Birds!

Most folks love to see a little wildlife in the garden. Some might adopt and feed a visiting squirrel, a friendly chipmunk, or smile at a fuzzy cottontail eating clover or they might design their garden mainly for butterflies and other pollinators. I wish no harm on 4-legged furry animals but do not encourage visits by squirrels, chipmunks, or rabbits. Butterflies and most insects are very welcome.

This handsome black squirrel is a regular visitor but I rather he visit someone else.

Black Squirrel 2019

Handsome black squirrel looking for bird food

I want it to go elsewhere because it interferes with my favorite garden visitors…. the birds.

I put several bird feeders out during the day and remove them at night due to visits from bears in this area. Suet, seeds, grape jelly, and nectar hang here and there during daylight hours.

Did you know that $quirrels love all of those food$? One $quirrel can knock every feeder to the ground and poli$h everything off while you are making a quick da$h to the grocery $tore. 💰

In a light rain yesterday morning I took my first cuppa joe on the deck beneath the umbrella to watch the antics of our early feathered friends.

As wet as this small hummer was, he remained on guard, throat blazing red, watching for intruders at three hummingbird feeders. We could supply a nice flock with the mega amount that we make for them but still… he wants it all for himself and some females. But the neighborhood boys have developed a system to feed.  An intruder diverts the boss’s  attention away from the feeder while another male zooms in for a quick feed. They all get a share this way but it’s exhausting to watch.

Ruby Throated Hummer 2019

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird in the rain

I’m fighting a losing battle with Mother Nature by inviting only one species to visit but I come by birding naturally. First my mother was an avid birder and now all my sibs and their spouses are of one mind. We send photo back and forth, we announce rare or unusual bird visits to one another, we solicit ID verification, and we group marvel at bird antics. The interest in my family has trickled down to offspring, some of whom can ID better than I can. Even young grandchildren have a growing interest. Our 5-yr. old granddaughter spent the night with us recently and excitedly pointed out the different birds and action in the garden. And, of course… I encouraged her.

American goldfinch 2019

American Goldfinch

Oh, the catbirds are probably my favorite bird to watch in a yard setting. They are handsome, friendly, funny, and sing the most varied songs in the garden…. and, boy, do they love grape jelly! Even when the heavens opened and rain became heavy yesterday, the cats were still taking turns at the jelly bar.

Gray Catbird 2019

Gray Catbird and grape jelly

The jelly is watched over by different catbird families from separate territories who ordinarily quarrel among themselves, but when the jelly supply is being threatened by orioles, squirrels, chickadees, or by hungry woodpeckers (below), they band together and squawk at the intruder. It never works. Their bark is worse than their bite and everyone sips at the bar.

Three catbirds and a hairy woodpecker 2019

Three catbirds squawk at a woodpecker approaching the jelly bar

Before I escaped the rain and ran for cover indoors, the last visitor I saw at the jelly was one of the neighborhood orioles. We have two nesting pairs nearby who are regulars here. Their young must be becoming more independent by now. Fingers crossed that they bring their offspring to sample the jelly before they migrate south in the next few weeks.

Baltimore Oriole 2019

Baltimore Oriole at the jelly bar

That was just a sampling of the birds that entertained me in the rain yesterday. Once an avid birder, I still consider myself a birder although no more all-day Audubon bird counts or birding field trips these days. However, you’ll never find me far from my good birding binoculars and my well-worn Sibley Field Guide to Birds.

Mad about tomatoes

We think the amount of spring rain we’ve had in New Hampshire has helped, not hurt our tomato plants. It may be the rain but maybe something to do with the variety we chose or it may have something to do with the new location where they receive at least 6 hours of direct sun. I planted the tomatoes right in the middle of a new hot and dry rock garden and the two plants seem to be thriving.

'Celebrity' tomato plant 2019

The variety that mister gardener selected this year is the hybrid Celebrity and we are super excited about the performance so far. We have counted over 20 tomatoes on the biggest plant. Of course, the tomatoes are still green and the majority of the fruit is quite small.

tomato 2019

Celebrity is a good medium-size slicing tomato, great for salads, sandwiches, cooking, caning, or just a salsa snack. It’s categorized as a determinate tomato plant but the nursery said it can grow larger as an semi-indeterminate. We will find out in a few weeks if the advice we were given is accurate.

Celebrity Tomato 2019

Meanwhile we’re counting more tomatoes each day… a very good thing.

Nasty boxwood blight has arrived

We’ve had a wet spring and the warm temperatures and high humidity of summer have just begun. I am ever vigilant for diseases in the garden at this time of the year. One fungus that is the stuff of nightmares is Boxwood Blight, a monster of a disease that has spread to 26 states. Defoliation of boxwood can occur suddenly, with complete leaf loss in severe cases. It has already destroyed generations-old box in my home state of Virginia.

Several Buxus species can be affected but it’s the English (Buxus semp. ‘Suffruticosa’) and American or common boxwood (B. sempervirens) that are most susceptible. Virginia Tech lists my variety as a Blight-Resistant/Tolerant Cultivar, but that’s not a guarantee. Affected boxwood can be treated commercially with fungicides but there is no absolute cure for the pathogen. Europeans have been fighting the disease for over 25 years.

Signs I’m look for are blackening of the leaves, black streaks on the stems and rapid areas of defoliation. The spores are heavy and sticky and sometimes white spore masses can be visible.

Boxwood blight has been confirmed on nursery stock in New Hampshire so all NH box is at risk. Although there isn’t a cure as of today, commercial strength fungicides applied by professionals are most effective for treatment. There are limited products approved for amateur gardeners’ use. Once a month, I use a product from the Netherlands, Topbuxus, that I hope will make my box more resistant. It’s an effervescent tablet dissolved in water and sprayed on boxwood and said to “stop and prevent box blight.” It’s a super tonic for box and promotes good health but I’m unsure about its blight effectiveness. If anything, a healthy plant should resist diseases better.

Good cultural practices are still an effective prevention:

  • Inspect any newly purchased boxwood for symptoms of the disease, including leaf spots, leaf browning, black streaks on stems and leaf drop. Any boxwood that has these symptoms should be double-bagged and discarded in the landfill. Do not compost infected greenery.
  • Plant in locations with good air circulation.
  • Prune to increase air circulation.
  • Sanitize pruning equipment before going from one plant to another. Lysol disinfectant works well.
  • Water at a time of day that the plants will dry quickly.
  • Avoid overhead watering if possible.
  • If desired for a hedge or mass planting, it is best to plant loosely.

 

Summer has arrived

It’s the first day of summer, the longest day of the year, and I have weather on my mind. My heart goes out to those, including some of my offspring, in areas of the country that have been hit so hard by storms over the last few months and are about to be hit again by another deluge of rain, flooding, hail and/or tornadoes…. and high temperatures.

Lady's Mantle - June 2019

In New Hampshire, we’ve been fortunate. We’ve had plenty of rain accompanying our cool temperatures. Gardens around here can handle what nature has doled out so far.

June 2019

In fact, for ornamental gardeners it’s been amazing to have steady rainfall every couple of days this spring. My favorite garden color green dominates the landscape, from the lime green of Japanese Spikenard ‘Sun King’ and lady’s mantle to the blue green of hostas.  The lushness of the landscape has been fed by our life-giving spring rains and plants from perennials to shrubs to grasses and vines have exploded in growth.

June 2019

Temperatures in New England have been cool but I fear that as soon as the heat of summer hits us, the door will be open for an assortment of bacteria and fungi that thrive in heat and the moisture we’re having. And, for sure, there will be an increase of unwelcome insects… like slugs and worse. Already arriving this week are newly hatched LARGE mosquitoes that chase us indoors at dusk. Sigh….

Aralia 'Sun King' - June 2019

Rain is a welcome treat right now, but too much rain during the summer months can cause plenty of problems for us in the garden. We will simply enjoy it while we can.

Clan Gathering 2019

This year we didn’t go far for our annual family get together…just a few short miles over the state line to York Harbor, a coastal village above the rocky coastline of Maine. The date and general location this year was determined by a granddaughter’s graduation from Bennington College in VT that brought family north and the fact that Portsmouth NH grandchildren were still in school for the year. York Harbor was close enough for a morning commute to Portsmouth and a vacation home was ample enough to house 18 offspring and spouses.

York Harbor is a quiet historic village that bustles with summer visitors but early June is not an ideal time for a New England ocean vacation. There were an abundance of locals taking early walks on the small rocky beach with hardly a glance at the water. We had days of fog and cool weather, days of sunshine and warmth but the Atlantic? It remained dangerously COLD. But that couldn’t keep our family members from taking the short walk to the beach on a daily basis, sometimes several times. Goose bumps could hardly keep the adults off the beach and the hardy youngsters out of the water.

What else is there for a range of ages to do this time of year in coastal Maine and New Hampshire? Plenty and we (semi) locals knew where to go! Hiking always takes center stage with our family. We experienced all the York trails and some of us ventured out to hike nearby Mount Agamenthicus, just a 20 minute drive away.

Shopping was enjoyed by teens and young adults. Kittery ME outlets, Ogunquit ME, Portland ME, and Portsmouth NH were visited. Tennis was a magnet for several young men. And good dining was a magnet for all…. from a feast of lobster over a local river to home cooked meals to wood fired pizza to local bakeries to evening walks for hand dipped ice cream in the village…. and, of course, s’mores at the fire pit for all ages.

I got my garden fix by visiting Stonewall Kitchens where their garden designer keeps visitors enthralled with unusual designs and a wide array of annual and perennial borders. This year they prepared a colorful Farm to Table garden party!

The best part about the gathering of the clan? Bonding moments…

The bittersweet time?  Saying our farewells at week’s end….

Hungry, hungry caterpillar…

At our May garden club meeting, I came face to face with the tiny caterpillars I had signed up to adopt. I’ve adopted lots of caterpillars in my gardens but never had the responsibility of raising one indoors. I was a bit apprehensive…

Home with me they went. I read the directions at least once a day to make sure I was a responsible mama to these Painted Lady caterpillars (Vanessa cardui). I watched them eat, grow, and move around the tiny container. I wondered how they could breathe in their tightly sealed tomb-like capsule. I wondered exactly what that was they were eating. And why were they eating the paper at the top of the container?

Whenever they crawled on the lid, I thought, “This is it. This is it.” but no.  It took a long time before they decided to begin their life cycle and attach to the lid. They simply ate and grew….

Then finally metamorphosis began… but alas, the timing was tricky. It was the same time as a granddaughter’s graduation from  Bennington College in VT, and at the same time two young granddaughters arrived from Ohio for a visit. Then within days, we were all packed and heading to Maine to vacation with18 family members.

🐛  🐛  🐛  🐛

There was nothing else we could do but pack up our chrysalis and take them with us, risking disturbing and botching the whole transformation.While on vacation they remained immobile sitting high on a mantle out of reach of youngsters. Days went on as we swam, hiked, sat by the fire pit, played tennis, shopped, dined, etc.  Each day I checked the cocoons… and nothing. I truly thought the little guys must be dead.

🦋  🦋  🦋  🦋

But NOT… one granddaughter said quietly on the day before our departure that we had butterflies! The end of the journey and our lovely Painted Ladies seemed pleased when we released them into a lush Maine garden nearby our vacation home. I read that Painted Lady butterflies prefer to feed on purple flowers and this garden had plenty.

Mission accomplished!
Whew!