New Shrubs

It’s an oft seen shrub around New Hampshire. Monster sized burning bushes (Euonymus alatus), separate one home from another, grow against walls and foundations, and line many a driveway just in this small community. Known as an invasive shrub that has jumped its bounds into fields and woods, it was once loved by gardeners and landscapers for the long-lasting flaming red leaves in the fall…. now prohibited to be sold in the states of New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

burning bushAlas, this winter we became the owners of a huge old burning bush at our new home, a bush that absolutely blocked our view through a window. We rooted out all these shrubs from our Virginia borders with truck and chains, but this mighty burning bush was almost 9′ tall, old and thick and a little too close to the gas line for that.  A better solution was to cut it level with the soil and poison the trunk. The search for an acceptable replacement for the space began as soon as the nurseries opened for the season. We decided on a viburnum, a very nice native that will give us some fall color and give the birds their berries during the winter. But I needed some help.

We made an appointment with Tom Lynch, a talented young landscaper from Ogunquit ME, who didn’t mind meeting me outdoors on a rainy day to point out some of his favorite viburnums.

Tom LynchHere were some of his suggestions:

We kept up the search at another nursery:

Then finally ended up with two beauties…”Chicago Lustre” and “Mariesii.”  With local temperatures dipping low in the evenings and cool spring days, we hope both will thrive before summer heat is upon us.

The catbird sings….

I heard him early one morning last week before I saw him. The male gray catbird (Dumetella carolinensis), hidden in the tall white pines, sang a symphony of beautiful sounds. Related to the mockingbird, a bird that artfully mimics the sounds of other birds, the catbird’s vocal ability is even more melodic and varied, a gift that we enjoy from dawn to dusk.

catbirdKnown to prefer thickets and shrubs, our pair announce their arrival with their familiar cat-like ‘mews,’ hopping through vegetation and arriving at our back yard where the sunflower seed feeder is their destination.

The birds are gray overall with a splash of bright rufous feathers beneath the tail. They sport a black cap atop their heads. They often fluff their feathers, droop their wings and cock their tails high from the railing of the deck.

catbird. Although there is no difference in appearance, the more cautious catbird may be the female who waits patiently as her mate boldly claims the bird feeder.

.catbirdKnowing that they are mainly insect eaters, the sunflower seeds may be temporary nourishment until insects are plentiful. But I do hope they are nesting nearby and will continue to visit and shower us with mews and territorial melodies.

Anything but crabby: the crabapple

Crabapple trees (Malus sp) are lighting up our neighborhood this week. Shades of rich pink and dazzling white dot the landscape and are buzzing with activity from bees and birds. Old bird nests are wedged in the junction of branches, and birds, especially robins, are busy inspecting them, and applying fresh twigs to reinforce the weary nests of last year if not too far gone.


bumblebeecrabapplecrabapplewhite crabappleRelated link:

A Tidewater Gardener: Norfolk Botanical Garden “Grandmother Malus”

Marsh Marigold: A light in the forest

marsh marigoldWith a stream running through the woods that surround us, Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris), is prolific along the wettest sections of the forest floor. A member of the buttercup family, the flower’s sepals are a vibrant yellow with bees and other insects buzzing all around the early bloomer; a good source of nectar and lovely to behold!

I’m not his mother, but…

…when mister gardener offered to treat me to an early Mother’s Day lunch today, I was all for it. On Mother’s Day tomorrow, we dine with family so on this breezy and wet Saturday, we made our way into town to sample yet another local restaurant.

Blue Moon Evolution has been recommended to us since we moved to New Hampshire over a year ago. The restaurant has a fine reputation for serving fresh, organic, and local foods with superior service. Once a small natural foods market and café, the evolution into a restaurant in 2010 seemed only natural.

The restaurant has garnered numerous awards since opening and is designated a certified local restaurant, one of only four New Hampshire restaurants to receive the award for living the local food movement using local and organic as much as possible. We’re also learning more about the speaker series and classes offered to educate the community about food supply and healthy living.

We were greeted and seated in a cozy table for two adorned with crab apple blossoms, freshly picked.

IMG_3675And on the windowsill were a variety of small rocks and pebbles that tempted us to design our own miniature cairns.

IMG_3677When we saw that the restaurant had won the 2013 New Hampshire Magazine readership poll for best soups, we decided the hot soup and half Nantucket Sandwich would be the perfect choice on this cool spring day.

Mr. Gardener ordered the Cream of Broccoli and Asparagus and I thought the Roasted Pepper and Tomato Purée sounded delicious. Both soups were divine.

IMG_3690Our server explained that the restaurant is transformed into a fine-dining atmosphere for the evening meal complete with white tablecloths, fresh flowers and candlelight. On the menu are local meats and seafood with local brews at the bar. You can bet we’ll be back for that!

Don’t Eat the Fuzzy Ones….

“Don’t eat the fuzzy ones!”  As I pointed my camera toward the fronds of spring ferns, I heard a passerby call that warning. ‘Tis the season for ferns and they are unfurling all over moist wooded areas here. As I prowled the woods, I was keeping my eye open for the sought after ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) fiddlehead, a fairly elusive delicacy that is available for about 3 weeks each spring. Their fiddleheads, the young, tender coiled tips that resemble the end of a fiddle, are about an inch across on a smooth stem, but not fuzzy… as I was warned.

I’m not sure what I’d do if I found the ostrich fern. Would I harvest them or photograph them? We bought some ostrich fern fiddleheads at the grocery last spring and we thought those tasted a little like…. uh…. grass. Maybe we prepared them incorrectly but I think I’d rather photograph them than eat them.

It’s the time of year for ferns to emerge. The fuzzy fiddlehead of the bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum), perhaps the most widespread fern in the word, is said to look like eagles’ claws. It is one I would avoid eating since it contains contains high levels of carcinogens. Cooking reduces the carcinogens but some remain.  These fiddleheads are widely eaten across Japan.

Bracken Fern.

BrackenFernAnother common fern populating the woods around us is the cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea). These wooly fiddleheads are edible but I read that few people actually dine on them. Deer eat them raw without problems, but folks should cook them remove mild toxins that could cause indigestion.

Cinnamon Fern.Cinnamon FernFerns and other natives are beginning to put on a show in the woodland landscape around us and we are enjoying the performance.

Field Horsetail

Because someone asked about the somewhat bizarre looking plant in a photo from my last post, I decided to add a little more on the field horsetail (Equisetum arvense), the only living genus in the class. It is strange looking because it is an actual living fossil. Like ferns and club mosses, the plant dominated the Earth at the end of the Devonian period where it grew gigantic, up to 100 feet tall. Horsetails were there millions of years before the dinosaurs roamed the Earth and eventually became our thick beds of coal.

The fertile stems that look a little like tan asparagus appear in early spring. Lacking chlorophyll, these spears launch dust-like spores from the cones at the tip, then wither and die back.

The cones of the spore laden stalks are called stroboli. Spores are launched from here into the wind to establish new sites.

The fertile cycle is swift, then followed by…..

…..sterile green stems with whorls of feathery modified leaves at the nodes. These stalks are hollow with ridges at nodes along the stems.

Rub the plant between your fingers you will feel the tough, grainy texture of the silica contained in the tissues. Many campers are familiar with this plant for it has been long used on trails as eco-friendly abrasive pot scrubbers.

horsetailAlthough the perennial is common in North America, I have never seen such an invasion as I have here. Large sections lining pathways, ditches, and roads look like breeding grounds for miniature pine trees. The plant’s rhizome system is extensive both horizontally and vertically up to 5′ or more deep in the soil. If the ground is disturbed, new plants can appear from half inch sections left in the ground. Although a native plant with medicinal benefits, it is classified as invasive. It causes problems in orchards and landscapes, small fruit crops and nurseries, plus fields and pastures where it is toxic to some livestock, causing a condition called equisetosis.

But, on my walks I can’t help but stop and admire one of the oldest plants on the planet that has survived the ages simply because it is almost impossible to eradicate. It is here to stay….