Sharing Horticulture

Leftover flowers and greens from a horticulture display at our garden club gave me a lovely array of fall flora at home. I wouldn’t call it a brainstorm but an idea borrowed from my Virginia garden club prompted a suggestion to my Exeter garden club…. a sharing of horticulture from members’ gardens at meetings when our New England weather permits.

Hort Display Oct. 2019

The request for horticulture was emailed to members and my fingers were crossed that we’d have a few members who would share cuttings. That was my hope before we awoke yesterday to total darkness…. the nor’easter bomb cyclone that passed through at 3 a.m. took our power and left us groping for flashlights in morning darkness. Reaching out to our president, who was also in darkness, I found that the meeting site has a generator. The meeting was on whether we had power or not.

It was light at 8:30 am when mister gardener manually opened our heavy wood garage door allowing me to exit with my hort samples. A small table set aside for hort was already full when I arrived and we quickly replaced it with a 6′ table. The hort kept coming until the larger table overflowed with garden goodies. Anemones, chrysanthemums, Heptacodium, reblooming iris in bloom, an Oxydendrum twig, deutzia, dianthus, Montauk daisies, sedum, zinnias, Canadian ginger, and much more. Some IDs said, “What am I?” and we could answer one or two of them.

It was a good response from members and a teaching experience as well. Good to know what is still looking good in our New England gardens in October.

EAGC Oct. 2019

And as I was leaving the meeting, a text from mister gardener alerted me that our power had just been restored. Time to make a pot of coffee at noon!

Man vs Beetle

On the Bug vs. People nuisance chart, things are looking pretty good here. Black flies departed on Father’s Day as usual, mosquitoes arrived shortly thereafter, and annoying mayflies followed mosquitoes.  Whew!

All those flying biting insect numbers are dwindling and being replaced by garden pests, but not many yet….except for a few of the most gargantuan slugs I’ve EVER seen! They look more like small snakes after our wet spring!

It’s the scarab beetles that I am keeping an eye on in the garden. I’ve only seen only one Japanese beetle that are emerging from the soil right about now, but I’ve seen a dozen or more of their cousins in the garden, the oriental beetles (Exomala orientalis) feeding mainly on the daisies and lady’s mantle. They are not voracious feeders but they do enough damage elsewhere.

Oriental Beetle 2019

It’s the lawn that takes a hit from these beetles. Just like the Japanese beetle, the larval stage feeds on the root zone of the turf grasses.  I’ve yet to know whether I have a real problem, but since I am committed to Integrated pest management (IPM)  instead of chemical management in combating pests, I’ve looked for alternatives that don’t affect good insects…. butterflies, bees, etc.

img_4198.jpg

Treatment is tricky because it varies depending on the species of grub. According to the Conn.gov website, bacterial spores can kill this variety of grub but our NE soil can be too cold to sustain the bacteria. Nematodes, microscopic worms that live in the soil, can infect and kill grubs but it’s tricky to keep them alive and tricky to apply the worms under the right conditions. Milky Spore targets only the Japanese beetle species of grub, according to UConn… in the state where the first siting of the beetle occurred in 1920.

The best option for treatment just may be sex pheromone traps that capture only the Oriental beetle male, unlike the Japanese beetle traps that unfortunately attract both male and female Japanese beetles. I found one lone online company selling the pheromone cards I would need…. traps sold separately.  I may not have a real problem but at least I have a place to order if it actually comes down to man vs. beetle.

Lazy Days of Summer

It’s mid-July. We are in the midst of dog days. After a wet spring, rainfall has been reduced to an occasional shower or two here and there. Days can be muggy and they can be hot. But not hot enough for A/C in New England….. yet!  Fans really do the trick. It made me smile when I opened a congratulation letter from the electric company for electricity efficiency. Yippee!

Pinks and purples and blues of spring have faded in the area set aside for cut flowers.  Now it is moving toward hotter oranges with coreopsis, asclepia, echinacea, and gaillardia. Tall ‘Hyperion’ daylilies will soon open to a lovely buttercup yellow and float over these sizzling reds and oranges.

cutting garden

We still have pinks and blues elsewhere. Our johnny-jump-ups will stay with us for the summer with a nice splash of color in the herb garden.

johnny jump-ups 2019

Flowers and shrubs take care of themselves now. There are chores among the ornamentals, maybe a few small weeds to pull daily but not enough to label as real work. Now we can sit back, relax on the deck, enjoy the garden, and watch our birds,

hummer 2019

Can you find her?

or take some New England road trips like this recent one to Vermont,

Vermont July 2019

and of course, we’re regulars at our incredible farmers’ market….

Farmers' Market 2019

… as we buy from farmers while we wait for the healthy fruit to ripen on our two tomato plants. Our Celebrity tomatoes are looking great and we can see a faint glow of pink in the right light. Wishful thinking?

tomatoes anyone 2019

Late July and early August is when the Little Lime hydrangea will burst on the scene. We have an early tease of what is to come at the tip of every branch. When in full bloom, those 5 shrubs will be the focus of our small landscape and well worth the wait.

Little Lime hydrangea 2019

We are savoring each of these Lazy Days of Summer. The season is way too short and before we know it, we’ll be looking out at the white landscape of winter. Give me hot and humid over snow and ice any day!

Happy summer to you!

Birds!

Most folks love to see a little wildlife in the garden. Some might adopt and feed a visiting squirrel, a friendly chipmunk, or smile at a fuzzy cottontail eating clover or they might design their garden mainly for butterflies and other pollinators. I wish no harm on 4-legged furry animals but do not encourage visits by squirrels, chipmunks, or rabbits. Butterflies and most insects are very welcome.

This handsome black squirrel is a regular visitor but I rather he visit someone else.

Black Squirrel 2019

Handsome black squirrel looking for bird food

I want it to go elsewhere because it interferes with my favorite garden visitors…. the birds.

I put several bird feeders out during the day and remove them at night due to visits from bears in this area. Suet, seeds, grape jelly, and nectar hang here and there during daylight hours.

Did you know that $quirrels love all of those food$? One $quirrel can knock every feeder to the ground and poli$h everything off while you are making a quick da$h to the grocery $tore. 💰

In a light rain yesterday morning I took my first cuppa joe on the deck beneath the umbrella to watch the antics of our early feathered friends.

As wet as this small hummer was, he remained on guard, throat blazing red, watching for intruders at three hummingbird feeders. We could supply a nice flock with the mega amount that we make for them but still… he wants it all for himself and some females. But the neighborhood boys have developed a system to feed.  An intruder diverts the boss’s  attention away from the feeder while another male zooms in for a quick feed. They all get a share this way but it’s exhausting to watch.

Ruby Throated Hummer 2019

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird in the rain

I’m fighting a losing battle with Mother Nature by inviting only one species to visit but I come by birding naturally. First my mother was an avid birder and now all my sibs and their spouses are of one mind. We send photo back and forth, we announce rare or unusual bird visits to one another, we solicit ID verification, and we group marvel at bird antics. The interest in my family has trickled down to offspring, some of whom can ID better than I can. Even young grandchildren have a growing interest. Our 5-yr. old granddaughter spent the night with us recently and excitedly pointed out the different birds and action in the garden. And, of course… I encouraged her.

American goldfinch 2019

American Goldfinch

Oh, the catbirds are probably my favorite bird to watch in a yard setting. They are handsome, friendly, funny, and sing the most varied songs in the garden…. and, boy, do they love grape jelly! Even when the heavens opened and rain became heavy yesterday, the cats were still taking turns at the jelly bar.

Gray Catbird 2019

Gray Catbird and grape jelly

The jelly is watched over by different catbird families from separate territories who ordinarily quarrel among themselves, but when the jelly supply is being threatened by orioles, squirrels, chickadees, or by hungry woodpeckers (below), they band together and squawk at the intruder. It never works. Their bark is worse than their bite and everyone sips at the bar.

Three catbirds and a hairy woodpecker 2019

Three catbirds squawk at a woodpecker approaching the jelly bar

Before I escaped the rain and ran for cover indoors, the last visitor I saw at the jelly was one of the neighborhood orioles. We have two nesting pairs nearby who are regulars here. Their young must be becoming more independent by now. Fingers crossed that they bring their offspring to sample the jelly before they migrate south in the next few weeks.

Baltimore Oriole 2019

Baltimore Oriole at the jelly bar

That was just a sampling of the birds that entertained me in the rain yesterday. Once an avid birder, I still consider myself a birder although no more all-day Audubon bird counts or birding field trips these days. However, you’ll never find me far from my good birding binoculars and my well-worn Sibley Field Guide to Birds.

Mad about tomatoes

We think the amount of spring rain we’ve had in New Hampshire has helped, not hurt our tomato plants. It may be the rain but maybe something to do with the variety we chose or it may have something to do with the new location where they receive at least 6 hours of direct sun. I planted the tomatoes right in the middle of a new hot and dry rock garden and the two plants seem to be thriving.

'Celebrity' tomato plant 2019

The variety that mister gardener selected this year is the hybrid Celebrity and we are super excited about the performance so far. We have counted over 20 tomatoes on the biggest plant. Of course, the tomatoes are still green and the majority of the fruit is quite small.

tomato 2019

Celebrity is a good medium-size slicing tomato, great for salads, sandwiches, cooking, caning, or just a salsa snack. It’s categorized as a determinate tomato plant but the nursery said it can grow larger as an semi-indeterminate. We will find out in a few weeks if the advice we were given is accurate.

Celebrity Tomato 2019

Meanwhile we’re counting more tomatoes each day… a very good thing.

Summer has arrived

It’s the first day of summer, the longest day of the year, and I have weather on my mind. My heart goes out to those, including some of my offspring, in areas of the country that have been hit so hard by storms over the last few months and are about to be hit again by another deluge of rain, flooding, hail and/or tornadoes…. and high temperatures.

Lady's Mantle - June 2019

In New Hampshire, we’ve been fortunate. We’ve had plenty of rain accompanying our cool temperatures. Gardens around here can handle what nature has doled out so far.

June 2019

In fact, for ornamental gardeners it’s been amazing to have steady rainfall every couple of days this spring. My favorite garden color green dominates the landscape, from the lime green of Japanese Spikenard ‘Sun King’ and lady’s mantle to the blue green of hostas.  The lushness of the landscape has been fed by our life-giving spring rains and plants from perennials to shrubs to grasses and vines have exploded in growth.

June 2019

Temperatures in New England have been cool but I fear that as soon as the heat of summer hits us, the door will be open for an assortment of bacteria and fungi that thrive in heat and the moisture we’re having. And, for sure, there will be an increase of unwelcome insects… like slugs and worse. Already arriving this week are newly hatched LARGE mosquitoes that chase us indoors at dusk. Sigh….

Aralia 'Sun King' - June 2019

Rain is a welcome treat right now, but too much rain during the summer months can cause plenty of problems for us in the garden. We will simply enjoy it while we can.

Hungry, hungry caterpillar…

At our May garden club meeting, I came face to face with the tiny caterpillars I had signed up to adopt. I’ve adopted lots of caterpillars in my gardens but never had the responsibility of raising one indoors. I was a bit apprehensive…

Home with me they went. I read the directions at least once a day to make sure I was a responsible mama to these Painted Lady caterpillars (Vanessa cardui). I watched them eat, grow, and move around the tiny container. I wondered how they could breathe in their tightly sealed tomb-like capsule. I wondered exactly what that was they were eating. And why were they eating the paper at the top of the container?

Whenever they crawled on the lid, I thought, “This is it. This is it.” but no.  It took a long time before they decided to begin their life cycle and attach to the lid. They simply ate and grew….

Then finally metamorphosis began… but alas, the timing was tricky. It was the same time as a granddaughter’s graduation from  Bennington College in VT, and at the same time two young granddaughters arrived from Ohio for a visit. Then within days, we were all packed and heading to Maine to vacation with18 family members.

🐛  🐛  🐛  🐛

There was nothing else we could do but pack up our chrysalis and take them with us, risking disturbing and botching the whole transformation.While on vacation they remained immobile sitting high on a mantle out of reach of youngsters. Days went on as we swam, hiked, sat by the fire pit, played tennis, shopped, dined, etc.  Each day I checked the cocoons… and nothing. I truly thought the little guys must be dead.

🦋  🦋  🦋  🦋

But NOT… one granddaughter said quietly on the day before our departure that we had butterflies! The end of the journey and our lovely Painted Ladies seemed pleased when we released them into a lush Maine garden nearby our vacation home. I read that Painted Lady butterflies prefer to feed on purple flowers and this garden had plenty.

Mission accomplished!
Whew!

 

 

 

 

Life beneath the snow

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

junco

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

Bunny Feb. 2019

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

Snow Feb. 2019

 Today the bunny is going… going…. gone

snow Feb 2019

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

subnivean zone, 2019

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

Maine 2018

Maine.  What’s the appeal? Maine’s rocky shorelines dotted with sandy beaches draw thousands of vacationers to Maine. And then there are folks like us who are drawn to the dozens of fresh water lakes where rustic camps dot the shoreline. Bliss for me is watching a thick fog roll in over a lake waterfront while sipping a morning cuppa joe.

Thompson Lake 2018

Coffee could be followed by a morning paddle through the fog, the only sounds being the paddle dipping in the water and the not-so-distant call of the loons. In this tranquil setting, this could be the most exciting thing you do all day!

Fog burning off Thompson Lake 2018

Our summer stay was on Thompson Lake, a seven-square mile lake surrounded by beautiful mountains. The lake is in the top 5% of the cleanest lakes in Maine. On our boating expeditions around the lake, we could see the bottom at about 30-feet deep before we headed out into areas where the depths were close to 120-feet deep.

Both in deep waters and around the parameter of islands were prime spots for the grands to try their hand at first-time real (or reel 😄) fishing. A lake fished for bass, salmon and trout, all our small fishermen caught were little sunfish that were all released to see another day.

fishing 2018

It was not uncommon to spot a bald eagle on one of the many islands or hear the echo of loons any time of the day. With a reported 20 pairs of loons breeding on the lake, we felt fortunate to have a pair with their tiny offspring foraging in a cove near our camp daily. What a sight to see!

loons 2018

Days were spent doing whatever we pleased. That could mean doing nothing at all or it could mean a venture inland. Unlike the summers of my youth on the salty shores of our grandparents’ rural cabin in Virginia where siblings and cousins played cards or Monopoly to pass an afternoon, this generation has modern options for afternoon lounging. All good….

Thompson Lake 2018

Evenings were spent enjoying all the traditional summer activities….sitting on the dock, listening to the loons, watching sunsets, and toasting marshmallows over an open fire.

Thompson Lake sunset 2018

I think I’m sold on these rural lake camps of New England where nature abounds. It seems each summer we are on a different lake but it’s all so similar…. quiet, tranquil where nature rules and we are allowed to enter and absorb it all for a short time.

Thompson Lake 2018

 

 

 

Goodbye Summer

It’s still August but I’m learning just how short the growing season is in New Hampshire. Summer is fast shutting down. I don’t mean seeing preseason football on the telly or all those fall decorations I’m seeing in stores. It’s the plants and nature that are showing signs of ending their cycle of growth.

Our tomato plants look ratty but there are a few pink ones still hanging on. I’ve been picking the green tomatoes that are certain not to ripen. I’ve sliced, breaded, and fried them up in bacon fat as my southern roots dictate. If you’ve never tried this treat, you’d be surprised at how tasty it is. mister gardener, born and raised in Ohio, once turned his nose up at this delicacy but now can’t say not to this treat. I think we’ll be eating more as the month comes to a close.

fried green tomatoes

On a drive through Vermont last week, we noticed a few species of trees are beginning to show color. In our garden, our Little Lime hydrangea shrubs are entering the color phase of late summer and fall. The booms emerge green in the spring, turn white through the summer, and finally present a lovely blush of pink in the fall. It’s happening now and it’s beautiful.

Little Lime Hydrangea

The crickets, grasshoppers, katydids, and cicadas are sounding the calls of fall. It can get noisy out there this time of year. Spider webs are festooned across much of what grows in the garden… and with egg sacs full of little “Charlottes” ready to greet the world in the spring.

katydid

We’re seeing the birds begin to gather for their annual migration. Several of our male hummingbirds have already left. It seems early for migration but the number of males around the feeders are fewer.  We are keeping the nectar fresh for the females, the young, and those few that may wander through during migration. The nuisance around the nectar these days are the yellow jackets….. not a bee, but a pesky wasp that is drawn to sweets as the summer wanes.

yellow jacket

The sun is rising a little later and setting earlier these days bringing some refreshing cool nights. We’ve dragged out the down cover for those nights that drop into the  50’s.  I wish this time of the year lasted longer. It’s amazing to think the first frost in this part of the state can occur in less than an month!

garden gloves 2018

I love all the seasons but maybe not equally. I must admit I’ll be sad to put away my garden gloves for another long New England winter

 

 

Summer Hummers

Summer 2018 in New England has been as glorious as I can remember since moving here. With so many areas suffering the most catastrophic conditions imaginable around the globe… from heat and drought, floods and tornadoes, volcanoes and fire…. we are swaddled in comfort with enough moisture, sunshine, and pleasant temperatures that I feel almost apologetic writing about it. We had a stretch of dry weather earlier in the summer and have suffered in the past with an abundance of weather extremes but, so far… summer 2018 has made the living enjoyable for gardeners and outdoor enthusiasts. With a warming climate, all summers won’t be like this so we will savor it while it lasts.

Plants that we trickled water on for survival during a 3-year drought are now bursting with growth. Every shrub and tree and flower and vegetable in this yard is fuller, taller, and more floriferous. With these favorable conditions, we’re seeing more insects and birds and in our yard… especially the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds that have proliferated wildly around here. We now have the adults and their offspring jetting through and around the garden performing acrobatic maneuvers to guard their territory.

With such movement, it’s impossible to count how many hummers are out there but there’s a way to guesstimate, according to bird banders. Count how many you see at one time and multiply that number by 6. That would mean there are about 20-25 hummingbirds coming and going and perhaps almost parting our hair when we get too close to the action. Other residents in the neighborhood feed hummingbirds so they are moving between our homes. It’s fun to see such activity and much better numbers than the total 8-10 we counted during drought years.

hummingbird July 2018

We have the feisty males with their bright red gorgets displaying territorial rule and their mating prowess but the feeders look to be dominated by females with the white throats. That can be deceiving. There are more females than males but the young males we are seeing have not developed their telltale ‘ruby’ throat. They look much like females until we are close enough to see faint lines or striations on their throats. Next year, they’ll display their bright gorgets.

Hummingbird July 2018

We’re keeping the feeders spotless, making fresh nectar (1 part sugar to 4 parts water) often and just watching as the hummers are bulking up preparing for their long migration at the end of the summer. Males will leave first, followed by females and young.  We will keep the feeders clean and half-full with fresh nectar after they leave because you never know when a migration straggler will venture by and need a couple of days of nourishment before continuing on.

Rain ☔️

It rained off and on today… a lovely light rain. I wouldn’t want rain every day on vacation but today it was a welcome change.

Clouds began to roll in yesterday and I took the opportunity for a beach walk before the heavens opened.

Hilton Head IslandIt was a solitary walk. I had a mile of beach all to myself… well, almost all to myself. There was plenty of bird life on the shore, in the air, and riding waves.

Gull riding waves on Hilton Head Island

But that wasn’t all. There was life from the sea caught on shore at low tide. The beach was littered with keyhole urchins or sand dollars, small animals that can’t live for very long out of water.

Sand dollar

These weren’t the white sand dollar skeletons you see sold in souvenir shops. These dark sand dollars could still be alive and they aren’t for collecting. There is hefty $500 fine for taking any live animal from South Carolina beaches.

sand dollar- Hilton Head Island

To make sure they were alive, I gently turned each over and touched the cilia, the fuzzy hairs beneath. Thankfully, the cilia moved on every one and all the animals I came across were returned to the water. It was a very good day.

sand dollar

At dawn today, a dense fog rolled in before the rain. I could see nothing on the water but could hear motors and foghorns as boat traffic navigated the sound. What a treat it was to sit outside with morning java and watch the condensation change the look of everything in the landscape. It doesn’t have to be sunny to be beautiful!

Fog on Hilton Head Island- 2018

Our funny little bunny

I have been reminded of all the negatives of these animals. I know they damage plants. I know they eat herbs. I know they girdle woody plants in the winter. I know they multiply…. uh…. like rabbits. But this rabbit, our cute little bunny, was special.

For the most part, we don’t interfere with the natural laws of nature and allow things to take its course around the property. I might chase off a pesky house sparrow trying to move into the bluebird house or save a butterfly caught in a web from becoming a spider’s supper. But then it all changed when we accepted a tiny bunny onto the property.

bunnykins

It was early spring when I noticed a teacup-sized bunny moving slowly toward a clover patch in the lawn. It looked barely old enough to be weaned and it was beyond cute. It seemed unconcerned that I was standing nearby and I wasn’t going to shoo it away.  Rabbits don’t seem to last long around here since we have hawks and owls, neighborhood dogs, cats, we hear coyotes at night along with foxes, and then there are those elusive fishercats and, of course, the humans.

Bunnykins.

Despite the odds, bunny survived the warm months and grew healthy and plump on our untreated clover. He proved extremely well-behaved and NEVER ate from the garden. All summer long, the little fella kept the lawn’s clover patch in check.

In time, he grew oblivious to having me work nearby and would stretch out in the shade and doze just feet from where I was pulling weeds or digging in the dirt. I moved wheelbarrows, rakes, pruners and hoses around the yard and he would occasionally sit up and watch but went right back to his meal or his nap time with lazy yawns. Once in a while, something would snap and he would go on a tear, darting around in circles, kicking up grass… almost as if he was letting me know this was his yard and was allowing me to visit.

Bunnykins3

I have dozens of cute and amusing iPhotos of the little bunny. Each night as we sat down to dinner, mister gardener and I would watch out of the window waiting for him because our dinner schedule was his dinner schedule. He would appear, hop to a clover patch beneath the window where we could watch him dine as we dined… just inches from the parsley and lettuce in the herb garden that he totally ignored. We never knew where his den was or where he went at night.

As cold weather set in, the bunny finally disappeared. We didn’t see him for a couple of months and we assumed he had become a meal for a hungry animal or had snuggled into his den for the winter. Just imagine my surprise when I went out to feed the birds last week and there he was. He had reappeared in a snowstorm in subzero weather. Not for the clover, of course, but to share what the birds are eating. Now that I’m putting out nuts, berries, seeds, and fruits for the birds, I’m guessing some of it has become sustenance for our bunny.

Let’s hope there is enough to sustain him during the harsh months and he does not resort to nibbling on the bark of my shrubs!  Be safe, little one! Hope to see you in the spring!

Bunnykins4

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°.

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.

 

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.

IMG_1115

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.

 

 

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.

 


Bee vs Man

It is a war zone in my Richmond VA brother’s garden.  Daily battles… bee vs bee, bee vs man, bee vs dog, bee vs anything that comes too close to its nectar zone… a chaste tree.

He summoned his siblings for help with a “HELP IDENTIFY BEE” email full of photos and description of the aggressive and hostile bee behavior. The mystery bee is a warrior bee, yellow and black like a yellow jacket but it’s not, able to maneuver like a hoverbee but it’s not, the size of a small bumble bee but it’s not.

With his other bees relentlessly being attacked, battered, bitten, and headbutted, he wanted answers fast. We had plenty of questions and plenty of guesses but it was he who solved the puzzle. It’s a European wool carder bee (Anthidium manicatum), a solitary bee that was accidentally introduced to New York state before 1963 and is named for the fuzz the female collects from plants to line its nests.

Here are some of his photos:

European wool carder bee

European wool carder bee

European wool carder bee

European Wool Carder Bee

European wool carder bee

Claiming a flowering plant as territory just for female carder bees to better his chance of mating, the male carder bee will attack and ward off any intruder it feels is a competitor. And, yikes, that can be humans!  Run or be headbutted!

wikimedia.org

wikimedia.org

It was tricky but my brother eventually trapped a male just to examine him more closely. His abdomen was fairly flat like a hoverfly but, whoa, this guy had had fierce toothed mandibles that he tried to use as a weapon against my brother. No, definitely not a hoverfly! He had no stinger, but had 5 sharp spines on his abdomen to better maim his opponents. These males mean business…..  😳

With an arsenal of weapons, he can kill other bees, like the honeybee, but from what I read online, this non-native and our non-native honeybee have co-existed for many thousands of years in Europe. Some die, yes, but many are killed by other means. And the good news is… the carder bees are pollinators, too!

These male garden bullies are the fiercest warriors in my brother’s peaceable kingdom but I believe he’s taken the view, ‘Live and Let Live.’  Cross my fingers that I don’t see them anytime soon in my New Hampshire garden. I’m worried because I built a cute little solitary bee house in the garden mama carder might like and I grow several plants in the fuzzy Stachy family that she would simply love.

If one shows up here, I could always suggest another occupation for this nasty tempered insect.  If he grows tired of garden warfare, I think he’d be a shoo-in on Game of Thrones with his wicked temper, his built-in arsonal and his acrobatic agility. In all probability, I think he could manhandle the Mountain a bit better than some of the other challengers!

Who’s your Mama?

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

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

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

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

cowbird 2

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

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

cowbird 3

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

Creatures great and small

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

American Lady Caterpillar

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

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

larva nest

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

larva

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

American Lady Butterfly

photo by Julia Wilkins via Wikimedia Commons

 

Now, where’d I put that soapbox??

Ah, I found it… and now I’m standing on it. It’s about pesticides. Our association sprayed (“EPA approved lower risk”) pesticides again yesterday. They made a wide berth around me, the crazy lady in the driveway holding the pitchfork.  Not really, but my hands were on my hips when I told them to skip my house. We were not sprayed.

We were told to take away birdseed, empty birdbaths, remove pet items and food, children’s toys, and personal belongings. “KEEP CHILDREN AND PETS AWAY FROM ALL TREATED AREAS UNTIL THEY DRY” So folks took their pets and children inside, shut windows and doors, and waited until the coast was clear. Pesticides like insecticides have become a widely accepted way to keep our homes and gardens relatively pest-free.

But how about those animals left outdoors?

toad

This week I’m hearing the wood thrush singing the most beautiful melody just inside the wooded area against which they sprayed. It’s an insect eater, and just 20′ inside the woodline is a free flowing stream and vernal pools full of life. A variety of songbirds were hovering in the freshly treated shrubbery looking for our suet and meal worms we removed. The robins were bobbing across the freshly treated lawns and shrubbery around each building searching for worms and insects. My bluebird parents were busy feeding insects to their young in a bird box 50′ from our back door. Bunnies, pesky or not, were most likely sprayed in their nests under shrubs around homes. A variety of bees and other pollinators were buzzing around the newly blooming rhododendron. Around our foundation, I see our toads and the tiny salamanders emerging from hibernation and moving through leaf litter searching for small insects… like beneficial spiders.

salamander 2017

Our sluggish salamander unearthed in a flowerpot from hibernation.

In the garden, growing healthy plants using organic methods is the best pest deterrent. There are a variety of natural pest control methods such as Integrated Pest Management using beneficial insects and remedies like traps and barriers.  I don’t want ticks or termites either and, of course, I realize my life cannot be chemical-free. But pesticides should be a last resort.

Pesticides are designed to kill. Ticks, termites, and carpenter bees are some of what they want to prevent. But, sadly, most insects are good insects. They become the non-target victims that then become a part of the contaminated food chain.

Fig.  5.21: An example of a food chain.

I am not an activist. I simply wish for another way.

Trees Live in Exeter

When an invitation was received by our garden club from RiverWoods Retirement Community in Exeter to join residents for a Arbor Day ribbon cutting ceremony for their new arboretum, several of our members jumped at the occasion. There’s no better way to share our love of trees than attending an Arbor Day event, especially the newest and largest arboretum in New Hampshire.

Despite cool temperatures and overcast skies, the event put us in a sunny and festive mood. We were greeted with champagne, a smorgasbord of treats, enthusiastic sharing at the microphone from employees and residents …. including poems for the occasion.

RiverWoods 2017

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Several residents of RiverWoods have been active for years in selecting, planting, nurturing, and labeling trees and woody shrubs on the property so becoming accredited through ArbNet, an Arboretum Accrediation Program developed by The Morton Arboretum, was a natural step. RiverWoods is a Level One arboretum, meaning they must have at least 25 species of documented trees. Already at 49 species, the volunteers and staff have hopes to achieve Level Two with at least 100 species of woody plants, along with other criteria.

From the ribbon cutting, we progressed to the walking tour in The Ridge campus where we were led by knowledgeable docent volunteers. Fran Peters introduced us to a number of trees, including the Franklin Tree (Franklinia alatamaha), named for Benjamin Franklin. It has a reputation for being difficult to grow but this specimen tree is very healthy. I must return to see the magnificent blooms it’s known for.

Fran Parker, RiverWoods 2017

Our group continued along led by docent Liz Bacon (l.), who came to RiverWoods from the Chicago area bringing knowledge from the Morton Arboretum. It is she who recognized the potential for a RiverWoods arboretum. Dr. Tom Adams (r.), who has worked with the trees and woody shrubs of RiverWoods for a dozen years, shared his enthusiasm and wisdom with fun tidbits about the trees and gardens including successes and loses over time. His knowledge stems from his volunteer association with the Arnold Arboretum in Boston.

Liz Bacon, Tom Adams

The one tree I fell for was the showy Golden Maple (Acer shirasawanum ‘aureum’), a small Japanese maple with lime colored leaves. In the fall, it turns an orange and red like a sugar maple. Yummy!

Golden Maple

Our garden club members thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon at RiverWoods and we are proud and happy to have the largest arboretum in the state right here in Exeter NH. Way to go, RiverWoods!

“Advice From A Tree” by Ilan Shamir

Stand tall and proud.
Go out on a limb.
Remember your roots.
Drink plenty of water.
Be content with your natural beauty.
Enjoy the view.

Read by Dan Burbank, RiverWoods Landscape Manager

The Red-eyed Invasion in KY

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

red-eyed cicadas

 

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

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

cicada shells in Louisville KY 2017

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

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

Louisville KY 2017

After drying, their body will darken:

Louisville KY 2017

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

Louisville Cicadas 2017

Louisville KY cicadas 2017

Louisville KY 2017

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

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

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