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.

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

 

Our Young Bluebird

 

Our bluebird usually lays 2 or 3 eggs so when I noticed only one offspring, I checked around the nest and found an egg with a pecked hole in it. I’m guessing the pesky house sparrow was the culprit as we witnessed fierce battles over the box earlier this spring. I caught the male sparrow sneaking into the hole so he is the main suspect. But maybe it was a chickadee that hung around the box. House wrens can be a problem but couldn’t be the culprit as none are in our area. Sadly, the bluebirds won the war but lost an offspring.

bluebird egg with hole

Our sole survivor from the nest has fledged and has transitioned to nearby woods with his parents. It’s old enough now to accompany the adults back for morning treats of mealworms. Poor little thing has a lot to learn. He must learn quickly how to feed himself and stay safe. And, alas, there is a new predator cat in the neighborhood that I have chased off numerous times. Stay safe, little one…

bluebird fledgling

Fledging, wet from overnight rains, arrives for morning treats.

We now hear the adult bluebirds singing territorial songs, patrolling the area, and both chasing off any bird that ventures into their space. We’re watching them as they gather pine straw for a new nest in the box…. so preparations are well underway for the next brood..

Such excitement in the avian world!

Adventures with Youngsters

On June 21, summer will officially begin, but you’d never know it by today’s temperature.  It’s 1:00 pm and the temperature on this 6th day of June is hovering somewhere between 46° and 48°, depending on which weather app you check. The weatherman predicts we’ll break the record low for this day.

It’s been a welcome rainy spring to put an end to our drought so we aren’t complaining. We’ve had days of beautiful New England spring weather in-between storms, enough to be satisfied, especially since our goal for this summer is to become better acquainted with everything our area offers…. often through the eyes of children.

Wentworth Marina by the Sea

We no longer own boats, but a stop at the Wentworth Marina by the Sea in New Castle with the grandchildren was one our first spring adventures. What a blast to let the little ones wander up and down the docks, watching boats come and go, including the excitement of the marine police arriving to check the place over. A stop here would hardly be worth it without a relaxing lunch at The Green Bean, outdoor dining while answering 100 little questions, between bites of tasty pulled pork sliders, about boats, birds, water, and rigging.  “What is that spinning thing on top of the masts?” “That’s the wind speed indicator…” “Why do they have them up there?”  Fun, fun, fun!

The Green Bean - Pull Pork Sliders with cheddar cheese and red onions

We’re thrilled to support the wonderful outdoor Exeter Farmers’ Market once again this spring, especially on the warmest days when we can follow-up with homemade strawberry popsicles or the best local ice cream, but that’s only when the grandchildren accompany us. Yes, we all had a popsicle on this day!

Strawberry popcicles - Exeter Farmers' Market

Watching the Phillips Exeter crew teams practice on the Squamscott River is something we stopped to watch for the first time. That was another new adventure for us thanks to keen interest by these little folks.

Grands on the Squamscott River

Our local school crew teams in Virginia were nationally ranked and these crew teams are tops in the nation, according to their website. So much fun to watch… especially through the eyes of children and also after reading The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. Highly recommended!

I’ve been in working hard in the garden in-between rain showers but I’ll soon be back in earnest. A warming (or hot) trend is approaching for the weekend and I’m ready. Stay tuned.

The Red, White, and Blue

On this Memorial Day weekend, we reflect on the meaning of the holiday…. honoring those who lost lives while serving in the armed forces. First known as Decoration Day, the remembrance began with the Civil War when graves of fallen Union soldiers were decorated with flags, flowers or wreaths. It has now evolved into a 3-day holiday with patriotic parades, concerts, and speeches honoring servicemembers who have sacrificed so much, but it also signifies the beginning of summer with cookouts, pool openings, and festive celebrations. It remains one of the busiest driving days of the year.

Members of our garden club gathered to clean, weed, trim shrubbery, and plant flowers around our Exeter NH bandstand in time for Memorial Day. The patriotic parade will pass by on Monday on the way to Gale Park where there will be guest speakers, gun salute, wreath and flag ceremonies. Hundreds of locals will be there to watch and walk with the parade to its destination.

To see photos from an earlier Memorial Day parade and ceremony in Exeter, please click HERE.

Exeter Bandstand-Memorial Day 2017

As I walked through my garden this morning, I paused to take a look at our blooms of red, white, and blue for this weekend, helping me remember the heartache of those families who share in tragic loses. How wonderful it would be if all humanity evolved to the point that wars were not needed, violence against one another ceased, and peace prevailed around the world. Sigh….

 

Now, where’d I put that soapbox??

Ah, I found it… and now I’m standing on it. It’s about pesticides. Our association sprayed (“EPA approved lower risk”) pesticides again yesterday. They made a wide berth around me, the crazy lady in the driveway holding the pitchfork.  Not really, but my hands were on my hips when I told them to skip my house. We were not sprayed.

We were told to take away birdseed, empty birdbaths, remove pet items and food, children’s toys, and personal belongings. “KEEP CHILDREN AND PETS AWAY FROM ALL TREATED AREAS UNTIL THEY DRY” So folks took their pets and children inside, shut windows and doors, and waited until the coast was clear. Pesticides like insecticides have become a widely accepted way to keep our homes and gardens relatively pest-free.

But how about those animals left outdoors?

toad

This week I’m hearing the wood thrush singing the most beautiful melody just inside the wooded area against which they sprayed. It’s an insect eater, and just 20′ inside the woodline is a free flowing stream and vernal pools full of life. A variety of songbirds were hovering in the freshly treated shrubbery looking for our suet and meal worms we removed. The robins were bobbing across the freshly treated lawns and shrubbery around each building searching for worms and insects. My bluebird parents were busy feeding insects to their young in a bird box 50′ from our back door. Bunnies, pesky or not, were most likely sprayed in their nests under shrubs around homes. A variety of bees and other pollinators were buzzing around the newly blooming rhododendron. Around our foundation, I see our toads and the tiny salamanders emerging from hibernation and moving through leaf litter searching for small insects… like beneficial spiders.

salamander 2017

Our sluggish salamander unearthed in a flowerpot from hibernation.

In the garden, growing healthy plants using organic methods is the best pest deterrent. There are a variety of natural pest control methods such as Integrated Pest Management using beneficial insects and remedies like traps and barriers.  I don’t want ticks or termites either and, of course, I realize my life cannot be chemical-free. But pesticides should be a last resort.

Pesticides are designed to kill. Ticks, termites, and carpenter bees are some of what they want to prevent. But, sadly, most insects are good insects. They become the non-target victims that then become a part of the contaminated food chain.

Fig.  5.21: An example of a food chain.

I am not an activist. I simply wish for another way.

Viburnum Superstar

It’s not a dogwood but when in bloom, it is a stunning lookalike and a good substitute for the spring-blooming dogwood for showy white flowers.  It’s the doublefile viburnum (Viburnum plicatum tomentosam).

Doublefile viburnum

It is a large shrub and needs a wide space to grow. Ours is close to 9′ tall and the branches spread horizontally almost as wide as as it is tall. In the spring, each layered branch is thick with white, flat flowers that are about 3″ in diameter.

The outer ring of florets are sterile and the small buds in the center, yet opened, are the fertile blooms. In the fall, these fertile flowers produce a profusion of red fruit that darken to black, but I hardly have time to photograph them before the birds consume them. By far, it’s the most relished bird food in my fall garden.

doublefile 2017

The blooms stand in paired rows or in ‘doublefile’ above the stems like little soldiers. And it’s just as beautiful from our second story window as from the ground.

doublefileIn the fall, it produces a lovely display when the leaves turn a firery deep red and in winter, the gray bark is interesting as well. Truly, the doublefile viburnum is a fabulous multi-season shrub.

Hardiness Zones: 5-8
Pest Resistant

Helping a Painted Friend

It’s that time of the year. Temperatures are warming and ponds and vernal pools have been full of activity around our neck of the woods.  Sadly, our neighborhood street cuts right through a wetland so we see water turtles following the pathway from one section to another for egg laying, which takes them right across our road. A common turtle seen crossing our road is the eastern painted turtle (Chrysemys picta), often a pregnant female on her way to lay eggs.

To prevent road kills, drivers are encouraged to avoid turtles on the roads and, if conditions are safe, carefully pull over to help them onto the side of the road in the same direction the turtles are heading.

painted turtle 2017

I put this one down on the side of the road and in seconds, it was on its way….

Painted Turtle- 2017

Trees Live in Exeter

When an invitation was received by our garden club from RiverWoods Retirement Community in Exeter to join residents for a Arbor Day ribbon cutting ceremony for their new arboretum, several of our members jumped at the occasion. There’s no better way to share our love of trees than attending an Arbor Day event, especially the newest and largest arboretum in New Hampshire.

Despite cool temperatures and overcast skies, the event put us in a sunny and festive mood. We were greeted with champagne, a smorgasbord of treats, enthusiastic sharing at the microphone from employees and residents …. including poems for the occasion.

RiverWoods 2017

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Several residents of RiverWoods have been active for years in selecting, planting, nurturing, and labeling trees and woody shrubs on the property so becoming accredited through ArbNet, an Arboretum Accrediation Program developed by The Morton Arboretum, was a natural step. RiverWoods is a Level One arboretum, meaning they must have at least 25 species of documented trees. Already at 49 species, the volunteers and staff have hopes to achieve Level Two with at least 100 species of woody plants, along with other criteria.

From the ribbon cutting, we progressed to the walking tour in The Ridge campus where we were led by knowledgeable docent volunteers. Fran Peters introduced us to a number of trees, including the Franklin Tree (Franklinia alatamaha), named for Benjamin Franklin. It has a reputation for being difficult to grow but this specimen tree is very healthy. I must return to see the magnificent blooms it’s known for.

Fran Parker, RiverWoods 2017

Our group continued along led by docent Liz Bacon (l.), who came to RiverWoods from the Chicago area bringing knowledge from the Morton Arboretum. It is she who recognized the potential for a RiverWoods arboretum. Dr. Tom Adams (r.), who has worked with the trees and woody shrubs of RiverWoods for a dozen years, shared his enthusiasm and wisdom with fun tidbits about the trees and gardens including successes and loses over time. His knowledge stems from his volunteer association with the Arnold Arboretum in Boston.

Liz Bacon, Tom Adams

The one tree I fell for was the showy Golden Maple (Acer shirasawanum ‘aureum’), a small Japanese maple with lime colored leaves. In the fall, it turns an orange and red like a sugar maple. Yummy!

Golden Maple

Our garden club members thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon at RiverWoods and we are proud and happy to have the largest arboretum in the state right here in Exeter NH. Way to go, RiverWoods!

“Advice From A Tree” by Ilan Shamir

Stand tall and proud.
Go out on a limb.
Remember your roots.
Drink plenty of water.
Be content with your natural beauty.
Enjoy the view.

Read by Dan Burbank, RiverWoods Landscape Manager