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

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

Nature at its best

“I live in the garden; I just sleep in the house.” – Jim Long

Last year we had practically NO RAIN for months on end. Watering our ornamental garden and lawn was prohibited by ordinance. It was a sad situation watching plants suffer with stingy trickles of water saved from rain barrels, from showers, and from our basement de-humidifier. Nothing died but nothing thrived.

We’ve had a delightful change this season. Rain was plentiful in the spring. Plants have rebounded and have skyrocketed. It makes my heart sing to seen healthy plants bursting with blooms all summer. I could hardly tear myself from the garden except to come indoors for the night!

Daisy 'Becky'

Good news: the bees and butterflies are back!  We’ve had weeks of monarchs and a variety of other butterflies flitting around the garden under the summer sun. We plan ahead for wave after wave of blooms on shrubs mainly, followed by summer flowers to sustain the bees and butterflies. Right now the allium and garlic chives are the strongest insect magnets.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Allium.jpg

Male Monarch on allium

White Admiral on Allium

honeybee on garlic chives

We feed the butterflies and bees and we provide hosts for them as much as our small property is able.  Here’s a tiny first Instar black swallowtail caterpillar on parsley.

Black Swallowtail Caterpillar

And after days of feasting, it looks like this in its third instar:

Black..Swallowtail caterpillar

 

With all the turmoil, chaos, and disasters affecting our world, I find gardening and nature to be calming and healing. This small garden of ours gives so much in exchange for so little. It plays an important role giving me great appreciation for the good and beautiful things that still inhabit my life.

 


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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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

The Greening of New Hampshire

Finally…. we’re seeing progress. Two odd days with temperatures in the 80’s (one of them possibly 90°) took care of the inch of permafrost and snow in a border that never sees the sun. I could finally plant the pansies and my mesclun mix lettuce.

April 9, Snow in Border

2017

Mesclun Mix, 2017

I’ve raked, edged, added organic compost, top dressed with a bit of mulch, pruned shrubs, planted more grass seed, and mister gardener has disposed of  wheelbarrow loads of debris. Garden gloves have been worn, wash, worn, and washed and ready to be worn again.

garden gloves 2017

Jacob’s Ladder is going gangbusters, growing tiny leaflets that are rising like ladders and should bloom with tiny blue flowers in early spring.

Polemonium caeruleum, 2017

Tulips and daffodils aren’t up all the way but are all showing green… along with tiny leaves of nepeta ‘Walkers Low’ just breaking the surface in the background below, plants with purple-blue flowers that take a ‘licking but keep on ticking’ all summer long.

bulbs, 2017

Herb garden with thyme, savory, chives, oregano, parsley, sorrel, rosemary and lots of lettuce are basking in the sun and seem to grow an inch a day.

The indoor geraniums went into pots in the garden….maybe a tad early as we dipped to 32° last night. This morning they are a little limp but will make it. I’ll just have to be better about watching those overnight temperatures.

So far, besides the pansies, the only color other than green in the garden is yellow. The sweet crocus is in bloom telling us spring has officially arrived.

crocus

 

March Gardening

March is not always kind to gardeners. Overcast skies, some rain, some drizzle, some sleet, some snow seems to be the norm for March. We’ve had a day or two of bright sun and cool breezes this month that tempted me outdoors for a walk but the ground was snow-covered. Not today! Today was one of those rare days. We had a break with temperatures reaching 49° under deep blue skies. I was lured outdoors this afternoon armed with garden gloves, clippers and a wheelbarrow.

No coat, no hat, no boots because the sun had melted the snow entirely off the lawn. I hummed a happy tune while cleaning borders and preparing for the growing season. I brought my tiny sprouts of lettuce outdoors to bask in the sun. My flat of pansies rested in filtered shade all day.

But tonight those tiny plants will retreat to the garage window once again as we prepare for weekend weather. Snow.  Maybe 10 inches.

Texts from The National Weather Service and all my weather apps warn that another Winter Storm Watch with the potential for significant snow, sleet, or ice accumulations is in effect for the next two days. Cancellations are flashing across my phone today and those events that cannot be canceled will certainly be impacted…. like the Seacoast Home & Garden Show in nearby Durham NH. We are hoping to get there if the roads are passable. One event that cannot be postponed is a granddaughter’s 3rd birthday.  If we have to go by dog sled, we will not miss the party.

The snow will be a setback but at least I had today. I was able to divide some daylilies and daisies, trim grasses and clematis, and even edged a couple of borders. Herbs are showing signs of spring growth and buds are swelling on trees and shrubs. All good.

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Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Philly

I was quite happy to see the announcement on Instagram and Facebook that the Philadelphia Flower Show named a hybrid daffodil created by Brent and Becky’s Bulbs as the “Best Hybrid” in the show. And there was a lovely photo of the winning blooms “Starlight Sensation” next to the ribbons. I was thrilled to see this but not surprised. Brent and Becky’s Bulbs is top notch.

The company wrote that it takes 5-7 years form pollination to 1st bloom and another 5 – 7 years until the bulb hit the market. When they added that this hybrid is ‘one of, if not THE best hybrid we’ve created to date,’ I was interested. I have tulips but have not really added daffodils to the garden and these would be perfect for my white garden, especially since the blooms are as tall or taller than the leaves.

I knew these bulbs would soon be in short supply so I ordered right away. And, no, they said, I wasn’t the first to call.  The bulbs will be shipped in September and I’ll see the blooms in the spring of 2018…. well worth waiting for, I think.

Photo: Brent and Becky’s Bulbs

Congratulations to Brent and Becky’s Bulbs of Gloucester VA, a Good company owned by Good folks from a Good town…. and, guess what. It was my own little neck of the woods in Virginia and Brent and Becky were my neighbors. Check out the online catalog and check out “Starlight Sensation.”

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Tiny Indoor Garden…

I’m itching to get outside. Our temperatures are falling into the single digits at night and, alas, the soil in the garden is frozen solid on this 6th day of March in New Hampshire.  But I found a way to bring a little rainforest indoors.

I have this wonderful handblown bell jar from Yorktown VA that usually stays in the garden. I pried it from the frozen ground, cleaned it well, and in 5 minutes I put together a simple woodland terrarium using plants, dried moss that I already had, and a wee turtle. The plate is a favorite…handmade by my talented potter daughter.

Churchill’s Gardens is just a hop-skip down the road and there I found 4 tiny ferns for this woodland setting beneath glass. It does the heart good to see a little green when the landscape is a frozen tundra.

ferns 2017

woodland terranium 2017

Turtle

 

Which one did I buy?

Toward the end of the growing season, I picked up a witch hazel plant on a mark down sale at a local nursery. The plant was labeled Hamamelis virginiana, the common witch hazel that blooms in late fall in eastern North America. This understory native tree flowers about mid-fall and may continue through December when no other flowers are in the landscape.

Several of these small trees grow along the wood line across the street and I love seeing the splash of color beneath the conifers as both the leaves and the flower turn a golden yellow. It’s a pretty smart plant to bloom when there isn’t any competition for pollination by insects. Bees are buzzing late in the season around these trees… and the fragrance? It can be intoxicating on a fall day.

Witch Hazel, Hamamelis virginiana

My tiny witch hazel, planted late in the season, has just become visible after a big snow melt and it is beginning to bloom during the final days of February. I think the label was correct. It probably is a Hamamelis virginiana that is blooming late the first year. But could it be mislabeled?  There are some witch hazels that bloom in February, the Vernal witch hazel and hybrids…. one of which I grew in Virginia, Hamamelis vernalis, Diane’ with a bright red and beautiful bloom.

Secretly, I’m hoping the witch hazel is mislabeled and I have an early spring blooming Vernal witch hazel. Fingers crossed….but just maybe, someone who knows lots more than I do, can verify this plant’s identity.

witch hazel

NH Drought 2016 Update

Everyone’s favorite app in these parts seems to be weather related. When will we have rain?  Last night, all of my weather apps said, ‘maybe overnight.’  It didn’t happen.  ‘Early this morning.’  The clouds dripped for a few seconds. It’s mid-morning and a light rain is falling and may be giving us moisture for 110 minutes according to my AccuWeather app. It seems to be the most accurate so I’m putting my faith in it. I have a dozen containers under the drip line of our roof to catch enough rainwater to sustain 3 newly planted trees. They are stressed. I’m following a friend’s advice of two gallons of water twice a week per tree. Gray water from the showers and the basement dehumidifier give us barely that.

accuweather

There are stages of drought:

  • Level 0: “Abnormally Dry:” This is the lightest level, which means the area is either “going into drought: short-term dryness slowing planting, growth of crops or pastures” or getting out of drought, which means some lingering water deficits; and pastures or crops not fully recovered,” according to the National Drought Monitor.
  • Level 1: “Moderate Drought:” This level of drought involves “some damage to crops, pastures; streams, reservoirs, or wells low, some water shortages developing or imminent; and voluntary water-use restrictions requested,” according to the monitor.
  • Level 2: “Severe Drought:” This level means that “crop or pasture losses likely; water shortages common; and water restrictions imposed,” the monitor states.
  • Level 3: “Extreme Drought:” This is the second-highest level of drought, with “major crop/pasture losses” and “widespread water shortages or restrictions.”
  • Level 4 “Exceptional Drought:” This is the most intense level of drought. This level involves “exceptional and widespread crop/pasture losses; shortages of water in reservoirs, rivers, and wells creating water emergencies.”

My home state of Virginia is in a drought and I hear from friends and family about it. They are Level 0: “Abnormally Dry.” My adopted state of New Hampshire is worse where we live in the Seacoast area. We have progressed through the stages to Level 3: “Extreme Drought.” There are mandatory water restrictions, no watering outdoors at all from municipal water or private wells. If residents don’t comply, they run the risk of a penalty.

drought-map

The drought does not seem to be letting up anytime soon.  California’s problems are frightening with 100% of the state in drought trouble creating wildfires and water wars. Severe to exceptional drought extends over 43% of that state. Sorry to think this way, but a good soaking tropical storm may be our solution. Alas….

Royalty in my border…

The most striking plant that occupies space in my landscape is Aralia cordata ‘Sun King,’ the uncontested ruler of this small kingdom we call a garden. It called out to me for two summers at Rolling Green Nursery until I weakened and purchased a specimen last year. Right away, it declared itself king and after a winter die-down and reemergence in the spring, it became the uncontested emperor of all.

sun-king

It is a golden Japanese spikenard with wonderful red stems and vivid golden-chartreuse leaves that dazzle with their color all summer long. I have it in a mostly shady location with a bit of sun to bring out the gold in the leaves.

sun-king-bloom

The late summer racemes of white flowers are just beginning to burst upon the scene and insects are there for each that opens. Later in the fall, these blooms will be followed by lovely purple berries.

There are many members of this genus Aralia, including Aralia spinosa, that spiky devils walking stick (that I’ve unfortunately encounted on occasion… ouch!). Right now, I’m not attracted to any of the others because I only have eyes for this one garden amour. Zone 4-8

Planting for Nostalgia

It’s warming up in New Hampshire. We’ve been informed that this area is decidely USDA Hardiness Zone 6, not 5 as my blog title states.  But when asked by customers at the nursery, some employees say to plant for Zone 5b because we can have those atypical winters. That sounded like good advice to me and I followed it.

That was before I spotted two shrubs for sale locally that flourished in my Virginia, Zone 7b garden. I’d never seen them for sale around here. Surprisingly, one was tagged Zone 5 and the other Zone 6. Huh?? I was intrigued but hesitated for a moment because I knew they are semi-invasive or invasive in warmer climes.  Probably because of the drought and low sales, the manager approached me…the only customer… and said “For you, everything is half price today.” Hesitation over. I packed my cart.

Forever and ever these shrubs have screamed Virginia as they’re seen in practically every garden, old and new. Nandina domestica and Leatherleaf mahonia. A slice of Old Virginia in my cart. Nostalgia!

#1. Nandina domestica, imported to England from China and Japan in 1804, is a care-free showy shrub, disease-resistant, pest-resistant, that is widely used for flower arranging both for the attractive lacy leaves that vary from red to green to copper and the clumps of bright red berries that follow clusters of tiny white blooms. The berries are fabulous for holiday arrangements! A common name for nandina is Heavenly Bamboo as the multi-stem plant bears a striking resemblance to the canes of bamboo plants. We will discover whether this Zone 6 plant survives as an evergreen as it does in Virginia. I fear it will die back to the ground each winter and never grow as a 5′ tall ornamental as it was in Zone 7b. Fingers crossed…

Nandina from my Zone 6 garden: flower buds not open; new copper growth:

nandina-bloom nandina-new-red-growth#2. Leatherleaf Mahonia, labeled Zone 5, has been grown for generations in the US since brought from China in 1800’s. Members of leatherleaf are labeled noxious and planting is prohibited in Alabama, Georgia, SC, and Tennessee. A stiff leaved multi-stemmed spiny evergreen shrub resembling a holly but in Zone 7b, it redeems itself with fragrant lemony clusters of flowers appearing in late winter giving a multitude of bees some very early nectar. Those attractive flowers then develop into interesting bunches of blue-ish berries that hang like fat grapes…thus giving its other name, grape holly.

Mahonia photos from my Zone 7b garden: winter blooms; blue berry clusters:

honeybee on mahoniamahoniaI love both of these plants and will probably tent them for winter protection until I discover how they get through our winters.  Ahhhh…. How divine!

Warm Season Weeds

Last weekend on the hottest day of our summer so far, 8 neighbors came together to clean and weed a border for a resident who needed a little help. Temperatures hovered in the 90’s under a brutal sun, but with steady work the job wrapped up in just 2 hours.

Weeds and BrushThis neighbor’s lawn borders our property so I took a keen interest in what was growing so close to me.  Some of the weeds that we removed are ones that I really love to hate. We saw quite a variety, but here are a few of the worst offenders:

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana): The plants were small but plentiful. If not pulled out as a small plant, this pest can mature to 8′ and will have a massive taproot that is next to impossible to remove. Worse than that, the weed is poisonous. Songbirds are not affected by pharmacopeia in the berries, however the entire plant, berries, root, leaves, and stems are toxic to humans and animals. Get it out early!

Yellow Woodsorrel (Oxalis stricta): Deep taproots make this weed difficult to pull out intact. I find it easiest to hold the stem as close to the soil as possible and pull very slowly to remove the taproot. Otherwise the root snaps.  It’s a pretty little weed with a dainty yellow bloom, but oh so prolific. For every one I pull, it seems 10 take its place! Often a nursery plant will have the weed or weed seeds in the pot and it will be introduced into a landscape when planted. I am forever weeding them from pots at work.

WoodsorrelSpurge (Euphorbia maculata and Euphorbia supine): These weeds thickly covered the bare spots in the area and were spreading to the lawn. Both prostrate and spotted spurge will form a dense mat over an area. Like all spurges in this huge family, the plant leaks a milky latex than can irritate the skin….just like poinsettia, another spurge. These weeds survive the lawn mower since they grow very low to the ground.

Poison Ivy (Rhus radicans): Here is a plant that loves the suburbs. It thrives on the edge of woods, ditches as real estate development is poison ivy’s best friend. Although we found several plants, they were all small. We decided to spray them with herbicide rather than pull the vine from the ground.

poison ivyNutsedge: When young, these small plants can be mistaken for grass. One ID is the v-shaped crease down the center of the blade. I did not see a lot of this weed on cleanup day in New Hampshire, but, boy, was it a nuisance in my Virginia gardens! We broke the tubers off when we pulled the weeds thus assuring the rest of the tubers and rhizomes will reemerge.

nutsedgeRed Sorrel (Rumex acetosella): This is another weed that will spread in barren areas. The roots are shallow so it’s easy to pull. Sometimes you pull one weed and three more come with it as new plants can grow from one plant’s creeping horizontal roots.

IMG_7293Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea): My worst nightmare is slowly creeping toward our property! It is a dreaded weed in the mint family. You can wage war on this perennial but you will only win some battles. We pulled it up in great long strands but we knew that every rooted node will return as a new plant. Herbicides are not very effective. Landscapers either solarize it or are known to use glyphosate to kill everything, then reseed grass. It’s that tough…

Creeping CharlieThere were lots of other weeds like dandelion and plantain and crabgrass. I think we might have a couple more workdays here….

Free Compost! Come and Get it.

So whadaya think? In exchange for being a bonafide resident of Exeter New Hampshire, we are given free access to the town’s compost at the Transfer Station.  So after purchasing (Yike$!!) two plus cubic yards of compost from a garden center but needing much more with for our clay soil, we decided to check out the ‘dump’ where the compost is free and the reputation is good.

I have read scary stories about compost quality at dumps but after finding plastic forks, tin foil, and bits of other plastic in the purchased compost, could this be worse? If it is done right, the heat from the compost process should cook weed seeds and more. We are using it only in ornamental garden beds.

Check-in was fairly stringent with valid proof of residency and our official sticker on the windshield. After we were given the thumbs up, we backed our SUV close to the pile marked ‘COMPOST.’

Check-inAt first glance, it looked unappealing…. just like gray dirt.

CompostBut once our shovel hit the compost, it turned into black gold.  We filled the tarp lined trunk with almost a yard of compost.

compostIt did have tiny twigs and other organic matter in the compost, but for the most part it looked no different from the expensive compost available at nurseries and garden centers.

Two full days later, it’s been added to the borders and all beds have been topped with over two dozen bags of rich dark spruce mulch… undyed, no recycled pallets or scrap lumber for my gardens! I’ll keep you updated on results of our compost experiment… good or bad.

I LOVE fuzzy little bunnies but….

…. we’ve been lulled into a rabbit takeover. During our severe 2014-15 winter, we watched from the window as one sad rabbit fought to survive atop 3′ of snow. We were pulling for the bunny as it nibbled birdseed and whatever else it could find. At neighborhood gatherings, we exchanged sightings and worried about our bunny.  He/she survived. That was then and this is now.

Perhaps we were seeing more than one or it found another survivor. There had to be a male and female because we now are seeing the breeding potential of rabbits. Yards this summer look a little like the invasion of jackrabbits out west. At times, all I see from the window are baby bunnies… very tame babies, baby bunnies that graze from yard to yard, from garden to garden.

I’m playing catch-up learning about their diets. What do they like and what do they not like to eat? They hop around the yard nibbling grass and that’s perfectly fine but when I discover nibbles from my garden, I worry.

They don’t seem to totally eat anything…. except all my sunflowers and liriope. They sample from the smorgasbord. They seem bent on destroying plants, not eating them.  I don’t want to harm the rabbits but trying to learn how to protect my garden. Coyotes, foxes and hawks are natural predator that may balance out the number but right now I need solutions.

Suggestion so far: red pepper spray (seems cruel), a dog or cat (too disgusting to visualize), barber shop hair, motion detector sprinklers, scare tape or balloons, pinwheels, but the only solution I see for me are plant cages. Drat. Wonder if there is a sure-fire solution other than harming these cute little cottontails….

Rainy Days and Mondays…

Our long winter has delayed spring in New Hampshire. Every gardener I know feels confined and itching to get outdoors to garden. In our yard, we have picked up sticks, raked a bit, pruned dead and damaged branches from the weight of snow, and transplanted a few shade plants, hosta, bleeding hearts, where they were once happy beneath pines, now gone. Folks are flocking to nurseries because they need to see color, to dream, to plan, and to buy pansies, pansies, pansies!

It is the New England Mud Season. And it is cold. And it is rainy. And windy. And we have coastal flooding. The temperature today hovered in the mid to upper 40’s, with 50’s in the forecast for the next 10 days, dropping to the high 30’s at night. But, in spite of the delay, the plants and animals know spring is here. Red maples are bearing their bright red blooms, branches of the willows have turned golden, spring peepers and wood frogs are singing a chorus in every ditch, osprey and great blue heron have returned, and our winter pine siskins and juncos have left us.

drainI donned my raincoat this afternoon, walked through a very soggy yard to take a few photos of my borders…. all new last season with plans to be pretty full before this season’s end.

IMG_4998The liriope muscari above has been trimmed, awaiting new growth, and tulips are making progress.

sedum sedumLast summer’s planters of sedum successfully wintered over in the garage and are happy to finally see the light of day.

azalea rhodyIt will be awhile before they open, but the rhodys and azaleas blooms are swelling and will be bursting into color later in the spring.

crocusCrocus that we found blooming under two feet of snow, now must deal with another weather complication….

parsley chivesOh, how thrilled the kitchen herbs are to be moved from a hot and dry kitchen window to the great outdoors.

And finally… the violas. Along with crocus, the violas are the only plant giving us tiny blooms of color in the garden. They are just waiting for better weather to be joined by more blooming plants and then the mulch.

It may seem that I am grumbling about the rain but I know how fortunate we are to have water. Between the rain and snow melt and lakes, reservoirs, ponds, rivers in New Hampshire, there is no immediate threat of water depletion as in several western states where the epic drought has caused crisis conditions…. a crisis that belongs to all of us in the end.

Gardening in January

New Hampshire winters arrive early and by the time January rolls around we are yearning for green. So earlier this month we made an attempt to create a bay window herb garden in the kitchen even though we must deal with the low light winter sun and temperature fluctuations next to the window.

Selecting an attractive planter was my job. No plastic planter on my windowsill! I wanted metal and I found the ideal trough at Terrain, one of my favorite online stores. The dark zinc metal tough is 36″ long, 5″ wide, and 4″ high and fits perfectly in the bay window.

Habit & Form Troughmister gardener was in charge of buying and planting herbs. We now have chives, basil, oregano, and sage growing in the kitchen and being used in cooking. Because they aren’t getting the needed 6 hours of sunlight, we supplement with a grow light.  So far, so good.

We are now satisfying our need to dig and tend a garden and mister gardener is having fun with our herbs elsewhere in the kitchen.

carrot soup

Carrot soup garnished with fresh chives from the new kitchen garden

Quick Carrot Ginger Soup

2 T. butter
7 large carrots
1 large onion
1 t. minced ginger
2 c. vegetable stock
2 c. water
1 t. orange zest
salt and white pepper
chopped chives for garnish

Melt butter in a large pot. Add carrots, onions and salt and stir until softened but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add chicken stock, water, ginger and orange zest. Bring to a simmer, cover until the carrots thoroughly soften, about 20 minutes. Remove the orange zest and discard.  Add the soup to a blender in very small batches holding the lid down and purée until completely smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with chopped chives.

Adapted from Simply Recipes

On the move

Fall migration is in full swing in New England and I’ve seen some spectacular birding sights along this coastal region of New Hampshire. Many of these migratory birds I see when I’m out and about but if I was not a gardener, I’d miss some of my favorite little friends right in my own back yard.

Yesterday, while adding a new border and path beneath the crab apple tree, I heard a familiar jit-jit-jit-jit and knew I was being visited by the tiniest of birds, the kinglet. A Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula) was flitting from branch to branch totally ignoring the fact that I was working just feet away. This bold little friend foraged beneath the bark nonstop for insects making it almost impossible for this gardener to drop all and photograph it.

KingletI’ve always enjoyed watching the kinglet, both the Ruby-crowned and the tiny Golden-crowned as they migrate in the spring and fall. This one is on its way from breeding grounds of northern New England, Canada, and Alaska to southern United States and Mexico and beyond.

A bit blurry but this shows the distinct eye ring and bold wing bars that help identify a Ruby-crowned Kinglet from the Golden-crowned. The scarlet crown patch was not visible so either it was concealed by feathers, as it often is, or this 4″ bird is a female that does not have the patch of red.

kinglet 2kinglet3One last flit of the tail and it was off to warmer climes.

What’s all the frass about?

I have always planted an abundance of parsley and dill in the spring… one clump for us and 3 or 4 for the butterflies. Not many butterflies have been fluttering through this neighborhood so I was overjoyed three weeks ago when I saw some frass or caterpillar poo beneath a big pot of parsley, the parsley we used for the kitchen! Immediately, I took the pot off the deck and placed it in a secure place in the garden.

I knew exactly what caterpillar made this frass… the Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) that uses plants in the carrot family as hosts. I spotted several tiny caterpillars on the parsley and watched them develop through several instars for about two weeks.caterpillar poo

Dainty but constant eaters, they almost cleaned out the potted flat parsley and moved on to curly parsley and dill in the garden.

They were plump and beautiful and ready to pupate when we left for a week’s vacation.

We returned home yesterday and I checked the parsley. All the caterpillars were gone, hopefully tucked securely in their chrysalis quite a distance from the host plant. How exciting to play a part in raising these beautiful butterflies!

I keep checking for an egg, but unfortunately no monarch butterfly has visited their host plant in our garden, butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa). At Rolling Green Nursery where I work, I have seen a few monarchs feeding on butterfly weed we have for sale. Let’s hope the female below left an egg on the plant. Just seeing the insect is encouraging for our diminishing population of monarchs.

monarch butterfly at Rolling Green Nursery, NH

 

What the garden center didn’t tell me….

Being responsible caretakers of our environment, we removed a 12-ft. tall invasive burning bush (Euonymus alatus) from our foundation after buying our home a year ago. It is illegal to sell them in New Hampshire. The seeds are scattered by birds and the plant is out competing native plants in the wild.

The burning bush was replaced with a native arrowwood viburnum, one of which grew in my Virginia gardens. It produces lacy white flowers in the spring and berries for the birds in the fall. I thought I tackled the right questions about this beautiful shrub at the nursery but we already knew a bit about their versatility. The shrub is tolerant of sun or shade, all soil types, wet or dry areas, and is pest resistant. It sounded like a perfect addition to our shrub border…. that is, until this week.

Japanese BeetlesIt seems the shrub isn’t so resistant to insects. Japanese beetles love this species of viburnum!  Never in Virginia, but here each morning, it’s a mating and dining Japanese beetle playground. And there’s evidence of a more sinister insect at work, the Viburnum Leaf Beetle. This is a beetle that I have not encountered before. Now I’ve spotted a couple of the insects and witnessed their telltale pattern of holes in the leaves.

via Wikipedia

via Wikipedia

I’m watching and speculating what our next step should be. Sadly, this beautiful shrub may need to be removed in the fall and replaced with a more insect resistant variety of viburnum.  Sigh….

 

Bye Bye Violas

violasSummer temperatures have been slowing creeping upward and every now and then, it’s been absolutely hot. Yesterday, with 90° and high humidity, our poor spring violas fizzled in the afternoon heat. Those planted in the shade were fine but those leggy plants that melted in the blazing sun needed to be removed from the garden.

Cutting off the roots, I plunged the wilted blooms in a little cool water. Result: Totally revived and days of new life on the breakfast table. How divine!