Just when you thought it was safe….

… Mother Nature’s blast of white let us know who was in charge this morning.

snow

It’s a fairly deep snow but with rising temperatures it should melt quickly. I filled the bird feeders last night and threw out some feed this morning for the ground feeders. The seeds and berries and nuts quickly disappeared deep into the fluff. That’s no problem for the ground feeding juncos, the most numerous of the birds visiting us this winter.

These medium-sized sparrows fly in a flock to feed. They land together and they hop, fly, scratch, dig, and flit in and out of shrubbery. Although they move quickly, one or two have become meals for the neighborhood’s ever-observant Cooper’s hawk. We simply find the telltale pile of grey and white feathers on the ground.

junco

junco

Junco.

The juncos dig for seeds and toss snow, fuss constantly among themselves, and jockey for dominance. Although they primarily dine on our shelled sunflower seed on the ground, they don’t hesitate to feed from any of the feeders…. loving the bluebird’s mealworms, the tube feeders, and the suet cake.

suet

The little juncos are among the most common songbirds at the winter feeders in many areas. In Virginia, they were only winter visitors. However in New Hampshire, we have plenty of preferred coniferous forests with lots of evergreen, so we’re lucky to have them as year-round residents.

 

Great Backyard Bird Count 2018 (GBBC)

Binoculars? Check. Pencil and bird list? Check. It’s the 21st annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) weekend where you’ll find me counting birds for at least 15-minutes a day for four days starting today, February 16 until Monday, February 19.  Last year, over 160,000 folks participated and logged their findings online.

It’s not hard to do and it ends up being a lot of fun for adults and children. Citizen scientists can count birds on any one day or on all four days. Pick the time of day. Pick the same site or different sites. On the website GBBCbirdcount.org, you will post your findings and the accumulated data will help researchers at Cornell and the National Audubon Society find out how the avian population is doing and steps needed to protect birds.

To make it even easier, you can print out a checklist of birds that are in your area from the website. Check out the GBBC site above and to follow the easy directions, then post your findings.

bluebird

“Spring is coming. Spring is coming. Spring is coming.”

From NICE to ICE

“Welcome home,” said Old Man Winter. After a much warmer and dryer stay south of the Mason-Dixon line, we were greeted in New Hampshire by a snowstorm followed by freezing rain, sleet, and a thick coating of ice. It was not much of a warm welcome home.

dragonfly icicle

Multi-car accidents yesterday and pedestrian falls on the ice caused our local emergency room to fill with the injured last night. We can handle the snow. It’s the ice. Always the ice.

ice

bird feeder ice

We’ve decided we will stay home today, fire in the fireplace, music on, and I will start on my needlepoint. I have had the canvas of a Japanese Imari design for a year and finally picked out the wool in a wonderful needlepoint shop on Hilton Head Island. It arrived by post yesterday. How divine….

 

It’s Time

All good things must come to an end and that goes for our winter break to South Carolina. We hoped to escape the cold northeast but cool weather followed us…. at least in the mornings. We enjoyed a few 70° afternoons and lots of 60-something afternoons, but it was brrrrr brisk at dawn. We’re talking temperatures in the 30’s!

We are happy to be home tackling chores like the mountain of mail, pending commitments and greeting the grandchildren. All need immediate attention.

Over morning coffee, we talked about working off the extra padding we both added to our waistline from tempting southern cuisines. Too many BBQ sandwiches and fried hush puppies was my downfall. Lots of seafood and sauces for mister gardener. There was one restaurant all three of us agreed was the best of our gastronomical journey…. The Santa Fe Cafe, billed as Innovative Southwestern Cuisine. And, yes, it was.

Our son enjoyed the BBQ Chicken Taco and mister gardener tackled the Ribeye Burrito….both out of this world, they managed to say between bites. Unique, generous, and tasty.

On the other hand, I had possibly the best soup and definitely the most artistic soup I’ve ever been served. It was almost too pretty to eat. Take a look at the Painted Desert Soup, half red pepper and corn soup with ancho chile cream. We recommend this restaurant and anything served on the menu.

I really do think folks in New England eat a lot healthier than what sustained me in my southern upbringing. Sweet tea, something I had plenty of in SC, is not a thing up here.  Good thing, really. Lots of fried foods, like all those hush puppies or all the calories in those grilled pimiento cheese sandwiches I ordered a few times won’t be served around these parts. Collard greens was generally on the menu in SC, always infused with the tasty grease from bacon. Yep, bacon, butter, salt. Oh, and Hellmann’s REAL mayo. Lordy….

No need to speak French..

…to relax at the Parlez-Vous Lounge with light libation while you wait. Or you can wander over to the Ciné-Café for appetizers, entrees, gourmet coffee, and locally made ice cream. Or maybe put in an order and have it delivered.

Wait for what? Delivered where?

Delivered right to your theater seat in the funkiest, most fun movie theater I’ve ever experienced. And, lucky for us, the amazing south-end Park Plaza Cinema is just minutes from us on Hilton Head…close enough for repeat visits.

Park Plaza Cinema is a boutique theater, independently owned by Lucie and Larry Mann. Their creation, this wonderful theater, plays mainstream new releases and has luxurious reclining seats…. all powered by the touch of a button.

Lucie, an architect designer, and Larry, a builder, and their two adorable mini canines (dressed in their finest) all greet you at the door and welcome you as a guest into their domain. After refreshments you’ll want to order a little popcorn since it’s been voted #1 on the island.

Mann

Park Plaza Cinema makes going to the movies fun and if you go, you will be guaranteed to have a smile when you leave.

Cine-Cafe

According to Cosmopolitan Magazine, Park Plaza is the “coolest movie theater in South Carolina” in a 2017 article naming the coolest theater in every state. I do agree. It’s all thumbs up on this gem.

Stoney-Baynard Ruins

From Paleo-Indians and semi-nomadic Native Americans, to European explorers, and African slaves, to soldiers of several wars… all and more are a part of the history of Hilton Head Island.

During the plantation era, cotton and indigo were the major crops that grew on the island. I visited the site of one early cotton plantation very near me in Sea Pines, the Stoney-Baynard Ruins.

The one and a half story home was built with a fascinating technique called ‘tabby,’ masonry made by mixing burned crushed oyster shells with sand, whole shells and water that was then protected with a coating of stucco.

Tabby

Most plantation owners did not live on the island full-time due to the threat of diseases such as yellow fever and malaria. During this time Hilton Head was mainly populated by slaves who lived in quarters on the property.

Two slave families lived here in the cramped quarters below built on a tabby foundation, a sober reminder of our country’s past.

The tabby chimney below is all that is left of the plantation kitchen outbuilding. What happened to the tabby foundation blocks of the kitchen?

They were moved! Archeologists have found evidence that Union troops moved the kitchen foundation blocks to higher ground to serve as footings for their tent.

The stories I heard about ghosts of previous owners roaming the site or witnessing a funeral procession is overstated. I saw nothing ghostly nor heard a thing but singing birds, but then I might change my tune if I visited after dark, flashlight in hand when you are most likely to encounter them. No thanks…

To learn more about the ruins and the history of the families who owned the plantation, visit this site.

Rain ☔️

It rained off and on today… a lovely light rain. I wouldn’t want rain every day on vacation but today it was a welcome change.

Clouds began to roll in yesterday and I took the opportunity for a beach walk before the heavens opened.

Hilton Head IslandIt was a solitary walk. I had a mile of beach all to myself… well, almost all to myself. There was plenty of bird life on the shore, in the air, and riding waves.

Gull riding waves on Hilton Head Island

But that wasn’t all. There was life from the sea caught on shore at low tide. The beach was littered with keyhole urchins or sand dollars, small animals that can’t live for very long out of water.

Sand dollar

These weren’t the white sand dollar skeletons you see sold in souvenir shops. These dark sand dollars could still be alive and they aren’t for collecting. There is hefty $500 fine for taking any live animal from South Carolina beaches.

sand dollar- Hilton Head Island

To make sure they were alive, I gently turned each over and touched the cilia, the fuzzy hairs beneath. Thankfully, the cilia moved on every one and all the animals I came across were returned to the water. It was a very good day.

sand dollar

At dawn today, a dense fog rolled in before the rain. I could see nothing on the water but could hear motors and foghorns as boat traffic navigated the sound. What a treat it was to sit outside with morning java and watch the condensation change the look of everything in the landscape. It doesn’t have to be sunny to be beautiful!

Fog on Hilton Head Island- 2018

The biggest reptile on the island

It’s been unseasonably cool in South Carolina… some mornings we’re shivering in our lightweight jackets. It’s also been a little cool for the local population of American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) that call Hilton Head home. As cold-blooded animals, their body temperature fluctuates with the outside temperature.  They’re slowly beginning to come out of hibernation to bask on the banks of waterways.

We were happy to enjoy several quite warm days when our youngest son visited us…. perfect weather, I thought, for encouraging alligators from hibernation. Driving around we saw only one huge one by a neighborhood pond. But then, while golfing, our son photographed a lot more just basking in the warm sun. They seem to prefer the quiet ponds and lakes and lagoons along fairways.

What surprised me was seeing his photos of alligators in people’s backyards. Residents and visitors alike are schooled in safety around these giants, but, safe or not, I’d definitely not grill outdoors if I spotted that guy below near my patio.

People are warned not to get closer than 60′ to these living relics. Although they don’t consider humans food, they are incredibly quick and unpredictable. There are strict rules against feeding them (big fines/jail time) or fishing with hot dogs, a fav food, and if one takes a fish you’ve hooked, don’t argue with the alligator. Cut your line. Our golfers were warned about retrieving a golf ball that lands too close to water. An alligator may see the golf ball as a delicious egg. They didn’t need to be told twice!

Alligators do see dogs as food. A little over a year ago an escaped 85-pound husky on the island was killed by an alligator when he stopped to have a drink from a pond. In spite of being protected by state and federal law, that alligator was deemed aggressive and had to be put down.

At the golf course pro shop, I found the perfect alligator for me… a safe one that was friendly and would never attack. I’d love to invite him to be a permanent fixture peeking out from beneath the rhododendrons in my garden at home!

Oh, what a tree!

Nothing says ‘Old South’ like the Southern live oak. The magnificent Spanish moss-draped tree grows so well in the soil of Hilton Head. It tolerates salt spray, loves the climate, and we have admired so many of them all over the island.

What makes them so memorable? It’s all in the limbs. Their massive limbs can grow horizontal or downward near the ground before turning upright or they can form great arching tunnels over roadways.

D5BA97DF-CF44-4A2D-9EC2-1CDC9CB68A13

They are loved and greatly protected on the island with laws governing  pruning, removal or land clearing for construction. One Southern live oak limb we’ve often ducked beneath on a busy sidewalk has a sign warning pedestrians. How cool is that?

From ICE to NICE

Although it was 31° on our first morning in South Carolina, it was a heck of a lot warmer than the 7° we left behind in New Hampshire.

Temperatures are unseasonably brisk here, reaching the high 40s or low 50s under sunny skies so far. Most people are sporting lightweight jackets and warm hats but not everyone. We do a double take when we spot the occasional brave soul in Bermuda shorts! “All are hardy Canadians,” say the locals.

Until the weather warms a little, we are concentrating on good food, especially the southern goodies I’ve missed…like those warm hush puppies I enjoyed at our first meal on Hilton Head.

Coligny Beach Park was a lunch destination yesterday followed by a walk on the beach…something we’d probably never choose to do in the high season due to the popularity of this wonderful beach.

Beach access takes you through the park on a boardwalk where you may stop to lounge on swings, benches or chairs in the sun or beneath gazebos. Outdoor showers, little changing rooms, restrooms, and free WiFi make it a perfect access for a beach day.

img_4546

Beach matting allows visitors to cross the wide expanse of soft sand down to the water’s edge where the few walkers and bikers are found.

Great place to work up an appetite for dinner!

Summer Vacay 2017

With small mountains of snow surrounding us this January 9, more pleasant thoughts are carrying us back to the warm days of the past summer. Our seasonal travels have taken us to visit several mountain lakes in the few years that we’ve lived in New England.

And last summer our vacation took us to a new one on our radar, a Maine lake where we enjoyed three generations of family fun with youngster from age 10 months to the really old folks (us!).

summer vacayThe small village is named Lovell, just over the border from New Hampshire, and the body of water is Kezar Lake, a gorgeous, deep, clean lake surrounded by the rural hills of Maine and New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

Kezar Lake, ME

Kezar Lake

It is a very quiet lake. Jet-skis are discouraged as well as loud motors on boats. We spotted a good share of kayaks and pontoon boats and early morning fishermen with small motors on john boats. At first glance you might think that you’re the only folks on the lake due to the deeply forested waterfront that hides camps and rental cottages.

After a couple of days, we boated around the 9-mile lake and could make out the modest cabins that blended so well into trees from afar. We weren’t the only people staying on the lake after all.

We were told by locals that this lake community frowns upon showiness and conspicuousness in architecture. Peer pressure seems to prevent the mcmansions from being built for the most part. We boated around the lake a couple of times to check out the real estate and were enchanted by what we saw.

Kezar LakeWe would boat awhile, but it was much more fun to turn off the motor and drift, allowing our able fishermen to have a moment to practice a little casting, then reeling in their (plastic) catch of the day.

Catching a plastic yellow perch

A great many of the camps we saw were rustic and small, very similar in color to the log cabin where we resided, dark brown stain and forest green trim.  Our accommodations were modern and comfortable indoors with the latest conveniences but instead of tv and internet, we were usually found frockling on the waterfront or catching up on summer reads beneath the pines.

Kezar.Lake.JPG

I have to say I fancied everything this lake offered… maybe a little more than other lakes we’ve visited… so far that is. It matched the flavor of my grandparents’ rustic log cabin in Virginia on the shores of the peaceful Chesapeake Bay where I spent seemingly endless summers in my childhood.

Kezar Lake

Kazar Lake Camp

Kazar Lake 2017Locals residents and summer people want to keep the lake and the camps just the way they are… quiet, clean, and rustic with all the local traditions kept in place.  A local proprietor shared the news that the King family, Stephen and Tabitha, the well-known authors who reside part-time somewhere around there, purchased the sole campground on the lake, then closed it down. That took jet-skis and lots of boats from the lake and folks couldn’t be happier. We didn’t go looking for Stephen King but folks said it’s not unusual to run into him at local establishments. I don’t think we went out shopping or eating out enough…. but, hey, I finished two books.

Kazar Lake

Kezar Lake’s water is clean, one of Maine’s cleanest lakes. The sunsets are spectacular over the White Mountains and I can’t say enough about the absolute QUIET… except for the crickets and an occasional duck or two.

Living on the Seacoast of New Hampshire, we feel so lucky that we’re mere minutes from the ocean, yet the mountains of New England are oh-so-close! Salt water? Fresh water? We love ’em both and we can take our pick any week of summer. How divine is that??

Sunset on Kazar 2017

 Only 51 days more days till spring
Oops! Boy, am I wrong. It’s 69 days as of January 10. Sigh….

Our funny little bunny

I have been reminded of all the negatives of these animals. I know they damage plants. I know they eat herbs. I know they girdle woody plants in the winter. I know they multiply…. uh…. like rabbits. But this rabbit, our cute little bunny, was special.

For the most part, we don’t interfere with the natural laws of nature and allow things to take its course around the property. I might chase off a pesky house sparrow trying to move into the bluebird house or save a butterfly caught in a web from becoming a spider’s supper. But then it all changed when we accepted a tiny bunny onto the property.

bunnykins

It was early spring when I noticed a teacup-sized bunny moving slowly toward a clover patch in the lawn. It looked barely old enough to be weaned and it was beyond cute. It seemed unconcerned that I was standing nearby and I wasn’t going to shoo it away.  Rabbits don’t seem to last long around here since we have hawks and owls, neighborhood dogs, cats, we hear coyotes at night along with foxes, and then there are those elusive fishercats and, of course, the humans.

Bunnykins.

Despite the odds, bunny survived the warm months and grew healthy and plump on our untreated clover. He proved extremely well-behaved and NEVER ate from the garden. All summer long, the little fella kept the lawn’s clover patch in check.

In time, he grew oblivious to having me work nearby and would stretch out in the shade and doze just feet from where I was pulling weeds or digging in the dirt. I moved wheelbarrows, rakes, pruners and hoses around the yard and he would occasionally sit up and watch but went right back to his meal or his nap time with lazy yawns. Once in a while, something would snap and he would go on a tear, darting around in circles, kicking up grass… almost as if he was letting me know this was his yard and was allowing me to visit.

Bunnykins3

I have dozens of cute and amusing iPhotos of the little bunny. Each night as we sat down to dinner, mister gardener and I would watch out of the window waiting for him because our dinner schedule was his dinner schedule. He would appear, hop to a clover patch beneath the window where we could watch him dine as we dined… just inches from the parsley and lettuce in the herb garden that he totally ignored. We never knew where his den was or where he went at night.

As cold weather set in, the bunny finally disappeared. We didn’t see him for a couple of months and we assumed he had become a meal for a hungry animal or had snuggled into his den for the winter. Just imagine my surprise when I went out to feed the birds last week and there he was. He had reappeared in a snowstorm in subzero weather. Not for the clover, of course, but to share what the birds are eating. Now that I’m putting out nuts, berries, seeds, and fruits for the birds, I’m guessing some of it has become sustenance for our bunny.

Let’s hope there is enough to sustain him during the harsh months and he does not resort to nibbling on the bark of my shrubs!  Be safe, little one! Hope to see you in the spring!

Bunnykins4

Today everyone eats

Today we are experiencing a fierce blizzard in New Hampshire and I have invited all hungry animals, even these pesky ones, to dine on birdseed, peanuts, and fruit. It can be life or death out there. The snow is deep and the wind is ferocious.

 

squirrel

998E776A-B254-4541-BE1B-75313183CE95

FC9DFC1F-6C19-4F99-905D-F6A437078A51.jpeg

70274511-9DEC-46ED-92FF-E51A0EA8673D.jpeg

It will get a heck of a lot worse today before it gets better. But we’re safe and snug inside with a nice fire and plenty of cocoa… and with fingers crossed that we don’t lose power!

Full Wolf Moon 2018

January 2nd’s full moon is called, among several other names, the “Full Wolf Moon,” said to be from the time when wolves would howl near Colonial villages and Native American tribes.

I attempted to capture the supermoon tonight from our deck using a superzoom camera. Hampering my attempt at photography was our deep and crusty snow and painful frigid temperatures that tortured my exposed fingers. Who wants to stand outside shivering in single digits? I could hardly keep the camera steady with a tripod. When the moon appeared on the horizon through the trees, it was past the time it was closest to earth but still looked huge.

The phenomenon supermoon is named because it becomes full on the same day its orbit is closest to Earth and it looks brighter and larger than the usual moon. They don’t happen every month. There are none in February but there will be second one this month. On January 31 2018, we can see the one that NASA has named the “Super Blue Blood Moon.” So if you miss the one tonight, not to worry.

Rising through the pines tonight while still low on the horizon, the moon actually looked pretty ‘super.’

moon1:2018

Once it reached the vastness of the sky, it was simply a beautiful full moon!

moon 1:2018

Last night I finished the book Artemis by Andy Weir and I couldn’t help thinking of the action-packed novel about the first lunar colony as I squinted through the lens of the camera. Hmmmm…. I wonder. Will we one day build a lunar city? 🚀

A New Year’s Day MUST

Black-eyed peas have been soaked overnight, organic collard greens washed and ready, and all the other ingredients for New Year’s Day are waiting to be prepped for a hearty soup tonight.

Growing up in the Tidewater area of Virginia, my family ate black-eyed peas and collard greens on a regular basis, but I don’t remember them on New Year’s Day. Did everyone in the South except our family eat collard greens and black-eyed peas the first day of each new year?  Is this a new-ish thing or not? I am a little superstitious so I follow along.

My mother always served black-eyed peas mixed with stewed tomatoes. Collard greens was always served alongside a cruet of vinegar that we splashed atop the hot greens. I can’t remember my mother ever combining the peas and collards as I am doing tonight… although better memories of a sibling might correct me!

New Year 2018

Last year I made the traditional Southern Hoppin’ John over rice. This year we are having soup based on a tasty recipe in the New York Times…. minus the ham hock.

Wealth should be breaking down the door!  And if I feel especially lucky after I dine tonight, I’ll be standing in line for the Powerball on Wednesday that has reached over 440 million buckaroos and growing.

collard greens 2018

Happy, Healthy, and Wealthy New Year wishes for all.

PS: It’s been 10 minutes and I’ve already been corrected by a sibling with a better memory than mine. We did eat both black-eyed peas and collard greens on New Year’s Day. Lucky me!

Rhododendron Thermometers

Can you tell how cold it is in winter by looking outdoors at your rhododendron? Locals in New Hampshire tell me that a quick glance out the window will indicate whether the temperature has dropped to 32° or not. When the temperatures drop to freezing, the normally horizontal rhododendron leaves begin to droop and curl.

The amount of droop and curl does correlate to the severity of winter temperature. The lower the temperature, the tighter the curl. At 20° they are curled as tight as they can possibly get. Our rhododendron leaves are drooped and tightly curled right now and that’s a clue to the frigid outdoor temperatures…. a -8° at daybreak and currently a -3°.

Junco on Rhody

But why do the rhododendron leaves droop and curl in the first place? Theories and debates abound. Some say it is to prevent branch damage from the snow load. Others theorize it helps prevent or reduce water loss in the leaves, although horticulturists and scientists dismiss this theory because the openings on the underside of the leaf are closed during the winter.

A likely reason is drooping and curling prevents rapid freezing and thawing of the leaves. If the leaves are horizontal as they are in warm months, thawing may occur on a sunny day in winter, then the leaves may quickly freeze again overnight. This quick freezing and thawing could destroy leaf cells. So possibly, the drooping and curling would be nature’s way to protect leaves from the thawing solar rays during the day.  They are better off staying frozen until they can thaw slowly.

Rhododendron

More study is needed to answer all the rhododendron leaf questions but I’m just happy to know I can rely on these magnificent shrubs to let me know when the thermometer hits 32°.

Christmas Feast

“The North Wind doth blow, and we shall have snow, and will will poor robin do then, poor thing?  She’ll go into the barn, keep herself warm and hide her head under her wing, poor thing!” Although this British nursery rhyme refers to the European robin, a member of the flycatcher family, I couldn’t help but think of it when I opened our front door this morning in a raging snowstorm.

Not all American robins migrate to warm climes in the winter and fruit is a natural part of their year-round diet. With whiteout conditions on this Christmas Day 2017, dozens of robins found sustenance where they could… even braved our presence to devour winterberries on our front porch arrangement. These branches were thick with berries yesterday on Christmas Eve. Tonight the branches are almost bare. It makes us happy to provide a holiday gift they needed on this icy and cold day.

Robins

robin

robin.

As always, the crabapple tree proved to be a lifesaver for dozens of robins. The birds will eat almost continuously during the day to store up as much fat reserves to survive the frigid nights of our New England winter.

crabapple.

crabapple

 

Temperatures are due to plummet to negative number in New England in the nights ahead and the frigid temperatures will create a challenge for the robins and for all birds. We’ll continue supplement nature’s food with a variety of seeds and nuts, adding fruit to what we scatter on the ground, and provide a heated birdbath for drinking water. Best of luck to our feathered friends!

NH Snow

Merry Christmas to all!

Christmas in Williamsburg VA

A little nostalgia today as I am thinking about Christmas in my hometown of Colonial Williamsburg VA and re-posting some photos of the holiday decorations from 2010. It’s such a exciting time of the year with CW residents and shops participating in a decorating contest. All materials in the wreaths are found locally and would have been available to colonists. What fun it is for tourists and hometown folks to walk the ‘DOG’ (Duke of Gloucester Street) and marvel at the original, the simple, the complex, the large, and the small adornments on homes and stores. Enjoy!

Click photos for close-ups.

Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without a stroll down Duke of Gloucester Street in Williamsburg. Doors, windows, gates and walls are trimmed with wreaths and swags fashioned from natural materials. Magnolia leaves, boxwood, holly, pine, dried flowers, wheat, cotton, fruit, berries, cones and more form the foundation for creative and artistic decorations that provide a treat for visitors and inspiration for making our own holiday adornments. Here are a small sampling of the 2010 holiday trimmings.

Boxwood Blight

These last couple of weeks I’ve been outdoors cutting sprigs of boxwood for use in arrangements, garlands, and wreaths. It’s an evergreen that holds up in holiday adornments both indoors and out. And maybe, like me, you appreciate having the plant in your garden in all seasons. According to a survey of 4,000 landscapers, it’s the most popular garden shrub today.

Korean Boxwood

And what’s not to like? It’s deer-resistant, drought-tolerant, versatile, an evergreen, and easy to grow. It’s been a staple in formal gardens for centuries and an integral landscape plant in my home state of Virginia since the mid-1600s. Sadly, the future of boxwood is now in jeopardy.  A fungus, C. buxicola, has resulted in ‘boxwood blight’ that may destroy box the same way that the chestnut blight destroyed trees in the 30s.https://www.amerinursery.com/pest-management/boxwood-blight-research/After taking a toll in European gardens, the blight was detected in 2011 on plants in a North Carolina nursery.  It has since been reported in Virginia, Maryland, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Ohio, Oregon, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware, New York and British Columbia. Has it reached New Hampshire yet?

Currently, no cure has been found but research is being conducted to combat the disease. Box can be treated with strong fungicides, but as of this date, the fungus cannot be eradicated. English and American Box seem to be the most susceptible. Japanese and Korean boxwood may be less susceptible. Three plants in the boxwood family are affected: boxwood, pachysandra, and sweet box (Sarcococca). Who knew pachysandra was in the box family? Not me. From pachysandra, the pathogen can spread to box.

From property to property, the sticky spores can adhere to animals, garden equipment, clothing, shoes, vehicles…. as well as by wind and rain. The spores remain active for 5 years in plant debris and soil. The spread of box blight on a plant is often rapid and hardly gives the gardener time to react. Here’s how to recognize symptoms: dark circular leaf spots often with darker margins that may eventually grow together and cover the leaf,  black streaks or lesions on the stems, and finally, rapid leaf drop.

The boxwood gardens at Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library in Staunton VA (below), installed in the early 1930s by The Garden Club of Virginia, succumbed to the blight and has been replaced  not yet replaced (see update from Dianne in comments). Infected box was bagged and either burned or buried. The Garden Club of Virginia has since prohibited boxwood cuttings to be used in any club event statewide.Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library, Staunton VAWhat to do to prevent the fungus?
Experts say to avoid overhead irrigation, avoid high nitrogen fertilizer, disinfect garden tools, buy from reputable dealers, isolate new plants for 4 weeks, do not work with this family of plants when wet, and space your plants.

Report suspected cases of boxwood blight immediately to your local Extension agent. They can determine whether the disease is blight or similar looking disease.

In the meantime, I am ready to make substitution in my tiny parterre garden in zone 6 if the blight reaches my box. Japanese holly (Ilex crenata) will be my first choice with its similar form, density, leaf size. Other small edging choices for gardeners can be thyme or lavender, compact ornamental grasses or dwarf yew, globe arborvitae or hosta, or for our area, perhaps try a zone 6 hardy rosemary… (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Madeline Hill’).

Tree of life

We have a beautiful crabapple tree just feet from our house and the crown almost even with our upstairs bedroom window. The first thing we hear in the morning is a chorus of fruit eating birds being well-fed on the coldest of winter mornings from the dim light of predawn to first light of sunrise.

This year we had a bumper crop of crabapples that may be the result of a two year drought followed by a wonderful wet spring this year.

The limbs were so heavy with fruit that the association decided to remove some limbs that were resting atop tall bushes below.

I would have left those limbs alone and allowed the fruit to be eaten over the winter. Many times limbs rebound when fruit is gone. I’d much rather trim the shrubs below.

Among the robins, cardinals and other song birds are hungry turkeys that dine twice a day both on and under the tree.

With my computer not cooperating after the latest system upgrade, I’m posting using my smartphone. Let’s hope the phone and I are smart enough to make this work. 😊

First Snow 2017

There is something about a first snow of the season that puts a smile on everyone’s face in the Northeast. The storm that slammed the south a couple of days ago moved into New England overnight and left us with a heavy coating of wet snow. It might have caused a panic among folks in Texas, Georgia, Virginia…. but here, it’s life as usual. We had a holiday gathering last night and the hearty among us walked quite a distance in steady snowfall instead of driving to the gala. The hallway of the party home was piled so high with boots that it was difficult to open the front door and navigate the mountain of thawing, dripping footwear. No one blinks twice at a sight like that. It’s a normal scene around here.

Our roads were cleared of snow by dawn and the same for driveways in our neighborhood… something we never saw in a Virginia storm. Of course, Virginia snows usually melted in 24-hours.

Feathered friends, both on the ground and feeders, were active at first light. I’m happy to report that the Cooper’s hawk was not able to catch our blue jay and the pair returned to feed today. I do hope the hawk found a nice little house sparrow or two or ten instead.

Waiting their turn

Juncos are abundant this year

Hard to take your eyes off our bright cardinal. Hope he’s watching out for our Cooper’s Hawk!

On the ground the day before, we counted 19 turkeys poking around for something to eat… not beneath the feeder but in the borders around the house. Most of our regular flock are young turkeys, now learning to find food beneath snow. We have plenty of oak trees that provide an abundance of acorns for them. I’m still delighted when I see the turkeys. They parade from home to home, up and down our driveways, in single file along our street, roost overnight in our trees, and are treated as neighborhood adoptees. As long as they are well-behaved, we welcome them.

Someone sent me this turkey video that made me laugh out loud and I wondered if I could ever learn to call our turkeys like he did. However, if I got down and wobbled like the young man in the video, I’d never be able get back up.

 

I know it’s nature but….

….I don’t have to like it.

As the day broke on this chilly morning, I sat at the kitchen table and observed at least two dozen bluebirds descending upon the rooftops and chimneys of neighboring homes. Eureka! This called for another cup of coffee and a camera to try and capture the migration moment. I love it when a day starts like this one!

Bluebirds Dec. 2017

I watched wave after wave of bluebirds arrive to dine on mealworms, sunflower seeds, and to take a sip from the still icy birdbath.

Bluebirds

And I smiled as I drank my coffee and clicked away with my camera through the window.

DSCN0019

The bluebirds’ arrival encouraged the arrival of a large number of goldfinches that swarmed and drank and ate. Oh, such fun avian activity adding to our ever present juncos, cardinals, blue jays, nuthatches, titmouse and chickadees. It was a bird party.

DSCN0018

DSCN0030

But the party ended suddenly. I glanced up and not a bird to be seen. That is except one. And that one was definitely NOT invited to the party. That party crasher was sitting on the bluebird house.  I had to admire its beauty but hoped it wouldn’t stay.

Seconds later, I saw my blue jay dart out of a nearby shrub screaming and the cooper’s hawk was just feet behind. I hope the jay made it to safety. I know it’s nature but I don’t have to like it.

DSCN0041

Crazy for Swasey

There are plenty of local trails to hike in Exeter and we take advantage of them. But there is one place in our fair town that is more of a promenade than a hike. It’s such a pleasure to stroll the sidewalks of Swasey Parkway along the Squamscott River… with a nod, a smile, a tip of the hat, or a good morning to passersby.

Swasey Parkway 2017

The parkway was a 1931 gift to the community from Ambrose Swasey, a summer resident known for his generosity. At that time, the area beside the river was the site of the town dump, quite unsightly and odorous, and Ambrose Swasey grew tired of passing it on his way to town.

Swasey Parkway 2017

Swasey Leaves 2017

Today it is a popular gathering place for people and events in Exeter. Not only is the park the perfect place to stretch one’s legs and enjoy the fresh air, it is a magnet for family picnics, sunbathing, bird watching, photography, people watching, or those folks like us who are there to enjoy the fall colors.

Swasey Parkway Picnic

Swasey Parkway 2017

Swasey Parkway

We are fortunate to have this area for hosting the farmers’ market, an antique marketplace, summer concerts, a Revolutionary War encampment, Independence Day fireworks, food events and more.

There are also pleasurable sights on the river. It’s a delight to watch Phillips Exeter Academy crew teams launch from their ramp and practice their sport up and down the river… but at this season of the year, we are more apt to see leisurely kayakers paddling along the waterway.

Swasey Parkway view to PEA crew

kayakers Swasey Parkway 2017

I sometimes think of Ambrose Swasey as I walk along the river, a man who at 84 years of age, made this priceless contribution to his community. I don’t think he’d be surprised at how much it is used and loved today. He was truly a man with a vision…

To read even more about Ambrose Swasey, his life and philanthropy, click HERE.