Who’s your Mama?

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

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

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

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

cowbird 2

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

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

cowbird 3

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

Atlantic Heights Garden Tour 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Breaking Away’ in Exeter NH

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

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

Exeter Classic

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

Women-Exeter Criterium

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

men - Exeter Criterium

Men - Exeter Classic

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

Exeter Classic

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

Exeter Classic - NH

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

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

 

Wordless Wednesday 

First light

Planting for Birds

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

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

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

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

A Hanging Basket Mystery

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

oriole

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

Click to enlarge photos:

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

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

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

A Day of Firsts

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

 

tomato

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

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

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

Creatures great and small

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

American Lady Caterpillar

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

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

larva nest

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

larva

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

American Lady Butterfly

photo by Julia Wilkins via Wikimedia Commons

 

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

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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

ACHOO!

The drought has ended. The rains have ceased for the moment. The sun is shining. The sky is blue and temperatures are rising. Yesterday morning I jumped at the opportunity to enjoy the tranquility of a morning outdoors. Coffee and smart phone in hand, ready to catch up on emails and texts surrounded by gardens and a symphony of singing birds, I lowered myself into a chair.

The serenity didn’t last long. Within two minutes, the surface of my coffee and my phone were caked with yellow. Folks, it’s pine pollen season in New Hampshire and it caught me by surprise.

Pine Pollen 2017

Friends in my home state of Virginia have been experiencing the yellow storm for weeks. Perhaps the heavy rains have been masking the explosion in New Hampshire until now.

Pine pollen is arriving over the land like snow flurries. The pines have large pollen grains making them easy to id and those grains have large cavities or ‘bladders’ that allow them to be blown over great distances. When the breezes hit the pines surrounding us, I now see the billowy clouds of yellow moving with the currents. We may not like it, but it’s doing what it must to preserve its species.

Windows and doors are now closed. Car stays in the garage and I drink my morning coffee indoors. It will be a nuisance for awhile but is not suppose to terribly affect our allergies.  Pollen counts are high for oaks, birch, and ash trees that are the likely culprits contributing to my cough, scratchy eyes and throat when I work outdoors.

To see the pollen counts in your neck of the woods, check out this site: Pollen.com. It was there that I discovered that we are near our seasonal pollen peak on the NH Seacoast.  Yay!

 

 

 

 

The Red-eyed Invasion in KY

They are called periodical cicadas and it’s happening right now in Louisville KY at the home of my daughter. These are the red-eyed cicadas that emerge simultaneously from the ground in 13 or 17 year predictable intervals, according to U. of Kentucky extension entomologist.  Only this is a year it wasn’t supposed to happen. I guess no one told the cicadas.

red-eyed cicadas

 

The nymphs live beneath the soil feeding on roots and emerge when the soil temperature is warm enough in the spring. They have been exiting the ground by the masses on her property and will continue to do so for a couple more weeks.

She first noticed the empty shells all over the ground one morning. Most were empty but some nymphs are unable to extricate as you can see the wing of the partially open shell.

cicada shells in Louisville KY 2017

After leaving the ground at night, they slowly make their way up any vertical surface and molt into adults, a prolonged overnight process. I’ve spent many a night as a child watching the annual cicadas, a different cicada, slowly struggle out of shells, and pump their wings out straight.

This cicada on tree bark is newly emerged and still wet:

Louisville KY 2017

After drying, their body will darken:

Louisville KY 2017

In the morning, shells will be hanging from a multitude of surfaces and lying all over the ground.  Most of the adults will have flown but some may still be there until their wings have fully expanded and dried enough to fly. It’s an amazing process to watch.

Louisville Cicadas 2017

Louisville KY cicadas 2017

Louisville KY 2017

The males are the ones you hear singing to attract the females. The adult cicadas will mate and the female lays eggs in small tree branches. The eggs will mature for weeks, then hatch and fall to the ground, where they burrow and start the cycle over.

Cicadas don’t bite or sting and are fairly benign to adult vegetation and trees….. rarely causing damage, unless you own an orchard or vineyard where they could possibly inflict some monetary damage, states the extension service. Generally, what follows is a smorgasbord of food for insect eating birds and mammals. It’s nature’s way….

Thankfully, this is a daughter who appreciates insects (taught by her mother!). She used the occasion as a teaching tool and took the kids outside to watch the mature nymphs emerge last night. Following is her ‘choppy’ video 😏 of her kids learning about the life cycle of cicadas as they watch the nymphs emerge from the soil and look for vertical surfaces… even my granddaughter’s leg:

National Apple Pie Day

We have so many National Days for this or that, it’s gotten a little ridiculous, but today is officially National Apple Pie Day. Doesn’t it seems a little curious to have National Apple Pie Day in the spring?  Wouldn’t it be a whole lot better during fall apple season?  Oh well… any excuse to make an apple pie for a friend for Mother’s Day.

Most apple pies use similar ingredients in the recipe with slight variations. The first printed apple pie recipe was from a 14th century English cookbook by the cooks serving King Richard II. Can you decipher the Old English? The recipe actually looks pretty tasty.

FOR TO MAKE TARTYS IN APPLIS: Tak gode Applys and gode Spycis and Figys and reysons and Perys and wan they are wel ybrayed colourd wyth Safroun wel and do yt in a cofyn and do yt forth to bake wel.
(TO MAKE APPLE TARTS: Take good apples and good spices and figs and raisins and pears and when they are well ground up with saffron, put it in a pie crust and bake well.)

Although I don’t use figs, raisins, pears, or saffron, my standby recipe probably tastes fairly similar because of the ‘good’ spices. No hand peeling anymore! Apples are peeled, cored, and sliced in seconds with hand cranked apple peelers.

Just like King Richard’s cooks, my apples are seasoned and arranged in a pie crust but what follows makes a difference.  I mix flour and sugar and cut in pats of cold butter (Hint: Using a grater for the butter works well) to form a crumb mixture, then sprinkle it pretty evenly all over the pie…. and I don’t skimp!

When baked, the crumb mixture forms a golden, crunchy topping on a pie that’s hard to resist. But I must resist for this is a gift for Mother’s Day.

Here’s hoping mothers everywhere… especially my two daughters who are wonderful mothers… have a Happy Mother’s Day!

apple pie

 

 

Sweet Woodruff is certainly all that!

Aptly named, this tiny ground cover offers up the sweet aroma of vanilla or mowed hay when the foliage is crushed. I tried to grow this shade loving herbal in Virginia but it suffered in the summer heat… never died but never thrived. Now in zone 5b-6, my sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) is a well-behaved and dense ground cover in a shade garden. I am thrilled.

sweet woodruff 2017

It spreads by stolons and rooting in place and some insist it will take over a perennial bed. If it does, that’s fine. I have it planted beneath the shade of a crabapple and among woody shrubs. It it wants to venture beyond, I will face that when the time comes. It is shallow rooted so I don’t think it’ll ever be a weedy thug like English ivy or vinca minor or mint or bungleweed or dead nettle… that I have waged wars against in other garden settings.

sweet woodruff 2017

 

The delicate flower buds are ready to unfurl their white petals on each of the whorled leaves above. It can grow taller, but mine grows only 6″ tall on slender stems. It may go dormant in a drought like we had last summer, but is happy and flourishing in the cool, wet weather we’re enjoying in this 2017 spring.

Although I haven’t done it, folks harvest and dry the leaves for potpourri… or it’s used for perfumes and a bit of German wine-based punch. Not for me. This sweet woodruff will serve its purpose solely as a beautiful spring blooming ground cover. How divine!

Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum): The generic name comes from the Greek word ‘gala,’ meaning ‘milk,’ as the leaves were once used to curdle milk. Odoratum is Latin for ‘fragrant.’   Hardy Perennial in zones 4 – 8; Native to much of Europe.

 

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Antiques Roadshow

We were invited to a local presentation and appraisal by PBS Antique Roadshow’s Stuart Whitehurst last weekend. Not only is he ever so skilled at the art of appraisal, he has a talent for entertainment by interacting with those who of us who seemed to bring grandma’s “attic” finds and by keeping us laughing with stories and tales from his many years in the business.Stuart Whitehurst

For the most part, folks brought enjoyable and interesting objects: copies of famous paintings, paintings of ancestors, hand-painted and transferware dishes, glass objects, both silver and silverplated objects, and so forth.

Three items that stood out were a John James Audubon print, very early but not the very 1st edition (I wish I could remember more!)……

FullSizeRender

….. this very valuable Italian long-neck glass vase. (The lady who sat in front of me said maybe it was for ostrich feathers)….

Stuart Whitehurst 2017

….and something he’d never seen in a show and obviously made him smile, a 19th-century U.S. Navy commissioning pennant that ran the length of the room! These flags were the mark of a commissioned U.S. Navy ship and flew from the mast. The thirty-six hand-appliquéd stars on this pennant signified the new state of Nevada at the end of the Civil War. It is also called a “Paying Off” flag as the sailors were only paid only when the ship returned home to prevent desertion.

Stuart Whitehurst 2017

All in all, it was an enjoyable and educational evening… lots of refreshments, lots of interesting people, lots of period pieces, but I did not come away with anything of value (except to me).  Sigh….

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Wellington Gardens

There’s a nice home nursery that we like to visit in the spring when the owners announce their sale of starter plants.  This is our second year to visit Wellington Gardens, located a bit out of the way and tricky to find, down up a long dirt road in Brentwood NH, just 20 minutes from our home. There the family raises all their own annuals and perennials in their 5 greenhouses and offer great early sales at a time when we are itching to plant.

Last weekend, the tiny starter perennials were on sale and we were among the first customers that day…. just before the parking lot overflowed with autos.

Shoppers wandered in and out of the greenhouses shopping for vegetables, herbs, and annuals but it was the tiny perennials that were on sale this day. I like to buy small and allow the roots to develop in my own garden and, gee, their starter plants were perfect. They are lovingly cared for and quite healthy… all grown from seed.

Although perennials were what we were after (and I did pick out a few), I happened to spot their spectacular hanging baskets in one greenhouse.  I couldn’t go home without one of the annuals hanging baskets, healthy and packed full of goodies. Nothing like the root bound, dry baskets you find at the big box stores! How could I resist??

Wellington Gardens 2017

This weekend is the big sale of annuals at Wellington Gardens, only $1.75 for 6-packs…. a Mother’s Day special.  I think we’ll be there for the plants for sure, but also to visit Linus, the resident 18-year old African sulcata tortoise that comes ‘running’ when she sees company. I should take her a few strawberries, yes?

Linus @ Wellington Gardens 2017

Happy May Day

So happy that the last day for frost in New Hampshire has arrived! There is some bad news in the garden but lots of sweet discoveries of rebirth. We won’t be lighting fires or dancing around a maypole with ribbons, a popular event of my childhood, but will be celebrating the fertility and merrymaking in the garden.

The hummingbirds returned yesterday. The bees are back. All over the Seacoast, we see the cold hardy, early blooming PJM rhododendron hybrids with their bright lavender-pink flowers attracting bumblebees galore. I keep a small one just for those early blooms for insects.

PJM rhododendron and bumblebee

Tulips, daffodils, and grape hyacinths are providing the most booms in our garden at this early stage of spring but we also have the pansies struggling to set blooms. Good news is the New Hampshire drought is over on the Seacoast. Fingers crossed for good rainfall for the summer.

The cutest little bulb in the garden is the Fritillaria meleagris, the miniature checkerboard lily. I planted 15 bulbs but only 6 appeared both in white and in an adorable purple faint checkered pattern. Yes, I will plant more of these… and maybe have a fairy garden someday.

In the shade, the common bleeding heart (Dicentra) is unfurling its tiny cluster of heart-shaped flowers along stems and the Epimedium grandiflorum ‘Yubae’ is performing well in its second year.

Bleeding Heart

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My favorite color in the garden is green and we have plenty of that. Leaves are unfurling on viburnum, hydrangea, hosta, serviceberry, aucuba. It is the true color of spring…. a reward of rebirth and growth. Green provides me with a sense of relaxation and well-being and if I am surrounded by green whether in my landscape or beneath a canopy of trees in a forest, I have my sanctuary.

hosta

 

Just south of the Mason-Dixon Line

Oh boy, was it fun to connect with my “roots” in Virginia for several days. My adorable niece was married last Saturday in Richmond.  mister gardener and I flew down for the lovely event and extended our stay to catch up with family (and plant life) just below the Mason-Dixon Line in the Piedmont area of Virginia.

The horizon was totally green under hazy skies as we descended for landing, trees fully leafed out, green, green, green, way ahead of the landscape in New Hampshire. That always amazes me. It’s just an hour and 20 minutes by plane.

Richmond VirginiaWe generally drop our luggage at the home of one of my brothers and wife in Richmond…. a couple who always make us feel right at home in their beautiful 19th century home that they have lovingly restored… all by themselves for the most part!

Richmond VA

Richmond

Edwards Virginia Ham

And first things first…. the most gracious Virginia hospitality includes what we have been craving…. Edwards Virginia Ham on warm buttered biscuits!

Edwards Ham is the salty type, a country ham that perhaps will seem too salty if one hasn’t grown up with it as a staple in the home. As for me, this wonderful ham has spoiled me for any ham I’ve tasted since.

Sadly, this unique Surry, Virginia ham company burned to the ground a year ago. While the insurance is being settled, the ham is being prepared and aged at other ham facilities across the country. Lucky for us!

Another priority in the south before you are unpacked and settled is a garden tour. This is a brother and wife who love and live just to be in the garden. I blogged about their gardens a few years ago. This is also the brother who saved the crow and that was quite an exciting story! Those blogs are two of my most read blogs and most ‘lifted’ photos from my blog… (that I willingly share if given credit for them).

The garden house my brother built from his own design (and where he hid from the attacking crow) always receives a lot of interest. For sure, he missed his calling as an architect. He is amazing and that’s no exaggeration from this sister!

The garden house looks great from any angle, even our bedroom window.

It’s fun on each visit to see what’s new in this fabulous garden. I told a blogging friend who photographed a door in another garden, that I knew a person with a garden door and this is the place! The fence and an old door were added to stop the deer from nibbling the azaleas. What a great garden accent! I love the RED.

Garden Door, Richmond VA

Everywhere you look there is nature looking back. I loved this sweet scene beneath the pergola he built last summer. It is covered with a lovely purple wisteria where wrens live in the house and robins are raising young practically on top of the wren house…. sort of condo style.

Wrens and Robins!

What will we look forward to on the next garden tour? They are planning another outhouse in the garden. This small one will be for the mower, weed eater, and blower. He’s already begun the foundation using discarded lumber from a neighbors deck. “What will it look like?” I asked. It will be a chip off the other garden house and he sketched it for me in a flash. The roof will be tin and atop the weathervane will be a copper bird dog, our family’s favorite pooch.

I can hardly wait for my next visit….

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More tulips…

Finger vase, five-finger vase, fan vase, trumpet vase are all names for this ‘tulipiere,’ a style of vase with multiple openings and a shared water vessel.  Finger vases were commonly seen filled with dried flowers in colonial arrangements in my hometown of Williamsburg VA. There I learned the container originated in the 17th-century with the Dutch who displayed one tulip per opening.

Well, that’s what I thought until last month. The Wall Street Journal ran an article that changed my mind. The vessels with multiple spouts like the one below and other styles of flower pots, as well as different ‘tulipieres’ were designed by the Delft manufacturers for Britain’s Queen Mary II to be used for any cut flowers. The queen’s flowers were refreshed three times a week… and not just with tulips.

So I learned something new…. and although the container isn’t just for tulips, it is still called a ‘tulipiere.’ I have used it with whatever flowers are in bloom, but, today, for a garden club event, I placed one tulip per opening surrounded by a variety of other blooms and a few dried finds from the garden.

five finger container

It’s way too early to pick anything but a few tulips and daffodils from this New Hampshire garden, but one tiny bloom, barely noticeable in the arrangement, was from this yard. I was excited to spot our muscari or grape hyacinth this morning. The tiny plants are just beginning to bloom now in shades of blue and white. It really is spring!

Muscari armeniacum

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Tulips: A 400 year love affair

Our monthly garden club speaker this week will be teaching us the fine art of watercolor painting using tulips as our subject and I was asked to construct a centerpiece of tulips for the meeting.  Tulips are in every grocery store and marketplace this time of year and just shopping for the few I need transports me back to the Netherlands and especially to a rare garden, Hortus Bulborum, devoted entirely to the conservation of historic bulb varieties.

Traveling with local friends and led by bulb growers/writers/photographers/educators (as well as friends), Brent and Becky Heath, meant that we mostly skipped the touristy side of the bulb industry and were introduced to the trade through their long connections to growers of Holland.

Hortus Bulborum in Lummen, North Holland

Hortus Bulborum is located in the small village of Limmen in the province of North Holland, where my first impression was that bicycles and horses might outnumber the few residents I saw on this chilly, misty morning.

The village of Limmen in North Holland

We began our tour with an introduction to the history of the bulb and this museum. From the original tulips growing in Central Asia and brought to Leiden by Carolus Clusius in the 1593, to the bulb thefts that probably led to the tulip rage, to the height of the tulip bubble, to the market collapse in 1637, and finally…. we learned about the collection of historical cultivars by Pieter Boschman, a local headmaster in Limmen, that led to the development of this bulb garden in the 1920s.

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The garden is fairly small, just measuring about a 4-acre square but there are thousands of cultivars of historic interest, labeled and arranged alphabetically. You will find tulips, but also narcissi, fritillaries, crocus, hyacinths blooming in the spring. A visit at different times will see different bulbs in bloom.

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The vast majority of the tulips that are planted each year are no longer available in the marketplace…. so it’s possible that they could vanish altogether without this living museum that preserves the gene pool for modern hybridizers.

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Hortus Bulborum is managed by volunteers who deadhead the flowers before the petals drop, dig the bulbs when the foliage dies, and replant them each fall. The bulbs are rotated like vegetables and planted in a different part of this sandy, flat garden to lessen the risk of disease.

Hortus Bulborum volunteer

Hortus Bulborum

Bulb enthusiasts already love to visit this archival classroom but visitors were few on the day we were there. If you are a gardener, I would recommend adding Hortus Bulborum to your bucket list for at least one visit for the history alone…as these bulbs are not where you would look for new varieties for your garden. Bulbs that are commercially available for your garden you will find at Keukenhof Gardens, an hour away from Limmen.

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