First Snow 2017

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

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

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

Waiting their turn

Juncos are abundant this year

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

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

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

 

The Shakers of Canterbury NH

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

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

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

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

Kevin @ Canterbury Shaker Village

 

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

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

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

The Shaker Washing Machine

 

 

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

Canterbury Shaker Village

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

Kitchen Aid Mixer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained,

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

To turn, turn will be our delight,

Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.

 

 

I’m a Faux Yankee

Most around here know I’m not a Genuine Yankee. I was born just south of the Mason-Dixon line and moved here just a few short years ago… but I’m trying hard to adapt. I’ve been learning the ways of the great Northeast and those who were born of this land. Yoga For Yankees is the latest class in which I’m participating. I’m staying in shape AND learning more about local activities, pastimes, and toils.

I’m especially adept at Roof Reiki for the Advanced. Matter of fact, with several inches of overnight snow on the roof, I’m grabbing my ladder and going out to practice it now. No more ice dams for me.

Yoga For Yankees: Folks back home won’t understand much but check it out


Have a nice April Fool’s Day wherever you live…

Spring at last!

Unless you have flowers growing in a greenhouse or visit a florist shop, this is as close you’ll get to seeing spring flowers in snow covered New Hampshire. Our local grocery tempted shoppers on this first day of spring. I watched customers for a few moments. No one passed by without stopping to admire or touch or smell. Yes, we are ready…

Shaws Grocery Store

Prepping for the Holiday

Yes, our flock is back. They wander through our backyards and strut their stuff down the middle of our quiet street. Several neighborhood crabapple trees are an attraction, a bit of spilled birdseed another. The acorn crop was overly abundant this autumn and will keep the birds well-fed until spring.

Tom Turkey

Of course, seeing these big birds reminds us of the holiday on the horizon…. Thanksgiving! Foods and recipe ingredients for our meal have been ordered or bought and the baking will begin this weekend. We will combine family food traditions to make the holiday special for everyone.

For me, that tradition is a special ham. My favorite salty Virginia ham, on the table with the turkey, is mandatory, and it must be an Edwards Virginia Smokehouse country ham. We slice it paper-thin and serve it stacked on buttered southern buttermilk biscuits… and eaten warm. Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same without this Thanksgiving tradition.

edwardsham-661aedba

Added to desert menu every year are chess pies from a ‘secret’ recipe that has been passed down for many generations in my father’s Appomattox VA family, along with other choices: apple crumb pie, pumpkin custard pie, chocolate balls, buttered caramel and one birthday cake. Lots of sweets! We always eat early enough in the day to guarantee an appetite for delicious leftovers by the time darkness falls. I think a lot of folks do that…

We are looking forward to the week. One granddaughter will arrive from Bennington College by car, however we’ll be racking up the auto miles for airport transportation: once on Sunday, twice on Wednesday, once on Friday, and once the following Sunday. They’re worth every mile and we have much to be thankful for!

*Edwards Virginia Smokehouse photo

The American Beech

Last but not least in stunning fall yellows is the beech tree, perhaps my favorite tree of all. The maples have shed their leaves. Oaks are hanging on to drab leaves. Soon the forest will be owned by hemlock and white pine trees but now it’s all about the beech tree. This forest was aglow with shades of yellow as we trekked about 3 miles on beautiful trails.

White pines in the picture below grow through and tower above the slow-growing beech tree’s lemony fall canopy.

white-pine-and-beech

The leaves of beech trees are alternate with toothed margins and straight parallel veins on short stalks. The trunk in the background below is a white pine.

Beech leaves against white pine bark

The beech trunk is said to resemble an elephant’s leg with the smooth, thin, wrinkled light gray bark. What do you think?

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The leaves that fall and cover the ground are springy and odorless, thus the perfect filler for mattresses for early Americans and those in other countries.

“The leaves of the chestnut tree make very wholesome mattresses to lie on… [Beech leaves]… being gathered about their fall, and somewhat before they are much frost-bitten, afford the best and easiest mattresses in the world to lay under our quilts instead of straw; because, besides their tenderness and loose lying together, they continue sweet for seven or eight years long; before which time straw becomes musty and hard; they are thus used by divers persons of quality in Dauphine; and in Switzerland I have sometimes lain on them to my great refreshment…”
John Evelyn, Sylva: A discourse of forest-trees, 1670.

Beech Leaves

To see the massive old beech tree we left behind in Virginia, click HERE. Beneath the tree we recovered a wine bottle from the late 1700’s or early 1800’s and very large oyster shells discarded in a pit. It was fun to think the tree sheltered those folks at an early American oyster roast.

“I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow
to keep an appointment with a beech-tree…..”
– Henry David Thoreau, 1817 – 1862

A Garden with Bling!

I love ornaments in a garden. Art enhances and enlivens, adds whimsy and visual interest. I developed garden islands and paths in Virginia where one might turn a corner and discover a surprise… water bubbling in a container, or statuary, or a small frog hiding in the leaves. It’s a fun way to personalize a garden.  On our last move, we sadly surrendered most of our garden art, saving just a few favorite pieces for the limited space we have now.

So it was with delight that with a Rolling Green Nursery outing for all employees last August, I was able to visit Bedrock Gardens in Lee NH where nature and art are spread over a 20-acre themed landscape. We meandered on paths through a variety of gardens with wonderful names like Dark Woods, Spiral Garden, Shrubaria, Conetown, Wiggle Waggle, The Fruit Loop, all enticing  you along the pathway to the next garden space.

One-of-a-kind art and sculpture claim a larger than life presence in each garden, well-placed, whimsical, abstract and sure to bring a smile. Horticulture is breathtaking with unusual trees, shrubs, grasses, all placed perfectly in well-designed gardens. Amazingly, this garden is the magnum opus of two talented owners, Jill Nooney, the artist (and much more) who creates and designs, and her husband, Bob Munger, the retired doctor who makes it all happen for her. They have enhanced the natural beauty of their gardens reflecting the passion and personality of each of them.

Visiting the horticulture and garden design is an absolute destination by itself but add in the art and it’s like stepping into another world for those interested in everything: landscape, sculpture, and art. Read more at their website, Bedrock Gardens.

Jill Nooney’s barn full of farm implements and more just waiting for the next project.

We were fortunate to be guided through the gardens by our co-worker, Hobson, who pointed out unique horticulture and the various art sculptures. Hobson is a faithful volunteer at Bedrock Gardens.

Hobson Jandebeur, co-worker and Bedrock volunteer

The gardens have a playful quality about them and it set the tone for our merry band of garden and horticulture experts. Sounds of laughter were heard everywhere and smiles were seen on every face during the day as we strolled. If the intent of the owners was to educate, entertain, and amuse in an atmosphere of tranquility, they succeeded. The garden certainly worked its magic on us.

Click photos to enlarge:

The gardens have recently been taken over by the Friends of Bedrock Gardens, a group that is transforming private gardens into public gardens and a cultural center.

The Midas Touch

The peak of color has passed in our neck of the woods and life is inching closer to the dreaded leaf raking season.  For the first time since moving to New Hampshire, we did not follow the thousands of foliage watchers in the jammed motorcade to the mountains. Instead we traveled the seacoast area of New Hampshire and found the colors were magic right here. The only drawback locally is dealing with telephone poles, wires, billboards, fences, and especially a plethora of POLITICAL SIGNS that obstructed or took away from the full views.

Although our first hard rain has done a job on the leaves, it’s still common to spot a tree like this one that we passed by on our walk this week.

fall colors

The fading maples are giving way to later and less dramatic oak tree leaves that have already shed their acorns en masse like marbles across the landscape… causing one to be very cautious while treading on sidewalks, parking lots, etc. over which they spread their canopy.

The view from our living room faces a woodland where one of my favorite native small trees grows along the edge. It’s the native Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) that turns an attractive apricot-yellow before dropping its leaves to reveal blossoms of pale yellow that hang like tassles from stems. I cut a few branches of tassels for a flower arranging workshop that I chaired last week and the effect in one arrangement was outstanding… adding height and texture and the right color for a pale yellow container.

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witch hazel

 

 

 

 

View of the Waterfront

Yesterday, our walk in light rain took us on the opposite side of the Squamscott River with the town of Exeter NH in the distance. This is the first time we’ve viewed the town from this vantage point and it looked beautiful to us on this fall day.

The tidal Squamscott River begins here, fed from the freshwater Exeter River and it runs 6.3 miles through rural areas and small towns to Great Bay, which connects to the Piscataqua River and, finally, the Atlantic Ocean.

Not prepared with umbrellas or raincoats, we were fully drenched by the time our walk ended but we kept our smiles. It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to feel a raindrop and it was a very good thing….

Exeter NH

Rain, Glorious Rain!

The Exeter River, almost dry as a bone in August when work to remove a landmark dam and restore the riverbed to its natural state was proceeding ahead of schedule. The dry riverbed, due to a devastating Extreme Drought, couldn’t have come at a better time for completing this enormous dam removal and restoration project.

That was then….

Left Riverbed finished

This is now….

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It is October 22 and we are still in an extended Extreme Drought with mandatory water restrictions but a welcome storm dropped close to 3″ of rain overnight. We rushed to the river this morning to see the results where we discovered we weren’t alone in our need to see the river flowing. Among the spectators was Board of Selectmen member, Nancy Belanger, who could hardly contain her excitement at seeing the results of the restoration after a decade of planning and hard work.

She told us things we didn’t know about the planning process, the animals saved during the restoration, and terms I’ve never heard… such as ‘riffle.’ “See the riffles they created,” she said as she pointed to rocks with water flowing fast around and over. When I got home, I looked the term up online. Riffle: “A riffle is a shallow section of a stream or river with rapid current and a surface broken by gravel, rubble or boulders.”- Wikipedia. Nancy said riffles are a place of shelter for fish migrating upstream during breeding. All good….

We need more rain but this is a start….

Hayride to the Pumpkin Patch

Climb aboard the wagon, find a good spot on a bale of hay, squeeze between your grandchildren, and let the tractor take you away…. over hills, through the cornfield, past the pond, beneath the murder of crows that were startled in the corn, to the tangled vines of a pumpkin patch…. acres of pumpkins and gourds.

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Two tractors and four wagon loads from our grandchildren’s preschool were ready for the bumpy expedition that twisted and turned through the fields.

hayride

Parents and grandparents, siblings and more, all armed with cameras and smart phones fanned out across fields to help youngster find the perfect pumpkin, all shapes, sizes and colors, and to capture that moment with a photo.

pumpkins!

Me included…

 perfect pumpkin

pumpkin

A perfect pumpkin for us and small enough for a little tyke to carry….

Room for all

Then the bumpy journey back up to Farmer Zach’s Farm to visit the cornfields in search of the best and most colorful ears of corn.

pumpkins

Ahhhh…. what an adventure!  Making fall memories with little people…

The Great Spangled Fritillary

I learned something new yesterday. I’ve never been that great at identifying butterfly species but the butterfly I always thought was Great Spangled Fritillary may not be.

great-spangled-fritillary

There are three species of greater fritillaries found in New England: Great Spangled, Atlantis, and Aphrodite.  All three are almost identical. I’ve probably seen them all and believed them to be one, the Great Spangled. Vermont naturalist Mary Holland blogged about the difference yesterday on Naturally Curious with Mary Holland.

It’s all in the eyes. If the eyes are amber, it’s a Great Spangled. If the eyes are blue-gray, it’s an Atlantis Fritillary, and if the eyes are yellow-green, it’s an Aphrodite Fritillary.

Armed with this new information, I was curious about the one (above) that visited my zinnias today so I inched as close as I could. Amber eyes!  Definitely a Great Spangled Fritillary!  What fun to learn something new.

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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

Hermine fizzled out in New Hampshire

We certainly didn’t want the unfortunate and tragic flooding that Hermine dumped on other states but a little moisture would be welcome in our official Extreme Drought seacoast area of New Hampshire. We are 5 miles from the coast and Hermine brought us a drizzle and drip yesterday and today. Beneath the damp mulch in the garden, the soil is bone dry. Buckets are lined up catching all roof drips outside today with a mist so fine you can feel it but not see it.

 TomatoesBeing declared an Extreme Drought area means no watering of anything in the landscape from the city’s water supply or from private wells. In New Hampshire, there are more than 100 communities with mandatory water restrictions. 19% or more of New Hampshire is in a Severe Drought and we are part of the 4% in an Extreme Drought. Thankfully, growers in ten counties are eligible for natural disaster assistance. Yes, we are in a bad way. We’re using gray water from showers and water made by the basement dehumidifier to help keep our 3 new trees alive. And sad to say, there’s no relief in the immediate future…

That said, there are those who took advantage of Hermine’s big blow. New Hampshire was spared the extreme high winds of this tropical storm but we drove over to the coast to check out what effect the storm had on this part of the ocean. Hampton Beach was closed on Tuesday as winds were brisk enough to cause rip tides. The next day, on this Wednesday, mist from the sea hung in the air like a gray fog. We could taste the salt. All along the coast people were standing, sitting, walking and enjoying the view of the choppy Atlantic surf.

spectatorsIt was low tide but waves rolled in, crashing onto the rocky shores.

Atlantic wavesAnd, naturally, there were those who were thrilled to see high surf. We watched as a dozen or more brave surfers waited with their boards on the surface of the water, then standing to catch wave after wave after wave. Can they see all those rocks?  Yikes!

Atlantic Waves from HermineClick photos to enlarge

 

 

 

Flatlanders on Vacay

Up in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire and places north, they call folks from our area and beyond, Flatlanders or “flatlandahs,” as it is properly pronounced in New Hampshire. I was well aware of the label as we ventured into the beautiful Lakes Region for a little R&R last week, but, thankfully, locals were way too polite to use the term when they inquired where we were from. I know what they were probably thinking as we snapped photographs of every fern, mountain, shop window, and covered bridge. No moose though. Two black bears…. a live one crossing the road and a stuffed one at an area restaurant.

Stuffed Bear at a Restaurant

It was a great time to travel there. Crowds gone. The highways were navigable and only the locals in the shops and restaurants.  We were between summer tourist season and Leaf Peeper season. The camp where we stayed was practically unpeopled and so very natural. No motors… only the sound of paddles dipping in the water. Blue skies. Gorgeous sunsets.

Kayaking

Paddling out to meet the sunset

There were six of us and about 6,000 pickerel frogs, a resident snake, one noisy chipmunk scolding us during the day, the piercing rattle of the Belted Kingfisher giving us morning wakeup, and the echos across the pond of loons to lullaby us to sleep at night.

Pickerel Frog

A snake stalking two pickerel frogs on the beach (lower right)

More fun than anything was watching the little ones enjoy the ‘wilderness’ adventure.

Going Fishing

Floating to the raft again...

I want that one...

Meals were easy. Deserts were often over a fire.

Our lodging was beautifully rustic, yet modernized… thank goodness. The atmosphere gave me a sense that Katharine Hepburn or Henry Fonda could walk in the door and settle down in front of the towering stone fireplace. Family albums on the shelf, family pictures through umpteen years on refrigerator, walls, and tables. Scratched wide plank flooring most likely has withstood generations of canines that were captured in old photographs. Collection of hats for any occasion adored a wall. Great ambience!

We’re so glad we were made very welcome in our camp and in the numerous towns we visited. Without a doubt, we came home refreshed and already babbling about our next trip.

Taking Chances in the Garden

When I first started gardening, I bought any and all perennials that looked pretty at the nursery and plopped them in my new gardens. I learned the hard way about the pitfalls and shortcomings of different plants and I’ve grown pretty choosy through the years. Perennials that reseed like crazy, are prone to mildew, grow leggy, or otherwise need need constant care generally don’t make the cut. Experience with some naughty perennials while gardening in Zone 7b cause them to be forever banned from my gardens:  ajuga (just try to contain it!), creeping jenny (lives anywhere… even in water!), deadnettle (think kudzu!), phlox (think mildew!), and several more.

However, negative thoughts about some undesirable plants, perennials and annuals, were softened after caring for them at Rolling Green Nursery for two summers. And working there made me reach out and take a chance with some of those banned ones and a few others:

Here are a few plants I took a chance on:

Brass Buttons (Leptinella) A mat-like ground cover that grows about 2 inches high. It has a reputation of being a thug in the garden but that hasn’t happened to me….yet… but I don’t think I’d mind if it did step out-of-bounds. It could make a great grass substitute. Its fern-like foliage is so unusual and attractive that I fell in love with this tough little plant. I’m always questioned about this unique perennial that grows in a spot where grass struggles to grow. Thumbs up!

Brass Buttons

Calamint (Calamintha nepeta ‘Blue Cloud’): Never in a million years would I have wanted a mint in my garden until I cared for this one at the nursery. It forms plumes of miniature, tubular blue flowers on spikes. A pollinator magnet, it blooms continuously from June till frost. I see no signs of wilting or disease during our severe drought this summer. If blooms flag, it benefits from a good trim and will reward with a second flush of flowers. I would not call it invasive. Thumbs up!
Calamintha
Calimint
Red-veined Sorrel (Rumex sanguineus): Also called bloody dock, this European native can grow in the herb or vegetable garden, around the pond, or as an ornamental garden accent. I fell in love with the prominent red veins on the lance shaped leaves. Edible for some folks, but grown here as decorative accents. No flowers have emerged as of mid-August but they’ll be nipped as soon as they appear to prevent self-seeding. Thumbs up!
Red-veined Sorrel

Campanula carpatica ‘White Clips’: I cared for this little perennial for almost two summers at the nursery until I weakened and purchased a few. The showy bell-shaped white blooms face upward covering small compact clumps of foliage about 8 -10 inches high. I have it at the edge of a border in moist soil. We will cut it back hard very soon and will be rewarded with a flush of new growth and blooms.  Thumbs up!

campanula

Defiant Hybrid Tomato: I took a chance on this tomato plant that boasted blight resistance. It’s a determinate bush tomato plant that produces medium-size tomatoes. Jungseed.com writes, “This is the first tomato to crack the genetic code for late blight resistance. It has high resistance to late blight, intermediate resistance to early blight and great flavor, all in one.” Knock on wood that I don’t jinx it but it’s been almost PERFECT. The grandchildren picked two lovely tomatoes on their lunch visit to Nana’s yesterday… and there are 15 – 20 more ripening on the plant. Thumbs up!

Tomato 'Defiant'

 

 

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote….

April has arrived! As Chaucer wrote in his Canterbury Tales prologue, with April comes the sweet showers that bathe and strengthen the roots of plants. We’ve had a couple of days of good rains followed by temperatures that seemed warm enough to drag out the lounge chairs and hammocks… but not really. I’ve seen young folks shed layers and prance around in shorts and sleeveless shirts but the old folks like me still wear a layer of two of protection from chill of the “sweete breeth,” or sweet breath of the West Winds. This morning I rolled out of bed with a temperature of 30° and with new frost on the landscape to greet me. I left my greenhouse pansies outside overnight and, thankfully, they seemed unfazed by the icy temperatures. PansyThe snow is retreating and I can finally see most of what survived the record snowfalls and what did not and what was damaged and what can be salvaged. With the ground fairly frozen a few inches beneath the surface, it’s too soon to get down and dirty in the garden but there is a lot I can do now…. like taking care of dead and broken limbs. My tiny plants covered by frost covered glasses seemed to do the trick for tiny late season cuttings and plantings.Summersweet, my clethra, mostly laid on the ground during the winter storms. I will need to wade into this thicket and overhaul it…. a shrub that was definitely planted in the wrong location in a prominent foundation spot because it is so darn late to leaf out. But I could never part with the plant because of its insect loving and sweet smelling blooms. Clethra alnifoliaAll of my summer rootings of Tide Hill boxwood (Buxus microphylla ‘Tide Hill’) survived beneath 8′ of snow… well-insulated against the cold. The three parent plants did well, too, although the leaves were chilled this morning with tiny hoar frost. Tide Hill box hoar frost on Tide Hill boxHappy to see that my fall planted Pieris Japonica is greeting the season with zero damage. Not a native, however I love this plant with its drooping clusters of early spring flowers. This is a good foundation plant. Pieris japonicaSadly, I found damage and loss. The new Dwarf Hinoki Cypress lost its beautiful fern-like top branches to the weight of the snow. But, whew, this Japanese ornamental can be salvaged. Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana’The new 5′ female blue maid holly has some winter burn, but the male blue holly, much smaller, survived intact sheltered beneath the blanket of snow. Ilex x meserveae 'blue maid' Blue Prince hollyAzaleas took a hit. Azalea… along with several yews and arborvitae that either split, fell, leaned or all three. We can’t tell if this one can be saved yet. damaged Buried deep within the iceberg  is a border of viburnum, hydrangea, dwarf deutzia, dwarf clethra, upright holly (Steeds), soft touch holly (Ilex crenata), and more. Tips of our steeds holly are beginning to appear at the base of the iceberg below. I just hope the branches I see are from the bottom of the plant, not the top!

Steeds holly beginning to show

Steeds Holly

Perhaps by next week with more of Chaucer’s sweet April showers and warmer winds with 60° temperatures in the forecast, we can evaluate the damage beneath.

Tree Hugging in Thought Only

The decision to remove all the white pine trees in this association was a difficult one for me. But, in the end, I went along with the majority vote to take them all. There were benefits to keeping the trees. They provided life and they provided shade and they gave us privacy. They blocked the frigid winter winds, helped to clean the air, and they certainly helped with soil erosion and water drainage as we live on the lower part of an incline…. but I had to concede the fact these tall trees were planted too close to buildings. There was a fear of what might happen if strong storms struck. It has occurred with other white pines in this neighborhood in year’s past.

White PineAnother reason given for the removal was that the species was not considered desirable. I held my ground on that one. Just ask Doug Tallamy, chairman of the department of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware, author of the popular books, Bringing Nature Home and The Living Landscape, who promotes growing natives to help support an area’s ecosystem. Pinus strobus, eastern white pine, is one he recommends for providing food, nuts, insects for a host of wildlife. Besides, I consider it a beautiful soft needled evergreen tree that whispers a song when the breezes come through.

Last week was the icy, snowy, cold week for tree removal. The operation was reminiscent of scenes from the movies Fern Gully or Avatar as heavy machinery, trucks, cranes, cables, and saws advanced around the area. One by one I watched these trees fall. I watched two squirrels jump from the tip top of one tree to the snow covered ground. I watched as birds flew around the tops of trees but not landing.

Click to enlarge:

I will collect some of the cones left behind and toss them into the woods that surround the neighborhood. Let’s hope a few of the offspring take root.

For every negative, I look for the positive. 1. With the tall pines gone, we now have morning sun at the breakfast table, a totally unanticipated perk that puts a smile on our faces. 2. The herbs on the window sill are responding very favorably to sunlight and we have removed the grow light that kept them happy all winter. 3. Facing an easterly direction, we’re finding the passive solar energy is keeping the home warmer. That’s a very good thing for the heating bill.  Sigh…

A Warm Day at Last!

Temperatures rose to 45° yesterday… almost a heat wave in New England. Icicles hanging from the roof began to thin and several large ones fell to the snow below. Instead of staying home and watch the icicles melt, mister gardener and I decided to venture out for a walk and lunch.

If we wanted to trudge through ice, deep snow and slush, we would have taken the woodland walk. We decided to journey down town and use the cleared sidewalks. Once there, we found that others had the same great idea and we walked behind, in front of, and passed happy, friendly folks getting a small-ish workout and enjoying the fresh air along the sidewalks of Exeter.

Afterwards, we had worked up a little appetite for a cup of soup at The Green Bean restaurant… and despite the warm temperatures, we decided that eating lunch on the terrace at one of our favorite restaurants in Exeter is still several weeks away. But look how clean the sidewalk is! It’s that way everywhere here and amazing to me just how the city and the businesses accomplish this feat with the endless snow this season.

Following lunch, we drove home the back way to see how a few neighbors’ mailboxes fared after perhaps a record amount of snow accumulation. Snow plows have no choice but to blast snow to the side of the roads and very often the mailboxes are the victims.  This year was no exception.

And finally, we laughed when we saw in astonishment that the mail is still being delivered to all of them.

A warming trend is in the forecast and we will be happy to say goodbye to these mountains of white, however, the next big threat in New England is water from the big melt. Most homes have basements around here… including us.  We’ve been warned that the threat of a flooded basement is a big one.  We are keeping our fingers VERY tightly crossed.

For the birds…

It has been an extreme few weeks in New England that has brought us over 40″ of snow in our area of New Hampshire. Today the snow is coming down steady again… enough that the snowplows have cleared our drive 4 times! We always feed the birds but during severe weather we step up our support as natural food supplies are difficult to find. We have trenches and we shovel out to refill feeders twice a day. The snow is as light as ivory flakes so the shoveling isn’t strenuous. And, amazingly, it’s full of tunnels where the squirrels are searching for wayward birdseed. They pop up here and there like Whac-A-Mole game.

trenchThe familiar backyard avian crew frequents our feeders… just in greater numbers in this weather. The black-capped chickadees, the white-breasted nuthatches, tufted titmice, and tons of American goldfinch, pine siskins, and purple finches dine on the tube feeder and the covered bluebird feeder. The noisy finches that number in the twenties also monopolize the nyjer seed feeder.

finches on nyjer sock

American Goldfinches

Northern cardinals, mourning doves, a handful of blue jays, white-throated sparrows and a few other sparrows, a large number of dark-eyed juncos, a common redpoll or two, American finches and pine siskins hop around atop the snow for the seeds we scatter.

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Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse

junco..

Dark-eyed Junco

Red-bellied woodpeckers, Hairy and Downy woodpeckers, white-breasted nuthatches, the chickadees and titmice go through the suet in no time.

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chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

 

Female P. Finch

Female Purple Finches

 

Pine Siskin

 

The avian activity provides a lot of excitement and entertainment at our house. Breakfast, lunch, and dinnertime at our table are hives of activity at the window feeder. We enjoy watching the shy, the gregarious, the bullies, the bold, the eat-and-run birds, the noisy, and the birds that like to watch us watching them.

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At least it’s a leisurely hobby that you can enjoy from the comfort and warmth of your home… unlike some of our neighbors who must wait for the snowplow to clear enough snow so their animal friends can have a little recreation. Brrrr….
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Cindy and pup

Snow’s a’comin…

Our granddaughter, seen here with her pony, has had more snow at her home in the Midwest than we have in New England. We’ve received family photos of snowmen and romps in the yard. How could that be? Shouldn’t we have more snow? We hear all that is going to change very soon as we’ll be getting the BIG SNOW beginning tomorrow morning.

Claire and her pony, Pongo The National Weather Service is cautioning residents that a strong nor’easter will be bringing us to 7 or 8 inches of heavy snow. You might think that with severe weather warnings, moaning and complaining would be heard across the community but all I hear is ‘bring it on!’

These hearty New England residents have missed seeing the white stuff. They don’t clear out grocery stores with stashes of survival foods like folks do in Virginia when threatened with snow. Here, their skis are waxed, boots lined up, sleds by the door, snowmobiles gassed up. They are ready.

Our plans are less exciting than our adventurous friends. We might take a walk in the snow or sit by a roaring fire or watch the birds at the feeders or make some good soup or snap some photos. We have certainly missed the snow, but as southerners, we have not learned to embrace the outdoor adventures like our enthusiastic neighbors. We will likely venture out to keep our walks clear and will wave to all as they set out on their winter activities.

My Ten Favorite Photos of 2014

Les over at A Tidewater Gardener annually posts his ten favorite photos from the year and he challenges readers to do the same. Since we have downsized and no longer maintain our acres of gardens, I’m not as serious about garden photography and rarely carry my heavy 35mm camera around my neck. But I do carry the world’s most popular camera in my pocket at all times. My iPhone! Not sure about these being my favorite photos but they jumped out at me while scrolling through hundreds!

Since we spent most of the winter under a blanket of snow, I thought I should add at least one photo of the beauty it can bring. Taken on February 8, prints in the snow show where animals come to the stream banks.

Click on photos to enlarge.

IMG_8150I love photos that tell a story and there’s one here. Peaceful demonstrators in Keene NH braved the elements for several hours for a cause on February 7. I can almost hear them talking amongst themselves…. maybe seeing whose turn it is to get some coffee.. among other more important things.

Make Love, Not War!Keene NH also provided another photo that I like. A rainy, gray day was brightened only by taillights at a stoplight on April 15. With family in Keene, we visit this area on a regular basis.

IMG_9886We ventured out of the Granite State for this photo. Two lovely ladies in straw hats were admiring a seaside garden on the rocky shores of the Atlantic. We toured several Cape Neddick Maine gardens on this day during Garden Conservancy Days, June 22.IMG_1338Anyone who knows me knows I am interested in insects and have hundreds of photos and IDs The plump fellow below, the jumping spider, claimed the watering hose as his own at Rolling Green Nursery this summer. These are brave and scary looking spiders, but, oh so harmless. Whenever I moved in, he moved closer. They stalk prey and can pounce a few inches but I just give them a puff of air and they fall to the ground and scamper away. I really like these spiders because they have personality plus. July 12.

The second photo below was a two-for-one. I was photographing the tachinid fly and didn’t see the second insect until I downloaded the photograph. The tachinid is a nectar eating fly as an adult, but one that lays eggs in insect hosts. This time the lowly hover fly is the victim seen just below her body. I don’t like these flies very much as butterfly caterpillars are often victims. July 16.

IMG_1635 IMG_0712Rain drops on vegetation after an all night soaker is always interesting to me. The new growth on this spirea is an especially nice color. May 19.

rain dropsThe sunflower below was a volunteer from our bird feeder. Several seeds that the birds overlooked germinated but only this one grew tall and straight and eventually fed the chickadees many ripe sunflower seeds. (Staring at the center long enough may hypnotize!)  August 26.

volunteer sunflowerFinally, the highlight of 2014 was a vacation with the youngins to Bethel, Maine. Below are two photos from that hiking, swimming, boating trip in August.

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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.

Beating the Invasion

colorThere is something about the fall season that lifts my spirits. The air is clean under crisp blue skies and the vibrant foliage can take your breath. You just want to step outside and bask in the beauty of buttery yellows and blazing reds of the maples, elms, birches and the sumacs that front every wood line.

Fall colors are reaching their peak right now on the Kancamagus Highway, the National Scenic Byway from Lincoln to Conway NH, and I’m sure the hoards of leaf peepers have arrived. A year ago we ventured up during the peak of color and found the 35-mile road through the White Mountain National Forest bumper to bumper with cars, campers, and buses. We hardly found places to pull off and park for the perfect views. This year we thought, “Wouldn’t it be a neat idea to beat the leaf-peeper invasion?” Yes! So last weekend we jumped in the car for a pre-peeper drive on the Kancamagus Highway just to see what we could see.

We hoped to arrive just before peak color and see the emerging reds, oranges, and yellows mixed with the cool, green of conifers without the distracting flood of vehicles driving bumper to bumper along the way. The timing was perfect as we had the approaching highways almost to ourselves.

Click on photos to enlarge:

fall colors 2014 The colors were a little cooler in the distance but quite grand. It was a peaceful and enjoyable drive.

A special delight was visiting the same apple orchard farmer as last year whose truck was brimming with juicy just-picked apples and some fresh vegetables. This time we sampled and bought a bag of crisp Mcintosh.

Apples!And when we arrived home, I made this and invited the kids to come and enjoy! Life is good…

Apple Crumb Pie

Apple Crumb Pie