Getting there…

We’re lagging behind everyone we know in decorating the home for Christmas. Two daughters are sharing photos of their multiple trees adored thousands of lights, themed tree ornaments, and rooms devoted to Dickens, Williamsburg, Disney…. so clearly I needed some inspiration this year get started. First things first: Santa came out of storage yesterday and, as he has for 30-some years, greets visitors at the front door.
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Churchill’s Gardens, just down the street, provided the perfect showcase for inspiration with their holiday greens, twigs, and berries for sale and a wonderland of Christmas in their showroom. Holiday music, themed trees, several Santas and reindeer were there to greet us in this North Pole atmosphere. mister gardener and I spent time absorbing the ambience, bought a ribbon and some southern magnolia leaves, and returned home to invite Christmas to our home.

So far, something simple for the door…..

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…..and our planter we filled with gathered greens, berries, twigs, and the southern magnolia, which greeted us this morning with the season’s first snow. I can’t think of anything better than a nice snowfall to inspire us for the Christmas atmosphere.

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iPhone’s new Portrait Mode…

The iPhone has introduced a fun new setting for photos called Portrait that gives the photo background a blur. It’s not the first phone to add depth of field but for iPhone owners, it’s a brand new feature that can be lots of fun. I have not experimented with humans yet but judging from these quick shots around the house, it is effective.

It uses two cameras on the back of iPhone 7 Plus to give a similar effect delivered by your DSLR camera. The phone snaps two photos: one regular photo in focus and one digitally blurred for the background and it does a pretty darn good job. Behind the spotted laurel (Aucuba japonica) in the blue container sits a yellow 15 lb. bag of birdseed that’s unrecognizable in the photo. In a regular photo, I could read the printing on the bag.

Not too grand when you enlarge these, but it works fine. I can see blurred branches on the crabapple tree that should not be, and the edges of the main subject in photos isn’t always sharp. But it’s just fine for my needs.

I found by experimentation that the camera needs lots of light to take an effective photo and the blur is more dramatic the farther the subject is from the background. Once you are at the correct distance from the subject, a yellow ‘depth effect’ memo pops up and you’re ready to go.

This neat new setting makes it less likely I’d have to pack an additional camera when traveling!

One holiday to the next…

Last week, I felt blessed to be in the midst of family for Thanksgiving, thinking about those family members who couldn’t be with us and reflecting on those who are no longer with us. Somehow those family traditions and tried and true recipes make everyone’s presence felt. What a week it was!

It was all good with some minor setbacks: three little children with colds, one mother fighting a cold, and at my house, a computer that bit the dust, a dishwasher that kicked the bucket, and signs of an impending cold. So, with houseguests, dishes piling up in the kitchen, and no computer, I’ve technically been offline (except for emails on my iPhone) and not checking the blog world. Thankfully, my recovered computer was plugged in two days ago and the dishwasher was repaired yesterday. Life is better.

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We did all the usual fun things over the week…eating too much, watching the Macy’s parade, walks, shopping Black Friday sales in Portsmouth and encountering a very New England Santa passing out local coupons…img_0221

Exciting for two sons and a son-in-law was a weekend trip to the Ohio State-Michigan game in Columbus. With two of them OSU fans and one a Michigan grad, someone had to come away disappointed in this double overtime matchup.

With the turkey off the table, the glitter and lights of Christmas are in full swing everywhere. I’ve barely rolled my pumpkins to the curb at my house. I think it’s time for a little holiday music and a trip to the tree farm….

 

Prepping for the Holiday

Yes, our flock is back. They wander through our backyards and strut their stuff down the middle of our quiet street. Several neighborhood crabapple trees are an attraction, a bit of spilled birdseed another. The acorn crop was overly abundant this autumn and will keep the birds well-fed until spring.

Tom Turkey

Of course, seeing these big birds reminds us of the holiday on the horizon…. Thanksgiving! Foods and recipe ingredients for our meal have been ordered or bought and the baking will begin this weekend. We will combine family food traditions to make the holiday special for everyone.

For me, that tradition is a special ham. My favorite salty Virginia ham, on the table with the turkey, is mandatory, and it must be an Edwards Virginia Smokehouse country ham. We slice it paper-thin and serve it stacked on buttered southern buttermilk biscuits… and eaten warm. Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same without this Thanksgiving tradition.

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Added to desert menu every year are chess pies from a ‘secret’ recipe that has been passed down for many generations in my father’s Appomattox VA family, along with other choices: apple crumb pie, pumpkin custard pie, chocolate balls, buttered caramel and one birthday cake. Lots of sweets! We always eat early enough in the day to guarantee an appetite for delicious leftovers by the time darkness falls. I think a lot of folks do that…

We are looking forward to the week. One granddaughter will arrive from Bennington College by car, however we’ll be racking up the auto miles for airport transportation: once on Sunday, twice on Wednesday, once on Friday, and once the following Sunday. They’re worth every mile and we have much to be thankful for!

*Edwards Virginia Smokehouse photo

A Tiny Princess

They may look like miniature pine trees or small hemlocks with their tiny needle-like leaves but they are not. This tree, commonly called princess pine, that we see on walks through the woodlands in New Hampshire are “fern allies” that produce powdery spores that disperse in the wind. It’s too early in the season to see the “clubs,” the appendage at the tip of the plant that produces spores but click HERE to see them on our Virginia property.

Princess Pine

We don’t see too many of these living fossils on walks in New England, but we had them fully carpeting our sandy woodland on our Virginia acreage. Perhaps it is a different variety that thrives in the warmer zone 7b but they certainly look the same.

clubmoss princess pine

The plant is in the clubmoss family (Lycopodiaceae), a prehistoric group of plants that grew before there were dinosaurs or pine trees. The princess pines grow about 6 “- 10” tall on cool, moist forest floors and spread by spores and by underground stems… that can surface and cross obstacles that may be blocking the runners beneath the surface.

If you heat your home with coal, you may be burning this fossil. Ancient tree clubmosses could grow about 100′ tall. Like the giant tree ferns, they grew in warm, swampy areas in the Carboniferous era 360 million years ago and were transformed into coal beds that are mined today.

princess pine

Through the years, people have used them for Christmas decorations on church altars, wreaths, arrangements, the spores used in powders for the skin, to coat pills, as flash powder for photography or fireworks… but moderation is advised in pulling up these clubmosses for it will be easy to destroy an entire group. In at least two states, they are endangered and protected and threatened in other states. So when you come across these tiny trees, stop and be amazed, and walk on….

 

The American Beech

Last but not least in stunning fall yellows is the beech tree, perhaps my favorite tree of all. The maples have shed their leaves. Oaks are hanging on to drab leaves. Soon the forest will be owned by hemlock and white pine trees but now it’s all about the beech tree. This forest was aglow with shades of yellow as we trekked about 3 miles on beautiful trails.

White pines in the picture below grow through and tower above the slow-growing beech tree’s lemony fall canopy.

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The leaves of beech trees are alternate with toothed margins and straight parallel veins on short stalks. The trunk in the background below is a white pine.

Beech leaves against white pine bark

The beech trunk is said to resemble an elephant’s leg with the smooth, thin, wrinkled light gray bark. What do you think?

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The leaves that fall and cover the ground are springy and odorless, thus the perfect filler for mattresses for early Americans and those in other countries.

“The leaves of the chestnut tree make very wholesome mattresses to lie on… [Beech leaves]… being gathered about their fall, and somewhat before they are much frost-bitten, afford the best and easiest mattresses in the world to lay under our quilts instead of straw; because, besides their tenderness and loose lying together, they continue sweet for seven or eight years long; before which time straw becomes musty and hard; they are thus used by divers persons of quality in Dauphine; and in Switzerland I have sometimes lain on them to my great refreshment…”
John Evelyn, Sylva: A discourse of forest-trees, 1670.

Beech Leaves

To see the massive old beech tree we left behind in Virginia, click HERE. Beneath the tree we recovered a wine bottle from the late 1700’s or early 1800’s and very large oyster shells discarded in a pit. It was fun to think the tree sheltered those folks at an early American oyster roast.

“I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow
to keep an appointment with a beech-tree…..”
– Henry David Thoreau, 1817 – 1862

Cubbies!

Holy Cow! Life is good when the Cubs win the World Series and your son and his wife are there to witness history.

A Garden with Bling!

I love ornaments in a garden. Art enhances and enlivens, adds whimsy and visual interest. I developed garden islands and paths in Virginia where one might turn a corner and discover a surprise… water bubbling in a container, or statuary, or a small frog hiding in the leaves. It’s a fun way to personalize a garden.  On our last move, we sadly surrendered most of our garden art, saving just a few favorite pieces for the limited space we have now.

So it was with delight that with a Rolling Green Nursery outing for all employees last August, I was able to visit Bedrock Gardens in Lee NH where nature and art are spread over a 20-acre themed landscape. We meandered on paths through a variety of gardens with wonderful names like Dark Woods, Spiral Garden, Shrubaria, Conetown, Wiggle Waggle, The Fruit Loop, all enticing  you along the pathway to the next garden space.

One-of-a-kind art and sculpture claim a larger than life presence in each garden, well-placed, whimsical, abstract and sure to bring a smile. Horticulture is breathtaking with unusual trees, shrubs, grasses, all placed perfectly in well-designed gardens. Amazingly, this garden is the magnum opus of two talented owners, Jill Nooney, the artist (and much more) who creates and designs, and her husband, Bob Munger, the retired doctor who makes it all happen for her. They have enhanced the natural beauty of their gardens reflecting the passion and personality of each of them.

Visiting the horticulture and garden design is an absolute destination by itself but add in the art and it’s like stepping into another world for those interested in everything: landscape, sculpture, and art. Read more at their website, Bedrock Gardens.

Jill Nooney’s barn full of farm implements and more just waiting for the next project.

We were fortunate to be guided through the gardens by our co-worker, Hobson, who pointed out unique horticulture and the various art sculptures. Hobson is a faithful volunteer at Bedrock Gardens.

Hobson Jandebeur, co-worker and Bedrock volunteer

The gardens have a playful quality about them and it set the tone for our merry band of garden and horticulture experts. Sounds of laughter were heard everywhere and smiles were seen on every face during the day as we strolled. If the intent of the owners was to educate, entertain, and amuse in an atmosphere of tranquility, they succeeded. The garden certainly worked its magic on us.

Click photos to enlarge:

The gardens have recently been taken over by the Friends of Bedrock Gardens, a group that is transforming private gardens into public gardens and a cultural center.

Pure and Simple…

Parenting is a tough job. From the the daily grind of those difficult early years to the nana-and-finnchallenging and often stressful teen years, it is perhaps the hardest but also the most rewarding job there is. However, time passes and before you know it, children are grown and out the door…all four in my case! Eventually the circle of life begins again as babies are born to a new generation…. as it happened again for me two days ago when I became ‘Nana’ for the 9th time to a healthy baby boy.

I’m not sure how a 9 lb. bundle of joy can make the sun shine brighter and the worries of a caustic presidential election and the cruel hardships of the world melt into the background, but he has done just that. Becoming a grandparent brings us closer to our own offspring as they go through the same challenges and concerns we once faced, all enveloped by a shared pure love for their children.

Little number 9. Parents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, and grandparents are ready and waiting to be a part of his life and rearing very soon. We will be his role models, his teachers, his confidants, instilling kindness, respect for the environment, love of learning, and so much more. It does take a village….

The Midas Touch

The peak of color has passed in our neck of the woods and life is inching closer to the dreaded leaf raking season.  For the first time since moving to New Hampshire, we did not follow the thousands of foliage watchers in the jammed motorcade to the mountains. Instead we traveled the seacoast area of New Hampshire and found the colors were magic right here. The only drawback locally is dealing with telephone poles, wires, billboards, fences, and especially a plethora of POLITICAL SIGNS that obstructed or took away from the full views.

Although our first hard rain has done a job on the leaves, it’s still common to spot a tree like this one that we passed by on our walk this week.

fall colors

The fading maples are giving way to later and less dramatic oak tree leaves that have already shed their acorns en masse like marbles across the landscape… causing one to be very cautious while treading on sidewalks, parking lots, etc. over which they spread their canopy.

The view from our living room faces a woodland where one of my favorite native small trees grows along the edge. It’s the native Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) that turns an attractive apricot-yellow before dropping its leaves to reveal blossoms of pale yellow that hang like tassles from stems. I cut a few branches of tassels for a flower arranging workshop that I chaired last week and the effect in one arrangement was outstanding… adding height and texture and the right color for a pale yellow container.

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witch hazel

 

 

 

 

View of the Waterfront

Yesterday, our walk in light rain took us on the opposite side of the Squamscott River with the town of Exeter NH in the distance. This is the first time we’ve viewed the town from this vantage point and it looked beautiful to us on this fall day.

The tidal Squamscott River begins here, fed from the freshwater Exeter River and it runs 6.3 miles through rural areas and small towns to Great Bay, which connects to the Piscataqua River and, finally, the Atlantic Ocean.

Not prepared with umbrellas or raincoats, we were fully drenched by the time our walk ended but we kept our smiles. It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to feel a raindrop and it was a very good thing….

Exeter NH

Rain, Glorious Rain!

The Exeter River, almost dry as a bone in August when work to remove a landmark dam and restore the riverbed to its natural state was proceeding ahead of schedule. The dry riverbed, due to a devastating Extreme Drought, couldn’t have come at a better time for completing this enormous dam removal and restoration project.

That was then….

Left Riverbed finished

This is now….

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It is October 22 and we are still in an extended Extreme Drought with mandatory water restrictions but a welcome storm dropped close to 3″ of rain overnight. We rushed to the river this morning to see the results where we discovered we weren’t alone in our need to see the river flowing. Among the spectators was Board of Selectmen member, Nancy Belanger, who could hardly contain her excitement at seeing the results of the restoration after a decade of planning and hard work.

She told us things we didn’t know about the planning process, the animals saved during the restoration, and terms I’ve never heard… such as ‘riffle.’ “See the riffles they created,” she said as she pointed to rocks with water flowing fast around and over. When I got home, I looked the term up online. Riffle: “A riffle is a shallow section of a stream or river with rapid current and a surface broken by gravel, rubble or boulders.”- Wikipedia. Nancy said riffles are a place of shelter for fish migrating upstream during breeding. All good….

We need more rain but this is a start….

“Fee-Bee!”

All spring and summer we were serenaded by an Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe), a common flycatcher in these parts. “Fee-bee, Fee-bee…,” it called from backyard shrubbery as it defined its territory. Often described as dull or plain in coloration, this much loved bird’s personality is anything but. Flying insects make up most of the summer diet.  We were entertained all summer as it bobbed its tail on a nearby branch and made short flights to catch dragonflies, beetles, wasps, flies, moths, and more in mid-air.

The suburbs have helped this little bird. They often choose a man-made structure to build their mud, grass, moss nest. In our neighborhood, it’s always a ledge over a neighbor’s front door. If the nest isn’t removed, they come right back to the same nest the following year.  And it’s so easy to become attached to the little ones.

A true harbinger of spring, we know warmer weather can’t be far behind when we hear their sweet call in late winter. It’s October now, and we’ve enjoyed them for several months but, alas, migration can’t be far off. The weather is cooler, insects are scarce, and the birds have switched their diet to berries…. especially on our arrowood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum).

Fee-bee!

Nary a berry is left on the shrub after two weeks of its repeated diving for berries. It’s good to consider the ecological benefit of what’s added to a garden and our native viburnums are excellent for this very reason.  The berries are eaten by several species of birds… cardinals, robins and more but the phoebe ate a fair share. The shrub is also a larval plant food for the spring azure butterfly and hummingbird moth.

arrowood viburnum

This native species isn’t as fragrant as Asian viburnums but it makes up for it in spring flowers, fall leaf color, and abundant berries. It’s adaptable to a variety of growing conditions, growing quite well in full sun in our clay and rocky soil although not its preferred habitat.

Interesting tidbits: the common name arrowood, as you might have guessed, was because the long straight stems were once used to make arrows by indigenous peoples.
The Eastern Phoebe is said to be the first bird banded in North America by John James Audubon in the early 1800s. He attached a light silver thread to several fledgling phoebe legs and discovered they returned to the same nesting area the following year.

Hayride to the Pumpkin Patch

Climb aboard the wagon, find a good spot on a bale of hay, squeeze between your grandchildren, and let the tractor take you away…. over hills, through the cornfield, past the pond, beneath the murder of crows that were startled in the corn, to the tangled vines of a pumpkin patch…. acres of pumpkins and gourds.

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Two tractors and four wagon loads from our grandchildren’s preschool were ready for the bumpy expedition that twisted and turned through the fields.

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Parents and grandparents, siblings and more, all armed with cameras and smart phones fanned out across fields to help youngster find the perfect pumpkin, all shapes, sizes and colors, and to capture that moment with a photo.

pumpkins!

Me included…

 perfect pumpkin

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A perfect pumpkin for us and small enough for a little tyke to carry….

Room for all

Then the bumpy journey back up to Farmer Zach’s Farm to visit the cornfields in search of the best and most colorful ears of corn.

pumpkins

Ahhhh…. what an adventure!  Making fall memories with little people…

There’s nothing like a parade!

Small towns have the most amazing parades. The population of the small town of Stratham NH is less than 8,000, yet the community capped off their 300th anniversary year with a phenomenal and well-organized parade. Several marching bag pipe bands, a fife & drum band, Shriner clowns, ‘Extreme Air’ jump rope group, local selectmen, a pig, horses, cattle, a number of fire trucks from neighboring towns, old tractors, new tractors, Miss Stratham Fair, antique cars, politicians, and floats by a number of organizations, a church, library, Historic Society, local schools, and one garden club…. mine!

My awesome co-chair and I made about 50 large crepe paper flowers and with our straw hats and best smiles, we headed out on the 2-mile trek. Four members rode in a cart while about 10 of us made the walk, all waving our flowers… with one member telling the crowds lining the streets that these flowers are “perfect for our drought!” We pushed a wheelbarrow full of the flowers and all carried a garden rake.

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Waiting our turn to join the parade…

Naturally, it’s always the children who are the most excited at parades. Every other group or float tossed or handed out candy to the almost frenzied youth all along our route. (Yes, we were able to snag a little bit of sugar and chocolate for ourselves…)

Before we knew it, we had reached the end. It was a good feeling to support the Stratham community and we were happy to hear the crowds call out thanks and clap in appreciation for all we do in this community.  All good…

this photo courtesy www.seacoastonline.com

Dark-eyed Junco

It’s bird migration time and things are happening in our little spit of land. According to Chris Bosak, Birds of New England, Labor Day weekend was a good time to fill the feeders again for the fall and winter birds. So I filled the feeder with hulled black oil sunflower seeds and the welcome mat was officially rolled out for the migratory songbirds.

Due to an invasion of breeding house sparrows this summer, I fed only the insect eaters, the robins, bluebirds, phoebes, and chipping sparrows nibbling on what fell beneath the feeder… no seeds at all, just meal worms.  Those pesky house sparrows turned their noses up at the meal worms and have exited the neighborhood, probably living inside Home Depot or around McDonalds for the winter. We are ready for the next wave!

Our first winter visitors arrived two mornings ago. The white-throated sparrow and their snowbird companions, the dark-eyed junco, are perhaps the best harbinger of winter. They arrived overnight and I spotted the newcomers at dawn cleaning up fallen seeds beneath the feeder.

junco (Junco hyemalis) female with sunflower kernel

Female junco with sunflower kernel

The junco is a fairly nondescript bird, gray above and a white belly. The female is generally paler with a mixture of brown in the plumage. Our flock should number 20 or more by the end of October.

Juncos are among my favorite little birds because they entertain me with their antics all winter. Their scientific name is hyemalis, Latin for ‘winter,’ an appropriate name for no snowstorm, blizzard, or arctic day can keep them away.  Their feisty interactions competing for seed under the feeder (and on the feeder) make me smile. They run, they hop, they flit, and they scratch as they battle each other for seed on the frozen ground or snow. Look for them to appear beneath your feeder around here very soon.

Cool Weather

I like Winter, Spring is Nice, Let’s Skip Summer, And do Fall Twice(Rusty Fischer)

Fall is my very favorite season. We have officially transitioned in New Hampshire. There is an invigorating crispness to the air so we’re wearing sweaters now, we sleep under down at night, it’s darker in the morning and in the evening, football is on the tube, leaves are changing, and it’s apple picking time!

Yesterday we spent the afternoon at our outdoor farmers’ market in Exeter, the 2nd largest in the state, where an abundance of fall crops, meats, sweets, meals, crafts and friendly faces greeted us. We didn’t have a shopping list but browsed from booth to booth stocking up on mostly vegetable goods but, oh, how to resist the flowers!

Exeter Farmers' Market 9/29/16

Browsing the booths with fall crops was a little like walking through a rainbow!

Click to see anything up close

That was yesterday. This morning I made the 4-mile drive to Applecrest Farms, New Hampshire’s oldest and largest apple orchard. They grow a variety of goods from peaches, berries, pumpkins and all the summer vegetables. A popular pastime is Pick-Your-Own. We’ve participated and ridden the wagon to the far fields for a variety of fruits.

Here is the ancient sign at Applecrest to help customers make good buying decisions. This week I’m making an apple crisp with cinnamon whipped cream topping so today I was seeking Macs, Courtland, Ida Red for cooking and Honey Crisp for eating.

Applecrest Farm

The Applecrest weekends are filled with autumn activities: music, Pick-Your-Own, hayrides, petting zoo, pie eating contests, fresh pressed cider, and fire roasted corn, sausage, dogs & burgers….. and a bit of clam chowder for me, please. On this Friday morning, they were abuzz setting up and getting ready. Mums..pumpkins…apples galore.

Oh yes, let’s do fall twice!

 

Going Home…

Richmond VA has always been dear to me. My mother grew up in Richmond so naturally we were there on a regular basis to visit our grandparents who lived in a suburb of the city developed in the early 1900’s.The neighborhood, now on the National Register of Historic Places, has 80-foot wide boulevards and tree-lined medians throughout. It was planned with a home setback of about 70 feet to be a garden environment with shade trees, hedges, good size lawns and the wonderful wide grassy medians. The area also had the first electric streetcar to operate successfully in an American city. Zipping into the city took minutes.

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My older bro, younger sisters, mother, and grandmother-1950’s

It was a glorious adventure when the seven siblings visited and it wasn’t hard to develop an emotional attachment to the home where we spent so much time. Both grandparents have been gone for well over 40 years but their lovely home still stands. Late in her life, I would drive my mother by the home when in Richmond. We’d stop and look and she was pleased it was kept up so nicely.

On one visit, we saw the blinds separate a little, followed by a man opening the front door. We watched as the young man walked down the long brick walkway to our car and asked if he could be of help. I can imagine how it might have been uncomfortable for him to see strangers parked and staring at his home. I explained that my mother grew up here and we just stop by occasionally to share memories and see how it’s being maintained.

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mother age 14

How excited he was to meet my 90-year-old mother and insisted that we come in and see all the upgrades and changes he was so proud of. My mother looked at her hands, thought for a minute, then respectfully declined with a gentle smile. She explained she wanted it to remain as it was in her memories.

I understood her reluctance but didn’t have the same hesitation  when my Richmond brother was brave enough to approach the newest owners for visitation on a recent Richmond sibling gathering. We all jumped at the chance! It was where we spent a large part of our childhood, the home filled with grandparental love and fabulous adventures. And how brave of this family to say, “Come on over…”

The first thing we saw upon entering was the youngest resident hiding behind a chair. This is her house now and a perfect place to develop her own memories!

new-young-resident

The basic architecture was the same… windows, doors, columns, chandeliers. The new kitchen was large and modern… thank goodness!  Some rooms were repurposed and I would do exactly the same thing if I lived there.

We all had different things we wanted to see. Here’s the one thing I longed to see… the secret stairway behind a mirror leading to the kitchen!

secret-stairway

They were nice enough to give us free rein to wander.

They asked questions. We told them stories. One thing that pleased the family was my offer to send old photos… especially the one below of my brother sampling a wedding cake in the dining room. It shows the original stained glass window, now missing. We remembered the colors and they hope to reproduce it.

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So….if you’ve been thinking of visiting a home from your past, my advice is to just do it!

PS: We also visited our family home where I spent my childhood. What an adventure that was! Perhaps someday I’ll share.

 

 

The Great Spangled Fritillary

I learned something new yesterday. I’ve never been that great at identifying butterfly species but the butterfly I always thought was Great Spangled Fritillary may not be.

great-spangled-fritillary

There are three species of greater fritillaries found in New England: Great Spangled, Atlantis, and Aphrodite.  All three are almost identical. I’ve probably seen them all and believed them to be one, the Great Spangled. Vermont naturalist Mary Holland blogged about the difference yesterday on Naturally Curious with Mary Holland.

It’s all in the eyes. If the eyes are amber, it’s a Great Spangled. If the eyes are blue-gray, it’s an Atlantis Fritillary, and if the eyes are yellow-green, it’s an Aphrodite Fritillary.

Armed with this new information, I was curious about the one (above) that visited my zinnias today so I inched as close as I could. Amber eyes!  Definitely a Great Spangled Fritillary!  What fun to learn something new.

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Lawn Overseeding in the Fall

I’ve been weeding undesirable grass from one area of the lawn for a few weeks leaving the area bare in spots. With overnight rain almost a certainty a few days ago, I took a chance on grass seed. Crazy maybe. We’re in the middle of a massive drought but grass is a cool weather plant and at this time of year, the nights are cool and dew can be heavy overnight. I aerated the area very well and top dressed it with a compost + soil builder mix and worked that well into the area. I overseeded with a good seed and topped the area with straw. It’s doing well so far with established grass and straw giving some protection.

grass-seedDew is heaviest in the fall and with cool nights, we should have a healthy crop of grass that winters over and will be nice and thick next spring…. ready for what summer throws at us, I hope.

This morning I took my camera outdoors before the sun had fully cleared the tips of the tall trees in the east. This will give you an idea of how heavy the fall dew can be.

Rhody

The insects were out early this morning, wet wings and all:

milkweed-bugsunflower-bumblebeeOther dew drops on this morning. Click to enlarge photos:

mahoniakarley rose fountain grassBaptisia Australisred-veined-sorrelChicago Luster Viburnum Berriesnandina domesticaShasta Daisy 'Becky'styrax japanicus drupesartemisia-beach-wormwood

NH Drought 2016 Update

Everyone’s favorite app in these parts seems to be weather related. When will we have rain?  Last night, all of my weather apps said, ‘maybe overnight.’  It didn’t happen.  ‘Early this morning.’  The clouds dripped for a few seconds. It’s mid-morning and a light rain is falling and may be giving us moisture for 110 minutes according to my AccuWeather app. It seems to be the most accurate so I’m putting my faith in it. I have a dozen containers under the drip line of our roof to catch enough rainwater to sustain 3 newly planted trees. They are stressed. I’m following a friend’s advice of two gallons of water twice a week per tree. Gray water from the showers and the basement dehumidifier give us barely that.

accuweather

There are stages of drought:

  • Level 0: “Abnormally Dry:” This is the lightest level, which means the area is either “going into drought: short-term dryness slowing planting, growth of crops or pastures” or getting out of drought, which means some lingering water deficits; and pastures or crops not fully recovered,” according to the National Drought Monitor.
  • Level 1: “Moderate Drought:” This level of drought involves “some damage to crops, pastures; streams, reservoirs, or wells low, some water shortages developing or imminent; and voluntary water-use restrictions requested,” according to the monitor.
  • Level 2: “Severe Drought:” This level means that “crop or pasture losses likely; water shortages common; and water restrictions imposed,” the monitor states.
  • Level 3: “Extreme Drought:” This is the second-highest level of drought, with “major crop/pasture losses” and “widespread water shortages or restrictions.”
  • Level 4 “Exceptional Drought:” This is the most intense level of drought. This level involves “exceptional and widespread crop/pasture losses; shortages of water in reservoirs, rivers, and wells creating water emergencies.”

My home state of Virginia is in a drought and I hear from friends and family about it. They are Level 0: “Abnormally Dry.” My adopted state of New Hampshire is worse where we live in the Seacoast area. We have progressed through the stages to Level 3: “Extreme Drought.” There are mandatory water restrictions, no watering outdoors at all from municipal water or private wells. If residents don’t comply, they run the risk of a penalty.

drought-map

The drought does not seem to be letting up anytime soon.  California’s problems are frightening with 100% of the state in drought trouble creating wildfires and water wars. Severe to exceptional drought extends over 43% of that state. Sorry to think this way, but a good soaking tropical storm may be our solution. Alas….

Royalty in my border…

The most striking plant that occupies space in my landscape is Aralia cordata ‘Sun King,’ the uncontested ruler of this small kingdom we call a garden. It called out to me for two summers at Rolling Green Nursery until I weakened and purchased a specimen last year. Right away, it declared itself king and after a winter die-down and reemergence in the spring, it became the uncontested emperor of all.

sun-king

It is a golden Japanese spikenard with wonderful red stems and vivid golden-chartreuse leaves that dazzle with their color all summer long. I have it in a mostly shady location with a bit of sun to bring out the gold in the leaves.

sun-king-bloom

The late summer racemes of white flowers are just beginning to burst upon the scene and insects are there for each that opens. Later in the fall, these blooms will be followed by lovely purple berries.

There are many members of this genus Aralia, including Aralia spinosa, that spiky devils walking stick (that I’ve unfortunately encounted on occasion… ouch!). Right now, I’m not attracted to any of the others because I only have eyes for this one garden amour. Zone 4-8

Planting for Nostalgia

It’s warming up in New Hampshire. We’ve been informed that this area is decidely USDA Hardiness Zone 6, not 5 as my blog title states.  But when asked by customers at the nursery, some employees say to plant for Zone 5b because we can have those atypical winters. That sounded like good advice to me and I followed it.

That was before I spotted two shrubs for sale locally that flourished in my Virginia, Zone 7b garden. I’d never seen them for sale around here. Surprisingly, one was tagged Zone 5 and the other Zone 6. Huh?? I was intrigued but hesitated for a moment because I knew they are semi-invasive or invasive in warmer climes.  Probably because of the drought and low sales, the manager approached me…the only customer… and said “For you, everything is half price today.” Hesitation over. I packed my cart.

Forever and ever these shrubs have screamed Virginia as they’re seen in practically every garden, old and new. Nandina domestica and Leatherleaf mahonia. A slice of Old Virginia in my cart. Nostalgia!

#1. Nandina domestica, imported to England from China and Japan in 1804, is a care-free showy shrub, disease-resistant, pest-resistant, that is widely used for flower arranging both for the attractive lacy leaves that vary from red to green to copper and the clumps of bright red berries that follow clusters of tiny white blooms. The berries are fabulous for holiday arrangements! A common name for nandina is Heavenly Bamboo as the multi-stem plant bears a striking resemblance to the canes of bamboo plants. We will discover whether this Zone 6 plant survives as an evergreen as it does in Virginia. I fear it will die back to the ground each winter and never grow as a 5′ tall ornamental as it was in Zone 7b. Fingers crossed…

Nandina from my Zone 6 garden: flower buds not open; new copper growth:

nandina-bloom nandina-new-red-growth#2. Leatherleaf Mahonia, labeled Zone 5, has been grown for generations in the US since brought from China in 1800’s. Members of leatherleaf are labeled noxious and planting is prohibited in Alabama, Georgia, SC, and Tennessee. A stiff leaved multi-stemmed spiny evergreen shrub resembling a holly but in Zone 7b, it redeems itself with fragrant lemony clusters of flowers appearing in late winter giving a multitude of bees some very early nectar. Those attractive flowers then develop into interesting bunches of blue-ish berries that hang like fat grapes…thus giving its other name, grape holly.

Mahonia photos from my Zone 7b garden: winter blooms; blue berry clusters:

honeybee on mahoniamahoniaI love both of these plants and will probably tent them for winter protection until I discover how they get through our winters.  Ahhhh…. How divine!