About Annie

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

First Snow 2017

There is something about a first snow of the season that puts a smile on everyone’s face in the Northeast. The storm that slammed the south a couple of days ago moved into New England overnight and left us with a heavy coating of wet snow. It might have caused a panic among folks in Texas, Georgia, Virginia…. but here, it’s life as usual. We had a holiday gathering last night and the hearty among us walked quite a distance in steady snowfall instead of driving to the gala. The hallway of the party home was piled so high with boots that it was difficult to open the front door and navigate the mountain of thawing, dripping footwear. No one blinks twice at a sight like that. It’s a normal scene around here.

Our roads were cleared of snow by dawn and the same for driveways in our neighborhood… something we never saw in a Virginia storm. Of course, Virginia snows usually melted in 24-hours.

Feathered friends, both on the ground and feeders, were active at first light. I’m happy to report that the Cooper’s hawk was not able to catch our blue jay and the pair returned to feed today. I do hope the hawk found a nice little house sparrow or two or ten instead.

Waiting their turn

Juncos are abundant this year

Hard to take your eyes off our bright cardinal. Hope he’s watching out for our Cooper’s Hawk!

On the ground the day before, we counted 19 turkeys poking around for something to eat… not beneath the feeder but in the borders around the house. Most of our regular flock are young turkeys, now learning to find food beneath snow. We have plenty of oak trees that provide an abundance of acorns for them. I’m still delighted when I see the turkeys. They parade from home to home, up and down our driveways, in single file along our street, roost overnight in our trees, and are treated as neighborhood adoptees. As long as they are well-behaved, we welcome them.

Someone sent me this turkey video that made me laugh out loud and I wondered if I could ever learn to call our turkeys like he did. However, if I got down and wobbled like the young man in the video, I’d never be able get back up.

 

I know it’s nature but….

….I don’t have to like it.

As the day broke on this chilly morning, I sat at the kitchen table and observed at least two dozen bluebirds descending upon the rooftops and chimneys of neighboring homes. Eureka! This called for another cup of coffee and a camera to try and capture the migration moment. I love it when a day starts like this one!

Bluebirds Dec. 2017

I watched wave after wave of bluebirds arrive to dine on mealworms, sunflower seeds, and to take a sip from the still icy birdbath.

Bluebirds

And I smiled as I drank my coffee and clicked away with my camera through the window.

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The bluebirds’ arrival encouraged the arrival of a large number of goldfinches that swarmed and drank and ate. Oh, such fun avian activity adding to our ever present juncos, cardinals, blue jays, nuthatches, titmouse and chickadees. It was a bird party.

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But the party ended suddenly. I glanced up and not a bird to be seen. That is except one. And that one was definitely NOT invited to the party. That party crasher was sitting on the bluebird house.  I had to admire its beauty but hoped it wouldn’t stay.

Seconds later, I saw my blue jay dart out of a nearby shrub screaming and the cooper’s hawk was just feet behind. I hope the jay made it to safety. I know it’s nature but I don’t have to like it.

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Crazy for Swasey

There are plenty of local trails to hike in Exeter and we take advantage of them. But there is one place in our fair town that is more of a promenade than a hike. It’s such a pleasure to stroll the sidewalks of Swasey Parkway along the Squamscott River… with a nod, a smile, a tip of the hat, or a good morning to passersby.

Swasey Parkway 2017

The parkway was a 1931 gift to the community from Ambrose Swasey, a summer resident known for his generosity. At that time, the area beside the river was the site of the town dump, quite unsightly and odorous, and Ambrose Swasey grew tired of passing it on his way to town.

Swasey Parkway 2017

Swasey Leaves 2017

Today it is a popular gathering place for people and events in Exeter. Not only is the park the perfect place to stretch one’s legs and enjoy the fresh air, it is a magnet for family picnics, sunbathing, bird watching, photography, people watching, or those folks like us who are there to enjoy the fall colors.

Swasey Parkway Picnic

Swasey Parkway 2017

Swasey Parkway

We are fortunate to have this area for hosting the farmers’ market, an antique marketplace, summer concerts, a Revolutionary War encampment, Independence Day fireworks, food events and more.

There are also pleasurable sights on the river. It’s a delight to watch Phillips Exeter Academy crew teams launch from their ramp and practice their sport up and down the river… but at this season of the year, we are more apt to see leisurely kayakers paddling along the waterway.

Swasey Parkway view to PEA crew

kayakers Swasey Parkway 2017

I sometimes think of Ambrose Swasey as I walk along the river, a man who at 84 years of age, made this priceless contribution to his community. I don’t think he’d be surprised at how much it is used and loved today. He was truly a man with a vision…

To read even more about Ambrose Swasey, his life and philanthropy, click HERE.

There’s a new restaurant in town!

Not long ago, several gals in our neighborhood ventured downtown and treated ourselves to a night on the town at an exciting new restaurant in Exeter.

The new restaurant is named Otis. Yes, that’s the name and it comes from the business that was housed in that building long ago, the Otis Sleeper Jewelry Store. We were excited to sample the goods because Otis was just named by New Hampshire Magazine as 2017’s Best of New Hampshire… and right here in our town!

Book Club

A photo of a culinary creation from the restaurant was pictured on the magazine cover.

New Hampshire Magazine - Otis #1

Otis is a bistro style restaurant serving American foods with locally sourced ingredients. New Hampshire magazine calls the space ‘intimate,’ as there are only 28 seats for diners. Smaller tables line a long wall. Options for larger tables are limited due to the building’s size. A group can sit at the chef’s table and watch the food being prepared by the professionals or sit at the window and watch all the town’s activity. The window is where we chose to be. From there we were a stone’s throw from the center of town and the historic bandstand.

The atmosphere was lively, the service unmatched, and our food was artful and delicious. It’s a popular spot for diners and at capacity this night with happy diners. As the evening progressed, it almost seemed a party was in progress.

Otis, Exeter NH

Lee Frank is both the chef and owner of Otis.Restaurant was well-know to diners as a chef extraordinaire at several popular seacoast restaurants before coming to Exeter to establish his own eatery.

menu

On the wall was a Chef Gateau quote from wonderful movie Ratatouille, “You must be imaginative, strong-hearted. You must try things that may not work, and you must not let anyone define your limits because of where you come from. Your only limit is your soul. What I say is true – anyone can cook… but only the fearless can be great.”
What a movie that was! There’s a lot of paper on the roll and I’m sure other wise sayings will ‘roll on’ nightly.

Otis

Dining out is a fun way to mingle with friends and step out of the daily grind for a night to enjoy good food and service, and lots of laughter. It was just the ticket. Be sure to check out Otis online. There you’ll find the current menu and be able to make reservations by phone.  I think you’ll be glad you did…

Dill in the garden

Dear Dill,

You may be aware that I do not have many plants in ornamental gardens that spread with abandon or are prodigious self-sowers because I simply do not have room for rampant spreaders.  Having said that, there are exceptions…. namely you, dill. I don’t mind a bit that you have escaped from the herb garden.

Dill

Not only do I like how you look popping up tall and proud against the daylilies, the asclepias, the hydrangea, and Russian sage, you require nothing of us. You seem to adjust to any weather, soil condition, mulch or not. And, oh, your umbrella blooms are a little like 4th of July fireworks in late summer when not much looks so fresh. I must thank you also for sharing a few blooms for flower arrangements.

But, most of all, we appreciate your generosity in sharing your feathery green leaves to enhance our food. Fish, potato salad, dips, soups, egg salad, cucumbers, shrimp salad, and pickles would not taste at all flavorful without you. And it’s so nice that we can freeze your delicate leaves to use all winter!

dill

Finally, I truly appreciate how you feed numerous insects, especially the butterflies and the hungry larva of the black swallowtail. It’s good that there is an abundance for sharing.

Recent freezing temperatures have terminated what we see above ground but you have done your job and spread your seeds. We expected you to freely self-seed anywhere you liked in the garden but if your young decide to sprout in the middle of the lawn, I’ll probably mow around them.

We look forward to greeting your youngsters in the spring…

From the gardeners who maintain these gardens

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I don’t have a dog anymore…

…and it makes me feel a little like an outsider in society.  I’ve always lived with (hate the word ‘owned’) canines during my lifetime: English Setters, Irish Setters, dachshunds, labs, and several mutts.  I’ve lived with and loved cats, too: short-haired, long-haired, Siamese, and several alley cats, all of whom adopted me and not the other way around. My children grew up with canines and felines. But right now, it’s just the two of us and we no longer live with 4-legged residents. We have downsized. Our home is now small and the property is communal.

I have a daughter who says she couldn’t live without being surrounded by her dogs and cats as we had when she was young. Her house is full of them as you can see. They follow her from room to room and gaze up trying to anticipate her next move as she completes daily activities. The family loves them with a passion.

Matter of fact, the large lab mix with the gray muzzle is our old dog, Annabelle, who moved in with my Kentucky daughter when we relocated to New Hampshire. (BTW: I think Annabelle is much happier in that home as rules are freer. Yes, they all sleep in bed with the humans. Yikes!)

Canines

When we first became dog-less, there was a void. No whines or barks. Bowls and toys and brushes and food went with Annabelle. We were no longer are on a first name basis with the local vet. No more dog license renewals. No more scheduling human activities around the dog’s schedule.  It was that empty nest syndrome that I felt when the kids moved out.  I found myself looking at too many of those cute puppy videos on Facebook and stopping strangers with dogs on the street to ask about their pets. Of course, the greatest fix of all is when the grands fill the house with noise and activity and make everything all right with the world, but there I am watching those videos again.

The intense feeling lasted about two years…. although I almost relapsed a week ago when puppies from the Houston floods appeared locally. “Get a grip,” my daughter said. The good news is the dogs almost outnumber the humans in our neighborhood and daily they walk by and pull on their leashes to visit me. They love me and they know I can’t get enough. I can get my puppy-love-fix from my neighbors and my kitty-love-fix from my son’s six-toed feline that visits. For now, that is enough…

 

Plant Lust…

I find myself a little bit out of control in this department. Downsizing from 12-acres to 12-feet causes problems with my compulsion to add to our garden. It’s not really 12-feet but sometimes it feels like it when I come across something I really desire for the garden. This time it was bulbs I lusted after. I ordered narcissus bulbs “Starlight Sensation,” for the following reasons: It’s a creamy white flower that I prefer, it has 3-5 flowers per stem with 3-5 bloomstalks per bulb. That’s a lot of flowers, folks!

And the good news is that it won the Best Daffodil award at the Philadelphia Flower Show this year… and the best news of all is that it’s the very own seedling of friends Brent and Becky Heath in Gloucester VA.  I will forgive myself for this purchase!

Brent & Becky

But maybe not forgive myself for the purchase of two different shades of allium bulbs, red tulips, white tulips, snowdrops, and two more shades of muscari to add to my deep blue muscari that edges the boxwood garden.

Oh well… everything is in the ground and I look forward to seeing what the spring brings.

Grape Hyacinth/Muscari

Strawbery Banke Fairy Houses

It’s an annual event for locals and visitors whether you have children, grandchildren or not. It seems everyone and their neighbor attends and/or participates in the world’s largest tour of fairy houses in Portsmouth NH each September.

This year, over 200 houses were made by individuals and a variety of organizations…. schools, artists, florists, garden clubs, families, children, businesses, and more. We had a map in hand to identify and guide us but eventually it was the grandchildren who set the pace on this HOT afternoon. We just had to keep up with two little ones as they ‘flew’ through all the displays.

Strawbery Banke Fairy Houses

Mother Nature provided the makings of each house with stumps and sticks, leaves and pine cones, shells and sand, rocks and pebbles, grass and moss, gourds and seed pods, bark, and fantastic imaginations. Some houses were dainty and and some were taller than the children who were admiring them. Peeking in the windows was half the fun.

Strawbery Banke Fairy House 2017

Rules were QUIET VOICES to not disturb the fairies and NO TOUCHING the houses, the latter rule we heard repeated by adults over and over as we toured… of course, to these two as well. The temptation was too great!

Here and there along the tour, we met lovely life-size fairies to the delight of little ones and parents alike. What a photo op!

Strawberry Banke Fairy Houses 2017

Other entertainment included ice skating performances on this sizzling afternoon and a gigantic bubble blowing machine that sent our grandchildren scurrying afar in the heat and haze to catch them.  I stood in the shade and watched….

Chasing bubbles! Strawbery Banke Fairy Houses 2017

Naturally we indulged in cotton candy and checked out wings, lace, and taffeta or tulle for the 14th annual event in 2018.

The Portsmouth Garden Club won the first prize blue ribbon for their “Scary Fairy Scream House” that was too adorable to scare us at all. Kudos to the club for this creative and clever creation!

Scary Fairy Scream House

Autumn frost

Temperatures on the Seacoast of New Hampshire are dropping at night, but warming to the 60’s or 70’s during the day. It’s a favorite time of the year for me. Most of the garden is still green. Grasses are at peak, berries are ripe, lawns are happy, annuals and some perennials are blooming, and a variety of migrating birds are passing through. Each morning, the sluggish fall bumblebees and dragonflies wait for the sun’s warmth before they take wing. It’s all about the beautiful changes in the garden… not the colorful blooms of summer.

Early Fall, Exeter NH 2017

Early Fall, Exeter NH, 2017

No hard freeze yet, but we are having mornings of ‘frost on the pumpkin.’ With nighttime temperatures dropping to the upper 30’s for short periods, the garden wakes to a thin coat of ice on the birdbath and a silvery coating of crystals on the lawn and leaves. Plants don’t seems to be damaged and this hoar frost is a pretty sight to behold in the first light of day…. almost like a sprinkling of sugar or jewels.

Yes, days are shrinking and the leaves are beginning to drop but for a few weeks until the winter blasts arrive, it’s a delightful time of year. I hope you are embracing autumn wherever you live.

Sedum, Hoar Frost, 2017

Hoar Frost, Oct. 2017

Hoar Frost

Hoar Frost, 2017

Ice on the birdbath, October 2017

Rhody, Hoar Frost

Hoar Frost

 

 

 

A Garden Outbuilding in Virginia

If you wanted a colonial period dependency to store your motorized lawn equipment, would you hire a contractor, a builder, or maybe an architect to make sure everything was perfect or would you sketch it out on scrap paper and then go ahead and build it all by yourself?

Me?  I’d have to go with the experts. My brother? He is the expert. He’s the talented Richmond VA artist/architect/builder/designer/gardener/expert who can do it all.  Sigh.

When I visited my brother and his wife in Richmond VA last spring, he was just thinking about the building and wasn’t sure he’d do it. I asked a little about what he had in mind. He picked a piece of scrap paper and said, “Oh… if I do it, it’ll be something like this.”

Garden shed sketch

Several years ago, he designed and built the perfect colonial garden house, below, that I bragged blogged about years ago. His new garden outbuilding, if he decided to built it, would match the style of the existing garden house, he said.

If you’d like to check out my earlier post about his gardens and the existing garden house, just click HERE.

Billy's Garden House

Once his mind went from ‘thinking about it’ to ‘doing it,’ it didn’t take long for his plan to take shape. In the shadow of the existing garden building, he began the framework of the smaller building. It was nestled on a shaded spit of land overlooking a clear stream that runs through a thicket separating homes.

New outbuilding

Up it began and almost overnight the framing was done. Thankfully he supplied me with the updated photos that I pestered and implored him to send on a regular basis. I didn’t want to miss one step.

Garden Outbuilding in Richmond VA

And it quickly took shape with the roof and siding in place.

Garden Outbuilding

Garden Outbuilding

Garden Outbuilding, Richmond VA

The only thing left was the door….

Garden outbuilding, Richmond VA

And the door is finished…

Garden Outbuilding, Richmond VA

And voila! The finished product… a beautiful colonial garden dependency to store the lawnmower and small garden tools. I’m sure that gives him more room in the larger garden building for other projects.

The finished Garden Outbuilding

The photo below is taken from the same vantage point as the photo at the top of the post, now with the brand new outbuilding in the foreground and the existing garden house in the distance.

Do they look like they’ve been there since the eighteenth-century? I’d say so. Is my brother gifted? I’d say so! Way to go, bro! Once again, it is another perfect project.

Two Garden Outbuildings, Richmond VA

Fall Color in New Hampshire

We’re back from the mountains! The leaves were not quite peak color in higher elevations but still breathtaking to us. On our return, we found very little color on the Seacoast of New Hampshire.

However, there was one understory tree that we enjoy from our window each fall that greeted our homecoming with bright yellow leaves. It’s the native witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) that grows along our woodline. Step just inside the woods and there’s a riot of witch hazel turning yellow as far as one can see.

The leaves first begin to yellow from the outside edge in.

They eventually turn a lemony yellow before slowly turning brown from the edge again. The leaves soon fall but the tree still presents us with another colorful performance.

With most deciduous trees bare, the witch hazel’s yellow tassels brighten the fall landscape. This is the only tree in North America to have flowers, ripe fruit, and next year’s leaf buds on its branches at the same time. While the blooms are open, last year’s seedpods reach maturity and loudly eject one or two tiny black seeds per pod 30-feet or more. If left undisturbed, the seeds will germinate in two years.On some branches, I can see year old pods open and empty… however every now and again, I spot a seed that didn’t eject last year. I wonder if these old seeds are still viable.

It’s time of year for Halloween witches and goblins so you might think the holiday has some connection with the witch hazel tree that blooms at the same time… but not. The root of the word witch comes from an old English word, wice, meaning pliant or bendable. As lore goes, this tree produces the branches and twigs for divining rods that can locate underground water sources.

Oh what an interesting and often overlooked native tree for the landscape! Do consider this native one or one of the many cultivars if you are looking for a fall blooming woody plant to enhance your property.

 

Rub-a-dub-dub

What fun it is for us to enjoy morning coffee while being entertained by this communal bathing scene. It’s a great time of year for birding! Breeding season is over and the once territorial birds call a truce as they drink and bathe together. Bluebirds, sparrows, warblers, finches, chickadees, cardinals, and more… all are splashing together in the bird bath this fall. Birds like clean water and they find our birdbath to their liking. Each morning the water is emptied and the birdbath refilled for our feathered friends.

Why do birds bathe? No one knows the exact answer. I was taught it helped to rid themselves of parasites, but experts say it could be that AND it could be that clean feathers help them fly better. Following the bath, birds will land nearby to perform a ritualistic preen spreading protective oils over the feathers.

Many of the birds we see will soon be joining others for the trip to warmer climes. We’re happy to send them off with full stomachs and clean feathers!

 

 

A few of my favorite things…

This is officially the first full day of fall but I’m not ready to put the garden to sleep for the winter.  No way! Daylight hours will shorten but there’s plenty of garden left to enjoy on the Seacoast of New Hampshire. In fact, fall may be my favorite season. Late blooming flowers, shrubs at peak, and happier grass with cooler temps… all good.

Limelight hydrangea blooms have become a focal point, turning from spring green and summer white to shades of pink and burgundy. Aralia cordata”Sun King” is finally opening its spikes of snow white flowers, purple spikes of liriope muscari blooms attract the late season bees. There is wonderful texture in spent flowers, too… the clethra, the echinacea, the baptisia seed pods, the butterfly weed pods… all display lovely seed heads and the viburnum, juniper, and holly are displaying colorful berries that are being gobbled up by migrating birds. It’s a wonderful time of the year.

I’ve been working as usual around our small garden. With rains and morning dew, it’s a perfect time to overseed the lawn, and it’s time to divide grasses, day lilies, iris, plus a great time to transplant shrubs.  I’ve designed a new sweep of dwarf Russian sage that should become a sea of purple next summer. Finally bulbs that are on order from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs go in the ground in the coming weeks. Yes, I’m in the garden every day!

We all have our favorite garden tools. In my years of gardening, I’ve used a multitude of tools… some expensive, some not. I have a garage full of rakes, hoes, pitchforks, loppers, etc. but I thought it would be fun to share the tools I use daily for gardening these days.

Below are the shoes I use the most… an old LLBean pair… that stay in the garage. I have tried the rubber clogs and the British wellies but fall back to this pair every time. They were once indoor shoes, a lovely Christmas gift from a son many years ago. I think of him every time I slip them on.

Garden Shows

These micro-tip pruning snip from Fiskars are used daily for precision snipping to deadhead or to cut fresh flowers. They were recommended by a horticulturist who spoke to our Virginia master gardeners. I was immediately sold and bought one of the few he brought with him. One side is serrated and the other side a blade. They came with a sheath that clips onto my pocket or waistband. I’m never without them in the garden.

Fiskars

When I opened the Christmas gift (below) from my daughter, my first thought was “weapon.” I wondered if she thought I needed to cut sugar cane, but, no. She insisted this tool would replace several that I cart around the garden. Darn if she wasn’t right!

I’d never heard of a Japanese Hori-Hori knife but that master gardener daughter in Kentucky certainly had. It’s multi-purpose gardening tool that I use all the time. It’s great for popping up a dandilion, but it’s also great for planting small plants in the spring and bulbs in the fall. I can slice open bags of mulch, it easily divides plants, and I can rough up roots on pot-bound plants. It has a blade on one edge and a serrated edge on the other.  This tool I recommend to all gardeners!

Hori Hori Knife

Talk about tough gloves… these Atlas gloves wear like a second skin and the thick coating of Nitrile makes them stronger than rubber! Nitrile is also used in super glue and that says a lot. Just throw them in the washing machine and they clean up beautifully. I own a dozen pairs, a gift from another gardening daughter when I accepted employment at a local nursery. She knew best!

ATLAS NITRILE Gloves

I love a good sturdy bucket. It is a versatile tool for moving mulch and soil, grass seed, carting tools, collecting weeds and spent blooms, gathering flowers for arranging, and turn it over and it’s a stepping stool for reaching the bird feeder or deadheading tall blooms from the arbor. I bought two of these tough 8-quart horse buckets at a tack store at least 10 years ago and they are constantly in use.

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Finally, the magic shovel… it belonged to my mother, a dedicated gardener and gifted designer and horticulturist. The handle is worn smooth and even a little thin in places. It has a pointed tip, quite sharp, and becomes my tool of choice for edging, transplanting, turning soil or compost. There’s a tiny scar on the blade where it wore too thin. We found a welder nearby to “heal” the blade and it continues to work its magic.

Mother's Shovel

We all have favorite garden tools. Are there ones you couldn’t live without?

The Shakers of Canterbury NH

In our quest to learn more about New England, we visited the Shaker Village in Canterbury New Hampshire… and what a trip it was! The remarkable Shakers evolved from the Quakers and split off into a new line in 1747.  Ann Lee of Manchester England, a member of the new line, sailed to America in 1714 to become the founder of the American Shakers. Mother Ann Lee was believed to be the embodiment of Christ’s Second Appearing. Nineteen Shaker villages were eventually created in the Northeast, Ohio, and in Kentucky.

Our first stop on our village walk was the Infirmary where we met our knowledgeable guide, Kevin, at the entrance. We learned from Kevin that the Shakers officially called themselves the ‘United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing’ but were named the ‘Shakers’ by the people of the ‘World’ (that’s us) because of their shaking and trembling at worship that eventually evolved into dancing.

Kevin was enjoying an apple from the nearby orchard while we chatted. He encouraged us to pick and eat an apple, too. No pesticides or herbicides… quite delicious… but maybe a worm or two.

The Shakers embraced change. The infirmary was modern and up to the date with equipment and knowledge and medicines. We saw the surgery complete with anesesthia and, of course, electricity. The New Hampshire Shakers owned one of the first cars in the state and had electricity in the village while the state capital building was still burning gas.  They had telephones in 1898 and owned a radio by 1921. How about that??

Kevin @ Canterbury Shaker Village

 

In 1792, the Canterbury Shaker Village was officially established on 3,000 acres of donated land and it prospered. With our map in hand, we toured and/or identified dwelling houses, the school, shops, the laundry, the stables, carpenter shop, spin shop, fire house, the infirmary and more.

This village flourished due to their devotion to Mother Ann Lee’s doctrine, “hands to work and hearts to God.” In their self-reliant communal living, they were successful in enterprise after enterprise, becoming prosperous by their ingenious inventions and quality manufacture of furniture, boxes, baskets, clothes, sweaters (for Harvard!). They were excellent gardeners who sold herbs, seeds, etc., livestock breeding, mills, medicines, and they were ambitious marketers of all they produced.

They sold locally and they traveled widely to market their quality goods, routinely visiting grand resort hotels. A famous Dorothy Cloak, designed and made by Sister Dorothy at Canterbury, was worn by Grover Cleveland’s wife to his inauguration. Among Shaker inventions were the clothespin, the circular saw, the flat edged broom, and from Canterbury, a steam-powered washing machine, models of which they sold to hotels.

The Shaker Washing Machine

 

 

They built over 100 buildings here, each for a distinct function. Today two survive from the 18th century and you will find 25 buildings that are original. Only 4 are reconstructions.

Canterbury Shaker Village

With their self-reliance they attracted many. They strived for simplicity and quality in all they undertook to create a ‘heaven on earth.’  Through their communial life, they honored pacifism, gender equality, confession of sin, and… celibacy!  Men and women became brothers and sisters as Shakers. To grow, they embraced new converts and took in children, mostly orphans, who were raised, educated, then asked to choose whether to sign a covenant or leave at age 21. If they decided to leave, they were supplied with what they needed for their chosen craft, we were told.

At their height in 1840, there were 6,000 believers in America, but life began to change after the Civil War. Jobs became more plentiful in the post-war economy and men began to leave. Slowly the Utopian life of Shakers faded… but in Maine, there are still two surviving active Shakers practicing and inviting in visitors.

 

A view of a few interiors that you can click to enlarge:

 

We loved the handblown panes or ‘lights’ in windows!

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How about this machine? The Canterbury sisters and brothers must have been thrilled to own this KitchenAid mixer (below), followed by an electric refrigerator, and a Maytag washer. Only the best!

Kitchen Aid Mixer

My own sister will be happy to know that I bought a Shaker flat broom for my kitchen. When we chatted on the phone a while ago, our conversation turned to cleaning house… as sister conversations might. She sweeps her kitchen nightly and was surprised that I vacuum our kitchen, only using a broom on the garage floor. Hey sis…. I’m now a happy broom convert. I love my Shaker broom as does my kitchen floor.

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Check out these hand hewn beams in the North Shop! Click for a closer look.

Lunch took us to the Horse Barn for tasty soup and sandwiches. Beautiful Shaker furniture indoors but on this day everyone ate outdoors beneath blue skies…..

….where gardens a’buzzin with bees provided a backdrop.

IMG_1115

The Shakers wrote thousands of songs. Can you hum the tune to this familiar Shaker Dancing song? If so, you might be humming it all day!

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free

‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained,

To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,

To turn, turn will be our delight,

Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.

 

 

Natural Disasters

It’s a beautiful day in the Northeast. The temperatures mild, the sun shining, my tomatoes ripening, birds singing, garden healthy, and loving all that nature provides at this moment in New Hampshire.

Limelight Hydrangea in September

Around the globe, nature has brought a different story.  In the midst of the 9-11 remembrance, it’s back to back devastating hurricanes in America, forest fires in the western U.S. and Canada, a hurricane in Mexico, disastrous floods in South Asia, and a catastrophic earthquake in Mexico… all remind us that we are not in charge. We are vulnerable to the forces of nature on an often volatile planet.

Now that we have ascertained that all family members are safe and accounted for after Irma roared through Florida, we await news of property damage. My niece in Islamorada, cousins in Jacksonville, relatives in Tampa, daughter in Naples, a niece on the coast of Georgia, and a son on Hilton Head, gave us reason to drop almost everything and keep in constant touch with one another the last few days. With no power or cell phone coverage in some areas, we can only wait for feedback.

And, here’s another unsettling thought. Although hurricane forecasting is not a perfect science, category 1 Jose is puttering around in the Atlantic and may impact land on the east coast sometime next week. Sigh.

NOAA Hurricane Jose possible path

The earth provides us with the natural resources we need to survive on this planet, but not always. For those of us who are comfortable and safe, we reach out to do what we can for those who are impacted.

We are reading about both the bravery and the heartbreak of thousands around the world right now. My heart goes out for humans, for animals, for the earth, but knowing full well that we are simply guests on this planet and can be evicted at any time.

I ❤️ Bumblebees

I make a concerted effort to attract bees and other pollinators to our garden. This year, I spent a little more time trying to entice bumblebees to nest in the yard. I already supply a continuous food source during the growing season but I read up on what a bumblebee needs for a nest.I saved dried leaves and grass, and in a corner behind a fence where the soil is dry and shady, I piled the grass clippings and leaves early in the spring. And, lo and behold, one day I watched a large bumblebee arrive, zigging here and there, flying around and around the leaves and fence for a couple of days in the cool spring. At first I thought it may be a carpenter bee attracted to the wood fence but, no, this plump bumblebee was eventually crawling around the leaves. She was a bumblebee queen!

She liked the site I prepared and she proceeded to build a nest, lay eggs and, raise her young. Now, late summer, we have a population explosion of beautiful bumblebees that forage from dawn to dusk. We watch them fly in and out of their cavities in the ground. The nest has been enlarged and there are different entrances now… the main entrance now just a foot from the faucet and hose, but they are unconcerned by my presence. I never bother the nest and they just buzz around me and on to the garden.  In and out, in and out, all day long.

I work along side the bees in the garden. They fly around me, move when I’m tending to a plant, land on me, rest a bit, then fly to the next flower. No stings!

Bumblebees need a continuous food source and we supplied a gap-free nectar source in our bee friendly garden. Bumblebees do have a preference for certain flowers and we took notice and made sure we had enough of their pesticide-free favorites all growing season.

The bumblebees pollinated our blueberries, were all over the clover, and the only pollinators I saw on our tomatoes. They loved the early crabapple and rhododendren blossoms, the summersweet, the allium, hosta blooms, hydrangea, and all the herbs in bloom. Right now it’s all about the garlic chives and Russian sage, but any moment, the showy flowers of Aralia ‘Sun King’ will open and it’s goodbye chives!

It’s been a “buzzy” summer garden but the season is winding down and changes will be taking place. Only the newly mated females will survive the winter, usually beneath ground. The rest of the colony will die later this fall.  Next spring, I’ll try again to encourage another queen bumblebee. It’s been an adventure and it feels right to give a helping hand to a bee that is facing many threats… from habitat loss, pesticides, climate change and disease.

Time to harvest

Once again, it’s time to harvest our herbs and pop it all into the freezer for the winter months. We have chives, oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, and sage to make room for in the freezer.

This year, instead of freezing the parsley flat in a freezer bag, I followed different instructions.

Parsley

After checking carefully for caterpillars and washing the parsley well, I removed thicker stems and old leaves.

It went into small freezer bags, tucked down firmly, then rolled into a cigar shape. The bag was rolled around the parsley squeezing out as much air as possible, then sealed.

All it needed was an ID and a rubber band… and voila! Fresh parsley is ready for mister gardener’s gourmet dinners all winter. He can just slice off as much as he wants. Easy-Peasy!

freezer parsley

Nature at its best

“I live in the garden; I just sleep in the house.” – Jim Long

Last year we had practically NO RAIN for months on end. Watering our ornamental garden and lawn was prohibited by ordinance. It was a sad situation watching plants suffer with stingy trickles of water saved from rain barrels, from showers, and from our basement de-humidifier. Nothing died but nothing thrived.

We’ve had a delightful change this season. Rain was plentiful in the spring. Plants have rebounded and have skyrocketed. It makes my heart sing to seen healthy plants bursting with blooms all summer. I could hardly tear myself from the garden except to come indoors for the night!

Daisy 'Becky'

Good news: the bees and butterflies are back!  We’ve had weeks of monarchs and a variety of other butterflies flitting around the garden under the summer sun. We plan ahead for wave after wave of blooms on shrubs mainly, followed by summer flowers to sustain the bees and butterflies. Right now the allium and garlic chives are the strongest insect magnets.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Allium.jpg

Male Monarch on allium

White Admiral on Allium

honeybee on garlic chives

We feed the butterflies and bees and we provide hosts for them as much as our small property is able.  Here’s a tiny first Instar black swallowtail caterpillar on parsley.

Black Swallowtail Caterpillar

And after days of feasting, it looks like this in its third instar:

Black..Swallowtail caterpillar

 

With all the turmoil, chaos, and disasters affecting our world, I find gardening and nature to be calming and healing. This small garden of ours gives so much in exchange for so little. It plays an important role giving me great appreciation for the good and beautiful things that still inhabit my life.

 


Beauport, the Sleeper-McCann House

With a resolution to do and see more of New England, my latest exploration was historic Beauport, the Sleeper-McCann House in Gloucester MA last week. Three friends and I made a day of it, touring the  summer home of interior designer, Henry Davis Sleeper, a National Historic Landmark and a member of Historic New England. He began building Beauport in 1907, eventually adding and expanding the home to over 40 rooms that accommodated his lifetime collection of furniture, books, rugs, glassware, ceramics, pewter, silver, textiles, folk art, and numerous, colorful and whimsical objets d’art.

We arrived in Gloucester on a classic New England summer morning ….cool and overcast… and were happy to have a bit of time before our tour to wander the gardens, check out the unique architecture from different angles, and admire the dramatic view across the harbor to the town.

We followed fern-lined and winding flagged pathways bordered by stone walls and formal brick to small but inviting courtyard spaces featuring whimsical art and interesting flora.

Sleeper’s summer retreat is magical and eccentric. For 27 years, the owner collected colonial era art and more, then continually expanded with new rooms to house it all. Talk about nooks and crannies! With only one hour to walk through a labyrinth of 26 rooms, we had a couple of minutes or so per room. However, the home is unique enough to spend an hour in just a room or two. I must return someday for a longer tour!

Our tour guide was excellent, giving us history of rooms, objects, and made it fun with tidbits of information about life in the home. Most rooms were small and dark… made even darker by the overcast skies that day but fascinating indeed… fabrics, wallpaper, doors, windows, paint colors, antiques, hooked rugs, and George! He collected George Washington in numerous forms, a popular interest at the time the guide said. I stopped counting at 15 Georges but there were certainly more.

 

Windows and doors intrigued me. There are doors that are arched, doors that don’t meet, doors that are extremely narrow or short… and windows that overlook nothing but beautiful ones that emphasize harbor views in a variety of designs featuring small panes in different patterns.

I think the best window is the first window below… a massive one in the Golden Step dining room that can be lowered with ropes to allow diners exposure to the sea and open air.

 

Doors, doors, and more doors. We didn’t open them all but one small door opened to a floor length mirror and another was a wall panel that opened to a secret staircase. Quelle surprise!

 

Each room is themed by a color, a historic figure or writer, a shape, an object.. but there hardly seemed any logic exiting one themed room and entering the next. It didn’t matter.  I loved every inch of what I saw. Not only revolutionary for its time, it’s a valuable piece of history and just plain fun. I really like Henry Davis Sleeper. Can you imagine what it was like being a guest at one of his many parties?

My favorite room was the large Octagon Room with the theme of eights from the eight-sided ceiling to the eight-sided table to the eight-sided rug and the eight-sided walls. The idea formed for Sleeper from red toleware he brought back from France. Although our guide didn’t identify the portrait, I’m guessing it’s America’s beloved Marquis de Lafayette.

Our guide introduced the last room on the tour as ‘the best for last,’ the China Trade Room. And it was a treasure with its dramatic high ceilings and hand-painted Chinese wallpaper.  Woolworth heiress Helena McCann and her husband bought the property in 1935 after Sleeper’s death and changed just this one room by adding furniture for entertaining. Following Helena’s death, the McCann family donated the property to the Historic New England preservation organization in 1942. How lucky for us!

Our day did not end there. After enjoying a late lunch in Gloucester, our tour continued by winding our way slowly back to Exeter through colorful and charming New England waterfront towns.

Getting to know New England is certainly an amazing insight into America’s past… and great fun as well. I wonder what will be next on the list for me to explore…

 

Bee vs Man

It is a war zone in my Richmond VA brother’s garden.  Daily battles… bee vs bee, bee vs man, bee vs dog, bee vs anything that comes too close to its nectar zone… a chaste tree.

He summoned his siblings for help with a “HELP IDENTIFY BEE” email full of photos and description of the aggressive and hostile bee behavior. The mystery bee is a warrior bee, yellow and black like a yellow jacket but it’s not, able to maneuver like a hoverbee but it’s not, the size of a small bumble bee but it’s not.

With his other bees relentlessly being attacked, battered, bitten, and headbutted, he wanted answers fast. We had plenty of questions and plenty of guesses but it was he who solved the puzzle. It’s a European wool carder bee (Anthidium manicatum), a solitary bee that was accidentally introduced to New York state before 1963 and is named for the fuzz the female collects from plants to line its nests.

Here are some of his photos:

European wool carder bee

European wool carder bee

European wool carder bee

European Wool Carder Bee

European wool carder bee

Claiming a flowering plant as territory just for female carder bees to better his chance of mating, the male carder bee will attack and ward off any intruder it feels is a competitor. And, yikes, that can be humans!  Run or be headbutted!

wikimedia.org

wikimedia.org

It was tricky but my brother eventually trapped a male just to examine him more closely. His abdomen was fairly flat like a hoverfly but, whoa, this guy had had fierce toothed mandibles that he tried to use as a weapon against my brother. No, definitely not a hoverfly! He had no stinger, but had 5 sharp spines on his abdomen to better maim his opponents. These males mean business…..  😳

With an arsenal of weapons, he can kill other bees, like the honeybee, but from what I read online, this non-native and our non-native honeybee have co-existed for many thousands of years in Europe. Some die, yes, but many are killed by other means. And the good news is… the carder bees are pollinators, too!

These male garden bullies are the fiercest warriors in my brother’s peaceable kingdom but I believe he’s taken the view, ‘Live and Let Live.’  Cross my fingers that I don’t see them anytime soon in my New Hampshire garden. I’m worried because I built a cute little solitary bee house in the garden mama carder might like and I grow several plants in the fuzzy Stachy family that she would simply love.

If one shows up here, I could always suggest another occupation for this nasty tempered insect.  If he grows tired of garden warfare, I think he’d be a shoo-in on Game of Thrones with his wicked temper, his built-in arsonal and his acrobatic agility. In all probability, I think he could manhandle the Mountain a bit better than some of the other challengers!

Clover isn’t really a weed

Can you remember (way back for me) when you were a kid and white clover (Trifolium repens) grew in everyone’s lawns?  Can you remember those warm summer days sitting over a patch of clover looking for the illusive 4-leaf clover?  Finding a 4-leaf clover was a big deal because there is only one in 10,000 regular 3-leaf clovers.

Maybe you have to be of a ‘certain age’ today to remember those long gone days when clover/grass mix lawns were the norm. The mixture was prevalent because white clover was once a larger part of grass seed mixtures.  All that changed in the 1960’s when broadleaf herbicides hit the market. Now clover is considered a WEED.

clover/grass mix

The reason it was a part of our grass seed is it’s good for the soil. Clover is a legume and like all legumes, it deposits nonstop nitrogen into the ground thus enriching and fertilizing the soil.  That should make the lawn healthier and greener… especially right here with clay soil around our house.

I happen to have a fondness for the look of white clover mixed in our grass. Our association does not.  As in so many “maintained” properteries, professionals try to eradicate it but, insert sly smile here, clover seems to have the last laugh. It wilts after treatment but it soon begins to recover.

Here are a few of the reasons I encourage a clover/grass backyard (where lawncare professionals dare not tred):

It can be mowed.
It grows in poor soil.
It is drought resistant.
It crowds out broadleaf weeds.
It grows harmoniously with grass.
It is a favorite bloom of honeybees.
It does not turn a deeper color from dog urine
It will stay green when dormant grass turns brown.
It keeps the bunnies occupied and out of my flower borders.
It is also pollinated by native bees, like bumblebees.
And although not a native plant, it hosts the native Eastern Tailed Blue and Sulfur caterpillars.
Lastly, the flowers are lovely.

bunny

Drawbacks:

It stains clothes.
If you are alergic to bees, clover might not be such a good idea for you…. or you could mow it more often and short.
It will send creeping stems into your garden beds.

Yes, it does spread but I find it manageable. Once a month, I edge my borders and that takes care of the wayward shoots. I do like the look of my clover/grass lawn and who knows?  Maybe I’ll find an illusive lucky 4-leaf clover one day! I’m looking….

 

My Styrax japonicus up and died!

My beautiful Styrax japonicus tree bit the dust.  Two years ago, I splurged and bought this beautiful tall specimen tree. That first summer we had a mild drought but I kept the tree well-watered. Last summer, our drought was in the extreme category and a citywide ordinance banned outdoor watering. I dragged every container I had beneath the drip line of the roof and collected water like crazy… 100 gal. at a time during our rare rainstorms and I soaked the tree well…. I thought. But maybe it wasn’t enough.

This spring, with most of the tree dead and only a few branches leafed out, I decided to act. I cut it down.

styrax-japanicus

Styrax japonicus

I left the suckers at the base, fertilized and kept them watered, hoping that the roots would support them enough to grow a styrax shrub. So far so good. The shrub seems to be fast growing.

So I didn’t get the sweetly scented pendulous white bells this spring and I won’t have the beautiful fruit this year, but fingers crossed that I’ll have a lovely full styrax shrub next spring as a focal point in the garden.

The wood from the tree did not go to waste. I saved the trunk and all the twigs and branches, cut them into short lengths, and built a small solitary bee house.  No solitary bees yet, but I saw two ladybugs wandering in and out.  All good….

solitary bee house