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.

 

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…

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…

 

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.

IMG_1541

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?

I ❤️ Bumblebees

I make a concerted effort to attract bees and other pollinators to our garden. This year, I spent a little more time trying to entice bumblebees to nest in the yard. I already supply a continuous food source during the growing season but I read up on what a bumblebee needs for a nest.I saved dried leaves and grass, and in a corner behind a fence where the soil is dry and shady, I piled the grass clippings and leaves early in the spring. And, lo and behold, one day I watched a large bumblebee arrive, zigging here and there, flying around and around the leaves and fence for a couple of days in the cool spring. At first I thought it may be a carpenter bee attracted to the wood fence but, no, this plump bumblebee was eventually crawling around the leaves. She was a bumblebee queen!

She liked the site I prepared and she proceeded to build a nest, lay eggs and, raise her young. Now, late summer, we have a population explosion of beautiful bumblebees that forage from dawn to dusk. We watch them fly in and out of their cavities in the ground. The nest has been enlarged and there are different entrances now… the main entrance now just a foot from the faucet and hose, but they are unconcerned by my presence. I never bother the nest and they just buzz around me and on to the garden.  In and out, in and out, all day long.

I work along side the bees in the garden. They fly around me, move when I’m tending to a plant, land on me, rest a bit, then fly to the next flower. No stings!

Bumblebees need a continuous food source and we supplied a gap-free nectar source in our bee friendly garden. Bumblebees do have a preference for certain flowers and we took notice and made sure we had enough of their pesticide-free favorites all growing season.

The bumblebees pollinated our blueberries, were all over the clover, and the only pollinators I saw on our tomatoes. They loved the early crabapple and rhododendren blossoms, the summersweet, the allium, hosta blooms, hydrangea, and all the herbs in bloom. Right now it’s all about the garlic chives and Russian sage, but any moment, the showy flowers of Aralia ‘Sun King’ will open and it’s goodbye chives!

It’s been a “buzzy” summer garden but the season is winding down and changes will be taking place. Only the newly mated females will survive the winter, usually beneath ground. The rest of the colony will die later this fall.  Next spring, I’ll try again to encourage another queen bumblebee. It’s been an adventure and it feels right to give a helping hand to a bee that is facing many threats… from habitat loss, pesticides, climate change and disease.

Time to harvest

Once again, it’s time to harvest our herbs and pop it all into the freezer for the winter months. We have chives, oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, and sage to make room for in the freezer.

This year, instead of freezing the parsley flat in a freezer bag, I followed different instructions.

Parsley

After checking carefully for caterpillars and washing the parsley well, I removed thicker stems and old leaves.

It went into small freezer bags, tucked down firmly, then rolled into a cigar shape. The bag was rolled around the parsley squeezing out as much air as possible, then sealed.

All it needed was an ID and a rubber band… and voila! Fresh parsley is ready for mister gardener’s gourmet dinners all winter. He can just slice off as much as he wants. Easy-Peasy!

freezer parsley

My Styrax japonicus up and died!

My beautiful Styrax japonicus tree bit the dust.  Two years ago, I splurged and bought this beautiful tall specimen tree. That first summer we had a mild drought but I kept the tree well-watered. Last summer, our drought was in the extreme category and a citywide ordinance banned outdoor watering. I dragged every container I had beneath the drip line of the roof and collected water like crazy… 100 gal. at a time during our rare rainstorms and I soaked the tree well…. I thought. But maybe it wasn’t enough.

This spring, with most of the tree dead and only a few branches leafed out, I decided to act. I cut it down.

styrax-japanicus

Styrax japonicus

I left the suckers at the base, fertilized and kept them watered, hoping that the roots would support them enough to grow a styrax shrub. So far so good. The shrub seems to be fast growing.

So I didn’t get the sweetly scented pendulous white bells this spring and I won’t have the beautiful fruit this year, but fingers crossed that I’ll have a lovely full styrax shrub next spring as a focal point in the garden.

The wood from the tree did not go to waste. I saved the trunk and all the twigs and branches, cut them into short lengths, and built a small solitary bee house.  No solitary bees yet, but I saw two ladybugs wandering in and out.  All good….

solitary bee house

 

 

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.

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!

The pansies are here!

The pansies are here! The pansies are here! I love a blue pansy and a large bloom on a pansy and I was lucky enough to snatch up a flat at Churchill’s Garden yesterday. This is a popular shade of blue that always seems to be in short supply as the season marches on. Some years I miss out so I buy them when I see them no matter the weather. Later I’ll buy a solid large yellow bloom (a little easier to find) and plant a bed of blue and yellow pansies along a brick entry at the front door. I think the combination is a showstopper. The variety is Karma True Blue, a short, sturdy, and bushy plant that stays compact.

I’m thrilled to have them but it’s waaaaaay too early to plant them in New Hampshire.

This is the bed where they will eventually live, a border that won’t see the sun for a few weeks yet. For now they are living in a window in our garage. Pansies like cold weather but these just came from a greenhouse. It’s brisk in the garage, downright cold, but they will be well protected from the 12° temperatures we will experience tonight.

Hurry up spring!

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For the People, By the People…

Exeter is currently soliciting community feedback for the town that will lead to an update of the Master Plan, an important process that reflects our vision for the future of the town. The Master Plan Steering Committee offered the first public workshop last week and several from our neighborhood carpooled to the event. I was encouraged to see the turnout of about 200 for this first public event, step one of a process to involve as many citizens as possible.

Exeter Master Plan Workshop 1/25/2017

The number of younger families attending was reassuring as they are the real future of this town. We broke up into small discussion groups, voicing concerns, dreams, naming what we liked about our community, where we thought improvement was needed, critical areas to be addressed, and our wish list. Each group had a large town map on the table and could circle areas using different colored markers for different functions. When we were finished, a moderator wrote each of our answers on an easel board and one by one we approached the list and marked 1, 2, 3 depending on our wish for priority.

How stimulating and educational it was to be at a table with some of Exeter’s Gen X citizens. We shared common views and some different opinions… a healthy sharing with different generations to make sure all voices are heard. Feedback will be used to guide revisions to the current Master Plan and eventually land on the desks of the Board of Selectmen in the fall.

Having previously lived in other parts of the country, this was the first time I have experienced a community coming together to discuss a master plan in this way. Not a lecture, not a survey, not a forum, but an informal and neighborly sharing of ideas…. a very good thing.