Christmas in Williamsburg VA

A little nostalgia today as I am thinking about Christmas in my hometown of Colonial Williamsburg VA and re-posting some photos of the holiday decorations from 2010. It’s such a exciting time of the year with CW residents and shops participating in a decorating contest. All materials in the wreaths are found locally and would have been available to colonists. What fun it is for tourists and hometown folks to walk the ‘DOG’ (Duke of Gloucester Street) and marvel at the original, the simple, the complex, the large, and the small adornments on homes and stores. Enjoy!

Click photos for close-ups.

Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without a stroll down Duke of Gloucester Street in Williamsburg. Doors, windows, gates and walls are trimmed with wreaths and swags fashioned from natural materials. Magnolia leaves, boxwood, holly, pine, dried flowers, wheat, cotton, fruit, berries, cones and more form the foundation for creative and artistic decorations that provide a treat for visitors and inspiration for making our own holiday adornments. Here are a small sampling of the 2010 holiday trimmings.

Boxwood Blight

These last couple of weeks I’ve been outdoors cutting sprigs of boxwood for use in arrangements, garlands, and wreaths. It’s an evergreen that holds up in holiday adornments both indoors and out. And maybe, like me, you appreciate having the plant in your garden in all seasons. According to a survey of 4,000 landscapers, it’s the most popular garden shrub today.

Korean Boxwood

And what’s not to like? It’s deer-resistant, drought-tolerant, versatile, an evergreen, and easy to grow. It’s been a staple in formal gardens for centuries and an integral landscape plant in my home state of Virginia since the mid-1600s. Sadly, the future of boxwood is now in jeopardy.  A fungus, C. buxicola, has resulted in ‘boxwood blight’ that may destroy box the same way that the chestnut blight destroyed trees in the 30s.https://www.amerinursery.com/pest-management/boxwood-blight-research/After taking a toll in European gardens, the blight was detected in 2011 on plants in a North Carolina nursery.  It has since been reported in Virginia, Maryland, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Ohio, Oregon, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware, New York and British Columbia. Has it reached New Hampshire yet?

Currently, no cure has been found but research is being conducted to combat the disease. Box can be treated with strong fungicides, but as of this date, the fungus cannot be eradicated. English and American Box seem to be the most susceptible. Japanese and Korean boxwood may be less susceptible. Three plants in the boxwood family are affected: boxwood, pachysandra, and sweet box (Sarcococca). Who knew pachysandra was in the box family? Not me. From pachysandra, the pathogen can spread to box.

From property to property, the sticky spores can adhere to animals, garden equipment, clothing, shoes, vehicles…. as well as by wind and rain. The spores remain active for 5 years in plant debris and soil. The spread of box blight on a plant is often rapid and hardly gives the gardener time to react. Here’s how to recognize symptoms: dark circular leaf spots often with darker margins that may eventually grow together and cover the leaf,  black streaks or lesions on the stems, and finally, rapid leaf drop.

The boxwood gardens at Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library in Staunton VA (below), installed in the early 1930s by The Garden Club of Virginia, succumbed to the blight and has been replaced  not yet replaced (see update from Dianne in comments). Infected box was bagged and either burned or buried. The Garden Club of Virginia has since prohibited boxwood cuttings to be used in any club event statewide.Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library, Staunton VAWhat to do to prevent the fungus?
Experts say to avoid overhead irrigation, avoid high nitrogen fertilizer, disinfect garden tools, buy from reputable dealers, isolate new plants for 4 weeks, do not work with this family of plants when wet, and space your plants.

Report suspected cases of boxwood blight immediately to your local Extension agent. They can determine whether the disease is blight or similar looking disease.

In the meantime, I am ready to make substitution in my tiny parterre garden in zone 6 if the blight reaches my box. Japanese holly (Ilex crenata) will be my first choice with its similar form, density, leaf size. Other small edging choices for gardeners can be thyme or lavender, compact ornamental grasses or dwarf yew, globe arborvitae or hosta, or for our area, perhaps try a zone 6 hardy rosemary… (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Madeline Hill’).

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'

 

 

Ladybug, ladybug

As a youngster, do you remember singing, “Ladybug, Ladybug, fly away home…”, as a ladybug crawled up on your finger and flew away?  Well, little beetle, if you haven’t flown away home by now, it may be too late as the temperatures have dropped into single digits in New England overnight. In the fall, these attractive little beetles of the Coccinellidae family seek out warm spots to hibernate, such as under debris outside or under bark on a tree but one particular variety often seeks refuge inside our homes.

The ladybugs we see inside our homes are the Asian ladybug (Harmonia axyridis). When temperatures drop, they will congregate on the sunny side of a home, favoring lighter color homes for some reason, where they seek out any crevice to hibernate. If a crack or crevice opens to the inside, then they will come right in… sometimes by the hundreds.

For years, the insects were introduced as an aphid and scale control in a number of states across North America. But the insects did not do well. They were found in Louisiana in 1988, some say from a Japanese freighter, and have expanded to much of the USA and Canada.

There are two good identifying characteristics of the Asian ladybug. First, the black markings on the head form the letter M (or the letter W, depending on whether we are facing the insect), and the legs are reddish. The adults can be a wide variety of colors from shades of orange to tan to red, some with many spots and others with spots that blend together as a black ladybug. The ones with fewer spots are usually male.

Asian LadybugAlthough I can feel the small beetles occasionally nibble my skin when I hold them, the insects are not harmful to humans. They eat other insects so they have small chewing mouthpieces. The nuisance is the odor they emit and the yellow secretion they have when they are disturbed.

I have only seen a few of these beetles in New Hampshire, however, in parts of the country, it can be a mass invasion some years and other years not many at all. I can remember one year in Virginia, we had dozens entering through a window that didn’t shut properly. Solution? We swept them up, released them in the daisy patch where aphids lived, then simply sealed the crack.

Asian Ladybug

15 Days till Christmas!

The Christmas Season was well on its way before Thanksgiving however I didn’t venture into the shopping arena until Thanksgiving weekend. Our Portsmouth NH excursion two days following the big meal plunged us into the spirit of the season. The small city was packed with holiday shoppers or window shoppers or some just walking off overindulgence of Thanksgiving. The sounds of Christmas music resonated from corners, we found coffee shops and every store we entered packed with revelers, there were horse drawn carriage rides, tempting foods, and to top it off, snow flurries late in the day added much to holiday ambience.  I love the atmosphere of shopping in a city. Are enclosed shopping malls on the way out?

With the shortened shopping season, shoppers seem to be frenzied to make sure gifts are purchased and mailed in time. Today, December 9, gives us 5 days for USPS standard mail.

Click on photos to see larger images.

Beetle Mania

English: Emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipenni...The emerald ash borer has officially arrived in New Hampshire. The larva of this bright metallic green insect has killed millions of ash trees across the country since being spotted in Michigan in 2002. The insect hails from China and it wiped out Michigan ash trees before moving south into other states. Officials knew it was just a matter of time before it would invade New Hampshire.

My son and his family are the owners of a wooded property surrounding their new home in Ohio. Visiting them this summer, he sadly pointed out the ash trees that were either dead or in deep decline from the emerald ash borer. These trees didn’t stand a chance against the invader and last weekend he removed 11 ash trees.

Two years ago at my daughter’s home in Portsmouth NH, I noticed several ash trees with declining canopies on neighboring properties and I told her she should check them for signs of borers. I don’t believe any signs of the borer were evident to her and the trees may have been stressed from other causes, perhaps a previous drought. They were so stressed that in a recent windstorm, one tree fell across the fence into her yard… now a rental property they own.

Ash Tree in Portsmouth NHShe says I must wait for the final verdict from the tree experts to learn what caused the ash to fall. Or if I’m pushy enough, she might let me visit and examine the bark myself.

Sadly, the ash is such a staple of urban life found in landscapes and lining city streets. They are beautiful and majestic trees that replaced the elm trees after Dutch Elm Disease wiped them out. The adult borer eats only the leaves of the ash but the female lays from 60 – 90 eggs in crevices on the bark. The larvae live beneath the bark for about two years before adulthood, becoming pupae in the inner bark the final winter… where a multitude of larvae and pupae interfere with the transport of water and nutrients to the tree’s canopy. In the spring, the insects chew their way out and the cycle repeats.

It’s just beginning in New Hampshire and precautions are being taken. Quarantines on firewood is the first step. Click here to learn about ash trees and exciting new biological steps being taken to find an enemy of the borer. Chemicals have become more effective in treating early infestations in larger trees, applied either by companies or the homeowners.

12-11-2013 Update:  The Emerald Ash Borer has now been detected in the town of North Andover MA. Click on the blog IPM of New Hampshire  for more information.

Seeing Red

Do you recognize him? You’ve certainly seen him before. He was a well-known television personality for 15 years, the author of 5 books, a former science editor of Horticulture Magazine, a lecturer, and the author of numerous magazine articles. He earned his graduate degree and PhD. from Harvard in Biology.

If you haven’t guessed by now, it may be because he is out of uniform. You need to see a little red.

Roger SwainYou should recognize him without the gray vest. He’s the beloved man in the red suspenders,aka Roger Swain, who hosted the popular PBS show, The Victory Garden until 2001. We are fortunate to claim him as a fellow New Hampshire The man in the red suspenders.resident and mister gardener and I were lucky to hear him speak at a combined meeting of local garden clubs.

He spoke to the crowd in his usual chatty style, full of enthusiasm, wit and humor while passing on knowledge about what he loves and believes in: vegetable gardening.

“Gardening is the single greatest skill that humans have ever come up with because we harness photosynthesis for human sustenance. Every population on the planet is absolutely dependent on the skills of gardeners.” And he added, “A garden without something to eat in it isn’t really a garden.”

Wikimedia Commons "Groundwork for Victory. Grow More in '44" He was the third host of PBS’s Victory Garden. He told us the original war gardens began in WWI with a “Can the Kaiser” campaign to encourage vegetable gardening. The term Victory Garden grew from that. Victory Gardens returned in WWII. “Grow More in 44!” was the phrase on this WWII poster. In 1944, 44% of fresh food was grown by 20 million amateur gardeners. So much was grown that there was a food shortage after the war when gardens were turned back into lawns.

Why does he want us to garden? We need to understand that the vegetables we buy in stores today are commodified or bred for color, longevity, and shipping but not taste. The best tasting vegetables are those picked at peak of ripeness from your own garden. When asked what is the best tomato, he said, “The best tasting tomato is a ripe tomato. The one I like best is the one I just ate that was ripe.”  Today, we have other choices.  Farmers’ markets are all the rage, especially in New England. There are currently 8,100 farmers markets selling local vegetables in this country. To champion agriculture, his philosophy is to spend $10 every week at his local farmers’ market.

But his message to us was to grow it yourself whether in community gardens or at a neighbor’s or in pots or in your own garden at home. Then be a role model. Pass along the interest and skills to the next generation. A child who learns to love gardening will garden for a lifetime.

Gobblers

I would think it’s a dangerous time of year for wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) to be wandering around in the open. Most of us have plans for their domestic cousins to be the Thanksgiving feast… but there are many who prefer wild turkey on the menu.

We’ve watched our little flock of 30+ turkeys for weeks as the juveniles have fattened up with several families banding together in the protected wooded areas surrounding our neighborhood. They slowly strut in single file down driveways, across lawns, along the edge of roads and back into the cover of the woods. They will saunter to the berm for cars but hardly move for people unless you approach too close. I’ve heard of Toms attacking joggers or mail trucks during the breeding season but our turkeys seem to be very well-behaved…. so far.

This morning they were foraging for acorns on the roadside near us.  I walked out but not close enough for a good photo. Only a male raised his head and seemed to pay me any attention. The iridescence of their feathers was beautiful in the sunlight but, when they entered the woods, I was amazed at how quickly they disappeared into the camouflage of leaf litter. Fare well, feathered friends.

Wild Turkeys

As The Crow Flies….

A couple of weeks ago on a chilly Virginia morning, my brother prepared to climb a ladder to install a security light near his trash receptacles. He’d been recently spooked by a couple of brazen raccoons on his nightly delivery of refuse and recycling and decided to throw a little light on the area.

The light in one hand, the drill in the other, he made his way to the top of the ladder concentrating on the impending task. Then without warning, a large bird attacked his back, flapping its wings, attempting to hang on, he believed with talons belonging to one of the several hawks that frequent the yard. He dropped the light and drill, fell to the ground and high-tailed it for his garden house….slamming the door. He peeked out of the windows up toward the trees. Nothing. Noticing movement on the driveway, his eyes widened at the sight of a large American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) marching slowly toward the garden house. My brother cracked opened the door to shoo him away. He didn’t budge. When the crow came too close, my bro closed the door. The crow flew up to the Virginia flag by the door and waited. Poor brother was trapped.

Garden HouseEventually he saw the crow fly toward the bamboo. He didn’t waste a minute. He jerked opened the door and sprinted to the back of the house and the protection of his basement. Whew!  A bit later, he nervously finished installing the security light while my brave sister-in-law stood watch by the ladder.

That same day, they had a home visit with their insurance representative. They opened the door to welcome her, but she was calling for help as she hurried toward the house with crow on her back, flapping and trying to bite her earrings. My brother grabbed a crab net. Another neighbor who heard the disturbance came to help but the bird was gone again.

Later, he glanced out of the window and saw two ladies hurrying down the street with umbrellas on this sunny day. He opened the door and asked if they’d been attacked by a crow. “Yes!,” they replied with gory details of the assault. He joined them as another neighbor shared that she was a witness. Yet another neighbor said that it had been pecking on her kitchen window. Someone else would not get out of their car because of the bird on the windshield. Two terrified children had locked themselves in the home and sent a message to my brother to please kill it.

At that moment, something clicked with my brother. He had a light bulb moment, a sudden realization of just what may be motivating the crow’s bizarre actions. He asked one of the neighbors for a slice of bread. She hurried it to him. Without further ado, the crow landed on his arm and my brother began to feed him. This was a young hand-raised crow that was released or escaped. Sadly, he was imprinted only to humans and could not forage for food.

BaldwinHe took the crow home until he could decide what to do. Crow roosted in the garden house that first night, then moved to the basement. They fed him well and for a few days, they and the entire neighborhood, including the children, fell in love with him. The neighbors voted to name him Baldwin after their neighborhood. Baldwin was a lucky crow to land in this neighborhood with a brother like mine who probably saved his life.

Personality, brains, playfulness, mischievous, handsome, lovable, and charming were some of the descriptions I heard. He bathed in their creek, he played fetch and tug of war. He had quite a vocabulary and got excited when he heard my brother talking on the phone. He tried to communicate, too, with murmurs, low caws, and clucks.

If they could have kept Baldwin, they would have. But it is illegal to keep a crow as a pet and they worried whenever he flew out of sight. So many dangers. Early last week, they made the long drive to Rockfish Wildlife Rescue in Schuyler VA where they had arranged for Baldwin to be acclimated to the wild. But somehow I think that Baldwin will forever live there as their Good Will Ambassador. Of course, he will have his adventures… flying through the forests and soaring over Walton’s Mountain but I’m pretty sure he will always be home for dinner.

Click on any photo to enlarge and to learn more about crows, watch PBS’s A Murder of Crows online.

The North Wind Doth Blow…

Old Man Winter is quietly slipping into New Hampshire. On our morning outings we see more signs that he has a foot in the door.

Vibrant colonies of  the holly shrub winterberry (Ilex verticillata) dot the brown landscape in ditches and low lying areas.

Winterberry What a showstopper! I read in the blog New Hampshire Garden Solutions, that due to low fat content, birds may not have these berries at the top of their menu in the winter. Therefore the berry laden branches are available for folks to cut for Christmas decorations. I like to purchase cultivar branches at nurseries so I can enjoy the native berries in their natural surroundings.

winterberryYou don’t see cord wood like this in Tidewater Virginia, but homes around here are often heated with wood. I am still stopping to stare at sights like this! This family is ready for winter.

woodMost mornings finds thin ice covering low-lying area ponds and creeks.

frozenRunning water falls from an icy ponds and leaves have fallen from deciduous trees allowing the evergreens and berries to take center stage this time of year.

water fall/winterberryIt is also common to see small flocks of Dark-eyed Juncos and White-throated Sparrows foraging beneath our feeders. These birds are likely migrating from Canada to warmer climates for the winter… although some stay here. Both are in the sparrow family, flock together and are known to produce hybrid offspring.

Lastly, with the leaves gone from the mighty oaks and maples, a synchronized scene is taking place in every yard in Exeter. The last of the leaves are being blown, mowed, raked or bagged all over the area. Let’s hope that most end up in a nice compost. How GREEN!

leaf raking

Let me in! It’s cold outside….

With the season changing and evening temperatures dropping, there have been one or two visitors that have found their way indoors this fall. And we’ve seen a few wandering around on the outside of the house.  It’s the Tree Stink Bug, Brochymena spp., sometimes called Bark or Rough Stink Bug. They’re all looking for a warm place to spend the winter months. Most will hibernate in leaf litter or under the bark of a tree but they can feel the warmth of our man-made shelter and are drawn to it.

Tree Stink Bug

Tree or Rough Stink Bug

These true bugs have spent the summer gorging on flora with their piercing mouthpiece and now they are looking for a good hibernation spot. The one pictured above had hibernated in leaf litter and I uncovered it while putting my garden to bed for the winter.

The Tree Stink Bug is very similar in appearance to a more dangerous stink bug, the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, Halyomorpha halys, that has swept into the USA after being  accidentally introduced in the late 90’s. Two characteristics that can tell these two stink bugs apart are the toothed or ridged shoulders and the lack of white banding on the antennae on the Tree Stink Bug.

Tree Stink Bug

The Tree Stink Bug has ridges along the shoulder.  The Brown Marmorated Stink Bug does not. Click the photo to see the ridges up close.

Most folks are aware of the invasion of the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug. In some areas of the country, the insects have invaded homes by the hundreds. And they are the cause of great damage to fruits and crops. Pesticides have limited effect on the insect and there is no natural enemy in our country. The insect has been spotted in one neighborhood in Portsmouth.  UNH Cooperative Extension Specialist, Alan Eaton, and State Entomologist Piera Siegert ask to be notified if you spot the Brown Marmorated Stinkbug (BMSB) anywhere in New Hampshire. Check out the Wikipedia photo of the BMSB below. There is white banding on the antennae and there are no ridges on the shoulders.

The Brown Marmorated Stink Bug need to be reported if seen in NH. (Wikipedia photo)

The Brown Marmorated Stink Bug needs to be reported if seen in NH.

Fried Green Tomatoes

Okay, so last week I ran, not walked to the last outdoor Exeter Farmers’ Market. I knew they would have what I’ve been hankering for the last few weeks. Green tomatoes are plentiful when the weather turns brisk and the tomato growing season comes to an end.

Green TomatoesMy first solid food as a babe might have been green fried tomatoes. They were a summer treat as soon as the tomatoes were big enough to pick. To me they are so divine tasting, not the most nourishing food, but flashes of ‘down home’ with every bite.

Green TomatoesMy mother cooked tomatoes in bacon grease. I compromised and used about three tablespoons of bacon grease for flavor (no preservatives), plus oil to make about 1/8″.  I dipped slices in an egg wash, then a good coating of seasoned flour with a bit of dry bread crumbs, fried them on each side until tender and golden brown. Drained well on a paper towel, I served them up to mister gardener. He initially turned his nose up when I put a small tomato on his plate. I forced a taste. He loved them and asked for seconds, then thirds. I wasn’t surprised. What’s not to like?

Green Fried Tomatoes

The Arborists’ Crime….

Maybe locals in New England have heard of “Crape Murder” in the south when the tops of beautiful crape myrtles are hacked off to control size. It’s a sad sight done in the name of pruning every spring but it’s a familiar scene in strip malls and neighborhoods in Virginia.

I had a similar thing take place by the arborists who labored in our neighborhood last week. I’m sure they were hired to work fast with the only tool they carried… the chain saw. I stepped outside to the sound of the saw and to my horror, they had sheared the doublefile viburnum into a ball shape. By the time they saw me, there were only two or three stems left to cut.

doublefile viburnum

This is a species with a naturally graceful horizontal form. In the spring, lacy white blooms line up like soldiers along a bough, developing into tasty drupes adored by birds in the fall. Shearing all the ends of the branches destroys the viburnum’s natural form. Terminal buds are removed and the lateral buds are stimulated to grow creating a water sprout nightmare at the end of each stem requiring more maintenance than ever. And removing the stems this time of year also sacrifices spring blooms and the subsequent fall fruit that birds adore.

What this shrub needed was thinning or trimming back branches that allows the tree to maintain its natural form. Viburnum authority, Michael Dirr, summed up pruning viburnums, “Pruning viburnums should be an exercise in restraint…again, as with so many things, less is more.”

Judging from the broom-like tips of the branches, this viburnum was probably sheared yearly. Once done, is there any help for the shrub? My guess is not… unless it is taken back almost to the ground and allowed to redevelop naturally. Yes, I think I must do that.

Save

The Arborists Cometh….

It was an incredible 70° when the arborists came to work in our small neighborhood.  I knew they were coming and I looked forward to it, hoping to have an input on certain flora in our small landscape… most of all the common lilacs.  Last March when we moved here, the shrubs were without leaves. Odd looking, I thought, that these tall lilacs are growing at such an extreme angle to reach the sun. I cut out just the dead limbs from the lilacs and trimmed some of the pine boughs that gave the most shade and looked forward to spring and glorious lilac blooms.

But the blooms were sparse and the shrubs struggled. I trimmed a few more pine boughs. But after a summer living with these sad lilacs, I knew they would never do well with towering pines as companions. They were too shaded, leggy, covered with powdery mildew, and some were infested with white peach scale. Thankfully, our landscape committee agreed. The arborists arrived armed with power saws and removed every one from under the pines…. a good decision. They also limbed up the pines fairly randomly…. and when they left, I climbed our pines and sawed every dead branch up as far as I dared. (I cannot tolerate dead branches.)

lilacsAlthough I was (mostly) satisfied with the results of the day’s work, I was not prepared for the new association I have with neighbors. Yes, we have a new garden area with exciting opportunities but for a while, smiling neighbors can wave to each other. Before the sun had set on the day, I planted two rhodies that I bought in anticipation of this new hole in the living hedge. In the spring, more developments will materialize. My plan is on paper now!

Our Chinese Scholar Tree

We are lucky to experience the beauty of a Chinese Scholar tree (Styphnolobium japonicum) growing in the side yard. It puzzled me at first. I thought it was an ash, then a black locust but when it burst into flower this summer… glorious clusters of creamy white flowers that drooped from the ends of all the branches like wisteria, I knew we had something else here.

It also goes by the name Japanese Pagoda Tree, implying the origin is Japan, however it indeed hails from China’s mountain ranges.  In Kew gardens, there is an original survivor of the one planted in 1760. The tree was introduced to the United States in the early 1800’s and one of the oldest specimens can be seen at Longwood Gardens.

The leaves have turned pale yellow and have fallen from the tree leaving behind unusual pods where there were once flowers. They have the curious look of bright green beads or a string of pearls…. some small, some several inches long. They also bear a resemblance to peas because the tree is indeed a member of the pea family, Fabaceae. Michael Dirr writes: “A very distinctive and aesthetically handsome tree in flower; should be used more extensively.”

Although the tree has been through several freezing nights and the pods are showing signs of the cold, you can appreciate the unusual beauty of this ornamental tree in the fall. It also is supposed to be a lucky tree, a symbol of good luck and happiness. I know I’m quite happy it’s part of our landscape!

Chinese pagoda treechinese.pagoda treeChinese Pagoda Tree

Roadside Retailing

I get a little giddy when Thursdays roll around. The Exeter Farmers’ Market, the second largest on New Hampshire’s seacoast, is just a stone’s throw from us. It is a carnival of sights, sounds, people, and aromas from fruits and vegetables, meats and seafood, cheeses, maple syrup products, soaps, baked goods and lovely decorative arts right along the beautiful Squamscott River. It’s a party and we’ve had a summer of fun but the outdoor market season is coming to a close this week.

We are sad about the outdoor farmers’ market ending, but we were thrilled to recently discover a smaller party to attend. It may be compact but it’s roadside retailing at its best. Close enough for us to arrive on foot is a new farm stand with delectable goodies that mister gardener can not resist. We’ve stocked up on tomatoes. We tried the apple cider. Organic eggs are beautiful. Pies are delicious. Heck, the bread is always sold out before we arrive but we’ll try to get there earlier.

Looks like this will be a regular destination for us…..

Pies

Apple Pieapple pie.Organic Eggspumpkin pie

Summer Serenades

As we sat on the deck on warm evenings in late summer, we were serenaded loudly by a certain insect I could not quite identify. It was not the chirping field crickets so commonly heard in Virginia and it didn’t quite sound like the call of katydids.This buzzing insect song was loud and long. I searched in the direction of the call with a flashlight but it was well-camouflaged in dense foliage. It took me a few weeks to discover one of these well-hidden insects out in the open during the day.

I don’t think I’d ever seen this insect. It’s a tree cricket… the two-spotted tree cricket (Neoxabea bipunctata), one of many varieties of nocturnal tree crickets around the world. The first one I found, a female (below) with two identifying spots on her back, sat on a begonia leaf.

Two-Spotted Tree CricketThe male, the vocal cricket who serenaded us so sweetly, I only discovered recently. It is interesting how the tiny male can project such a loud song. He chews a hole in the underside of a leaf, raises his wings at a 90 degree angle over the hole, and chirps away. The hole and the wings amplify his song like a megaphone. How cool is that?

Here is a male that must have fallen from above with one of his wings askew. The circular spot between his wings is called the ‘honey spot.’ The female will dine on gland secretions during mating.

male Two-Spotted Tree CricketI believe these must be fairly common crickets around these parts. I do feel lucky to be a part of their habitat. To read more about these crickets and see how the male sings through a leaf, click HERE.

Drive-By Photography

For the last several days, fall colors at their peak have truly wowed us in Exeter. Whenever we are in the car, I grab my smartphone in an attempt to capture the brilliance of yellows and reds. I should just stop doing that because 90% of my photos are either a blur OR the sad trees have been directionally pruned around power lines by NHDOT.

This weekend, a quick errand to the P.O. gave me a view of the most stunning sugar maple I’ve seen thus far… growing in front of the old Congregational Church. We were creeping along with others pointing and gawking at the tree so I was fortunate not to end up with another iPhone photo smudge.

I was not alone in my drive-by photography. I saw two photographers with big cameras capturing images of the tree from the sidewalks. Maybe I’ll see those images later on a postcard or blog post.

IMG_6819 IMG_6822 IMG_6826

Assassin Bug

On a recent walk, I stopped to admire the drying blooms of Queen Anne’s Lace. I love the way the blossom heads curl inward into lacy balls. I pulled one closer to take a quick photo when this insect popped from the center of the head. It’s an assassin bug (Pselliopus cinctus), a colorful true bug that dines on other insects.

It looks a bit like he has dressed early for Halloween as I see a mask on its back… the eyes, nose and wide opened mouth. Can you see the face?

It isn’t a fast moving bug but I made sure it didn’t crawl on me. It has a ‘beak,’ a weapon used to paralyze prey with a toxin, then suck the victim dry. That weapon can also pierce the human skin and inject a toxin. I have never been stabbed by an assassin bug but I keep a respectful distance.

It is not a nuisance in the garden and can be handy eliminating some naughty garden insects…. better than insecticides. When I see assassin bug in the garden, I do nothing. We coexist among the blooms.

The face disappears in this view but now you can admire its lovely striped legs and antennae.

IMG_5759Here is a great view from Wikimedia of the wicked ‘beak.’

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pselliopus_cinctus_UGA1366047.jpg

It’s your DOOTY!

PooIs it getting worse? Or maybe it’s because I’m living in a neighborhood for the first time in many, many years. It’s a small dog-friendly neighborhood with an association and lots of rules to obey, two of which are strict leash regulations and a mandatory “pick-it-up” rule.  Hey, it’s a New Hampshire state law, too!

In America, we love our dogs, and, yes, I’m very dog friendly. It’s the dog poo in the yard, sidewalks and road I can’t tolerate. The majority abide by rules but I watch people allowing their animals to poo freely when nature calls, then walk away. Or I see the dogs under cover of darkness doing their dooty. Yoo-hoo, we have street lights and I can see you!

It’s not limited to our neighborhood. Here are some other signs I’ve seen in the area:

My parting words: Be a conscientious dog owner, be a good neighbor and good citizen and PICK UP YOUR DOG POO or maybe I’ll be forced to hire this choir for a couple of weeks. That might do it.

Blowing in the Wind

Doesn’t it bring good luck to take a handful of milkweed seeds and toss them high on autumn breezes? At least that’s what I believed growing up. Make a wish and scatter the fluff to the wind.

The common milkweed seeds (Asclepius syriaca) are bursting forth on the walks we take. And judging from clumps of seeds and spiny pods on the trail, children are still practicing this custom of scattering seeds the best they can.

One of the biggest winners in the scattering of these seeds is the monarch butterfly who depends on the plant to complete its life cycle. It’s a prolific native that is too robust for the flower garden but useful when grown in the right spot. The plant is plentiful as we walk along our regular sunny pathway but I always take a handful of seeds and make some wishes further along on the trail.

common milkweed

common milkweedcommon milkweed

Our Magical Mystery Tour

Mister gardener really wanted to tour Strawbery Banke, see the buildings, learn the history, and enjoy the gardens since he’d missed out on my earlier visits with house guests. We arrived just before opening time to find traffic guides and congested traffic, we thought due to an annual bike tour along the coast. Nothing seemed amiss at Strawbery Banke once we parked, watched the introductory video, got our map and headed for the first buildings.

“Ummm, did you know today was our annual Fairy House Tour?,” the building’s guide asked.

“Noooo,” we answered. “What is happening?”

“You’ll see….”

And we did.

As we walked back onto the street, a flood of fairies, parents, grandparents, strollers, and wagons were heading toward us. We were soon engulfed by a sea of little people in glittering pink and purple tutus and wings, many wearing sparkling crowns and holding wands. Bubbles rained down on crowds around every corner from attic windows. Children were caught up in the spell in this fairy land…. and soon, so were we!

Fairy House Tour 2013We decided to join the fairy tour rather than see all the buildings on this beautiful day. Adorable, adorable children were so thrilled to discover the tiny fairy houses… some simple abodes and some quite elaborate. They sat on the ground and studied every fairy detail.

We could have visited two other Portsmouth locations to see more fairy houses or perhaps build one of our own but our adventure at Strawbery Banke this day filled our magic fairy cups to the brim. Next year we’ll bring grandchildren!