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

 

I learned to love nepeta

There are certain plants I thought I’d never grow in my borders. Nepeta is one of those plants. Who in their right mind would want something in the mint family spreading in their garden? Then, of course, I became better educated about varieties while working at Rolling Green Nursery. I was still wary of nepeta but as I tended the plants, I was learning why so many gardeners asked for it.

It wasn’t until a Garden Conservancy Day Open Day in Maine a few years ago and I really met borders of nepeta that I actually fell in love.

Nepeta, Jonathan King and Jim Stott, founders and owners of Stonewall Kitchen

Home of Jonathan King and Jim Stott

Jonathan King and Jim Stott, founders and then-owners of Stonewall Kitchen, invited in the public to wander their home gardens. To make a long story short, nepeta and I have been together since.

I decided on ‘Walker’s Low’ that we sold at the nursery. It’s a very well-behaved plant and blooms for many months from late spring into fall. My worries about spreading like mint was unfounded. You will see a few babies during the summer near the mother plant. You can pull them out or let them go. I usually allow them choose where they want to go.

The plant starts out as a tidy rounded mound in the spring and eventually reaches about 15 – 18 inches tall in my garden. It is lacy and dainty and, yes, it can flop. No problem. Leave it or trim it. It will encourage re-blooming.

nepeta "Walkers Low" 2018

I planted drifts of nepeta along a garden path to soften the look of boxwood, to add some color, and to enjoy the aroma when brushed. It does prefer full sun but does quite well in my partly shaded location.

Nepeta is very easy-to-grow and the bunnies in the neighborhood steer clear. Not even a taste. Another good note is nepeta is an excellent source of nectar for honeybees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Right now, with fading blooms in the late summer garden, our nepeta is doing the trick.

nepeta, bumblebee 2018

 

Goodbye Summer

It’s still August but I’m learning just how short the growing season is in New Hampshire. Summer is fast shutting down. I don’t mean seeing preseason football on the telly or all those fall decorations I’m seeing in stores. It’s the plants and nature that are showing signs of ending their cycle of growth.

Our tomato plants look ratty but there are a few pink ones still hanging on. I’ve been picking the green tomatoes that are certain not to ripen. I’ve sliced, breaded, and fried them up in bacon fat as my southern roots dictate. If you’ve never tried this treat, you’d be surprised at how tasty it is. mister gardener, born and raised in Ohio, once turned his nose up at this delicacy but now can’t say not to this treat. I think we’ll be eating more as the month comes to a close.

fried green tomatoes

On a drive through Vermont last week, we noticed a few species of trees are beginning to show color. In our garden, our Little Lime hydrangea shrubs are entering the color phase of late summer and fall. The booms emerge green in the spring, turn white through the summer, and finally present a lovely blush of pink in the fall. It’s happening now and it’s beautiful.

Little Lime Hydrangea

The crickets, grasshoppers, katydids, and cicadas are sounding the calls of fall. It can get noisy out there this time of year. Spider webs are festooned across much of what grows in the garden… and with egg sacs full of little “Charlottes” ready to greet the world in the spring.

katydid

We’re seeing the birds begin to gather for their annual migration. Several of our male hummingbirds have already left. It seems early for migration but the number of males around the feeders are fewer.  We are keeping the nectar fresh for the females, the young, and those few that may wander through during migration. The nuisance around the nectar these days are the yellow jackets….. not a bee, but a pesky wasp that is drawn to sweets as the summer wanes.

yellow jacket

The sun is rising a little later and setting earlier these days bringing some refreshing cool nights. We’ve dragged out the down cover for those nights that drop into the  50’s.  I wish this time of the year lasted longer. It’s amazing to think the first frost in this part of the state can occur in less than an month!

garden gloves 2018

I love all the seasons but maybe not equally. I must admit I’ll be sad to put away my garden gloves for another long New England winter

 

 

Too much of a good thing…

Daily headlines on my weather apps are “Stormy Weekend Continues,” “More Coastal Flash Flooding Possible,” “Expect Pop-Up Showers,” “Downpours in the Forecast.” The month of August has greeted us with more than ample rain. It seems we are locked in this wet, humid and warm pattern with a good chance of showers, thunderstorms, or heavy fog daily. I read in a news release that, should the rain pattern persist, Concord New Hampshire is due to pass the last wettest August on record. They are only ¼” behind their last record set in 1892.  New Hampshire is a small state. We can’t be too far behind.

rain

We had a slight drought in July but that’s long gone. Thirsty plants been replaced with abundant greenery and a Jurassic-like growth in our landscape. Even wildlife has proliferated. Chipmunks are masters of all that we survey. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a dinosaur crash through our tropical growth.

fog

Waterhogs like clethra and hydrangea have flourished, doubled in size, and bloomed better than ever. Greenery in the shade garden is looking a little like Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors.

The soggy soil has not helped our grass at all. We developed small pockets of blight on the lawn with the cool nights and hot humid rainy days. I’m trying to be on top of this and have treated it… but once started, fungal diseases are difficult to stop. So far, it’s been two weeks and no sign of it returning.

fungus

I do worry about waterlogged roots in the garden. Much of the garden is raised but to help the wet, compacted soil, I’m taking my garden fork and driving the tines into the soil for several inches. I hope this will provide more air to roots and perhaps dry the soil a little quicker.

All in all, if I had to choose between a drought and abundant wet weather, I’d choose the wet any day. I’d rather fight the fungus, the mosquitoes, the slugs, the chipmunks than a sun baked and hot earth that much of the world has experienced recently. Counting blessings….

 

Hydrangea in New England

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

Incrediball

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

Incrediball

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

Incrediball.

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

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

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

 

 

The harvest

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

lettuce 2018

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

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

lettuce and tomatoes

lettuce 2018

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

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

 

 

 

Alchemilla Love

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

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

Alchemilla 'Lady's Mantle'

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

lady's mantle 2018

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

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

Yes, Spring did arrive…

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

spring blooms 2018

 

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

IMG_1380

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

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IMG_1344

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

IMG_1353

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

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

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.

 


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…

There’s a New Garden Designer in Town

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

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

James Brewer, Wentworth Greenhouse

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

James Brewer

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

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

James Brewer

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

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

For more information, visit James Brewer Garden Design

James Brewer

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Taking Chances in the Garden

When I first started gardening, I bought any and all perennials that looked pretty at the nursery and plopped them in my new gardens. I learned the hard way about the pitfalls and shortcomings of different plants and I’ve grown pretty choosy through the years. Perennials that reseed like crazy, are prone to mildew, grow leggy, or otherwise need need constant care generally don’t make the cut. Experience with some naughty perennials while gardening in Zone 7b cause them to be forever banned from my gardens:  ajuga (just try to contain it!), creeping jenny (lives anywhere… even in water!), deadnettle (think kudzu!), phlox (think mildew!), and several more.

However, negative thoughts about some undesirable plants, perennials and annuals, were softened after caring for them at Rolling Green Nursery for two summers. And working there made me reach out and take a chance with some of those banned ones and a few others:

Here are a few plants I took a chance on:

Brass Buttons (Leptinella) A mat-like ground cover that grows about 2 inches high. It has a reputation of being a thug in the garden but that hasn’t happened to me….yet… but I don’t think I’d mind if it did step out-of-bounds. It could make a great grass substitute. Its fern-like foliage is so unusual and attractive that I fell in love with this tough little plant. I’m always questioned about this unique perennial that grows in a spot where grass struggles to grow. Thumbs up!

Brass Buttons

Calamint (Calamintha nepeta ‘Blue Cloud’): Never in a million years would I have wanted a mint in my garden until I cared for this one at the nursery. It forms plumes of miniature, tubular blue flowers on spikes. A pollinator magnet, it blooms continuously from June till frost. I see no signs of wilting or disease during our severe drought this summer. If blooms flag, it benefits from a good trim and will reward with a second flush of flowers. I would not call it invasive. Thumbs up!
Calamintha
Calimint
Red-veined Sorrel (Rumex sanguineus): Also called bloody dock, this European native can grow in the herb or vegetable garden, around the pond, or as an ornamental garden accent. I fell in love with the prominent red veins on the lance shaped leaves. Edible for some folks, but grown here as decorative accents. No flowers have emerged as of mid-August but they’ll be nipped as soon as they appear to prevent self-seeding. Thumbs up!
Red-veined Sorrel

Campanula carpatica ‘White Clips’: I cared for this little perennial for almost two summers at the nursery until I weakened and purchased one.  The showy bell-shaped white blooms face upward covering small compact clumps of foliage about 8 -10 inches high. I have it at the edge of a border in moist soil. We will cut it back hard very soon and will be rewarded with a flush of new growth and blooms.  Thumbs up!

campanula

Defiant Hybrid Tomato: I took a chance on this tomato plant that boasted blight resistance. It’s a determinate bush tomato plant that produces medium-size tomatoes. Jungseed.com writes, “This is the first tomato to crack the genetic code for late blight resistance. It has high resistance to late blight, intermediate resistance to early blight and great flavor, all in one.” Knock on wood that I don’t jinx it but it’s been almost PERFECT. The grandchildren picked two lovely tomatoes on their lunch visit to Nana’s yesterday… and there are 15 – 20 more ripening on the plant. Thumbs up!

Tomato 'Defiant'

 

 

Summertime Blues

Someone told me today that we have about 6 more weeks of summer weather in New Hampshire. Bummer!  By mid-October temperatures drop, days are shorter and the leaf peepers will begin to stream into the state.

I will miss the warmth of summer. The August calendar filled quickly.  We have traveled. We have entertained house guests. I’ve made pickles from garden fresh cucumbers. We’ve frequented farmers’ markets, celebrated the youngest grandson’s first birthday and the oldest grandson’s 18th birthday, enjoyed a big family gathering, and continued our walks.

I visited public gardens, wandered through garden nurseries, met with a landscape architect, planted a few shrubs and pulled a few weeds and crabgrass, but no real gardens on this property yet…. except for my newest garden endeavor…. container gardening!

I loved making my own, pictured somewhere below but I’ll never tell. It was also fun to photograph different planters throughout the summer travels as I passed by with my handy iPhone. It seems as though the healthiest container plants were often the tried and true hot petunias, chartreuse or purple sweet potato vine and coleus in variety of shades and variegation. I was also surprised to see pots of healthy impatiens as most good nurseries did not sell them around here because of a mildew problem.

Any favorite color combinations for you?

Some were interesting but could use a little help…

And others had gone to plant heaven.

A Garden Party…. Maine Style

This being the first official weekend of summer, we decided to celebrate by taking in a garden tour just over the Maine border in York. It was a fabulous opportunity to peek over the hedge (see below) into a lovely estate, stroll through the gardens, enjoy refreshments and come away inspired by what we saw.

Brave Boat Harbor Farms I love a landscape that beckons visitors along gentle pathways from one garden to another, around corners, up hills, along stone walls, through woodlands and meadows with wonderful vistas and surprises along the way. Brave Boat Harbor Farm did just that. It was a true slice of heaven on earth.

Pathway to the PondA sampling of sights from our adventure. Click on photos to enlarge:

The Gunhouse, built by the last owner, a marksman and a gunsmith, was completed in 1980. This tiny getaway sparked a real interest among the men on the tour but I’d be perfectly thrilled to claim it as my personal retreat…

Many thanks to Old York Garden Club for sponsoring the tour and our gratitude to the family for throwing open the garden gates for visitors.

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth

Clouds of colorful tall phlox greeted me in the garden after returning from a family vacation. Although not the exact shade of pink I would have chosen, these billowy blooms still supply a mid-summer punch to the border and nectar for garden friends.

At first glance, some might mistaken this guest (below) for a tiny hummingbird as it hovers above the blooms sipping nectar. But it’s a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe) that is seen through central and eastern North America and Alaska. The ‘fur’ on the body of the insect looks more like a hummingbird’s feathers.

These attractive moths may confuse some because they are active during the daytime along with hummingbirds, not at night with many other moth species. Below see the curled proboscis or mouth part used to suck nectar from the flower.

As the moth prepares to feed, it uncurls the proboscis and inserts it into the center of a bloom.

I suspect the host plant for the hummingbird moth is my coral honeysuckle growing against a post beneath the deck. Tomorrow I will inspect the plant to see if I can discover any hummingbird moth caterpillars… which is fine with me. This insect is a delight to see in the garden… not a pest at all.

San Diego Dreams

Traveling from winter in New Hampshire where daffodils are just beginning to bloom to the city of San Diego, where colorful flowers blanket the community makes me feel like I’m visiting Never Never Land. Six brothers and sisters, husbands, nieces are converging on my one sister, a potter and artist who has the greenest thumb of all of us. Morning coffee is always spent discovering the beauty of her garden combined with her newest artistic creations. This year the bougainvillea was the first plant that caught my eye. Grown like a vine over a fence, the prolific blooms shade a garden bench like a pink umbrella.

On closer inspection in the dense branches, I discovered adorable new whimsical art hidden deep beneath the canopy. These magic wands were all alive with little faces and personalities. Perhaps we were in Never Never Land and these little wands once belonged to Tinkerbell. Siblings were invited to select a wand that spoke to us and take it home. We didn’t waste any time. Maybe they are magic and all our dreams will come true.

Winter Farmers’ Market

We just arrived home from the Winter Farmers’ Market in Rollingsford NH. It was an indescribable experience so I’ll say it mostly with pictures.

Days are growing longer by almost 3 minutes a day, one of the farmers told me. Did you know that winter greens thrive on these lengthening days? We found plenty of greens at the market, such as different kales, lettuces, bok choy, and beet greens. We found carrots, potatoes, onions, garlic, and winter squash galore. There were also rudabagas and beets.

The mother and daughter team selling at this booth were bee keepers and vegetable growers. It is mainly a one woman operation with help from her daughter when she is home from school. This farmer said she worked from 9 am to 9 pm harvesting vegetables yesterday. We bought her honey.

I didn’t expect so much meat to be available. They offered organic beef, pork, chicken, and lamb. Yes, mister gardener could not pass up the pork spare ribs and a few strip steaks.

Did you know that beans are one of the world’s oldest foods? I’d never seen such variety. Have you ever heard of Marfax, True Red Cranberry, or Yellow Eye beans? These beans are a lot fresher than the ones in the grocery store that could be years old.

Lengthening daylight also brings an abundance of eggs. Locally raised eggs are amazing, full of flavor and nutrition. The farmers were quick to tell me their chickens are treated humanely. I thought the colors of the eggs were gorgeous.

The eggs we ended up buying were quail eggs. This farmer raises 3 varieties of quail and was excited to talk about each. I wonder which one laid my eggs.

We evidenced cookies, doughnuts, granola (tasty samples). We could have had breakfast or lunch of cheeses, pastas, crepes, soup, milk, yogurt and a breakfast sandwich that looked hot and delicious. We settled on crepes…. savory with organic cheeses and herbs for mister gardener and, alas, Nutella for me.

There were many bread bakers and we love bread. We choose some whole wheat yeast rolls for dinner tonight.

Author Kathy Gunst was cooking up a storm and serving samples of several different recipes from her newest cookbook. Mister gardener loved the roasted root vegetable and lettuce salad but this bean dish was delicious, too.

“It’s an award winner,” the owner said as she handed us samples of her maple syrup. Couldn’t pass this up! Our bags were getting heavy: meats, cookbook, bread, honey, maple syrup (and candy), eggs.

Rugs, slippers, blankets, mittens, hand-dyed wool was all prepared by this happy farmer. She loves her craft and it shows.

Finally, we stopped to enjoy the music of MiKe & MiKe who now have Lily Hope sleeping through the entire show.  Mike Morris, guitarist and Heather Mike, fiddler, entertained the crowds with foot stomping high-energy folk music. What a treat!

Spring is around the corner… I hope.

While I was chopping ice off the walkway last week, a neighbor out for a stroll stopped to chat. The conversation turned to gardening. “Do you like bulbs?” she asked.  Hailing from the area of Brent and Beckys Bulbs in Ware Neck, VA, naturally I said yes. “Well, they’re planted all over this lawn,” she added. I looked around. I know they’re up and blooming in Virginia but not a one had broken through the ground here.

After she left, I tried to visualize a lawn full of blooms. That is difficult to do. But just trying to visualize tulips made me reflect on our small group that traveled with Brent and Becky to Holland in the spring of 2010 and our visit to the dazzling gardens of Keukenhof near Amsterdam. Oh, how much fun it would be if this lawn lit up with a rainbow of colors like we saw in Holland.

I posted some photos from that 2010 trip while traveling, but being in a bulb mood now, I’m posting a few more pictures today.

I’ll be checking the lawn in New Hampshire every day for signs of emerging bulbs. I’ll post a photo if it looks anything like Keukenhof Gardens.  Hurry up, spring!

Women Are Better….

… at choosing, arranging and tending to flower gardens, that is according to a 2011 poll by Roundup (ugh!) of 2,000 Brit gardeners.  Men agreed they were better suited for cutting the grass, looking after the vegetable garden, minding the patio and decking. They also admitted they were better at fixing and painting fences, digging and preparing the ornamental gardens beds, building a garden house or a greenhouse.

mister gardener’s fence and vegetable garden

Women gardeners, on the other hand, acknowledged they were more skilled in the area of choosing plants, laying out the landscape plan and taking care of the flowers. They are more skilled at planting hanging baskets and choosing garden ornaments. Do you think the study would have the same results in the good old USA? According to ME, strengths in our gardens seem to be divided along these same lines.

Ann’s playground

Whether men are better or not at gardening is irrelevant. I don’t think we are any better. I think they are just darn smart. Although the planning, buying and planting is great fun, it’s the weeding, trimming, deadheading that takes the most time. The Roundup survey found that tending the garden is the most consuming job with the average gal Brit spending about 9 hours a month making sure the garden is weed free, watered and trimmed. By the time I’ve filled three wheelbarrows with weeds and debris, mister gardener has finished his veggie garden maintenance, showered and sitting with a glass of wine watching me work.  Smart fella.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Nightmare On My Street

At first they looked insignificant and harmless but these plants were really the devil in disguise. Like those really bad reptilian creatures with sharp teeth and claws who rampaged a town in the 1984 horror movie, Gremlins, I am currently under attack by a weed…. a devil weed, a dangerous villain, a Gremlin. It’s Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata), a biennial plant in the Mustard family. Native to Europe, it is thought to have been brought to America in the 1860s as a culinary herb and indeed, it is edible.

Garlic_Mustard_close_800

The small rosettes of leaves appeared among my roses and lavender several years ago. I pulled up tons without recognizing the weed until successive years when the plant had matured into tall shoots, competing with the lavender, then moving on to other borders . Each year, I weed and weed and I think I’ve gotten it under control but when I turn my back, it multiplies as fast as those little Gremlins that terrorized an entire community.

It is a destructive invasive plant that is controlled best by hand-pulling before the plant goes to seed. Each mature plant can produce over a thousand seeds and once it produces seeds, it can become so prolific that it is difficult to eradicate. When it’s introduced into a new environment, it can aggressively spread into woodlands where it out-competes native plants and flowers that insects depend upon for life. The West Virginia White Butterfly (Pieris virginiensis) and the Mustard White Butterfly (Pieris oleracea) that lay eggs on Toothwort plants are choosing to lay eggs on Garlic Mustard which has proved toxic to both the eggs and larvae. The plant also produces toxins that suppress the mycorrhizal fungi that plants require for growth.

The plant has no natural enemies. For very heavy infestations where risks to desirable plants is at a minimum, applications of systemic herbicide glyphosate can be effective.  Since the seeds remain viable for five years in the soil, diligent monitoring is important. After weeding, do not compost this weed as the plant can germinate in the compost bed.

Wish me luck.

PS: I uploaded the wrong photo. I moved and now I live in New Hampshire. Wikipedia supplied the photo of Garlic Mustard for this post.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Garden Tools

One of my required master gardener classes was a lecture on garden tools. Instructors were scheduled to instruct the class on the tools available for gardeners and the purpose of each. They were bringing examples of spades, shovels, trowels, rakes, saws, shears, weeders, pruners, loppers, hoes, garden forks and pitchforks. Whew! In the world of gardening there are as many tools as there are jobs and we were going to learn all about working in the soil with some and working with plants with others. I felt a little smug going in to this class. I was already a gardener and I had my basic arsenal of garden tools. I knew I’d be yawning, drawing doodles in my book, and looking at my watch a lot during class time.

No rust on these tools!

Boy, was I wrong! I began the class elbows on the desk and head in my hands. Several hours later, I was sitting up straight and had taken copious notes with small sketches in the margins. I found I did not know all the names of the tools I already owned. And I learned a few new names of other handy garden tools. A Winged Weeder? A Garden Bandit?  A Swoe?  A dibber? I learned when to use bypass pruners and when to use anvil pruners. I discovered I knew nothing about choosing a tool to fit my grip, did not understand the benefits of short-handled tools and long-handled tools, styles, weights, and materials. I learned, like proper shoes, garden tools need to be fitted to the gardener.

That was then....

This is now.....

And I learned valuable knowledge on sharpening my own tools (I tossed the dull and bought new ones) and the proper care of tools (I tossed the old and bought new ones).  I took my tools for granted and left them where I last worked in the garden. I’m much better now about wiping tools clean of any dirt or grass before storing them in the garden shed. I sharpen tools regularly and coat the metals with a mixture of petroleum jelly and light oil or a rust blocker spray like Bull Frog Rust Blocker (environmentally safe) to prevent rust. Another master gardener tip for treating metals is to fill a pail with sand and mix in used oil. Any oil will do… cooking, motor… but I do wonder about the environmental impact of eventual disposal.

I still have my favorite tools in the garden shed and it’s nice to know their names, to know how to use them, to know they are better cared for and that they might last a lifetime.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Hot and Dry Weather: Survivors in the Garden

Hot, dry, windy summer weather can be extremely stressful for plants in the garden. Temperatures in Gloucester have hovered near 100º for the last several days, topping out at 102 yesterday. Life seems to be fading from much of the garden. I am usually found hiding inside during intolerably hot weather, however in the late afternoon, I’ll take a stroll to check out heat tolerant plants that shine through the high temps. Several shrubs and perennials are doing well. Here are two that stand out:

The ‘Becky‘ Shasta Daisies, Leucanthemum superbum, that I planted en masse in early spring for our June ‘wedding garden’ are still going strong. I have been rewarded a hundred times over with waves of showy pure white blooms… great for admiring and great for cutting. They’re the 2003 Perennial Plant of the Year and are proving to be heat and drought tolerant. All they ask for is sunshine and a little deadheading.

Becky Shasta Daisy

Hardiness: USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9

Light: Full sun

Soil: Growth is optimum in moist, but well-drained soil

Bloom: June to September.

Another favorite that I’ve blogged about a couple of years ago is the Blackberry Lily or the Leopard Lily, a plant that is three plants in one.

1. In the spring, we are rewarded with blue green leaves than fan out in an attractive pattern much like an iris. Indeed it is a member of the iris family.  Familiarly known as Belamcanda chinensis, after a DNA analysis, the new classification is Iris domestica.

Iris-like leaves of the blackberry lily

2. In mid-July we are blessed with a multitude of small orange and red lily-like flowers, each blooming for a day then twisting like tiny wrung out rags before dropping from the plant. I’ve not read anything about the nectar of this flower but have observed a variety of insects actually competing over the sweet fluids.

Blackberry Lily and Sweat Bee

Blackberry Lily and red ants

3. In the late summer and fall and winter, the 3-lobed pods that are green and swelling now, split open to reveal the glossy fruit that resemble blackberries. These will fall from the plant and self seed or stems can be used for flower arrangements. I adore all three phases of this colorful summer perennial.

Belamcanda chinensis

Image via Wikipedia

It will reproduce by seed and by rhizomes which may be divided and shared. Plant rhizomes under 1″ of soil and allow to dry between waterings.

Hardiness: USDA Hardiness Zones 5-10

Light: Full sun, partial sun, partial shade (I moved my plants from full sun to partial sun and they seem less stressed)

Soil: Well-drained; grows taller in fertile soil.

Bloom: July and August

Zones: 5-10.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

A Winter Vertical Garden

Vertical walls, living walls, green walls – no matter what you call it, growing a garden on inside or outside walls seems to be a hot trend in gardening and much in the news these days. Whether it is good for the atmosphere or whether a vertical garden causes more harm for the environment than good, I am uncertain. Vertical gardens originated in France, migrated to the West Coast and moved east from there. While some believe these gardens may save the planet, others say the electricity needed to supply water outweighs the benefits.

Portsmouth NH, one of the oldest cities in the country, is where I came upon a vertical garden yesterday that seemed to be struggling to survive one of the toughest New England winters of late. The garden was installed in September, 2010, on the aged brick wall of Cava Restaurant in a narrow old street named Commercial Alley.

John Akar

Needless to say, I was intrigued and while studying the plants that looked like they’d had seen better days, the owner, John Akar, appeared in the Alley, proud as a papa about his vertical garden. He said the installers had just visited the garden and declared the roots on all the plants healthy and vital.  Cava Restaurant is proud to own the first outdoor vertical garden in New England with hearty native New England perennials chosen for low maintenance and their semi-evergreen nature.

Although the wall looks a little like woolly mammoths that have been skinned and hung to dry, I can visualize flowing tussock grass, the purple leaves of coral bells, the red berries of bunchberry, lacy Christmas ferns and wintergreen soon providing a lovely atmosphere for diners on the patio of this popular restaurant.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester