Our Chinese Scholar Tree

We are lucky to experience the beauty of a Chinese Scholar tree (Styphnolobium japonicum) growing in the side yard. It puzzled me at first. I thought it was an ash, then a black locust but when it burst into flower this summer… glorious clusters of creamy white flowers that drooped from the ends of all the branches like wisteria, I knew we had something else here.

It also goes by the name Japanese Pagoda Tree, implying the origin is Japan, however it indeed hails from China’s mountain ranges.  In Kew gardens, there is an original survivor of the one planted in 1760. The tree was introduced to the United States in the early 1800’s and one of the oldest specimens can be seen at Longwood Gardens.

The leaves have turned pale yellow and have fallen from the tree leaving behind unusual pods where there were once flowers. They have the curious look of bright green beads or a string of pearls…. some small, some several inches long. They also bear a resemblance to peas because the tree is indeed a member of the pea family, Fabaceae. Michael Dirr writes: “A very distinctive and aesthetically handsome tree in flower; should be used more extensively.”

Although the tree has been through several freezing nights and the pods are showing signs of the cold, you can appreciate the unusual beauty of this ornamental tree in the fall. It also is supposed to be a lucky tree, a symbol of good luck and happiness. I know I’m quite happy it’s part of our landscape!

Chinese pagoda treechinese.pagoda treeChinese Pagoda Tree

Roadside Retailing

I get a little giddy when Thursdays roll around. The Exeter Farmers’ Market, the second largest on New Hampshire’s seacoast, is just a stone’s throw from us. It is a carnival of sights, sounds, people, and aromas from fruits and vegetables, meats and seafood, cheeses, maple syrup products, soaps, baked goods and lovely decorative arts right along the beautiful Squamscott River. It’s a party and we’ve had a summer of fun but the outdoor market season is coming to a close this week.

We are sad about the outdoor farmers’ market ending, but we were thrilled to recently discover a smaller party to attend. It may be compact but it’s roadside retailing at its best. Close enough for us to arrive on foot is a new farm stand with delectable goodies that mister gardener can not resist. We’ve stocked up on tomatoes. We tried the apple cider. Organic eggs are beautiful. Pies are delicious. Heck, the bread is always sold out before we arrive but we’ll try to get there earlier.

Looks like this will be a regular destination for us…..


Apple Pieapple pie.Organic Eggspumpkin pie

Close Encounter….

Ahhhh, the struggles of adjusting to a neighborhood. A tomcat has been visiting our deck during the night. I’ve seen him at night peeking through the french doors. He’s the same cat that killed our nest of baby robins during the summer. I caught him climbing inside the viburnum going after the babies twice and I literally chased him down the block.  But his persistence paid off and he finally did the deed.

He’s still around and he doesn’t like me.The birds alert me of his arrival during the day but at night he is leaving stinky calling cards around our deck that I must hose off each morning. I want to catch him in the act. This darn cat, like Bill Murray’s gopher in Caddy Shack, is always one step ahead of me.

Two days ago I discovered a chunk of the yard looked like this…..

Holes!and this…..

Holes...Could a cat do that? I had to find out. That evening, I cracked open one of the french doors to the deck, pulled up a dining room chair and waited, camera in hand, pre-set for night photography. It took a while but finally I saw movement of the feline slinking slowly into the yard in the shadows along the edge of the rhododendrons.

Closer, closer he crept. I leaped into action with my camera.  “Ah-ha, I gotcha!”  I hopped out, lifted the camera, and saw the ‘cat’ not running away but racing toward me. It wasn’t a cat! My camera went one way and I went the other… back inside and slammed the door.

When I ventured out to retrieve my camera and uploaded the photo, this is what I photographed. I was quite naive to suspect a cat dug all those holes and I was very lucky to be quick on my feet. Our yard is now the official territory of a lovely Pepé Le Pew.


Summer Serenades

As we sat on the deck on warm evenings in late summer, we were serenaded loudly by a certain insect I could not quite identify. It was not the chirping field crickets so commonly heard in Virginia and it didn’t quite sound like the call of katydids.This buzzing insect song was loud and long. I searched in the direction of the call with a flashlight but it was well-camouflaged in dense foliage. It took me a few weeks to discover one of these well-hidden insects out in the open during the day.

I don’t think I’d ever seen this insect. It’s a tree cricket… the two-spotted tree cricket (Neoxabea bipunctata), one of many varieties of nocturnal tree crickets around the world. The first one I found, a female (below) with two identifying spots on her back, sat on a begonia leaf.

Two-Spotted Tree CricketThe male, the vocal cricket who serenaded us so sweetly, I only discovered recently. It is interesting how the tiny male can project such a loud song. He chews a hole in the underside of a leaf, raises his wings at a 90 degree angle over the hole, and chirps away. The hole and the wings amplify his song like a megaphone. How cool is that?

Here is a male that must have fallen from above with one of his wings askew. The circular spot between his wings is called the ‘honey spot.’ The female will dine on gland secretions during mating.

male Two-Spotted Tree CricketI believe these must be fairly common crickets around these parts. I do feel lucky to be a part of their habitat. To read more about these crickets and see how the male sings through a leaf, click HERE.

Drive-By Photography

For the last several days, fall colors at their peak have truly wowed us in Exeter. Whenever we are in the car, I grab my smartphone in an attempt to capture the brilliance of yellows and reds. I should just stop doing that because 90% of my photos are either a blur OR the sad trees have been directionally pruned around power lines by NHDOT.

This weekend, a quick errand to the P.O. gave me a view of the most stunning sugar maple I’ve seen thus far… growing in front of the old Congregational Church. We were creeping along with others pointing and gawking at the tree so I was fortunate not to end up with another iPhone photo smudge.

I was not alone in my drive-by photography. I saw two photographers with big cameras capturing images of the tree from the sidewalks. Maybe I’ll see those images later on a postcard or blog post.

IMG_6819 IMG_6822 IMG_6826

Freezing Chives and Other Herbs

In Virginia’s zone 7b, milder climate allowed us harvest our herbs year round. But that is not the case in New Hampshire. Since we are now living in the land of ice and snow, we must beat old man winter to the punch by freezing our herbs indoors.

It is easy-peasy! After washing and drying, picking out the dead stems, and chopping chives, I like to freeze them flat in quart-size freezer bags, squeeze out all the air, and simply break off the amount I need for garlic bread, soups, casseroles, deviled eggs… you name it.

I do the same thing with my other herbs: parsley, basil, sage, rosemary, thyme, and oregano.

chiveschopped chivesquart bags/chivesThere are other methods of freezing herbs. Check out some neat ways that Margaret Roach at A Way to Garden freezes her herbs.

Assassin Bug

On a recent walk, I stopped to admire the drying blooms of Queen Anne’s Lace. I love the way the blossom heads curl inward into lacy balls. I pulled one closer to take a quick photo when this insect popped from the center of the head. It’s an assassin bug (Pselliopus cinctus), a colorful true bug that dines on other insects.

It looks a bit like he has dressed early for Halloween as I see a mask on its back… the eyes, nose and wide opened mouth. Can you see the face?

It isn’t a fast moving bug but I made sure it didn’t crawl on me. It has a ‘beak,’ a weapon used to paralyze prey with a toxin, then suck the victim dry. That weapon can also pierce the human skin and inject a toxin. I have never been stabbed by an assassin bug but I keep a respectful distance.

It is not a nuisance in the garden and can be handy eliminating some naughty garden insects…. better than insecticides. When I see assassin bug in the garden, I do nothing. We coexist among the blooms.

The face disappears in this view but now you can admire its lovely striped legs and antennae.

IMG_5759Here is a great view from Wikimedia of the wicked ‘beak.’


It’s your DOOTY!

PooIs it getting worse? Or maybe it’s because I’m living in a neighborhood for the first time in many, many years. It’s a small dog-friendly neighborhood with an association and lots of rules to obey, two of which are strict leash regulations and a mandatory “pick-it-up” rule.  Hey, it’s a New Hampshire state law, too!

In America, we love our dogs, and, yes, I’m very dog friendly. It’s the dog poo in the yard, sidewalks and road I can’t tolerate. The majority abide by rules but I watch people allowing their animals to poo freely when nature calls, then walk away. Or I see the dogs under cover of darkness doing their dooty. Yoo-hoo, we have street lights and I can see you!

It’s not limited to our neighborhood. Here are some other signs I’ve seen in the area:

My parting words: Be a conscientious dog owner, be a good neighbor and good citizen and PICK UP YOUR DOG POO or maybe I’ll be forced to hire this choir for a couple of weeks. That might do it.

Blowing in the Wind

Doesn’t it bring good luck to take a handful of milkweed seeds and toss them high on autumn breezes? At least that’s what I believed growing up. Make a wish and scatter the fluff to the wind.

The common milkweed seeds (Asclepius syriaca) are bursting forth on the walks we take. And judging from clumps of seeds and spiny pods on the trail, children are still practicing this custom of scattering seeds the best they can.

One of the biggest winners in the scattering of these seeds is the monarch butterfly who depends on the plant to complete its life cycle. It’s a prolific native that is too robust for the flower garden but useful when grown in the right spot. The plant is plentiful as we walk along our regular sunny pathway but I always take a handful of seeds and make some wishes further along on the trail.

common milkweed

common milkweedcommon milkweed

Our Magical Mystery Tour

Mister gardener really wanted to tour Strawbery Banke, see the buildings, learn the history, and enjoy the gardens since he’d missed out on my earlier visits with house guests. We arrived just before opening time to find traffic guides and congested traffic, we thought due to an annual bike tour along the coast. Nothing seemed amiss at Strawbery Banke once we parked, watched the introductory video, got our map and headed for the first buildings.

“Ummm, did you know today was our annual Fairy House Tour?,” the building’s guide asked.

“Noooo,” we answered. “What is happening?”

“You’ll see….”

And we did.

As we walked back onto the street, a flood of fairies, parents, grandparents, strollers, and wagons were heading toward us. We were soon engulfed by a sea of little people in glittering pink and purple tutus and wings, many wearing sparkling crowns and holding wands. Bubbles rained down on crowds around every corner from attic windows. Children were caught up in the spell in this fairy land…. and soon, so were we!

Fairy House Tour 2013We decided to join the fairy tour rather than see all the buildings on this beautiful day. Adorable, adorable children were so thrilled to discover the tiny fairy houses… some simple abodes and some quite elaborate. They sat on the ground and studied every fairy detail.

We could have visited two other Portsmouth locations to see more fairy houses or perhaps build one of our own but our adventure at Strawbery Banke this day filled our magic fairy cups to the brim. Next year we’ll bring grandchildren!