There’s no R in August…

… but we ate them anyway.

oystersThere was a time when oysters were eaten only in the 8 months that contained an R in the name. May, June, July, and August were times we did not consume them in Virginia. Oyster Farming has changed all that in most places, and there’s another fact to consider. New England oysters are grown in colder waters, therefore safer to eat year-round, especially when harvested by reputable sources.

So we found ourselves back at Garnet Hill Mobile Boutique for a community invited spectacular wine and seafood fest. Food was provided by The White Apron and Stonewall Kitchen, all compliments of Garnet Hill.

IMG_5342Lots of nibbles and drinks….

And lots of nice folks…

Today is Garnet Hill Mobile Boutique’s last day. They pack up and head out to the South Street Seaport in New York City for their next event. It’s been fun having them here for upscale retail therapy, art by local artist Jay Schadler, gorgeous florals, yoga, bocce ball, parties, refreshments, kids’ crafts, live music, live radio, and good fun. Thank you Garnet Hill.

I don’t feed the birds anymore…

…with seeds in the summer, that is. What I mean is I don’t invest in expensive sunflower seeds all summer as I’ve done for 100 years. But I do provide food. It’s more natural food in the garden. We don’t have the variety of birds that we had keeping suet and seeds year round but we are royally entertained by those that frequent the landscape for berries, caterpillars and other insects, seeds on sunflowers, and we are generous with water. In an extreme drought like we are experiencing, all the neighborhood birds frequent the birdbath. Some simply sit and soak.

goldfinch on sunflower

Alas, I haven’t gone cold turkey with birdfood though. Maybe someday but for now  we are supplying mealworms to keep bluebirds (and us) happy. They are waiting when I take the feeder outside in the morning to have my coffee. And they are waiting when we supply mealworms at the dinner hour. We dine on the deck every evening and share space with 5 or 6 bluebirds of different ages…. parents and this year’s offspring.

Shortly after moving here, mister gardener made a bluebird box. It was doubtful we’d attract the birds in our small yard.  But, yes, if you build it, they will come. Last year was the first year. The couple had one nesting and now they have just completed their third nesting. That’s it for this year.

bluebird

This morning I sipped my coffee and watched as the last youngster looked eager to take flight. I waited with a second cup of coffee.  And then it did…. with the parents there to protect and guide it to the big viburnum where the other fledglings waited. The parents and older siblings slowly urged the newest fledglings to the old oak tree at edge of the forest as they always do. We can hear lots of excited calls welcoming the youngest to the family. There they keep them safe, feed them from a variety of sources, and when they are older, we’ll see them coming for mealworms twice a day with the others.

August 22 - Last Bluebird Fledgling

 

 

 

 

The Oliver Hazard Perry

Like so many others last weekend, we decided to check out the tall ship Oliver Hazard Perry Rhode Island docked at the Fish Pier on Pierce Island in Portsmouth. It is the first full-rigged ocean ready ship built in America in over 110 years. Measuring 207 feet, it’s a three-masted square-rigged vessel and the largest privately owned tall ship sailing school and an official Good Will Ambassador for the state of Rhode Island.

Oliver Hazard Perry

Oliver Hazard Perry young navigator

The ratlines or footings that make a ladder take the crew aloft to stow the sail. Not for the faint-hearted. The tallest part of the rig reaches more than 13 stories. There are 14,000 square feet of sails and 7 miles of rigging.

Oliver Hazard Perry

Oliver Hazard Perry

 

I learned from young trainees onboard there’s a name for every sail and every rope. Makes sense. Even though this is their first voyage, I touched a random rope and the young man told me the name and its purpose. Impressive!

Oliver Hazard Perry

Oliver Hazard Perry

Oliver Hazard Perry

Below deck, we found climate controlled modern accommodations for 49 people, everything immaculate and tidy, the galley and dining hall, a meeting room, a science lab, and much electronic equipment. Sleeping quarters or staterooms were not on tour but we got a full description from a young trainee.

Oliver Hazard Perry below deck

Oliver Hazard Perry Log Book

Oliver Hazard Perry sailing student

Oliver Hazard Perry Galley

Oliver Hazard Perry dining hall

Oliver Hazard Perry charts

Oliver Hazard Perry below deck view

Back above deck we completed the tour and left enlightened and much better educated about tall ships in general and the Oliver Hazard Perry in particular.

Oliver Hazard Perry

To view a video of the Parade of Sail 2016 welcoming the Oliver Hazard Perry and the light-hulled tall ship, the Harvey Gamage, to Portsmouth, click HERE.

Proceeds from Sail Portsmouth tour will go toward Portsmouth Maritime Commission’s partnership with Seacoast Youth Services and the Sea Challenge. Later this summer, the Sea Challenge will sponsor at-risk youth and take them out for a week at sea. To learn more about the organization, click HERE.

 

 

Freezing Basil and Dill

I freeze my favorite herbs in batches all summer and at season’s end, I have enough to last the entire winter. Two of my favorite herbs are basil and dill. Yesterday was Freeze a Batch day for these herbs. There are a slew of methods out there for preserving herbs… air drying, oven drying, blanching, freezing in oil or water, freezing whole, but I simply do it my way, always the same way. I find that herbs done this way stay flavorful and tasty until I can harvest from the garden next year.

Basil:

Basil

I pinch down my basil plants before they can form blooms and that makes them nice and bushy for a while. When we have more basil that we can use, I take a few stems early in the day and remove the leaves. I rinse them, drain, then rough chop in a food processor.

basil/food processsor

Into a zip lock freezer bag they go with a bit of water. I spread the basil thin and squeeze out as much air possible and zip it shut. Freeze. To use, just squeeze out and break off as much as you need. That’s all, folks!

Dill:

Some can’t tolerate the pungent taste of dill but it’s one of my favorite herbs. I love dill dip, dill with salmon, dill and cucumber salad and more. mister gardener has a hundred ways to use this herb in recipes.

Harvest early in the day, picking leaves from stems. Rinse, drain, and place between paper towels for about a half hour until completely dry.

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Mince the dry dill and drop it into a zip lock bag and freeze.

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When a recipe calls for dill, just sprinkle out the amount of frozen dill needed.

dill

Easy peasy, yes?  Now we have chives, oregano, rosemary, thyme, parsley, and sage to freeze..

It’s a POP-UP!

Or can we call it a tiny home? Take your pick. All I know is I’d like to move in today.  Garnet Hill’s Mobile Boutique, created from a converted shipping container, has arrived in Exeter to offer customers the opportunity to experience and/or purchase their products. Garnet Hill is celebrating its 40th year in New Hampshire.  Exeter was chosen for Stop #1. Stop #2 is NYC.

I poked in today for a closer view.  This 880 sq.ft. tiny home has a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom with closet, a deck outside and another on the roof, and it’s completely furnished with delicious clothes (my size) and decor (my tastes). I’ve always loved the natural fibers the company uses, have purchased blankets and kids’ apparel but to see, touch, and feel all products and those clothes (in my closet) were amazing. Cashmere sweaters…. sigh.

Garnet Hill Mobile Boutique

 

Erin of Garnet Hill

Erin, manager of the mobile boutique, greeted me and explained the story behind the event and the idea of showing people what Garnet Hill is all about during this celebratory 40th year of business.

Garnet Hill Mobile Boutique

Garnet Hill Mobile Boutique - Murphy Bed

Garnet Hill Mobile Boutique

Garnet Hill blankets

Last night the local community was invited to a Garnet Hill free cocktail party at The Gourmet Lounge. Matt Louis of Moxy restaurant (our fav restaurant!) of Portsmouth NH, served oysters on the half shell with music, beer, wine, on-air radio, crafts and ice cream for the kiddos…. a grand opening extravaganza!

As I was leaving today, chefs were setting up for another event under the tents. Boxes were arriving, flowers placed on tables, and, oh what fun… extracurricular activities must include bocce ball.

Bocce Ball

Game Time!

If you have a chance, stop by the boutique in Exeter. It is located at 1 Franklin Street, next to the restaurant Blue Moon Evolution, until August 24, 2016.

 

Taking Chances in the Garden

When I first started gardening, I bought any and all perennials that looked pretty at the nursery and plopped them in my new gardens. I learned the hard way about the pitfalls and shortcomings of different plants and I’ve grown pretty choosy through the years. Perennials that reseed like crazy, are prone to mildew, grow leggy, or otherwise need need constant care generally don’t make the cut. Experience with some naughty perennials while gardening in Zone 7b cause them to be forever banned from my gardens:  ajuga (just try to contain it!), creeping jenny (lives anywhere… even in water!), deadnettle (think kudzu!), phlox (think mildew!), and several more.

However, negative thoughts about some undesirable plants, perennials and annuals, were softened after caring for them at Rolling Green Nursery for two summers. And working there made me reach out and take a chance with some of those banned ones and a few others:

Here are a few plants I took a chance on:

Brass Buttons (Leptinella) A mat-like ground cover that grows about 2 inches high. It has a reputation of being a thug in the garden but that hasn’t happened to me….yet… but I don’t think I’d mind if it did step out-of-bounds. It could make a great grass substitute. Its fern-like foliage is so unusual and attractive that I fell in love with this tough little plant. I’m always questioned about this unique perennial that grows in a spot where grass struggles to grow. Thumbs up!

Brass Buttons

Calamint (Calamintha nepeta ‘Blue Cloud’): Never in a million years would I have wanted a mint in my garden until I cared for this one at the nursery. It forms plumes of miniature, tubular blue flowers on spikes. A pollinator magnet, it blooms continuously from June till frost. I see no signs of wilting or disease during our severe drought this summer. If blooms flag, it benefits from a good trim and will reward with a second flush of flowers. I would not call it invasive. Thumbs up!
Calamintha
Calimint
Red-veined Sorrel (Rumex sanguineus): Also called bloody dock, this European native can grow in the herb or vegetable garden, around the pond, or as an ornamental garden accent. I fell in love with the prominent red veins on the lance shaped leaves. Edible for some folks, but grown here as decorative accents. No flowers have emerged as of mid-August but they’ll be nipped as soon as they appear to prevent self-seeding. Thumbs up!
Red-veined Sorrel

Campanula carpatica ‘White Clips’: I cared for this little perennial for almost two summers at the nursery until I weakened and purchased a few. The showy bell-shaped white blooms face upward covering small compact clumps of foliage about 8 -10 inches high. I have it at the edge of a border in moist soil. We will cut it back hard very soon and will be rewarded with a flush of new growth and blooms.  Thumbs up!

campanula

Defiant Hybrid Tomato: I took a chance on this tomato plant that boasted blight resistance. It’s a determinate bush tomato plant that produces medium-size tomatoes. Jungseed.com writes, “This is the first tomato to crack the genetic code for late blight resistance. It has high resistance to late blight, intermediate resistance to early blight and great flavor, all in one.” Knock on wood that I don’t jinx it but it’s been almost PERFECT. The grandchildren picked two lovely tomatoes on their lunch visit to Nana’s yesterday… and there are 15 – 20 more ripening on the plant. Thumbs up!

Tomato 'Defiant'

 

 

Reunion 2016

What’s round on the ends and HI in the middle?

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The great state of O-HI-O!

Ohio is where my 4 children and 7 of my 8 (soon to be 9) grandchildren from 3 states gathered for our annual hiking vacation. With a son living in the east-central part of the state, 14 of us converged there to laugh and tell stories, plan outings, to cook, eat and sleep in a rural setting surrounded by woods and farmland where wheat and corn dominated every horizon.

 

corn

We accomplished our annual hike perfectly while keeping up with a son’s rigorous itinerary. We visited the stables where his daughters’ ponies were put through their paces for us, met the barn cats, and shared in pony grooming complete with treats.

Click on photos to enlarge

We shopped the vibrant and beautiful Wooster, Ohio.

Wooster

Meals were simple and delicious. We ate well.

Deserts were simple, too. Either s’mores over a fire pit or our annual blackberry dessert with hard sauce or Kentucky Derby Pie. Local blackberries weren’t available but black raspberries were sold from an Amish neighbor’s garden. This area is home to the world’s largest Amish community. Great neighbors!

Our hike took place at Wooster Memorial Park, also called Spangler Park, owned by the city of Wooster. Over  320 acres and 7 miles of foot trails up and down steep ravines, through lush woodland, scenic overlooks, and far stretching farm fields loaded with wildflowers.

Days slipped by quickly and before we knew it, it was time to pack up and return home… but not before one last celebration: a monumental firework display to celebrate our happy family gathering.

 

Here today, Gone by Noon: Mushrooms

Storms, flooding, heat waves, droughts are capturing headlines lately.  Where I live, the Seacoast of New Hampshire, we are surviving the ‘Drought of 2016’. Not good. Wells are running dry; there are water restrictions and serious monetary fines for non-compliance in communities. Storm clouds and rain seem to go north or they go south of us and out to sea.  But last week we experienced some pop-up showers/storms and higher humidity. For a few days afterwards, these tiny mushrooms appeared here and there in the wee hours of the morning. They were sparse but they dotted only my lawn and no other yard that I could see.

IMG_5797

lawn

They are so fragile a mushroom that by noon, they had spread their spores and disappeared. Each morning the cycle repeated with a few tiny mushrooms appearing in the morning dew.

They are a fungus with living parts a foot or more under the soil. It’s not a bad thing and can actually be good for the lawn. They feed on decaying matter and release nutrients into the soil. In my case, the decaying matter is probably grass clippings. Although we live in a complex that provides a mowing service, I prefer to do my own. The mowing service roars through our complex in the hottest part of the day on fairway-type tractors spewing clippings into borders and scalping grass to 1″ in height. They weed & feed twice a summer and routinely spray pesticides.

I couldn’t accept any of that so here was my simple solution: No fertilizer, No weed killer, and No pesticides in my tiny stretch of lawn. After a soil sample by University of New Hampshire told me I need no more nitrogen and no more phosphorus, only potassium, I added just that.  In my small yard, I pull weeds by hand and I cut my own grass with the mower below.

🌿

IMG_5888

I mow late in the day and I mow our grass  3″ high. The grass clippings stay on the lawn, and, yes, it does seem to be healthier.  Plus a bonus: I had these cute little mushrooms greeting me at dawn for a short time. It’s a very good thing….

Breaking Silence

Yes, it’s been a year away from this site. Not really a vacation though. One of my three sisters and BFF is no longer. Losing her, settling her affairs, and accepting the void has been a year’s adjustment. Garrison Keillor said it best when he expressed his loss of a sibling: “When your brother dies, your childhood fades, there being one less person to remember it with, and you are left disinherited, unarmed, semiliterate, an exile.”  Life goes on for the siblings left behind. Six of us now. All adjusting. Accepting. Closing ranks. Closer than ever. Carpe diem.

Life in our small landscape (following condominium removal of beautiful white pines, large lilacs and the recent severe pruning of odd-shaped rhododendrons) is in constant motion. Dig, dig, dig, plant, weed, mulch, pass-along, transplant, and repeat. We’ve gained a little more property with tree removal (good) and now have 100% sun (bad). We’ve awakened the inner-gardener in residents (good) and we wave to each other as we toil in the soil and perhaps share a glass of wine at day’s end (good).

In down time, we hover beneath an umbrella from the sun on our deck and move our chairs with the shade. We’ve planted three understory-sized trees… 2 Amelanchier trees and 1 Styrax japonicus.  Benefiting from their shade is not in our near future. However, they look fabulous in the barren ‘living wall’ of this condominium complex.

In a short time we went from a small shady landscape with no arranged borders….

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… to a bit larger, all sun landscape where I developed more formal gardens:

IMG_6041

Flowering shrubs have always tugged at my heartstrings with blooms for the bees and fall berries for the birds. In the curved borders above went Little Lime hydrangeas in the foreground with viburnum varieties, highbush blueberry, a variety of hollies, enkianthus, a couple of pearl bushes, a juniper, and three mid-size trees along the beds. Liriope, calamint ‘Blue Cloud’, and lavender fill in along the edged borders. How blue! How bees! How birds!

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Three different climbing clementis plants now fill this metal trellis will color against a bare wall of the home. The birdbath has been replaced by an urn.

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In another area, we nursed a tiny potager garden with herbs, lettuce and other edibles. A small boxwood garden was added this spring with a bubbling fountain. Condo life is a ‘mother may I?’ existence, so with fingers crossed we hope to be granted permission soon to remove our aged deck and replace it with a smart terrace protected from the sun by a pergola. Fabulous. Just have to convince the powers that be.

 

 

The Bee’s Knees in my garden

It’s peak pollinator time in New England gardens and I’m a little surprised at what plant in my garden is getting all the action. I do maintain a garden that is constantly in bloom but I’m more of a blooming woody shrub lover than perennial flower lover for two reason. Shrubs need less maintenance than perennials… and there’s something quite magic about the color green… the variety of shapes, colors, and textures of green leaves that shrubs and trees provide in a garden attracts and soothes me like no perennial can.

All that being said, I do provide perennials as accents and splashes of color in the garden.  I especially want to provide nectar for pollinators and host plants for a variety of butterflies. The summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) is just beginning to burst upon the scene but it’s being ignored by insects. The butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), liriope, hostas, daisies, sunflowers, and a few others are being shunned for this small bloom. Mobbed by bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, this small allium seems to be the bee’s knees right now.

AlliumalliumNot in full bloom but those blooms that are open are a’buzzing with activity. Sorry… butterfly bush, daisies, summersweet… I’m sure your time will come.

butterfly bush & daisiesSummersweet (Clethra alnifolnia)

Know Your Farmer!

vegetable garden in VirginiaIn Virginia, mister gardener nourished us all summer with the freshest vegetables and fruits from his garden… a true slow food movement in our own backyard. He was also the main chef so the vegetables and fruits he harvested would go straight into the meals he prepared.

That was then and this is now.  He is still the main chef but we have downsized from 12-acres to a small property. mister gardener’s vegetables are now grown in pots and herbs are grown in my flower beds. No room for a vegetable garden, so what do we do? We support the slow food movement at our wonderful Exeter Farmers’ Market, the 2nd largest in the state, where we get to know our local farmers.

Exeter Farmers' Market We always enjoy the live music and bustling marketplace where we chat with farmers and craftspeople, meet our friends and neighbors while shopping for an abundance of local foods and produce. The quality of 100% locally grown produce cannot be equaled and it’s a good feeling to support local agriculture.

We are awed by the fresh veggies, fruits, meats, cheeses, eggs, honey, syrup, beer, baked goods, herbs and other plants, and numerous crafts… and stimulating the senses are savory meals served up hot and yummy.

Here are a few scenes from our most recent market. Click to enlarge photos.

From their website, here is who will be here for Exeter’s Farmers’ Market this week. See you there!

  • Anderson’s Mini-Maples
  • Applecrest Farm
  • Aspen Hill Herb Farm*
  • Barker’s Farm
  • Blueberry Hill: Alternatives for Life
  • Brandmoore Farm*
  • Bucovina Cuisines
  • Coombs Farm LLC
  • Coppal House Farm
  • Diane Louise Paul Handcrafted Leather & Repair
  • Divine Cuisines, LLC DBA Tulsi
  • Etta’s Soaps
  • Figtree Kitchen
  • Forty Five Market Street Bakery and Cafe
  • Heron Pond Farm
  • Hickory Nut Farm
  • Hurd Farm llc
  • Jessica Seaton Pottery
  • Jesta Farm *
  • Karimah’s Kitchen
  • Kellie Brook Farm
  • Leaven Beer And Bread House
  • mckenzie’s farm
  • Meadow’s Mirth*
  • Mona Farm
  • Moriarty’s Greenhouse*
  • New Roots Farm*
  • Riverslea Farm
  • SNAP Seacoast Eat Local
  • Soothey Designs
  • Stout Oak Farm*
  • Sugarmomma’s Maple Farm
  • The Soup Guy, LLC*
  • Throwback Brewery
  • Toni’s Donuts/Lemieux Family Concessions
  • Vernon Family Farm
  • White Cedar Farm
  • White Heron Tea & Coffee*
  • Zach’s Farm

2015 American Independence Festival, Exeter, NH

In your community, you might celebrate American Independence Day on the weekend closest to the 4th of July. In Exeter, NH, it is celebrated on the weekend closest to the date New Hampshire’s Declaration of Independence copy arrived in our Revolutionary-era capital… July 16, 1776. Exeter is fortunate to have that first official copy of the Declaration of Independence, one of only 26 known copies that survive out of about 150 copies printed. It is annually on display during the Festival in the American Independence Museum and, yes, we did wait in line to see it and other rare documents such as handwritten letters by George Washington. Ladd-Gilman HouseExeter’s American Independence Festival is the biggest celebration of the year. The Declaration of Independence arrives on horseback and is read to the public by a descendant of the original reader. Next door to the museum is an artisans’ village with the cooper, the potter, the gunsmith, the cobbler, the basket weaver, milliners, spinners, the blacksmith, and more.

I have watched master potter Steve Zoldak at Strawbery Banke and actually own some of his wares. It was fun to watch him create more masterpieces.

The shoemaker

Peter Oakley:  Shoemaker

The cooper

Ron Raiselis:  Cooper

The gunsmith

Steve Woodman: Gunsmith

Making Flax

Peter Cook: Preparing flax fibers for spinning and weaving linen

Children got into the act everywhere you looked. From music to scavenger hunts and crafts, costumes to junior militia recruitment, the youngsters were involved and entertained. Click to enlarge photos.

Historic Folsom Tavern, c. 1775, was open for the public to tour, watch demonstrations, and for those who chose to imbibe, could enjoy a sudsy brew in the very room that George Washington once savored a breakfast. Click to enlarge photos.

We ended the day with hundreds of other visitors on Swasey Parkway watching battle re-enactments with lots of gunfire and cannon booms. Click to enlarge photos.

Later that afternoon we decided to call it a day and trudged home but not before we bought ‘fried dough’ from one of several vendors that lined the street. Delicious but not nutritious, I’m sure. Although live music and fireworks rocked the night away, we were a little like the lady we spotted in the tent below…. tuckered out and fast asleep from our big adventure. ZZZZZZZ.....

Warm Season Weeds

Last weekend on the hottest day of our summer so far, 8 neighbors came together to clean and weed a border for a resident who needed a little help. Temperatures hovered in the 90’s under a brutal sun, but with steady work the job wrapped up in just 2 hours.

Weeds and BrushThis neighbor’s lawn borders our property so I took a keen interest in what was growing so close to me.  Some of the weeds that we removed are ones that I really love to hate. We saw quite a variety, but here are a few of the worst offenders:

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana): The plants were small but plentiful. If not pulled out as a small plant, this pest can mature to 8′ and will have a massive taproot that is next to impossible to remove. Worse than that, the weed is poisonous. Songbirds are not affected by pharmacopeia in the berries, however the entire plant, berries, root, leaves, and stems are toxic to humans and animals. Get it out early!

Yellow Woodsorrel (Oxalis stricta): Deep taproots make this weed difficult to pull out intact. I find it easiest to hold the stem as close to the soil as possible and pull very slowly to remove the taproot. Otherwise the root snaps.  It’s a pretty little weed with a dainty yellow bloom, but oh so prolific. For every one I pull, it seems 10 take its place! Often a nursery plant will have the weed or weed seeds in the pot and it will be introduced into a landscape when planted. I am forever weeding them from pots at work.

WoodsorrelSpurge (Euphorbia maculata and Euphorbia supine): These weeds thickly covered the bare spots in the area and were spreading to the lawn. Both prostrate and spotted spurge will form a dense mat over an area. Like all spurges in this huge family, the plant leaks a milky latex than can irritate the skin….just like poinsettia, another spurge. These weeds survive the lawn mower since they grow very low to the ground.

Poison Ivy (Rhus radicans): Here is a plant that loves the suburbs. It thrives on the edge of woods, ditches as real estate development is poison ivy’s best friend. Although we found several plants, they were all small. We decided to spray them with herbicide rather than pull the vine from the ground.

poison ivyNutsedge: When young, these small plants can be mistaken for grass. One ID is the v-shaped crease down the center of the blade. I did not see a lot of this weed on cleanup day in New Hampshire, but, boy, was it a nuisance in my Virginia gardens! We broke the tubers off when we pulled the weeds thus assuring the rest of the tubers and rhizomes will reemerge.

nutsedgeRed Sorrel (Rumex acetosella): This is another weed that will spread in barren areas. The roots are shallow so it’s easy to pull. Sometimes you pull one weed and three more come with it as new plants can grow from one plant’s creeping horizontal roots.

IMG_7293Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea): My worst nightmare is slowly creeping toward our property! It is a dreaded weed in the mint family. You can wage war on this perennial but you will only win some battles. We pulled it up in great long strands but we knew that every rooted node will return as a new plant. Herbicides are not very effective. Landscapers either solarize it or are known to use glyphosate to kill everything, then reseed grass. It’s that tough…

Creeping CharlieThere were lots of other weeds like dandelion and plantain and crabgrass. I think we might have a couple more workdays here….

Free Compost! Come and Get it.

So whadaya think? In exchange for being a bonafide resident of Exeter New Hampshire, we are given free access to the town’s compost at the Transfer Station.  So after purchasing (Yike$!!) two plus cubic yards of compost from a garden center but needing much more with for our clay soil, we decided to check out the ‘dump’ where the compost is free and the reputation is good.

I have read scary stories about compost quality at dumps but after finding plastic forks, tin foil, and bits of other plastic in the purchased compost, could this be worse? If it is done right, the heat from the compost process should cook weed seeds and more. We are using it only in ornamental garden beds.

Check-in was fairly stringent with valid proof of residency and our official sticker on the windshield. After we were given the thumbs up, we backed our SUV close to the pile marked ‘COMPOST.’

Check-inAt first glance, it looked unappealing…. just like gray dirt.

CompostBut once our shovel hit the compost, it turned into black gold.  We filled the tarp lined trunk with almost a yard of compost.

compostIt did have tiny twigs and other organic matter in the compost, but for the most part it looked no different from the expensive compost available at nurseries and garden centers.

Two full days later, it’s been added to the borders and all beds have been topped with over two dozen bags of rich dark spruce mulch… undyed, no recycled pallets or scrap lumber for my gardens! I’ll keep you updated on results of our compost experiment… good or bad.

I LOVE fuzzy little bunnies but….

…. we’ve been lulled into a rabbit takeover. During our severe 2014-15 winter, we watched from the window as one sad rabbit fought to survive atop 3′ of snow. We were pulling for the bunny as it nibbled birdseed and whatever else it could find. At neighborhood gatherings, we exchanged sightings and worried about our bunny.  He/she survived. That was then and this is now.

Perhaps we were seeing more than one or it found another survivor. There had to be a male and female because we now are seeing the breeding potential of rabbits. Yards this summer look a little like the invasion of jackrabbits out west. At times, all I see from the window are baby bunnies… very tame babies, baby bunnies that graze from yard to yard, from garden to garden.

I’m playing catch-up learning about their diets. What do they like and what do they not like to eat? They hop around the yard nibbling grass and that’s perfectly fine but when I discover nibbles from my garden, I worry.

They don’t seem to totally eat anything…. except all my sunflowers and liriope. They sample from the smorgasbord. They seem bent on destroying plants, not eating them.  I don’t want to harm the rabbits but trying to learn how to protect my garden. Coyotes, foxes and hawks are natural predator that may balance out the number but right now I need solutions.

Suggestion so far: red pepper spray (seems cruel), a dog or cat (too disgusting to visualize), barber shop hair, motion detector sprinklers, scare tape or balloons, pinwheels, but the only solution I see for me are plant cages. Drat. Wonder if there is a sure-fire solution other than harming these cute little cottontails….

Good Humor at Rolling Green Nursery

Life is for celebrating and all the employees at Rolling Green Nursery did just that when the owner had a milestone birthday a few days ago. Major kudos to Rick Simpson who pulled off a first-rate surprise for his wife, Beth.  And I was lucky enough to be on duty that afternoon when the call came in over employee’s radios. Come to a party on the far side of the property!

joy, oh joy…..

Happy Birthday, Beth!

Happy Birthday, Beth!

Not only were two delicious cakes being cut for party-goers, Rick had another surprise for Beth and all of us.

And there it was….the Good Humor Ice Cream truck complete with the jingle-jangle music from days of yore.  There were bomb pops, creamsicles, drumsticks, ice cream sandwiches, fudgesicles, Snickers ice cream, klondikes, snowcones.

And there I was….transformed into an 8-year-old sitting on the front stoop licking the drips from an ice cream bar after chasing down the ice cream truck, quarter in hand.

Good Humor Ice Cream Truck

And I couldn’t resist this:

HEATH ICE CREAM BAR

good

to

the

very

last

drip!

Heath Bar Ice Cream

Officially a Drought

The National Weather Service has announced that New Hampshire is experiencing a moderate drought. We’ve had scant rainfall this spring. You might ask: Where’d all that record-setting snow melt go? I wondered, too.

The answer is two-fold: Our snow was ‘fluffy and dry’ according to Alan Dunham, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Taunton, Massachusetts and the water content of our snow was low. Secondly, according to Michael Rawlins, an assistant professor of geosciences and a hydrology specialist at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, the small amount of water in the soil has evaporated. The upper surfaces of soil were saturated but with little precipitation, it’s gone.

Rolling Green1

It’s been hot and dry at  my work place, Rolling Green Nursery, but just seven minutes of overhead watering first thing in the morning on the hottest days give perennials enough moisture until we can get a hose to them all.

The National Weather Service tells us that summer will bring extended dry conditions to southern portions of New Hampshire. Voluntary water restrictions are already being put into effect. Thankfully, we aren’t experiencing the dire conditions that western states are enduring but we’re having a small taste of it and the National Weather Service is predicting a dry summer for us in southern New Hampshire. Mild droughts are more common here than many realize and data tells us that droughts are expected to become more frequent as our climate changes.

However, our collective wish was answered yesterday when the heavens finally opened for a good part of the day. Today we have a soaking rain and tomorrow should bring the same. We will need a lot more though!

I took a walk around my own landscape this morning and saw some happy plants just soaking it in. There is nothing quite so beautiful as a life-sustaining rain. Hover over photo to ID plants or click to enlarge.

Applecrest Farm-to-Table

The newest Applecrest farm stand opened on May 15 and mister gardener was one of the first shoppers. As my resident chef, mister gardener stops by on a regular basis, most recently for tender asparagus in season, but this time I accompanied him to sample the farm-to-table wares at their brand new bistro.

Applecrest FarmThe new building is vast and impressive…. the farm market, the huge bakery (Ummm…pies, cookies, cider donuts!), local meats, cheeses, jam, jellies, libations and more take over most of the 12,000-square foot barn structure.

Click to view a panorama taken from the entry and you might find mister gardener.

IMG_6086We couldn’t bypass the sweet, tender asparagus grown at Applecrest…. displayed front and center. We filled bags for several meals and an appetizer for an upcoming event and had a walk-about to see what other organic goodies we could find. We needed a grocery cart for this! The area is large and the fruits and vegetables were fresh and tempting, displayed in appealing rustic bins made with reclaimed barn wood in keeping with the building’s design.

It was early in the day. We could order a tantalizing late breakfast at the bistro or enjoy an early lunch. We chose lunch and while they prepared our meal, we toured the attractive dining area. Inside and outdoors on the stone terrace, tables were adorned with fresh flowers and to take off the chill on a cool morning, a fire blazed in the stone fireplace.

We decided to dine outdoors overlooking the old orchards that are in full bloom.

The terrace at ApplecrestI chose a light lunch and my fresh beet salad was quite tasty and the presentation was lovely. mister gardener chose the crispy fried pollock with green tomato tartar, fermented cabbage and Maine potato fries… that I sampled and declared thumbs up. There was a smile on every face at Applecrest and the service was wonderful.  Yes…. we will be back.

beet salad

You CAN go home again…

I made the decision to temporary abandon the sluggish spring of New England and head south to Virginia to attend a sweet niece’s wedding. The wedding was the reason for the trip but of course we found more than enough reason to stay awhile. We needed to recharge batteries, check out the Commonwealth’s peak of spring color, and reconnect with all but one of my  6 siblings.

WSA12

Out of town siblings stayed at the home of my brother and his wife where their well-maintained landscape is the very essence of Virginia. I just missed the tulip and daffodil season but the azaleas, exploding with color, shared space with boxwood, double file viburnum, red tip photinia, golden rain tree, dogwood trees that hung on to their blossoms just for me. Walking along pathways revealed tall fiddlehead ferns, delicate Solomon’s seal blooms, vines, graceful plumes of a fringe tree, and oh so many more treasures.

click to enlarge photos

It is always fun to relax among family members who share your memories, know how to enjoy a good meal and a good conversation and lots of laughter. (I always feel sorry for the spouses on these vacations.) We played Musical Houses and dined with 3 siblings for breakfast, lunch, and dinners, and, of course, at a lovely rehearsal dinner.

WSA10We drove from Richmond to Surry County, Virginia for our niece’s amazing wedding on the lawn of her parent’s first home, an 19th century home that they restored many years ago… now owned by friends who have added an additional home on the property. What a happy occasion! What a wedding! What a day!

Now back home in New Hampshire where in my yard tulips are in bloom and the crab apple is ready to burst into color…. and back for summer work at Rolling Green Nursery where I get paid to play among the perennials! Joy. Joy.

Rainy Days and Mondays…

Our long winter has delayed spring in New Hampshire. Every gardener I know feels confined and itching to get outdoors to garden. In our yard, we have picked up sticks, raked a bit, pruned dead and damaged branches from the weight of snow, and transplanted a few shade plants, hosta, bleeding hearts, where they were once happy beneath pines, now gone. Folks are flocking to nurseries because they need to see color, to dream, to plan, and to buy pansies, pansies, pansies!

It is the New England Mud Season. And it is cold. And it is rainy. And windy. And we have coastal flooding. The temperature today hovered in the mid to upper 40’s, with 50’s in the forecast for the next 10 days, dropping to the high 30’s at night. But, in spite of the delay, the plants and animals know spring is here. Red maples are bearing their bright red blooms, branches of the willows have turned golden, spring peepers and wood frogs are singing a chorus in every ditch, osprey and great blue heron have returned, and our winter pine siskins and juncos have left us.

drainI donned my raincoat this afternoon, walked through a very soggy yard to take a few photos of my borders…. all new last season with plans to be pretty full before this season’s end.

IMG_4998The liriope muscari above has been trimmed, awaiting new growth, and tulips are making progress.

sedum sedumLast summer’s planters of sedum successfully wintered over in the garage and are happy to finally see the light of day.

azalea rhodyIt will be awhile before they open, but the rhodys and azaleas blooms are swelling and will be bursting into color later in the spring.

crocusCrocus that we found blooming under two feet of snow, now must deal with another weather complication….

parsley chivesOh, how thrilled the kitchen herbs are to be moved from a hot and dry kitchen window to the great outdoors.

And finally… the violas. Along with crocus, the violas are the only plant giving us tiny blooms of color in the garden. They are just waiting for better weather to be joined by more blooming plants and then the mulch.

It may seem that I am grumbling about the rain but I know how fortunate we are to have water. Between the rain and snow melt and lakes, reservoirs, ponds, rivers in New Hampshire, there is no immediate threat of water depletion as in several western states where the epic drought has caused crisis conditions…. a crisis that belongs to all of us in the end.

Spring… sluggish but emerging

Just feet from our front door is a small woods that drops off gently to a marshy area that is still partially blanketed in snow.  Yesterday, I decided to make my way down the incline to the meandering stream in the midst of the woodland to search for the first or one of the first native plants to flower in the spring.

The ground was spongy and muddy where there was no snow cover, and slippery where the snow patches were turning icy before melting altogether. This is just a small spit of woods but once inside, the tree canopy enveloped me. The earthy smells, the birds twittering, the squirrels moving along the tall hemlocks and pines, intensely green moss covering every fallen branch and tree stump, made this tiny wooded area a magical spot away from civilization. I felt I had just entered the magical portal linking me to a miniature Narnia.

Growing out of the snow at the edge of the stream, I spotted what I’d come to find, Symplocarpus foetidus, skunk cabbage. The first part of the plant is the spathe, a purplish mottled pod that is able to generate heat and melt a hole in snow. None I saw had opened yet but when they do, they will expose the spadix, the flower cluster inside that will attract insects. The green bud next to the spathe will become the massive leaves of the plant. When the days become warmer, these leaves will unfurl to a very large size… up to 2-ft. in length and a foot wide.

Not related to a true cabbage, the name of the plant, skunk cabbage, comes from the smell of the plant, a fetid odor that attracts early flies to visit and pollinate the plants. The raw leaves are eaten by insects but are toxic to most animals… including the human animal.

Some may think these plants ordinary or common, but I am fascinated by these natives, a true harbinger of spring, that can actually melt snow. Knowing how to do that this winter would have come in handy in New Hampshire!

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote….

April has arrived! As Chaucer wrote in his Canterbury Tales prologue, with April comes the sweet showers that bathe and strengthen the roots of plants. We’ve had a couple of days of good rains followed by temperatures that seemed warm enough to drag out the lounge chairs and hammocks… but not really. I’ve seen young folks shed layers and prance around in shorts and sleeveless shirts but the old folks like me still wear a layer of two of protection from chill of the “sweete breeth,” or sweet breath of the West Winds. This morning I rolled out of bed with a temperature of 30° and with new frost on the landscape to greet me. I left my greenhouse pansies outside overnight and, thankfully, they seemed unfazed by the icy temperatures. PansyThe snow is retreating and I can finally see most of what survived the record snowfalls and what did not and what was damaged and what can be salvaged. With the ground fairly frozen a few inches beneath the surface, it’s too soon to get down and dirty in the garden but there is a lot I can do now…. like taking care of dead and broken limbs. My tiny plants covered by frost covered glasses seemed to do the trick for tiny late season cuttings and plantings.Summersweet, my clethra, mostly laid on the ground during the winter storms. I will need to wade into this thicket and overhaul it…. a shrub that was definitely planted in the wrong location in a prominent foundation spot because it is so darn late to leaf out. But I could never part with the plant because of its insect loving and sweet smelling blooms. Clethra alnifoliaAll of my summer rootings of Tide Hill boxwood (Buxus microphylla ‘Tide Hill’) survived beneath 8′ of snow… well-insulated against the cold. The three parent plants did well, too, although the leaves were chilled this morning with tiny hoar frost. Tide Hill box hoar frost on Tide Hill boxHappy to see that my fall planted Pieris Japonica is greeting the season with zero damage. Not a native, however I love this plant with its drooping clusters of early spring flowers. This is a good foundation plant. Pieris japonicaSadly, I found damage and loss. The new Dwarf Hinoki Cypress lost its beautiful fern-like top branches to the weight of the snow. But, whew, this Japanese ornamental can be salvaged. Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana’The new 5′ female blue maid holly has some winter burn, but the male blue holly, much smaller, survived intact sheltered beneath the blanket of snow. Ilex x meserveae 'blue maid' Blue Prince hollyAzaleas took a hit. Azalea… along with several yews and arborvitae that either split, fell, leaned or all three. We can’t tell if this one can be saved yet. damaged Buried deep within the iceberg  is a border of viburnum, hydrangea, dwarf deutzia, dwarf clethra, upright holly (Steeds), soft touch holly (Ilex crenata), and more. Tips of our steeds holly are beginning to appear at the base of the iceberg below. I just hope the branches I see are from the bottom of the plant, not the top!

Steeds holly beginning to show

Steeds Holly

Perhaps by next week with more of Chaucer’s sweet April showers and warmer winds with 60° temperatures in the forecast, we can evaluate the damage beneath.

April Fool’s Prank in Exeter

Some covert activity occurred in the wee hours of April 1st. Exeter had been Yarn Bombed! We all awoke to a downtown that had been turned into an outdoor gallery of art…. and all for a good cause, the greater Womenade of the Greater Squamscott, an organization that provides financial assistance when it is not available through other sources. Not only does this artistic graffiti event bring awareness to Womenade, it helps the organization financially.  Last year’s yarn bombing in Exeter brought in more than $4500 through sponsorship, business support, and individual support.

Exeter Yarn BombingI, along with many others, followed the trail of whimsical and colorful trees, railings, fences, and doors that were tagged along both sides of the street. Some of the artistic grafitti I recognized from last year’s event but I saw plenty of fun new creations. Here are a few photos shared in a slideshow:

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After a month, these works of art will be carefully removed and packed away, leaving nary a trace of yarn behind.

Signs of Spring 2015

It’s the first day of spring and… YIPPEE… there are signs that the season of rebirth is here. We still have a foot of snow in the yard but we can see positive signs that spring has arrived.

The “snow squirrels” (red squirrels) don’t live in their vast web of snow tunnels anymore:

"snow" squirrelThe appearance of snowflies (click to see it):

snowflyThe infamous snow truck camouflaged all winter at a shopping center is finally exposed:

snow truckOur bluebirds have arrived:

…and finally, the real estate market that was flat due a severe winter is booming again:

Happy Spring everyone!