Our Young Bluebird

 

Our bluebird usually lays 2 or 3 eggs so when I noticed only one offspring, I checked around the nest and found an egg with a pecked hole in it. I’m guessing the pesky house sparrow was the culprit as we witnessed fierce battles over the box earlier this spring. I caught the male sparrow sneaking into the hole so he is the main suspect. But maybe it was a chickadee that hung around the box. House wrens can be a problem but couldn’t be the culprit as none are in our area. Sadly, the bluebirds won the war but lost an offspring.

bluebird egg with hole

Our sole survivor from the nest has fledged and has transitioned to nearby woods with his parents. It’s old enough now to accompany the adults back for morning treats of mealworms. Poor little thing has a lot to learn. He must learn quickly how to feed himself and stay safe. And, alas, there is a new predator cat in the neighborhood that I have chased off numerous times. Stay safe, little one…

bluebird fledgling

Fledging, wet from overnight rains, arrives for morning treats.

We now hear the adult bluebirds singing territorial songs, patrolling the area, and both chasing off any bird that ventures into their space. We’re watching them as they gather pine straw for a new nest in the box…. so preparations are well underway for the next brood..

Such excitement in the avian world!

Adventures with Youngsters

On June 21, summer will officially begin, but you’d never know it by today’s temperature.  It’s 1:00 pm and the temperature on this 6th day of June is hovering somewhere between 46° and 48°, depending on which weather app you check. The weatherman predicts we’ll break the record low for this day.

It’s been a welcome rainy spring to put an end to our drought so we aren’t complaining. We’ve had days of beautiful New England spring weather in-between storms, enough to be satisfied, especially since our goal for this summer is to become better acquainted with everything our area offers…. often through the eyes of children.

Wentworth Marina by the Sea

We no longer own boats, but a stop at the Wentworth Marina by the Sea in New Castle with the grandchildren was one our first spring adventures. What a blast to let the little ones wander up and down the docks, watching boats come and go, including the excitement of the marine police arriving to check the place over. A stop here would hardly be worth it without a relaxing lunch at The Green Bean, outdoor dining while answering 100 little questions, between bites of tasty pulled pork sliders, about boats, birds, water, and rigging.  “What is that spinning thing on top of the masts?” “That’s the wind speed indicator…” “Why do they have them up there?”  Fun, fun, fun!

The Green Bean - Pull Pork Sliders with cheddar cheese and red onions

We’re thrilled to support the wonderful outdoor Exeter Farmers’ Market once again this spring, especially on the warmest days when we can follow-up with homemade strawberry popsicles or the best local ice cream, but that’s only when the grandchildren accompany us. Yes, we all had a popsicle on this day!

Strawberry popcicles - Exeter Farmers' Market

Watching the Phillips Exeter crew teams practice on the Squamscott River is something we stopped to watch for the first time. That was another new adventure for us thanks to keen interest by these little folks.

Grands on the Squamscott River

Our local school crew teams in Virginia were nationally ranked and these crew teams are tops in the nation, according to their website. So much fun to watch… especially through the eyes of children and also after reading The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. Highly recommended!

I’ve been in working hard in the garden in-between rain showers but I’ll soon be back in earnest. A warming (or hot) trend is approaching for the weekend and I’m ready. Stay tuned.

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.

ACHOO!

The drought has ended. The rains have ceased for the moment. The sun is shining. The sky is blue and temperatures are rising. Yesterday morning I jumped at the opportunity to enjoy the tranquility of a morning outdoors. Coffee and smart phone in hand, ready to catch up on emails and texts surrounded by gardens and a symphony of singing birds, I lowered myself into a chair.

The serenity didn’t last long. Within two minutes, the surface of my coffee and my phone were caked with yellow. Folks, it’s pine pollen season in New Hampshire and it caught me by surprise.

Pine Pollen 2017

Friends in my home state of Virginia have been experiencing the yellow storm for weeks. Perhaps the heavy rains have been masking the explosion in New Hampshire until now.

Pine pollen is arriving over the land like snow flurries. The pines have large pollen grains making them easy to id and those grains have large cavities or ‘bladders’ that allow them to be blown over great distances. When the breezes hit the pines surrounding us, I now see the billowy clouds of yellow moving with the currents. We may not like it, but it’s doing what it must to preserve its species.

Windows and doors are now closed. Car stays in the garage and I drink my morning coffee indoors. It will be a nuisance for awhile but is not suppose to terribly affect our allergies.  Pollen counts are high for oaks, birch, and ash trees that are the likely culprits contributing to my cough, scratchy eyes and throat when I work outdoors.

To see the pollen counts in your neck of the woods, check out this site: Pollen.com. It was there that I discovered that we are near our seasonal pollen peak on the NH Seacoast.  Yay!

 

 

 

 

Happy May Day

So happy that the last day for frost in New Hampshire has arrived! There is some bad news in the garden but lots of sweet discoveries of rebirth. We won’t be lighting fires or dancing around a maypole with ribbons, a popular event of my childhood, but will be celebrating the fertility and merrymaking in the garden.

The hummingbirds returned yesterday. The bees are back. All over the Seacoast, we see the cold hardy, early blooming PJM rhododendron hybrids with their bright lavender-pink flowers attracting bumblebees galore. I keep a small one just for those early blooms for insects.

PJM rhododendron and bumblebee

Tulips, daffodils, and grape hyacinths are providing the most booms in our garden at this early stage of spring but we also have the pansies struggling to set blooms. Good news is the New Hampshire drought is over on the Seacoast. Fingers crossed for good rainfall for the summer.

The cutest little bulb in the garden is the Fritillaria meleagris, the miniature checkerboard lily. I planted 15 bulbs but only 6 appeared both in white and in an adorable purple faint checkered pattern. Yes, I will plant more of these… and maybe have a fairy garden someday.

In the shade, the common bleeding heart (Dicentra) is unfurling its tiny cluster of heart-shaped flowers along stems and the Epimedium grandiflorum ‘Yubae’ is performing well in its second year.

Bleeding Heart

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My favorite color in the garden is green and we have plenty of that. Leaves are unfurling on viburnum, hydrangea, hosta, serviceberry, aucuba. It is the true color of spring…. a reward of rebirth and growth. Green provides me with a sense of relaxation and well-being and if I am surrounded by green whether in my landscape or beneath a canopy of trees in a forest, I have my sanctuary.

hosta

 

The Greening of New Hampshire

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

April 9, Snow in Border

2017

Mesclun Mix, 2017

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

garden gloves 2017

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

Polemonium caeruleum, 2017

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

bulbs, 2017

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

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

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

crocus

 

Nesting Material for Birds

Yes, it’s time. The birds we see around the yard are beginning courtship behavior, mating, and defending territories, so you might want to provide a little nesting material. Birds naturally use a wide variety of nesting material, from grasses and twigs to animal fur, mosses, mud, spider webs and a lot more from the great outdoors.

We add a few nontoxic materials over the summer but one on hand today is natural jute twine that we cut into small pieces. Today mister gardener and I unraveled the twine, then filled a container with the bits and pieces. Easy to do. Just twist strands the opposite way that they are twisted, then pull apart.

Nesting Material

We stuffed this little wire basket given to me as a gift but a suet basket works well, too.

Nesting Material

We hung it in a visible location on a tree branch and now wait for the discovery.

Nesting Material

Things to use:
dry untreated grasses
soft plant material like catkins from cottonwood, willows, poplars, and milkweed fluff.
twigs
horse hair
short yarn and short hair (longer pieces can entangle birds’ feet and be deadly)
small fabric scraps
cotton batting

Things NOT TO USE:
cellophane and plastic that can harm birds and the environment
nylon twine and fishing line that can be deadly if a bird becomes tangled.
dryer lint absorbs water and contains chemical residues
dog fur from an animal that has been treated with flea treatment

Finally, just for fun…. check out this amusing video of a tufted titmouse stealing nesting material from a sleeping dog.

The Hummingbird Journey

We’re eager for the arrival of our ruby-throated hummingbirds in New Hampshire and we are keeping a close eye on the hummingbird spring migration map online.  Each week citizen scientists log in to the site and record their sightings that are reflected with dates on the map each week in a different color. The little birds have a long way to go before they reach our home in New Hampshire. But we are ready. Our feeders are clean and ready to be hung outdoors. Nectar rich flowers will fill the gardens… plus a variety of insects (NO  pesticides in our gardens). Have you seen a hummingbird chase down and eat a mosquito? I have.

Hummingbird Journey North 2017

In New Hampshire we attract just 4-6 hummingbirds over the summer. I like that number. In Virginia, that number was much more impressive, so much so that it was more economical for me to buy sugar from Costco in 25-lb. bags. Was it a full-time job keeping feeders clean, making nectar and keeping them well-fed with 8 feeders?  Almost!  Would I do it again?  In a heartbeat! They are the most entertaining little visitors in the garden.

Here is a feeding frenzy of females and young males (yes…with white throats!) on our nectar the morning after a hurricane passed through our Virginia property. It took a hurricane to bring them all to the feeders at one time. It was the end of August and most of the adult males with their red throats had migrated.

We do not add red dye to the nectar. It is not needed. The base of feeders are red enough and, besides, why mix in a chemical additive that may affect the tiny birds?

We wash our feeders regularly and make sure nectar is fresh… especially when temperatures are very hot or a feeder may be in the sun. It’s a bit work but the perks of enjoying these birds in the garden outweigh the small amount of energy it takes to maintain the almost perfect hummingbird habitat.

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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

Winter Walk-Off 2017

Les, over at A Tidewater Gardener, sponsors a Winter Walk-Off each year on his Blogger site. He’s a great horticulturist and I enjoy following his blog. You should check it out. I try to enter his walk-off each year but it’s hard when you look out the window and only see white. It’s still the dead of winter in New Hampshire!

There are rules… such as ‘On your own two feet, leave the house, and share what can be seen within walking (or biking) distance of your home.’ He’s relaxed those rules a lot but I’m sure my walk is beyond acceptable since it was an hour and thirty seven minutes from home today. However, I am supporting Les in a small way by walking down the main street in Keene NH before visiting a son in town.

It’s a funky, low-key college town (Keene State College and Antioch University) that has a nice hippy vive to it. There is a healthy vitality to the downtown and a community interest in preserving historic architecture.  And, of course, it was where Jumanji staring Robin Williams was filmed. Here’s the evidence painted on this brick wall.

Jumanji movie sign, Keene NH

I captured a little of the fun of Keene as I walked around the city on this cold, blustery day today, the last day of Les’ walk-off. Main Street is a beautiful tree-lined wide boulevard into downtown Keene. We always enjoyed this approach to the business section of the city.

We parked, zipped up our down jackets and hit the street. The popular coffee shop pictured below also has a barber’s pole…up the stairs for coffee and down steps for a haircut.

The Barbery is located beneath the coffee shop, beneath ground but not quite a full basement, almost an English basement. This is not the only business like that. Quite close is another that I think is a music store.  I love the sign.

Fixed objects take a licking in our New Hampshire snows. I saw evidence here and there of fixtures that were buried beneath a mountain of snow and not seen before it was too late.

Snow is mostly gone on this walkway but surely this must be snow removal damage, I would guess.

Restaurants and pubs are numerous, good, and supported by locals and visitors. I’m always happy to see lots of vegetarian options on the menus. We have enjoyed several ethnic restaurants in the area as well.

We have an old theater in Exeter that stands unused and almost abandoned, but Keene has a community theater on Main Street that is to be envied. First opened in 1924, declared a nonprofit in 1991, created a support group and mission statement, raised funds, restored it, and now it is the vibrant site of movies and live performances. Jealous….

 

Colonial Theatre

As mister gardener and I walked, I had to take a photo of our favorite coffee shop, Prime Roast…. the one we always frequent and take a bag or two of coffee home with us.

Prime Roast in Keene NH

And finally, we reached the Central Square of Keene, an area full of restaurants and unique shops. The focal point is the church, the white church and tall steeple of the United Church of Christ, a landmark that anchors one end of Main Street and gives the city a classic New England feel.
United Church of Christ, Keene NH
United Church of Christ, Keene NH
Across from the church on a grassy island inside the roundabout is a charming park that is used for a variety of events. We’ve attended the popular Pumpkin Festival (until it was moved out of town recently), Ice and Snow Festival, musical events in the bandstand, and even seen protests take place here. This is certainly the place for people watching in warmer months.
Gazebo, Keene NH
Keene is a relaxed city with a New England old town feel. We had a chilly but great stroll through town and good day with family in Keene NH. Thanks to Les for hosting this Winter Walk-Off again this year.

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Mystery plant amid the geraniums

I’ve been a compulsive caretaker, one who rescued or adopted kittens, taken in stray dogs, fed the neighborhood kids at lunchtime along with mine. Kids are grown and gone, but I still rescue animals…. and now I think I’ve rescued a weed.

Three weeks ago a small sprout became visible in the soil of my summer geraniums (Pelargonium) that are wintering indoors. I was curious so I let it grow. It lost its plump cotyledons and began to shoot upright through the geraniums looking for sunlight. What a funny looking little plant, I thought. Is it a weed or a maybe a sprout from last summer’s autumn clematis?

I thought the tiny fuzzy head might be a bloom but no, it just produces more leaves as it grows.

mystery plant

It’s healthy so I figure it’s a weed since weeds are the healthiest plants in my garden. Sigh…

The stem is woody and and hairy. The pubescent leaves have been opposite but the last three were whorled. I wonder what the next ones will be.

mystery plant

The tip is as tiny as a pencil eraser and full of miniature leaves. No bloom in sight.  I’m at a loss to identify what I’ve adopted but I think it’s cute.  As long as I don’t develop a rash from it or it doesn’t turn into Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors, I’ll nurture “Harry” till there is an possible ID.  If there’s a guess out there, let me know….

fuzzy plant

April update:  the tiny stowaway in the geranium bed finally bloomed. I’m certain my friend who suggested it may be a sprout from last year’s birdseed is correct. Beautiful tiny yellow bloom. 


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Blizzard on Election Day

What do folks in the ‘Live Free or Die’ state do when a blizzard warning interrupts local elections? It seems they do whatever they darn well please.

More than a dozen towns rescheduled today’s elections despite warnings from Governor Sununu that they do so at “their own risk.” Yesterday, the list of towns that postponed elections began to grow as the governor was strongly recommending that they stay open.

Our town of Exeter rescheduled elections after our Town Moderator Paul Scafidi consulted legal counsel. In our local newpaper, Exeter News-Letter, he stated, “We believe we’re correct that we can postpone it and that’s what I’m doing. For the safety of the voters, for the safety of the people that have to work, it’s the best thing for us to do.”

Snowstorm

The confusion lies in ambiguous statutes and laws whether postponing elections was a violation. NH Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlon told NH1 Newsy that, “The position from this office is that, RSA669:1, which is in the section of the statute that talks about town elections, says very clearly that town elections shall be held on the second Tuesday in March. From our perspective there is no provision that allows for the actual statutory date of the election officers to be moved and we cannot recall it ever happening for weather or any other reason.” It’s history in the making in New Hampshire.

Emergency legislation will be introduced this week to eliminate any confusion and make sure towns can postpone in the future. In the meantime, I’m having a second cup of coffee, watching the birds feed, and wondering about the possibility of ice dams.

icicles

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There’s a New Garden Designer in Town

I consider myself somewhat of a gardener or maybe I’m just a kid at heart who likes to play in the dirt. The plants, the soil, and the animals that dine, live, or pass through these small gardens… animals with feathers, fur, scales, and those that hop, creep and crawl are all on my soft spot list. Mix that with a love of garden design and you’ve tapped into what makes me content in a small wildlife preserve.

It’s always stimulating to meet a garden designer and learn more about their style of landscaping. Last summer, I dropped a ticket in a box and won the opportunity to have a nice session with a newly established landscape designer at Wentworth Greenhouses in Rollinsford, NH. James Brewer is new to New Hampshire but not new to garden design. He and his wife, a native of this area, moved from England where his garden design business was booming.

James Brewer, Wentworth Greenhouse

I found him in his office surrounded by a greenhouse filled with summer annuals and accompanied by his ever friendly black lab, Billster, who slept at our feet (after a refreshing dunk in his wading pool) while James and I chatted about design, plants, and, of course….what led him to his life’s occupation.

James Brewer

James credits his folks for sparking his interest in gardening and design when he was a boy. He learned gardening, plants, and design through experience, slowly developing his skills, then began a small gardening business in the mid-90’s. From there it was all uphill, even twice interviewed on BBC live radio programs while he walked through finished projects and listeners phoned in with questions.

He took a look at my garden design sketch and said….. “You have a John Brooks feel to your design.”  Oh boy.  My garden is new, tiny, and FAR from being mellowed in….. quite removed from the large world of John Brooks, but I welcomed his suggestions and ideas for future growth.

James Brewer

Just glancing around the office and looking over some of the designs he was working on, I could tell that James has great talent. He certainly knows and loves landscape design. Being located in a large garden center benefits customers as trees, shrubs, perennials that he recommends can be seen onsite. We finished our chat about the time his ‘best friend’ was out the door to welcome new customers, both 2-footed and 4-footed…..

Since establishing himself with Wentworth, business is strong, he said. I do wish this young garden designer continued success. New England is such a nice place to put down “roots.”

For more information, visit James Brewer Garden Design

James Brewer

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For the People, By the People…

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

Exeter Master Plan Workshop 1/25/2017

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

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

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

 

 

Aucuba japonica in New Hampshire

In warmer states, folks might stifle a ‘ho-hum’ yawn if they see the Aucuba japonica leaf pictured here… but for me, seeing the plant in New Hampshire is a thrilling sight. First of all, it thrives in hardiness zone 7 or warmer. We are officially zone 5b. Secondly, it’s a sentimental reminder from my 7b home and no matter how common, it’s a favorite for me. Thirdly, there’s nothing more striking than this variegated ‘Aucuba Gold Dust’ variety in a floral arrangement.

In the proper zone, it is an evergreen shrub but a friend in New Hampshire who grows it in zone 6 says it dies to the ground each winter and rises like a phoenix each spring. She shared cuttings with me a year ago and once they were well-rooted, they were planted in our landscape last spring, now protected beneath sandwich boards for the winter. My fingers are crossed for these small shrubs’ survival.  Stay tuned…

In zone 7b, the plant is fairly slow-growing but tough and adaptable, able to thrive in a wide range of, but preferably moist, soils.  It does well in deep shade where this variegated variety flecked with gold shines like a beacon from the shadows.

Aucuba

Propagation by cuttings is almost foolproof. This winter, my friend again shared leftover cuttings from a floral design workshop I organize for our garden club. Success in rooting was almost guaranteed with short roots sprouting on the old wood along the stem nodes.

Aucuba Roots

Not only do I have success with stems, it’s easy to propagate plants from just the leaves. Once my little plants have developed enough roots, into a soil mix in clay pots they will go… and when they are ready, I’m sure there’ll be a home waiting for all of them. How can folks resist?

Aucuba Leaves

Scientific name: Aucuba japonica
Variety: Gold Dust,  v. variegata
Common names: Aucuba, Japanese Acuba, Japanese Laurel
Family: Garryaceae, cousins to the better known dogwood family (Cornaceae)
Plant type: shrub. Female plants will have red berries in the fall if a male is nearby.

Architecture, History & Trees

Every time I pass one particular home on our road, I have to be careful. The site is so spectacular that my eyes cannot help but stray from the road toward the site on the hill. It is eye candy for an architecture, history, and tree devotee like me. The farmhouse itself is old, dating from 1733 with the large addition below added in the 1780’s. The sign on the porch reads 1780.

The house is amazing but two things that actually cause me to drive off the road are the massive trees from the 1780’s that flank the porch. They honestly take your breath away. Every time we pass when mister gardener is at the wheel, I snap photographs to look at later.

Here are a few I’ve taken in warmer seasons of the year. Photos can’t accurately portray the size of these two maples but in researching, I found that the tree on the right is the largest sugar maple in the state of New Hampshire. The limb that juts out at a 90 degree angle is larger than most sugar maples attain in a lifetime. Click the photos to enlarge.

This Federal period farmhouse from the 1780’s has 2 1/2 stories, a typical I-house with a gable and chimney at each end and one room deep. The entryway above has the half sidelights and the transom, both visible in the photos. The siding is original. An ell, so common in New England, connects the home to the c. 1733 home on the property. On our drive yesterday (before the big snowfall), I photographed the home from a side road where the view of the original farmhouse is visible.

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I have photographs of the trees in fall as well and it’s an amazing sight. I’ll let you just use your imagination.

In looking at historic maps from the area, I see the home noted and the name of the early inhabitants. But since the 1950’s, a family of 12 children spent their childhood there and several still live there and close by. But this is the “small world” fact I recently discovered when researching. The realtor who sold us our home in Exeter was one of those 12 children. I love it when I can connect the dots like that….

 

 

Helena is visiting Virginia

My sister is winding up a work related speaking engagement in Ft. Worth Tx and is due to fly home to Virginia today. I haven’t heard but I’m sure her flight was cancelled. You see, Helena is in town in Tidewater VA. Across the state, she closed airports, closed major highways, caused over 100 auto crashes and 58 stalled vehicles on state roads overnight. Visibility was zero and the U.S. Coast Guard closed the Port of Virginia. No commercial boats could enter or exit the Chesapeake Bay. Farther south, there were 18000 power outages in NC with a state of emergency called and a cancellation of some inauguration ceremonies for the new governor. South Carolina experienced their share of snow and ice…. and brrrr… it’s cold!

My three brothers who live in Richmond were very excited to awake to snow. Most people batten down the hatches, start a fire, and make hot cocoa, but these fellas run toward the great out of doors. We all love snow in my family. Not sure why… but I’m sure glad they shared a few photos from Richmond.

jims-mahonia

Snow covered Mahonia in bloom

jims-pond

Carter

University of Richmond

University of Richmond campus

Garden

Steps and boxwood cleared of snow

Helena has been quite a storm, having impacted two dozen states from coast to coast when it’s all said and done. She’s on her way out to sea late today in Virginia but she’s not finished with us. Helena is now visiting New Hampshire. Snow is falling hard and I hope we awake tomorrow to scenes like those above.

 

 

 

iPhone’s new Portrait Mode…

The iPhone has introduced a fun new setting for photos called Portrait that gives the photo background a blur. It’s not the first phone to add depth of field but for iPhone owners, it’s a brand new feature that can be lots of fun. I have not experimented with humans yet but judging from these quick shots around the house, it is effective.

It uses two cameras on the back of iPhone 7 Plus to give a similar effect delivered by your DSLR camera. The phone snaps two photos: one regular photo in focus and one digitally blurred for the background and it does a pretty darn good job. Behind the spotted laurel (Aucuba japonica) in the blue container sits a yellow 15 lb. bag of birdseed that’s unrecognizable in the photo. In a regular photo, I could read the printing on the bag.

Not too grand when you enlarge these, but it works fine. I can see blurred branches on the crabapple tree that should not be, and the edges of the main subject in photos isn’t always sharp. But it’s just fine for my needs.

I found by experimentation that the camera needs lots of light to take an effective photo and the blur is more dramatic the farther the subject is from the background. Once you are at the correct distance from the subject, a yellow ‘depth effect’ memo pops up and you’re ready to go.

This neat new setting makes it less likely I’d have to pack an additional camera when traveling!

One holiday to the next…

Last week, I felt blessed to be in the midst of family for Thanksgiving, thinking about those family members who couldn’t be with us and reflecting on those who are no longer with us. Somehow those family traditions and tried and true recipes make everyone’s presence felt. What a week it was!

It was all good with some minor setbacks: three little children with colds, one mother fighting a cold, and at my house, a computer that bit the dust, a dishwasher that kicked the bucket, and signs of an impending cold. So, with houseguests, dishes piling up in the kitchen, and no computer, I’ve technically been offline (except for emails on my iPhone) and not checking the blog world. Thankfully, my recovered computer was plugged in two days ago and the dishwasher was repaired yesterday. Life is better.

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We did all the usual fun things over the week…eating too much, watching the Macy’s parade, walks, shopping Black Friday sales in Portsmouth and encountering a very New England Santa passing out local coupons…img_0221

Exciting for two sons and a son-in-law was a weekend trip to the Ohio State-Michigan game in Columbus. With two of them OSU fans and one a Michigan grad, someone had to come away disappointed in this double overtime matchup.

With the turkey off the table, the glitter and lights of Christmas are in full swing everywhere. I’ve barely rolled my pumpkins to the curb at my house. I think it’s time for a little holiday music and a trip to the tree farm….

 

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.

“Fee-Bee!”

All spring and summer we were serenaded by an Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe), a common flycatcher in these parts. “Fee-bee, Fee-bee…,” it called from backyard shrubbery as it defined its territory. Often described as dull or plain in coloration, this much loved bird’s personality is anything but. Flying insects make up most of the summer diet.  We were entertained all summer as it bobbed its tail on a nearby branch and made short flights to catch dragonflies, beetles, wasps, flies, moths, and more in mid-air.

The suburbs have helped this little bird. They often choose a man-made structure to build their mud, grass, moss nest. In our neighborhood, it’s always a ledge over a neighbor’s front door. If the nest isn’t removed, they come right back to the same nest the following year.  And it’s so easy to become attached to the little ones.

A true harbinger of spring, we know warmer weather can’t be far behind when we hear their sweet call in late winter. It’s October now, and we’ve enjoyed them for several months but, alas, migration can’t be far off. The weather is cooler, insects are scarce, and the birds have switched their diet to berries…. especially on our arrowood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum).

Fee-bee!

Nary a berry is left on the shrub after two weeks of its repeated diving for berries. It’s good to consider the ecological benefit of what’s added to a garden and our native viburnums are excellent for this very reason.  The berries are eaten by several species of birds… cardinals, robins and more but the phoebe ate a fair share. The shrub is also a larval plant food for the spring azure butterfly and hummingbird moth.

arrowood viburnum

This native species isn’t as fragrant as Asian viburnums but it makes up for it in spring flowers, fall leaf color, and abundant berries. It’s adaptable to a variety of growing conditions, growing quite well in full sun in our clay and rocky soil although not its preferred habitat.

Interesting tidbits: the common name arrowood, as you might have guessed, was because the long straight stems were once used to make arrows by indigenous peoples.
The Eastern Phoebe is said to be the first bird banded in North America by John James Audubon in the early 1800s. He attached a light silver thread to several fledgling phoebe legs and discovered they returned to the same nesting area the following year.

Dark-eyed Junco

It’s bird migration time and things are happening in our little spit of land. According to Chris Bosak, Birds of New England, Labor Day weekend was a good time to fill the feeders again for the fall and winter birds. So I filled the feeder with hulled black oil sunflower seeds and the welcome mat was officially rolled out for the migratory songbirds.

Due to an invasion of breeding house sparrows this summer, I fed only the insect eaters, the robins, bluebirds, phoebes, and chipping sparrows nibbling on what fell beneath the feeder… no seeds at all, just meal worms.  Those pesky house sparrows turned their noses up at the meal worms and have exited the neighborhood, probably living inside Home Depot or around McDonalds for the winter. We are ready for the next wave!

Our first winter visitors arrived two mornings ago. The white-throated sparrow and their snowbird companions, the dark-eyed junco, are perhaps the best harbinger of winter. They arrived overnight and I spotted the newcomers at dawn cleaning up fallen seeds beneath the feeder.

junco (Junco hyemalis) female with sunflower kernel

Female junco with sunflower kernel

The junco is a fairly nondescript bird, gray above and a white belly. The female is generally paler with a mixture of brown in the plumage. Our flock should number 20 or more by the end of October.

Juncos are among my favorite little birds because they entertain me with their antics all winter. Their scientific name is hyemalis, Latin for ‘winter,’ an appropriate name for no snowstorm, blizzard, or arctic day can keep them away.  Their feisty interactions competing for seed under the feeder (and on the feeder) make me smile. They run, they hop, they flit, and they scratch as they battle each other for seed on the frozen ground or snow. Look for them to appear beneath your feeder around here very soon.