Forsythia in bloom…

Plenty of people I know look down their noses at forsythia. I admit that I once dug up and discarded a lovely forsythia shrub because I was influenced by negative opinion from a more experienced gardener. But I’m more confident now and I plant what makes me smile and forsythia really makes me smile. It brings back memories of my childhood, the full, naturally arching boughs that invited playtime beneath the branches.  It’s just beginning to bloom in this yard and although someone has pruned it into a sad light bulb shape, those tiny yellow blooms still capture the magic of spring.

Wild about Stonewall Kitchen…

When my daughter led me on a shopping/sightseeing tour of Portsmouth in January, little did she know that one tiny store would have a major gastronomic impact my life. Stonewall Kitchen.  I had never purchased their products but with numerous samples in the store, I couldn’t get enough of everything they provided. Each morsel was an epicurean explosion of taste. And then I couldn’t stop buying….

I have purchased goods for me, for guests, and have had them shipped to friends. The dessert sauces over ice cream are wicked. I’ve bought more than I care to admit and declare the Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel Sauce tough to beat. It is bold and sweet with a hint of salt. How many of those jars have we emptied?

Ahhhhh… the jams. I want to eventually sample them all. The sour cherry and the Strawberry Peach are an explosion of flavor on toast (or on ANYTHING, for that matter!)

Since that fateful day, I have discovered the Home Office, Cafe, Cooking School and fabulous Country Store just across the Maine border in York. I’ve visited twice and brought home a trunk full of garden supplies, salad dressings, mustards, a cookbook, candy, more jams and sauces to sample. They have so many I’ll never taste them all. But being the inquisitive person I am, I am most assuredly going to try.

I’ve driven over to the cafe twice for a delicious breakfast cooked from scratch. It’s wonderful to order your meal, then be able to roam and explore every nook and cranny of the well-stocked shop, sampling new tastes and wander until you are called. Best of all, there’s a cooking school to boot. If I can interest mister gardener, we will certainly take advantage of that when the weather warms a bit.

First daffodil today…

Today our first daffodil bloomed. What a breath of pure springtime it was, but this one won’t last. Tomorrow it will be gone.

New bloom!

Last week we experienced several delightful warm days culminating in a pretty steamy 80°. Everyone I saw was in shorts and tees, driving convertibles, walking dogs, lunching at cafe tables outside of restaurants.

Me? I was having dirty thoughts… that is, thoughts of getting my hands in the dirt. It was impossible to think of anything but planting so I spent the three days scouring the surrounding area for nurseries that had ANY flowers, herbs, shrubs. And I did come home bearing herbs… lots of herbs and some pansies, a hose, more mulch, and compost.

For two days, I designed, then raked, dug, composted, edged and mulched a precious new kitchen garden. I planted succulent little herbs around a small birdbath. I whistled while I worked. Neighbors who strolled by commented how nice things looked, but I noticed no one else was gardening. Everyone seemed to be outside but not one person was raking, edging, dragging mulch or hose here or there like I was.

Now I know why. I know why the sales lady told me not to plant the herbs. I know why the nurseries were bare. I know why the neighbors walked instead of gardened. Tonight we are having a hard freeze. Already the water in the birdbath has turned to solid ice. I wonder what my neighbors were really thinking when they saw me toiling in the soil. I wonder what they thought today as they saw me dragging out towels to cover the plants. “Silly girl… Doesn’t she know this is Zone 5?”

 

 

Wordless (almost) Wednesday

Hey! A new bird species? What’s going on here?

The American Goldfinch may look a little patchy at the feeder this spring, but this male is only going through his spring molt. He’ll lose all feathers but those on the wing and tail. When he’s finished, he’ll be the familiar breeding lemon yellow and black. Read more about these finches and their unique twice-a-year molt HERE.

A Monocromatic World

I’m hearing from friends in Virginia who are waxing poetic about the glories of springtime in the Commonwealth. I don’t blame them. It’s easy to gush over Virginia’s blooming bulbs, flowers, flowering trees, and woody shrubs that come alive with color, but hearing about all this makes me a little homesick. Having a lifetime of Virginia springtime memories, I believe there’s no lovelier place for the season of rebirth. This weekend in Gloucester, citizens will celebrate the daffodil at The 26th Annual Daffodil Festival and visit with Brent and Becky Heath of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, and discover why Gloucester is thought of as the daffodil hub in America.

Brent and Becky's Bulbs

Alas, while they are basking in color, I’m still living in a monochromatic world in New England. The grass is shades of brown, the trees are bare, the horizon often blends with the overcast sky. For a quick color fix, my daughter and I visited a well-known local nursery to see what we could see and see what there was to buy.

Ahhhh…. yellow! Plenty of yellow and green.

There were plenty of yellow daffodils, some tulips, a bit of crocus, some dahlia and pansies, and indoor plants, but the greenhouse was totally empty and the outdoor shrubs area was vacant. “It’s too early for planting,” they told us. Shoppers were moseying about, buying seeds, pansies, compost so clearly gardeners are gearing up for the season.

Our little outing was the perfect remedy for me, a color starved gardener just waiting for spring. It was just the ticket for this other gardener I met.  She was enthralled with the potted Iron Cross Shamrock (Oxalis deppei) and she bought it and thought maybe I should have a shamrock, too. Looking closer at her bonnet, I spied a few more shamrocks as adornment. Definitely Irish…. and still celebrating a bit of St. Paddy’s. How fabulous!

I Don’t Miss the WEEDS!

Today feels like summer outside. It’s 62° and the sun is shinning. It’s time to venture outside to survey gardens and start the spring cleanup.

Two daughters, one in Kentucky, one in New Hampshire, have sent emails that they’re working in their yards today. The New Hampshire daughter has a huge job of raking and bagging leaves in her fenced-in backyard in Portsmouth. They do keep enough leaves for their compost but we’re talking about tons of leaves, folks. She has shrubs but no ornamental gardens… yet. Give her time. She’s only been living there 8 months.

Alas, the Kentucky daughter has a different garden mess to contend with in USDA Hardiness Zone 6b. An avid gardener, she has ornamental, vegetable and water gardens. Warming trends have brought her many more weed varieties that she did not have in her gardens 5 years ago. The problem is literally taking her to her knees… to pull weeds.

She asked me to identify some of her worst offenders. Her emails pictured the same weeds that were the bane of my existence in Virginia. She has henbit and purple dead nettle with their deceivingly lovely purple flowers, covered with bees in early spring.

purple dead nettle

Henbit

I warned her about getting too close to the dangerous hairy bittercress that she described with its spring-loaded seeds that can almost blind a gardener. Hope she eradicates this because a large one can spew up to a thousand seeds. Since she’s organic, she must dig and pull, bag and discard, mulch and mulch and mulch.

Bittercress

As for me, I’m walking around this New Hampshire yard (knock on wood) and I see no weeds… not a one…yet. It may be too early for weeds to show themselves around here, but I am hopeful and optimistic that the weeds of my wonderful Virginia in zone 7b will not find me in zone 5b.

This just in….

The party’s over for my fine feathered friends. I didn’t expect news like this in our new habitat. I’m not taking any chances. Sorry fellas….

News from the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department

EXPECT BEARS TO EMERGE FROM DENS EARLIER THIS SPRING
RECOMMENDATION: TAKE BIRD FEEDERS DOWN BY MARCH 15
Mother Nature has not fooled the bears either, and they are ready to emerge from dens in search of spring foods.This knowledge should be a call to action for homeowners, who need to be proactive and take action now to reduce the chance of attracting a bear to their home. We generally use April 1 as the recommended time when bird feeders should be removed, says New Hampshire Fish and Game Bear Project Leader Andrew Timmins, however, this year we are suggesting that feeders be pulled by March 15. Homeowners should take action to reduce the chances of a bear visiting their home.
Avoid encounters with bears by taking a few simple precautions:

* Because of the mild winter, stop all bird feeding by March 15 or put away feeders as soon as you can.
* Clean up any spilled birdseed and dispose of it in the trash.
* Secure all garbage in airtight containers inside a garage or adequate storage area, and put garbage out on the morning of pickup, not the night before.
* Avoid putting meat or other food scraps in your compost pile.
* Don’t leave pet food dishes outside overnight.
* Clean and store outdoor grills after each use.
* Finally, never intentionally feed bears!need to be proactive and take action now to reduce the chance of attracting a bear to their home. We generally use April 1 as the recommended time when bird feeders should be removed, says New Hampshire Fish and Game Bear Project Leader Andrew Timmins, however, this year we are suggesting that feeders be pulled by March 15.

Spring Tease

Temperatures hit 70° yesterday. Like magic, gone was the heavy snow that blanketed the ground just 4 days ago. Folks shed down jackets and scarves in favor of t-shirts and shorts. Tennis shoes replaced boots. There was a fever in the air…. a spring fever.  And I caught it, too.

I took a walk to look for evidence of spring in nature. I spotted the first eagle, the first flock of robins, red-winged blackbirds, two song sparrows, and two bluebirds fluttering around a fencepost. I stopped to examine a tight tangle of shrubs that, like most deciduous plants, did not have leaves yet. It had both male and female catkins and buds that were plumping along the stems.

Although there were no leaves, the pollen-bearing drooping male catkins and the cone-like female catkins revealed clues to the identity. I’m going to guess that this dense thicket is alder shrubs. They were about 6′ tall,  growing along a low, marshy area next to the road. The bark of the shrubs was dark with white spots and covered with lichen.

Although these shrubs are undesirable for the home landscape, they are beneficial for wildlife. The seeds are a favorite of the common redpoll, a bird I’m patiently waiting to spot up here in New Hampshire, as well as dozens of other birds.

On the walk back home I spotted a genuine harbinger of spring…. the pussy willow, with its fuzzy catkins! Yes, I took a branch home for the windowsill. Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah… I think spring is here.

Eat Local and Eat Well…

Folks around here take eating local sustainably produced food seriously and we’re learning more about this daily. Last weekend we took part in a Seafood Dinner hosted by three groups that joined forces to benefit Granite State Fish and Seacoast Local.

Together, the University of New Hampshire Hospitality Management School, Granite State Fish, and Seacoast Local produced a gourmet dinner with a menu straight from the sea. Proceeds benefited Granite State Fish, a group that seeks to bring fishermen, the community, and consumers of seafood together, while encouraging sustainability and ecological responsibility. Proceeds also benefited Seacoast Local, an organization that educates local residents about the benefits of buying local and increasing community involvement in our area. The university’s Hospitality Management students organized the dinner, traveled to the docks to select fresh shrimp, oysters and fish, and helped cook and serve the dinner.

From oysters on the half, to vodka cured cod, winter squash soup with poached lobster, and the creative centerpiece on each table filled with edible pickled vegetables, we enjoyed every course down to the rich French press coffee that followed the gourmet meal. How divine.

Sprinkled throughout the room were invited area celebrity chefs, local fishermen, and UNH fishery researchers. At our table was Erik Chapman, Fisheries Program Coordinator at the University of New Hampshire. Erik engaged us by explaining the problems the local fishermen face, challenges in protecting the marine ecosystem, and hopes for developing local markets for local seafood harvest. We felt a bit of a kinship with Erik as he earned his Ph.D. in oceanography from Old Dominion University, almost in our Virginia backyard. (He said one indelible memory of Virginia is the glorious crape myrtle tree that blooms for over 3 months!)

Area restaurants take seriously Seacoast Local‘s urging to buy local. Signs like this are commonly seen on tables, menus, easels, or windows, listing the area farms where their sustainably produced foods are purchased. Organizations like Seacoast Local, Granite State Fish, Seacoast Eat Local, and others have done a good job in getting the message out there.

I’m getting used to seeing signs showing the area farms where restaurants purchase their foods, but occasionally we see window signs that make us do a double take.  I don’t think you’d never see something like this in Virginia restaurant window but this one made me smile, then go in for a meal of pancakes with Maine blueberries and local maple syrup!

The Challenge

This post challenge comes from Les at A Tidewater Garden Winter Walk-Off: On your own two feet, leave the house and share what can be seen within walking (or biking) distance of your home.  Your post does not have to be about gardening or a travelogue, unless you want it to be.  Maybe instead you will find some unusual patterns, interesting shadows, signs of spring, a favorite restaurant or shop, questionable landscaping or local eyesores.  Whatever, just keep your eyes and mind open, be creative and have fun, but don’t show anything from your own garden.

It sounds simple. Les can find beauty and interest in shadows and shapes, textures and tales, as well as in his garden. But his challenge is a tricky one for me. Last year I passed up this assignment because all I saw on my walks was a mile and a half of sand and loblollies. Ho-hum. This year I live in the burbs, too far from anything of great photographic interest. But, I tried. Two days ago, I walked around the neighborhood, armed with camera, shooting photographs of boulders, Christmas wreaths that still hang on doors and mailboxes, trees, road signs…. Yawn, Ho-hum.

After our big snow yesterday, I saw a another opportunity to give the assignment a go. I was drawn to the large fields and tidal salt marsh covered in deep snow. With help from my daughter, I strapped on gaiters and snowshoes for the very first time and stepped out into the ‘Wilds’ behind the house… accompanied by my daughter, her Rhodesian ridgeback and our old gal, Mattie.

After only one face-plant, I got the hang of snowshoeing and I was on my journey through the fields, past trees with branches that were beautifully adored with glistening snow, the air shrouded in a winter-blue mist. I felt as if I had stepped through a wardrobe into a mystical land called Narnia.

Although we didn’t encounter Peter, Susan, Edmund or Lucy, we saw signs of creatures that make this land their home. Deer tracks, squirrel tracks, birds calling beyond the treeline, a red-tailed hawk circling, seagulls, a turkey vulture, and the noisy Canada geese overhead.

Together the 4 of us made our way down to the river breaking a trail in the fresh snow, then we turned and followed our trail back across the fields and marsh.

My one amazing but true story to tell about this stretch of land involves the late Aristotle Onassis.

In 1973, shipping and oil magnate Aristotle Onassis had an option to purchase thousands of acres of land and planned to build the world’s largest oil refinery just a stone’s throw from this very spot. Stretching all the way from Lake Winnipesaukee for needed fresh water supply, the pipeline would snake through several towns, ending at an oil dock for super tankers 10 miles offshore on the Isles of Shoals. Outraged local residents were organized under the leadership of 3 strong women and exercised “home rule” where local citizens have the right to determine what happens in their community. They were able to thwart this dastardly plan by legislative vote in 1974 and, thankfully, the land and waterways remain pristine to this day.

Sorry Aristotle. This land is Our Land.

Click on any photo for a more detailed look at a little slice of Durham NH

You’ve Got Snow!

We awoke early to sounds of trucks plowing driveways… forward, reverse, forward reverse… piling mountains of snow in ditches and yards.

The weather forecast seemed to change hourly yesterday. First we heard “All Snow with totals of 3 – 5″,” then “Snow/Rain Mix,” then “Snow turning to Rain,” then it was “Brace yourself. Snow and lots of it.”  And the last forecast was dead right. When it was all said and done tonight, we measured 12″ of snow at this home.

We ventured out for a walk after lunch to see what havoc the heavy snow was causing. It was heartbreaking to see several major limbs torn from the midsection of a number of large white pines. Small birch trees were bent dangerously low in the swirling snowstorm. mister gardener shook the snow from the boughs of the right birch but it seemed frozen in position.

We cleared off a bit of the snow from the feeder for our fine feathered friends.

We lost power for part of the day. Then it was restored. We then lost our cable internet connection. After darkness fell and snow was lighter, a truck found its way to our driveway. Forward, reverse, forward, reverse.  Lickety-split, we had a snow-free driveway.

Tomorrow, with temperatures reaching 40°, the slow melt will begin.