Last weekend, I accepted Judi Will’s invitation to be her guest at the New Portland Garden Tour. It was a fantastic trek to New Portland, Maine on a gloriously sunny day. All of my life I’ve been certain New Portland begins and ends with the Wire Bridge.

(Photo Credit – Lillian Lake)

I must have forgotten the day trips I made with my mother and grandmother. In my defense, I usually curled up in the backseat with my nose in a book. However, I must have paid some attention as I remembered on my journey, the very narrow cement bridge further into New Portland. It’s about wide enough for two average sized passing cars. It’s not wide enough for two passing trucks.

Marilyn Gorman brightly greeted me at the Community Center and set me on my way. Before I set out, she informed me I can’t get lost in Maine, as all roads eventually lead home (which is a good thing, because as she also indicated, my GPS would be unreliable); road signs are not needed as we all know where we live, (you may recall I’ve run into that theory before in Northern Maine) and I would meet up with someone to follow as I progressed.

My first stop was at the home of Brenda Stevens. She directed our group around her vegetable and flower gardens. I took a few photos of brilliant poppies, maturing garlic, and glass art. I asked her about her garlic. I could see it was nearly ready to be harvested. Besides for eating, she sometimes cuts the scapes for flower arrangements, as well as pickling them to share with her offspring and in other cooking recipes. Presently, her greatest gardening challenge is their new dog who insists on digging in her gardens. It was great fun to learn, as we conversed over vegetables and flowers that Brenda is the daughter of former Mt. Blue Athletic Director and friend, Bob Stevens who passed away a few years ago, as well as sister to David Stevens, a long-time friend of my husband. Soon a garden conversation evolved into “old home days” reminiscing, a conversation which resumed later at the Community Center following the two-hour tour.

It was at Brenda’s I met two beautiful souls, Mary Robinson and her mother, Muriel Handrahan. They offered to guide me through the rest of the garden tour.

(Photo Credit Lillian Lake) L. to R. Judi Wills, Marilyn Handrahan, Mary Robinson

Throughout the day, Mary and Muriel shared stories of the area that I would never have otherwise heard. Muriel shared particularly intriguing stories when we toured the Heichel’s gardens, where once stood the former Chase, Hewitt wood turning mill; situated idyllically along the Carrabassett River. It was here that I saw for the first time, a family of woodpeckers in the hole of a tall, popular tree, chirping excitedly as their dad fed them.

A fun photo stop at one of the gardens. This 1930 Model Ford is a beauty! 

Space doesn’t allow mentioning all of the gardens, but another stop stood out not only for beautiful flowers and the scenic view but because of the backyard spruce tree. Have you ever eaten tree parts? Recently when I was snacking on spruce tips closer to home, my husband asked me “Who are you? Euell Gibbons?” Euell Gibbons? Not even close, but I know when a tree is as brilliantly endowed as Lori’s tree the delicate, spring green tips are hard to resist.

Spruce tips are high in Vitamin C and long-used to soothe sore throats and coughs. Some folks say they are tangy. I think they taste like the smell of spruce with notes of citrus. They are best early on when the buds are tight and just emerging from their papery covering.

As they age and begin to fan out, they taste resinous. It’s surprising they are underused as they are easy and quick to harvest and one of the first springtime treats from the forest. Don’t pick them from one spot as you may damage the tree. Never pick from the tree’s top as you may stunt its growth. Spruce tips are a welcome surprise to toss into a salad. They can be made into jams, mixed with condiments, pickled or fermented, or infuse a simple syrup to use in cocktails or as a food glaze.

Spruce Tip Mayo

This condiment recipe is perfect for spreading on a BLT, grilling fish or seafood, or mix in with potato salad.

1 cup mayonnaise (Homemade or store-bought)

¼ cup tender, minced spruce tips

2 tsp. lemon juice

Thoroughly mix all of the ingredients together. Let the flavors blend 1-2 hours in the refrigerator before using.