About Annie

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

Just south of the Mason-Dixon Line

Oh boy, was it fun to connect with my “roots” in Virginia for several days. My adorable niece was married last Saturday in Richmond.  mister gardener and I flew down for the lovely event and extended our stay to catch up with family (and plant life) just below the Mason-Dixon Line in the Piedmont area of Virginia.

The horizon was totally green under hazy skies as we descended for landing, trees fully leafed out, green, green, green, way ahead of the landscape in New Hampshire. That always amazes me. It’s just an hour and 20 minutes by plane.

Richmond VirginiaWe generally drop our luggage at the home of one of my brothers and wife in Richmond…. a couple who always make us feel right at home in their beautiful 19th century home that they have lovingly restored… all by themselves for the most part!

Richmond VA

Richmond

Edwards Virginia Ham

And first things first…. the most gracious Virginia hospitality includes what we have been craving…. Edwards Virginia Ham on warm buttered biscuits!

Edwards Ham is the salty type, a country ham that perhaps will seem too salty if one hasn’t grown up with it as a staple in the home. As for me, this wonderful ham has spoiled me for any ham I’ve tasted since.

Sadly, this unique Surry, Virginia ham company burned to the ground a year ago. While the insurance is being settled, the ham is being prepared and aged at other ham facilities across the country. Lucky for us!

Another priority in the south before you are unpacked and settled is a garden tour. This is a brother and wife who love and live just to be in the garden. I blogged about their gardens a few years ago. This is also the brother who saved the crow and that was quite an exciting story! Those blogs are two of my most read blogs and most ‘lifted’ photos from my blog… (that I willingly share if given credit for them).

The garden house my brother built from his own design (and where he hid from the attacking crow) always receives a lot of interest. For sure, he missed his calling as an architect. He is amazing and that’s no exaggeration from this sister!

The garden house looks great from any angle, even our bedroom window.

It’s fun on each visit to see what’s new in this fabulous garden. I told a blogging friend who photographed a door in another garden, that I knew a person with a garden door and this is the place! The fence and an old door were added to stop the deer from nibbling the azaleas. What a great garden accent! I love the RED.

Garden Door, Richmond VA

Everywhere you look there is nature looking back. I loved this sweet scene beneath the pergola he built last summer. It is covered with a lovely purple wisteria where wrens live in the house and robins are raising young practically on top of the wren house…. sort of condo style.

Wrens and Robins!

What will we look forward to on the next garden tour? They are planning another outhouse in the garden. This small one will be for the mower, weed eater, and blower. He’s already begun the foundation using discarded lumber from a neighbors deck. “What will it look like?” I asked. It will be a chip off the other garden house and he sketched it for me in a flash. The roof will be tin and atop the weathervane will be a copper bird dog, our family’s favorite pooch.

I can hardly wait for my next visit….

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More tulips…

Finger vase, five-finger vase, fan vase, trumpet vase are all names for this ‘tulipiere,’ a style of vase with multiple openings and a shared water vessel.  Finger vases were commonly seen filled with dried flowers in colonial arrangements in my hometown of Williamsburg VA. There I learned the container originated in the 17th-century with the Dutch who displayed one tulip per opening.

Well, that’s what I thought until last month. The Wall Street Journal ran an article that changed my mind. The vessels with multiple spouts like the one below and other styles of flower pots, as well as different ‘tulipieres’ were designed by the Delft manufacturers for Britain’s Queen Mary II to be used for any cut flowers. The queen’s flowers were refreshed three times a week… and not just with tulips.

So I learned something new…. and although the container isn’t just for tulips, it is still called a ‘tulipiere.’ I have used it with whatever flowers are in bloom, but, today, for a garden club event, I placed one tulip per opening surrounded by a variety of other blooms and a few dried finds from the garden.

five finger container

It’s way too early to pick anything but a few tulips and daffodils from this New Hampshire garden, but one tiny bloom, barely noticeable in the arrangement, was from this yard. I was excited to spot our muscari or grape hyacinth this morning. The tiny plants are just beginning to bloom now in shades of blue and white. It really is spring!

Muscari armeniacum

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Tulips: A 400 year love affair

Our monthly garden club speaker this week will be teaching us the fine art of watercolor painting using tulips as our subject and I was asked to construct a centerpiece of tulips for the meeting.  Tulips are in every grocery store and marketplace this time of year and just shopping for the few I need transports me back to the Netherlands and especially to a rare garden, Hortus Bulborum, devoted entirely to the conservation of historic bulb varieties.

Traveling with local friends and led by bulb growers/writers/photographers/educators (as well as friends), Brent and Becky Heath, meant that we mostly skipped the touristy side of the bulb industry and were introduced to the trade through their long connections to growers of Holland.

Hortus Bulborum in Lummen, North Holland

Hortus Bulborum is located in the small village of Limmen in the province of North Holland, where my first impression was that bicycles and horses might outnumber the few residents I saw on this chilly, misty morning.

The village of Limmen in North Holland

We began our tour with an introduction to the history of the bulb and this museum. From the original tulips growing in Central Asia and brought to Leiden by Carolus Clusius in the 1593, to the bulb thefts that probably led to the tulip rage, to the height of the tulip bubble, to the market collapse in 1637, and finally…. we learned about the collection of historical cultivars by Pieter Boschman, a local headmaster in Limmen, that led to the development of this bulb garden in the 1920s.

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The garden is fairly small, just measuring about a 4-acre square but there are thousands of cultivars of historic interest, labeled and arranged alphabetically. You will find tulips, but also narcissi, fritillaries, crocus, hyacinths blooming in the spring. A visit at different times will see different bulbs in bloom.

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The vast majority of the tulips that are planted each year are no longer available in the marketplace…. so it’s possible that they could vanish altogether without this living museum that preserves the gene pool for modern hybridizers.

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Hortus Bulborum is managed by volunteers who deadhead the flowers before the petals drop, dig the bulbs when the foliage dies, and replant them each fall. The bulbs are rotated like vegetables and planted in a different part of this sandy, flat garden to lessen the risk of disease.

Hortus Bulborum volunteer

Hortus Bulborum

Bulb enthusiasts already love to visit this archival classroom but visitors were few on the day we were there. If you are a gardener, I would recommend adding Hortus Bulborum to your bucket list for at least one visit for the history alone…as these bulbs are not where you would look for new varieties for your garden. Bulbs that are commercially available for your garden you will find at Keukenhof Gardens, an hour away from Limmen.

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The Greening of New Hampshire

Finally…. we’re seeing progress. Two odd days with temperatures in the 80’s (one of them possibly 90°) took care of the inch of permafrost and snow in a border that never sees the sun. I could finally plant the pansies and my mesclun mix lettuce.

April 9, Snow in Border

2017

Mesclun Mix, 2017

I’ve raked, edged, added organic compost, top dressed with a bit of mulch, pruned shrubs, planted more grass seed, and mister gardener has disposed of  wheelbarrow loads of debris. Garden gloves have been worn, wash, worn, and washed and ready to be worn again.

garden gloves 2017

Jacob’s Ladder is going gangbusters, growing tiny leaflets that are rising like ladders and should bloom with tiny blue flowers in early spring.

Polemonium caeruleum, 2017

Tulips and daffodils aren’t up all the way but are all showing green… along with tiny leaves of nepeta ‘Walkers Low’ just breaking the surface in the background below, plants with purple-blue flowers that take a ‘licking but keep on ticking’ all summer long.

bulbs, 2017

Herb garden with thyme, savory, chives, oregano, parsley, sorrel, rosemary and lots of lettuce are basking in the sun and seem to grow an inch a day.

The indoor geraniums went into pots in the garden….maybe a tad early as we dipped to 32° last night. This morning they are a little limp but will make it. I’ll just have to be better about watching those overnight temperatures.

So far, besides the pansies, the only color other than green in the garden is yellow. The sweet crocus is in bloom telling us spring has officially arrived.

crocus

 

Nesting Material for Birds

Yes, it’s time. The birds we see around the yard are beginning courtship behavior, mating, and defending territories, so you might want to provide a little nesting material. Birds naturally use a wide variety of nesting material, from grasses and twigs to animal fur, mosses, mud, spider webs and a lot more from the great outdoors.

We add a few nontoxic materials over the summer but one on hand today is natural jute twine that we cut into small pieces. Today mister gardener and I unraveled the twine, then filled a container with the bits and pieces. Easy to do. Just twist strands the opposite way that they are twisted, then pull apart.

Nesting Material

We stuffed this little wire basket given to me as a gift but a suet basket works well, too.

Nesting Material

We hung it in a visible location on a tree branch and now wait for the discovery.

Nesting Material

Things to use:
dry untreated grasses
soft plant material like catkins from cottonwood, willows, poplars, and milkweed fluff.
twigs
horse hair
short yarn and short hair (longer pieces can entangle birds’ feet and be deadly)
small fabric scraps
cotton batting

Things NOT TO USE:
cellophane and plastic that can harm birds and the environment
nylon twine and fishing line that can be deadly if a bird becomes tangled.
dryer lint absorbs water and contains chemical residues
dog fur from an animal that has been treated with flea treatment

Finally, just for fun…. check out this amusing video of a tufted titmouse stealing nesting material from a sleeping dog.

The Hummingbird Journey

We’re eager for the arrival of our ruby-throated hummingbirds in New Hampshire and we are keeping a close eye on the hummingbird spring migration map online.  Each week citizen scientists log in to the site and record their sightings that are reflected with dates on the map each week in a different color. The little birds have a long way to go before they reach our home in New Hampshire. But we are ready. Our feeders are clean and ready to be hung outdoors. Nectar rich flowers will fill the gardens… plus a variety of insects (NO  pesticides in our gardens). Have you seen a hummingbird chase down and eat a mosquito? I have.

Hummingbird Journey North 2017

In New Hampshire we attract just 4-6 hummingbirds over the summer. I like that number. In Virginia, that number was much more impressive, so much so that it was more economical for me to buy sugar from Costco in 25-lb. bags. Was it a full-time job keeping feeders clean, making nectar and keeping them well-fed with 8 feeders?  Almost!  Would I do it again?  In a heartbeat! They are the most entertaining little visitors in the garden.

Here is a feeding frenzy of females and young males (yes…with white throats!) on our nectar the morning after a hurricane passed through our Virginia property. It took a hurricane to bring them all to the feeders at one time. It was the end of August and most of the adult males with their red throats had migrated.

We do not add red dye to the nectar. It is not needed. The base of feeders are red enough and, besides, why mix in a chemical additive that may affect the tiny birds?

We wash our feeders regularly and make sure nectar is fresh… especially when temperatures are very hot or a feeder may be in the sun. It’s a bit work but the perks of enjoying these birds in the garden outweigh the small amount of energy it takes to maintain the almost perfect hummingbird habitat.

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I’m a Faux Yankee

Most around here know I’m not a Genuine Yankee. I was born just south of the Mason-Dixon line and moved here just a few short years ago… but I’m trying hard to adapt. I’ve been learning the ways of the great Northeast and those who were born of this land. Yoga For Yankees is the latest class in which I’m participating. I’m staying in shape AND learning more about local activities, pastimes, and toils.

I’m especially adept at Roof Reiki for the Advanced. Matter of fact, with several inches of overnight snow on the roof, I’m grabbing my ladder and going out to practice it now. No more ice dams for me.

Yoga For Yankees: Folks back home won’t understand much but check it out


Have a nice April Fool’s Day wherever you live…

March Gardening

March is not always kind to gardeners. Overcast skies, some rain, some drizzle, some sleet, some snow seems to be the norm for March. We’ve had a day or two of bright sun and cool breezes this month that tempted me outdoors for a walk but the ground was snow-covered. Not today! Today was one of those rare days. We had a break with temperatures reaching 49° under deep blue skies. I was lured outdoors this afternoon armed with garden gloves, clippers and a wheelbarrow.

No coat, no hat, no boots because the sun had melted the snow entirely off the lawn. I hummed a happy tune while cleaning borders and preparing for the growing season. I brought my tiny sprouts of lettuce outdoors to bask in the sun. My flat of pansies rested in filtered shade all day.

But tonight those tiny plants will retreat to the garage window once again as we prepare for weekend weather. Snow.  Maybe 10 inches.

Texts from The National Weather Service and all my weather apps warn that another Winter Storm Watch with the potential for significant snow, sleet, or ice accumulations is in effect for the next two days. Cancellations are flashing across my phone today and those events that cannot be canceled will certainly be impacted…. like the Seacoast Home & Garden Show in nearby Durham NH. We are hoping to get there if the roads are passable. One event that cannot be postponed is a granddaughter’s 3rd birthday.  If we have to go by dog sled, we will not miss the party.

The snow will be a setback but at least I had today. I was able to divide some daylilies and daisies, trim grasses and clematis, and even edged a couple of borders. Herbs are showing signs of spring growth and buds are swelling on trees and shrubs. All good.

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Lots of Superheroes in Boston

Yesterday mister gardener and I decided to hop a chartered bus to the 2017 Boston Flower Show at the Seaport World Trade Center, a show that’s a harbinger of spring in these parts. Taking a comfortable chartered bus the hour and a half to door of the show was the wise thing to do. Boston traffic, Boston tunnels, parking…. yikes!

Tunnels and traffic, Boston Flower Show

 

The theme “Superheroes in the Garden,” those plants that we can depend on to bring color and staying power in the garden, met us at the entrance and carried up through all the exhibits. We tiptoed through tulips of various shapes and colors, a pale blue muscari, and tete-a-tete daffodils that seemed to dominate landscapes giving us that blast of color we love in the spring.

Tete-a-Tete, Boston Flower Show 2017

Oh how I love water in the garden and we saw plenty of exhibits featuring waterfalls, ponds, and goldfish… and stone paths galore!

Boston Flower Show 2017

The most whimiscal water feature was a fountain of cascading water from a garden table into a pool that would be perfect for soaking your feet after a long day working in the garden. I didn’t ask if the flip-flops came with the setting.

Boston Flower Show 2017

I’ve been looking at pergola designs for our property so it was fun to see the different exhibits featuring them. Attracting lots of attention under a pergola was this feature that simulated flames. Everyone, young and old, felt the ‘flames’ and I saw a few check to see if there was wine in the bottle.

Boston Flower Show 2017

The crème de la crème was a dry stone house by Maine Stonework, patterned after a miniature version of superhero Tinkerbell’s fairy neighborhood in Neverland. Nestled in a moss forest full of conifers, it was a creative work of art and deservedly won Best of Show plus several other awards. Want to see it being assembled in a time-lapse?

Maine Stoneworks, Boston Flower Show 2017

Maine Stoneworks, Boston Flower Show 2017

We saw a chicken coop with clucking chickens, a ‘she-shed,’ an actual tiny house that one could tour, lots of wonderful stonework, lots of lectures and demos, and plenty of plants, woody shrubs, and trees that would do well in our zone 5+ gardens. All good.

We meandered up and down the maze of commercial vendors, many not garden themed yet it was entertaining and business was brisk. We saw booths featuring jewelry, scarves, jams and preserves, soaps, moisturizing lotions, tea towels, sweaters, shoes. We sampled a variety of foods from nuts to honey and if we had worn boots, we could have them conditioned and sealed as we saw other do.

Boston Flower Show 2017

Garden themed vendors were numerous: flowers, fountains, garden seeds, bulbs, patio furniture, containers, pots, statuary, baskets, garden tools, and antiques for the garden. We especially enjoyed visiting Gardens Alive, Walpole Woodworkers, Fine Gardens magazine (a sponsor), and a variety of other garden related booths. We chatted with folks at the master gardener booth and those at the Mass Hort booth and were even serenaded by the Sweet Adelines… and they were sweet!

A tiny tree in the Bonsai Display caught my attention. I had young Cornus mas trees in my Virginia landscape and a son had a large and beautiful 25′ Cornus mas in his Ohio yard. So unique and beautiful a tree, I did not know what to think about this thick trunked mini-version. I certainly admire the skill and creativity involved in keeping this amazing Bonsai version healthy and in full bloom for the show!

Boston Flower Show 2017, Cornus mas

The judged floral arrangements featuring superheroes were impressive…. and had to smile at the “Brace Yourself” competition featuring bracelets of dried plant material designed for superhero and champion Wonder Woman.

Click photos to enlarge

Our day ended in late afternoon and we were ready to make the journey home. This wonderful Boston outing helped us flirt with spring… at least for a day until we returned home and were greeted by another day of snow and sleet.

 

 

 

 

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The pansies are here!

The pansies are here! The pansies are here! I love a blue pansy and a large bloom on a pansy and I was lucky enough to snatch up a flat at Churchill’s Garden yesterday. This is a popular shade of blue that always seems to be in short supply as the season marches on. Some years I miss out so I buy them when I see them no matter the weather. Later I’ll buy a solid large yellow bloom (a little easier to find) and plant a bed of blue and yellow pansies along a brick entry at the front door. I think the combination is a showstopper. The variety is Karma True Blue, a short, sturdy, and bushy plant that stays compact.

I’m thrilled to have them but it’s waaaaaay too early to plant them in New Hampshire.

This is the bed where they will eventually live, a border that won’t see the sun for a few weeks yet. For now they are living in a window in our garage. Pansies like cold weather but these just came from a greenhouse. It’s brisk in the garage, downright cold, but they will be well protected from the 12° temperatures we will experience tonight.

Hurry up spring!

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Spring at last!

Unless you have flowers growing in a greenhouse or visit a florist shop, this is as close you’ll get to seeing spring flowers in snow covered New Hampshire. Our local grocery tempted shoppers on this first day of spring. I watched customers for a few moments. No one passed by without stopping to admire or touch or smell. Yes, we are ready…

Shaws Grocery Store

Winter Walk-Off 2017

Les, over at A Tidewater Gardener, sponsors a Winter Walk-Off each year on his Blogger site. He’s a great horticulturist and I enjoy following his blog. You should check it out. I try to enter his walk-off each year but it’s hard when you look out the window and only see white. It’s still the dead of winter in New Hampshire!

There are rules… such as ‘On your own two feet, leave the house, and share what can be seen within walking (or biking) distance of your home.’ He’s relaxed those rules a lot but I’m sure my walk is beyond acceptable since it was an hour and thirty seven minutes from home today. However, I am supporting Les in a small way by walking down the main street in Keene NH before visiting a son in town.

It’s a funky, low-key college town (Keene State College and Antioch University) that has a nice hippy vive to it. There is a healthy vitality to the downtown and a community interest in preserving historic architecture.  And, of course, it was where Jumanji staring Robin Williams was filmed. Here’s the evidence painted on this brick wall.

Jumanji movie sign, Keene NH

I captured a little of the fun of Keene as I walked around the city on this cold, blustery day today, the last day of Les’ walk-off. Main Street is a beautiful tree-lined wide boulevard into downtown Keene. We always enjoyed this approach to the business section of the city.

We parked, zipped up our down jackets and hit the street. The popular coffee shop pictured below also has a barber’s pole…up the stairs for coffee and down steps for a haircut.

The Barbery is located beneath the coffee shop, beneath ground but not quite a full basement, almost an English basement. This is not the only business like that. Quite close is another that I think is a music store.  I love the sign.

Fixed objects take a licking in our New Hampshire snows. I saw evidence here and there of fixtures that were buried beneath a mountain of snow and not seen before it was too late.

Snow is mostly gone on this walkway but surely this must be snow removal damage, I would guess.

Restaurants and pubs are numerous, good, and supported by locals and visitors. I’m always happy to see lots of vegetarian options on the menus. We have enjoyed several ethnic restaurants in the area as well.

We have an old theater in Exeter that stands unused and almost abandoned, but Keene has a community theater on Main Street that is to be envied. First opened in 1924, declared a nonprofit in 1991, created a support group and mission statement, raised funds, restored it, and now it is the vibrant site of movies and live performances. Jealous….

 

Colonial Theatre

As mister gardener and I walked, I had to take a photo of our favorite coffee shop, Prime Roast…. the one we always frequent and take a bag or two of coffee home with us.

Prime Roast in Keene NH

And finally, we reached the Central Square of Keene, an area full of restaurants and unique shops. The focal point is the church, the white church and tall steeple of the United Church of Christ, a landmark that anchors one end of Main Street and gives the city a classic New England feel.
United Church of Christ, Keene NH
United Church of Christ, Keene NH
Across from the church on a grassy island inside the roundabout is a charming park that is used for a variety of events. We’ve attended the popular Pumpkin Festival (until it was moved out of town recently), Ice and Snow Festival, musical events in the bandstand, and even seen protests take place here. This is certainly the place for people watching in warmer months.
Gazebo, Keene NH
Keene is a relaxed city with a New England old town feel. We had a chilly but great stroll through town and good day with family in Keene NH. Thanks to Les for hosting this Winter Walk-Off again this year.

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Mystery plant amid the geraniums

I’ve been a compulsive caretaker, one who rescued or adopted kittens, taken in stray dogs, fed the neighborhood kids at lunchtime along with mine. Kids are grown and gone, but I still rescue animals…. and now I think I’ve rescued a weed.

Three weeks ago a small sprout became visible in the soil of my summer geraniums (Pelargonium) that are wintering indoors. I was curious so I let it grow. It lost its plump cotyledons and began to shoot upright through the geraniums looking for sunlight. What a funny looking little plant, I thought. Is it a weed or a maybe a sprout from last summer’s autumn clematis?

I thought the tiny fuzzy head might be a bloom but no, it just produces more leaves as it grows.

mystery plant

It’s healthy so I figure it’s a weed since weeds are the healthiest plants in my garden. Sigh…

The stem is woody and and hairy. The pubescent leaves have been opposite but the last three were whorled. I wonder what the next ones will be.

mystery plant

The tip is as tiny as a pencil eraser and full of miniature leaves. No bloom in sight.  I’m at a loss to identify what I’ve adopted but I think it’s cute.  As long as I don’t develop a rash from it or it doesn’t turn into Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors, I’ll nurture “Harry” till there is an possible ID.  If there’s a guess out there, let me know….

fuzzy plant

April update:  the tiny stowaway in the geranium bed finally bloomed. I’m certain my friend who suggested it may be a sprout from last year’s birdseed is correct. Beautiful tiny yellow bloom. 


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Winter Walking in Exeter

I would define our community as a pedestrian town. Many people who live here forgo their dependence on vehicles in favor of the healthy alternative…. walking and biking.

This is my 3rd winter in Exeter and it still amazes me that the streets are cleared of snow in the morning in the worst of snowstorms. Not just the streets….the sidewalks are cleared, too. Where some communities threaten to fine citizens for not shoveling their sidewalks, folks here can step out of their homes and walk to town almost immediately following a storm. It’s nifty mini-tractors that do the trick in today, but clearing local sidewalks is nothing new.

Here’s an old film showing our walks being cleared by horse and plow:

Today it’s done by modern horsepower:

sidewalk tractors

Here and there in the downtown, there are small alleyways dug through snow mounds  providing parkers access to sidewalks and shops. I don’t know if the town shovels these paths or the shop owners, but it’s critical for business. Otherwise you’d take a hike to the end of the block… in the street!

Stella brought us perhaps our last real dump of snow two days ago. This morning under sunny skies, I bundled up, stepped outside and was greeted by piles of snow on the sides of dry roads and cleared sidewalks. I love this little community that keeps the streets and sidewalks clear and makes winter walking fun.  All of it is quite indicative of the value Exeter places on pedestrians and a healthier lifestyle.

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Blizzard on Election Day

What do folks in the ‘Live Free or Die’ state do when a blizzard warning interrupts local elections? It seems they do whatever they darn well please.

More than a dozen towns rescheduled today’s elections despite warnings from Governor Sununu that they do so at “their own risk.” Yesterday, the list of towns that postponed elections began to grow as the governor was strongly recommending that they stay open.

Our town of Exeter rescheduled elections after our Town Moderator Paul Scafidi consulted legal counsel. In our local newpaper, Exeter News-Letter, he stated, “We believe we’re correct that we can postpone it and that’s what I’m doing. For the safety of the voters, for the safety of the people that have to work, it’s the best thing for us to do.”

Snowstorm

The confusion lies in ambiguous statutes and laws whether postponing elections was a violation. NH Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlon told NH1 Newsy that, “The position from this office is that, RSA669:1, which is in the section of the statute that talks about town elections, says very clearly that town elections shall be held on the second Tuesday in March. From our perspective there is no provision that allows for the actual statutory date of the election officers to be moved and we cannot recall it ever happening for weather or any other reason.” It’s history in the making in New Hampshire.

Emergency legislation will be introduced this week to eliminate any confusion and make sure towns can postpone in the future. In the meantime, I’m having a second cup of coffee, watching the birds feed, and wondering about the possibility of ice dams.

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Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Philly

I was quite happy to see the announcement on Instagram and Facebook that the Philadelphia Flower Show named a hybrid daffodil created by Brent and Becky’s Bulbs as the “Best Hybrid” in the show. And there was a lovely photo of the winning blooms “Starlight Sensation” next to the ribbons. I was thrilled to see this but not surprised. Brent and Becky’s Bulbs is top notch.

The company wrote that it takes 5-7 years form pollination to 1st bloom and another 5 – 7 years until the bulb hit the market. When they added that this hybrid is ‘one of, if not THE best hybrid we’ve created to date,’ I was interested. I have tulips but have not really added daffodils to the garden and these would be perfect for my white garden, especially since the blooms are as tall or taller than the leaves.

I knew these bulbs would soon be in short supply so I ordered right away. And, no, they said, I wasn’t the first to call.  The bulbs will be shipped in September and I’ll see the blooms in the spring of 2018…. well worth waiting for, I think.

Photo: Brent and Becky’s Bulbs

Congratulations to Brent and Becky’s Bulbs of Gloucester VA, a Good company owned by Good folks from a Good town…. and, guess what. It was my own little neck of the woods in Virginia and Brent and Becky were my neighbors. Check out the online catalog and check out “Starlight Sensation.”

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There’s a New Garden Designer in Town

I consider myself somewhat of a gardener or maybe I’m just a kid at heart who likes to play in the dirt. The plants, the soil, and the animals that dine, live, or pass through these small gardens… animals with feathers, fur, scales, and those that hop, creep and crawl are all on my soft spot list. Mix that with a love of garden design and you’ve tapped into what makes me content in a small wildlife preserve.

It’s always stimulating to meet a garden designer and learn more about their style of landscaping. Last summer, I dropped a ticket in a box and won the opportunity to have a nice session with a newly established landscape designer at Wentworth Greenhouses in Rollinsford, NH. James Brewer is new to New Hampshire but not new to garden design. He and his wife, a native of this area, moved from England where his garden design business was booming.

James Brewer, Wentworth Greenhouse

I found him in his office surrounded by a greenhouse filled with summer annuals and accompanied by his ever friendly black lab, Billster, who slept at our feet (after a refreshing dunk in his wading pool) while James and I chatted about design, plants, and, of course….what led him to his life’s occupation.

James Brewer

James credits his folks for sparking his interest in gardening and design when he was a boy. He learned gardening, plants, and design through experience, slowly developing his skills, then began a small gardening business in the mid-90’s. From there it was all uphill, even twice interviewed on BBC live radio programs while he walked through finished projects and listeners phoned in with questions.

He took a look at my garden design sketch and said….. “You have a John Brooks feel to your design.”  Oh boy.  My garden is new, tiny, and FAR from being mellowed in….. quite removed from the large world of John Brooks, but I welcomed his suggestions and ideas for future growth.

James Brewer

Just glancing around the office and looking over some of the designs he was working on, I could tell that James has great talent. He certainly knows and loves landscape design. Being located in a large garden center benefits customers as trees, shrubs, perennials that he recommends can be seen onsite. We finished our chat about the time his ‘best friend’ was out the door to welcome new customers, both 2-footed and 4-footed…..

Since establishing himself with Wentworth, business is strong, he said. I do wish this young garden designer continued success. New England is such a nice place to put down “roots.”

For more information, visit James Brewer Garden Design

James Brewer

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Tiny Indoor Garden…

I’m itching to get outside. Our temperatures are falling into the single digits at night and, alas, the soil in the garden is frozen solid on this 6th day of March in New Hampshire.  But I found a way to bring a little rainforest indoors.

I have this wonderful handblown bell jar from Yorktown VA that usually stays in the garden. I pried it from the frozen ground, cleaned it well, and in 5 minutes I put together a simple woodland terrarium using plants, dried moss that I already had, and a wee turtle. The plate is a favorite…handmade by my talented potter daughter.

Churchill’s Gardens is just a hop-skip down the road and there I found 4 tiny ferns for this woodland setting beneath glass. It does the heart good to see a little green when the landscape is a frozen tundra.

ferns 2017

woodland terranium 2017

Turtle

 

Not my mama’s biscuits…

Maybe not so much anymore, but when I grew up, there were distinct regional differences in what folks ate. In Ohio, where mister gardener was a member of a large German farming community, sauerkraut was considered a staple. I had not tasted sauerkraut until I moved to Ohio in my mid-twenties. But I did like it on my first Reuben sandwich. mister gardener has become our main cook these days and there is always a head of cabbage in the refrigerator that he’ll use in a variety of recipes.

From my home state, biscuits were a staple, a food that mister gardener absolutely does not like. Rolls were his mainstay. Every now and then, I hunger for a good biscuit like my mother made but, alas, I don’t have her perfect recipe. I’ve tried unsuccessfully to duplicate it through the years. This morning I tried one that flashed up on my Facebook yesterday. The ingredients were simple: self-rising flour, frozen butter, buttermilk. Stir 15 times, roll out and fold 4 times, cut out and bake.

In Virginia, we always had a little country ham (Edward’s Ham) to accompany biscuits but bacon was my substitute this morning. First glimpse right out of the oven was promising, but the first bite was a DUD! Although flaky as promised, the biscuits were TASTELESS next to the memory of my mother’s. Another recipe in the trash, but I’ll keep trying. Sigh….

Not My Mama's Biscuits....

I remember my mother throwing ingredients together without measuring, rolling out, then cutting biscuit dough in squares to feed a family of 9. The result was always perfection. Who has a good old Virginia recipe to share?

Which one did I buy?

Toward the end of the growing season, I picked up a witch hazel plant on a mark down sale at a local nursery. The plant was labeled Hamamelis virginiana, the common witch hazel that blooms in late fall in eastern North America. This understory native tree flowers about mid-fall and may continue through December when no other flowers are in the landscape.

Several of these small trees grow along the wood line across the street and I love seeing the splash of color beneath the conifers as both the leaves and the flower turn a golden yellow. It’s a pretty smart plant to bloom when there isn’t any competition for pollination by insects. Bees are buzzing late in the season around these trees… and the fragrance? It can be intoxicating on a fall day.

Witch Hazel, Hamamelis virginiana

My tiny witch hazel, planted late in the season, has just become visible after a big snow melt and it is beginning to bloom during the final days of February. I think the label was correct. It probably is a Hamamelis virginiana that is blooming late the first year. But could it be mislabeled?  There are some witch hazels that bloom in February, the Vernal witch hazel and hybrids…. one of which I grew in Virginia, Hamamelis vernalis, Diane’ with a bright red and beautiful bloom.

Secretly, I’m hoping the witch hazel is mislabeled and I have an early spring blooming Vernal witch hazel. Fingers crossed….but just maybe, someone who knows lots more than I do, can verify this plant’s identity.

witch hazel

Bluebirds in Winter

We have a family of Eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis) that is staying with us through the winter. The blues have been expanding their range for the last 10 years or so, and it’s not really unusual to see them in New England during the winter.

Two springs ago, mister gardener made a bluebird house and installed it along the edge of our garden. It wasn’t long before a pair claimed the house, fighting off chickadees, house sparrows and swallows for this real estate. During the summer, the pair fed on a variety of foods that they found in the landscape and we supplemented with a little snack of meal worms.

They only had one nesting that summer and the family wintered over. In the spring, the young were off to find their own territories and our parents managed three nestings last summer. So we have our original pair and 4 of the offspring wintering over this year.

Bluebirds in Winter

We have planted shrubs and trees that also provide food… such as serviceberry, viburnum, crabapple… for the fall when insects become more scarce. To help them out during the winter, we feed them meal worms but make sure we offer a mixed and balanced diet by adding bits of suet, hulled sunflower, and some berries and raisins. Bluebirds love to bathe!  A heated birdbath in the winter is a plus for bathing and drinking.

Bluebird with ice on beak

The blues generally roost at night in nearby pine forests, but will huddle in their bluebird house for shelter from time to time.

Bluebird in House

When I look out on snowy mornings and there is hardly a place for them to land, I wonder what these birds might be thinking. Could they be questioning their decision not to migrate to warm climes?  Just maybe…..

Bluebirds 2017

Exeter River

Exeter River February 2017

Exeter has been upgraded from last summer’s Extreme Drought to a Severe Drought. And thanks to winter rain and snow, the Exeter River is flowing at near normal levels. It is a beautiful sight and still draws folks to marvel at the free flowing river after the removal of the dam.

Exeter River

Temperatures are beginning to rise and we hope it’s a slow warming trend. Exeter now needs the ground to thaw enough to absorb some of the snow melt as it takes longer for groundwater levels to recover. Water restrictions are still in place and residents are urged to monitor their water use.

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Great Backyard Bird Count 2017

Dove

We are blessed with a multitude and variety of birds that frequent the winter feeder but, alas… these unruly mourning doves, beautiful as they are, have overwhelmed the feeder during Great Backyard Bird Count this weekend. There are only 6 on the feeder pictured here but sometimes there are six more standing on the backs of those feeding…. all jostling and shouldering their way to a little sunflower seed. The rest of the mob is on the ground pushing and shoving for spillage. They are fast eaters and can clean the feeder in record time, fill their crops, and fly off to digest their meal.

Not all doves migrate and the ones I see could be sticking it out for the winter or they may be the males arriving way too early for the best breeding territory. Although New Hampshire is one state that does not allow hunting of doves, it’s still a tough life for the birds that stick around all winter. I have seen frostbitten and missing toes… and feathers on the snow tell me they are a link in the food chain for birds of prey.

The diversity of birds in our weekend count will not be as great this year, but we will continue to welcome these gentle birds to our feeders.

Snownormous!

That was then….

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This is now…

Feb 13 1017

I know bad things can happen during a major snowstorm but it does give you a boost to look out the window and see a blanket of pure white. We had a break in the snowstorm and decided to go for a short walk on our well-maintained street. The snow-laden branches of trees, dark against white beneath a heavy gray sky, were impressive. Soon the wind will pick up and that snow will be blown from the trees…. or limbs will fall beneath the weight. If that happens, we will keep our fingers crossed for no property damage, personal injury, or downed power lines!

Exeter Feb. 13 2017

February 13 2017

February 13 2017

February 13 2017

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