Top Ten Signs of Spring

Everything seems to be springing back to life this week…  but you can never be too sure in New England. They tell me it could frost up until the last week in May.  On walks, I keep my eyes open for signs that the season really is here. Here are ten signs I saw recently:

10: Star Magnolia in bloom:

9: Bees are buzzin’

8: Azaleas popping:

7. Forsythia in bloom

6. Dogs swimming:

5. Phlox creeping:


4. Canoes and Kayaks on the move:

3. The first goldfinch spotted:

2. Horsetail strobili spreading their spores:

1. And the number one sign that spring has arrived: No more frozen sheets!

Graffiti hits Exeter

But this is not your typical graffiti. It is called graffiti knitting or yarn bombing and it’s all been done in Exeter for a very good cause. Beginning on April 1 and running throughout the month of April, Exeter community groups tagged trees, hitching posts, the bandstand, fences, doors and signs with wonderful knitted, crocheted and felted creations. Sponsored by local businesses, all can donate to the fundraiser benefiting Womenade, an organization that provides financial assistance when it is not available through other sources.

Take a look at some of the amazing creations:

Pure Bliss at Dumbarton Oaks

Tucked into a quiet Georgetown residential neighborhood in Washington DC is Dunbarton Oaks, the home and gardens of the late Robert and Mildred Bliss. It was the gardens that I sought on a visit last week to recharge my batteries after a rather harsh first winter in New Hampshire.

Dumbarton OaksOriginally part of a land grant by Queen Anne in 1702, Mr. and Mrs. Bliss, purchased the estate in 1920, remodeled the 1800 era home and called it Dumbarton Oaks from the original Rock of Dumbarton land grant and the mighty oaks on the property.

IMG_3022Begining in 1921, Mildred Bliss began working with noted Landscape Gardener (as she preferred to be called) Beatrix Farrand for over 20 years to design the hillside garden retreat. Both women were well traveled and brought a European flair to the garden ‘rooms’ of Dunbarton Oak.

Strolling along the walks and through the terraced gardens with a sister from California and a brother and wife from Richmond, I felt I could have been touring Italian or English gardens filled with perennials, enclosed by high and low stone or brick walls, spring flowering trees, shrubs, vines and adorned with water features, fountains, seating areas, iron gates, urns, finials and vases.

LizWe began our adventure at the Arbor Terrace where a reflecting pool and an ancient wisteria with purple blooms dripping through a teak pergola framed a billowing cloud of chicken wire holding thousands of lead-crystal pendants. My California sister had expressly chosen this garden because of the “Cloud Terrace” display, the third in a series of temporary art exhibits by environmental artists. I must admit it was alive with movement, color, light, and sound. We sat beneath the wisteria pergola and watched as the sun appeared and disappeared and breezes moved the 10,000 crystals. A variety of colors twinkled and sparkled in the cloud and water.  Yes, we were awed by this work of art and were happy to be able to see it as it will be removed soon.


wisteria I loved seeing the stone and brick steps and pathways adored with pink from crabapple, cherry, and magnolia tree blossoms. It was as if little flower girls had sprinkled them for a bride who will soon approach her groom in this spiritual place.

Our timing was perfect to witness the splendor of blooming Japanese Wisteria that tumbled over walls throughout the different garden areas. It was breathtaking.


Japanese WisteriaThe Pebble Garden, a wonderful pebble mosaic sort of brought out the kid in me, enticed me to explore every curve and design. This was a later garden design, changing Farrand’s original design as the tennis court area.

Pathways ushered us from one garden room to the next. The Prunus Walk overlooked The Kitchen Gardens with attractive garden houses with terracotta tile roofs. Admiring the space, I thought of Thomas Jefferson who would have enjoyed exploring the vegetation in this garden.

The Prunus Walk of flowering plums stretched from the Herbaceous Borders to Cherry Hill. Beneath the trees grew a healthy groundcover of my favorite pink and yellow Epimedium.

Very Virginia, I felt at home on The Box Walk that took us gently down a 40-foot drop.

Walkways made from brick and stone designs continued around the estate leading us to various seemingly secret gardens.

We were happy to see that blooms seemed to be the theme on this warm spring day but I could tell that this was a garden for all seasons.

Just past peak blooms was Forsythia Dell, which must have looked like butter with happy forsythia melting down a acre of a hillside. Pathways led inside and above inviting visitors to discover a small terrace and seating.

forsythia hillBeautiful benches and seating areas were plentiful in almost every garden.

The Ellipse, a more formal garden containing an antique Provençal fountain surrounded by double rows of American Hornbeans, equally spaced and pleached to 16′ tall, invited us to explore.

Sculptor Patrick Dougherty’s “Easy Rider” stick creations gives movement to this peaceful but static garden space. This was fun for my California sister as she had played in one of Dougherty’s sculptures on a visit to Maui.

I love this: A private pool and terrace for employees and volunteers ONLY. How cool.

I hated to leave Dumbarton Oaks but it was approaching closing time. We exited the way we entered, along the drive on the East Lawn with the impressive spreading Katsura tree  (Cercidphyllum japonicum), planted in the 1800’s. Batteries recharged, we left with big smiles and appetites.

Any visitor to Washington DC who appreciates garden design is certain to enjoy the exquisite gardens of Dunbarton Oaks. It is 10-acres of pure Bliss.

Ukrops Monument Avenue 10K -2013

Recreation for us this weekend is fairly relaxed. We settled down to watch day 3 yesterday and we’ll watch the final day today of the Masters at the Augusta National Golf Club, where we hold our breath for our favorite golfer to end up wearing that coveted green jacket.

Augusta National Golf Club

Augusta National Golf Club via Wikipedia

For running fans out there, excitement this weekend will be the preparations for Monday’s Boston Marathon, the oldest annual marathon in the USA. I read recently that it is the most widely viewed sporting event in New England.

Now, not as large but just as exciting to locals back in Virginia was the party atmosphere at the annual Ukrops Monument Avenue 10K race in Richmond that took place Saturday. Nearly 40,000 participants raced on Monument Avenue, an beautiful boulevard lined with historic homes, grassy medians, beautiful trees, and grand statues of Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson, Matthew Fontaine Maury, and Arthur Ash.

 J.E.B. Stuart

J.E.B. Stuart via Wikipedia

I had a front row seat for The Monument Avenue 10K even though I wasn’t there. My brother and niece participated and texted photos along the route. Runnner’s World has called the event a “must run,” and USA Today has named it to their 2009 “10 great places for runners to hit the road.” What a gorgeous day for a race!

Image 2To give me an idea of the number of people out and about today, I was texted this photo of some of the portable toilets. The organizers of the event, Sports Backers, supplied a total of 374 portable toilets along the route.

Whether it’s a group raising money for charity or the adrenaline rush of a first time participant’s finish, the atmosphere was electric. The party mood of the race was emphasized by the Richmond Times Dispatch’s “Dress Up & Run” contest where participants who enter can vie for a cash prize. Of course, there were some who just liked to dress up to support the race like this fella below.

Image 1Dozens of bands dotted the route and masses of cheering spectators packed the streets shouting words of encouragement.

Image 4It is definitely fun for me to witness such a positive extravaganza in my old stomping grounds in Virginia where thousands of runners, walkers and spectators converged on one of the prettiest boulevards in the south. And, most importantly, hearty congratulations to my bro and his daughter for completing the race!

A Walk in the Spring Woods

A very short walk from our neighborhood are the Phillips Exeter Academy Trails, 140 acres of woods along the Exeter River. It’s a haven for dogs and their owners, cross country skiers, bicyclers, joggers, hikers, Exeter Academy sports teams, and for strollers like us.

trail map

Exeter River

Exeter River

Tranquility of nature abounds. Trails are wide and picturesque with hemlock and pines beckoning us along.

HemlocktrailMost of the trails were well maintained, either covered with thick leaf litter or wood chips over muddy spots. Several well-shaded areas were still covered in icy snow, packed well from cross country skiers earlier in the season.

snowIt was fun to see the newly emerging plant life along the way, some of the familiar flora we left behind in Virginia.

Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens)

Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens)

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus)

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus)

Princess Pine (Lycopodium obscurum)

Princess Pine (Lycopodium obscurum)

We saw evidence of fauna along the way too.

The work of beavers

The work of beavers



Numerous bogs were alive with the chorus of wood frogs… that were quickly silent on our approach.


It’s Spring. Bogs are everywhere!

Our only misadventure was not knowing exactly where we were two miles back in the woods. There are numerous side trails and Y’s along the way that were not on the map. Should we go this way or that way?

Is that a trail marker? We almost missed it.

Is that a trail marker? We almost missed it.

Can't miss this one but should we turn here?

Can’t miss this one but should we turn here?

Thank goodness we were saved by the Phillips Exeter Academy track team who pointed us the way out.

Track Team

Track Team

We have since downloaded the app Map My Walk, an amazing GPS pedometer that tracks our route, pace, calories, distance, and time. We’ll never be lost again!

Thoughts on White Pines and other plants…

One of our lovely new neighbor dropped by just before Easter with welcome wishes and housewarming goodies. As we sat at the kitchen table with coffee, I was thrilled to discover she is an avid gardener. We chatted about our horticultural interests, hers leaning toward garden design.  After a while, she volunteered that there were two plants she could not tolerate. One is the common burning bush (Euonymus alata), an Asian immigrant that is now classified as invasive in the Eastern US. It is a dense shrub, loved by birds for winter shelter, that gives a spectacular color show for about two weeks every fall. Birds spread the seeds far and wide where the shrub out competes native plants in the wild. 

BURNING BUSHI concur with her about the invasiveness of the shrub, having removed a large one from our Virginia property.  She suggested we remove the sizable burning bush that grows near our entrance. She is right and we will.

The other plant she did not like is the pine tree. Gee….who knows why but I have a weakness for pine trees, I admitted…. especially these soft needled Eastern white pines (Pinus strobus) that are so prolific in New Hampshire. “But they are everywhere,” she said. “But..,” I added. “I’ve planted several through the years on the coast of Virginia and they did not take well to the heat.”  So, though I might change my mind some day, right now I do love seeing them everywhere here.

white pinesWhite pines surround us in this area. For me, the sound of the wind whispering through the soft pine branches is a soothing melody on a warm summer day.  I think of Thoreau’s writings where he often mentions the white pine trees and forests. “Yet I had the sun penetrating into the deep hollows through the aisles of the wood, and the silvery sheen of its reflection from masses of white pine needles.”

RhododendronThrough the kitchen window, against the backdrop of majestic tall white pines, my view of large rhododendron with swollen buds and tall lilacs (Syringa vulgaris), soon to be heavy with bloom, simply appeals to me. All is well in our new neck of the woods.

A Foxy Visitor

A plump Red Fox Sparrow (P. i. iliaca ) is visiting the ground beneath the bird feeder this week. It’s a bird that we rarely saw at our Tidewater Virginia home so I was pleased to welcome it to New Hampshire, providing a little sunflower seed as it refueled on its way to Alaska and Northern Canada’s breeding grounds.

Red Fox SparrowThere are 4 major groups of these large Fox Sparrows across the country with some interbreeding where groups meet but the Red is the one found in the east.

These rusty-colored sparrows are fun to watch. They generally choose to feed on the ground near cover. To watch them forage for food is to think of how a chicken forages. They jump forward, scratching and kicking up leaves behind them with both feet.

I’m sure this one will be off on his journey north in another day or so and I’m quite happy to be a refueling station.

A Mini-Walkabout in Exeter

Winter seemed to vanish overnight along with the mounds of snow just before the Easter weekend. Spring fever abounded with runners, walkers, shoppers, bikers outnumbering vehicles. We decided it was time to join in the procession and become acquainted with a bit of the town of Exeter, the capital of this new state during the Revolutionary War.

We made a visit to the Exeter Town Hall, built in 1855 and still going strong. It was on these steps that Abraham Lincoln spoke to a large crowd on March 6, 1860 against the expansion of slavery in the Kansas and Nebraska territories. It was later that year that he was elected our 16th president.

We climbed those steps to the interior of the building where we found a beehive of activity. Until 1979, the main floor was home to the police department but now it is used for community meetings. This day, they were making preparations for an Easter service… setting up chairs, sound equipment, bringing in Easter lilies.

We though we might as well climb the seemingly endless staircase to the second floor where District Court was originally held.

Now it’s the home of the Exeter Arts Committee, a volunteer Town Committee appointed by the Board of Selectmen to help promote the arts and artists in the area. This day they were sponsoring a youth art show from a bunch of local schools. I think I’d like to be a regular visitor to the upcoming art shows.

Views from the 2nd floor windows gave a grand panorama of Water Street and the Squamscott River in the distance…..

….and a nice view of the Bandstand in the center of town where the Exeter Brass Band gives concerts on Monday evenings during the summer.

We were in and out of diverse and interesting shops and reading the menus in the windows of a variety of restaurants along Water Street.

Travel and Nature

Stopping on a bridge crossing the Great Falls, we watched the fresh water Exeter River flowing over falls into the salty Squamscott River.

At the end of the shopping area was the Phillips Exeter Academy’s boathouse where four friendly and polite students greeted us at the door and laughed when I told them I thought their grand boathouse was the local farmers’ market. Crew season is just about to begin and training is in progress. mister gardener and I were invited in to see the interior that was filled with boats and equipment, girls on the left, boys on the right.

The girls in the middle are New Englanders, the gal on the left is from Exeter and the girl on the right is from Chicago. They gave us great advice for our next stop on our mini-walkabout.

The Squamscott River is where the teams train but cannot compete on the river, they said, because it is not straight enough.

We took the students’ advice and our last stop on our walk was their favorite ice cream store…. where we found more Phillips Exeter Academy students packing the store. I had butter brickle and mister gardener had black raspberry, a grand way to end our day!