The Red, White, and Blue

On this Memorial Day weekend, we reflect on the meaning of the holiday…. honoring those who lost lives while serving in the armed forces. First known as Decoration Day, the remembrance began with the Civil War when graves of fallen Union soldiers were decorated with flags, flowers or wreaths. It has now evolved into a 3-day holiday with patriotic parades, concerts, and speeches honoring servicemembers who have sacrificed so much, but it also signifies the beginning of summer with cookouts, pool openings, and festive celebrations. It remains one of the busiest driving days of the year.

Members of our garden club gathered to clean, weed, trim shrubbery, and plant flowers around our Exeter NH bandstand in time for Memorial Day. The patriotic parade will pass by on Monday on the way to Gale Park where there will be guest speakers, gun salute, wreath and flag ceremonies. Hundreds of locals will be there to watch and walk with the parade to its destination.

To see photos from an earlier Memorial Day parade and ceremony in Exeter, please click HERE.

Exeter Bandstand-Memorial Day 2017

As I walked through my garden this morning, I paused to take a look at our blooms of red, white, and blue for this weekend, helping me remember the heartache of those families who share in tragic loses. How wonderful it would be if all humanity evolved to the point that wars were not needed, violence against one another ceased, and peace prevailed around the world. Sigh….

 

Now, where’d I put that soapbox??

Ah, I found it… and now I’m standing on it. It’s about pesticides. Our association sprayed (“EPA approved lower risk”) pesticides again yesterday. They made a wide berth around me, the crazy lady in the driveway holding the pitchfork.  Not really, but my hands were on my hips when I told them to skip my house. We were not sprayed.

We were told to take away birdseed, empty birdbaths, remove pet items and food, children’s toys, and personal belongings. “KEEP CHILDREN AND PETS AWAY FROM ALL TREATED AREAS UNTIL THEY DRY” So folks took their pets and children inside, shut windows and doors, and waited until the coast was clear. Pesticides like insecticides have become a widely accepted way to keep our homes and gardens relatively pest-free.

But how about those animals left outdoors?

toad

This week I’m hearing the wood thrush singing the most beautiful melody just inside the wooded area against which they sprayed. It’s an insect eater, and just 20′ inside the woodline is a free flowing stream and vernal pools full of life. A variety of songbirds were hovering in the freshly treated shrubbery looking for our suet and meal worms we removed. The robins were bobbing across the freshly treated lawns and shrubbery around each building searching for worms and insects. My bluebird parents were busy feeding insects to their young in a bird box 50′ from our back door. Bunnies, pesky or not, were most likely sprayed in their nests under shrubs around homes. A variety of bees and other pollinators were buzzing around the newly blooming rhododendron. Around our foundation, I see our toads and the tiny salamanders emerging from hibernation and moving through leaf litter searching for small insects… like beneficial spiders.

salamander 2017

Our sluggish salamander unearthed in a flowerpot from hibernation.

In the garden, growing healthy plants using organic methods is the best pest deterrent. There are a variety of natural pest control methods such as Integrated Pest Management using beneficial insects and remedies like traps and barriers.  I don’t want ticks or termites either and, of course, I realize my life cannot be chemical-free. But pesticides should be a last resort.

Pesticides are designed to kill. Ticks, termites, and carpenter bees are some of what they want to prevent. But, sadly, most insects are good insects. They become the non-target victims that then become a part of the contaminated food chain.

Fig.  5.21: An example of a food chain.

I am not an activist. I simply wish for another way.

Viburnum Superstar

It’s not a dogwood but when in bloom, it is a stunning lookalike and a good substitute for the spring-blooming dogwood for showy white flowers.  It’s the doublefile viburnum (Viburnum plicatum tomentosam).

Doublefile viburnum

It is a large shrub and needs a wide space to grow. Ours is close to 9′ tall and the branches spread horizontally almost as wide as as it is tall. In the spring, each layered branch is thick with white, flat flowers that are about 3″ in diameter.

The outer ring of florets are sterile and the small buds in the center, yet opened, are the fertile blooms. In the fall, these fertile flowers produce a profusion of red fruit that darken to black, but I hardly have time to photograph them before the birds consume them. By far, it’s the most relished bird food in my fall garden.

doublefile 2017

The blooms stand in paired rows or in ‘doublefile’ above the stems like little soldiers. And it’s just as beautiful from our second story window as from the ground.

doublefileIn the fall, it produces a lovely display when the leaves turn a firery deep red and in winter, the gray bark is interesting as well. Truly, the doublefile viburnum is a fabulous multi-season shrub.

Hardiness Zones: 5-8
Pest Resistant

Helping a Painted Friend

It’s that time of the year. Temperatures are warming and ponds and vernal pools have been full of activity around our neck of the woods.  Sadly, our neighborhood street cuts right through a wetland so we see water turtles following the pathway from one section to another for egg laying, which takes them right across our road. A common turtle seen crossing our road is the eastern painted turtle (Chrysemys picta), often a pregnant female on her way to lay eggs.

To prevent road kills, drivers are encouraged to avoid turtles on the roads and, if conditions are safe, carefully pull over to help them onto the side of the road in the same direction the turtles are heading.

painted turtle 2017

I put this one down on the side of the road and in seconds, it was on its way….

Painted Turtle- 2017

Trees Live in Exeter

When an invitation was received by our garden club from RiverWoods Retirement Community in Exeter to join residents for a Arbor Day ribbon cutting ceremony for their new arboretum, several of our members jumped at the occasion. There’s no better way to share our love of trees than attending an Arbor Day event, especially the newest and largest arboretum in New Hampshire.

Despite cool temperatures and overcast skies, the event put us in a sunny and festive mood. We were greeted with champagne, a smorgasbord of treats, enthusiastic sharing at the microphone from employees and residents …. including poems for the occasion.

RiverWoods 2017

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Several residents of RiverWoods have been active for years in selecting, planting, nurturing, and labeling trees and woody shrubs on the property so becoming accredited through ArbNet, an Arboretum Accrediation Program developed by The Morton Arboretum, was a natural step. RiverWoods is a Level One arboretum, meaning they must have at least 25 species of documented trees. Already at 49 species, the volunteers and staff have hopes to achieve Level Two with at least 100 species of woody plants, along with other criteria.

From the ribbon cutting, we progressed to the walking tour in The Ridge campus where we were led by knowledgeable docent volunteers. Fran Peters introduced us to a number of trees, including the Franklin Tree (Franklinia alatamaha), named for Benjamin Franklin. It has a reputation for being difficult to grow but this specimen tree is very healthy. I must return to see the magnificent blooms it’s known for.

Fran Parker, RiverWoods 2017

Our group continued along led by docent Liz Bacon (l.), who came to RiverWoods from the Chicago area bringing knowledge from the Morton Arboretum. It is she who recognized the potential for a RiverWoods arboretum. Dr. Tom Adams (r.), who has worked with the trees and woody shrubs of RiverWoods for a dozen years, shared his enthusiasm and wisdom with fun tidbits about the trees and gardens including successes and loses over time. His knowledge stems from his volunteer association with the Arnold Arboretum in Boston.

Liz Bacon, Tom Adams

The one tree I fell for was the showy Golden Maple (Acer shirasawanum ‘aureum’), a small Japanese maple with lime colored leaves. In the fall, it turns an orange and red like a sugar maple. Yummy!

Golden Maple

Our garden club members thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon at RiverWoods and we are proud and happy to have the largest arboretum in the state right here in Exeter NH. Way to go, RiverWoods!

“Advice From A Tree” by Ilan Shamir

Stand tall and proud.
Go out on a limb.
Remember your roots.
Drink plenty of water.
Be content with your natural beauty.
Enjoy the view.

Read by Dan Burbank, RiverWoods Landscape Manager

ACHOO!

The drought has ended. The rains have ceased for the moment. The sun is shining. The sky is blue and temperatures are rising. Yesterday morning I jumped at the opportunity to enjoy the tranquility of a morning outdoors. Coffee and smart phone in hand, ready to catch up on emails and texts surrounded by gardens and a symphony of singing birds, I lowered myself into a chair.

The serenity didn’t last long. Within two minutes, the surface of my coffee and my phone were caked with yellow. Folks, it’s pine pollen season in New Hampshire and it caught me by surprise.

Pine Pollen 2017

Friends in my home state of Virginia have been experiencing the yellow storm for weeks. Perhaps the heavy rains have been masking the explosion in New Hampshire until now.

Pine pollen is arriving over the land like snow flurries. The pines have large pollen grains making them easy to id and those grains have large cavities or ‘bladders’ that allow them to be blown over great distances. When the breezes hit the pines surrounding us, I now see the billowy clouds of yellow moving with the currents. We may not like it, but it’s doing what it must to preserve its species.

Windows and doors are now closed. Car stays in the garage and I drink my morning coffee indoors. It will be a nuisance for awhile but is not suppose to terribly affect our allergies.  Pollen counts are high for oaks, birch, and ash trees that are the likely culprits contributing to my cough, scratchy eyes and throat when I work outdoors.

To see the pollen counts in your neck of the woods, check out this site: Pollen.com. It was there that I discovered that we are near our seasonal pollen peak on the NH Seacoast.  Yay!

 

 

 

 

The Red-eyed Invasion in KY

They are called periodical cicadas and it’s happening right now in Louisville KY at the home of my daughter. These are the red-eyed cicadas that emerge simultaneously from the ground in 13 or 17 year predictable intervals, according to U. of Kentucky extension entomologist.  Only this is a year it wasn’t supposed to happen. I guess no one told the cicadas.

red-eyed cicadas

 

The nymphs live beneath the soil feeding on roots and emerge when the soil temperature is warm enough in the spring. They have been exiting the ground by the masses on her property and will continue to do so for a couple more weeks.

She first noticed the empty shells all over the ground one morning. Most were empty but some nymphs are unable to extricate as you can see the wing of the partially open shell.

cicada shells in Louisville KY 2017

After leaving the ground at night, they slowly make their way up any vertical surface and molt into adults, a prolonged overnight process. I’ve spent many a night as a child watching the annual cicadas, a different cicada, slowly struggle out of shells, and pump their wings out straight.

This cicada on tree bark is newly emerged and still wet:

Louisville KY 2017

After drying, their body will darken:

Louisville KY 2017

In the morning, shells will be hanging from a multitude of surfaces and lying all over the ground.  Most of the adults will have flown but some may still be there until their wings have fully expanded and dried enough to fly. It’s an amazing process to watch.

Louisville Cicadas 2017

Louisville KY cicadas 2017

Louisville KY 2017

The males are the ones you hear singing to attract the females. The adult cicadas will mate and the female lays eggs in small tree branches. The eggs will mature for weeks, then hatch and fall to the ground, where they burrow and start the cycle over.

Cicadas don’t bite or sting and are fairly benign to adult vegetation and trees….. rarely causing damage, unless you own an orchard or vineyard where they could possibly inflict some monetary damage, states the extension service. Generally, what follows is a smorgasbord of food for insect eating birds and mammals. It’s nature’s way….

Thankfully, this is a daughter who appreciates insects (taught by her mother!). She used the occasion as a teaching tool and took the kids outside to watch the mature nymphs emerge last night. Following is her ‘choppy’ video 😏 of her kids learning about the life cycle of cicadas as they watch the nymphs emerge from the soil and look for vertical surfaces… even my granddaughter’s leg:

National Apple Pie Day

We have so many National Days for this or that, it’s gotten a little ridiculous, but today is officially National Apple Pie Day. Doesn’t it seems a little curious to have National Apple Pie Day in the spring?  Wouldn’t it be a whole lot better during fall apple season?  Oh well… any excuse to make an apple pie for a friend for Mother’s Day.

Most apple pies use similar ingredients in the recipe with slight variations. The first printed apple pie recipe was from a 14th century English cookbook by the cooks serving King Richard II. Can you decipher the Old English? The recipe actually looks pretty tasty.

FOR TO MAKE TARTYS IN APPLIS: Tak gode Applys and gode Spycis and Figys and reysons and Perys and wan they are wel ybrayed colourd wyth Safroun wel and do yt in a cofyn and do yt forth to bake wel.
(TO MAKE APPLE TARTS: Take good apples and good spices and figs and raisins and pears and when they are well ground up with saffron, put it in a pie crust and bake well.)

Although I don’t use figs, raisins, pears, or saffron, my standby recipe probably tastes fairly similar because of the ‘good’ spices. No hand peeling anymore! Apples are peeled, cored, and sliced in seconds with hand cranked apple peelers.

Just like King Richard’s cooks, my apples are seasoned and arranged in a pie crust but what follows makes a difference.  I mix flour and sugar and cut in pats of cold butter (Hint: Using a grater for the butter works well) to form a crumb mixture, then sprinkle it pretty evenly all over the pie…. and I don’t skimp!

When baked, the crumb mixture forms a golden, crunchy topping on a pie that’s hard to resist. But I must resist for this is a gift for Mother’s Day.

Here’s hoping mothers everywhere… especially my two daughters who are wonderful mothers… have a Happy Mother’s Day!

apple pie

 

 

Sweet Woodruff is certainly all that!

Aptly named, this tiny ground cover offers up the sweet aroma of vanilla or mowed hay when the foliage is crushed. I tried to grow this shade loving herbal in Virginia but it suffered in the summer heat… never died but never thrived. Now in zone 5b-6, my sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) is a well-behaved and dense ground cover in a shade garden. I am thrilled.

sweet woodruff 2017

It spreads by stolons and rooting in place and some insist it will take over a perennial bed. If it does, that’s fine. I have it planted beneath the shade of a crabapple and among woody shrubs. It it wants to venture beyond, I will face that when the time comes. It is shallow rooted so I don’t think it’ll ever be a weedy thug like English ivy or vinca minor or mint or bungleweed or dead nettle… that I have waged wars against in other garden settings.

sweet woodruff 2017

 

The delicate flower buds are ready to unfurl their white petals on each of the whorled leaves above. It can grow taller, but mine grows only 6″ tall on slender stems. It may go dormant in a drought like we had last summer, but is happy and flourishing in the cool, wet weather we’re enjoying in this 2017 spring.

Although I haven’t done it, folks harvest and dry the leaves for potpourri… or it’s used for perfumes and a bit of German wine-based punch. Not for me. This sweet woodruff will serve its purpose solely as a beautiful spring blooming ground cover. How divine!

Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum): The generic name comes from the Greek word ‘gala,’ meaning ‘milk,’ as the leaves were once used to curdle milk. Odoratum is Latin for ‘fragrant.’   Hardy Perennial in zones 4 – 8; Native to much of Europe.

 

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Antiques Roadshow

We were invited to a local presentation and appraisal by PBS Antique Roadshow’s Stuart Whitehurst last weekend. Not only is he ever so skilled at the art of appraisal, he has a talent for entertainment by interacting with those who of us who seemed to bring grandma’s “attic” finds and by keeping us laughing with stories and tales from his many years in the business.Stuart Whitehurst

For the most part, folks brought enjoyable and interesting objects: copies of famous paintings, paintings of ancestors, hand-painted and transferware dishes, glass objects, both silver and silverplated objects, and so forth.

Three items that stood out were a John James Audubon print, very early but not the very 1st edition (I wish I could remember more!)……

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….. this very valuable Italian long-neck glass vase. (The lady who sat in front of me said maybe it was for ostrich feathers)….

Stuart Whitehurst 2017

….and something he’d never seen in a show and obviously made him smile, a 19th-century U.S. Navy commissioning pennant that ran the length of the room! These flags were the mark of a commissioned U.S. Navy ship and flew from the mast. The thirty-six hand-appliquéd stars on this pennant signified the new state of Nevada at the end of the Civil War. It is also called a “Paying Off” flag as the sailors were only paid only when the ship returned home to prevent desertion.

Stuart Whitehurst 2017

All in all, it was an enjoyable and educational evening… lots of refreshments, lots of interesting people, lots of period pieces, but I did not come away with anything of value (except to me).  Sigh….

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Wellington Gardens

There’s a nice home nursery that we like to visit in the spring when the owners announce their sale of starter plants.  This is our second year to visit Wellington Gardens, located a bit out of the way and tricky to find, down up a long dirt road in Brentwood NH, just 20 minutes from our home. There the family raises all their own annuals and perennials in their 5 greenhouses and offer great early sales at a time when we are itching to plant.

Last weekend, the tiny starter perennials were on sale and we were among the first customers that day…. just before the parking lot overflowed with autos.

Shoppers wandered in and out of the greenhouses shopping for vegetables, herbs, and annuals but it was the tiny perennials that were on sale this day. I like to buy small and allow the roots to develop in my own garden and, gee, their starter plants were perfect. They are lovingly cared for and quite healthy… all grown from seed.

Although perennials were what we were after (and I did pick out a few), I happened to spot their spectacular hanging baskets in one greenhouse.  I couldn’t go home without one of the annuals hanging baskets, healthy and packed full of goodies. Nothing like the root bound, dry baskets you find at the big box stores! How could I resist??

Wellington Gardens 2017

This weekend is the big sale of annuals at Wellington Gardens, only $1.75 for 6-packs…. a Mother’s Day special.  I think we’ll be there for the plants for sure, but also to visit Linus, the resident 18-year old African sulcata tortoise that comes ‘running’ when she sees company. I should take her a few strawberries, yes?

Linus @ Wellington Gardens 2017

Happy May Day

So happy that the last day for frost in New Hampshire has arrived! There is some bad news in the garden but lots of sweet discoveries of rebirth. We won’t be lighting fires or dancing around a maypole with ribbons, a popular event of my childhood, but will be celebrating the fertility and merrymaking in the garden.

The hummingbirds returned yesterday. The bees are back. All over the Seacoast, we see the cold hardy, early blooming PJM rhododendron hybrids with their bright lavender-pink flowers attracting bumblebees galore. I keep a small one just for those early blooms for insects.

PJM rhododendron and bumblebee

Tulips, daffodils, and grape hyacinths are providing the most booms in our garden at this early stage of spring but we also have the pansies struggling to set blooms. Good news is the New Hampshire drought is over on the Seacoast. Fingers crossed for good rainfall for the summer.

The cutest little bulb in the garden is the Fritillaria meleagris, the miniature checkerboard lily. I planted 15 bulbs but only 6 appeared both in white and in an adorable purple faint checkered pattern. Yes, I will plant more of these… and maybe have a fairy garden someday.

In the shade, the common bleeding heart (Dicentra) is unfurling its tiny cluster of heart-shaped flowers along stems and the Epimedium grandiflorum ‘Yubae’ is performing well in its second year.

Bleeding Heart

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My favorite color in the garden is green and we have plenty of that. Leaves are unfurling on viburnum, hydrangea, hosta, serviceberry, aucuba. It is the true color of spring…. a reward of rebirth and growth. Green provides me with a sense of relaxation and well-being and if I am surrounded by green whether in my landscape or beneath a canopy of trees in a forest, I have my sanctuary.

hosta