Today everyone eats

Today we are experiencing a fierce blizzard in New Hampshire and I have invited all hungry animals, even these pesky ones, to dine on birdseed, peanuts, and fruit. It can be life or death out there. The snow is deep and the wind is ferocious.

 

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It will get a heck of a lot worse today before it gets better. But we’re safe and snug inside with a nice fire and plenty of cocoa… and with fingers crossed that we don’t lose power!

Full Wolf Moon 2018

January 2nd’s full moon is called, among several other names, the “Full Wolf Moon,” said to be from the time when wolves would howl near Colonial villages and Native American tribes.

I attempted to capture the supermoon tonight from our deck using a superzoom camera. Hampering my attempt at photography was our deep and crusty snow and painful frigid temperatures that tortured my exposed fingers. Who wants to stand outside shivering in single digits? I could hardly keep the camera steady with a tripod. When the moon appeared on the horizon through the trees, it was past the time it was closest to earth but still looked huge.

The phenomenon supermoon is named because it becomes full on the same day its orbit is closest to Earth and it looks brighter and larger than the usual moon. They don’t happen every month. There are none in February but there will be second one this month. On January 31 2018, we can see the one that NASA has named the “Super Blue Blood Moon.” So if you miss the one tonight, not to worry.

Rising through the pines tonight while still low on the horizon, the moon actually looked pretty ‘super.’

moon1:2018

Once it reached the vastness of the sky, it was simply a beautiful full moon!

moon 1:2018

Last night I finished the book Artemis by Andy Weir and I couldn’t help thinking of the action-packed novel about the first lunar colony as I squinted through the lens of the camera. Hmmmm…. I wonder. Will we one day build a lunar city? 🚀

A New Year’s Day MUST

Black-eyed peas have been soaked overnight, organic collard greens washed and ready, and all the other ingredients for New Year’s Day are waiting to be prepped for a hearty soup tonight.

Growing up in the Tidewater area of Virginia, my family ate black-eyed peas and collard greens on a regular basis, but I don’t remember them on New Year’s Day. Did everyone in the South except our family eat collard greens and black-eyed peas the first day of each new year?  Is this a new-ish thing or not? I am a little superstitious so I follow along.

My mother always served black-eyed peas mixed with stewed tomatoes. Collard greens was always served alongside a cruet of vinegar that we splashed atop the hot greens. I can’t remember my mother ever combining the peas and collards as I am doing tonight… although better memories of a sibling might correct me!

New Year 2018

Last year I made the traditional Southern Hoppin’ John over rice. This year we are having soup based on a tasty recipe in the New York Times…. minus the ham hock.

Wealth should be breaking down the door!  And if I feel especially lucky after I dine tonight, I’ll be standing in line for the Powerball on Wednesday that has reached over 440 million buckaroos and growing.

collard greens 2018

Happy, Healthy, and Wealthy New Year wishes for all.

PS: It’s been 10 minutes and I’ve already been corrected by a sibling with a better memory than mine. We did eat both black-eyed peas and collard greens on New Year’s Day. Lucky me!

Rhododendron Thermometers

Can you tell how cold it is in winter by looking outdoors at your rhododendron? Locals in New Hampshire tell me that a quick glance out the window will indicate whether the temperature has dropped to 32° or not. When the temperatures drop to freezing, the normally horizontal rhododendron leaves begin to droop and curl.

The amount of droop and curl does correlate to the severity of winter temperature. The lower the temperature, the tighter the curl. At 20° they are curled as tight as they can possibly get. Our rhododendron leaves are drooped and tightly curled right now and that’s a clue to the frigid outdoor temperatures…. a -8° at daybreak and currently a -3°.

Junco on Rhody

But why do the rhododendron leaves droop and curl in the first place? Theories and debates abound. Some say it is to prevent branch damage from the snow load. Others theorize it helps prevent or reduce water loss in the leaves, although horticulturists and scientists dismiss this theory because the openings on the underside of the leaf are closed during the winter.

A likely reason is drooping and curling prevents rapid freezing and thawing of the leaves. If the leaves are horizontal as they are in warm months, thawing may occur on a sunny day in winter, then the leaves may quickly freeze again overnight. This quick freezing and thawing could destroy leaf cells. So possibly, the drooping and curling would be nature’s way to protect leaves from the thawing solar rays during the day.  They are better off staying frozen until they can thaw slowly.

Rhododendron

More study is needed to answer all the rhododendron leaf questions but I’m just happy to know I can rely on these magnificent shrubs to let me know when the thermometer hits 32°.

Christmas Feast

“The North Wind doth blow, and we shall have snow, and will will poor robin do then, poor thing?  She’ll go into the barn, keep herself warm and hide her head under her wing, poor thing!” Although this British nursery rhyme refers to the European robin, a member of the flycatcher family, I couldn’t help but think of it when I opened our front door this morning in a raging snowstorm.

Not all American robins migrate to warm climes in the winter and fruit is a natural part of their year-round diet. With whiteout conditions on this Christmas Day 2017, dozens of robins found sustenance where they could… even braved our presence to devour winterberries on our front porch arrangement. These branches were thick with berries yesterday on Christmas Eve. Tonight the branches are almost bare. It makes us happy to provide a holiday gift they needed on this icy and cold day.

Robins

robin

robin.

As always, the crabapple tree proved to be a lifesaver for dozens of robins. The birds will eat almost continuously during the day to store up as much fat reserves to survive the frigid nights of our New England winter.

crabapple.

crabapple

 

Temperatures are due to plummet to negative number in New England in the nights ahead and the frigid temperatures will create a challenge for the robins and for all birds. We’ll continue supplement nature’s food with a variety of seeds and nuts, adding fruit to what we scatter on the ground, and provide a heated birdbath for drinking water. Best of luck to our feathered friends!

NH Snow

Merry Christmas to all!

Christmas in Williamsburg VA

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

Click photos for close-ups.

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

Boxwood Blight

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

Korean Boxwood

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tree of life

We have a beautiful crabapple tree just feet from our house and the crown almost even with our upstairs bedroom window. The first thing we hear in the morning is a chorus of fruit eating birds being well-fed on the coldest of winter mornings from the dim light of predawn to first light of sunrise.

This year we had a bumper crop of crabapples that may be the result of a two year drought followed by a wonderful wet spring this year.

The limbs were so heavy with fruit that the association decided to remove some limbs that were resting atop tall bushes below.

I would have left those limbs alone and allowed the fruit to be eaten over the winter. Many times limbs rebound when fruit is gone. I’d much rather trim the shrubs below.

Among the robins, cardinals and other song birds are hungry turkeys that dine twice a day both on and under the tree.

With my computer not cooperating after the latest system upgrade, I’m posting using my smartphone. Let’s hope the phone and I are smart enough to make this work. 😊

First Snow 2017

There is something about a first snow of the season that puts a smile on everyone’s face in the Northeast. The storm that slammed the south a couple of days ago moved into New England overnight and left us with a heavy coating of wet snow. It might have caused a panic among folks in Texas, Georgia, Virginia…. but here, it’s life as usual. We had a holiday gathering last night and the hearty among us walked quite a distance in steady snowfall instead of driving to the gala. The hallway of the party home was piled so high with boots that it was difficult to open the front door and navigate the mountain of thawing, dripping footwear. No one blinks twice at a sight like that. It’s a normal scene around here.

Our roads were cleared of snow by dawn and the same for driveways in our neighborhood… something we never saw in a Virginia storm. Of course, Virginia snows usually melted in 24-hours.

Feathered friends, both on the ground and feeders, were active at first light. I’m happy to report that the Cooper’s hawk was not able to catch our blue jay and the pair returned to feed today. I do hope the hawk found a nice little house sparrow or two or ten instead.

Waiting their turn

Juncos are abundant this year

Hard to take your eyes off our bright cardinal. Hope he’s watching out for our Cooper’s Hawk!

On the ground the day before, we counted 19 turkeys poking around for something to eat… not beneath the feeder but in the borders around the house. Most of our regular flock are young turkeys, now learning to find food beneath snow. We have plenty of oak trees that provide an abundance of acorns for them. I’m still delighted when I see the turkeys. They parade from home to home, up and down our driveways, in single file along our street, roost overnight in our trees, and are treated as neighborhood adoptees. As long as they are well-behaved, we welcome them.

Someone sent me this turkey video that made me laugh out loud and I wondered if I could ever learn to call our turkeys like he did. However, if I got down and wobbled like the young man in the video, I’d never be able get back up.

 

I know it’s nature but….

….I don’t have to like it.

As the day broke on this chilly morning, I sat at the kitchen table and observed at least two dozen bluebirds descending upon the rooftops and chimneys of neighboring homes. Eureka! This called for another cup of coffee and a camera to try and capture the migration moment. I love it when a day starts like this one!

Bluebirds Dec. 2017

I watched wave after wave of bluebirds arrive to dine on mealworms, sunflower seeds, and to take a sip from the still icy birdbath.

Bluebirds

And I smiled as I drank my coffee and clicked away with my camera through the window.

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The bluebirds’ arrival encouraged the arrival of a large number of goldfinches that swarmed and drank and ate. Oh, such fun avian activity adding to our ever present juncos, cardinals, blue jays, nuthatches, titmouse and chickadees. It was a bird party.

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But the party ended suddenly. I glanced up and not a bird to be seen. That is except one. And that one was definitely NOT invited to the party. That party crasher was sitting on the bluebird house.  I had to admire its beauty but hoped it wouldn’t stay.

Seconds later, I saw my blue jay dart out of a nearby shrub screaming and the cooper’s hawk was just feet behind. I hope the jay made it to safety. I know it’s nature but I don’t have to like it.

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Crazy for Swasey

There are plenty of local trails to hike in Exeter and we take advantage of them. But there is one place in our fair town that is more of a promenade than a hike. It’s such a pleasure to stroll the sidewalks of Swasey Parkway along the Squamscott River… with a nod, a smile, a tip of the hat, or a good morning to passersby.

Swasey Parkway 2017

The parkway was a 1931 gift to the community from Ambrose Swasey, a summer resident known for his generosity. At that time, the area beside the river was the site of the town dump, quite unsightly and odorous, and Ambrose Swasey grew tired of passing it on his way to town.

Swasey Parkway 2017

Swasey Leaves 2017

Today it is a popular gathering place for people and events in Exeter. Not only is the park the perfect place to stretch one’s legs and enjoy the fresh air, it is a magnet for family picnics, sunbathing, bird watching, photography, people watching, or those folks like us who are there to enjoy the fall colors.

Swasey Parkway Picnic

Swasey Parkway 2017

Swasey Parkway

We are fortunate to have this area for hosting the farmers’ market, an antique marketplace, summer concerts, a Revolutionary War encampment, Independence Day fireworks, food events and more.

There are also pleasurable sights on the river. It’s a delight to watch Phillips Exeter Academy crew teams launch from their ramp and practice their sport up and down the river… but at this season of the year, we are more apt to see leisurely kayakers paddling along the waterway.

Swasey Parkway view to PEA crew

kayakers Swasey Parkway 2017

I sometimes think of Ambrose Swasey as I walk along the river, a man who at 84 years of age, made this priceless contribution to his community. I don’t think he’d be surprised at how much it is used and loved today. He was truly a man with a vision…

To read even more about Ambrose Swasey, his life and philanthropy, click HERE.

There’s a new restaurant in town!

Not long ago, several gals in our neighborhood ventured downtown and treated ourselves to a night on the town at an exciting new restaurant in Exeter.

The new restaurant is named Otis. Yes, that’s the name and it comes from the business that was housed in that building long ago, the Otis Sleeper Jewelry Store. We were excited to sample the goods because Otis was just named by New Hampshire Magazine as 2017’s Best of New Hampshire… and right here in our town!

Book Club

A photo of a culinary creation from the restaurant was pictured on the magazine cover.

New Hampshire Magazine - Otis #1

Otis is a bistro style restaurant serving American foods with locally sourced ingredients. New Hampshire magazine calls the space ‘intimate,’ as there are only 28 seats for diners. Smaller tables line a long wall. Options for larger tables are limited due to the building’s size. A group can sit at the chef’s table and watch the food being prepared by the professionals or sit at the window and watch all the town’s activity. The window is where we chose to be. From there we were a stone’s throw from the center of town and the historic bandstand.

The atmosphere was lively, the service unmatched, and our food was artful and delicious. It’s a popular spot for diners and at capacity this night with happy diners. As the evening progressed, it almost seemed a party was in progress.

Otis, Exeter NH

Lee Frank is both the chef and owner of Otis.Restaurant was well-know to diners as a chef extraordinaire at several popular seacoast restaurants before coming to Exeter to establish his own eatery.

menu

On the wall was a Chef Gateau quote from wonderful movie Ratatouille, “You must be imaginative, strong-hearted. You must try things that may not work, and you must not let anyone define your limits because of where you come from. Your only limit is your soul. What I say is true – anyone can cook… but only the fearless can be great.”
What a movie that was! There’s a lot of paper on the roll and I’m sure other wise sayings will ‘roll on’ nightly.

Otis

Dining out is a fun way to mingle with friends and step out of the daily grind for a night to enjoy good food and service, and lots of laughter. It was just the ticket. Be sure to check out Otis online. There you’ll find the current menu and be able to make reservations by phone.  I think you’ll be glad you did…

Dill in the garden

Dear Dill,

You may be aware that I do not have many plants in ornamental gardens that spread with abandon or are prodigious self-sowers because I simply do not have room for rampant spreaders.  Having said that, there are exceptions…. namely you, dill. I don’t mind a bit that you have escaped from the herb garden.

Dill

Not only do I like how you look popping up tall and proud against the daylilies, the asclepias, the hydrangea, and Russian sage, you require nothing of us. You seem to adjust to any weather, soil condition, mulch or not. And, oh, your umbrella blooms are a little like 4th of July fireworks in late summer when not much looks so fresh. I must thank you also for sharing a few blooms for flower arrangements.

But, most of all, we appreciate your generosity in sharing your feathery green leaves to enhance our food. Fish, potato salad, dips, soups, egg salad, cucumbers, shrimp salad, and pickles would not taste at all flavorful without you. And it’s so nice that we can freeze your delicate leaves to use all winter!

dill

Finally, I truly appreciate how you feed numerous insects, especially the butterflies and the hungry larva of the black swallowtail. It’s good that there is an abundance for sharing.

Recent freezing temperatures have terminated what we see above ground but you have done your job and spread your seeds. We expected you to freely self-seed anywhere you liked in the garden but if your young decide to sprout in the middle of the lawn, I’ll probably mow around them.

We look forward to greeting your youngsters in the spring…

From the gardeners who maintain these gardens

.

I don’t have a dog anymore…

…and it makes me feel a little like an outsider in society.  I’ve always lived with (hate the word ‘owned’) canines during my lifetime: English Setters, Irish Setters, dachshunds, labs, and several mutts.  I’ve lived with and loved cats, too: short-haired, long-haired, Siamese, and several alley cats, all of whom adopted me and not the other way around. My children grew up with canines and felines. But right now, it’s just the two of us and we no longer live with 4-legged residents. We have downsized. Our home is now small and the property is communal.

I have a daughter who says she couldn’t live without being surrounded by her dogs and cats as we had when she was young. Her house is full of them as you can see. They follow her from room to room and gaze up trying to anticipate her next move as she completes daily activities. The family loves them with a passion.

Matter of fact, the large lab mix with the gray muzzle is our old dog, Annabelle, who moved in with my Kentucky daughter when we relocated to New Hampshire. (BTW: I think Annabelle is much happier in that home as rules are freer. Yes, they all sleep in bed with the humans. Yikes!)

Canines

When we first became dog-less, there was a void. No whines or barks. Bowls and toys and brushes and food went with Annabelle. We were no longer are on a first name basis with the local vet. No more dog license renewals. No more scheduling human activities around the dog’s schedule.  It was that empty nest syndrome that I felt when the kids moved out.  I found myself looking at too many of those cute puppy videos on Facebook and stopping strangers with dogs on the street to ask about their pets. Of course, the greatest fix of all is when the grands fill the house with noise and activity and make everything all right with the world, but there I am watching those videos again.

The intense feeling lasted about two years…. although I almost relapsed a week ago when puppies from the Houston floods appeared locally. “Get a grip,” my daughter said. The good news is the dogs almost outnumber the humans in our neighborhood and daily they walk by and pull on their leashes to visit me. They love me and they know I can’t get enough. I can get my puppy-love-fix from my neighbors and my kitty-love-fix from my son’s six-toed feline that visits. For now, that is enough…

 

Plant Lust…

I find myself a little bit out of control in this department. Downsizing from 12-acres to 12-feet causes problems with my compulsion to add to our garden. It’s not really 12-feet but sometimes it feels like it when I come across something I really desire for the garden. This time it was bulbs I lusted after. I ordered narcissus bulbs “Starlight Sensation,” for the following reasons: It’s a creamy white flower that I prefer, it has 3-5 flowers per stem with 3-5 bloomstalks per bulb. That’s a lot of flowers, folks!

And the good news is that it won the Best Daffodil award at the Philadelphia Flower Show this year… and the best news of all is that it’s the very own seedling of friends Brent and Becky Heath in Gloucester VA.  I will forgive myself for this purchase!

Brent & Becky

But maybe not forgive myself for the purchase of two different shades of allium bulbs, red tulips, white tulips, snowdrops, and two more shades of muscari to add to my deep blue muscari that edges the boxwood garden.

Oh well… everything is in the ground and I look forward to seeing what the spring brings.

Grape Hyacinth/Muscari

Strawbery Banke Fairy Houses

It’s an annual event for locals and visitors whether you have children, grandchildren or not. It seems everyone and their neighbor attends and/or participates in the world’s largest tour of fairy houses in Portsmouth NH each September.

This year, over 200 houses were made by individuals and a variety of organizations…. schools, artists, florists, garden clubs, families, children, businesses, and more. We had a map in hand to identify and guide us but eventually it was the grandchildren who set the pace on this HOT afternoon. We just had to keep up with two little ones as they ‘flew’ through all the displays.

Strawbery Banke Fairy Houses

Mother Nature provided the makings of each house with stumps and sticks, leaves and pine cones, shells and sand, rocks and pebbles, grass and moss, gourds and seed pods, bark, and fantastic imaginations. Some houses were dainty and and some were taller than the children who were admiring them. Peeking in the windows was half the fun.

Strawbery Banke Fairy House 2017

Rules were QUIET VOICES to not disturb the fairies and NO TOUCHING the houses, the latter rule we heard repeated by adults over and over as we toured… of course, to these two as well. The temptation was too great!

Here and there along the tour, we met lovely life-size fairies to the delight of little ones and parents alike. What a photo op!

Strawberry Banke Fairy Houses 2017

Other entertainment included ice skating performances on this sizzling afternoon and a gigantic bubble blowing machine that sent our grandchildren scurrying afar in the heat and haze to catch them.  I stood in the shade and watched….

Chasing bubbles! Strawbery Banke Fairy Houses 2017

Naturally we indulged in cotton candy and checked out wings, lace, and taffeta or tulle for the 14th annual event in 2018.

The Portsmouth Garden Club won the first prize blue ribbon for their “Scary Fairy Scream House” that was too adorable to scare us at all. Kudos to the club for this creative and clever creation!

Scary Fairy Scream House

Autumn frost

Temperatures on the Seacoast of New Hampshire are dropping at night, but warming to the 60’s or 70’s during the day. It’s a favorite time of the year for me. Most of the garden is still green. Grasses are at peak, berries are ripe, lawns are happy, annuals and some perennials are blooming, and a variety of migrating birds are passing through. Each morning, the sluggish fall bumblebees and dragonflies wait for the sun’s warmth before they take wing. It’s all about the beautiful changes in the garden… not the colorful blooms of summer.

Early Fall, Exeter NH 2017

Early Fall, Exeter NH, 2017

No hard freeze yet, but we are having mornings of ‘frost on the pumpkin.’ With nighttime temperatures dropping to the upper 30’s for short periods, the garden wakes to a thin coat of ice on the birdbath and a silvery coating of crystals on the lawn and leaves. Plants don’t seems to be damaged and this hoar frost is a pretty sight to behold in the first light of day…. almost like a sprinkling of sugar or jewels.

Yes, days are shrinking and the leaves are beginning to drop but for a few weeks until the winter blasts arrive, it’s a delightful time of year. I hope you are embracing autumn wherever you live.

Sedum, Hoar Frost, 2017

Hoar Frost, Oct. 2017

Hoar Frost

Hoar Frost, 2017

Ice on the birdbath, October 2017

Rhody, Hoar Frost

Hoar Frost

 

 

 

A Garden Outbuilding in Virginia

If you wanted a colonial period dependency to store your motorized lawn equipment, would you hire a contractor, a builder, or maybe an architect to make sure everything was perfect or would you sketch it out on scrap paper and then go ahead and build it all by yourself?

Me?  I’d have to go with the experts. My brother? He is the expert. He’s the talented Richmond VA artist/architect/builder/designer/gardener/expert who can do it all.  Sigh.

When I visited my brother and his wife in Richmond VA last spring, he was just thinking about the building and wasn’t sure he’d do it. I asked a little about what he had in mind. He picked a piece of scrap paper and said, “Oh… if I do it, it’ll be something like this.”

Garden shed sketch

Several years ago, he designed and built the perfect colonial garden house, below, that I bragged blogged about years ago. His new garden outbuilding, if he decided to built it, would match the style of the existing garden house, he said.

If you’d like to check out my earlier post about his gardens and the existing garden house, just click HERE.

Billy's Garden House

Once his mind went from ‘thinking about it’ to ‘doing it,’ it didn’t take long for his plan to take shape. In the shadow of the existing garden building, he began the framework of the smaller building. It was nestled on a shaded spit of land overlooking a clear stream that runs through a thicket separating homes.

New outbuilding

Up it began and almost overnight the framing was done. Thankfully he supplied me with the updated photos that I pestered and implored him to send on a regular basis. I didn’t want to miss one step.

Garden Outbuilding in Richmond VA

And it quickly took shape with the roof and siding in place.

Garden Outbuilding

Garden Outbuilding

Garden Outbuilding, Richmond VA

The only thing left was the door….

Garden outbuilding, Richmond VA

And the door is finished…

Garden Outbuilding, Richmond VA

And voila! The finished product… a beautiful colonial garden dependency to store the lawnmower and small garden tools. I’m sure that gives him more room in the larger garden building for other projects.

The finished Garden Outbuilding

The photo below is taken from the same vantage point as the photo at the top of the post, now with the brand new outbuilding in the foreground and the existing garden house in the distance.

Do they look like they’ve been there since the eighteenth-century? I’d say so. Is my brother gifted? I’d say so! Way to go, bro! Once again, it is another perfect project.

Two Garden Outbuildings, Richmond VA

Fall Color in New Hampshire

We’re back from the mountains! The leaves were not quite peak color in higher elevations but still breathtaking to us. On our return, we found very little color on the Seacoast of New Hampshire.

However, there was one understory tree that we enjoy from our window each fall that greeted our homecoming with bright yellow leaves. It’s the native witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) that grows along our woodline. Step just inside the woods and there’s a riot of witch hazel turning yellow as far as one can see.

The leaves first begin to yellow from the outside edge in.

They eventually turn a lemony yellow before slowly turning brown from the edge again. The leaves soon fall but the tree still presents us with another colorful performance.

With most deciduous trees bare, the witch hazel’s yellow tassels brighten the fall landscape. This is the only tree in North America to have flowers, ripe fruit, and next year’s leaf buds on its branches at the same time. While the blooms are open, last year’s seedpods reach maturity and loudly eject one or two tiny black seeds per pod 30-feet or more. If left undisturbed, the seeds will germinate in two years.On some branches, I can see year old pods open and empty… however every now and again, I spot a seed that didn’t eject last year. I wonder if these old seeds are still viable.

It’s time of year for Halloween witches and goblins so you might think the holiday has some connection with the witch hazel tree that blooms at the same time… but not. The root of the word witch comes from an old English word, wice, meaning pliant or bendable. As lore goes, this tree produces the branches and twigs for divining rods that can locate underground water sources.

Oh what an interesting and often overlooked native tree for the landscape! Do consider this native one or one of the many cultivars if you are looking for a fall blooming woody plant to enhance your property.

 

Rub-a-dub-dub

What fun it is for us to enjoy morning coffee while being entertained by this communal bathing scene. It’s a great time of year for birding! Breeding season is over and the once territorial birds call a truce as they drink and bathe together. Bluebirds, sparrows, warblers, finches, chickadees, cardinals, and more… all are splashing together in the bird bath this fall. Birds like clean water and they find our birdbath to their liking. Each morning the water is emptied and the birdbath refilled for our feathered friends.

Why do birds bathe? No one knows the exact answer. I was taught it helped to rid themselves of parasites, but experts say it could be that AND it could be that clean feathers help them fly better. Following the bath, birds will land nearby to perform a ritualistic preen spreading protective oils over the feathers.

Many of the birds we see will soon be joining others for the trip to warmer climes. We’re happy to send them off with full stomachs and clean feathers!

 

 

A few of my favorite things…

This is officially the first full day of fall but I’m not ready to put the garden to sleep for the winter.  No way! Daylight hours will shorten but there’s plenty of garden left to enjoy on the Seacoast of New Hampshire. In fact, fall may be my favorite season. Late blooming flowers, shrubs at peak, and happier grass with cooler temps… all good.

Limelight hydrangea blooms have become a focal point, turning from spring green and summer white to shades of pink and burgundy. Aralia cordata”Sun King” is finally opening its spikes of snow white flowers, purple spikes of liriope muscari blooms attract the late season bees. There is wonderful texture in spent flowers, too… the clethra, the echinacea, the baptisia seed pods, the butterfly weed pods… all display lovely seed heads and the viburnum, juniper, and holly are displaying colorful berries that are being gobbled up by migrating birds. It’s a wonderful time of the year.

I’ve been working as usual around our small garden. With rains and morning dew, it’s a perfect time to overseed the lawn, and it’s time to divide grasses, day lilies, iris, plus a great time to transplant shrubs.  I’ve designed a new sweep of dwarf Russian sage that should become a sea of purple next summer. Finally bulbs that are on order from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs go in the ground in the coming weeks. Yes, I’m in the garden every day!

We all have our favorite garden tools. In my years of gardening, I’ve used a multitude of tools… some expensive, some not. I have a garage full of rakes, hoes, pitchforks, loppers, etc. but I thought it would be fun to share the tools I use daily for gardening these days.

Below are the shoes I use the most… an old LLBean pair… that stay in the garage. I have tried the rubber clogs and the British wellies but fall back to this pair every time. They were once indoor shoes, a lovely Christmas gift from a son many years ago. I think of him every time I slip them on.

Garden Shows

These micro-tip pruning snip from Fiskars are used daily for precision snipping to deadhead or to cut fresh flowers. They were recommended by a horticulturist who spoke to our Virginia master gardeners. I was immediately sold and bought one of the few he brought with him. One side is serrated and the other side a blade. They came with a sheath that clips onto my pocket or waistband. I’m never without them in the garden.

Fiskars

When I opened the Christmas gift (below) from my daughter, my first thought was “weapon.” I wondered if she thought I needed to cut sugar cane, but, no. She insisted this tool would replace several that I cart around the garden. Darn if she wasn’t right!

I’d never heard of a Japanese Hori-Hori knife but that master gardener daughter in Kentucky certainly had. It’s multi-purpose gardening tool that I use all the time. It’s great for popping up a dandilion, but it’s also great for planting small plants in the spring and bulbs in the fall. I can slice open bags of mulch, it easily divides plants, and I can rough up roots on pot-bound plants. It has a blade on one edge and a serrated edge on the other.  This tool I recommend to all gardeners!

Hori Hori Knife

Talk about tough gloves… these Atlas gloves wear like a second skin and the thick coating of Nitrile makes them stronger than rubber! Nitrile is also used in super glue and that says a lot. Just throw them in the washing machine and they clean up beautifully. I own a dozen pairs, a gift from another gardening daughter when I accepted employment at a local nursery. She knew best!

ATLAS NITRILE Gloves

I love a good sturdy bucket. It is a versatile tool for moving mulch and soil, grass seed, carting tools, collecting weeds and spent blooms, gathering flowers for arranging, and turn it over and it’s a stepping stool for reaching the bird feeder or deadheading tall blooms from the arbor. I bought two of these tough 8-quart horse buckets at a tack store at least 10 years ago and they are constantly in use.

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Finally, the magic shovel… it belonged to my mother, a dedicated gardener and gifted designer and horticulturist. The handle is worn smooth and even a little thin in places. It has a pointed tip, quite sharp, and becomes my tool of choice for edging, transplanting, turning soil or compost. There’s a tiny scar on the blade where it wore too thin. We found a welder nearby to “heal” the blade and it continues to work its magic.

Mother's Shovel

We all have favorite garden tools. Are there ones you couldn’t live without?

The Shakers of Canterbury NH

In our quest to learn more about New England, we visited the Shaker Village in Canterbury New Hampshire… and what a trip it was! The remarkable Shakers evolved from the Quakers and split off into a new line in 1747.  Ann Lee of Manchester England, a member of the new line, sailed to America in 1714 to become the founder of the American Shakers. Mother Ann Lee was believed to be the embodiment of Christ’s Second Appearing. Nineteen Shaker villages were eventually created in the Northeast, Ohio, and in Kentucky.

Our first stop on our village walk was the Infirmary where we met our knowledgeable guide, Kevin, at the entrance. We learned from Kevin that the Shakers officially called themselves the ‘United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing’ but were named the ‘Shakers’ by the people of the ‘World’ (that’s us) because of their shaking and trembling at worship that eventually evolved into dancing.

Kevin was enjoying an apple from the nearby orchard while we chatted. He encouraged us to pick and eat an apple, too. No pesticides or herbicides… quite delicious… but maybe a worm or two.

The Shakers embraced change. The infirmary was modern and up to the date with equipment and knowledge and medicines. We saw the surgery complete with anesesthia and, of course, electricity. The New Hampshire Shakers owned one of the first cars in the state and had electricity in the village while the state capital building was still burning gas.  They had telephones in 1898 and owned a radio by 1921. How about that??

Kevin @ Canterbury Shaker Village

 

In 1792, the Canterbury Shaker Village was officially established on 3,000 acres of donated land and it prospered. With our map in hand, we toured and/or identified dwelling houses, the school, shops, the laundry, the stables, carpenter shop, spin shop, fire house, the infirmary and more.

This village flourished due to their devotion to Mother Ann Lee’s doctrine, “hands to work and hearts to God.” In their self-reliant communal living, they were successful in enterprise after enterprise, becoming prosperous by their ingenious inventions and quality manufacture of furniture, boxes, baskets, clothes, sweaters (for Harvard!). They were excellent gardeners who sold herbs, seeds, etc., livestock breeding, mills, medicines, and they were ambitious marketers of all they produced.

They sold locally and they traveled widely to market their quality goods, routinely visiting grand resort hotels. A famous Dorothy Cloak, designed and made by Sister Dorothy at Canterbury, was worn by Grover Cleveland’s wife to his inauguration. Among Shaker inventions were the clothespin, the circular saw, the flat edged broom, and from Canterbury, a steam-powered washing machine, models of which they sold to hotels.

The Shaker Washing Machine

 

 

They built over 100 buildings here, each for a distinct function. Today two survive from the 18th century and you will find 25 buildings that are original. Only 4 are reconstructions.

Canterbury Shaker Village

With their self-reliance they attracted many. They strived for simplicity and quality in all they undertook to create a ‘heaven on earth.’  Through their communial life, they honored pacifism, gender equality, confession of sin, and… celibacy!  Men and women became brothers and sisters as Shakers. To grow, they embraced new converts and took in children, mostly orphans, who were raised, educated, then asked to choose whether to sign a covenant or leave at age 21. If they decided to leave, they were supplied with what they needed for their chosen craft, we were told.

At their height in 1840, there were 6,000 believers in America, but life began to change after the Civil War. Jobs became more plentiful in the post-war economy and men began to leave. Slowly the Utopian life of Shakers faded… but in Maine, there are still two surviving active Shakers practicing and inviting in visitors.

 

A view of a few interiors that you can click to enlarge:

 

We loved the handblown panes or ‘lights’ in windows!

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How about this machine? The Canterbury sisters and brothers must have been thrilled to own this KitchenAid mixer (below), followed by an electric refrigerator, and a Maytag washer. Only the best!

Kitchen Aid Mixer

My own sister will be happy to know that I bought a Shaker flat broom for my kitchen. When we chatted on the phone a while ago, our conversation turned to cleaning house… as sister conversations might. She sweeps her kitchen nightly and was surprised that I vacuum our kitchen, only using a broom on the garage floor. Hey sis…. I’m now a happy broom convert. I love my Shaker broom as does my kitchen floor.

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Check out these hand hewn beams in the North Shop! Click for a closer look.

Lunch took us to the Horse Barn for tasty soup and sandwiches. Beautiful Shaker furniture indoors but on this day everyone ate outdoors beneath blue skies…..

….where gardens a’buzzin with bees provided a backdrop.

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The Shakers wrote thousands of songs. Can you hum the tune to this familiar Shaker Dancing song? If so, you might be humming it all day!

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free

‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained,

To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,

To turn, turn will be our delight,

Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.

 

 

Natural Disasters

It’s a beautiful day in the Northeast. The temperatures mild, the sun shining, my tomatoes ripening, birds singing, garden healthy, and loving all that nature provides at this moment in New Hampshire.

Limelight Hydrangea in September

Around the globe, nature has brought a different story.  In the midst of the 9-11 remembrance, it’s back to back devastating hurricanes in America, forest fires in the western U.S. and Canada, a hurricane in Mexico, disastrous floods in South Asia, and a catastrophic earthquake in Mexico… all remind us that we are not in charge. We are vulnerable to the forces of nature on an often volatile planet.

Now that we have ascertained that all family members are safe and accounted for after Irma roared through Florida, we await news of property damage. My niece in Islamorada, cousins in Jacksonville, relatives in Tampa, daughter in Naples, a niece on the coast of Georgia, and a son on Hilton Head, gave us reason to drop almost everything and keep in constant touch with one another the last few days. With no power or cell phone coverage in some areas, we can only wait for feedback.

And, here’s another unsettling thought. Although hurricane forecasting is not a perfect science, category 1 Jose is puttering around in the Atlantic and may impact land on the east coast sometime next week. Sigh.

NOAA Hurricane Jose possible path

The earth provides us with the natural resources we need to survive on this planet, but not always. For those of us who are comfortable and safe, we reach out to do what we can for those who are impacted.

We are reading about both the bravery and the heartbreak of thousands around the world right now. My heart goes out for humans, for animals, for the earth, but knowing full well that we are simply guests on this planet and can be evicted at any time.