About Annie

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

Autumn frost

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

Early Fall, Exeter NH 2017

Early Fall, Exeter NH, 2017

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

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

Sedum, Hoar Frost, 2017

Hoar Frost, Oct. 2017

Hoar Frost

Hoar Frost, 2017

Ice on the birdbath, October 2017

Rhody, Hoar Frost

Hoar Frost

 

 

 

A Garden Outbuilding in Virginia

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

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

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

Garden shed sketch

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

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

Billy's Garden House

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

New outbuilding

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

Garden Outbuilding in Richmond VA

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

Garden Outbuilding

Garden Outbuilding

Garden Outbuilding, Richmond VA

The only thing left was the door….

Garden outbuilding, Richmond VA

And the door is finished…

Garden Outbuilding, Richmond VA

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

The finished Garden Outbuilding

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

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

Two Garden Outbuildings, Richmond VA

Fall Color in New Hampshire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Rub-a-dub-dub

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

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

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

 

 

A few of my favorite things…

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

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

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

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

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

Garden Shows

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

Fiskars

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

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

Hori Hori Knife

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

ATLAS NITRILE Gloves

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

IMG_1541

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

Mother's Shovel

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

The Shakers of Canterbury NH

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

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

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

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

Kevin @ Canterbury Shaker Village

 

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

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

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

The Shaker Washing Machine

 

 

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

Canterbury Shaker Village

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

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

 

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

 

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

IMG_1126

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

Kitchen Aid Mixer

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

IMG_1136

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

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

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

IMG_1115

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

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

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

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained,

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

To turn, turn will be our delight,

Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.

 

 

Natural Disasters

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

Limelight Hydrangea in September

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

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

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

NOAA Hurricane Jose possible path

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

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

I ❤️ Bumblebees

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time to harvest

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

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

Parsley

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

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

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

freezer parsley

Nature at its best

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

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

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

Daisy 'Becky'

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

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Allium.jpg

Male Monarch on allium

White Admiral on Allium

honeybee on garlic chives

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

Black Swallowtail Caterpillar

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

Black..Swallowtail caterpillar

 

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

 


Beauport, the Sleeper-McCann House

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Bee vs Man

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

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

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

Here are some of his photos:

European wool carder bee

European wool carder bee

European wool carder bee

European Wool Carder Bee

European wool carder bee

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

wikimedia.org

wikimedia.org

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

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

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

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

Clover isn’t really a weed

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

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

clover/grass mix

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

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

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

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

bunny

Drawbacks:

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

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

 

My Styrax japonicus up and died!

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

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

styrax-japanicus

Styrax japonicus

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

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

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

solitary bee house

 

 

Who’s your Mama?

Brown headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater) are called brood parasites, birds that lay eggs in other birds’ nests. It’s said that up to 150 different species in North America are parasitized by cowbirds and the host parents then raise the young. Needless to say, cowbirds are generally looked upon with loathing. Whenever I see this species near our bluebird house, I am out the door clapping and shooing the scourges away.

That is until a fledgling cowbird nearly landed in my lap a few days ago. It had been reared by a tiny chipping sparrow and now it seemed abandoned. I watched as it chased every chipping sparrow it saw, more than a dozen around the feeder at a given time. All flew away or scurried to hide when this big baby ran at them, mouth open, flapping wings, and warbling like a baby chipping sparrow.

After watching it beg for a day with no food, I broke down and fed it a few mealworms.

cowbird 1And now the fledgling flies to me several times a day! That makes me wonder how the heck it can learn to be a cowbird. It is still excited to see a chipping sparrow but absolutely thrilled when it sees me open the door. Hey, you are a cowbird, little guy!

cowbird 2

I’ve seen cowbirds walking in the grass nearby but our fella doesn’t seem at all interested. With a Google search, I found Matthew Louder, an ecologist, who states in Animal Behavior journal that the juvenile cowbirds leave the host’s territory at sunset, perhaps encountering adult cowbirds in wooded areas, returning to their hosts in the morning, thus fostering independence.

But it doesn’t explain how juveniles locate and recognize their own kind. Does our little fledgling fly to the woods when the sun sets to meet up with other cowbirds? We don’t know. But, each day it is standing at the door when we rise at 6 a.m.

cowbird 3

Fly away soon, little cowbird.  Fly far, far, far, far away and never come back to lay an egg in our bluebird box!

Atlantic Heights Garden Tour 2017

My first home as a child was in a planned neighborhood, the nation’s first Federal war-housing project established during World War I in Hilton Village, Virginia. Five hundred lovely English cottage-style homes were built by Newport News Shipbuilding to supply homes for their workers. The neighborhood opened on July 7, 1918. Following the war, the homes were sold.

Years later, my parents bought the small home below and, my gosh, what a wonderful neighborhood it provided for a community of young families in a much simpler time. We had sidewalks, shops, an inn, our church, a movie theater, and a very nice school… all on the historic James river.  After the 4th of 8 children was born to our parents, it was time to move from this small home… but nostalgia being what it is, we siblings occasionally still meet to drive through the hood and reminisce. Nothing has changed in this well-maintained historic neighborhood… but maybe the paint colors. Yes, we have home movies and photos galore so we can’t forget, and one brother still keeps up those childhood friends.

On Friday last, mister gardener and I saw a news article about another World War I Federal war-housing project located in Portsmouth NH, 20 minutes from us, that provided housing for the Portsmouth Shipyard. We knew nothing about this war housing project. They were having their annual garden tour the following day…. no charge, just donations.  We didn’t have to think twice about visiting this hood.

Absolutely adorable was my first thought when driving through the neighborhood…. quaint brick homes, sidewalks, a beautiful park with a baseball game in progress, old people and young people, a great sense of community. The folks we met were friendly and happy to share their neighborhood and their pocket gardens. Most of the homes were old brick and several styles that repeated with small changes, many were duplexes, and all the residences were quite tiny but very charming. Here are a few of the homes I photographed at random (click to enlarge):

And here are some photos of interesting sights here and there and some of the gardens they graciously shared with so many visitors (click to enlarge):

Thank you to Atlantic Heights for throwing open your garden gates to fellow gardeners and the curious… both of which we were. Great hospitality!

‘Breaking Away’ in Exeter NH

We are determined to be more involved in everything our community offers, so when our quiet, little town hosted the 34th Annual Exeter Classic criterium bike race recently, we were there for all the fun.

What’s a criterium you say? If you are new to a criterium (or crit) like we were, it is a one-day multi-lap race on a closed circuit… usually through a downtown to showcase speed, agility, and cycling technique. This was our second year attending and it was even more exciting this time around because we understand a bit more about what was going on.  It’s an awesome race that attracts many of the best cyclists in New England.

Exeter Classic

We watched the women’s race first. Twenty amazingly fit young females charging around the circuit in a tight pack was a sight to behold.

Women-Exeter Criterium

We were in a prime spot to watch the participants for the men’s race arrive, register, attach their numbers, and check in bikes for their hour long race coming up shortly.

men - Exeter Criterium

Men - Exeter Classic

And when those 93 participants in the men’s race lined up at the starting gate, the atmosphere was charged. Fans and family members were clapping, hollering, and encouraging their favorites before the race even began. And they were off….

Exeter Classic

If 93 cyclists pass you in a tight pack, hold onto your hat! I discovered there’s a blustery wind tunnel following these teams.

Exeter Classic - NH

The cyclists stayed in a fast-paced pack for the most part. The race was powerful and intense with teams jockeying for position, maneuvering tight corners, and reaching high speeds for an hour. Although we didn’t witness accidents, crashes often happen. Of the 93 starters, just 59 finished. Were there crashes? I haven’t heard.

All the funds from the criterium go toward an annual scholarship to a worthy University of New Hampshire cyclist.  All good…..  See you next year!

 

Wordless Wednesday 

First light

Planting for Birds

From our breakfast table, we have a good view of two serviceberry trees (Amelanchier x grandiflora) we planted two years ago. As with all shrubs and trees I have ever planted, they were chosen with birds in mind. Not only do these native trees provide us with early spring blooms, the blooms ripen to berries in June bringing us birds we wouldn’t see otherwise in our small yard…. like this cedar waxwing and his friends that are daily visitors. They have completely cleaned one tree of berries and are working hard on the second tree. As soon as a berry ripens, it disappears!

The trees feed a number of birds…cardinals, catbirds, grosbeaks, robins and more, as well as providing an early bloom for pollinators and a lovely spring sight covered in white blooms for us. I have sampled a few of the ripe berries… sweet and delicious… but I’m afraid I’ll not be baking a serviceberry pie this year. I’m leaving the berries for our fine feathered friends.

Growing up in Virginia, the species my mother grew was Amelinchier canadensis that we called ‘Shadbush,’ a name that signals the shad running in local rivers when the tree blooms. The species I grow is Amelanchier x grandiflora, ‘Autumn Brilliance,’ a name that describes the beautiful brilliant red leaves in the fall. In the winter, the tree has an interesting branch structure and smooth grey bark that will eventually become rough as it ages. We do prune the suckers at the base into one main tree trunk but the species is often left as a multi-stemmed shrub.

So…if you want a lovely small tree (or shrub) that attracts birds and provides you with 4-season ornamental interest, consider one of the native serviceberry trees.  All good…

A Hanging Basket Mystery

I noticed the coir lining around my hanging basket beginning to thin in places so I became more attentive for several days to discover the cause.  Patience paid off and one day I saw the culprit. A bird. At first glance at the color of the tail, I wondered if this was a warbler. I waited for the bird to slowly work its way around the rim of the container.

oriole

What appeared was not a warbler at all, but a female orchard oriole (Icterus spurius). I sent photographs to serious birders in three states just to make sure and it was confirmed as a female orchard oriole. We watched her return several times to gather the coir fibers around this hanging basket.

Click to enlarge photos:

She must be building her nest close by. Female orioles build the bulk of their hanging nest of woven grasses and long plant fibers and twigs. She will finish it off with soft plant down and fine grasses as a lining. We have seen Mr. Oriole near the suet once but only fleetingly and he hasn’t been back. Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to spot their distinct nest on a walk through the neighborhood in the next weeks. Fingers crossed….

To watch a female orchard oriole build her nest, check out the short video below:

Our pair will finish raising their brood and could migrate south as early as mid to late July. For a little more information on this climate threatened oriole, click HERE.

A Day of Firsts

First day of summer and First garden tomato….
Nothing better than a garden grown tomato to celebrate Summer Solstice!

 

tomato

As news from around the world seems to be spinning out of control, I recently told the mainstream media to buzz off for a bit! My garden (as well as family, friends and neighbors, and volunteering) provided an offline pause that was needed to rest the mind.

This year every inch of the garden is extra healthy and bursting with greenery and blooms due to an abundance of cool weather and rain we had this spring. What a difference a year makes!  I find myself beating the bounds of our tiny garden often, doing a little weeding, deadheading, adding or transplanting a few plants, composting, or just watching the birds rather than being online. What a tonic!

We all know that in spite of news headlines, there really are wonderful things going on everywhere. You just have to look for it, then stay engaged in what matters to you. As the Brits say, “Keep Calm and Carry On.”  It’s a very good thing…

Creatures great and small

Something has claimed my beach wormwood (Artemisia stelleriana) and I am happy about it. It’s the larva of the American Lady butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis). I see all stages of larva development on the plants but the full-grown caterpillar is a wonder to behold. The one below is almost an inch and a half in length and has rows of bristle-like spines, yellow and black stripes, and red, orange, and white spots on each body segment.

American Lady Caterpillar

The artemisia cultivar I grow is compact, growing about 8″ tall and planted along the edge of a border, a great accent with its downy soft silvery leaves. It looks a lot like dusty miller but unlike dusty miller, this plant is a hardy perennial in the Seacoast of New Hampshire. It’s a perfect little groundcover.

But this season it won’t look so perfect…. especially at the tallest tips, the blooms. The smaller larvae have spun silk around the bloom tips and smaller leaves. They use these safe hideaways as protection from predators during the day.  The larger caterpillars have nests lower on the plants. It’s a bit messy inside there, full of excrement or frass.

larva nest

The plants are pretty much covered with larvae, many at an earlier stage of development. I’ll have to wait to clean up the plants after the larvae have developed into pupae, then emerge as adult butterflies. The artemisia will survive. After the butterfly season ends, I’ll heavily trim the ragged plants and new growth with begin to appear.

larva

Soon we will be rewarded with the beautiful American Lady butterfly, a medium size butterfly of deep oranges and black spots, closely related to and often mistaken for the Painted Lady butterfly. It lives for two to three weeks during which time it mates and reproduces, starting the cycle once again…. and will eventually begin their fall migration, riding the winds southward just like the Monarchs.

American Lady Butterfly

photo by Julia Wilkins via Wikimedia Commons