A Day of Reflection

Memorial Day is a day of remembrance of those fallen in our armed forces. Our community, like thousands of communities across America, paid tribute with a Memorial Day parade followed by a ceremony at a nearby cemetery. The parade was followed by crowds of people on foot to the final ceremony.

The crowds were thin where we were…. the pre-parade setup area. We watched as people and groups arrived to find their place in the parade lineup…. the marines, scouts, firemen, band members, the Independence Museum, DAR, the Warrior 180 Foundation, and other organizations… local and national, young and old.

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Members of the VFW were everywhere making sure each person had a flag or two to wave when the parade passed. How meaningful it was to talk with this young man of 80 who served his country for 33 years.

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This year the weather was favorable for something else we came to see… a helicopter drop of a memorial wreath over the Squamscott River in remembrance of service members lost at sea. The weather has not been favorable for this event in the few years we’ve lived here.

Memorial Day 2019

Memorial Day 2019

Three other wreaths were placed along the parade route with stops for services at two locations. It was a special day to see so many residents lining the parade route supporting veterans and honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Memorial Day 2019

Memorial Day 2019

 

 

Strange weather continues…

After a cold, wet spring, we were blessed with a gloriously perfect day last Saturday. Sunshine. Blue skies. Warmer temps. A super day for volunteers who turned out with shovels and bags of compost to plant a dozen woody shrubs in a new community ornamental garden. Red twig dogwood, hydrangea, rhododendron, viburnum and more are forming the bones of a new public native plant garden with a generous grant from the Exeter Area Garden Club.  Not just for the public’s enjoyment, our goal is to attract pollinators and wildlife to the garden.

New F. A. Garden 2019

Following that glorious solo spring day, we have been plunged back into cold, wet weather. Mother’s Day was brisk yet warm with flowers, good wishes, phone calls, and a lovely brunch.

The very next day, just yesterday, a nor’easter brought chilly rains and gusty winds and overnight temperatures in the 30’s….. and SNOW to parts of the state. All I can do is enjoy the few blooms we have in the yard and wait for warmer weather closer to the weekend.

What plants seem to be happy in this weather?
Parsley is enjoying the cold. The ferns are
twice as large as they usually are.
Hostas are reaching for
the sky!

Epimedium seems thrilled…
⬇︎

epimedium

Rhododendron is unfazed…

roseum rhododendron 2019

Pansies are in their glory….

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What seems to be struggling or slow to adapt?
The iris! They will eventually
bloom but I see signs
of fungus on
the blades.

Tulips are fine but rarely open on these cold overcast days.

tulips 2019

Azalea blossoms are uncooperative…

azalea 2019

Crabapple blooms are struggling to open…

crabapple 2019

‘Carol Mackie’ daphne should bloom in May,
but this year it will be late.

Carol Mackie Daphne 2019

What to do when the calendar
says spring but the weather
says winter?
As long as there are no s-words… snow, sleet, or slush, nothing stops the people of New England if they have a good supply of fleecewear, wool socks, muck boots, and a rain hat. Gardening in the rain is still gardening.

muck boots 2019

Spring in the North

I think gardeners in the North might appreciate the spring season more than gardeners in the South where I gardened before moving. I love the dazzling Virginia springs more but so appreciate the northern springs when they finally decide to arrive. In the South, I think I took our springs for granted because they were so early. As soon as winter ends, the landscape bursts into a frenzy of color. In the North, spring seems to take an eternity to arrive. When it finally does arrive, I’m so happy that I wallow, I bask, I take delight in every little leaf much more than I did in Virginia.

Here in New Hampshire it can be a painful, cold, sometimes snowy wait for spring. Thank goodness, at last this week we are greeted by snips of spring green. I wore a heavy fleece this chilly morning as I walked through the garden looking for some spring clues and I found enough.  The emerging leaves of my Little Lime hydrangea is solid proof.

Little Lime hydrangea 2019

Clethra is pushing out tiny leaves and hostas are breaking ground.

Clethra alnifolia 2019

hosta 2019

We see the tiny tips of Baptisia, iris, daisies, some herbs, wild ginger and Epimedium pushing through the soil. We’re thrilled to see early plants like bleeding hearts below begin to unfurl blooms….

Bleeding Hearts 2019

 

….and my favorite woody shrub in the garden, the doublefile viburnum, is well on its way to splendor as it forms rows of blooms that will open to a procession of delicate white blossoms along the stems.

Doublefile Viburnum 2019

This year, I removed the 4 Incrediball hydrangea shrubs from the foundation of the home. They take soooo long to fill out in New Hampshire and I tire of looking at ‘sticks’ at the front of the home. They will soon be relocated just down the street and will be replaced by evergreens as a foundation plant… which one not yet decided.

Incrediball hydrangea 2019

Our 2 cubic yards of Nutri-Mulch, a 50/50 organic leaf/compost mix, arrived last week and has been spread over the gardens. Whew! It’s a great time to perform the task before fully formed leaves are on plants or perennials have yet to appear above ground. Now that the heavy projects are done, we can sit back and enjoy spring and wait for our mass of tulips and daffodils to bloom. It can’t be too much longer, can it?

Nutri-Mulch 2019

 

Rogue Bunny

He/She is big, fat and hungry. My neighbors have seen this big bunny in the neighborhood and I’m not sure a dog/cat/owl/hawk/fox, etc. would tackle it, they say. Last year’s good bunny, Ferdinand, who only ate grass and clover has been replaced by a garden rogue. Ferdinand never nibbled any plants, even left alone my lettuce or parsley, but the new bunny wants all the good stuff like the newly planted colorful violas blooms around the borders and in pots here and there… like around my fav bunny below.

violas 2019

Today I walked out and saw this:

violas gone 2019

And this…

Every johnny-jump-up bloom and bud in the garden was eaten…. except on one small viola.  I quickly protected the last little blooms. If you look around in the photo, you’ll see all my crocus has been eaten along with the tulips and grape hyacinths greens.

violas-2019

I have yet to see this big bunny that several neighbors have spotted because smart bunny dines in my yard under the cover of darkness. And never having had a rabbit problem in the past, I’m somewhat baffled.  Today I will research ways to rabbit-proof the gardens or find out what they don’t like to eat.  Any suggestions, aside from harming it, are welcome.

🐰🌷🐰🌷🐰 🌷🐰

Rainy day outing

It’s too wet and rainy to spend much time out in the garden this week. What is there to do in our area on a very soggy day? Eat lunch out and visit a salvage shop. For the limited population we have around here, I’m amazed that we have not one, but two salvage shops. One warehouse and yard is large and a couple of miles out of town and the other is downtown in Exeter where I stopped in yesterday.

architectural salvage inc 2019

These places are great to not only reminisce with a smile, but also a fantastic site for finding treasures with character for the garden…. gates, fences, statues, old bricks, crocks, birdbaths, and classic treasures for the home.

Today I was limited to certain areas of the shop due to a young couple who arrived in a flurry accompanied by their building contractor and their architect with loosely rolled and slightly rain-wet home plans tucked under her arms.

Kitchen and bath supplies always seem to take up a lot of space in salvage shops and this place is no different. There are two little sinks on a shelf below that I can envision in a garden potting bench at my home!

Old wood doors of all shapes and sizes seem to take up much of the space too. I was impressed when my creative daughter purchased a tall vintage door at a salvage warehouse near her home and repurposed it into a handsome king-sized headboard. Unique possibilities are endless for the inspired.

Not only do we have salvage shops, this area is teeming with antique and vintage shops and barns in and around Exeter, always desired destinations in rain or shine. What fun it is to bring home high quality and timeless treasures from these vintage stores. And it’s yet one more good way to recycle!

vintage shop -Exeter- moved to home

Spring has sprung!

It’s definitely spring on the seacoast of New Hamphire although the thermometer doesn’t always reflect the season. Last night dipped into the mid-twenties. Water in the birdbaths are frozen solid this morning and blades of grass in the lawn are frozen stiff. Those temps won’t last long today. The thermometer will rise to comfortable mid-40’s, perfect for a brisk walk and perhaps a bit of fussing in the garden.

We’ve had rare nice days of 50’s and 60’s with blue skies and sunshine that lured me out for a little garen work. I’ve done most of the spring edging on the borders. I’ve trimmed and pruned. I’ve done a little cleanup but not too much leaf removal until we have steady temperatures in the 50’s to protect any insects that might winter over in the leaf litter. I’m careful of not working in too wet and squishy ground, too, as too much treading will squeeze ozygen from the soil.

Except for buds swelling, there is not much to see in these borders. No blooms but the crocus greens are above ground… and promply nibbled down by a bunny we have yet to see. The only signs are what he leaves behind in small piles in the lawn. That’s not the only wild visitor to the garden area. Early morning on April Fools Day, I spotted a larger plant-loving animal grazing nearby. I’ll have to watch this fella near the arborvitae as another name of arborvitae is ‘deer candy.’

Deer April 1 2019

I won’t have to worry about rabbits or deer grazing one of the first greens above ground….several plants in the onion family. We see chives, garlic chives, and the ornamental allium greens that are not fazed by the cold. I have two varieties of allium and love both. The allium ‘Giganteum’ was moved in the fall to a more protected area. The sturdy scapes can be up to 4′ tall with a dense round flower head. With that height, they needed a protected area between shrubs and out of the big winds.

allium 'gigantheum'

The allium ‘Millenium’ below grows as a compact mass of rosy round blooms about a foot in height that appear mid-summer giving us over a month of glorious blooms and shiny green foilage that persist following the blooms. I have divided my clumps a few times and fussing over several in pots, hoping to have them ready for our garden club auction in June.

allium 'millenium' spring 2019

All the often overlooked plants in the onion family are carefree, drought resistant, pest-free, easy to grow, and greatly attract butterflies, bees and other pollinators. We have a lot of bumblebees that visit but have not seen a honeybees for a couple of summers. Hallelujah, a friend and nearby neighbor is a brand new beekeeper. We have seen the early scouts from her hive several times and I know they’ll be back for all I offer in this garden all summer… including the blooms in the onion family!

Happy Spring 2019

Today is the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. The sun is shining and I saw the tiny tips of crocus and one tulip tip in the garden. 💕 My weather app says it’s only 32° but the RealFeel right now is 42°.  Yes, I could actually sit on our deck with a light jacket and soak up the sun.

Very soon we should be seeing and hearing a few early spring insects buzzing around looking for nectar in the garden. But maybe not. From what I’ve been reading in science news, perhaps we will not actually seeing insects at all. We may be seeing pollinating drones in our future gardens. With news of insects on the decline globally and more than 75% of the world’s food crop depending on insects and animals, drones may be taking on the huge role of pollination.

RoboBees: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:RoboBees.jpg

And, lo and behold, it is Walmart that could be going into the business of garden and crop pollination in the future. In 2017 Walmart filed a patent for RoboBees or Autonomous Flying Microrobot drones that pollinate as a swarm. Developed at Harvard University, the goal for the RoboBees is to pollinate crops, identify pests, monitor damage, and spray pesticides. They can fly, stick to walls, some models dive into and out of water and, as a bonus, they can be helpful in search and rescue missions.

male carpenter bee

A single RoboBee weighs about as much as a real bee and is about the size of a penny. To be effective, they must have a sustained power source and be able to make complex navigation patterns using microchips. Time will tell just how efficient these robo-colonies of bee pollinators will be.

I hope we never need to find out.

Honey bee

Fingers crossed tightly there’s enough of a global effort to help protect the pollinators we already have…. the ideal ones that nature provides. Insects.

When the calendar says late winter…

…. I pay attention. Spring officially arrives in less than a week but this week, it’s still late winter, the time when I like to trim our Little Lime hydrangea…. even wearing muck boots in the snow. The garden is still dormant but the spring thaw has begun.

late winter snow on ground Mar. 2019

We like to keep these hydrangeas about 4 1/2-ft. tall and fairly well-shaped. For winter interest, we allow the spent blooms to overwinter on the shrubs. Little Limes bloom on new wood so a quick trim of 5-6″ will allow all 5 of our Little Limes in a mass planting to produce an abundance of new flowers sometime in July.

Little Lime in March 2019

We trim out weaker limbs that produce smaller blooms but don’t over trim as some gardeners prefer. We like to have them more natural and sprawling, even touching the ground here and there. It won’t be long now…

Little Lime Hydrangea

A shortcut to spring

Well, it’s not a real shortcut. It’s -2° this March morning and we’re covered by snow, but it feels like spring in all our grocery stores. Greeting us at the doors are the true harbingers of spring, bundles of daffodils in large displays selling for less than a couple of bucks each. Next to those blooms, there is the other harbinger of spring, tall stems of pussy willows willing you to purchase a bunch and take them home. I don’t think we’ll see either one in our New Hampshire garden for weeks and weeks.

Tete-a-Tete, Boston Flower Show 2017

I buy the cheerful daffodils to hurry along spring but have ignored the pussy willows until yesterday when I came upon ones I couldn’t resist… Japanese fantail willow, Salix udensis ‘Sekka’, an ornamental willow with contorted branches that I love to use in flower arrangements.

fantail willow 3/7/2019

The stems of the fantail willow are a bit twisted but it’s the wonderful tips that flatten out and curl in interesting formations. The fuzzy catkins are small and numerous. I could keep them in water and watch the catkins mature to a soft yellow, but I’m keeping them dry to preserve this stage of development for floral arrangements to use over and over.

fantail willow 3/7/2019

I did trim off a small twig for rooting. I’ll keep it in water in a sunny window and hope to see small roots forming in time. We’re the right zone to transplant the willow to the yard… not the right plant for my small yard, but nearby in a daughter’s landscape will be the perfect site for future harvesting.

fantail willow 3/7/2019

 

Seasons

My brother in Virginia called yesterday just to check in. He’s good about contacting siblings to chat and maintain our sibling bonds across the miles. During our conversation, we talked about a lot of things but one subject always centers around food.

I might have mentioned we’re eating a lot of hardy foods that we require on these cold, dark winter nights… root vegetables, beef stews and a variety of good casseroles from the kitchen of my personal chef… mister gardener. Brother talked about what he’s enjoying… things like “the best crab cakes I’ve ever tasted.”  His dietary menu says a lot more than just what’s on his plate.

While he’s talking, I’m thinking… ‘The coast of New Hampshire is really not that far away from the coast of Virginia but we seem to be on totally different planets.  He’s invigorated by spring and we are still beneath an arctic cloud.’

He also said he’s picked a lot of daffodils in his yard and taken them to friends. He says he sees rabbit tracks in the yard and they are nibbling on his liriope and damaged the bark on his azalea that will soon burst into bloom. I just listened and visualized the scene that might be playing out in his landscape, realizing we are so removed from that glorious early Virginia spring that I love so.

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I miss all of that.

Last night we received 8 or 9 more inches of snow. Gone are the early days where I dashed out with a ruler to measure inches when we first moved here. Snow is not such a new event anymore but I still love to see it.

I know my bulbs, lirope, the few azaleas I have are stirring beneath the snow. They know the season is advancing. I will bide my time, try not to be too envious of siblings in Virginia picking daffodils and eating crab cakes.

A path to the birdfeeder today. 3/4/19

Today’s path to the bird feeders. March 4, 2019

The tables will turn for us in July, when those uncomfortable dog days of heat and humidity and mosquitoes arrive on the coast of Virginia. I remember it all too well.  Uncomfortable, yes, but bearable, and I love it all.

But summers are a glorious time in New England when we never shut a window, nor turn on an air conditioner. Naturally, our long winters can be uncomfortable at times… but what’s not to love? Seasons change, conditions change, and gardens still grow. That’s all this person cares about!

 

Life beneath the snow

When you glance out the window in New Hampshire today, you might think, except for birds visiting the feeder and birdbath, it’s a dormant snow covered landscape. But that would be wrong. There’s a lot going on beneath the blanket of white stuff, a secret ecosystem under there that’s alive and active.

junco

The small space between the earth and snow, called the subnivean zone, is where the temperature remains a constant. It’s an insulation area not only for small species of animals and plants, but for microbes that fertilize the soil. These miniature creatures absorb nitrogen from the snow and from decomposing plants… like all those fall leaves covering your borders… then they die as the snow melts providing the nitrogen that our garden plants need to grow.

Bunny Feb. 2019

About 6-8 inches of snow is needed to maintain a good insulation area under the snow. We’ve come close this winter with fresh snow covering the old. It recently snowed overnight, a light snow covering the bunny in the photo above taken the day before.

Snow Feb. 2019

 Today the bunny is going… going…. gone

snow Feb 2019

When temperatures rise and there’s a thaw, small tunnels in the subnivean zone are visible.

subnivean zone, 2019

I just hope these little critters, voles, mice and other animals, are gathering sunflower chips sprinkled for the birds, and not after tender bark of my shrubs and trees.

Ice Fishing in Exeter

We’ve had some bitterly cold days in New Hampshire this winter and hundreds of New Hampshire ice fishermen have been taking full advantage across the state. Ice on the Squamscott River in Exeter is nice and thick so we don’t have to drive very far to find bobhouses or a small shanty village on the ice. It’s all right here in the center of our town. We can stay in our warm cars and watch from several different shorelines and capture the scene using a zoom camera.

Shanty Town, Exeter, Feb. 2019

This afternoon we joined other spectators waiting patiently for some human activity, while joining a number of seagulls on the ice waiting patiently for scraps of bait or pieces of fish.

seagulls, Exeter, Feb, 2019

We didn’t wait long before we saw a young couple gathering gear from their vehicle and venturing across the ice toward their shanty. They were happily greeted by a fellow ice fisherman emerging from a neighboring shanty.

 

This time of year it’s smelt that the fishermen are seeking as the fish migrate to estuaries or tributaries from December through March. It looked like their fishing hole may have iced over so a little neighborly help with chopping, they reopened the hole and cleared a bit of overnight snow.

Exeter, ice fishing, Feb. 2019

Hole cleared, these ice anglers prepare their jigging rod with bait… perhaps baiting with flies or sea worms, bloodworms, or perhaps a bit of corn.

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Ice fishing is so new to us and much of it still a mystery. It seems simple… cut a hole, drop a line with bait, and pull up your catch. But there are a lot of intricacies that we will never know. Clothing, equipment… rods, tackle, ice gear, bait, propane heaters, cookstove, battery radios, plus changing tides, weather, and knowing where the fish are running. These ice fishermen have the know-how and the yankee spirit we are lacking. It’s a spectator sport for us. We much prefer watching from the sidelines in a warm car… with camera!

ice fishing, Exeter, Feb. 2019

Seeing green in the winter

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

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

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

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

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

liz's snake

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

ivy 2019

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

peace lily 2019

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

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

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

Bug-pocalypse?

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

Bumblebee 2018

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

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

Swallowtail caterpillar

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

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

male katydid 2018

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

female katydid 2018

2018 Fork-tailed bush katydid (Scudderia furcata)

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

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

 

At last….

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

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

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

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Rabbit serving snow a la mode

rabbit ears 2019

Rabbit hibernating

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

Birdbath 2019

Insulated boxwood

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

bluejay 2019

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

path 2019

 

Volcano mulching

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

mulch volcanoes 1/13/2019

volcanoes January 2019

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

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

volcano1/13/19

volcano mulch 1/13/19

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

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

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

 

It’s been a mild winter…

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

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

mahonia NH 2019

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

mahonia bloom January 2019

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

honeybee on mahonia

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

mahonia berries in Virginia

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

Good Luck food for 2019

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

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

Epoch Restaurant

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

Epoch

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

Epoch Inn 'Hoppin' John Soup

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

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

 

Hoppin' John Annie

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

 

Cleaning up after Christmas

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

oranges

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

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

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

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

orange slice

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

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

tea

 

 

Winter Solstice

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

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

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

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

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

There he goes again!

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

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

generator outbuilding

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

Richmond 2018

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

generator 2018

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

Generator building snow 2018

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

A Live Christmas Tree or Not…

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

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

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

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

Giving Thanks

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrating Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My First Topiary

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

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

Eugenia Topiary

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

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

Eugenia uniflora

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

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

*Eugenia blooms photo: Forest & Kim Starr