Witches Broom

It was a chilly day back in January, 2015, when my siblings and I received an email from our sister, the Curator of Collections at Historic Jamestown in Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in the New World. On this historic stretch of land, she spied a dense mass hanging from a loblolly pine tree (Pinus taeda) on the edge of the James River.

“Can someone please tell me what that almost round ball of living needles in the tree is?” she wrote.

A brother answered, “Mistletoe?”  A sister answered, “Do you think a squirrel is living in there?”

I was fairly certain what it was…. “It’s a witches broom!” And I was excited to see it. A witches broom is an abnormal growth in a tree and can occur on a number of conifers and deciduous trees but seems to be most often spotted in pines. It is caused by numerous stress factors…. fungi, bacteria, viruses, mites, genetic mutations and several other factors and they can originate on different sections of a tree. This one developed on a terminal bud of a lower limb of the pine.

Loblolly

Most people just prune out the infected branches in their landscape but there are a number of folks who search for these genetic mutations in pines to propagate dwarf conifers. These witches broom hunters will harvest the growth by climbing a tree and cutting it out, using a shotgun to snap the limb, or by cutting down the entire tree. With a little luck and expertise, the broom can produce slow-growing and dense dwarf trees either by grafting to rootstock or from seeds.

At the JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh North Carolina, dwarf loblolly pines have been successfully grown from seeds in cones from witches brooms. Planted from 1964 to 1967, the dense, slow-growing dwarf loblolly pines have ornamental value. Hard to find, but the ‘Nana’ seedlings are available.

“Can you reach it?” I asked my sister.

“No, it’s too high up and over the river.”

“Well, keep an eye on it…” I said. “If it falls, let me know.”

And so she watched the mass for 3 years and sent me pictorial updates through all the seasons and all weather conditions.

photo 1

In this sunny day photo below, I could see the presence of pine cones in the mass… a good sign as seeds from the cones have a better chance of developing into dwarf plants.

IMG_0184

Last week the witches broom finally fell. A colleague at work, also keeping an eye on the growth, discovered it and reported it to my sister… who called the local cooperative extension agent…. who put the word out.

The broom was happily collected by Bradley Roberts, Curator of Herbaceous Plants at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens and a member of the American Conifer Society. He will try to propagate it.

Another fun horticulture adventure ends for us. Now we wish all the best to Bradley as he begins his adventure in propagating Historic Jamestown dwarf loblolly pines!

 

We love it here!

Exeter NH

Moving to New Hampshire from south of the Mason-Dixon Line has been an adventure. The landscape here is gorgeous in all the seasons but seeing our small town completely covered in a white blanket is so…. well, it’s so New England. The beautiful architecture, the rich history, the rolling landscape, and that great Boston dialect is all simply WOW.

So much was new to us but we’ve learned a lot in the few years we’ve lived here, including a few new terms, good and bad… a bad one being ‘ice icedam.’  In our first year, it took a dark dawn morning of towels, buckets and jugs catching water dripping coming through our walls to learn we had an ‘ice dam.’

A what? As soon as we reported the anomaly to our association, teams from a roofing company pulled up, unloaded ladders and sledge hammers and quickly worked their magic over our heads. That icy event was what we now call our ‘New England Baptism by Ice Water.’

Another unusual term I learned my first year in New Hampshire was ‘munchkin.’ When I was asked to bring ‘munchkins’ to a garden club meeting, they didn’t mean for me gather up the crew from the Wizard of Oz. A munchkin is the tiny hole from Dunkin’ Donuts doughnut, a bite size pastry. That was easy. There was a line at the first Dunkin’ Donuts, so I drove to the next one because there’s a Dunkin’ every two blocks in New England. I do not kid….

And don’t go through the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru and ask for a regular coffee if you drink it black. I learned the hard way. The regular coffee comes loaded with cream and sugar. Explain that one to me….  Also, just yesterday I was in a Verizon store where the employee helping me abruptly interrupted our conversation to tell another employee, “It’s almost 3 o’clock. The iced coffee is 99 cents at Dunkin’!”  Hey, it must be their version of ‘Happy Hour.’

Snow 2018

At first driving in the snow was frightening and difficult for me. For two winters, I hibernated during the snow season, afraid even to back my Prius from the garage. If I was forced to go somewhere, mister gardener either drove or I chugged along slowly in my Prius, white knuckled, holding up traffic. My children pressured me to get a car with all-wheel-drive. So I now drive my Suburu everywhere with a smile. “Love”… right?

Even though it doesn’t feel like spring, the vernal equinox arrives tomorrow at 12:15 pm EST.  The earth in the Northern Hemisphere will tilt toward the sun and days will become longer, warmer and sunnier. When I feed our hungry birds during the day, I call out to our sole winter robin to ‘Hang it there! Spring is on the way!’ I don’t think he believes it and some days not sure I do. He patiently waits for me to to throw food over the snow a few times daily and he’s the first of all the birds to attack the sunflower seeds and mealworms. I hope he’ll pack his suitcase and head south next fall.

Robin (March 2018)

Well, I wouldn’t characterize myself as a New Englander yet. We both still have lots to learn and understand…. the system of government for one.  Exeter operates as a town government with a traditional Board of Selectmen and Town Meeting form of government.  And it can and it does get a bit feisty to watch!

We’re learning more and more each year why this is a “Live Free or Die” state. Yippee!

 

 

 

 

How much snow?

Our garden bench seems to provide us with a pretty accurate snow depth from each winter storm. We haven’t heard the official amount for Exeter but unofficially we received 17″ – 18″ additional snow on top of the last nor’easter. Very beautiful to see at first light but enough….. Where is spring?

bench 2:13:18

Yesterday….

bench 2/14/18

Today….

Frigerific!

Our first glance out of the morning window during this last snowstorm gave us a Dr. Zhivago-like feeling. A foot of heavy, wet, thick snow covered our world. Trees and shrubs bent against the ground, trees down, limbs everywhere…. and no internet.

snow

It was a rude awakening on how much we depend on the internet. I’m not a TV watcher but mistergardener missed his morning news and sports updates. If you can’t use your smartphone at all, can’t venture out on bad roads, can’t communicate with folks, the day seems much longer. How amazing it is to remember that not that many years ago, no one had internet and smart phones.

So how did we spend our day? I took some snow photos, I caught up on reading my book club book, I worked on needlepoint, and I knitted hats for charity….

knitting

mister gardener made vegetable soup…

vegetable soup

I don’t think I mentioned that the storm interrupted the paint and repair job we were in the middle of. Yes, all floors and furniture were covered with tarps, tables were piled high with books, wall hangings, and everything else from shelves, while the entire downstairs was being painted, wallpaper removed, and ice damage finally repaired. Finding a place to sit was a challenge.

paint brushes 2018

The day gave us pause to appreciate. Small inconveniences in the midst of troubles and trauma in the world caused us to temporarily slow down, lighten up, and just ‘be.’

 

 

Another Nor’easter

The East Coast took a beating in the last two days from a fierce nor’easter. The storm left perhaps millions without power and too many people losing lives in several states. Family members in Tidewater Virginia were affected by downed trees, flooding, travel woes, snow, rain, and loss of power, but they’re safe. Massachusetts, Maryland and Virginia issued a state of emergency.

Moving up the coast from the mid-Atlantic, the storm pounded the coastal communities of New Hampshire forcing high tides into neighborhoods. Roads became rivers for two days but the nor’easter pulled away from the coast today leaving us with cold, blustery winds and rough seas. We drove to the coastline to survey the damage.

Higher elevations showed evidence of very little damage….

nor'easter 2018

…while waves were still pummeling the seawalls and shoreline.

Nor'easter 2018

We witnessed the power of Mother Nature on seawalls up and down the NH coast. Huge chunks were missing or the walls were simply gone in places.

nor'easter 2018

The sheer force of the storm ripped large holes in parking areas, eroded road edges, and left massive amounts of rocks everywhere. Locals were busy clearing them away from driveways and yards, a monumental job on some properties.

nor'easter 2018

Crews working around the clock cleared roadways of rocks, sand, wood, and rubble.

nor'easter 2018

This sidewalk simply disappeared and was replaced by rocks.

nor'easter 2018People are drawn to the ocean in good weather and bad. Today’s weather brought out many folks who, like us, wanted to be a part of the experience, check out the ocean, or grab some photographs of the waves.

A 5K and Half Marathon scheduled for the Seacoast today was being held in spite of standing water. When the going gets tough…. those New Hampshire runners get going. Hot soup and Smuttynose beer awaited the runners at the finish line.

Local police were bundled up against the cold at the finish line.

Finish Line Half Marathon 3/4/18

Spectators braved the rocks to view the ocean.

nor'easter 2018

A downed barrier offered this photographer the perfect perch for photography.

nor'easter 2018

The downside of the storm was evident but there was an upside for a few. Surfers are always excited to experience the after effects of  a storm. This afternoon, there were about a dozen of them riding massive wave action out in the Atlantic.

nor'easter 2018

Spring might be right around the corner, but we are rudely reminded that winter is not finished with us. Weather forecasts predict that a major winter storm in the northern plains may bring us more snow, heavy rain, and strong winds by next weekend… that while thousands of utility workers are racing right now to restore power to millions. Sigh.