Lazy Days of Summer

It’s mid-July. We are in the midst of dog days. After a wet spring, rainfall has been reduced to an occasional shower or two here and there. Days can be muggy and they can be hot. But not hot enough for A/C in New England….. yet!  Fans really do the trick. It made me smile when I opened a congratulation letter from the electric company for electricity efficiency. Yippee!

Pinks and purples and blues of spring have faded in the area set aside for cut flowers.  Now it is moving toward hotter oranges with coreopsis, asclepia, echinacea, and gaillardia. Tall ‘Hyperion’ daylilies will soon open to a lovely buttercup yellow and float over these sizzling reds and oranges.

cutting garden

We still have pinks and blues elsewhere. Our johnny-jump-ups will stay with us for the summer with a nice splash of color in the herb garden.

johnny jump-ups 2019

Flowers and shrubs take care of themselves now. There are chores among the ornamentals, maybe a few small weeds to pull daily but not enough to label as real work. Now we can sit back, relax on the deck, enjoy the garden, and watch our birds,

hummer 2019

Can you find her?

or take some New England road trips like this recent one to Vermont,

Vermont July 2019

and of course, we’re regulars at our incredible farmers’ market….

Farmers' Market 2019

… as we buy from farmers while we wait for the healthy fruit to ripen on our two tomato plants. Our Celebrity tomatoes are looking great and we can see a faint glow of pink in the right light. Wishful thinking?

tomatoes anyone 2019

Late July and early August is when the Little Lime hydrangea will burst on the scene. We have an early tease of what is to come at the tip of every branch. When in full bloom, those 5 shrubs will be the focus of our small landscape and well worth the wait.

Little Lime hydrangea 2019

We are savoring each of these Lazy Days of Summer. The season is way too short and before we know it, we’ll be looking out at the white landscape of winter. Give me hot and humid over snow and ice any day!

Happy summer to you!

Allium ‘Milleninum’

I’ve grown Allium ‘Milleninum’ for several years without any issues and have regularly sung its many praises.  It produces dozens of long-blooming rosy-purplish blooms in mid to late summer. And when it does go to seed, it does not produce unwanted seedlings as other ornamental onions do. The flowers attract more pollinators than almost anything else in the garden. It’s never been bothered by disease, is able to tolerate drought, and the aromatic foliage has been absolutely ignored by our growing population of rabbits.

It’s been a regular jewel in the crown for a garden….

Allium 'Millenium' 2018

All of those statements have been 100% true until this year. This year, there a war going on in the summer garden that has caused me to back down on one of the positives of this impressive allium.

Rabbits!

They have discovered they love the tasty onion blades of leaves surrounding the blooms. It’s been a semi-disaster for the plants. Instead of thick tuffs of  attractive greenery surrounding the forming buds, my allium plants look more like this:

 

allium 'Millenium'

I have cages of chicken wire surrounding the plants. I use sprinkles of chili powder, and both granules and squirt bottles of Liquid Fence for rabbits around all of the ornamental garden now.

I am armed with these weapons as I slip out in the early morning garden to see what damage has been done. I fear it’s a losing battle and I’m looking more and more like Bill Murray and the tenacious gopher in Caddyshack. Very frustrating for me but I’m sure I’m providing much entertainment for the neighbors!

caddyshack

One thing I have learned from the 4 or 5 rabbits I see daily, there is no plant that is absolutely off limits to rabbits. They will sample everything in the garden until they find favorites. That’s why the Allium ‘Millenium’ is always touted as rabbit resistant and never as rabbit proof.  Sigh…

Birds!

Most folks love to see a little wildlife in the garden. Some might adopt and feed a visiting squirrel, a friendly chipmunk, or smile at a fuzzy cottontail eating clover or they might design their garden mainly for butterflies and other pollinators. I wish no harm on 4-legged furry animals but do not encourage visits by squirrels, chipmunks, or rabbits. Butterflies and most insects are very welcome.

This handsome black squirrel is a regular visitor but I rather he visit someone else.

Black Squirrel 2019

Handsome black squirrel looking for bird food

I want it to go elsewhere because it interferes with my favorite garden visitors…. the birds.

I put several bird feeders out during the day and remove them at night due to visits from bears in this area. Suet, seeds, grape jelly, and nectar hang here and there during daylight hours.

Did you know that $quirrels love all of those food$? One $quirrel can knock every feeder to the ground and poli$h everything off while you are making a quick da$h to the grocery $tore. 💰

In a light rain yesterday morning I took my first cuppa joe on the deck beneath the umbrella to watch the antics of our early feathered friends.

As wet as this small hummer was, he remained on guard, throat blazing red, watching for intruders at three hummingbird feeders. We could supply a nice flock with the mega amount that we make for them but still… he wants it all for himself and some females. But the neighborhood boys have developed a system to feed.  An intruder diverts the boss’s  attention away from the feeder while another male zooms in for a quick feed. They all get a share this way but it’s exhausting to watch.

Ruby Throated Hummer 2019

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird in the rain

I’m fighting a losing battle with Mother Nature by inviting only one species to visit but I come by birding naturally. First my mother was an avid birder and now all my sibs and their spouses are of one mind. We send photo back and forth, we announce rare or unusual bird visits to one another, we solicit ID verification, and we group marvel at bird antics. The interest in my family has trickled down to offspring, some of whom can ID better than I can. Even young grandchildren have a growing interest. Our 5-yr. old granddaughter spent the night with us recently and excitedly pointed out the different birds and action in the garden. And, of course… I encouraged her.

American goldfinch 2019

American Goldfinch

Oh, the catbirds are probably my favorite bird to watch in a yard setting. They are handsome, friendly, funny, and sing the most varied songs in the garden…. and, boy, do they love grape jelly! Even when the heavens opened and rain became heavy yesterday, the cats were still taking turns at the jelly bar.

Gray Catbird 2019

Gray Catbird and grape jelly

The jelly is watched over by different catbird families from separate territories who ordinarily quarrel among themselves, but when the jelly supply is being threatened by orioles, squirrels, chickadees, or by hungry woodpeckers (below), they band together and squawk at the intruder. It never works. Their bark is worse than their bite and everyone sips at the bar.

Three catbirds and a hairy woodpecker 2019

Three catbirds squawk at a woodpecker approaching the jelly bar

Before I escaped the rain and ran for cover indoors, the last visitor I saw at the jelly was one of the neighborhood orioles. We have two nesting pairs nearby who are regulars here. Their young must be becoming more independent by now. Fingers crossed that they bring their offspring to sample the jelly before they migrate south in the next few weeks.

Baltimore Oriole 2019

Baltimore Oriole at the jelly bar

That was just a sampling of the birds that entertained me in the rain yesterday. Once an avid birder, I still consider myself a birder although no more all-day Audubon bird counts or birding field trips these days. However, you’ll never find me far from my good birding binoculars and my well-worn Sibley Field Guide to Birds.

Mad about tomatoes

We think the amount of spring rain we’ve had in New Hampshire has helped, not hurt our tomato plants. It may be the rain but maybe something to do with the variety we chose or it may have something to do with the new location where they receive at least 6 hours of direct sun. I planted the tomatoes right in the middle of a new hot and dry rock garden and the two plants seem to be thriving.

'Celebrity' tomato plant 2019

The variety that mister gardener selected this year is the hybrid Celebrity and we are super excited about the performance so far. We have counted over 20 tomatoes on the biggest plant. Of course, the tomatoes are still green and the majority of the fruit is quite small.

tomato 2019

Celebrity is a good medium-size slicing tomato, great for salads, sandwiches, cooking, caning, or just a salsa snack. It’s categorized as a determinate tomato plant but the nursery said it can grow larger as an semi-indeterminate. We will find out in a few weeks if the advice we were given is accurate.

Celebrity Tomato 2019

Meanwhile we’re counting more tomatoes each day… a very good thing.

Nasty boxwood blight has arrived

We’ve had a wet spring and the warm temperatures and high humidity of summer have just begun. I am ever vigilant for diseases in the garden at this time of the year. One fungus that is the stuff of nightmares is Boxwood Blight, a monster of a disease that has spread to 26 states. Defoliation of boxwood can occur suddenly, with complete leaf loss in severe cases. It has already destroyed generations-old box in my home state of Virginia.

Several Buxus species can be affected but it’s the English (Buxus semp. ‘Suffruticosa’) and American or common boxwood (B. sempervirens) that are most susceptible. Virginia Tech lists my variety as a Blight-Resistant/Tolerant Cultivar, but that’s not a guarantee. Affected boxwood can be treated commercially with fungicides but there is no absolute cure for the pathogen. Europeans have been fighting the disease for over 25 years.

Signs I’m look for are blackening of the leaves, black streaks on the stems and rapid areas of defoliation. The spores are heavy and sticky and sometimes white spore masses can be visible.

Boxwood blight has been confirmed on nursery stock in New Hampshire so all NH box is at risk. Although there isn’t a cure as of today, commercial strength fungicides applied by professionals are most effective for treatment. There are limited products approved for amateur gardeners’ use. Once a month, I use a product from the Netherlands, Topbuxus, that I hope will make my box more resistant. It’s an effervescent tablet dissolved in water and sprayed on boxwood and said to “stop and prevent box blight.” It’s a super tonic for box and promotes good health but I’m unsure about its blight effectiveness. If anything, a healthy plant should resist diseases better.

Good cultural practices are still an effective prevention:

  • Inspect any newly purchased boxwood for symptoms of the disease, including leaf spots, leaf browning, black streaks on stems and leaf drop. Any boxwood that has these symptoms should be double-bagged and discarded in the landfill. Do not compost infected greenery.
  • Plant in locations with good air circulation.
  • Prune to increase air circulation.
  • Sanitize pruning equipment before going from one plant to another. Lysol disinfectant works well.
  • Water at a time of day that the plants will dry quickly.
  • Avoid overhead watering if possible.
  • If desired for a hedge or mass planting, it is best to plant loosely.

 

Summer has arrived

It’s the first day of summer, the longest day of the year, and I have weather on my mind. My heart goes out to those, including some of my offspring, in areas of the country that have been hit so hard by storms over the last few months and are about to be hit again by another deluge of rain, flooding, hail and/or tornadoes…. and high temperatures.

Lady's Mantle - June 2019

In New Hampshire, we’ve been fortunate. We’ve had plenty of rain accompanying our cool temperatures. Gardens around here can handle what nature has doled out so far.

June 2019

In fact, for ornamental gardeners it’s been amazing to have steady rainfall every couple of days this spring. My favorite garden color green dominates the landscape, from the lime green of Japanese Spikenard ‘Sun King’ and lady’s mantle to the blue green of hostas.  The lushness of the landscape has been fed by our life-giving spring rains and plants from perennials to shrubs to grasses and vines have exploded in growth.

June 2019

Temperatures in New England have been cool but I fear that as soon as the heat of summer hits us, the door will be open for an assortment of bacteria and fungi that thrive in heat and the moisture we’re having. And, for sure, there will be an increase of unwelcome insects… like slugs and worse. Already arriving this week are newly hatched LARGE mosquitoes that chase us indoors at dusk. Sigh….

Aralia 'Sun King' - June 2019

Rain is a welcome treat right now, but too much rain during the summer months can cause plenty of problems for us in the garden. We will simply enjoy it while we can.

Clan Gathering 2019

This year we didn’t go far for our annual family get together…just a few short miles over the state line to York Harbor, a coastal village above the rocky coastline of Maine. The date and general location this year was determined by a granddaughter’s graduation from Bennington College in VT that brought family north and the fact that Portsmouth NH grandchildren were still in school for the year. York Harbor was close enough for a morning commute to Portsmouth and a vacation home was ample enough to house 18 offspring and spouses.

York Harbor is a quiet historic village that bustles with summer visitors but early June is not an ideal time for a New England ocean vacation. There were an abundance of locals taking early walks on the small rocky beach with hardly a glance at the water. We had days of fog and cool weather, days of sunshine and warmth but the Atlantic? It remained dangerously COLD. But that couldn’t keep our family members from taking the short walk to the beach on a daily basis, sometimes several times. Goose bumps could hardly keep the adults off the beach and the hardy youngsters out of the water.

What else is there for a range of ages to do this time of year in coastal Maine and New Hampshire? Plenty and we (semi) locals knew where to go! Hiking always takes center stage with our family. We experienced all the York trails and some of us ventured out to hike nearby Mount Agamenthicus, just a 20 minute drive away.

Shopping was enjoyed by teens and young adults. Kittery ME outlets, Ogunquit ME, Portland ME, and Portsmouth NH were visited. Tennis was a magnet for several young men. And good dining was a magnet for all…. from a feast of lobster over a local river to home cooked meals to wood fired pizza to local bakeries to evening walks for hand dipped ice cream in the village…. and, of course, s’mores at the fire pit for all ages.

I got my garden fix by visiting Stonewall Kitchens where their garden designer keeps visitors enthralled with unusual designs and a wide array of annual and perennial borders. This year they prepared a colorful Farm to Table garden party!

The best part about the gathering of the clan? Bonding moments…

The bittersweet time?  Saying our farewells at week’s end….

Hungry, hungry caterpillar…

At our May garden club meeting, I came face to face with the tiny caterpillars I had signed up to adopt. I’ve adopted lots of caterpillars in my gardens but never had the responsibility of raising one indoors. I was a bit apprehensive…

Home with me they went. I read the directions at least once a day to make sure I was a responsible mama to these Painted Lady caterpillars (Vanessa cardui). I watched them eat, grow, and move around the tiny container. I wondered how they could breathe in their tightly sealed tomb-like capsule. I wondered exactly what that was they were eating. And why were they eating the paper at the top of the container?

Whenever they crawled on the lid, I thought, “This is it. This is it.” but no.  It took a long time before they decided to begin their life cycle and attach to the lid. They simply ate and grew….

Then finally metamorphosis began… but alas, the timing was tricky. It was the same time as a granddaughter’s graduation from  Bennington College in VT, and at the same time two young granddaughters arrived from Ohio for a visit. Then within days, we were all packed and heading to Maine to vacation with18 family members.

🐛  🐛  🐛  🐛

There was nothing else we could do but pack up our chrysalis and take them with us, risking disturbing and botching the whole transformation.While on vacation they remained immobile sitting high on a mantle out of reach of youngsters. Days went on as we swam, hiked, sat by the fire pit, played tennis, shopped, dined, etc.  Each day I checked the cocoons… and nothing. I truly thought the little guys must be dead.

🦋  🦋  🦋  🦋

But NOT… one granddaughter said quietly on the day before our departure that we had butterflies! The end of the journey and our lovely Painted Ladies seemed pleased when we released them into a lush Maine garden nearby our vacation home. I read that Painted Lady butterflies prefer to feed on purple flowers and this garden had plenty.

Mission accomplished!
Whew!

 

 

 

 

A Day of Reflection

Memorial Day is a day of remembrance of those fallen in our armed forces. Our community, like thousands of communities across America, paid tribute with a Memorial Day parade followed by a ceremony at a nearby cemetery. The parade was followed by crowds of people on foot to the final ceremony.

The crowds were thin where we were…. the pre-parade setup area. We watched as people and groups arrived to find their place in the parade lineup…. the marines, scouts, firemen, band members, the Independence Museum, DAR, the Warrior 180 Foundation, and other organizations… local and national, young and old.

khXtPN0+SmK31rTSzU0rhg_thumb_740d

hfP6jyViSGOoDb7vUaBGFQ_thumb_742b

klgnzv4OSLKZS6e6PT1AhA_thumb_742f

wUD5xS4cR9m4ofF1kBVLsQ_thumb_749b

fhgGXQmASV+CJy9S+d5xlw_thumb_741c

Members of the VFW were everywhere making sure each person had a flag or two to wave when the parade passed. How meaningful it was to talk with this young man of 80 who served his country for 33 years.

mLpGn1w8TbCkwrog0RofYQ_thumb_742c

This year the weather was favorable for something else we came to see… a helicopter drop of a memorial wreath over the Squamscott River in remembrance of service members lost at sea. The weather has not been favorable for this event in the few years we’ve lived here.

Memorial Day 2019

Memorial Day 2019

Three other wreaths were placed along the parade route with stops for services at two locations. It was a special day to see so many residents lining the parade route supporting veterans and honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Memorial Day 2019

Memorial Day 2019

 

 

Strange weather continues…

After a cold, wet spring, we were blessed with a gloriously perfect day last Saturday. Sunshine. Blue skies. Warmer temps. A super day for volunteers who turned out with shovels and bags of compost to plant a dozen woody shrubs in a new community ornamental garden. Red twig dogwood, hydrangea, rhododendron, viburnum and more are forming the bones of a new public native plant garden with a generous grant from the Exeter Area Garden Club.  Not just for the public’s enjoyment, our goal is to attract pollinators and wildlife to the garden.

New F. A. Garden 2019

Following that glorious solo spring day, we have been plunged back into cold, wet weather. Mother’s Day was brisk yet warm with flowers, good wishes, phone calls, and a lovely brunch.

The very next day, just yesterday, a nor’easter brought chilly rains and gusty winds and overnight temperatures in the 30’s….. and SNOW to parts of the state. All I can do is enjoy the few blooms we have in the yard and wait for warmer weather closer to the weekend.

What plants seem to be happy in this weather?
Parsley is enjoying the cold. The ferns are
twice as large as they usually are.
Hostas are reaching for
the sky!

Epimedium seems thrilled…
⬇︎

epimedium

Rhododendron is unfazed…

roseum rhododendron 2019

Pansies are in their glory….

rCQxaqFlQPmnT+UlD21oIA_thumb_7269.jpg

What seems to be struggling or slow to adapt?
The iris! They will eventually
bloom but I see signs
of fungus on
the blades.

Tulips are fine but rarely open on these cold overcast days.

tulips 2019

Azalea blossoms are uncooperative…

azalea 2019

Crabapple blooms are struggling to open…

crabapple 2019

‘Carol Mackie’ daphne should bloom in May,
but this year it will be late.

Carol Mackie Daphne 2019

What to do when the calendar
says spring but the weather
says winter?
As long as there are no s-words… snow, sleet, or slush, nothing stops the people of New England if they have a good supply of fleecewear, wool socks, muck boots, and a rain hat. Gardening in the rain is still gardening.

muck boots 2019

Spring in the North

I think gardeners in the North might appreciate the spring season more than gardeners in the South where I gardened before moving. I love the dazzling Virginia springs more but so appreciate the northern springs when they finally decide to arrive. In the South, I think I took our springs for granted because they were so early. As soon as winter ends, the landscape bursts into a frenzy of color. In the North, spring seems to take an eternity to arrive. When it finally does arrive, I’m so happy that I wallow, I bask, I take delight in every little leaf much more than I did in Virginia.

Here in New Hampshire it can be a painful, cold, sometimes snowy wait for spring. Thank goodness, at last this week we are greeted by snips of spring green. I wore a heavy fleece this chilly morning as I walked through the garden looking for some spring clues and I found enough.  The emerging leaves of my Little Lime hydrangea is solid proof.

Little Lime hydrangea 2019

Clethra is pushing out tiny leaves and hostas are breaking ground.

Clethra alnifolia 2019

hosta 2019

We see the tiny tips of Baptisia, iris, daisies, some herbs, wild ginger and Epimedium pushing through the soil. We’re thrilled to see early plants like bleeding hearts below begin to unfurl blooms….

Bleeding Hearts 2019

 

….and my favorite woody shrub in the garden, the doublefile viburnum, is well on its way to splendor as it forms rows of blooms that will open to a procession of delicate white blossoms along the stems.

Doublefile Viburnum 2019

This year, I removed the 4 Incrediball hydrangea shrubs from the foundation of the home. They take soooo long to fill out in New Hampshire and I tire of looking at ‘sticks’ at the front of the home. They will soon be relocated just down the street and will be replaced by evergreens as a foundation plant… which one not yet decided.

Incrediball hydrangea 2019

Our 2 cubic yards of Nutri-Mulch, a 50/50 organic leaf/compost mix, arrived last week and has been spread over the gardens. Whew! It’s a great time to perform the task before fully formed leaves are on plants or perennials have yet to appear above ground. Now that the heavy projects are done, we can sit back and enjoy spring and wait for our mass of tulips and daffodils to bloom. It can’t be too much longer, can it?

Nutri-Mulch 2019

 

Rogue Bunny

He/She is big, fat and hungry. My neighbors have seen this big bunny in the neighborhood and I’m not sure a dog/cat/owl/hawk/fox, etc. would tackle it, they say. Last year’s good bunny, Ferdinand, who only ate grass and clover has been replaced by a garden rogue. Ferdinand never nibbled any plants, even left alone my lettuce or parsley, but the new bunny wants all the good stuff like the newly planted colorful violas blooms around the borders and in pots here and there… like around my fav bunny below.

violas 2019

Today I walked out and saw this:

violas gone 2019

And this…

Every johnny-jump-up bloom and bud in the garden was eaten…. except on one small viola.  I quickly protected the last little blooms. If you look around in the photo, you’ll see all my crocus has been eaten along with the tulips and grape hyacinths greens.

violas-2019

I have yet to see this big bunny that several neighbors have spotted because smart bunny dines in my yard under the cover of darkness. And never having had a rabbit problem in the past, I’m somewhat baffled.  Today I will research ways to rabbit-proof the gardens or find out what they don’t like to eat.  Any suggestions, aside from harming it, are welcome.

🐰🌷🐰🌷🐰 🌷🐰

Rainy day outing

It’s too wet and rainy to spend much time out in the garden this week. What is there to do in our area on a very soggy day? Eat lunch out and visit a salvage shop. For the limited population we have around here, I’m amazed that we have not one, but two salvage shops. One warehouse and yard is large and a couple of miles out of town and the other is downtown in Exeter where I stopped in yesterday.

architectural salvage inc 2019

These places are great to not only reminisce with a smile, but also a fantastic site for finding treasures with character for the garden…. gates, fences, statues, old bricks, crocks, birdbaths, and classic treasures for the home.

Today I was limited to certain areas of the shop due to a young couple who arrived in a flurry accompanied by their building contractor and their architect with loosely rolled and slightly rain-wet home plans tucked under her arms.

Kitchen and bath supplies always seem to take up a lot of space in salvage shops and this place is no different. There are two little sinks on a shelf below that I can envision in a garden potting bench at my home!

Old wood doors of all shapes and sizes seem to take up much of the space too. I was impressed when my creative daughter purchased a tall vintage door at a salvage warehouse near her home and repurposed it into a handsome king-sized headboard. Unique possibilities are endless for the inspired.

Not only do we have salvage shops, this area is teeming with antique and vintage shops and barns in and around Exeter, always desired destinations in rain or shine. What fun it is to bring home high quality and timeless treasures from these vintage stores. And it’s yet one more good way to recycle!

vintage shop -Exeter- moved to home

Spring has sprung!

It’s definitely spring on the seacoast of New Hamphire although the thermometer doesn’t always reflect the season. Last night dipped into the mid-twenties. Water in the birdbaths are frozen solid this morning and blades of grass in the lawn are frozen stiff. Those temps won’t last long today. The thermometer will rise to comfortable mid-40’s, perfect for a brisk walk and perhaps a bit of fussing in the garden.

We’ve had rare nice days of 50’s and 60’s with blue skies and sunshine that lured me out for a little garen work. I’ve done most of the spring edging on the borders. I’ve trimmed and pruned. I’ve done a little cleanup but not too much leaf removal until we have steady temperatures in the 50’s to protect any insects that might winter over in the leaf litter. I’m careful of not working in too wet and squishy ground, too, as too much treading will squeeze ozygen from the soil.

Except for buds swelling, there is not much to see in these borders. No blooms but the crocus greens are above ground… and promply nibbled down by a bunny we have yet to see. The only signs are what he leaves behind in small piles in the lawn. That’s not the only wild visitor to the garden area. Early morning on April Fools Day, I spotted a larger plant-loving animal grazing nearby. I’ll have to watch this fella near the arborvitae as another name of arborvitae is ‘deer candy.’

Deer April 1 2019

I won’t have to worry about rabbits or deer grazing one of the first greens above ground….several plants in the onion family. We see chives, garlic chives, and the ornamental allium greens that are not fazed by the cold. I have two varieties of allium and love both. The allium ‘Giganteum’ was moved in the fall to a more protected area. The sturdy scapes can be up to 4′ tall with a dense round flower head. With that height, they needed a protected area between shrubs and out of the big winds.

allium 'gigantheum'

The allium ‘Millenium’ below grows as a compact mass of rosy round blooms about a foot in height that appear mid-summer giving us over a month of glorious blooms and shiny green foilage that persist following the blooms. I have divided my clumps a few times and fussing over several in pots, hoping to have them ready for our garden club auction in June.

allium 'millenium' spring 2019

All the often overlooked plants in the onion family are carefree, drought resistant, pest-free, easy to grow, and greatly attract butterflies, bees and other pollinators. We have a lot of bumblebees that visit but have not seen a honeybees for a couple of summers. Hallelujah, a friend and nearby neighbor is a brand new beekeeper. We have seen the early scouts from her hive several times and I know they’ll be back for all I offer in this garden all summer… including the blooms in the onion family!

Happy Spring 2019

Today is the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. The sun is shining and I saw the tiny tips of crocus and one tulip tip in the garden. 💕 My weather app says it’s only 32° but the RealFeel right now is 42°.  Yes, I could actually sit on our deck with a light jacket and soak up the sun.

Very soon we should be seeing and hearing a few early spring insects buzzing around looking for nectar in the garden. But maybe not. From what I’ve been reading in science news, perhaps we will not actually seeing insects at all. We may be seeing pollinating drones in our future gardens. With news of insects on the decline globally and more than 75% of the world’s food crop depending on insects and animals, drones may be taking on the huge role of pollination.

RoboBees: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:RoboBees.jpg

And, lo and behold, it is Walmart that could be going into the business of garden and crop pollination in the future. In 2017 Walmart filed a patent for RoboBees or Autonomous Flying Microrobot drones that pollinate as a swarm. Developed at Harvard University, the goal for the RoboBees is to pollinate crops, identify pests, monitor damage, and spray pesticides. They can fly, stick to walls, some models dive into and out of water and, as a bonus, they can be helpful in search and rescue missions.

male carpenter bee

A single RoboBee weighs about as much as a real bee and is about the size of a penny. To be effective, they must have a sustained power source and be able to make complex navigation patterns using microchips. Time will tell just how efficient these robo-colonies of bee pollinators will be.

I hope we never need to find out.

Honey bee

Fingers crossed tightly there’s enough of a global effort to help protect the pollinators we already have…. the ideal ones that nature provides. Insects.

When the calendar says late winter…

…. I pay attention. Spring officially arrives in less than a week but this week, it’s still late winter, the time when I like to trim our Little Lime hydrangea…. even wearing muck boots in the snow. The garden is still dormant but the spring thaw has begun.

late winter snow on ground Mar. 2019

We like to keep these hydrangeas about 4 1/2-ft. tall and fairly well-shaped. For winter interest, we allow the spent blooms to overwinter on the shrubs. Little Limes bloom on new wood so a quick trim of 5-6″ will allow all 5 of our Little Limes in a mass planting to produce an abundance of new flowers sometime in July.

Little Lime in March 2019

We trim out weaker limbs that produce smaller blooms but don’t over trim as some gardeners prefer. We like to have them more natural and sprawling, even touching the ground here and there. It won’t be long now…

Little Lime Hydrangea

A shortcut to spring

Well, it’s not a real shortcut. It’s -2° this morning and we’re covered by snow, but it feels like spring in all our grocery stores. Greeting us at the doors are the true harbingers of spring, bundles of daffodils in large displays selling for less than a couple of bucks each. Next to those blooms, there is the other harbinger of spring, tall stems of pussy willows willing you to purchase a bunch and take them home. I don’t think we’ll see either one in our New Hampshire garden for weeks and weeks.

Tete-a-Tete, Boston Flower Show 2017

I buy the cheerful daffodils to hurry along spring but have ignored the pussy willows until yesterday when I came upon ones I couldn’t resist… Japanese fantail willow, Salix udensis ‘Sekka’, an ornamental willow with contorted branches that I love to use in flower arrangements.

fantail willow 3/7/2019

The stems of the fantail willow are a bit twisted but it’s the wonderful tips that flatten out and curl in interesting formations. The fuzzy catkins are small and numerous. I could keep them in water and watch the catkins mature to a soft yellow, but I’m keeping them dry to preserve this stage of development for floral arrangements to use over and over.

fantail willow 3/7/2019

I did trim off a small twig for rooting. I’ll keep it in water in a sunny window and hope to see small roots forming in time. We’re the right zone to transplant the willow to the yard… not the right plant for my small yard, but nearby in a daughter’s landscape will be the perfect site for future harvesting.

fantail willow 3/7/2019

 

Seasons

My brother in Virginia called yesterday just to check in. He’s good about contacting siblings to chat and maintain our sibling bonds across the miles. During our conversation, we talked about a lot of things but one subject always centers around food.

I might have mentioned we’re eating a lot of hardy foods that we require on these cold, dark winter nights… root vegetables, beef stews and a variety of good casseroles from the kitchen of my personal chef… mister gardener. Brother talked about what he’s enjoying… things like “the best crab cakes I’ve ever tasted.”  His dietary menu says a lot more than just what’s on his plate.

While he’s talking, I’m thinking… ‘The coast of New Hampshire is really not that far away from the coast of Virginia but we seem to be on totally different planets.  He’s invigorated by spring and we are still beneath an arctic cloud.’

He also said he’s picked a lot of daffodils in his yard and taken them to friends. He says he sees rabbit tracks in the yard and they are nibbling on his liriope and damaged the bark on his azalea that will soon burst into bloom. I just listened and visualized the scene that might be playing out in his landscape, realizing we are so removed from that glorious early Virginia spring that I love so.

cropped-img_8415-1

I miss all of that.

Last night we received 8 or 9 more inches of snow. Gone are the early days where I dashed out with a ruler to measure inches when we first moved here. Snow is not such a new event anymore but I still love to see it.

I know my bulbs, lirope, the few azaleas I have are stirring beneath the snow. They know the season is advancing. I will bide my time, try not to be too envious of siblings in Virginia picking daffodils and eating crab cakes.

A path to the birdfeeder today. 3/4/19

Today’s path to the bird feeders. March 4, 2019

The tables will turn for us in July, when those uncomfortable dog days of heat and humidity and mosquitoes arrive on the coast of Virginia. I remember it all too well.  Uncomfortable, yes, but bearable, and I love it all.

But summers are a glorious time in New England when we never shut a window, nor turn on an air conditioner. Naturally, our long winters can be uncomfortable at times… but what’s not to love? Seasons change, conditions change, and gardens still grow. That’s all this person cares about!

 

Life beneath the snow

When you glance out the window in New Hampshire today, you might think, except for birds visiting the feeder and birdbath, it’s a dormant snow covered landscape. But that would be wrong. There’s a lot going on beneath the blanket of white stuff, a secret ecosystem under there that’s alive and active.

junco

The small space between the earth and snow, called the subnivean zone, is where the temperature remains a constant. It’s an insulation area not only for small species of animals and plants, but for microbes that fertilize the soil. These miniature creatures absorb nitrogen from the snow and from decomposing plants… like all those fall leaves covering your borders… then they die as the snow melts providing the nitrogen that our garden plants need to grow.

Bunny Feb. 2019

About 6-8 inches of snow is needed to maintain a good insulation area under the snow. We’ve come close this winter with fresh snow covering the old. It recently snowed overnight, a light snow covering the bunny in the photo above taken the day before.

Snow Feb. 2019

 Today the bunny is going… going…. gone

snow Feb 2019

When temperatures rise and there’s a thaw, small tunnels in the subnivean zone are visible.

subnivean zone, 2019

I just hope these little critters, voles, mice and other animals, are gathering sunflower chips sprinkled for the birds, and not after tender bark of my shrubs and trees.

Ice Fishing in Exeter

We’ve had some bitterly cold days in New Hampshire this winter and hundreds of New Hampshire ice fishermen have been taking full advantage across the state. Ice on the Squamscott River in Exeter is nice and thick so we don’t have to drive very far to find bobhouses or a small shanty village on the ice. It’s all right here in the center of our town. We can stay in our warm cars and watch from several different shorelines and capture the scene using a zoom camera.

Shanty Town, Exeter, Feb. 2019

This afternoon we joined other spectators waiting patiently for some human activity, while joining a number of seagulls on the ice waiting patiently for scraps of bait or pieces of fish.

seagulls, Exeter, Feb, 2019

We didn’t wait long before we saw a young couple gathering gear from their vehicle and venturing across the ice toward their shanty. They were happily greeted by a fellow ice fisherman emerging from a neighboring shanty.

 

This time of year it’s smelt that the fishermen are seeking as the fish migrate to estuaries or tributaries from December through March. It looked like their fishing hole may have iced over so a little neighborly help with chopping, they reopened the hole and cleared a bit of overnight snow.

Exeter, ice fishing, Feb. 2019

Hole cleared, these ice anglers prepare their jigging rod with bait… perhaps baiting with flies or sea worms, bloodworms, or perhaps a bit of corn.

IMG_9616 2

Ice fishing is so new to us and much of it still a mystery. It seems simple… cut a hole, drop a line with bait, and pull up your catch. But there are a lot of intricacies that we will never know. Clothing, equipment… rods, tackle, ice gear, bait, propane heaters, cookstove, battery radios, plus changing tides, weather, and knowing where the fish are running. These ice fishermen have the know-how and the yankee spirit we are lacking. It’s a spectator sport for us. We much prefer watching from the sidelines in a warm car… with camera!

ice fishing, Exeter, Feb. 2019

Seeing green in the winter

snowman 2019It’s a real thing. Call it a change in mood or lack of energy or just the winter blahs, the cold months of winter can be an obstacle. The glow of the holidays is gone and the seemingly endless dark winter days can be tough.

Living in zone 7b, there were a few days during the winter months that I could be outdoors gardening or participating in other open air activities with friends. Not being a winter sport enthusiast, ice and snow in New England brings most of my outdoors activities to a halt.

During the deepest days of winter, I’ve had to shift my interests. Our wonderful local library has been a magnet for me in the throws of winter along with belonging to a gym and different clubs that keep me active and involved. And most importantly, if I can’t get my green fix outside pulling a weed or pruning a branch in January and February, I can find the color green by bringing my gardening indoors.

I’ve never been attracted to houseplants in the past but suddenly I find it fun.  I have a few hardy ones that allow me to fuss over them. I pinch, trim, water, and move them fromterrarium 2019 room to room to follow the sun.

There’s a tiny terrarium that sits next to my winter reading chair. I’ve made it a little landscape, a slice of nature by adding a pine cone or two, a little snake that a sister whittled and painted, some frogs from another sister, a tiny turtle, and a little dragonfly. A new Christmas gift of a jewel encrusted frog trinket box from a brother’s family sits on the table in the morning sun. Just glancing at this slice of nature gives promise that springtime that will soon be here.

liz's snake

I haven’t invested in any plants that are difficult to maintain. I love this ivy below that came from a friend’s garden and potted for me by another friend. I find it’s hard to make ivy unhappy and looking at it brings memories of the past. My mother always brought cuttings of ivy indoors to brighten the house in the winter.

ivy 2019

Another ironclad plant that’s been with me for a few years is the peace lily (Spathiphyllum). The tiny sprout that I first brought home has blossomed into a specimen that has been repotted several times and may be ready for a division and a pass-along soon. With minimal care, I am rewarded with lovely tall spikes of white blooms periodically.

peace lily 2019

Now, instead of waiting to seed outdoors, I start herbs in a sunny window, root garden geraniums and candytuft (iberis) and other soft and woody cuttings from the garden.

For sure, there is little green to be seen from the windows during New Hampshire winters, but indoors at our house, we have enough green to see us through till spring!

As the Barefoot Contessa would say, “How easy is that?”

Bug-pocalypse?

“The Windshield Phenomenon”  Have you heard of it? It was described in a New York Times article in November, 2018. Entomologists penned the name from the fact that people were noticing fewer bugs… around night lights, hitting faces while riding bikes, working in the garden, and on auto windshields.  Yes, I have noticed fewer insects and fewer birds and wonder if there’s a link between the two.

Bumblebee 2018

A German entomological study in 2017 found that insects in nature reserves had decreased by 75 percent over the 27 years that they have been collecting information. The New York Times article stated, “Scientists are still cautious about what the findings might imply about other regions of the world. But the study brought forth exactly the kind of longitudinal data they had been seeking, and it wasn’t specific to just one type of insect. The numbers were stark, indicating a vast impoverishment of an entire insect universe, even in protected areas where insects ought to be under less stress. The speed and scale of the drop were shocking even to entomologists who were already anxious about bees or fireflies or the cleanliness of car windshields.

Most people don’t pay much attention to insects except for the pretty ones like butterflies or the ones that bite like mosquitoes or ticks. Some insects can be pests, but most insects are not. Not only do they pollinate 35% of the world’s crops, they help decompose organic matter and are the main food source for many birds, reptiles, amphibians, bats, fish, and small mammals. They’re a critical member of the food chain.

Swallowtail caterpillar

I was encouraged at a recent neighborhood association meeting where the board decided not to apply lawn herbicides due to wetland restrictions. However, because of the increased tick population and as a preventative for ants and termites, they will spray pesticides along the edge of the woods and around the building foundations… probably every home foundation but mine.

I will protect the small habitat here and make it hospitable for insects, insects like the katydids that still populate this garden. I heard their raspy calls in the summer. They are nocturnal insects, but occasionally they appear during the day.
The male Fork-tailed bush katydid (Scudderia furcata):

male katydid 2018

And below, the female Fork-tailed bush katydid (Scudderia furcata) with the telltale anatomy of the female. She uses her serrated ovipositor to delicately insert her eggs between the layers of a leaf’s edge.

female katydid 2018

2018 Fork-tailed bush katydid (Scudderia furcata)

One more interesting note… there is a tiny slit visible on each of her front legs. Those are her “ears” that she uses to listen for the call of the male katydid.

These healthy insects and many others are important links in the backyard food chain. Even though adult birds may eat seeds, it’s insects like these that are fed to their young…. not seeds.  So until we know and understand more about a possible “insect apocalypse,” I guard this tiny habitat and no herbicides or pesticides will be used here.

 

At last….

Snow has finally made an appearance in New England. The locals are excited. The ski resorts are excited. Cross country skiers are excited. Sledders are excited. Kids who play outdoors, build snowmen or have snowball fights are excited. The snow plow drivers are excited.

I don’t do any of those things but I am excited, too. Something about snow is peaceful and calming. The landscape is blanketed in white, sounds are muted, automobile traffic slows and some folks, especially me, simply want to open a book and read while relaxing in a favorite chair, looking up every page or so to watch the snow flakes fall…. and occasionally opening the door to toss seeds, fruit and nuts to the waiting birds and squirrels.

I did finish a book and read half of a new book today but when the shadows grew long, I decided to pull on boots and make the first tracks in our landscape. From where the snow depth reached near the top of my boots, I’d guess we were served up about 10-inches of the white stuff…. give or take an inch or so. Winds caused peaks and valleys so it’s hard to be exact.

img_9172

Rabbit serving snow a la mode

rabbit ears 2019

Rabbit hibernating

I was thankful to have a thick blanket of snow over most of my smaller plants like my boxwood below. The insulation will help them tonight, tomorrow night, and later this week when temperatures plunge close to zero degrees.

Birdbath 2019

Insulated boxwood

When the weather turns this cold and snowy, our birds seem to lose a little of their apprehension of approaching humans…. meaning me.  It’s all about survival now. They come often to feed and the heated birdbath proves to be a popular meeting place for all birds and squirrels.

bluejay 2019

With melting snow turning my socks cold and wet inside my boots, I quickly decided all was well in our little world.  I made my way back to my reading chair with a hot mug of tea, a nice warm blanket, and dry socks.  I will finish another book today.

path 2019

 

Volcano mulching

Just visiting the local grocery store makes me grimace. It’s all about the trees there. Last year, landscape and lawn care companies tidied up borders, trimmed and pruned shrubs at the grocery and then they piled at least a foot thick layer of mulch against the trunk of all the trees around the parking lot, a process that has been dubbed ‘volcanoes,’ or ‘turtle mounds.’

mulch volcanoes 1/13/2019

volcanoes January 2019

I’m always amazed to see a sight like this. For decades, arborists and extension experts have railed against such practices because it will sentence a tree to a slow death. Why we still see everywhere it is a mystery to me.

Not only commercial sites, but old trees and new trees in neighborhoods within a mile of my home are mulched with volcanoes. The mulch volcanoes have settled over the fall and winter months, but still piled high against the bark.

volcano1/13/19

volcano mulch 1/13/19

Mulch done right is beneficial for a tree. It prevents weed growth, protects bark from a weed wacker, helps retain moisture, and helps to moderate soil temperatures in all seasons. But the volcano mulch piled against the bark of tree, especially young trees, will soften the bark and invite the invasion of rodents, insects, fungus, rot and the suffocation of the trees’ roots.

I’ve been taught to think ‘doughnut’ when mulching a tree and limit the mulch to two, three or four inches deep… max. Once I apply, I pull the mulch away from the trunk for about five or six inches until the root flair is visible.

It’s a puzzle to me why volcanoes are so popular. Is it that the professionals don’t know better or do their clients prefer the volcano look? It frustrates me and as a frustrated Charlie Brown would say, “Aaugh!”

 

It’s been a mild winter…

…..on the Seacoast of New Hampshire. Lots of rain with temperatures that have fluctuated in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s during the day, and the 20’s and 30’s during the overnight for the most part. But this mild pattern is about to change. Last night we had mild overnight temperature of 33°. Tonight’s temperatures will drop into the mid-teens. Nighttime temperatures will stay there or much lower for the rest of the month. Sigh. Winter has arrived.

So this morning, I had a job to do. Out came the burlap to protect two of my woody plants, the mahonias, that I consider borderline plants in my less sheltered garden sites. Officially we are zone 6 in Exeter, but I always plant for hardiness zone 5b as I learned while working at Rolling Green Nursery here in NH.

mahonia NH 2019

It’s a lovely winter blooming plant and they are beginning to develop terminal blooms on several stems. With temperatures dropping to single digits tomorrow night, I needed to protect those new blooms that are oh-so tiny.

mahonia bloom January 2019

Those blooms will open to beautiful, lemon-yellow clusters in late February or March and look like this photo (below) taken in my January gardens in Virginia. As an early blooming plant, these fragrant blooms are well-known for helping to feed those first bees that are searching for nectar in the spring.

honeybee on mahonia

After pollination, the fruits develop the most divine grape-like clusters of powder blue berries. Unfortunately, they don’t stay on the plants long. My catbirds arrive from warmer climes and devour all before any other migrating bird has a chance!

mahonia berries in Virginia

Mahonia is closely related to the barberry, but the leaves are spiny and look more like a holly shrub. These slow-growing plants are planted in a shady mixed-shrub border that I am currently planning a big redesign. Not to worry… my mahonia shrubs stay just where they are as the jewels in the crown of this garden in New Hampshire.