Fern Identification Workshops Being Offered

Fern Identification Workshop Offered at Our Funny Farm

 

Maine is home to over fifty different types of ferns! These beautiful, often overlooked native plants come in a surprising variety of sizes and shapes, textures and forms. Some are tall and graceful and common on roadsides, some are small and hidden and don’t look like ferns at all! Though we see them everywhere, few people appreciate them or and fewer can identify them. Many types of ferns make  beautiful additions to a flower gardens, and can be used to fill in  shady spots in the yard or add interest to a woodland edge where other plants would struggle to survive.

 

As with many things, the more you learn about ferns the more interesting and amazing they become; that’s why Our Funny Farm here in Monmouth is offering a fern walk and workshop to teach people how to identify many of the fern species we have in Maine. The walk will be lead by Hollis Smith who, along with her husband Don, owns and operates Our Funny Farm. She gained experience with ferns during her volunteer work with the New England Flower Society and with Maine’s Natural Heritage project when she helped locate and document rare plants throughout the state. She has successfully raised ferns from spores, not an easy task, and is working to propagate several of Maine’s rarer species this way to offer for sale in the future.

 

The workshop focuses on learning how the life cycle of ferns is unique, identifying the key characteristics that distinguish species from one other, and the different types of habitats where they are usually found. Included in the cost is a free take-home fern guide that will allow participants to continue to learn on their own. With a little knowledge in hand, we will explore the woods and gardens on the farm to see how many species we can find and identify. 

 

This will be happening on Saturday mornings, July 21st and 28th, from 10:00 to noonish, at Our Funny Farm, located at 19 Anderson Road, in Monmouth. The cost is $15 per person and pre-registration is required. The group size will be limited to 10 people so everyone will be able to actively participate in finding and identifying ferns. Overflow workshops may be scheduled for August if there is enough interest. To register, please call 207-649-4700.

I love Dianthus!

Dianthus, it is a huge family that includes carnations and sweet williams, but the dianthus I love are the smaller perennial sort. We have pink, red, arctic fire, and, what we call, "Fancy" here on Our Funny Farm. These are easy to grow plants as long as they are in well drained soil with lots of sun. They don't spread, but the clump of flowers will slowly grow over time. Their bright blanket of flowers is a delightful addition to any garden edge. 

"Fancy" Dianthus with finely cut petals.

"Fancy" Dianthus with finely cut petals.

Pink Dianthus

Pink Dianthus

Red Dianthus

Red Dianthus

Irises are blooming!

Yellow and red Bearded Iris

Yellow and red Bearded Iris

According to Greek mythology, when the gods wanted to communicate with mortals on earth they sent a messenger. The messenger was a goddess who, with golden wings, traveled to earth on a rainbow. Legend has it that wherever this goddess set foot on earth, colorful flowers sprung up. The goddess in question was Iris, and the flowers that were said to grow where she set foot bear her name. 

Irises are an easy to grow perennial that every garden should have. Iris have been in gardens from ancient Egyptian times. They come in a dizzying variety of colors and patterns. There are over 300 species of Bearded Iris alone and the hybrids of each makes identification challenging at times.

 

Old Fashion Bearded Iris

Old Fashion Bearded Iris

There are three common varieties of Iris, Bearded, so called because of the hairs found on the petals, Siberian and Japanese. There are also wild iris that are native to the northeast commonly called Blue Flags that grow at the edges of marshes or in damp ditches. The most common garden variety is the bearded iris. They are large leaved, large flowering beauties pictured above. The Siberian Iris has narrow leaves and a smaller, more delicate flower. It is the source for the French fluer de lis. Japanese Iris also have smaller flowers which tend to be flatter than the others.

Purple Siberian Iris

Purple Siberian Iris

Irises grow from rhizomes and spread gradually to form larger clumps. They should be divided regularly to keep them healthy. Once they are established, they will bloom for years with very little maintenance. One of the most popular irises we have here on Our Funny Farm is the Dwarf Bearded Iris which is only about six inches tall and produces beautiful purple flowers.

Dwarf Bearded Iris

Dwarf Bearded Iris

At this point, Our Funny Farm only has a handful of varieties, and no Japanese Iris at all. Every year we are adding new varieties and colors. If you have Irises you'd like to share, we would be happy to receive them to add to our collection!

Wild Ginger

Wild Ginger

 

Wild ginger is an easy to grow native plant that can add nice texture to a shade garden of larger plants. It is naturally found in moist rich woodlands from Georgia north to the Great Lakes and New England. In Maine it can be difficult to find growing wild but there are many spots where it prospers.

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North American wild ginger is not to be confused with the ginger we use for cooking. Though it is edible the taste is pungent and its primary use in the past was medicinal. Native Americans used it for a variety of ailments and early settlers, seeing its kidney shaped leaves assumed it was useful for kidney diseases. Unlike many plants that were used for medicine back then, it has no medicinal or culinary purpose today. 

 

Wild ginger has beautiful heart shaped leaves and grows to about 6 to 8 inches tall. Each rhizome produces a pair of leaves and in early spring a small reddish brown flower opens at the base of the leaves right at ground level. The flowers are often hidden beneath the leaves and may even be covered with mulch. The 1/2 inch flower self pollinates. Ginger will spread slowly to form a nice mat, planted about a foot apart, plants will fill out to form an attractive shade ground cover.

 

Ginger likes being in the shade and needs rich, humus, moist soil. Though it can tolerate more sunlight than other shade lovers, it does not tolerate getting dried out. It looks great when planted with taller shade plants like bleeding heart, maidenhair fern, and mayapple.

 

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Lungwort

Lungwort

 

Lungwort, or Pulmonaria officinalis, is a beautiful early spring bloomer, one of the first to bloom in our gardens. This plant is native to forests in Europe and has long been used medicinally to treat lung diseases and is still used as an herbal supplement for chronic bronchitis and asthma. In medieval times, it was believed that if a plant resembled a human organ, it would provide relief for ailments of the organ it resembled. The medieval people thought the spotted leaves resembled diseased lung tissue, hence the common name, ‘lungwort’. The genus name comes from the Latin word for lung, pulmo.

 

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Lungwort is a shade lover. Being a native forest plant, it’s happiest in rich, humus, well drained, but moist soil. It will not tolerate hot direct sunlight or dry soil conditions, and will scorch or wilt. One summer, while we were rearranging things here at the farm, we accidentally left some pots out in the sun and in an astonishingly short amount of time the were lying flat on the ground. Fortunately, we discovered them in time and with a move to cool shade and a good soaking they revived.

 

This plant is a very attractive plant all summer, forming mounds of spotted leaves 12 to 18 inches high and around. When the flowers first begin to open, they are a lovely shade of pink and as they mature turn a beautiful purple color. The two colors occur together and make the plant particularly delightful. Lungwort spreads very slowly by root, gradually expanding its original clump. It is not invasive and can easily be divided if it gets too large.

Finally Open for 2018!

What a crazy spring we have had here on the farm! Our work and school schedules have been especially busy and it went from freezing to 80 degrees overnight it seems. But, we are finally opening. Though we officially opened this past weekend, we were not quite ready and did not do any advertising until this week. 

Getting ready meant pulling up thousands of maple seedlings. Every pot, and we have hundreds, had 8 to 12 seedlings in it! It must have been perfect germination conditions for maple seeds. We also reorganized all the plants we have, building two new, big raised beds, one dedicated to native plants and the other to shade lovers. We still have a lot of work to do but at least we are presentable!

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We grew from seed several new varieties last spring that we are potting up now. We have almost 150 varieties now!

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Week of June 11

Well it has been another hot sunny week here in Monmouth! It is so much fun to watch things grow, then bud and blossom. Our goal this week is to get more raised beds built for starting seeds for next year's inventory! Lots of things are flowering! Remember every perennial is only $5! Come visit! Here is a sample:

Windflowers

Windflowers

Pink Dianthus

Pink Dianthus

Bleeding Heart

Bleeding Heart

Yellow Loosestrife

Yellow Loosestrife

Chives

Chives

Purple and White Bearded Iris

Purple and White Bearded Iris

Yellow Bearded Iris

Yellow Bearded Iris

Sea Pink Armeria

Sea Pink Armeria

What's Blooming on the Week of June the 4th

My original plan was to do individual plant write ups as things bloomed but you know the saying about the best laid plans of mice and men, right? We have been amazingly busy; not only are we selling more plants than we anticipated, we've also been hired to plan and/or maintain several beautiful perennial gardens in the Lewiston/Auburn area. Of course this is just a hobby business so we both have jobs too! So instead of individual write ups, I 'll just do a little collage of what is blooming so you can appreciate the variety and beauty of the flowers blooming this week! 

Soloman's Seal

Soloman's Seal

False Solomon's Seal

False Solomon's Seal

Knapweed

Knapweed

Aguga also called Bugleweed

Aguga also called Bugleweed

Dwarf Iris

Dwarf Iris

Creeping Phlox

Creeping Phlox

Purple Fleabane

Purple Fleabane

Bird's Eye Veronica

One of my favorite little flowers is blooming now - Bird's Eye Veronica (Veronica chamaedrys)! This member of the Speedwell family grows wild in Europe, and is used for tea in Sweden where it's called "Tea Speedwell". It forms a low, spreading mat and when it blooms it forms a mass of beautiful little sky blue flowers with tiny white centers. The flowers only last one day (fading to pink before closing!) but new flowers open again the next day! I am just filled with delight when I see them flourishing at the edge our water feature!

Plants in the Speedwell family were believed to have 'quick healing' properties, hence they "speeded wellness." Bird's Eye Veronica was once used to treat kidney dysfunctions and coughs, and to 'purify'. There is a lot of folklore associated with this plant -  the Irish wore it for protection, and a tale was told to children that if you picked it, birds would come and peck your eyes out.  And due to the fact that the flowers wilt so quickly when they are picked, their German name means "man's faithfulness"!

This plant spreads quickly through fibrous roots. It is easily divided, and can grow in almost any soil. It is great for rock gardens and garden edges; it likes full sun, but will tolerate partial shade. This plant is just fun and easy to grow!

An early bloomer!

One of our favorite early spring flowers, bloodroot, is one of the first native woodland plants to bloom. The bright white petals and golden center shine in the sunlight when most of the garden is just barely stirring. They are a joy to watch emerge because the single flower grows on a long stem and opens before the leaves do. So, just before it opens, the little bud is enveloped in the plant’s deeply lobed leaves that are still curled tightly. The bloodroot flowers only open during the day and reclose in the late afternoon. 

 

Bloodroot -  Sanguinaria canadensis

Bloodroot - Sanguinaria canadensis

The plant gets its name from the red juice that comes from the roots when they are broken. Native Americans used the juice for dye. The roots and juice are poisonous so don’t eat them! Some people may find the juice to be a skin irritant.

 

Bloodroot blossoms emerging from their tightly curled leaves.

Bloodroot blossoms emerging from their tightly curled leaves.

Bloodroot grows in rich deciduous forests and grow well and will spread if their natural growing conditions are reproduced. They are most happy inhumus rich soil, under some hardwoods, receiving dappled sunlight. There they will spread slowly to form a beautiful green layer of uniquely shaped leaves. They must be kept moist however or they will quickly go dormant resulting in a patch of bare ground that remains until the next spring.

Spring is here - or is it?

Even though our yard is still almost totally buried in snow, I went out to look at the little bare patches of ground this morning hoping for a tiny hint of spring. That sounds desperate doesn't it? Well, it has been a very long winter... anyway, look what I found!

photo from our funny farm

photo from our funny farm

This sweet little plant is called Stringy Stonecrop (Sedum sarmentosum). It goes by many other names, including Gold Moss, Gold Moss Sedum, Graveyard Moss, Star Sedum, Trailing Stonecrop, and Yellow Moss. It is a small creeping sedum that spreads quickly and is perfect for rock walls, containers, and water features. It is not really a sign of spring though, because it's an evergreen! Our plants grow down over the rock walls right into the lawn. It can be a little aggressive, overrunning smaller plants but can be cut back mercilessly to keep it under control, without damaging it. Stringy Stonecrop provides a very nice ground cover around the base of larger plants.

photo compliments of itsnotworkitsgardening.com

photo compliments of itsnotworkitsgardening.com

As you can see, in early summer it becomes covered with tiny yellow blossoms making a beautiful golden carpet. Stringy Sedum is also great ground cover for difficult areas like steep or rocky banks.

photo compliments of itsnotworkitsgardening.com

photo compliments of itsnotworkitsgardening.com

The delicate, five-petalled flowers are just beautiful! Stringy Stonecrop grows well in almost all types of soil, and as a succulent, it can tolerate dry spells. It likes full sun but can handle partial shade. The plant is originally from Asia and is used there medicinally. The leaves are edible but it is a phyto-estrogen so it's probably not a good idea to eat a lot of it. It tastes just like a green pepper to me!

     “The eyes were hollow and the carven head was broken, but about the high, stern forehead there was a coronal of silver and gold. A trailing plant with flowers like white stars had bound itself across the brows as if in reverence for the fallen king, and in the crevices of his stony hair yellow stonecrop gleamed.
     'They cannot conquer for ever!' said Frodo.”

J. R. Tolkien

Hi there!

Welcome to Our Funny Farm website! I'm Don Smith and my wife and partner in this exciting, crazy life is Hollis Ellen.

Hollis and I with one of our wonderful granddaughters, Anora.

Hollis and I with one of our wonderful granddaughters, Anora.

We met at the University of Maine in 1981 and promptly fell madly in love. After a crazy hitchhiking trip across the country, where we actually did find the meaning of life, we were married  and proceeded to start a family. We now have two amazing children, Amanda and Isaiah. They are grown up now and have awesome lives of their own. Our daughter has brought a wonderful son-in-law to us, and they have gifted us with two beautiful granddaughters. We've lived in Maine most of our lives, and love it here. Hiking, camping, kayaking, and cross-country skiing (anything that lets us explore this wonder-filled state), are our second favorite activities. When we had the opportunity to buy this log cabin and land, we began to realize our dream of having some kind of farm. We decided we would farm fun. So we called it the Funny Farm!

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There were no gardens here at all at first. But as we have everywhere we have lived, we started digging up lawn. We made flower gardens and vegetable gardens, raised beds, rock walls and water features. It is so much fun to create a beautiful space, and to get to raise your own food!

So that is us, in a nutshell so to speak.  That makes us sound like we're nuts. Well, I guess that brings us to the story of starting a Funny Farm! (That will be the next post!)