If you like showy….

…. here’s another Flower Power perennial I learned to love at Rolling Green Nursery. It got a lot of interest when blooming and when the blooms were gone, we simply sheared it back and watched it perform again. It’s a low growing variety of campanula, a genus with more than 300 very different varieties. I loved the campanula carpathica “white clips,” and the blue-purple, “blue clips,” still growing strong for me, both massed as a groundcover and as container plants.

Campanula "white clips"

One morning I assisted a shopper who selected several “white clips” for a border along his driveway. Two weeks later he returned with a smile and loaded his big wagon with every last one we had (except one), saying it was the only plant that’s ever done so well in that location. That was the day I bought my first bellflower that I had set aside! Whew… now I have lots!

This low-growing bellflower is one of the most popular ones. It seems to love our New England climate with cool nights during the summer. It’s easy to grow, disease and pest free, good in full sun or part shade. The plants form a neat, low mound of tiny green leaves with a mass of upfacing, open bell-shaped blooms appearing in late spring and early summer. If they are deadheaded when spent, they will bloom for many weeks. It’s a great little plant for front of the border, for rock gardens, and in containers (no thriller, filler, spiller needed).

Campanula bellflower (Campanula carpatica)
Perennial
Zones 3-8
12″ wide
8 – 10″ tall

Strawberry Picking

strawberries 2018.jpg

Nothing screams summer like New England’s June strawberries. It’s the beginning of our pick-your-own season but we don’t really pick them unless we take the grandchildren. Applecrest Farm is just a stone’s throw away where we can buy the juiciest berries already picked and waiting for us. With four acres of berries and a dozen varieties, we can’t go wrong!

It’s a short season and we’re taking full advantage. We’ve enjoyed eating them fresh but also with rhubarb in deserts, as a sauce over ice cream, with simple milk and sugar, and and in salads or a main dish such as the one below, grilled chicken salad with spring lettuce, roasted pecans, blueberries and juicy strawberries, that mister gardener made for us tonight. Deee-lish!

strawberry spring salad 2018

His dressing: 1/2 cup sugar, 1 cup veg. oil, 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar, 1/2 onion, diced, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper…blended in a mini food processor for about 30 seconds.  Oh so good!

The strawberries came from Applecrest Farm, but the lettuce keeps on coming right out of my small garden. I have several varieties growing in all of my containers whether it’s an ornamental container or tomato trough or some small herb containers. With our cool, wet spring, the lettuce doesn’t show any sign of bolting. We’re taking full advantage!

lettuce 2018

We are almost finished our current stash of strawberries but not to worry. Tomorrow is our town’s Farmers’ Market. I know we’ll see more of the juicy fruit at several of the farm stands. We’ll come home with strawberries and perhaps a few asparagus. Can’t wait.

Alchemilla Love

When I was employed at Rolling Green Nursery, this plant was often requested by shoppers. From one week to the next, when I reported for work, I noticed the plant was practically sold out in my absence. That much requested perennial is Alchemilla… lady’s mantle. I wasn’t too familiar with it as I didn’t grow it in my zone 8 Virginia garden but, now I have fallen under its spell in my seacoast New Hampshire garden. I started with two plants as accents in a border and they quickly charmed me so much that I now use them as a groundcover in another border. Lots of lady’s mantle there and I am rewarded with plant pizzazz!

The blooms of the lady’s mantle are frothy clusters of yellow/chartreuse that cover the plants this time of year. Each individual bloom is about 1/8-inch wide and shaped like a little star. The clouds of blossoms stand erect above the mound of attractive leaves. However, as the blooms become heavy, they can become a bit floppy. That’s when I cut those heavier stems for flower arrangements. They look fabulous alone in a container or stunning as a filler in mixed arrangements. And… a bonus… they seem to hold color for me when they are air-dried.

Alchemilla 'Lady's Mantle'

Lady’s mantle does self-seed and some folks will deadhead all the flowers before the seeds ripen. The tiny seeds, one per flower, ripen when the blooms become dry and brown later in the summer. I do allow some self-seeding but cut most blooms. During the heat of the summer, I keep the plants well-watered and after deadheading I am rewarded with a flush of fresh growth in the fall.

lady's mantle 2018

The leaves of lady’s mantle are like shallow rippled cups and have tiny soft hairs that cause water droplets that form either from rain, fog, or evaporation to roll around on the surface and hang on along the edge of the leaf.

My variety: Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis) ‘thriller’ – zones 3-8

My All-White Garden

What ever happened to my all-white garden plan? It looked so great on paper but it never materialized. We will soon lose our white focal point in the yard as we say farewell to the striking blooms of the doublefile viburnum. Petals are falling with every gentle breeze and beginning to cover the ground like giant snowflakes. Soon the shrub will be full of red drupes that will turn black in autumn against deep red and burgundy leaves. Great 4-season woody shrub!

Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum ‘Mariesii’ 2018

We anticipate a fair share of summer whites with Little Lime and Incrediball hydrangea and arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum), but somehow in the few years we’ve lived here, I’ve added a little purple, then blue, and eventually pink, and a few yellows. I simply cannot refuse a pass-along plant no matter the color and, of course, I must add host plants for butterfly larvae, like the orange asclepias tuberosa for the monarch butterfly. So, in the end I like to think the colors in the garden are compatible and just what nature intended…. a bit of the rainbow here on earth.

tall yellow bearded iris 2018

Tall bearded reblooming iris

Purple is emerging in the perennial bed with Baptisia australis, commonly called blue false indigo. This tough plant comes in white, blue, yellow, and bi-colors, but this is the only shade that calls to me. I have three of them in the garden… pest free, great pollinator plants and the tall foliage keeps on ticking once the blooms fade.

Baptisia australis 2018

Baptisia

Allium continues to give color to a border where little lime hydrangea and varieties of lavender have yet to bloom. Bees still visit, but now that the rhododendron have opened, I can hear the loud buzzing there.

allium 2018That’s a chunk of what we have in bloom at the moment. Lovely so far but the real excitement is in the anticipation of what’s to come. I like to think of the garden as a Broadway production… Act I, Act II, etc.  It just wouldn’t do to have a grand finale of all the blooms on stage at the same time.

Happy Gardening!

Printemps in New Hampshire

Spring in New England is glorious this year and I’m finding myself spending every free moment fussing around the garden. I don’t have a big garden as I had in years past but time spent in this one matches the time spent in my larger gardens. I pinch, I plant, I weed, I transplant, and I visit with nature. The frogs are singing, the toads are hopping, bees are buzzing, and the birds are visiting. It seems easy to dismiss or put off all other jobs and tasks on my ‘to do’ list…. like blogging.

Bleeding hearts are still vivid spots of pink here and there in shady areas. The blooms below hover over a tiny moss and lichen covered pagoda that once graced my mother’s garden. I can’t think of a more natural way to honor and remember her than having some of her garden passed down to my garden… both plants and art.

spring 2018.

This is the first year for my Purple Sensation allium, a bunch of ornamental onion plants, and it seems to be a great sensation indeed for the bees. My bees seem to prefer anything in the blooming onion family more than other flowers in the garden. That also goes for chives that are beginning to open and soon to open garlic chives.

Purple Sensation 2018

The most stunning blooming plant in the yard right now is our doublefile viburnum (Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum ‘Mariesii’).  The layered horizontal branches are clustered with blooms in great profusion. Great white blooms like little soldiers are standing at attention in rows along the branches and it is breathtaking. Each flower is flat with large sterile flowers surrounding the center of smaller fertile flowers. This shrub was pruned to a horrible round ball before we bought the property and I’ve been working with it for a few years to help it regain its layered branch look. It has responded well and has grown to about 10′ in height.

Lots more going on around here in the garden and elsewhere… the noisiest of which is a small addition being added to the home, an office/gathering room that I’ve longed for since our move from Virginia. It’s happening and I can’t wait!

The Alewives of Exeter

Eagles, osprey, gulls, fishermen, minks, cormorants, great blue herons, and human spectators are gathering daily on or in the area of the String Bridge in ExeterNHExeter. Some are there for a meal and others are there to celebrate a wonderful spectacle… the journey of the alewives to their spawning grounds. We were happy to be a part of the spectator crowd on the bridge today.  The alewife (Pomolobus pseudoharengus) is a small river herring that is anadromous, meaning it lives in the ocean but spawns in fresh water.  This small fish is so regarded in the history of Exeter that it is featured on the town’s official seal.

Each spring the fish leaves the Atlantic and ascends the salty Squamscott River to spawn in the freshwater of the Exeter River that empties into the Squanscott. Dams have impeded their journey since the 1640s, but in the summer of 2016, the last dam, The Great Dam of 1831, was removed from the Exeter River. The river has been freed to run as nature intended and the alwife is finally able to make the trip upriver.

The fish is described as heavily built with a gray back and silvery on their sides and on their deep belly. No one is 100% certain of the name’s origin. Was it an alteration of Allowes, from the French word for shad, or the American Indian’s Aloofe, meaning ‘bony fish,’ or Alwife, the unflattering Old English term for women who kept alehouses in the 17th century?

This is the sight when we arrived this cool morning under overcast skies. Where were the fish? I thought they’d be jumping out of the water like salmon.

ExeterRiver

A knowledgeable man who has spent his life fishing these waters told me that my eyes must adjust. Just watch the pools and eddies. I thought I saw some movement below so I zoomed my camera closer. Can you see them? The man said there are thousands of alewives going upstream. Thousands?

Exeter.River

I zoomed in closer and could actually see hundreds in this small pool. Yes, I believe there must be thousands of determined fish that are able to migrate upstream.

Alwives2018

Zooming in even closer showed me this amazing sight below just in one eddy.

Alwives

Keeping my eye on the rapids, I witnessed fish after fish slightly broaching the turbulent water. I didn’t see any leaping out of the water like salmon so they were hard to spot. The water was very high and rough.

2018 alewives

And, of course, there were those who were there not as spectators, but to take advantage of the alewife run. The man beside me thought the fishermen were probably fishing for striped bass that follow the alewives upstream.

Squamscott

But there were those who were there to dine.  We saw a lot of fish that failed to span the rapids, landed on boulders, and died. They won’t go to waste….

seagull

Here’s a good video for an up close and personal look at the alewives in the Exeter River:

Early morning bliss…

Daybreak comes early these days and who can sleep when… well, when it’s spring and nature awaits!  The morning is aglow before the sun is fully up. That’s when I step out for my first walk in the garden. The dew is usually heavy and the air cool enough to see steam wafting from my coffee.

I’m certain my neighbors are asleep, however I’m hardly alone outdoors. The birds are awake. Hummingbirds zoom like jets here and there around me fighting for the sweetest nectar spot in the garden. The larger birds are flying from the birdbath to suet and back, foraging in the borders for insects, fussing for territory, mating, or busy gathering nesting material. It must feel like the day’s half over to them.

Chickadee gathering

Early mornings are the best time to me for to appreciate the little things in the garden before I pull on garden gloves and begin chores. It’s the time to witness what will be lost when the sun rises.

Today I walked through the small shade garden to check the newly emerged plants. Bleeding hearts are in full display and are being enjoyed by bumblebees that usually wait for the sun’s warmth to fly.

bleeding hearts2018

bumblebee 2018

Not everything has broken ground but I loved seeing the fuzzy leaves of Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla Mollis) holding onto dew droplets that look like tiny pearls.

Ladies Mantle

The groundcover I prefer in this shady area is Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum), that grows about 8″ tall and has green leaves in whorls of 8.  The lacy white flowers are just beginning to appear. Some gardeners have problems with invasiveness but I find it easy to manage. This striking green carpet spreading beneath taller plants like ferns, hosta, epimedium, wild ginger, Solomon’s seal, and astilbe, is worth the maintenance.

sweet woodruff 2018

I notice it won’t be long before the doublefile viburnum (Viburnumplicatum tomentosumMariesii) will burst forth with white blooms… looking just like little soldiers standing doublefile at attention all along the branches. This is my favorite blooming shrub and when in bloom it will be the highlight of spring for me.

doublefile 2018

I don’t have much red in the garden. mister gardener, the only one who regularly observes and critiques my work, stated I needed more red for contrast out there so two containers are now growing lovely ranunculus (Ranunculus asiatucus) that are opening to more of a tangerine shade. That works for me. It’s the first time I’ve tried them and hoping for a long bloom period with some flowers to cut for arrangements.

renacula.2018

That’s about all I had time for today before having a second cup of coffee and catching up on the news…. 😳 Yikes!

Yes, Spring did arrive…

I was wrong about summer coming early. The sizzling hot temps lasted about two days. It did fry our early red tulips in the birdbath garden but our mid-season white tulips emerged and were greeted by seasonal New England temperatures…. warm days and cool nights.

spring blooms 2018

 

After a day of glorious rain yesterday, we woke today to our customary cool spring today.  White tulips against a groundcover of “Tide Hill” box brightens up this border before any sunlight appears over the woodland surrounding us. “Tide Hill” is a wonderfully compact littleleaf boxwood that is tolerant of our icy, cold winters and does fine during hot, humid spells during the summers. It only grows about a foot in height but will spread about 4 feet in diameter. It’s a perfect groundcover for our garden entry highlighted by a few florals…. and eventually “Karley Rose” fountain grass in a container. Both the box and fountain grass were purchased at Rolling Green Nursery in New Hampshire.

IMG_1380

New to the border this spring is “Starlight Sensation,” a new hybrid daffodil (below) from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester VA.  It won the “Best Daffodil” at the 2017 Philadelphia Flower Show so I was on the phone to order that day. This is its first season but eventually we should have multiple nodding blooms per stems.  The buds are a shade of yellow and open to a creamy white.

IMG_1345

IMG_1344

Three shades of muscari will eventually spread and fill certain borders… this one with a backdrop of “Becky” daisies. I worried because the muscari green leaves were perfect fodder for our bunny. They were eaten to the ground several times but we have regrowth and blooms. Bunny has moved on to clover.

IMG_1353

That’s it for the bulbs but herbs are looking good, serviceberry trees are glorious and crabapple tree is ready to burst on the scene with pink blossoms. More to come…..

Unwelcome Temperatures!

Spring is my favorite time of year and we’ve been waiting for it for a long time in New Hampshire. Last month felt more like winter at times but today we’re jumping right over spring and landing smack dab in the middle of July.  As May rolled around, it brought us a hot 87° today beneath a blazing sun with a few similar days in the immediate forecast.

Tulips that were glorious and happy in our cool April, opening each morning and closing at dusk, are prostrate and sad-looking in the almost 90° heat. They like it cool.

tulip 2018

The last several days were chilly enough for me to wear a fleece while working in the garden, edging the borders, and even covering the young tomato plants against the nighttime frost. Today it’s shorts, short sleeves and lots of sunscreen. I should be at the beach but instead I’m tending to the garden and all the newly planted plants with undeveloped root systems.

I’m caring for newly planted lettuce in the garden that is flagging and keeping the soil from drying out too fast in newly planted flower containers. Some containers I’ve moved to the shade. Baby grass that was beginning to grow has faded. The hose is ready, waiting and being used today!

In spite of the weather, nature seems to prevail. Good news is that our hummingbirds returned two days ago. I had the nectar waiting and our two males are already fighting and fussing with each other over two feeders. We happily welcomed the return of the catbirds, the chipping sparrows, the phoebes, and the pine warblers. Most of the winter birds have migrated to their breeding grounds and now we watch as our neighborhood avians claim territory and build their nests. It’s a happy but busy time in nature!

I was warned….

…but didn’t heed advice. “You’ll be sorry,” they said. Yes, I think we are a little sorry.

The tiny bunny we encouraged to dine on our clover a year ago has become rogue. We helped to keep him alive all winter by feeding him peanuts. He loved them and would appear in the harshest of blizzards to wait for a meal at dawn and dusk. And now, the weather has warmed and the snow has melted but each morning as I feed the birds, there he waits. “Give me peanuts!” he says with a stern stare. And when I pile some in front of his nose, even the squirrels are wary of stealing from his stash. Don’t mess with his peanuts!

Where his den was during those winter days, we did not know. But now, the snow has melted and we finally learned where’s he’s been hiding.

bunnykins

Our bunny actually resides beneath our deck.

And how’d he get under there?

Here’s how:

Bunny damage

He tunneled through the snow and right through the lattice to make a cozy bungalow. Horrified, I blocked the opening. He made another…. and another…. and another.

2nd rabbit opening

And the clover isn’t tall enough for a tasty meal….so in addition to the peanuts, he eats my pansies. He nibbles on my chives. He really enjoys the tulip leaves. He snacks on my ornamental grasses. And he’s not budging from our yard.

We see several rabbits in the distance chasing each other at full speed and we know what that’s all about… but our rabbit isn’t interested. He will sit in the sun. He will stretch out on the grass. He will sniff and sample different plants. We once watched as the other rabbits dashed through our yard one evening just a foot from where bunny was resting. He hardly glanced at them. He had no interest in bunny play. He simply yawned and waited for his peanuts.

We finally named him Ferdinand, just like the bull in the children’s book… the bull that was bred for the Spanish bullfighting, but instead simply loved to sit under a big tree and smell the flowers. Our Ferdinand lays on the grass, yawns, stretches, eats peanuts, samples some garden plants, and then retires to his beneath-the-deck bungalow.

The Story of Ferdinand

Amazon.com

Our greatest fear is that Ferdinand is really Ferdinanda and we will eventually discover little Ferdinands beneath the deck. What to do…. what to do!

Finally some blooms!

According to the New York Times, we should have foliage emerging in the Northeast on or about April 16.  But due to the 2018 jet stream bringing us Arctic air with low temperatures in January and February, spring is delayed this year.

We are seeing the colorful crocus blooms here and there (if the bunny hasn’t found them first) but the daffodils and tulips I planted last fall are still showing just green. Buds on woody plants are swelling but no leaves and no flowers yet.

However, we do have one small broadleaf evergreen shrub that is shining with profuse blooms in our shady border nestled beneath the boughs of a crabapple tree.

Pieris japonica

It’s the Pieris japonica or Japanese adromeda. Each morning I walk out to this border, coffee in hand, to admire the sole evergreen shrub in bloom in our landscape. These cascading clusters of white flowers hanging about 6″ long are the first to bloom each spring and will charm us for two to three weeks. The plant is often called ‘lily-of-the-valley shrub’ for the small bell-shaped blooms appear so similar to the small lily of the valley plant.

Japanese

New leaves on the plant will emerge in a lovely bronze shade before maturing green. I often clip a few of these new leaves to add a bit more contrast to flower arrangements… as well as using the attractive older leaves that are dark green and very shiny.

There are a number of variants of the Pieris japonica in with blooms of pink and red but I prefer the white blooms that serve as a light in a shady border. The shrub performs best as an understory plant in shade or in filtered light. Lace bugs can be a problem…. especially if planted in full sun… but I’m thankful they haven’t found my Pieris!

Just when you thought it was safe….

….to think about spring, you receive a stern message from nature that you have never been in charge! We’ve had a few days that have teased us into beliving we were all about spring. Neighbors rushed into their yards. I could hear blowers, I could see folks leaning into borders and those with rakes and wheelbarrows, filling them with sticks and leaf debris, and finally our landscape company spent two days mulching much of our neighborhood “common ground” and “living fence” area.

But today we are back indoors wondering whether our outdoor garden frenzy was just an illusion. It feels bitterly cold again… back to the 20’s and we’re hunkered down in our fleeces with a fire in the fireplace. Sigh….

These tulips bloomed indoors and I thought they would look better in the garden…. the only thing in bloom.  The bunny loves the leaves!

tulips

Our fabulous, rich 50/50 mix of fine mulch and organic compost was applied to sections of the garden. Fingers crossed for this new Russian sage/Allium border. Right now the tulips are beginning to unfurl and the tips of the daffodils are breaking through the ground. I didn’t pick up the Russian sage snippings because the robins are doing that for me!

April 13, 2018

robins with Russian sage 2018

I loved having the three days  in the garden… cutting back ornamental grasses, lightly pruning woody plants, especially our borders of paniculata limelight hydrangeas, thatching the lawn, edging borders, planting pansies, transplanting shrubs..including one to a neighbor’s home. The first early days of spring in the garden are such a charge.

Now we wait. Soon a truckload of mulch should be delivered to a central spot in the neighborhood and homeowners and their wheelbarrows will rush to retrieve what we need for the rest of our gardens. It’s a good plan and I’m primed for more garden jollies whether it’s in snow, rain or sleet!

The last one bit the dust…

With our late March snowstorms, the lone Bradford pear tree in the neighborhood could no longer bear the snow weight and lost 90% of its limbs. The tree was removed and thank goodness!  If Michael Dirr, professor of horticulture at the University of Georgia and my go-to expert on woody plants, says the tree is a ‘scourge,’ then it is. Once the darling of the nursery industry in the 1950’s, we now know what a mistake it is to plant a Callery pear.

The trees are probably a true harbinger of spring with their very early beautiful, white blossoms (that come with a stench!). The Callery pear was brought from China and found to be fast growing, disease resistant, adaptable to numerous climates, soil types, sun or shade and pollution.

As the Bradford tree grew in popularity, nurseries began developing several cultivars, Chanticleer pear, Aristocrat pear, Cleveland Select pear…. as the Bradford was soon to be found to have major flaws in the branches that grew at weak V-shaped angles from the tree. Trees began to split or lose branches. New cultivars somewhat improved the problem but the Bradford continued to reign in landscapes and as a urban street tree.

Bradford 2018

In many areas of the country today, the tree has spread into wild areas choking out natives. Cultivars themselves aren’t invasive but the combination of different cultivars hybridize and produce fertile fruit. Several states have listed the tree as invasive and in many areas, it is forbidden to plant one. I poked around online but didn’t see any information about the tree being invasive in New Hampshire.

Virginia, my home state, is one area that lists the tree as an invasive plant…. and I just returned from a whirlwind trip to Ohio and Kentucky where landscapes and woodland edges were white from pear tree blooms. It’s listed as invasive in Ohio. Beautiful to behold but who knows what the impact of escaped trees is to our ecosystem.

A little past bloom peak, I photographed this pear tree lined avenue in Louisville KY as we drove by last week. I wouldn’t park my car beneath those branches!

Louisville

As for me, I’m sticking with the serviceberry tree that is an equally beautiful spring bloomer, a native that provides year round interest… fluffy white flowers in early spring and just full of bees, followed by edible berries that the birds adore, then we enjoy lovely orange-red leaves in the fall.  You can’t go wrong with this one…

 

Drat! There goes another House Sparrow

Gimme an A!   Gimme another A!
In late winter with snow still on the ground, house sparrows (Passer domesticus) claimed these letters over a local Walgreens Pharmacy and were busy building nests. These are birds that not only seem to be everywhere you go, they ARE everywhere that people go, chirping loudly and claiming any crack or crevice for nesting.
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House.sparrows
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You won’t see these birds in wooded areas, forests, or on grasslands. So what’s the key to their success? Humans…. yep, you and me. You find these bold invasive birds wherever people have built structures…. on farms, in cities and in the suburbs. Nesting in close association with humans have allowed them to spread just about everywhere on Earth.
house sparrows
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For weeks, several have been seen in our yard gathering nesting materials, getting a head start on migratory birds that have not yet arrived. They are very aggressive toward our bluebirds, fighting for nesting rights in the bluebird house. They eventually claimed the box and the bluebirds left. We had to step in. We removed our bluebird box.
The house sparrows’ incessant chirps are ringing out nearby so I think they’re around the corner in a neighbor’s gutter spout as they were last year. But they are back to check for the box daily…
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walgreens
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This chunky immigrant from Europe was introduced to the North America well over a hundred years ago and it has simply taken over.  Walk into any Home Depot or Lowes or garden store. The loud chirping you hear from the rafters is the house sparrow.
House sparrows are NOT protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Act. Why? Because it is an invasive species and destructive. They are aggressive toward other birds, will kill adults and young, destroy eggs, and are prolific breeders. They eat seeds and a wide variety of other foods, scavenging trash around fast food restaurants, eating vegetables in your garden, grains on farms.
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House_Sparrow_Wikipedia
Some report a decline in numbers of house sparrows due to a rise in numbers of and competition from the invasive house finch. But the house finch doesn’t invade/destroy eggs/kill bluebirds at our house so give me a house finch over a house sparrow any day.

Witches Broom

It was a chilly day back in January, 2015, when my siblings and I received an email from our sister, the Curator of Collections at Historic Jamestown in Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in the New World. On this historic stretch of land, she spied a dense mass hanging from a loblolly pine tree (Pinus taeda) on the edge of the James River.

“Can someone please tell me what that almost round ball of living needles in the tree is?” she wrote.

A brother answered, “Mistletoe?”  A sister answered, “Do you think a squirrel is living in there?”

I was fairly certain what it was…. “It’s a witches broom!” And I was excited to see it. A witches broom is an abnormal growth in a tree and can occur on a number of conifers and deciduous trees but seems to be most often spotted in pines. It is caused by numerous stress factors…. fungi, bacteria, viruses, mites, genetic mutations and several other factors and they can originate on different sections of a tree. This one developed on a terminal bud of a lower limb of the pine.

Loblolly

Most people just prune out the infected branches in their landscape but there are a number of folks who search for these genetic mutations in pines to propagate dwarf conifers. These witches broom hunters will harvest the growth by climbing a tree and cutting it out, using a shotgun to snap the limb, or by cutting down the entire tree. With a little luck and expertise, the broom can produce slow-growing and dense dwarf trees either by grafting to rootstock or from seeds.

At the JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh North Carolina, dwarf loblolly pines have been successfully grown from seeds in cones from witches brooms. Planted from 1964 to 1967, the dense, slow-growing dwarf loblolly pines have ornamental value. Hard to find, but the ‘Nana’ seedlings are available.

“Can you reach it?” I asked my sister.

“No, it’s too high up and over the river.”

“Well, keep an eye on it…” I said. “If it falls, let me know.”

And so she watched the mass for 3 years and sent me pictorial updates through all the seasons and all weather conditions.

photo 1

In this sunny day photo below, I could see the presence of pine cones in the mass… a good sign as seeds from the cones have a better chance of developing into dwarf plants.

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Last week the witches broom finally fell. A colleague at work, also keeping an eye on the growth, discovered it and reported it to my sister… who called the local cooperative extension agent…. who put the word out.

The broom was happily collected by Bradley Roberts, Curator of Herbaceous Plants at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens and a member of the American Conifer Society. He will try to propagate it.

Another fun horticulture adventure ends for us. Now we wish all the best to Bradley as he begins his adventure in propagating Historic Jamestown dwarf loblolly pines!

 

We love it here!

Exeter NH

Moving to New Hampshire from south of the Mason-Dixon Line has been an adventure. The landscape here is gorgeous in all the seasons but seeing our small town completely covered in a white blanket is so…. well, it’s so New England. The beautiful architecture, the rich history, the rolling landscape, and that great Boston dialect is all simply WOW.

So much was new to us but we’ve learned a lot in the few years we’ve lived here, including a few new terms, good and bad… a bad one being ‘ice icedam.’  In our first year, it took a dark dawn morning of towels, buckets and jugs catching water dripping coming through our walls to learn we had an ‘ice dam.’

A what? As soon as we reported the anomaly to our association, teams from a roofing company pulled up, unloaded ladders and sledge hammers and quickly worked their magic over our heads. That icy event was what we now call our ‘New England Baptism by Ice Water.’

Another unusual term I learned my first year in New Hampshire was ‘munchkin.’ When I was asked to bring ‘munchkins’ to a garden club meeting, they didn’t mean for me gather up the crew from the Wizard of Oz. A munchkin is the tiny hole from Dunkin’ Donuts doughnut, a bite size pastry. That was easy. There was a line at the first Dunkin’ Donuts, so I drove to the next one because there’s a Dunkin’ every two blocks in New England. I do not kid….

And don’t go through the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru and ask for a regular coffee if you drink it black. I learned the hard way. The regular coffee comes loaded with cream and sugar. Explain that one to me….  Also, just yesterday I was in a Verizon store where the employee helping me abruptly interrupted our conversation to tell another employee, “It’s almost 3 o’clock. The iced coffee is 99 cents at Dunkin’!”  Hey, it must be their version of ‘Happy Hour.’

Snow 2018

At first driving in the snow was frightening and difficult for me. For two winters, I hibernated during the snow season, afraid even to back my Prius from the garage. If I was forced to go somewhere, mister gardener either drove or I chugged along slowly in my Prius, white knuckled, holding up traffic. My children pressured me to get a car with all-wheel-drive. So I now drive my Suburu everywhere with a smile. “Love”… right?

Even though it doesn’t feel like spring, the vernal equinox arrives tomorrow at 12:15 pm EST.  The earth in the Northern Hemisphere will tilt toward the sun and days will become longer, warmer and sunnier. When I feed our hungry birds during the day, I call out to our sole winter robin to ‘Hang it there! Spring is on the way!’ I don’t think he believes it and some days not sure I do. He patiently waits for me to to throw food over the snow a few times daily and he’s the first of all the birds to attack the sunflower seeds and mealworms. I hope he’ll pack his suitcase and head south next fall.

Robin (March 2018)

Well, I wouldn’t characterize myself as a New Englander yet. We both still have lots to learn and understand…. the system of government for one.  Exeter operates as a town government with a traditional Board of Selectmen and Town Meeting form of government.  And it can and it does get a bit feisty to watch!

We’re learning more and more each year why this is a “Live Free or Die” state. Yippee!

 

 

 

 

How much snow?

Our garden bench seems to provide us with a pretty accurate snow depth from each winter storm. We haven’t heard the official amount for Exeter but unofficially we received 17″ – 18″ additional snow on top of the last nor’easter. Very beautiful to see at first light but enough….. Where is spring?

bench 2:13:18

Yesterday….

bench 2/14/18

Today….

Frigerific!

Our first glance out of the morning window during this last snowstorm gave us a Dr. Zhivago-like feeling. A foot of heavy, wet, thick snow covered our world. Trees and shrubs bent against the ground, trees down, limbs everywhere…. and no internet.

snow

It was a rude awakening on how much we depend on the internet. I’m not a TV watcher but mistergardener missed his morning news and sports updates. If you can’t use your smartphone at all, can’t venture out on bad roads, can’t communicate with folks, the day seems much longer. How amazing it is to remember that not that many years ago, no one had internet and smart phones.

So how did we spend our day? I took some snow photos, I caught up on reading my book club book, I worked on needlepoint, and I knitted hats for charity….

knitting

mister gardener made vegetable soup…

vegetable soup

I don’t think I mentioned that the storm interrupted the paint and repair job we were in the middle of. Yes, all floors and furniture were covered with tarps, tables were piled high with books, wall hangings, and everything else from shelves, while the entire downstairs was being painted, wallpaper removed, and ice damage finally repaired. Finding a place to sit was a challenge.

paint brushes 2018

The day gave us pause to appreciate. Small inconveniences in the midst of troubles and trauma in the world caused us to temporarily slow down, lighten up, and just ‘be.’

 

 

Another Nor’easter

The East Coast took a beating in the last two days from a fierce nor’easter. The storm left perhaps millions without power and too many people losing lives in several states. Family members in Tidewater Virginia were affected by downed trees, flooding, travel woes, snow, rain, and loss of power, but they’re safe. Massachusetts, Maryland and Virginia issued a state of emergency.

Moving up the coast from the mid-Atlantic, the storm pounded the coastal communities of New Hampshire forcing high tides into neighborhoods. Roads became rivers for two days but the nor’easter pulled away from the coast today leaving us with cold, blustery winds and rough seas. We drove to the coastline to survey the damage.

Higher elevations showed evidence of very little damage….

nor'easter 2018

…while waves were still pummeling the seawalls and shoreline.

Nor'easter 2018

We witnessed the power of Mother Nature on seawalls up and down the NH coast. Huge chunks were missing or the walls were simply gone in places.

nor'easter 2018

The sheer force of the storm ripped large holes in parking areas, eroded road edges, and left massive amounts of rocks everywhere. Locals were busy clearing them away from driveways and yards, a monumental job on some properties.

nor'easter 2018

Crews working around the clock cleared roadways of rocks, sand, wood, and rubble.

nor'easter 2018

This sidewalk simply disappeared and was replaced by rocks.

nor'easter 2018People are drawn to the ocean in good weather and bad. Today’s weather brought out many folks who, like us, wanted to be a part of the experience, check out the ocean, or grab some photographs of the waves.

A 5K and Half Marathon scheduled for the Seacoast today was being held in spite of standing water. When the going gets tough…. those New Hampshire runners get going. Hot soup and Smuttynose beer awaited the runners at the finish line.

Local police were bundled up against the cold at the finish line.

Finish Line Half Marathon 3/4/18

Spectators braved the rocks to view the ocean.

nor'easter 2018

A downed barrier offered this photographer the perfect perch for photography.

nor'easter 2018

The downside of the storm was evident but there was an upside for a few. Surfers are always excited to experience the after effects of  a storm. This afternoon, there were about a dozen of them riding massive wave action out in the Atlantic.

nor'easter 2018

Spring might be right around the corner, but we are rudely reminded that winter is not finished with us. Weather forecasts predict that a major winter storm in the northern plains may bring us more snow, heavy rain, and strong winds by next weekend… that while thousands of utility workers are racing right now to restore power to millions. Sigh.

CHOCOLATE!

This area of New Hampshire seems to attract chocolate. Nearby we have the international chocolate company, Lindt & Sprungli, located not more than a mile from me, their retail shop just a mile in the other direction, and we have two other chocolate companies on main street in this town of Exeter.

I’ve been lucky enough to participate in sensory panels for new flavors Lindt is developing and that has been a real treat. Plus I am rewarded with more sweet treats when we finish! It doesn’t get much better….

Then we have The Chocolatier located on the main street in Exeter, also about a mile from me in another direction. Stepping inside and inhaling the aroma and seeing the huge assortment of candy is mind blowing. I stop in occasionally for a truffle or two (or more) or a small box of snowcap nonpareils.

nonpareils

The latest sweet tenant in dowtown Exeter is La Cascade du Chocolate, a handcrafted chocolate company that opened last summer. It is located about a block from The Chocolatier. This new business, co-owned by chocolatier Tom Nash and Master Chocolatier Samantha Brown, made local headlines by being awarded gold medals in four categories and silver and bronze in two other categories by the International Chocolate Salon. I recently made my first visit and I was beyond excited.

Every item is handcrafted right there and they are proud that they source ingredients from local suppliers when possible and explained that their chocolate is responsibly sourced from all over the world, each a very unique flavor.

cocoa map

Bon-bons, chocolate bars, truffles, petit torte au chocolat, chocolate covered cacao beans,  and lots of exotic and creative flavors made my decision a hard one, but….

cacao beans

candy

Signature Bars

….I ended up choosing 8 truffles and a petit torte au chocolat, a tiny cake with dark chocolate, all to be served when I host my book club tonight….. like in 20 minutes!

my choices

I know my little book group will have as much fun sampling the chocolates as I had picking them out. How lucky we are to have all three chocolate companies nearby!

Incredible Incrediball!

Crazy weather. After two days of record setting warmth we have been plunged back to into the depths of winter tonight with a wet snowstorm covering the landscape. Yesterday the temperature reached a toasty 77° on our New Hampshire Seacoast, a record for the books!  Of course, the ground was still frozen solid with piles of snow everywhere, but it was warm enough for mister gardener and me to take our meals outside for two days without coats….or sweaters!

Yesterday was also a good day to do a little yard work. Too soon for cleaning up borders but perfect time for pruning our 3-yr. old hydrangea arborescens ‘Incrediball’ shrubs. I left the flower heads on the shrub for visual interest in the fall, but they had become frazzled from winter weather.

The ‘Incrediball’ is an improvement of the old favorite ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea or the smooth leaf hydrangea because the stems are sturdier and the white blooms are much larger. (I am withholding judgement for one more season) Because it blooms on new wood, pruning can be done anytime from from the first frost to late winter so now, on this warm winter day, I chose to prune these shrubs.

Incrediball.jpg

I removed sick, dead, and crossed branches and shaped the shrub a little. Some experts advised cutting ‘Incrediball’ to the ground but I chose to leave about 2′. I cut out many of tiny branches, leaving the sturdier branches for support.

pruned

Looking at the same shrub through our screened window this afternoon, a whole different scene greeted us. It’s 27° now and that’s okay because it’s winter in New Hampshire and this is our norm. The unusual 77° we experienced yesterday was an anomaly but a sweet hint of spring, a gift that we greatly appreciated.

incrediball.

 

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.”