful fashion.  Mounds of dirty snow, lots of mud and beaten down shrubs and grasses.  Things that you forgot to put away in the fall begin to appear and the amount of work facing us seems insurmountable.
But this year we have one last beautiful morning, clean and white and filled with warmth and the spring sounds of birds.
The lovely thing is the sound of the birds.  Foolish things that they are, they simply continue with their spring songs even though it looks like winter to me.
I am a bird lover and no time is better to listen to them then in the early spring when they are out there looking for their mates.  They sing and sing continually and I sometimes am in awe that a lot of people don't notice.
I mean really!  The red winged blackbirds arrive each spring and I have a contest with a friend about who hears them first.  (we actually get nervous when we hear them....the winter is over and we will be crazy busy until December) They were here this year on March 12th and now are in full voice up in the trees.  Hundreds of them!
How can you not notice?  It is deafening once you let yourself listen.
This is a good time to think about how you plant your yards and properties to enable you to protect and provide nesting places and food for all the migrations that pass through and all the birds that stay and help keep our insects in check and spread seeds and for heavens sake.....fill our outdoors with music. You can still see the 'bones' of your gardens and plan for what you need and what you missed this winter. Shrubs like red twigged dogwoods and willows and paper barked maples.  

Enough....I am going to prepare for this evening's dusk performance of the American Woodcock!  I love this bird! He flies up in the sky at dusk and does a dance to entice his mate and the sound is truly the sound of spring.
My favorite new website is  If you click on this you will hear the Woodcock and if you search the site you can learn to identify a lot of other songs.
Such fun.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tom's of Maine Veggie Post

Hello everyone,

I was lucky enough to be invited to post on the Tom's of Maine blog recently, and i wanted to share with you what i submitted. As you know Tom's prides itself on being a environmentally conscious company, and, since it was founded in Maine, is somewhat of a standard for small businesses like Blackrock. It was an honor to guest post on their blog.
They asked me to write a post on spring startup of our vegetable gardens, and with help from the staff here, I produced the following little advice column. Naturally, there's much more to talk about, but questions and comments are what this blog is all about, so feel free to contact Blackrock for more answers and discussion.
Here it is:

Vegetable Preparations at Blackrock Farm

The skating rink that was once the driveway to the greenhouses at
Blackrock Farm has largely melted away, we’ve set the clocks forward
and we are beginning to prepare for spring in earnest. Every time I
walk into the office Kevin (our vegetable guy) and Helene (the owner)
are discussing types of radishes, planning space usage of the fields,
discussing crop rotations or hammering out any other of the myriad of
things that need to be figured before the frost leaves the ground.
With the advent of the third greenhouse being used for winter
vegetable growing there are calls to restaurants to be made, community
supported agriculture programs to discuss and, in our freer moments,
summer barbeque menus to plan.
However, all these grand plans must start small and, in a way, we
start the garden anew every year. While our experience grows with
each passing season there are aspects of the vegetable garden that we
must restart each year with the coming of spring, just like any
gardener starting a plot at home.
The first and perhaps most important step is the contacting of our
local cooperative extension for soil testing. After submitting a soil
sample and a short wait these scientists tell us everything we need to
know about the makeup of our soil, which give us a better
understanding of what soil amendments we need to add in order to start
the season with a strong foundation. Blackrock recommends that anyone
starting a vegetable garden submit their soil to be tested and remain
mindful of an organic approach to amending the space, as well as a
change in approach, if necessary, to pest management that excludes
The garden is then thoughtfully plotted, allowing for the rotation of
crops, which means somewhat new plan must be created each year.
Changing the location of your plants, even within a small garden plot,
is necessary because different plants supply and deplete different
nutrients, and attract different opportunistic insects. Rotating your
crops means keeping harmful bugs off balance and allowing the soil in
your garden to perform different tasks. For instance, the planting of
peas fixes nitrogen levels in soil; meanwhile, tomatoes are very heavy
feeders, so flip flopping the spaces you use for peas and tomatoes is
one of our most important rotations.
We select our seeds from reputable dealers like Johnny’s or Fedco, and
even now we have to read the packets to ensure a timely harvest. It
takes a lot of planning, but the results are well worth it. There is
a peace of mind that comes with knowing the vegetables you are eating
come to your table without pesticides, and I know I have gained a
healthy respect for just how much food can come from a small piece of
land with just a little bit of attention. But most of all, the
vegetables are far more delicious than any you can buy at the
supermarket, and because you just picked them, as fresh as can be.
For more answers to any questions you might have I would highly
recommend visiting a location near you that produces vegetables
organically and on a small scale. For instance, Blackrock Farm here
in Kennebunkport, Maine will be conducting several vegetable growing
seminars this year in an attempt to reach out to the local community
through shared learning.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


It’s about this time of the season when I start to really get distracted with my daydreaming. Yesterday, as I stood next to Dee the horse protecting her from Grace, the freezing rain beginning to soak through my jacket and the mixture of melt and manure seeping through my boots my thoughts were on the first tee of Dutch Elm golf course. I’ve put my cigar down and am taking practice swings with The Big Dog, looking down the fairway and feeling the heat of the sun on my shoulders. My hands are cracked and sore from Friday’s work, stained with compost and stone dust over and over so that no amount of scrubbing gets them clean. The garish, somewhat ill-fitting polo I wear unbuttoned and with no undershirt. The triangle of white skin it reveals on my chest looks ridiculous.

Other times its Sunday evening, the farm has been closed for a few hours, and I’m walking in bare feet down through the shrubs and trees to check their water levels on my way to the rows of lettuce and herbs out in the main vegetable garden. Insects buzz in the air. You can see the beams of the setting sun in the dust that is kicked up by my father’s car as he drives up the driveway.

I’ve been thinking this way a lot these days, but I guess I’m happy to have these thoughts and memories to escape to when winter becomes too tiresome.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


With March only a week a way, I become tantalized by the on again off again warm weather. Oh the warmth of our longer days! Such a beautiful time of the year. A time to reflect on the beauty of our town. During the summer I scurry back and forth through town negotiating the throngs of cars and pedestrians. Hardly a moment to take your eyes off the road. Now I find myself looking at the beauty of the river, tidal pools, wet lands even our four legged friends that find their way next to our homes munching on our favorite fruit tree! It is all so beautiful. For those of us that have the good fortune to be living here year round what a wonderful gift to wake up in such a pretty quiet world.
 With spring now on our doorstep I am full of wonder…what will our spring be like? It can be a very challenging time for growers and gardeners. The news laments over the weather forecast everyday. It never sounds to me like it’s a good time because if it’s sunny today …wait tomorrow will be horrific. Huh? I ask myself as I walk out the door , can’t I just enjoy today?


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

New Office

We are now in the process of removing a wall and refinishing the upstairs guest bedroom into an office for Helene.

I didn't take any pictures of the upstairs before the removal of the wall, but i will be sure to post before and after pictures of the work as it progresses. So far we have knocked down two walls and removed one section of superfluous ceiling in order to create a more open, spacious area with which to build Helene's new office area. Hopefully she'll be able to pick out a color she likes and a laptop to use before we get into full spring overdrive mode.

I'm also responsible for getting these renovations done in time for her to get a desk and laptop in there. My hope is that this will will be finished in the next few weeks, but I've learned that things always seem to take longer than I think they will.

Check back for some images of the work, hopefully in the next couple of days.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Winter shapes

There is probably no better time to think of sculpture than winter.
This is the time to look at the shape of the land, to see outcroppings of stone and look at the shapes of trees and evergreens, even to enjoy the shape of your poodle.
We are fortunate here at Blackrock to have some of Albert Raitt's beautiful stone sculptures.  There is really no better time to look at them then now. The snow swirls around them and makes unusual shapes and the colors of the stone take on a purity that only winter can provide. These next photos and the photos of chairs that were inadvertently left out for the winter were taken Anne Boginski.

But not only are sculptures important.  Some of our cheapest sculptures are the $39.95 shrubs and trees that we bought a few years ago or the fence that was put up to keep in the animals.  The snow brings the shapes to life.

Friday, February 18, 2011


It's beautiful out there right now, and boy did we need it! The driveway here at the farm has been covered in ice for weeks now, which makes walking out to feed the horses or check on the greenhouses a dangerous trip. Now, with the temperature up around 50 degrees, the icy spots are very slick, but at least in some places the ground is beginning to show through.
I did the chores this morning without a jacket for the first time in months!
The sounds of running water are everywhere, and quietly listening to them along with the rhythmic chomp of the horses on their grain provides a feeling of spring, and a welcome relief from the deep freeze.
Sadly, i hear we're supposed to get more snow in the next few days, and the temperature is supposed to drop again, but as for now the doors to the greenhouses are wide open to keep the temperature down and the China Goose named Ike is patrolling the grounds as if spring were already here. His aggressive behavior and incessant honking are the only things spoiling this beautiful day.

enjoy it while it lasts, and get excited for spring.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dog Show

The Scottish Deerhound just won best in show at Westminster. Helene and Eileen obsessively watch the dog show every winter, insisting on stopping work on these two days to oo and ahh over canines. In fact, they even fled the office today for the quiet of Eileen's house to escape the constant barrage of phone calls and visitors we always seem to get. It's certainly a bizarre subculture, but when it's freezing cold outside it's a welcome change of pace to sit in front of the television and listen to that strange narrator inform you that certain dogs "champion fair play", whatever that means. This year it was almost a home-shopping type experience, as Eileen is in the market for a new dog.

Also, it was a year in which the poodle did not make it into the final group. Blackrock Farm is home to two standard poodles, Leo and Magdalena, and one miniature, Sebastien. However, these farm poodles are quite a bit different from the traditional show dogs of Westminster. Here's one now:

Anyway, in honor of the Scottish Deerhound Anne decided to create a greenhouse rendition of the breed. Due to space constraints and fog building on the camera lens in the ultra-humid greenhouse we were only able to provide you with a head on shot:

It's kinda hard to make out, but the magnifying glass is the snout, the rocks the eyes, and the fuzzy potted plant (Upright Club Moss) standing in for the Deerhound's scruffy face. The thin body is made from a wicker chair, and the fuzzy tail and hind legs by one of our many beautiful Upright Black Elephant Ear plants.

Yeah, it's a stretch, but winter at a nursery sometimes leaves us with a bit of free time.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Poem

This will be my first time posting under my own name on this blog, and despite our relative obscurity it is still intimidating to be posting my writing to the public. With this in mind, I suppose the best way to go would be to get the most embarrassing notion out of the way first. I am going to post a short poem i wrote several years ago; one that was inspired by this beautiful place and the times i spent here simply growing up and not working. Over time, and as my maturity level has grown, this place has become as much my job as my home, but I wanted to start off my writing on this site with a more pure, idealized, unclouded memory. I'm a poor excuse for a poet, but I hope everyone will hang with me, and that as I write more you will perhaps find a few words of mine to your liking.

A Walk to the Back Field's Bench

Fifty-five steps
In the misty morning,
Over the damp grass,
Barefooted through puddles
Whose mud seeps between my toes.

Across the piled rocks
Slippery from the dew,
Which is our bridge over
The small, slow moving stream.

The trees drip with water
As rain begins falling faster.
In huge drops it falls
The first few making
Their tapping sounds before
It becomes a constant hum

The last ten steps are on a path
Mowed in the fire-weed.
The cut stems stab my feet.
When I reach the bench I sit;
In the downpour, I check
To see if I am bleeding.


As you know time is a fleeting thing. I get so busy that I can't seem to find the time to do all the things that I know I should.
I am determined now to keep up our blog and I hope that you will have some renewed faith that I will and share it with some of you friends and please make comments or suggestions about what you want me to write about.
But time is essential when we are talking about starting seeds. They need to be started at the correct time. If we start them too late they won't make it here with our short growing season, start them too early and they get leggy and weak.
Now is the time to start quite a few and if you are doing that yourself we can help with a few ideas.