Jane Wallace Lamb '47


flower power

A quick tip for surviving the coming winter: take Jane Wallace Lamb's advice and let visions of gardens see you through.

Lamb '47, a longtime contributing editor at Down East magazine, has collected 26 of her best profiles in her latest book, The Grand Masters of Maine Gardening and Some of Their Disciples. The interviews, selected from 25 years of garden writing, are combined with vivid photos that will have gardening mavens drooling on their trowels.

For many gardeners, Lamb,or at least her published horticultural work, is an inspiration. She says the gardening business came naturally. Her mother always gardened and Lamb began to bring home plants at an early age. But her home state of New Jersey, despite its garden-state nickname, wasn't where Lamb wanted to be. "I grew up in New Jersey and escaped to Colby," she says.

Lamb earned a degree in English at Colby and went on to teach high school first in Flagstaff, Maine (a town later submerged by a lake created by a hydroelectric dam), then in Brunswick for many years. She raised two children and found time to write,starting her freelance career in 1964,and sing. She wrote The Complete Newspaper Resource Book as a result of her teaching and journalism experience, and began writing about gardening for Down East, Horticulture, and Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener. All the while she tended her Brunswick garden, which she left in 2002 after 52 years to move to Fort Bragg, California, to be near her daughter Lucinda Clark.

Gardening in California is different,and yet strikingly similar, Lamb says. "The biggest difference is the seasons," she said. "The daffodils bloom in February. The acacias bloom in January."

Coastal Fort Bragg is shielded from hot summer temperatures by the mountains and receives its share of fog,much like coastal Maine. A little farther inland, though, the differences are obvious. "Over the hill it gets to 100. Here it's never over 70 in the summer."

But despite the cooler temperatures, there's little rain from June to October, and successful gardeners need to irrigate. This differs from Maine, where ample rain falls during summer months.

That's evident in Lamb's latest book. Fields of delphinium seem to wave in the wind in one photo of a Cushing garden, while graceful Siberian irises bob in beds in Harpswell. The book, like Lamb's life, is focused on Maine gardening pioneers and their followers. Organized around garden specialties, it includes daylilies and rhododendrons, cottage gardens, and professionally designed landscapes, such as the Thuya and Asticou gardens on Mount Desert. The book memorializes three pioneering Maine gardeners who passed away recently: Currier McEwen, who bred graceful Siberian irises; magnolia expert Roger Luce; and lilac collector Bernard McLaughlin, whose South Paris gardens are open to the public.

The profiles of the "disciples",lesser-known Maine gardeners,are equally interesting. Patrick Chasse provides a garden plan and information on design. Two selections on growing roses in Maine purport that it's actually possible, and a profile of former Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Commissioner Bucky Owen explains how to garden with native plants to attract wildlife.

Lamb, meanwhile, keeps it simple. She claims her greatest gardening achievement is to "just keep gardening." On further reflection, though, she adds that her other achievements include raising a daughter "who's almost a professional" gardener, and a son who is a professional musician. She's equally proud of her writing career, of which Grand Masters is the pinnacle, she says.

Now Lamb finds gardening appealing because "it's getting away from the computer and getting your hands in the dirt and just being out there."

Advice? "Grow what you like and enjoy it," Lamb said.

,Julia Hanauer Milne