The seeds of Penobscot Potting Shed were planted not here in Maine, but in South Korea, where Andy and Tania Felger met while both were teaching in Seoul.
Andy, a Cincinnati native, and Tania, who is from Christchurch, New Zealand, soon set their sights on moving West, but they weren’t quite sure where to plant their roots.
As a student at the Institute of Social Ecology in Plainfield, Vt., Andy had visited Maine, but had not spent much time here.
After searching for potential locales, the Felgers were drawn to the Blue Hill Peninsula because of its strong small-business community and the fact that organic farming was widely practiced throughout the area.
And, of course, the craggy coastline.
“Tania liked Maine because it looks like New Zealand,” Andy said of his wife’s native country.
The Felgers decided on Penobscot and purchased their New Road property online, sight unseen.
They moved to Penobscot in 2011 and in 2013 Penobscot Potting Shed sprouted.
The couple soon joined the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), and took advantage of its two-year journeyperson program, and took some classes on how to run a small agricultural business.
Last year, Andy and Tania teamed up with the Wild Seed Project, a nonprofit group whose goal is to reintroduce native plants to the landscape.
That partnership shifted the Felgers toward cultivating seedlings rather than running a large-scale farming operation.
“We specialize in seedlings that give people a head start,” Andy said.
Every seedling that comes out of the Felgers’ greenhouse or gardens is Certified Maine Organic. Matching a plant to its natural environment is one way to promote healthy, natural growth. If a plant likes wet soil or prefers the shade, plant them in similar spots on your property.
During the initial growth period, Andy recommends monitoring weeds and taking care not to over-mulch.
To protect plants from pests, the Felgers use Remay, an agricultural cloth, to cover seedlings during the vulnerable, early-growth stages.
Buying organic seeds whenever possible is one of the Felgers’ tenets. But they warn that “organic” seedlings at some stores have likely been treated with organic sprays.
The Felgers are passionate about urging gardeners to introduce wild, native plants into their home gardens and landscapes, but to do it in a natural way.
“We want to encourage more sustainable growing practices,” said Andy, which includes buying organic seed whenever possible.
Milkweed, echinacea, Penstemon digitalis, joe-pye weed, wild bergamot and mountain mint are just some of the native plants that the Felgers cultivate for their business and maintain in their home gardens.
“We choose native plants that fit well into the classic garden and others that fit in a more open garden,” Tania said.
Some people make the mistake of thinking that native species can be planted and then abandoned, Tania said.
“As with any seedling you can’t just plant it and take off,” she said. “At first you really need to water it and protect it from the elements until [the plant] really takes.”
Once a seedling has established its roots, it will thrive on their own.
Besides producing hearty plants, another benefit to a wild garden is the pollinators it attracts. Rusty-patched bumblebees and monarch butterflies, both native to Maine, are now threatened.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, some 970 million monarch butterflies have vanished nationwide since 1990, in part because of pesticides used on milkweed plants, which serve as the monarchs’ food source and habitat.
Asclepias tuberosa and Asclepias incarnata are two types of brightly flowering milkweed native to coastal Maine that attract monarchs.
Growing plants such as milkweed can make for both a beautiful garden and a teeming habitat for native pollinators.
“We want people to embrace native plants that are pretty and beautiful in the garden and that also attract native pollinators,” Tania said.
Observing nature at work is a hobby all on its own for the Felger family.
Watching bees, grasshoppers, dragonflies and butterflies work to create a bustling ecosystem outside their window is all the entertainment they need.
“We don’t own a TV,” Tania said.
The Felgers also cultivate non-native, classic garden flowers such as zinnias and Mexican sunflowers, as well as non-native herbs and vegetables.
In the future, the Felgers would like to cultivate organic, native seeds.
“You don’t really know the source of your seeds and we want to change that” said Andy. “That’s our goal for the future.”