About Annie

The life and times of southern gardeners who left their BIG gardens in Virginia and now garden SMALL in New Hampshire.

Hydrangea in New England

Hydrangeas are a quintessential part of a New England summer. Picture a cedar shake coastal style home located over the vast waters of the Atlantic. Can you picture the woody plants gracing the foundation of the home? I imagine all along the foundation are gorgeous hydrangeas with massive white blooms nodding in the ocean breezes.

Incrediball

After we purchased our home, we were asked by our association to remove huge invasive burning bushes alone the front foundation and plant something else. We were new to the area so we consulted a well-known landscape designer who suggested go with aborescens hydrangeas. Why not, I thought. We’re in New England now. Yeah!

Incrediball

It’s been 3 years and the Hydrangea arborescens ‘Abetwo’ Incrediball are absolutely gorgeous at this time of the year. Two are shaded part of the day but the third has a lot of hot afternoon sun…. and that one performs even better than the more shaded hydrangeas. The Incrediball is a carefree hydrangea with real staying power and very few diseases or pests. Since it blooms on new wood, we prune the shrubs close to the ground in late winter to encourage vigorous and strong stem growth and better form. It has paid off. The shrubs are over 5′ tall and fill the foundation well. Blooms are incredible (Incrediball?) and are held aloft on strong steps. All amazing but especially amazing is that they held up blooms in 3″ of rain in a fast moving gullywasher that we had a few days ago.

Incrediball.

The problem is…. I don’t like them there. Perhaps if I owned that cedar shingle style home on the seacoast, they’d be perfect. But we live in a nice New Hampshire neighborhood and they just don’t look right to me.  I don’t like bare branches as a front-of-the-house foundation all winter and  I’ve NEVER been crazy about blooming shrubs dominating a front foundation. I guess I’m an old-school gardener.

So I’m making plans for an evergreen border that I should have done in the first place. I’ll let flowering shrubs overflow in other parts of the garden…. the viburnums, clethra, and several other hydrangea that add drama to my back borders, but evergreens will be out front. Period. Final.

The good news: These are excellent pass-along shrubs. Aborescens can be shared. When the time is right, I will divide the root balls into quarters and each one will be a lovely new Incrediball hydrangea planted en masse in someone else’s New England garden. They would make a lovely hedge…

 

 

Summer Hummers

Summer 2018 in New England has been as glorious as I can remember since moving here. With so many areas suffering the most catastrophic conditions imaginable around the globe… from heat and drought, floods and tornadoes, volcanoes and fire…. we are swaddled in comfort with enough moisture, sunshine, and pleasant temperatures that I feel almost apologetic writing about it. We had a stretch of dry weather earlier in the summer and have suffered in the past with an abundance of weather extremes but, so far… summer 2018 has made the living enjoyable for gardeners and outdoor enthusiasts. With a warming climate, all summers won’t be like this so we will savor it while it lasts.

Plants that we trickled water on for survival during a 3-year drought are now bursting with growth. Every shrub and tree and flower and vegetable in this yard is fuller, taller, and more floriferous. With these favorable conditions, we’re seeing more insects and birds and in our yard… especially the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds that have proliferated wildly around here. We now have the adults and their offspring jetting through and around the garden performing acrobatic maneuvers to guard their territory.

With such movement, it’s impossible to count how many hummers are out there but there’s a way to guesstimate, according to bird banders. Count how many you see at one time and multiply that number by 6. That would mean there are about 20-25 hummingbirds coming and going and perhaps almost parting our hair when we get too close to the action. Other residents in the neighborhood feed hummingbirds so they are moving between our homes. It’s fun to see such activity and much better numbers than the total 8-10 we counted during drought years.

hummingbird July 2018

We have the feisty males with their bright red gorgets displaying territorial rule and their mating prowess but the feeders look to be dominated by females with the white throats. That can be deceiving. There are more females than males but the young males we are seeing have not developed their telltale ‘ruby’ throat. They look much like females until we are close enough to see faint lines or striations on their throats. Next year, they’ll display their bright gorgets.

Hummingbird July 2018

We’re keeping the feeders spotless, making fresh nectar (1 part sugar to 4 parts water) often and just watching as the hummers are bulking up preparing for their long migration at the end of the summer. Males will leave first, followed by females and young.  We will keep the feeders clean and half-full with fresh nectar after they leave because you never know when a migration straggler will venture by and need a couple of days of nourishment before continuing on.

Worms!

Haven’t we gardeners learned that worms are beneficial to the earth? And they’re good for the ecosystem, right? They provide aeration and drainage in the garden. They break down plant matter and leave behind healthy castings are rich in nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. I‘ve always reburied these good little soldiers that I’ve disturbed in the garden because they’re beneficial. However, that’s not the case in the natural New England forests that surround us.

worms

Lots of worms in our gardens

Years ago, I learned from my sister who is a curator at Historic Jamestown in Virginia that most of our earthworms in the US are non-native, the offspring of European earthworms brought by British colonists in the 1600’s.  And there were no worms at all north of Pennsylvania then. Glaciers wiped them out. Our natural North American forests that have existed ‘wormless’ are now dealing with a harmful soil ecosystem due to European worms that slowly moved north over hundreds of years.

Worms have been altering the physical properties of the forest soil by devouring leaf litter causing water runoff, drier soil and poor soil chemistry. Biologists are studying the long-term effects on native undergrowth, too. Natives are disappearing and invasive plants and grasses that can survive the loss of leaf litter and dry soil are moving in.

Just as we’re digesting that European worm information, we learn about another worm invader in New England forests…. the Asian jumping worm that other garden bloggers and cooperative extensions are writing about. A voracious eater that lives in the top layer of soil, this worm devours the organic layer faster than other worms and it displaces those European worms in place. When exposed, these worms are more snake-like and wiggligy in movements. I’m watching for them in my garden in New Hampshire. We’re instructed to report any sightings to our local cooperative extension.  Oh dear….

See Jumping Worm

The harvest

We don’t grow many vegetables due to space constraints but in the coolness of a New England spring, leaf-lettuce is one we can depend on even in the heat of summer if we are careful.  We have enjoyed the bounty of our lettuce crop for lunch and dinner for several weeks.

lettuce 2018

Lettuce is so easy to grow! We plant trays of lettuce as early as we can in as many places as we can. Some grow in full sun for cool weather picking and others grow in containers with annuals, both sunny and shady. They look pretty and we can harvest a few leaves at a time but never more than half the plant.

IMG_2965

IMG_2963We planted as much as we could around the tomatoes. With dappled afternoon shade beneath the tomato plants, they’ve thrived during our current heat spell with temps in the 90’s.  That’s NOT the weather lettuce likes.

lettuce and tomatoes

lettuce 2018

Despite watering, some lettuce in full sun has begun to show signs of growing tall in the heat. So we harvested much of this lettuce before it bolted, ate a lot and shared a lot. A good amount of our organic lettuce was welcomed for tasty salads at two dinner parties we recently attended.

Some of the roots, we washed and replanted in good potting soil. They’re sending up new leaves and we hope to harvest a second crop, a first try for us. Wish us luck!

 

 

 

Shades of red, white and blue

The Fourth of July, Independence Day, means different things to different people. In addition to the significance of the day and diverse interpretations, it is a holiday and a time for family and friends to gather together with a big emphasis on food.

Susan's Flag

Yesterday Google Doodle featured an interactive map with recipes for popular regional and state dishes. It stated, “The 4th of July is the USA’s most scrumptious summer celebration: a time when friends and family get together to celebrate the nation’s independence by cooking, boiling, frying, baking, grilling, or blackening their favorite regional dishes.”

The most searched recipe in New Hampshire was Apple Crisp, “a classic New England dessert.” We love apple crisp but for us that  dish is one we enjoy during apple season when the juicy fruit is picked fresh from local trees. For our gathering, we chose the fruit ripening on trees now: Cherries!

cherry pie

I can remember a few years ago that everyone seemed to have a red, white and blue border of annuals to show their patriotism on the Fourth. Our master gardener group in Virginia planned and planted for it in our community.  Even though I don’t plant one now, it was fun yesterday to spot shades of red, white and blue scattered here and there around the home.

Red

White

Blue

Beyond the red, white and blue, the backyard barbecues, and fireworks, the Fourth is an opportunity to pause and reflect on what it means to be an American, an American of any color or creed in these turbulent times and what the future of our country may be. My wish is for all to have a meaningful way to celebrate the day.

Not too hot today for visitors

We’re closing the month of June on a HOT note in New Hampshire. It’s really uncomfortable and really steamy with temperatures hovering around 92-93° today. But no matter the temperature, I had a chore to tackle in the garden that couldn’t wait for cooler temperatures. Several rolls of sod were waiting to be installed in an area we’re revamping due to construction here. Today we needed to get those rolls positioned and watered well…. heat wave or not.

Just as the some sections were in place and about to be tightened up, our first visitor arrived. Ferdinand, the last surviving bunny in the neighborhood and a welcome little friend, arrived for his twice daily visit. He hopped along the seam between sod sections.

bunny

He’s still a wild bunny. We have never approached him and he would hop away if we did.  But he visits daily and he sits nearby and watches our activity in the yard. We’d like to think he comes to visit us but it’s probably our crop of juicy clover that’s the biggest draw.

ferdinand 2018

While bunny nibbled the clover and watched me cut sod, I spied a second visitor, a tiny newly hatched eastern painted turtle, no bigger than a quarter, shell still quite soft. The top shell or carapace was olive-green on this little guy. He had a pale yellow stripe down the middle of the shell and reddish-orange markings around the edge.

Easterm Painted Turtle 2018

The bottom shell or plastron was a solid yellow.

Eastern Painted Turtle 2018

Our yard was not the best location for this little fellow. Our small community is surrounded by wetland and ponds but a turtle this size would probably find himself beneath a lawn mower or auto tire before he could find any water. They’ve built this neighborhood right where the turtles have probably always laid their eggs. I’ve marked off and added signage to protect one turtle’s egg site and today I helped an adult turtle in the middle of the road reach the road berm (in the same direction it was heading). Sadly, turtles often don’t make the road crossing successfully.

I put the tiny turtle in a container in the shade, added water, rocks, floating leaves, and a conch shell to hide in while I finished cutting and laying the sod. He actually swam, nibbled on algae and seemed to have a jolly time. All the while, I had to fight the urge to keep him as a pet… I’d kept my share as a kid… but after an hour or so, decided to release him in a slow-moving stream close by.

eastern painted turtle 2018

As June ends on a hot note, July will start off on a hot note tomorrow. We have an excessive heat advisory for the next several days stretching well into the week. Hot yes but it won’t keep us indoors… and who knows, we may have more critters visit our little stretch of land.

Gardening for the birds…

We are big time bird lovers. We provide food during the cold months for them but now, as summer begins, they are foraging for food naturally. However, if you still want to attract birds at different times of the year, one of the best ways is by planting native trees and shrubs that produce berries at different times.

Ripening right now are the juicy berries of our two ornamental serviceberry trees (Amelanchier spp.) ‘Autumn Brilliance’  that are providing most of the backyard entertainment for us. In my opinion, this 25′ understory tree is one of the most beautiful trees you can plant. The tree is literally covered in early white flowers in the spring making it an early source of pollen and nectar for insects as well as eye candy for us, and now… berries are beginning to ripen in hanging clusters and the trees are alive with wildlife.

We thought maybe there’d be a few ripe berries for us but it’s not to be. Just take a look at a few of the feathered visitors:

The Catbird

The catbirds found the berries first

cardinals

The cardinals weren’t far behind

I’m amazed at how the cedar waxwings find us each year but they do… accomplishing acrobatics in their formal dress. They travel in a flock so we know the berries won’t last much longer. All stages of fruit are on the tree but the waxwings don’t mind green berries.

Difficult for me to capture on a smart phone but I was curious whether this robin below with a mouthful of 3 worms could actually have the ability to snag a berry, too. As you can see in the second fuzzy photo, operation accomplished! Off to feed its young…

Birds aren’t the only animals that enjoy these tasty treats. We’ve seen our neighborhood four-footed animals reaching for the ripest berries.

And so… I am willing to give up my dream of serviceberry jam, serviceberry pie or maybe a little serviceberry wine, just to attract varied wildlife to the yard. Our serviceberry trees will provide summer shade for my perennials and in the fall, the trees’ foliage will glow in deep reds, yellows, and oranges. As our trees age, the bark will become rough but, with our young trees we have the smooth gray bark for winter interest.

Goodbye Spring, Hello Summer!

Spring is a beautiful time of year and we were fortunate that our 2018 spring was enjoyable with enough rain to turn everything lush and green. Today summer has officially arrived bringing heat and humidity and the first flush of WEEDS. All kinds of tiny weeds have sprouted in lawns and in borders around this neighborhood.

I’m not crazy about the idea of dousing the property with chemicals so I’m laboring a little each day to pull them out before they form seed heads. I find the single best way to rid oneself of weeds is the good old-fashioned pull-them-out-by-hand when the ground is moist and the plants are young. That’s when it’s easy to pull the entire weed up because if you don’t get the root out, it’s probably going to grow back. I simply grab a weed close to the ground and slowly pull straight up. If the ground is dry, I find the second best way to remove weeds is with a triangular blade hoe. You’ll find no Roundup used around my yard!

Our association lays down mulch in our neighborhood and those are the weeds I tackle first.  A few inches of compost/mulch mix makes it easier to pull them out, roots and all…. even the young pokeweed below that will develop a huge taproot that will go deep and spread horizontally later in the summer.

Pokeweed 2018

 Root System on Young Pokeweed

Chickweed, Hairy Bittercrest, Dandelion, Wood Sorrel, Plantains, Purslane, Pokeberry, Prostrate Spurge, Crabgrass and my worst gardening enemy… Creeping Charlie (in the neighbor’s yard), are all waiting to grow and develop a good root system and simply take over… but, sorry, not on my watch!

wood sorrel 2018

Young Wood Sorrel

Plantain 2018

Young Plantain

Prostrate Spurge

Young Prostrate Spurge

New Shoots of Creeping Charlie

New shoots of Creeping Charlie creeping ever closer to my gardens!

No matter how dreaded a job, we must accept that weeds are part of gardening and be prepared to do battle but never win the war. No matter how many you pull out, nature is constantly reseeding them for you.

 

 

If you like showy….

…. here’s another Flower Power perennial I learned to love at Rolling Green Nursery. It got a lot of interest when blooming and when the blooms were gone, we simply sheared it back and watched it perform again. It’s a low growing variety of campanula, a genus with more than 300 very different varieties. I loved the campanula carpathica “white clips,” and the blue-purple, “blue clips,” still growing strong for me, both massed as a groundcover and as container plants.

Campanula "white clips"

One morning I assisted a shopper who selected several “white clips” for a border along his driveway. Two weeks later he returned with a smile and loaded his big wagon with every last one we had (except one), saying it was the only plant that’s ever done so well in that location. That was the day I bought my first bellflower that I had set aside! Whew… now I have lots!

This low-growing bellflower is one of the most popular ones. It seems to love our New England climate with cool nights during the summer. It’s easy to grow, disease and pest free, good in full sun or part shade. The plants form a neat, low mound of tiny green leaves with a mass of upfacing, open bell-shaped blooms appearing in late spring and early summer. If they are deadheaded when spent, they will bloom for many weeks. It’s a great little plant for front of the border, for rock gardens, and in containers (no thriller, filler, spiller needed).

Campanula bellflower (Campanula carpatica)
Perennial
Zones 3-8
12″ wide
8 – 10″ tall

Strawberry Picking

strawberries 2018.jpg

Nothing screams summer like New England’s June strawberries. It’s the beginning of our pick-your-own season but we don’t really pick them unless we take the grandchildren. Applecrest Farm is just a stone’s throw away where we can buy the juiciest berries already picked and waiting for us. With four acres of berries and a dozen varieties, we can’t go wrong!

It’s a short season and we’re taking full advantage. We’ve enjoyed eating them fresh but also with rhubarb in deserts, as a sauce over ice cream, with simple milk and sugar, and and in salads or a main dish such as the one below, grilled chicken salad with spring lettuce, roasted pecans, blueberries and juicy strawberries, that mister gardener made for us tonight. Deee-lish!

strawberry spring salad 2018

His dressing: 1/2 cup sugar, 1 cup veg. oil, 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar, 1/2 onion, diced, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper…blended in a mini food processor for about 30 seconds.  Oh so good!

The strawberries came from Applecrest Farm, but the lettuce keeps on coming right out of my small garden. I have several varieties growing in all of my containers whether it’s an ornamental container or tomato trough or some small herb containers. With our cool, wet spring, the lettuce doesn’t show any sign of bolting. We’re taking full advantage!

lettuce 2018

We are almost finished our current stash of strawberries but not to worry. Tomorrow is our town’s Farmers’ Market. I know we’ll see more of the juicy fruit at several of the farm stands. We’ll come home with strawberries and perhaps a few asparagus. Can’t wait.

Alchemilla Love

When I was employed at Rolling Green Nursery, this plant was often requested by shoppers. From one week to the next, when I reported for work, I noticed the plant was practically sold out in my absence. That much requested perennial is Alchemilla… lady’s mantle. I wasn’t too familiar with it as I didn’t grow it in my zone 8 Virginia garden but, now I have fallen under its spell in my seacoast New Hampshire garden. I started with two plants as accents in a border and they quickly charmed me so much that I now use them as a groundcover in another border. Lots of lady’s mantle there and I am rewarded with plant pizzazz!

The blooms of the lady’s mantle are frothy clusters of yellow/chartreuse that cover the plants this time of year. Each individual bloom is about 1/8-inch wide and shaped like a little star. The clouds of blossoms stand erect above the mound of attractive leaves. However, as the blooms become heavy, they can become a bit floppy. That’s when I cut those heavier stems for flower arrangements. They look fabulous alone in a container or stunning as a filler in mixed arrangements. And… a bonus… they seem to hold color for me when they are air-dried.

Alchemilla 'Lady's Mantle'

Lady’s mantle does self-seed and some folks will deadhead all the flowers before the seeds ripen. The tiny seeds, one per flower, ripen when the blooms become dry and brown later in the summer. I do allow some self-seeding but cut most blooms. During the heat of the summer, I keep the plants well-watered and after deadheading I am rewarded with a flush of fresh growth in the fall.

lady's mantle 2018

The leaves of lady’s mantle are like shallow rippled cups and have tiny soft hairs that cause water droplets that form either from rain, fog, or evaporation to roll around on the surface and hang on along the edge of the leaf.

My variety: Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis) ‘thriller’ – zones 3-8

My All-White Garden

What ever happened to my all-white garden plan? It looked so great on paper but it never materialized. We will soon lose our white focal point in the yard as we say farewell to the striking blooms of the doublefile viburnum. Petals are falling with every gentle breeze and beginning to cover the ground like giant snowflakes. Soon the shrub will be full of red drupes that will turn black in autumn against deep red and burgundy leaves. Great 4-season woody shrub!

Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum ‘Mariesii’ 2018

We anticipate a fair share of summer whites with Little Lime and Incrediball hydrangea and arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum), but somehow in the few years we’ve lived here, I’ve added a little purple, then blue, and eventually pink, and a few yellows. I simply cannot refuse a pass-along plant no matter the color and, of course, I must add host plants for butterfly larvae, like the orange asclepias tuberosa for the monarch butterfly. So, in the end I like to think the colors in the garden are compatible and just what nature intended…. a bit of the rainbow here on earth.

tall yellow bearded iris 2018

Tall bearded reblooming iris

Purple is emerging in the perennial bed with Baptisia australis, commonly called blue false indigo. This tough plant comes in white, blue, yellow, and bi-colors, but this is the only shade that calls to me. I have three of them in the garden… pest free, great pollinator plants and the tall foliage keeps on ticking once the blooms fade.

Baptisia australis 2018

Baptisia

Allium continues to give color to a border where little lime hydrangea and varieties of lavender have yet to bloom. Bees still visit, but now that the rhododendron have opened, I can hear the loud buzzing there.

allium 2018That’s a chunk of what we have in bloom at the moment. Lovely so far but the real excitement is in the anticipation of what’s to come. I like to think of the garden as a Broadway production… Act I, Act II, etc.  It just wouldn’t do to have a grand finale of all the blooms on stage at the same time.

Happy Gardening!

Printemps in New Hampshire

Spring in New England is glorious this year and I’m finding myself spending every free moment fussing around the garden. I don’t have a big garden as I had in years past but time spent in this one matches the time spent in my larger gardens. I pinch, I plant, I weed, I transplant, and I visit with nature. The frogs are singing, the toads are hopping, bees are buzzing, and the birds are visiting. It seems easy to dismiss or put off all other jobs and tasks on my ‘to do’ list…. like blogging.

Bleeding hearts are still vivid spots of pink here and there in shady areas. The blooms below hover over a tiny moss and lichen covered pagoda that once graced my mother’s garden. I can’t think of a more natural way to honor and remember her than having some of her garden passed down to my garden… both plants and art.

spring 2018.

This is the first year for my Purple Sensation allium, a bunch of ornamental onion plants, and it seems to be a great sensation indeed for the bees. My bees seem to prefer anything in the blooming onion family more than other flowers in the garden. That also goes for chives that are beginning to open and soon to open garlic chives.

Purple Sensation 2018

The most stunning blooming plant in the yard right now is our doublefile viburnum (Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum ‘Mariesii’).  The layered horizontal branches are clustered with blooms in great profusion. Great white blooms like little soldiers are standing at attention in rows along the branches and it is breathtaking. Each flower is flat with large sterile flowers surrounding the center of smaller fertile flowers. This shrub was pruned to a horrible round ball before we bought the property and I’ve been working with it for a few years to help it regain its layered branch look. It has responded well and has grown to about 10′ in height.

Lots more going on around here in the garden and elsewhere… the noisiest of which is a small addition being added to the home, an office/gathering room that I’ve longed for since our move from Virginia. It’s happening and I can’t wait!

The Alewives of Exeter

Eagles, osprey, gulls, fishermen, minks, cormorants, great blue herons, and human spectators are gathering daily on or in the area of the String Bridge in ExeterNHExeter. Some are there for a meal and others are there to celebrate a wonderful spectacle… the journey of the alewives to their spawning grounds. We were happy to be a part of the spectator crowd on the bridge today.  The alewife (Pomolobus pseudoharengus) is a small river herring that is anadromous, meaning it lives in the ocean but spawns in fresh water.  This small fish is so regarded in the history of Exeter that it is featured on the town’s official seal.

Each spring the fish leaves the Atlantic and ascends the salty Squamscott River to spawn in the freshwater of the Exeter River that empties into the Squanscott. Dams have impeded their journey since the 1640s, but in the summer of 2016, the last dam, The Great Dam of 1831, was removed from the Exeter River. The river has been freed to run as nature intended and the alwife is finally able to make the trip upriver.

The fish is described as heavily built with a gray back and silvery on their sides and on their deep belly. No one is 100% certain of the name’s origin. Was it an alteration of Allowes, from the French word for shad, or the American Indian’s Aloofe, meaning ‘bony fish,’ or Alwife, the unflattering Old English term for women who kept alehouses in the 17th century?

This is the sight when we arrived this cool morning under overcast skies. Where were the fish? I thought they’d be jumping out of the water like salmon.

ExeterRiver

A knowledgeable man who has spent his life fishing these waters told me that my eyes must adjust. Just watch the pools and eddies. I thought I saw some movement below so I zoomed my camera closer. Can you see them? The man said there are thousands of alewives going upstream. Thousands?

Exeter.River

I zoomed in closer and could actually see hundreds in this small pool. Yes, I believe there must be thousands of determined fish that are able to migrate upstream.

Alwives2018

Zooming in even closer showed me this amazing sight below just in one eddy.

Alwives

Keeping my eye on the rapids, I witnessed fish after fish slightly broaching the turbulent water. I didn’t see any leaping out of the water like salmon so they were hard to spot. The water was very high and rough.

2018 alewives

And, of course, there were those who were there not as spectators, but to take advantage of the alewife run. The man beside me thought the fishermen were probably fishing for striped bass that follow the alewives upstream.

Squamscott

But there were those who were there to dine.  We saw a lot of fish that failed to span the rapids, landed on boulders, and died. They won’t go to waste….

seagull

Here’s a good video for an up close and personal look at the alewives in the Exeter River:

Early morning bliss…

Daybreak comes early these days and who can sleep when… well, when it’s spring and nature awaits!  The morning is aglow before the sun is fully up. That’s when I step out for my first walk in the garden. The dew is usually heavy and the air cool enough to see steam wafting from my coffee.

I’m certain my neighbors are asleep, however I’m hardly alone outdoors. The birds are awake. Hummingbirds zoom like jets here and there around me fighting for the sweetest nectar spot in the garden. The larger birds are flying from the birdbath to suet and back, foraging in the borders for insects, fussing for territory, mating, or busy gathering nesting material. It must feel like the day’s half over to them.

Chickadee gathering

Early mornings are the best time to me for to appreciate the little things in the garden before I pull on garden gloves and begin chores. It’s the time to witness what will be lost when the sun rises.

Today I walked through the small shade garden to check the newly emerged plants. Bleeding hearts are in full display and are being enjoyed by bumblebees that usually wait for the sun’s warmth to fly.

bleeding hearts2018

bumblebee 2018

Not everything has broken ground but I loved seeing the fuzzy leaves of Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla Mollis) holding onto dew droplets that look like tiny pearls.

Ladies Mantle

The groundcover I prefer in this shady area is Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum), that grows about 8″ tall and has green leaves in whorls of 8.  The lacy white flowers are just beginning to appear. Some gardeners have problems with invasiveness but I find it easy to manage. This striking green carpet spreading beneath taller plants like ferns, hosta, epimedium, wild ginger, Solomon’s seal, and astilbe, is worth the maintenance.

sweet woodruff 2018

I notice it won’t be long before the doublefile viburnum (Viburnumplicatum tomentosumMariesii) will burst forth with white blooms… looking just like little soldiers standing doublefile at attention all along the branches. This is my favorite blooming shrub and when in bloom it will be the highlight of spring for me.

doublefile 2018

I don’t have much red in the garden. mister gardener, the only one who regularly observes and critiques my work, stated I needed more red for contrast out there so two containers are now growing lovely ranunculus (Ranunculus asiatucus) that are opening to more of a tangerine shade. That works for me. It’s the first time I’ve tried them and hoping for a long bloom period with some flowers to cut for arrangements.

renacula.2018

That’s about all I had time for today before having a second cup of coffee and catching up on the news…. 😳 Yikes!

Yes, Spring did arrive…

I was wrong about summer coming early. The sizzling hot temps lasted about two days. It did fry our early red tulips in the birdbath garden but our mid-season white tulips emerged and were greeted by seasonal New England temperatures…. warm days and cool nights.

spring blooms 2018

 

After a day of glorious rain yesterday, we woke today to our customary cool spring today.  White tulips against a groundcover of “Tide Hill” box brightens up this border before any sunlight appears over the woodland surrounding us. “Tide Hill” is a wonderfully compact littleleaf boxwood that is tolerant of our icy, cold winters and does fine during hot, humid spells during the summers. It only grows about a foot in height but will spread about 4 feet in diameter. It’s a perfect groundcover for our garden entry highlighted by a few florals…. and eventually “Karley Rose” fountain grass in a container. Both the box and fountain grass were purchased at Rolling Green Nursery in New Hampshire.

IMG_1380

New to the border this spring is “Starlight Sensation,” a new hybrid daffodil (below) from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester VA.  It won the “Best Daffodil” at the 2017 Philadelphia Flower Show so I was on the phone to order that day. This is its first season but eventually we should have multiple nodding blooms per stems.  The buds are a shade of yellow and open to a creamy white.

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Three shades of muscari will eventually spread and fill certain borders… this one with a backdrop of “Becky” daisies. I worried because the muscari green leaves were perfect fodder for our bunny. They were eaten to the ground several times but we have regrowth and blooms. Bunny has moved on to clover.

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That’s it for the bulbs but herbs are looking good, serviceberry trees are glorious and crabapple tree is ready to burst on the scene with pink blossoms. More to come…..

Unwelcome Temperatures!

Spring is my favorite time of year and we’ve been waiting for it for a long time in New Hampshire. Last month felt more like winter at times but today we’re jumping right over spring and landing smack dab in the middle of July.  As May rolled around, it brought us a hot 87° today beneath a blazing sun with a few similar days in the immediate forecast.

Tulips that were glorious and happy in our cool April, opening each morning and closing at dusk, are prostrate and sad-looking in the almost 90° heat. They like it cool.

tulip 2018

The last several days were chilly enough for me to wear a fleece while working in the garden, edging the borders, and even covering the young tomato plants against the nighttime frost. Today it’s shorts, short sleeves and lots of sunscreen. I should be at the beach but instead I’m tending to the garden and all the newly planted plants with undeveloped root systems.

I’m caring for newly planted lettuce in the garden that is flagging and keeping the soil from drying out too fast in newly planted flower containers. Some containers I’ve moved to the shade. Baby grass that was beginning to grow has faded. The hose is ready, waiting and being used today!

In spite of the weather, nature seems to prevail. Good news is that our hummingbirds returned two days ago. I had the nectar waiting and our two males are already fighting and fussing with each other over two feeders. We happily welcomed the return of the catbirds, the chipping sparrows, the phoebes, and the pine warblers. Most of the winter birds have migrated to their breeding grounds and now we watch as our neighborhood avians claim territory and build their nests. It’s a happy but busy time in nature!

I was warned….

…but didn’t heed advice. “You’ll be sorry,” they said. Yes, I think we are a little sorry.

The tiny bunny we encouraged to dine on our clover a year ago has become rogue. We helped to keep him alive all winter by feeding him peanuts. He loved them and would appear in the harshest of blizzards to wait for a meal at dawn and dusk. And now, the weather has warmed and the snow has melted but each morning as I feed the birds, there he waits. “Give me peanuts!” he says with a stern stare. And when I pile some in front of his nose, even the squirrels are wary of stealing from his stash. Don’t mess with his peanuts!

Where his den was during those winter days, we did not know. But now, the snow has melted and we finally learned where’s he’s been hiding.

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Our bunny actually resides beneath our deck.

And how’d he get under there?

Here’s how:

Bunny damage

He tunneled through the snow and right through the lattice to make a cozy bungalow. Horrified, I blocked the opening. He made another…. and another…. and another.

2nd rabbit opening

And the clover isn’t tall enough for a tasty meal….so in addition to the peanuts, he eats my pansies. He nibbles on my chives. He really enjoys the tulip leaves. He snacks on my ornamental grasses. And he’s not budging from our yard.

We see several rabbits in the distance chasing each other at full speed and we know what that’s all about… but our rabbit isn’t interested. He will sit in the sun. He will stretch out on the grass. He will sniff and sample different plants. We once watched as the other rabbits dashed through our yard one evening just a foot from where bunny was resting. He hardly glanced at them. He had no interest in bunny play. He simply yawned and waited for his peanuts.

We finally named him Ferdinand, just like the bull in the children’s book… the bull that was bred for the Spanish bullfighting, but instead simply loved to sit under a big tree and smell the flowers. Our Ferdinand lays on the grass, yawns, stretches, eats peanuts, samples some garden plants, and then retires to his beneath-the-deck bungalow.

The Story of Ferdinand

Amazon.com

Our greatest fear is that Ferdinand is really Ferdinanda and we will eventually discover little Ferdinands beneath the deck. What to do…. what to do!

Finally some blooms!

According to the New York Times, we should have foliage emerging in the Northeast on or about April 16.  But due to the 2018 jet stream bringing us Arctic air with low temperatures in January and February, spring is delayed this year.

We are seeing the colorful crocus blooms here and there (if the bunny hasn’t found them first) but the daffodils and tulips I planted last fall are still showing just green. Buds on woody plants are swelling but no leaves and no flowers yet.

However, we do have one small broadleaf evergreen shrub that is shining with profuse blooms in our shady border nestled beneath the boughs of a crabapple tree.

Pieris japonica

It’s the Pieris japonica or Japanese adromeda. Each morning I walk out to this border, coffee in hand, to admire the sole evergreen shrub in bloom in our landscape. These cascading clusters of white flowers hanging about 6″ long are the first to bloom each spring and will charm us for two to three weeks. The plant is often called ‘lily-of-the-valley shrub’ for the small bell-shaped blooms appear so similar to the small lily of the valley plant.

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New leaves on the plant will emerge in a lovely bronze shade before maturing green. I often clip a few of these new leaves to add a bit more contrast to flower arrangements… as well as using the attractive older leaves that are dark green and very shiny.

There are a number of variants of the Pieris japonica in with blooms of pink and red but I prefer the white blooms that serve as a light in a shady border. The shrub performs best as an understory plant in shade or in filtered light. Lace bugs can be a problem…. especially if planted in full sun… but I’m thankful they haven’t found my Pieris!

Just when you thought it was safe….

….to think about spring, you receive a stern message from nature that you have never been in charge! We’ve had a few days that have teased us into beliving we were all about spring. Neighbors rushed into their yards. I could hear blowers, I could see folks leaning into borders and those with rakes and wheelbarrows, filling them with sticks and leaf debris, and finally our landscape company spent two days mulching much of our neighborhood “common ground” and “living fence” area.

But today we are back indoors wondering whether our outdoor garden frenzy was just an illusion. It feels bitterly cold again… back to the 20’s and we’re hunkered down in our fleeces with a fire in the fireplace. Sigh….

These tulips bloomed indoors and I thought they would look better in the garden…. the only thing in bloom.  The bunny loves the leaves!

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Our fabulous, rich 50/50 mix of fine mulch and organic compost was applied to sections of the garden. Fingers crossed for this new Russian sage/Allium border. Right now the tulips are beginning to unfurl and the tips of the daffodils are breaking through the ground. I didn’t pick up the Russian sage snippings because the robins are doing that for me!

April 13, 2018

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I loved having the three days  in the garden… cutting back ornamental grasses, lightly pruning woody plants, especially our borders of paniculata limelight hydrangeas, thatching the lawn, edging borders, planting pansies, transplanting shrubs..including one to a neighbor’s home. The first early days of spring in the garden are such a charge.

Now we wait. Soon a truckload of mulch should be delivered to a central spot in the neighborhood and homeowners and their wheelbarrows will rush to retrieve what we need for the rest of our gardens. It’s a good plan and I’m primed for more garden jollies whether it’s in snow, rain or sleet!

The last one bit the dust…

With our late March snowstorms, the lone Bradford pear tree in the neighborhood could no longer bear the snow weight and lost 90% of its limbs. The tree was removed and thank goodness!  If Michael Dirr, professor of horticulture at the University of Georgia and my go-to expert on woody plants, says the tree is a ‘scourge,’ then it is. Once the darling of the nursery industry in the 1950’s, we now know what a mistake it is to plant a Callery pear.

The trees are probably a true harbinger of spring with their very early beautiful, white blossoms (that come with a stench!). The Callery pear was brought from China and found to be fast growing, disease resistant, adaptable to numerous climates, soil types, sun or shade and pollution.

As the Bradford tree grew in popularity, nurseries began developing several cultivars, Chanticleer pear, Aristocrat pear, Cleveland Select pear…. as the Bradford was soon to be found to have major flaws in the branches that grew at weak V-shaped angles from the tree. Trees began to split or lose branches. New cultivars somewhat improved the problem but the Bradford continued to reign in landscapes and as a urban street tree.

Bradford 2018

In many areas of the country today, the tree has spread into wild areas choking out natives. Cultivars themselves aren’t invasive but the combination of different cultivars hybridize and produce fertile fruit. Several states have listed the tree as invasive and in many areas, it is forbidden to plant one. I poked around online but didn’t see any information about the tree being invasive in New Hampshire.

Virginia, my home state, is one area that lists the tree as an invasive plant…. and I just returned from a whirlwind trip to Ohio and Kentucky where landscapes and woodland edges were white from pear tree blooms. It’s listed as invasive in Ohio. Beautiful to behold but who knows what the impact of escaped trees is to our ecosystem.

A little past bloom peak, I photographed this pear tree lined avenue in Louisville KY as we drove by last week. I wouldn’t park my car beneath those branches!

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As for me, I’m sticking with the serviceberry tree that is an equally beautiful spring bloomer, a native that provides year round interest… fluffy white flowers in early spring and just full of bees, followed by edible berries that the birds adore, then we enjoy lovely orange-red leaves in the fall.  You can’t go wrong with this one…

 

Drat! There goes another House Sparrow

Gimme an A!   Gimme another A!
In late winter with snow still on the ground, house sparrows (Passer domesticus) claimed these letters over a local Walgreens Pharmacy and were busy building nests. These are birds that not only seem to be everywhere you go, they ARE everywhere that people go, chirping loudly and claiming any crack or crevice for nesting.
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You won’t see these birds in wooded areas, forests, or on grasslands. So what’s the key to their success? Humans…. yep, you and me. You find these bold invasive birds wherever people have built structures…. on farms, in cities and in the suburbs. Nesting in close association with humans have allowed them to spread just about everywhere on Earth.
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For weeks, several have been seen in our yard gathering nesting materials, getting a head start on migratory birds that have not yet arrived. They are very aggressive toward our bluebirds, fighting for nesting rights in the bluebird house. They eventually claimed the box and the bluebirds left. We had to step in. We removed our bluebird box.
The house sparrows’ incessant chirps are ringing out nearby so I think they’re around the corner in a neighbor’s gutter spout as they were last year. But they are back to check for the box daily…
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This chunky immigrant from Europe was introduced to the North America well over a hundred years ago and it has simply taken over.  Walk into any Home Depot or Lowes or garden store. The loud chirping you hear from the rafters is the house sparrow.
House sparrows are NOT protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Act. Why? Because it is an invasive species and destructive. They are aggressive toward other birds, will kill adults and young, destroy eggs, and are prolific breeders. They eat seeds and a wide variety of other foods, scavenging trash around fast food restaurants, eating vegetables in your garden, grains on farms.
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Some report a decline in numbers of house sparrows due to a rise in numbers of and competition from the invasive house finch. But the house finch doesn’t invade/destroy eggs/kill bluebirds at our house so give me a house finch over a house sparrow any day.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!