The Itsy Bitsy Spider

grass spider web

Seeing these dew-covered spider webs draped like sheets over boxwood lets us know we are in transition from summer to fall. On wet mornings, dozens of webs can be seen covering a multitude of box, other shrubs, grasses, and groundcovers like pachysandra. The sight could very well freak out arachnophobes.

Sadly, some folks run for a can of  insecticide or a broom or the garden hose to make them just go away. But they should let these spiders be! The webs and spiders aren’t harming a thing and the spider will help out in the garden by eliminating insect pests.

grass spider 2018

We have to look hard to see the webs on a regular day but on a foggy morning or after an overnight dew, the webs stand out hortizontally over plants. It’s not a time to panic. It’s a time to marvel. Just look at the intricate architecture of each web. Amazing! And just wonder how long it took one female spider to spin such a web. I consider it a miracle of nature… really!

Some of the webs are large enough to connect several different plants and a flowerpot.

spiderweb 2018

Others are thin and sparse. Is this spider just beginning her construction or is she finished? Or perhaps she was caught up in the foodchain and no longer exists.

spider web 2018

Some of the spiders find a good location and build webs side by side… neighbors, you might say… with a wall of colorful hydrangea blooms separating them.

spiders 2018

Now we have to wonder who lives in these webs. The funnel on each web is a clue to her identity. Would you like to know who she is?

spiderweb 2018

She’s the shy spider from a group of funnel weavers called grass spiders (Agelenidae). When she feels a vibration, she dashes out of her funnel at lightning speed to capture her prey. Her web is not sticky so she must depend on speed.

funnel spider 2018

Winter is coming and the webs won’t be there forever. She’ll soon deposit her eggs in a sac and die. Her young will hatch in the spring and repeat the cycle, maturing to adulthood over the summer, mate, reproduce and die.

Maine 2018

Maine.  What’s the appeal? Maine’s rocky shorelines dotted with sandy beaches draw thousands of vacationers to Maine. And then there are folks like us who are drawn to the dozens of fresh water lakes where rustic camps dot the shoreline. Bliss for me is watching a thick fog roll in over a lake waterfront while sipping a morning cuppa joe.

Thompson Lake 2018

Coffee could be followed by a morning paddle through the fog, the only sounds being the paddle dipping in the water and the not-so-distant call of the loons. In this tranquil setting, this could be the most exciting thing you do all day!

Fog burning off Thompson Lake 2018

Our summer stay was on Thompson Lake, a seven-square mile lake surrounded by beautiful mountains. The lake is in the top 5% of the cleanest lakes in Maine. On our boating expeditions around the lake, we could see the bottom at about 30-feet deep before we headed out into areas where the depths were close to 120-feet deep.

Both in deep waters and around the parameter of islands were prime spots for the grands to try their hand at first-time real (or reel 😄) fishing. A lake fished for bass, salmon and trout, all our small fishermen caught were little sunfish that were all released to see another day.

fishing 2018

It was not uncommon to spot a bald eagle on one of the many islands or hear the echo of loons any time of the day. With a reported 20 pairs of loons breeding on the lake, we felt fortunate to have a pair with their tiny offspring foraging in a cove near our camp daily. What a sight to see!

loons 2018

Days were spent doing whatever we pleased. That could mean doing nothing at all or it could mean a venture inland. Unlike the summers of my youth on the salty shores of our grandparents’ rural cabin in Virginia where siblings and cousins played cards or Monopoly to pass an afternoon, this generation has modern options for afternoon lounging. All good….

Thompson Lake 2018

Evenings were spent enjoying all the traditional summer activities….sitting on the dock, listening to the loons, watching sunsets, and toasting marshmallows over an open fire.

Thompson Lake sunset 2018

I think I’m sold on these rural lake camps of New England where nature abounds. It seems each summer we are on a different lake but it’s all so similar…. quiet, tranquil where nature rules and we are allowed to enter and absorb it all for a short time.

Thompson Lake 2018

 

 

 

Cleome

Cleome. Some people hate it. I always loved the old-fashioned cleome in my Virginia garden. A prolific self-seeder, it was fun every spring to see where it chose to pop up in my large gardens. And to see the different colors of blooms was exciting, too, since the babies could vary from white to purple, quite different from the parent.

Complaints according to those who avoid cleome in the garden:
Nasty odor
Spines and thorns
Sticky excretion that could irritate
Tall and leggy later in the season
and a self-seeder

cleome 2018

All those criticisms have become passé with new varieties on the market. The hybrid cleome I grow is compact…. only a foot tall and an annual. No thorns; no odor; no seeds (sadly); smaller blooms than my Virginia plants but just as floriferous all growing season; bushier than my original; planted in my soil/compost border and seem to be happy there; still loved by insects; still visited by hummingbird moths and hummingbirds. No good reason I can think of not to consider it for your garden…. unless you just don’t like the color!

cleome 2018

 

I learned to love nepeta

There are certain plants I thought I’d never grow in my borders. Nepeta is one of those plants. Who in their right mind would want something in the mint family spreading in their garden? Then, of course, I became better educated about varieties while working at Rolling Green Nursery. I was still wary of nepeta but as I tended the plants, I was learning why so many gardeners asked for it.

It wasn’t until a Garden Conservancy Day Open Day in Maine a few years ago and I really met borders of nepeta that I actually fell in love.

Nepeta, Jonathan King and Jim Stott, founders and owners of Stonewall Kitchen

Home of Jonathan King and Jim Stott

Jonathan King and Jim Stott, founders and then-owners of Stonewall Kitchen, invited in the public to wander their home gardens. To make a long story short, nepeta and I have been together since.

I decided on ‘Walker’s Low’ that we sold at the nursery. It’s a very well-behaved plant and blooms for many months from late spring into fall. My worries about spreading like mint was unfounded. You will see a few babies during the summer near the mother plant. You can pull them out or let them go. I usually allow them choose where they want to go.

The plant starts out as a tidy rounded mound in the spring and eventually reaches about 15 – 18 inches tall in my garden. It is lacy and dainty and, yes, it can flop. No problem. Leave it or trim it. It will encourage re-blooming.

nepeta "Walkers Low" 2018

I planted drifts of nepeta along a garden path to soften the look of boxwood, to add some color, and to enjoy the aroma when brushed. It does prefer full sun but does quite well in my partly shaded location.

Nepeta is very easy-to-grow and the bunnies in the neighborhood steer clear. Not even a taste. Another good note is nepeta is an excellent source of nectar for honeybees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Right now, with fading blooms in the late summer garden, our nepeta is doing the trick.

nepeta, bumblebee 2018

 

Goodbye Summer

It’s still August but I’m learning just how short the growing season is in New Hampshire. Summer is fast shutting down. I don’t mean seeing preseason football on the telly or all those fall decorations I’m seeing in stores. It’s the plants and nature that are showing signs of ending their cycle of growth.

Our tomato plants look ratty but there are a few pink ones still hanging on. I’ve been picking the green tomatoes that are certain not to ripen. I’ve sliced, breaded, and fried them up in bacon fat as my southern roots dictate. If you’ve never tried this treat, you’d be surprised at how tasty it is. mister gardener, born and raised in Ohio, once turned his nose up at this delicacy but now can’t say not to this treat. I think we’ll be eating more as the month comes to a close.

fried green tomatoes

On a drive through Vermont last week, we noticed a few species of trees are beginning to show color. In our garden, our Little Lime hydrangea shrubs are entering the color phase of late summer and fall. The booms emerge green in the spring, turn white through the summer, and finally present a lovely blush of pink in the fall. It’s happening now and it’s beautiful.

Little Lime Hydrangea

The crickets, grasshoppers, katydids, and cicadas are sounding the calls of fall. It can get noisy out there this time of year. Spider webs are festooned across much of what grows in the garden… and with egg sacs full of little “Charlottes” ready to greet the world in the spring.

katydid

We’re seeing the birds begin to gather for their annual migration. Several of our male hummingbirds have already left. It seems early for migration but the number of males around the feeders are fewer.  We are keeping the nectar fresh for the females, the young, and those few that may wander through during migration. The nuisance around the nectar these days are the yellow jackets….. not a bee, but a pesky wasp that is drawn to sweets as the summer wanes.

yellow jacket

The sun is rising a little later and setting earlier these days bringing some refreshing cool nights. We’ve dragged out the down cover for those nights that drop into the  50’s.  I wish this time of the year lasted longer. It’s amazing to think the first frost in this part of the state can occur in less than an month!

garden gloves 2018

I love all the seasons but maybe not equally. I must admit I’ll be sad to put away my garden gloves for another long New England winter

 

 

Too much of a good thing…

Daily headlines on my weather apps are “Stormy Weekend Continues,” “More Coastal Flash Flooding Possible,” “Expect Pop-Up Showers,” “Downpours in the Forecast.” The month of August has greeted us with more than ample rain. It seems we are locked in this wet, humid and warm pattern with a good chance of showers, thunderstorms, or heavy fog daily. I read in a news release that, should the rain pattern persist, Concord New Hampshire is due to pass the last wettest August on record. They are only ¼” behind their last record set in 1892.  New Hampshire is a small state. We can’t be too far behind.

rain

We had a slight drought in July but that’s long gone. Thirsty plants been replaced with abundant greenery and a Jurassic-like growth in our landscape. Even wildlife has proliferated. Chipmunks are masters of all that we survey. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a dinosaur crash through our tropical growth.

fog

Waterhogs like clethra and hydrangea have flourished, doubled in size, and bloomed better than ever. Greenery in the shade garden is looking a little like Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors.

The soggy soil has not helped our grass at all. We developed small pockets of blight on the lawn with the cool nights and hot humid rainy days. I’m trying to be on top of this and have treated it… but once started, fungal diseases are difficult to stop. So far, it’s been two weeks and no sign of it returning.

fungus

I do worry about waterlogged roots in the garden. Much of the garden is raised but to help the wet, compacted soil, I’m taking my garden fork and driving the tines into the soil for several inches. I hope this will provide more air to roots and perhaps dry the soil a little quicker.

All in all, if I had to choose between a drought and abundant wet weather, I’d choose the wet any day. I’d rather fight the fungus, the mosquitoes, the slugs, the chipmunks than a sun baked and hot earth that much of the world has experienced recently. Counting blessings….

 

Hydrangea in New England

Hydrangeas are a quintessential part of a New England summer. Picture a cedar shake coastal style home located over the vast waters of the Atlantic. Can you picture the woody plants gracing the foundation of the home? I imagine all along the foundation are gorgeous hydrangeas with massive white blooms nodding in the ocean breezes.

Incrediball

After we purchased our home, we were asked by our association to remove huge invasive burning bushes alone the front foundation and plant something else. We were new to the area so we consulted a well-known landscape designer who suggested go with aborescens hydrangeas. Why not, I thought. We’re in New England now. Yeah!

Incrediball

It’s been 3 years and the Hydrangea arborescens ‘Abetwo’ Incrediball are absolutely gorgeous at this time of the year. Two are shaded part of the day but the third has a lot of hot afternoon sun…. and that one performs even better than the more shaded hydrangeas. The Incrediball is a carefree hydrangea with real staying power and very few diseases or pests. Since it blooms on new wood, we prune the shrubs close to the ground in late winter to encourage vigorous and strong stem growth and better form. It has paid off. The shrubs are over 5′ tall and fill the foundation well. Blooms are incredible (Incrediball?) and are held aloft on strong steps. All amazing but especially amazing is that they held up blooms in 3″ of rain in a fast moving gullywasher that we had a few days ago.

Incrediball.

The problem is…. I don’t like them there. Perhaps if I owned that cedar shingle style home on the seacoast, they’d be perfect. But we live in a nice New Hampshire neighborhood and they just don’t look right to me.  I don’t like bare branches as a front-of-the-house foundation all winter and  I’ve NEVER been crazy about blooming shrubs dominating a front foundation. I guess I’m an old-school gardener.

So I’m making plans for an evergreen border that I should have done in the first place. I’ll let flowering shrubs overflow in other parts of the garden…. the viburnums, clethra, and several other hydrangea that add drama to my back borders, but evergreens will be out front. Period. Final.

The good news: These are excellent pass-along shrubs. Aborescens can be shared. When the time is right, I will divide the root balls into quarters and each one will be a lovely new Incrediball hydrangea planted en masse in someone else’s New England garden. They would make a lovely hedge…

 

 

Summer Hummers

Summer 2018 in New England has been as glorious as I can remember since moving here. With so many areas suffering the most catastrophic conditions imaginable around the globe… from heat and drought, floods and tornadoes, volcanoes and fire…. we are swaddled in comfort with enough moisture, sunshine, and pleasant temperatures that I feel almost apologetic writing about it. We had a stretch of dry weather earlier in the summer and have suffered in the past with an abundance of weather extremes but, so far… summer 2018 has made the living enjoyable for gardeners and outdoor enthusiasts. With a warming climate, all summers won’t be like this so we will savor it while it lasts.

Plants that we trickled water on for survival during a 3-year drought are now bursting with growth. Every shrub and tree and flower and vegetable in this yard is fuller, taller, and more floriferous. With these favorable conditions, we’re seeing more insects and birds and in our yard… especially the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds that have proliferated wildly around here. We now have the adults and their offspring jetting through and around the garden performing acrobatic maneuvers to guard their territory.

With such movement, it’s impossible to count how many hummers are out there but there’s a way to guesstimate, according to bird banders. Count how many you see at one time and multiply that number by 6. That would mean there are about 20-25 hummingbirds coming and going and perhaps almost parting our hair when we get too close to the action. Other residents in the neighborhood feed hummingbirds so they are moving between our homes. It’s fun to see such activity and much better numbers than the total 8-10 we counted during drought years.

hummingbird July 2018

We have the feisty males with their bright red gorgets displaying territorial rule and their mating prowess but the feeders look to be dominated by females with the white throats. That can be deceiving. There are more females than males but the young males we are seeing have not developed their telltale ‘ruby’ throat. They look much like females until we are close enough to see faint lines or striations on their throats. Next year, they’ll display their bright gorgets.

Hummingbird July 2018

We’re keeping the feeders spotless, making fresh nectar (1 part sugar to 4 parts water) often and just watching as the hummers are bulking up preparing for their long migration at the end of the summer. Males will leave first, followed by females and young.  We will keep the feeders clean and half-full with fresh nectar after they leave because you never know when a migration straggler will venture by and need a couple of days of nourishment before continuing on.

Worms!

Haven’t we gardeners learned that worms are beneficial to the earth? And they’re good for the ecosystem, right? They provide aeration and drainage in the garden. They break down plant matter and leave behind healthy castings are rich in nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. I‘ve always reburied these good little soldiers that I’ve disturbed in the garden because they’re beneficial. However, that’s not the case in the natural New England forests that surround us.

worms

Lots of worms in our gardens

Years ago, I learned from my sister who is a curator at Historic Jamestown in Virginia that most of our earthworms in the US are non-native, the offspring of European earthworms brought by British colonists in the 1600’s.  And there were no worms at all north of Pennsylvania then. Glaciers wiped them out. Our natural North American forests that have existed ‘wormless’ are now dealing with a harmful soil ecosystem due to European worms that slowly moved north over hundreds of years.

Worms have been altering the physical properties of the forest soil by devouring leaf litter causing water runoff, drier soil and poor soil chemistry. Biologists are studying the long-term effects on native undergrowth, too. Natives are disappearing and invasive plants and grasses that can survive the loss of leaf litter and dry soil are moving in.

Just as we’re digesting that European worm information, we learn about another worm invader in New England forests…. the Asian jumping worm that other garden bloggers and cooperative extensions are writing about. A voracious eater that lives in the top layer of soil, this worm devours the organic layer faster than other worms and it displaces those European worms in place. When exposed, these worms are more snake-like and wiggligy in movements. I’m watching for them in my garden in New Hampshire. We’re instructed to report any sightings to our local cooperative extension.  Oh dear….

See Jumping Worm

The harvest

We don’t grow many vegetables due to space constraints but in the coolness of a New England spring, leaf-lettuce is one we can depend on even in the heat of summer if we are careful.  We have enjoyed the bounty of our lettuce crop for lunch and dinner for several weeks.

lettuce 2018

Lettuce is so easy to grow! We plant trays of lettuce as early as we can in as many places as we can. Some grow in full sun for cool weather picking and others grow in containers with annuals, both sunny and shady. They look pretty and we can harvest a few leaves at a time but never more than half the plant.

IMG_2965

IMG_2963We planted as much as we could around the tomatoes. With dappled afternoon shade beneath the tomato plants, they’ve thrived during our current heat spell with temps in the 90’s.  That’s NOT the weather lettuce likes.

lettuce and tomatoes

lettuce 2018

Despite watering, some lettuce in full sun has begun to show signs of growing tall in the heat. So we harvested much of this lettuce before it bolted, ate a lot and shared a lot. A good amount of our organic lettuce was welcomed for tasty salads at two dinner parties we recently attended.

Some of the roots, we washed and replanted in good potting soil. They’re sending up new leaves and we hope to harvest a second crop, a first try for us. Wish us luck!

 

 

 

Shades of red, white and blue

The Fourth of July, Independence Day, means different things to different people. In addition to the significance of the day and diverse interpretations, it is a holiday and a time for family and friends to gather together with a big emphasis on food.

Susan's Flag

Yesterday Google Doodle featured an interactive map with recipes for popular regional and state dishes. It stated, “The 4th of July is the USA’s most scrumptious summer celebration: a time when friends and family get together to celebrate the nation’s independence by cooking, boiling, frying, baking, grilling, or blackening their favorite regional dishes.”

The most searched recipe in New Hampshire was Apple Crisp, “a classic New England dessert.” We love apple crisp but for us that  dish is one we enjoy during apple season when the juicy fruit is picked fresh from local trees. For our gathering, we chose the fruit ripening on trees now: Cherries!

cherry pie

I can remember a few years ago that everyone seemed to have a red, white and blue border of annuals to show their patriotism on the Fourth. Our master gardener group in Virginia planned and planted for it in our community.  Even though I don’t plant one now, it was fun yesterday to spot shades of red, white and blue scattered here and there around the home.

Red

White

Blue

Beyond the red, white and blue, the backyard barbecues, and fireworks, the Fourth is an opportunity to pause and reflect on what it means to be an American, an American of any color or creed in these turbulent times and what the future of our country may be. My wish is for all to have a meaningful way to celebrate the day.

Not too hot today for visitors

We’re closing the month of June on a HOT note in New Hampshire. It’s really uncomfortable and really steamy with temperatures hovering around 92-93° today. But no matter the temperature, I had a chore to tackle in the garden that couldn’t wait for cooler temperatures. Several rolls of sod were waiting to be installed in an area we’re revamping due to construction here. Today we needed to get those rolls positioned and watered well…. heat wave or not.

Just as the some sections were in place and about to be tightened up, our first visitor arrived. Ferdinand, the last surviving bunny in the neighborhood and a welcome little friend, arrived for his twice daily visit. He hopped along the seam between sod sections.

bunny

He’s still a wild bunny. We have never approached him and he would hop away if we did.  But he visits daily and he sits nearby and watches our activity in the yard. We’d like to think he comes to visit us but it’s probably our crop of juicy clover that’s the biggest draw.

ferdinand 2018

While bunny nibbled the clover and watched me cut sod, I spied a second visitor, a tiny newly hatched eastern painted turtle, no bigger than a quarter, shell still quite soft. The top shell or carapace was olive-green on this little guy. He had a pale yellow stripe down the middle of the shell and reddish-orange markings around the edge.

Easterm Painted Turtle 2018

The bottom shell or plastron was a solid yellow.

Eastern Painted Turtle 2018

Our yard was not the best location for this little fellow. Our small community is surrounded by wetland and ponds but a turtle this size would probably find himself beneath a lawn mower or auto tire before he could find any water. They’ve built this neighborhood right where the turtles have probably always laid their eggs. I’ve marked off and added signage to protect one turtle’s egg site and today I helped an adult turtle in the middle of the road reach the road berm (in the same direction it was heading). Sadly, turtles often don’t make the road crossing successfully.

I put the tiny turtle in a container in the shade, added water, rocks, floating leaves, and a conch shell to hide in while I finished cutting and laying the sod. He actually swam, nibbled on algae and seemed to have a jolly time. All the while, I had to fight the urge to keep him as a pet… I’d kept my share as a kid… but after an hour or so, decided to release him in a slow-moving stream close by.

eastern painted turtle 2018

As June ends on a hot note, July will start off on a hot note tomorrow. We have an excessive heat advisory for the next several days stretching well into the week. Hot yes but it won’t keep us indoors… and who knows, we may have more critters visit our little stretch of land.

Gardening for the birds…

We are big time bird lovers. We provide food during the cold months for them but now, as summer begins, they are foraging for food naturally. However, if you still want to attract birds at different times of the year, one of the best ways is by planting native trees and shrubs that produce berries at different times.

Ripening right now are the juicy berries of our two ornamental serviceberry trees (Amelanchier spp.) ‘Autumn Brilliance’  that are providing most of the backyard entertainment for us. In my opinion, this 25′ understory tree is one of the most beautiful trees you can plant. The tree is literally covered in early white flowers in the spring making it an early source of pollen and nectar for insects as well as eye candy for us, and now… berries are beginning to ripen in hanging clusters and the trees are alive with wildlife.

We thought maybe there’d be a few ripe berries for us but it’s not to be. Just take a look at a few of the feathered visitors:

The Catbird

The catbirds found the berries first

cardinals

The cardinals weren’t far behind

I’m amazed at how the cedar waxwings find us each year but they do… accomplishing acrobatics in their formal dress. They travel in a flock so we know the berries won’t last much longer. All stages of fruit are on the tree but the waxwings don’t mind green berries.

Difficult for me to capture on a smart phone but I was curious whether this robin below with a beak full of 3 worms could actually have the ability to snag a berry, too. As you can see in the second fuzzy photo, operation accomplished! Off to feed its young…

Birds aren’t the only animals that enjoy these tasty treats. We’ve seen our neighborhood four-footed animals reaching for the ripest berries.

And so… I am willing to give up my dream of serviceberry jam, serviceberry pie or maybe a little serviceberry wine, just to attract varied wildlife to the yard. Our serviceberry trees will provide summer shade for my perennials and in the fall, the trees’ foliage will glow in deep reds, yellows, and oranges. As our trees age, the bark will become rough but, with our young trees we have the smooth gray bark for winter interest.

Goodbye Spring, Hello Summer!

Spring is a beautiful time of year and we were fortunate that our 2018 spring was enjoyable with enough rain to turn everything lush and green. Today summer has officially arrived bringing heat and humidity and the first flush of WEEDS. All kinds of tiny weeds have sprouted in lawns and in borders around this neighborhood.

I’m not crazy about the idea of dousing the property with chemicals so I’m laboring a little each day to pull them out before they form seed heads. I find the single best way to rid oneself of weeds is the good old-fashioned pull-them-out-by-hand when the ground is moist and the plants are young. That’s when it’s easy to pull the entire weed up because if you don’t get the root out, it’s probably going to grow back. I simply grab a weed close to the ground and slowly pull straight up. If the ground is dry, I find the second best way to remove weeds is with a triangular blade hoe. You’ll find no Roundup used around my yard!

Our association lays down mulch in our neighborhood and those are the weeds I tackle first.  A few inches of compost/mulch mix makes it easier to pull them out, roots and all…. even the young pokeweed below that will develop a huge taproot that will go deep and spread horizontally later in the summer.

Pokeweed 2018

 Root System on Young Pokeweed

Chickweed, Hairy Bittercrest, Dandelion, Wood Sorrel, Plantains, Purslane, Pokeberry, Prostrate Spurge, Crabgrass and my worst gardening enemy… Creeping Charlie (in the neighbor’s yard), are all waiting to grow and develop a good root system and simply take over… but, sorry, not on my watch!

wood sorrel 2018

Young Wood Sorrel

Plantain 2018

Young Plantain

Prostrate Spurge

Young Prostrate Spurge

New Shoots of Creeping Charlie

New shoots of Creeping Charlie creeping ever closer to my gardens!

No matter how dreaded a job, we must accept that weeds are part of gardening and be prepared to do battle but never win the war. No matter how many you pull out, nature is constantly reseeding them for you.

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…..