About Annie

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

Seeing green in the winter

snowman 2019It’s a real thing. Call it a change in mood or lack of energy or just the winter blahs, the cold months of winter can be an obstacle. The glow of the holidays is gone and the seemingly endless dark winter days can be tough.

Living in zone 7b, there were a few days during the winter months that I could be outdoors gardening or participating in other open air activities with friends. Not being a winter sport enthusiast, ice and snow in New England brings most of my outdoors activities to a halt.

During the deepest days of winter, I’ve had to shift my interests. Our wonderful local library has been a magnet for me in the throws of winter along with belonging to a gym and different clubs that keep me active and involved. And most importantly, if I can’t get my green fix outside pulling a weed or pruning a branch in January and February, I can find the color green by bringing my gardening indoors.

I’ve never been attracted to houseplants in the past but suddenly I find it fun.  I have a few hardy ones that allow me to fuss over them. I pinch, trim, water, and move them fromterrarium 2019 room to room to follow the sun.

There’s a tiny terrarium that sits next to my winter reading chair. I’ve made it a little landscape, a slice of nature by adding a pine cone or two, a little snake that a sister whittled and painted, some frogs from another sister, a tiny turtle, and a little dragonfly. A new Christmas gift of a jewel encrusted frog trinket box from a brother’s family sits on the table in the morning sun. Just glancing at this slice of nature gives promise that springtime that will soon be here.

liz's snake

I haven’t invested in any plants that are difficult to maintain. I love this ivy below that came from a friend’s garden and potted for me by another friend. I find it’s hard to make ivy unhappy and looking at it brings memories of the past. My mother always brought cuttings of ivy indoors to brighten the house in the winter.

ivy 2019

Another ironclad plant that’s been with me for a few years is the peace lily (Spathiphyllum). The tiny sprout that I first brought home has blossomed into a specimen that has been repotted several times and may be ready for a division and a pass-along soon. With minimal care, I am rewarded with lovely tall spikes of white blooms periodically.

peace lily 2019

Now, instead of waiting to seed outdoors, I start herbs in a sunny window, root garden geraniums and candytuft (iberis) and other soft and woody cuttings from the garden.

For sure, there is little green to be seen from the windows during New Hampshire winters, but indoors at our house, we have enough green to see us through till spring!

As the Barefoot Contessa would say, “How easy is that?”

Bug-pocalypse?

“The Windshield Phenomenon”  Have you heard of it? It was described in a New York Times article in November, 2018. Entomologists penned the name from the fact that people were noticing fewer bugs… around night lights, hitting faces while riding bikes, working in the garden, and on auto windshields.  Yes, I have noticed fewer insects and fewer birds and wonder if there’s a link between the two.

Bumblebee 2018

A German entomological study in 2017 found that insects in nature reserves had decreased by 75 percent over the 27 years that they have been collecting information. The New York Times article stated, “Scientists are still cautious about what the findings might imply about other regions of the world. But the study brought forth exactly the kind of longitudinal data they had been seeking, and it wasn’t specific to just one type of insect. The numbers were stark, indicating a vast impoverishment of an entire insect universe, even in protected areas where insects ought to be under less stress. The speed and scale of the drop were shocking even to entomologists who were already anxious about bees or fireflies or the cleanliness of car windshields.

Most people don’t pay much attention to insects except for the pretty ones like butterflies or the ones that bite like mosquitoes or ticks. Some insects can be pests, but most insects are not. Not only do they pollinate 35% of the world’s crops, they help decompose organic matter and are the main food source for many birds, reptiles, amphibians, bats, fish, and small mammals. They’re a critical member of the food chain.

Swallowtail caterpillar

I was encouraged at a recent neighborhood association meeting where the board decided not to apply lawn herbicides due to wetland restrictions. However, because of the increased tick population and as a preventative for ants and termites, they will spray pesticides along the edge of the woods and around the building foundations… probably every home foundation but mine.

I will protect the small habitat here and make it hospitable for insects, insects like the katydids that still populate this garden. I heard their raspy calls in the summer. They are nocturnal insects, but occasionally they appear during the day.
The male Fork-tailed bush katydid (Scudderia furcata):

male katydid 2018

And below, the female Fork-tailed bush katydid (Scudderia furcata) with the telltale anatomy of the female. She uses her serrated ovipositor to delicately insert her eggs between the layers of a leaf’s edge.

female katydid 2018

2018 Fork-tailed bush katydid (Scudderia furcata)

One more interesting note… there is a tiny slit visible on each of her front legs. Those are her “ears” that she uses to listen for the call of the male katydid.

These healthy insects and many others are important links in the backyard food chain. Even though adult birds may eat seeds, it’s insects like these that are fed to their young…. not seeds.  So until we know and understand more about a possible “insect apocalypse,” I guard this tiny habitat and no herbicides or pesticides will be used here.

 

At last….

Snow has finally made an appearance in New England. The locals are excited. The ski resorts are excited. Cross country skiers are excited. Sledders are excited. Kids who play outdoors, build snowmen or have snowball fights are excited. The snow plow drivers are excited.

I don’t do any of those things but I am excited, too. Something about snow is peaceful and calming. The landscape is blanketed in white, sounds are muted, automobile traffic slows and some folks, especially me, simply want to open a book and read while relaxing in a favorite chair, looking up every page or so to watch the snow flakes fall…. and occasionally opening the door to toss seeds, fruit and nuts to the waiting birds and squirrels.

I did finish a book and read half of a new book today but when the shadows grew long, I decided to pull on boots and make the first tracks in our landscape. From where the snow depth reached near the top of my boots, I’d guess we were served up about 10-inches of the white stuff…. give or take an inch or so. Winds caused peaks and valleys so it’s hard to be exact.

img_9172

Rabbit serving snow a la mode

rabbit ears 2019

Rabbit hibernating

I was thankful to have a thick blanket of snow over most of my smaller plants like my boxwood below. The insulation will help them tonight, tomorrow night, and later this week when temperatures plunge close to zero degrees.

Birdbath 2019

Insulated boxwood

When the weather turns this cold and snowy, our birds seem to lose a little of their apprehension of approaching humans…. meaning me.  It’s all about survival now. They come often to feed and the heated birdbath proves to be a popular meeting place for all birds and squirrels.

bluejay 2019

With melting snow turning my socks cold and wet inside my boots, I quickly decided all was well in our little world.  I made my way back to my reading chair with a hot mug of tea, a nice warm blanket, and dry socks.  I will finish another book today.

path 2019

 

Volcano mulching

Just visiting the local grocery store makes me grimace. It’s all about the trees there. Last year, landscape and lawn care companies tidied up borders, trimmed and pruned shrubs at the grocery and then they piled at least a foot thick layer of mulch against the trunk of all the trees around the parking lot, a process that has been dubbed ‘volcanoes,’ or ‘turtle mounds.’

mulch volcanoes 1/13/2019

volcanoes January 2019

I’m always amazed to see a sight like this. For decades, arborists and extension experts have railed against such practices because it will sentence a tree to a slow death. Why we still see everywhere it is a mystery to me.

Not only commercial sites, but old trees and new trees in neighborhoods within a mile of my home are mulched with volcanoes. The mulch volcanoes have settled over the fall and winter months, but still piled high against the bark.

volcano1/13/19

volcano mulch 1/13/19

Mulch done right is beneficial for a tree. It prevents weed growth, protects bark from a weed wacker, helps retain moisture, and helps to moderate soil temperatures in all seasons. But the volcano mulch piled against the bark of tree, especially young trees, will soften the bark and invite the invasion of rodents, insects, fungus, rot and the suffocation of the trees’ roots.

I’ve been taught to think ‘doughnut’ when mulching a tree and limit the mulch to two, three or four inches deep… max. Once I apply, I pull the mulch away from the trunk for about five or six inches until the root flair is visible.

It’s a puzzle to me why volcanoes are so popular. Is it that the professionals don’t know better or do their clients prefer the volcano look? It frustrates me and as a frustrated Charlie Brown would say, “Aaugh!”

 

It’s been a mild winter…

…..on the Seacoast of New Hampshire. Lots of rain with temperatures that have fluctuated in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s during the day, and the 20’s and 30’s during the overnight for the most part. But this mild pattern is about to change. Last night we had mild overnight temperature of 33°. Tonight’s temperatures will drop into the mid-teens. Nighttime temperatures will stay there or much lower for the rest of the month. Sigh. Winter has arrived.

So this morning, I had a job to do. Out came the burlap to protect two of my woody plants, the mahonias, that I consider borderline plants in my less sheltered garden sites. Officially we are zone 6 in Exeter, but I always plant for hardiness zone 5b as I learned while working at Rolling Green Nursery here in NH.

mahonia NH 2019

It’s a lovely winter blooming plant and they are beginning to develop terminal blooms on several stems. With temperatures dropping to single digits tomorrow night, I needed to protect those new blooms that are oh-so tiny.

mahonia bloom January 2019

Those blooms will open to beautiful, lemon-yellow clusters in late February or March and look like this photo (below) taken in my January gardens in Virginia. As an early blooming plant, these fragrant blooms are well-known for helping to feed those first bees that are searching for nectar in the spring.

honeybee on mahonia

After pollination, the fruits develop the most divine grape-like clusters of powder blue berries. Unfortunately, they don’t stay on the plants long. My catbirds arrive from warmer climes and devour all before any other migrating bird has a chance!

mahonia berries in Virginia

Mahonia is closely related to the barberry, but the leaves are spiny and look more like a holly shrub. These slow-growing plants are planted in a shady mixed-shrub border that I am currently planning a big redesign. Not to worry… my mahonia shrubs stay just where they are as the jewels in the crown of this garden in New Hampshire.

Good Luck food for 2019

Here’s wishing everyone out there peace, happiness and much good luck in the new year…. including mister gardener and me!

We decided to celebrate the end of 2018 in a style that’s quite rare for us. It’s usually a cozy night at home and an early evening, but we upped the ante with dinner at a local upscale eatery, the Epoch, with a six course New Year’s Eve meal. Oh wow!

Epoch Restaurant

We thought it’d be a terrific time to treat ourselves while marking the end of an up and down year and celebrating the beginning of a new year full of good cheer and happy plans.

Epoch

We loved all the courses… new tastes for us like Arpege Egg, a soft-boiled egg with maple syrup, sherry, and a coriander floret, and for mister gardener, a favorite of tender bay scallops, but the highlight for me was Hoppin’ John soup. Not the Hoppin’ John recipe I grew up with, which is whole black-eyed peas served over a bed of rice, but a creamy rich soup topped with sprigs of water cress. Yum!

Epoch Inn 'Hoppin' John Soup"

It was so good that today I tried to make my own version of the Hoppin’ John soup using ingredients I have at home. No watercress. No cream of celery soup. Not sure included in their ‘Trinity’ they printed on the menu but I could guess it was the Trinity of celery, onions and bell peppers found in Cajun cooking. No bell pepper in our refrigerator.

I began by sauteing onion and celery in bacon grease until tender, then added chicken stock. I scraped up all the pan bits, added the peas, a chopped potato and seasonings and simmered until done.  I threw in a handful of spinach leaves and with the immersion blender, I made a pureed soup that passed the taste test. A dollop of sour cream and voila!

 

Hoppin' John Annie

It doesn’t taste exactly like Epoch’s tasty soup but my version is good enough. I may never eat traditional Hoppin’ John black-eyed peas over rice for good luck on New Year’s Day again.

 

Cleaning up after Christmas

It took an afternoon and a morning to finish but our Christmas decorations have been carefully packed up and stored away for another year. The house has been vacuumed and furniture returned to its proper place in rooms. It always looks a little bare once decorations are removed but it was time to break down boxes for recycling, get the trash to the street for pickup tomorrow, and mentally start planning for the new year.

oranges

One decoration that I had great fun with this season was dried oranges. I’ve loved to use dried slices to make wreaths, ornaments, and gift adornments. I’ve dried the oranges in my old oven with varying luck. Using the lowest possible heat setting of 175°, oranges had to be watched carefully and turned over a couple of times, and it took hours. The end result varied greatly. Many developed black or scorched areas and had to be discarded.

Samsung OvenBut this year was different. We are the proud owners of a new oven… an oven that has a Dehydrate setting built in! As the Barefoot Contessa would say, “How easy is that??”

It was so easy that I went overboard this holiday and made so many dried oranges that I had to give them away by the bag full. It was just too easy and fun to dehydrate this year. The slices were practically dry in 2-hours.

I moved on from oranges to lemons and nectarines and hung them as ornaments on one tree and as orange slice swags on the other. I them tucked into the evergreens on the sideboard and mantle and into the arrangement on the dining room table.

orange slice

I held a Christmas floral design workshop for our garden club and took a Ziploc bag of dried oranges for anyone to use.  Some did. Most did not. So it was at that workshop while I was re-bagging the leftover oranges that a friend asked, “Have you ever used dried oranges and lemons in tea?”  What????  It was such a simple suggestion that turned out to be an extraordinary one for me. It had never occurred to me to re-hydrate the slices of lemons and oranges in a steeping cup of tea. I just might have a use for all those oranges after all.

I tried it as soon as I got home. And guess what. It works…. it’s delicious…. it’s brilliant…. it’s simple…and I thank you, Becky, for the suggestion!

tea

 

 

Winter Solstice

Today is the winter solstice and instead of a few feet of snow in New Hampshire, we have a winter soaker rolling up the east coast with high winds and areal flooding alerts. Postponed is our neighborhood winter solstice bonfire planned for dusk tonight. For months, one enthusiastic neighbor has piled cut tree limbs and yard debris in a cleared area awaiting this day where we would gather at dusk with marshmallows and hot chocolate to celebrate on the shortest day of the year. We will still gather to celebrate the winter solstice but it’ll be after Christmas when the days are beginning to grow longer in the Northern Hemisphere.

orangesI had early thoughts of not doing much in the way of decorating for the holiday this year, but that did not happen. With Christmas just a few days away, not one, but two (artificial) Christmas trees have finally been decorated, stockings are hung by the chimney with great care along with greens on the mantle and wreaths and swags on front and back doors. We’ve baked several goodies, made cookies and more. Cards have been sent, gifts have been mailed out and gifts are still arriving in our mailbox. Dehydrated orange slices are adorning our holiday trees substituting for the multitude of older ornaments passed on to the next generation. I think I like the oranges for a change anyway.

SantasYoung grandchildren have visited, eaten sweets and been thrilled over decorations of bright lights and ornaments, hanging evergreens with nutcrackers, Santas and reindeer in every room.

We’ve gathered with friends for holiday cocktails, luncheons, open houses, shopping, and a holiday flower arranging workshop that I chaired this week. I guess sugarplums are dancing in heads everywhere.

It took me a while but I finally decided that sugarplums are very good thing. I hope I remember this next Christmas…

There he goes again!

A brother in Virginia emailed this fall that he was beginning to build another outbuilding that he designed. He’s the brother who designed and built two other outbuildings in their beautiful landscape. If you’re interested in checking them out, I boasted posted some words and photos about this one and about this one in earlier blogs.

The original one is the largest and has a pull-down ladder to an attic large enough to stand up in. He designed it after seeing one like it in Williamsburg VA, our hometown. The second one, built to mirror the first one, is smaller and houses his lawn mower, trimmer, and other gasoline powered equipment. Not too long ago he said he needed an even smaller outbuilding to house the whole-house generator he purchased after going through Hurricane Florence. Really? Another outbuilding?

generator outbuilding

It seemed to me that with one emailed photo he was starting to construct the building and the following email a couple of weeks later was full of photos of the painting of the finished product. He designed the smaller generator shed to match the other two on the far side of the home with his ‘signature 8/12’ roof.

Richmond 2018

The louvered doors taken from a large estate were found at a local salvage dealer… a dealer who knows him by name by now as he’s been a steady customer through the years. I have not seen this latest outbuilding in person and was a little confused where the heck it exactly sat on their property. He answered that it’s located right where a 40-year old boxwood was located…. a huge shrub I do remember…. that he dug up and moved to a spot front yard. Oh my!

generator 2018

He just shared a photo of his new generator outbuilding from his window after a mid-Atlantic snowstorm blanketed the area. The generator outbuilding is the showpiece he hoped for and truly looks as though it’s been there since colonial days.

Generator building snow 2018

I’m proud of this talented bro and boasted posted about him and my sister-in-law here and here, too. I’m a lucky gal.

A Live Christmas Tree or Not…

Every year I debate whether to put up a live Christmas tree or an artificial tree. I have live greens indoors festooning the tops of mantles, sideboards, tabletops. Outdoors, I always put out our big painted Santa, a live wreath on the door and a small evergreen tree covered with winterberries that the birds will eventually eat. But I wrestle with the tree decision every year.  Since Thanksgiving day, I have spotted lovely Christmas trees through living room windows as I drive in the evening. I want to have ours up and decorated now, too.

The problem is I love a fresh tree…but putting it up now for me guarantees a dry, brittle tree with faded needles, drooping branches, dropped needles and decorations askew by Christmas Day. And when the tree is taken down, more fallen needles have actually clogged the vacuum in years past. Needles can hide in places that I discover months later. I’ve tried all the tricks to keep a tree moist. None have worked.

Every other year I’m certain I’ve solved that problem by buying an authentic looking artificial tree, but by the next year I’ve fallen out of love with anything artificial. I’ve given a lot of artificial trees away. One realistic one sat full of lights in my mother’s home. One is decorated yearly at my brother’s home and another one completes multi-tree holiday decor in my daughter’s home. The one I bought last year, a cute tabletop lifelike tree, sits in a box in the basement. I liked it last year but I can’t even bear to open the box now.

It’s definitely not bah-humbug because I love the season and go the extra mile getting the home ready… complete with music and hot chocolate all month-long. It’s just the tree dilemma. As the days progress, I know I’ll come across a perfect live tree that will smell wonderful and look great for days…. and when the tree is finally dragged to the curb and cleanup is done, I may be looking at artificial trees once again. Sigh…

Giving Thanks

After baking for several days, washing sheets, cleaning, vacuuming, greeting or transporting Thanksgiving guests, we spent a wonderful several days gathered with family and friends…three generations strong and plenty of food, laughter, and fun.

It was later on Thanksgiving night that I heard an odd noise when I walked across the kitchen floor. What…? My imagination. I continued to clean dishes from the Thanksgiving meal. Again I heard that sound. That’s when I opened the cupboard beneath the sink and saw water… water that had pooled inside the cupboard beneath plastic bins full of cleaning products!

Needless to say, we leaped into action, turned off water supply, sopped up everything beneath the sink but we knew the rest was beyond us. Water had been seeping beneath the floorboards perhaps for days. A call to insurance and our plumber, visits by restoration service with flashlights and moisture meters, and finally a total removal of the kitchen floor. We are thankful water did not damage the cupboards, penetrate the basement or other rooms Kitchen water 2018but it had leaked long enough to saturate all areas of the kitchen floor.

So that is where we are now. The floor is drying with 4 very loud blowers and enormous dehumidifier equipment. The stove is pulled out into the room, but we can squeeze in and cook and, thank goodness, we can make coffee.

All in all, we feel fortunate. This is just a bump in the road of misfortunes. With indescribable disasters, adversities, and catastrophes striking so many around the world, we are giving thanks and remembering our blessings this holiday season.

Celebrating Thanksgiving

pumpkin in snow!It’s so accepted these days to have all your Christmas decorations up before Thanksgiving but it’s hard for me to join the holiday rush.

I want to savor Thanksgiving with all the orange pumpkins and colorful gourds and our family. Our Thanksgiving table centerpiece is built from shades of fall with some dried seed heads from the garden I gathered in warmer weather.

This year I’m sticking to the Thanksgiving theme indoors but the overripe pumpkins had to go. We have cold weather and snow and more of it as the days pass. It’s nonstop snow today. The landscape and roads are snow covered and it looks more like Christmas than Thanksgiving outdoors.

So I broke with tradition this year, pulled out my pumpkins, gourds, and fall decor that filled the urn at our entry and replaced all that with a small pine tree. I’ll notIMG_7782 add any holiday adornment to the tree until after Thanksgiving. The big metal turkey still stands guard out in the snow.

Today we have family arriving by cars and plane. Until we shuttle everyone to their destinations later today, the kitchen is being used to make pies and a number of other snacks, deserts, and sides that can be made early and refrigerated or frozen.

Cranberry sauce, chess pies, stuffing, salad dressing recipes all come from family sources… siblings, parents, grandparents… a few recipes that have been used for generations. Several years ago, with much help and input from six siblings, I collected our family favorites and printed them in a little book for any family member who wanted one. Of course they all did and so did a few neighbors and friends. Recipes have become much more healthy online today but somehow we love to go back and use the recipes from the old South with too much butter, bacon, mayonnaise, sugar, and salt. Memories…

OIMG_7788n the cover of the cookbook, I chose a photo of my parents as I remember them back when I was a youngster. Sorry that my dad was not living when I completed the project but my mother loved the book with lots of memories and photos of her, our dad, and their brood.

At the back, I added pages of childhood photos of all seven siblings growing up in a much simpler time. It’s my children and grandchildren who love the recipes and the snippets of fun and humorous memories from each each of their aunts and uncles that accompany every recipe they remembered best. It is fun how the youngest sister remembered chewing on the flavorful strings after our mother cut them from around the Sunday roast, or a brother remembered selling soft shelled crabs he caught at our summer cabin just off the Chesapeake Bay to the highest adult bidder… after letting our mother have first choice, of course.

I’d like to think those years were golden years when children were given much more freedom to venture forth and discover the world on foot, on bikes, or even in the rowboat at our summer cottage. As long as we were home when the dinner bell rang, it was all good.  If you watch the PBS Masterpiece program, The Durrells in Corfu, you’ll get a sense of our lives and the freedom we had growing up. Controlled chaos with lots of animals! It was a very good thing!

My First Topiary

Winter weather has arrived and everything in the landscape is covered with a 2″ layer of white stuff. Some of the shrubs have been sculpted into snow topiaries. They’ll bounce back when this current snowfall melts, but those few snow topiaries remind me of the real one I had this past summer.

“Eugenia 2-Ball Topiary” is all the tag read. It was sold at every box store and grocery store around here last spring. I don’t know too much about the eugenia species. I know it’s related to the myrtle and that it can reseed readily but certainly not in New Hampshire. I thought the topiary would look great in my large urn out front giving me a touch of formality at the entrance.  The price was right so I bought one… my first topiary.

Eugenia Topiary

I came home and immediately googled eugenia and found its hardiness zone is 10-11, a semi-tropical shrub that could reach 15 to 20 feet in height and can serve as a bushy hedge in the right zone. It’s readily available in box stores and nurseries, potted and sheared as a topiary form into interesting shapes like balls, spirals, or cones. The leaves are small and delicate and respond very well to trimming. The small flowers produce red berries that attract birds but there’s a warning that berries do stain walkways. The good news is that these are much more affordable than the perennial boxwood topiaries.

It simply thrived in our entry urn with sedums filling in to cover the soil. The emerging new leaves were an attractive shiny bronze shade. After several weeks into the heat of summer, the plant actually bloomed! It never developed red berries as it does in warm climes but it seemed to be quite happy at our 70-80 degrees in partial sun.  I snipped off uneven growth all summer to maintain the ball shape.

Eugenia uniflora

As soon as fall weather arrived and temperatures dropped, it was time to say goodbye to the eugenia. If I had a nice greenhouse, I would definitely choose to overwinter it. All I have for overwintering tender plants is a garage that stays fairly mild during winter. And that’s where I’m trying to save our eugenia. It’s repotted and placed in the sunniest garage window.  Alas, it may not be enough. The plant is alive but the leaves are beginning to wither and drop. It’s not in the best of health, but I’m not giving up on it yet.

Most websites advise bringing the plant indoors in cold weather but our forced air vents beneath almost every window would have the plant dropping leaves all winter. I loved the plant enough that just may end up buying a fresh one every spring.

*Eugenia blooms photo: Forest & Kim Starr


 

An Ode to Soup

The weather has turned cooler and many of our dinners are turning to soups. We been enjoying a variety of soups both at home, dining out, and at friends’ homes. There is just something about fall and winter soups that warm not only the body but seems to warm the soul.

mister gardener has prepared some mighty tasty soups… always from scratch.  Last night it was butternut squash soup topped with homemade croutons and toasted pecans for a little contrast.

butternut soup 2018

mister gardener does the cooking and everyone in the fam agrees soups are what he does best. It’s comforting to hear him in the kitchen chopping those root vegetables into small pieces. His mother was his inspiration. I must admit that she taught him better than my mother taught me….although I loved 💕 my mother’s cooking.

Vegetable soup is probably my favorite of his soups cooked with garden fresh vegetables. In the summer, he can add tomatoes straight from the garden. In the winter it must be canned tomatoes.

vegetable soup 2018

Another of his most tasty soups is chicken noodle. Yes, he stews the entire chicken and, yes, he makes the noodles using the method his mother taught him when he was knee-high and standing on a chair at the kitchen counter. No pasta machine. He uses the old-fashioned cut-with-a-knife method and it’s the kind of egg noodle that melts in your mouth.

Homemade noodles 2018

Beef stew, corn chowder, ham and potato..all good. We eat a lot of potatoes in soups and otherwise, because he’s the cook and it’s how he ate growing up. I existed on more rice, hominy, breads for starches down south. I’m sure he ate healthier. Our southern eats seemed to be too much salt, sugar, and butter, something we siblings laugh about to this day!

Lately our book club is also feeling the call for soup like this delicious one chocked full of zucchini, mushrooms, sausage, tomatoes and tortellini topped with parmesan cheese…. a very Tuscan theme for the Italian book we just finished. Good job, Connie!

connie's soup 2018

Book club is here this month and I’m trying to think of a soup to compliment the classic book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, that we all wanted to reread as adults.  The setting is the slums of Brooklyn, early twentieth century when food was way too scarce. Hmmmm…. If you’ve read the book and have menu ideas, please share!

Leaves work for me

 

We’ve already had a few hard frosts and freezes, lots of leaves 2018rain, a snow flurry, too, so the leaves are withering here in the Seacoast of New Hampshire. The wind has been howling and leaves that were the color of caramel and bright yellow just a few days ago are now all brown. They are being blown from trees in great clouds, twirling through the air and become snagged in shrubbery and across lawns. I don’t see many oak trees around the neighborhood but when I look out the window, it looks all oak on the lawn. We have a small-ish yard now so the leaf work is small-ish. I do feel bad for those who must remove truckloads of leaves from their property.

This year, our association has decided to forego leaf blowing. That’s good and bad. The company hired to do leaves 2018the annual job comes with powerful blowers and blow away every last leaf along with an inch of the topsoil and mulch from the gardens. After witnessing this the first year I lived here, I’ve instructed them to skip my borders! Just the front lawn, please!

As the second most forested state in the country, New Hampshire has a whole lot of leaves. Already we have great piles in our neighborhood with more to come. Piles of leaves left on lawns over the winter isn’t a good idea for grass. Some leaves are fine but the piles that I see from my window can create grass killing conditions. We’ll see what the association plans to do. It may be lawn mower mulching or it may be nothing, then tackle the problems it causes in the spring.

My mother didn’t remove all leaves but had the niftiest leaf Electric Leaf Shredder 2018shredder for fall lawn cleanup. The tiny mulched leaves were then returned to the earth. I wish I had one for excess leaves on the back lawn but I don’t. I rake them from the lawn. But I leave all that fills my borders unless I see signs of leaf disease. Where I have mulch is where the leaves remain… under shrubs and around perennials. Leaves serve as an insulator and return organic nutrients to the soil.

Maybe our gardens don’t look as pristine and clean as neatly blown borders but our leaves also provide a valuable habitat for insect species. There are butterfly caterpillars and eggs in there, and queen bumblebees, spiders, beetles and more.  In late spring, I remove some leaves after the bumblebees are active but sometimes I mulch right over the leaves.

It’s a very good thing!

Enkianthus

Enkianthus…. I remember thinking it was a funny name for a plant when I was a child and heard my mother talking about the Enkianthus campanulatus in her garden. Now I have two Enkianthus campanulatus in my garden and I still think it’s a funny name…. and it’s fun to say!

It’s a native of the Far East, growing in mountainous areas of Japan and China. The Enkianthus campanulatus or the redvein enkianthus is a desirable woody plant for our zone 5-6 but for some reason it seems to be a rather uncommon choice for gardens around here. In early springtime the plant shines with heavy clusters of small pendulous bell-shaped blooms, white with red veined streaks. Bees of all kinds love them. Butterflies love them.

wikipedia photo, KENPEI's photo, 5 May 2008

 

In the summer, it’s a nice green backdrop for other blooming plants. As glorious as it is in springtime, right now, the end of October, the shrub gives us its best display. Fall hues of coppery red and orange light up the border and bring you to a halt while walking through the yard. The fall foliage for me is more of a showstopper than the blooms of spring, a time when so much else is in color.

Enkianthus 2018

Enkianthus is a slow-growing plant but I hope to be around long enough to train the shrub into a small tree with layered branches to replace the Styrax japonicus, my Japanese snowbell tree that grew in this spot and died suddenly.

 

Ice on the pumpkin

These days it’s dark when we wake up in the morning and dark when we sit down for dinner. Alas….winter weather has arrived and we’ve had a few nights of very cold temperatures. It seems too early for freezing weather but, yes, it’s here. Overnight last week I lost my annuals.  I don’t plant many but ‘Hawaii Blue’ ageratum is a must. It’s a dependable plant that flowers all summer and carries the color of my lavender through other areas of the garden. I always buy two flats of seedlings at a local nursery.

This was a couple of weeks ago:

ageratum Blue Hawaii

This is after the first hard freeze:

ageratum Blue Hawaii

Oh well.  It’s all in the life of an annual. The cleome or spider flower that was glorious and fed the monarchs and bees not long ago melted into a heap of green and brown slime overnight.

cleome 2018

Not all is lost. In with the cold weather arrived our delightful winter birds! Juncos and white-throated sparrows blew down from the northern climes with one of the coastal storms. Flocks of bluebirds have stopped for a visit for the last two weeks. Some might venture south. Some might stay with us for the winter.

Grasses in the garden are giving us a show… especially my favorite native switchgrass, ‘Northwind,’ upright and 5′ tall in full bloom right now. Soon the blades will turn a golden shade and be glorious in the winter garden.

'Northwind' switchgrass 2018

I added some ‘Shenandoah’ switchgrass to another area of the garden this fall and anticipate the winter foliage will turn a lovely burgundy as promised. It’s not as tall and not as upright as ‘Northwind’ but just as hardy. Let’s hope it does not disappoint.

And so we seem to have more overcast days, more wet weather, snow in parts of the state but we are ready. The furnace is working. The fireplace is clean. Wood is stacked…. and our new addition is finished and furnished.  Life is good.

A Wicked Awesome Day

Foliage is slowly changing on the seacoast of New Hampshire. There are rich yellows and reds scattered around Exeter. If we drove an hour or so inland to the higher elevations we would be greeted by a kaleidoscope of color.

We decided not to join the train of leaf peepers heading for magic in the hills this year. All we wanted this Columbus Day weekend was a simple day adventure and that quest took us to Mt. Agamenticus in Southern Maine for a first visit. Most locals call it Mt. A. Just try to say Mt. Agamenticus three times fast.

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Maine has 17 million acres of fall foliage to discover however there was little to be found on Mt. A, a conservation region of more than 10,000 acres located inside 30,000 acres of conservation land. We soon discovered it was mostly about hiking. Cars galore parked below the mountain, along the approach, and atop with few people to be seen. They were all hiking or biking on the abundant trails.

decked out for a day on the trails

 

Hiking

Couple with twins on their back!

At the summit (that we drove up 😏)  views were spectacular. The ocean to the east and the White Mountains of New Hampshire to the west where leaves in the distance showed telltale signs of color to come.

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On the ocean side, we could see all the way to Kennebunkport… hazy but made a little closer with my telephoto lens. We thought about lunching there but it’s about a 45 minute drive from Mt. A by auto, so we chose a closer destination for a walk and dinner.

kennebunkport

On our way out, mister gardener pointed out numerous birds in a section roped off as Regrowth Area. Happy song sparrows dining on seeds entertained us with antics in the hips of rugosa roses.

Mt. Agamenthus song sparrows 2018

And how about those native New England asters (Symphyothichum novae-angliae) that dotted the summit? Those bold colors certainly got our attention… beautiful and filled with bumblebees.

New England Aster 2018

There were plenty of monarch butterflies fluttering and feeding in the Regrowth Area.

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We followed up with a trip to seaside town of Ogunquit where we found an abundance of fall color. Mums, pumpkins, scarecrows and a village packed with colorful tourists took center stage.

Ogunquit 2018

After a walk along Marginal Way and strolling Ogunquit village and enjoying a cup of homemade cider, we finished up the day with a taste of Maine seafood before heading home to New Hampshire. These little neck clams stuffed with chorizo and buttered bread crumbs and a cup of soup were a satisfying ending to our day adventure. It was a Wicked Awsome Day!

Five littlenecks stuffed with chorizo and buttered breadcrumbs

 

Green Tomatoes

The weather has turned wet and cold in New Hampshire and the tomatoes on the vine won’t be ripening. Yesterday I pulled all the tomato plants and gathered about a dozen green tomatoes to make preserves. Yes, green tomato preserves. A little bit tart. A little bit sweet. A little bit bitter. And a whole lot delicious.

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I cut the tomatoes up into chunky pieces, seeds and skin included,

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and added enough sugar and lemon juice to suit my taste.

green tomato preserves 2018

It all cooks for an hour and a half or so until thickened. I never remove the seeds as most recipes call for. The smaller seeds are tasteless and the larger ones add a bit of bitterness that I like.

Green Tomato Preserves

My green tomatoes made 7 half-pints of preserves. Six are pictured here and one jar is in the refrigerator, half eaten on toast at breakfast this morning.

Green Tomato Preserves 2018

 

Green Tomato Preserves 2018

Bird Migration

Fall has arrived and we’ve started feeding the birds again. Migrating visitors like this female rose-breasted grosbeak are passing through. We must not have the right habitat for summer habitation but we see males and females regularly on their northern and southern migration treks. This female has been with us for several days eating sunflower seeds and peanuts.

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The last two of our hummingbirds left just before the remanents of Hurricane Florence blew through. We’ve had one straggler at a single nectar feeder we keep out. We may get more!

hummingbird 2018

We see cardinals in the neighborhood all summer. They visit us in the spring when the serviceberry trees are producing sweet berries but dine elsewhere all summer. Adults and several juveniles are happy visitors again eating their favorites….. sunflower seeds and suet.

cardinal 2018

We had an abundant robin population this summer with one pair successfully nesting in our doublefile viburnum. (The cat that ate the last nesting of babies three years ago in this shrub has moved away with its owners. Yippee!) Most of our robins have migrated but others are stopping for viburnum berries. This shrub will soon be berry bare.

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Other berries in the yard that attract birds are the blue berries of our tall juniper that aren’t really berries at all. They’re the spherical fleshy cones that are eaten by cedar waxwings, robins and even turkeys last winter. Our many chipping sparrows used the tree to roost all summer. They have migrated but we expect the white-throated sparrows to arrive this fall and use the evergreen as shelter from the cold.

juniper berries 2018

And the favorite of the phoebe are the dark berries of the viburnum dentatum below. These shrubs had a growth spurt this summer with the July rains and the three shrubs are loaded with juicy black berries. It’s also a favorite food for the catbirds that disappear deep into the growth. All we can see is a quivering shrub until they fly out with a mouthful.

phoebe 2018

Phoebe

I think I’ll miss the catbirds the most when they go south. We had plenty of them to keep us entertained this summer. It’s amazing that we can tell several of them apart either from behavior, friendliness, or their ‘meow’ when they see us. There is one we call ‘Screamer’ who wails continuously and follows me around the yard. He (she?) raises the pitch when I appear with fresh mealworms. Spoiled….

catbird 2018

And so it’s goodbye to our summer feathered friends and welcome to all migrators and winter visitors at the feeders.

Garlic Chives

They’ve been a powerhouse of white blooms and a bee magnet for weeks but their time has drawn to a close. They began to bloom for me in mid-summer just as the allium Millenium in the background had reached its peak of color.

Garlic Chives 2018

Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) aren’t as common in gardens as regular chives (Allium schoenoprasum) but are just as easy to grow. Known in Asian cooking as Chinese chives with a flavor in cooking more like garlic than onions. We don’t use them as much as we should in the kitchen but the leaves are great for garlic butter spread, in soups, and salads. For us they mostly serve as an ornamental accent in a short walkway border and as nectar for insects.

garlic chives

These plants were a pass-along from a neighbor who grew tired of pulling up a multitude of garlic chive babies in her borders. The plant is a prolific self-seeder just like regular chives and a gardener must be on top of deadheading before the seeds are dispersed. For me, planting them in pots helps keep them contained.

Garlic Chives 2018

All those beautiful blooms have since developed late summer seedheads. But before the seeds dropped, I removed all of the dried seedheads. I first cut the few with seeds ready to drop and didn’t lose a one.

Garlic Chives 2018

It’s easy to deadhead the bunch. Just pull them together and cut… almost like a ponytail.

Garlic Chives 2018

The neighbor who passed along the garlic chives to me can see the pots from her window. Last summer she came over and took photos. She’d never thought of putting them in pots at her house and thought they were beautiful on our pathway.

PS: I didn’t offer to give them back.

The Itsy Bitsy Spider

grass spider web

Seeing these dew-covered spider webs draped like sheets over boxwood lets us know we are in transition from summer to fall. On wet mornings, dozens of webs can be seen covering a multitude of box, other shrubs, grasses, and groundcovers like pachysandra. The sight could very well freak out arachnophobes.

Sadly, some folks run for a can of  insecticide or a broom or the garden hose to make them just go away. But they should let these spiders be! The webs and spiders aren’t harming a thing and the spider will help out in the garden by eliminating insect pests.

grass spider 2018

We have to look hard to see the webs on a regular day but on a foggy morning or after an overnight dew, the webs stand out hortizontally over plants. It’s not a time to panic. It’s a time to marvel. Just look at the intricate architecture of each web. Amazing! And just wonder how long it took one female spider to spin such a web. I consider it a miracle of nature… really!

Some of the webs are large enough to connect several different plants and a flowerpot.

spiderweb 2018

Others are thin and sparse. Is this spider just beginning her construction or is she finished? Or perhaps she was caught up in the foodchain and no longer exists.

spider web 2018

Some of the spiders find a good location and build webs side by side… neighbors, you might say… with a wall of colorful hydrangea blooms separating them.

spiders 2018

Now we have to wonder who lives in these webs. The funnel on each web is a clue to her identity. Would you like to know who she is?

spiderweb 2018

She’s the shy spider from a group of funnel weavers called grass spiders (Agelenidae). When she feels a vibration, she dashes out of her funnel at lightning speed to capture her prey. Her web is not sticky so she must depend on speed.

funnel spider 2018

Winter is coming and the webs won’t be there forever. She’ll soon deposit her eggs in a sac and die. Her young will hatch in the spring and repeat the cycle, maturing to adulthood over the summer, mate, reproduce and die.

Maine 2018

Maine.  What’s the appeal? Maine’s rocky shorelines dotted with sandy beaches draw thousands of vacationers to Maine. And then there are folks like us who are drawn to the dozens of fresh water lakes where rustic camps dot the shoreline. Bliss for me is watching a thick fog roll in over a lake waterfront while sipping a morning cuppa joe.

Thompson Lake 2018

Coffee could be followed by a morning paddle through the fog, the only sounds being the paddle dipping in the water and the not-so-distant call of the loons. In this tranquil setting, this could be the most exciting thing you do all day!

Fog burning off Thompson Lake 2018

Our summer stay was on Thompson Lake, a seven-square mile lake surrounded by beautiful mountains. The lake is in the top 5% of the cleanest lakes in Maine. On our boating expeditions around the lake, we could see the bottom at about 30-feet deep before we headed out into areas where the depths were close to 120-feet deep.

Both in deep waters and around the parameter of islands were prime spots for the grands to try their hand at first-time real (or reel 😄) fishing. A lake fished for bass, salmon and trout, all our small fishermen caught were little sunfish that were all released to see another day.

fishing 2018

It was not uncommon to spot a bald eagle on one of the many islands or hear the echo of loons any time of the day. With a reported 20 pairs of loons breeding on the lake, we felt fortunate to have a pair with their tiny offspring foraging in a cove near our camp daily. What a sight to see!

loons 2018

Days were spent doing whatever we pleased. That could mean doing nothing at all or it could mean a venture inland. Unlike the summers of my youth on the salty shores of our grandparents’ rural cabin in Virginia where siblings and cousins played cards or Monopoly to pass an afternoon, this generation has modern options for afternoon lounging. All good….

Thompson Lake 2018

Evenings were spent enjoying all the traditional summer activities….sitting on the dock, listening to the loons, watching sunsets, and toasting marshmallows over an open fire.

Thompson Lake sunset 2018

I think I’m sold on these rural lake camps of New England where nature abounds. It seems each summer we are on a different lake but it’s all so similar…. quiet, tranquil where nature rules and we are allowed to enter and absorb it all for a short time.

Thompson Lake 2018

 

 

 

Cleome

Cleome. Some people hate it. I always loved the old-fashioned cleome in my Virginia garden. A prolific self-seeder, it was fun every spring to see where it chose to pop up in my large gardens. And to see the different colors of blooms was exciting, too, since the babies could vary from white to purple, quite different from the parent.

Complaints according to those who avoid cleome in the garden:
Nasty odor
Spines and thorns
Sticky excretion that could irritate
Tall and leggy later in the season
and a self-seeder

cleome 2018

All those criticisms have become passé with new varieties on the market. The hybrid cleome I grow is compact…. only a foot tall and an annual. No thorns; no odor; no seeds (sadly); smaller blooms than my Virginia plants but just as floriferous all growing season; bushier than my original; planted in my soil/compost border and seem to be happy there; still loved by insects; still visited by hummingbird moths and hummingbirds. No good reason I can think of not to consider it for your garden…. unless you just don’t like the color!

cleome 2018