Man vs Beetle

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

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

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

Oriental Beetle 2019

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

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

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

Lazy Days of Summer

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

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

cutting garden

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

johnny jump-ups 2019

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

hummer 2019

Can you find her?

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

Vermont July 2019

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

Farmers' Market 2019

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

tomatoes anyone 2019

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

Little Lime hydrangea 2019

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

Happy summer to you!

Mad about tomatoes

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

'Celebrity' tomato plant 2019

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

tomato 2019

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

Celebrity Tomato 2019

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

Strange weather continues…

After a cold, wet spring, we were blessed with a gloriously perfect day last Saturday. Sunshine. Blue skies. Warmer temps. A super day for volunteers who turned out with shovels and bags of compost to plant a dozen woody shrubs in a new community ornamental garden. Red twig dogwood, hydrangea, rhododendron, viburnum and more are forming the bones of a new public native plant garden with a generous grant from the Exeter Area Garden Club.  Not just for the public’s enjoyment, our goal is to attract pollinators and wildlife to the garden.

New F. A. Garden 2019

Following that glorious solo spring day, we have been plunged back into cold, wet weather. Mother’s Day was brisk yet warm with flowers, good wishes, phone calls, and a lovely brunch.

The very next day, just yesterday, a nor’easter brought chilly rains and gusty winds and overnight temperatures in the 30’s….. and SNOW to parts of the state. All I can do is enjoy the few blooms we have in the yard and wait for warmer weather closer to the weekend.

What plants seem to be happy in this weather?
Parsley is enjoying the cold. The ferns are
twice as large as they usually are.
Hostas are reaching for
the sky!

Epimedium seems thrilled…
⬇︎

epimedium

Rhododendron is unfazed…

roseum rhododendron 2019

Pansies are in their glory….

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What seems to be struggling or slow to adapt?
The iris! They will eventually
bloom but I see signs
of fungus on
the blades.

Tulips are fine but rarely open on these cold overcast days.

tulips 2019

Azalea blossoms are uncooperative…

azalea 2019

Crabapple blooms are struggling to open…

crabapple 2019

‘Carol Mackie’ daphne should bloom in May,
but this year it will be late.

Carol Mackie Daphne 2019

What to do when the calendar
says spring but the weather
says winter?
As long as there are no s-words… snow, sleet, or slush, nothing stops the people of New England if they have a good supply of fleecewear, wool socks, muck boots, and a rain hat. Gardening in the rain is still gardening.

muck boots 2019

Seasons

My brother in Virginia called yesterday just to check in. He’s good about contacting siblings to chat and maintain our sibling bonds across the miles. During our conversation, we talked about a lot of things but one subject always centers around food.

I might have mentioned we’re eating a lot of hardy foods that we require on these cold, dark winter nights… root vegetables, beef stews and a variety of good casseroles from the kitchen of my personal chef… mister gardener. Brother talked about what he’s enjoying… things like “the best crab cakes I’ve ever tasted.”  His dietary menu says a lot more than just what’s on his plate.

While he’s talking, I’m thinking… ‘The coast of New Hampshire is really not that far away from the coast of Virginia but we seem to be on totally different planets.  He’s invigorated by spring and we are still beneath an arctic cloud.’

He also said he’s picked a lot of daffodils in his yard and taken them to friends. He says he sees rabbit tracks in the yard and they are nibbling on his liriope and damaged the bark on his azalea that will soon burst into bloom. I just listened and visualized the scene that might be playing out in his landscape, realizing we are so removed from that glorious early Virginia spring that I love so.

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I miss all of that.

Last night we received 8 or 9 more inches of snow. Gone are the early days where I dashed out with a ruler to measure inches when we first moved here. Snow is not such a new event anymore but I still love to see it.

I know my bulbs, lirope, the few azaleas I have are stirring beneath the snow. They know the season is advancing. I will bide my time, try not to be too envious of siblings in Virginia picking daffodils and eating crab cakes.

A path to the birdfeeder today. 3/4/19

Today’s path to the bird feeders. March 4, 2019

The tables will turn for us in July, when those uncomfortable dog days of heat and humidity and mosquitoes arrive on the coast of Virginia. I remember it all too well.  Uncomfortable, yes, but bearable, and I love it all.

But summers are a glorious time in New England when we never shut a window, nor turn on an air conditioner. Naturally, our long winters can be uncomfortable at times… but what’s not to love? Seasons change, conditions change, and gardens still grow. That’s all this person cares about!

 

Seeing green in the winter

snowman 2019It’s a real thing. Call it a change in mood or lack of energy or just the winter blahs, the cold months of winter can be an obstacle. The glow of the holidays is gone and the seemingly endless dark winter days can be tough.

Living in zone 7b, there were a few days during the winter months that I could be outdoors gardening or participating in other open air activities with friends. Not being a winter sport enthusiast, ice and snow in New England brings most of my outdoors activities to a halt.

During the deepest days of winter, I’ve had to shift my interests. Our wonderful local library has been a magnet for me in the throws of winter along with belonging to a gym and different clubs that keep me active and involved. And most importantly, if I can’t get my green fix outside pulling a weed or pruning a branch in January and February, I can find the color green by bringing my gardening indoors.

I’ve never been attracted to houseplants in the past but suddenly I find it fun.  I have a few hardy ones that allow me to fuss over them. I pinch, trim, water, and move them fromterrarium 2019 room to room to follow the sun.

There’s a tiny terrarium that sits next to my winter reading chair. I’ve made it a little landscape, a slice of nature by adding a pine cone or two, a little snake that a sister whittled and painted, some frogs from another sister, a tiny turtle, and a little dragonfly. A new Christmas gift of a jewel encrusted frog trinket box from a brother’s family sits on the table in the morning sun. Just glancing at this slice of nature gives promise that springtime that will soon be here.

liz's snake

I haven’t invested in any plants that are difficult to maintain. I love this ivy below that came from a friend’s garden and potted for me by another friend. I find it’s hard to make ivy unhappy and looking at it brings memories of the past. My mother always brought cuttings of ivy indoors to brighten the house in the winter.

ivy 2019

Another ironclad plant that’s been with me for a few years is the peace lily (Spathiphyllum). The tiny sprout that I first brought home has blossomed into a specimen that has been repotted several times and may be ready for a division and a pass-along soon. With minimal care, I am rewarded with lovely tall spikes of white blooms periodically.

peace lily 2019

Now, instead of waiting to seed outdoors, I start herbs in a sunny window, root garden geraniums and candytuft (iberis) and other soft and woody cuttings from the garden.

For sure, there is little green to be seen from the windows during New Hampshire winters, but indoors at our house, we have enough green to see us through till spring!

As the Barefoot Contessa would say, “How easy is that?”

Hydrangea in New England

Hydrangeas are a quintessential part of a New England summer. Picture a cedar shake coastal style home located over the vast waters of the Atlantic. Can you picture the woody plants gracing the foundation of the home? I imagine all along the foundation are gorgeous hydrangeas with massive white blooms nodding in the ocean breezes.

Incrediball

After we purchased our home, we were asked by our association to remove huge invasive burning bushes alone the front foundation and plant something else. We were new to the area so we consulted a well-known landscape designer who suggested go with aborescens hydrangeas. Why not, I thought. We’re in New England now. Yeah!

Incrediball

It’s been 3 years and the Hydrangea arborescens ‘Abetwo’ Incrediball are absolutely gorgeous at this time of the year. Two are shaded part of the day but the third has a lot of hot afternoon sun…. and that one performs even better than the more shaded hydrangeas. The Incrediball is a carefree hydrangea with real staying power and very few diseases or pests. Since it blooms on new wood, we prune the shrubs close to the ground in late winter to encourage vigorous and strong stem growth and better form. It has paid off. The shrubs are over 5′ tall and fill the foundation well. Blooms are incredible (Incrediball?) and are held aloft on strong steps. All amazing but especially amazing is that they held up blooms in 3″ of rain in a fast moving gullywasher that we had a few days ago.

Incrediball.

The problem is…. I don’t like them there. Perhaps if I owned that cedar shingle style home on the seacoast, they’d be perfect. But we live in a nice New Hampshire neighborhood and they just don’t look right to me.  I don’t like bare branches as a front-of-the-house foundation all winter and  I’ve NEVER been crazy about blooming shrubs dominating a front foundation. I guess I’m an old-school gardener.

So I’m making plans for an evergreen border that I should have done in the first place. I’ll let flowering shrubs overflow in other parts of the garden…. the viburnums, clethra, and several other hydrangea that add drama to my back borders, but evergreens will be out front. Period. Final.

The good news: These are excellent pass-along shrubs. Aborescens can be shared. When the time is right, I will divide the root balls into quarters and each one will be a lovely new Incrediball hydrangea planted en masse in someone else’s New England garden. They would make a lovely hedge…

 

 

Drat! There goes another House Sparrow

Gimme an A!   Gimme another A!
In late winter with snow still on the ground, house sparrows (Passer domesticus) claimed these letters over a local Walgreens Pharmacy and were busy building nests. These are birds that not only seem to be everywhere you go, they ARE everywhere that people go, chirping loudly and claiming any crack or crevice for nesting.
 .
House.sparrows
.
You won’t see these birds in wooded areas, forests, or on grasslands. So what’s the key to their success? Humans…. yep, you and me. You find these bold invasive birds wherever people have built structures…. on farms, in cities and in the suburbs. Nesting in close association with humans have allowed them to spread just about everywhere on Earth.
house sparrows
 .
For weeks, several have been seen in our yard gathering nesting materials, getting a head start on migratory birds that have not yet arrived. They are very aggressive toward our bluebirds, fighting for nesting rights in the bluebird house. They eventually claimed the box and the bluebirds left. We had to step in. We removed our bluebird box.
The house sparrows’ incessant chirps are ringing out nearby so I think they’re around the corner in a neighbor’s gutter spout as they were last year. But they are back to check for the box daily…
 .
walgreens
.
This chunky immigrant from Europe was introduced to the North America well over a hundred years ago and it has simply taken over.  Walk into any Home Depot or Lowes or garden store. The loud chirping you hear from the rafters is the house sparrow.
House sparrows are NOT protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Act. Why? Because it is an invasive species and destructive. They are aggressive toward other birds, will kill adults and young, destroy eggs, and are prolific breeders. They eat seeds and a wide variety of other foods, scavenging trash around fast food restaurants, eating vegetables in your garden, grains on farms.
 .
House_Sparrow_Wikipedia
Some report a decline in numbers of house sparrows due to a rise in numbers of and competition from the invasive house finch. But the house finch doesn’t invade/destroy eggs/kill bluebirds at our house so give me a house finch over a house sparrow any day.

We love it here!

Exeter NH

Moving to New Hampshire from south of the Mason-Dixon Line has been an adventure. The landscape here is gorgeous in all the seasons but seeing our small town completely covered in a white blanket is so…. well, it’s so New England. The beautiful architecture, the rich history, the rolling landscape, and that great Boston dialect is all simply WOW.

So much was new to us but we’ve learned a lot in the few years we’ve lived here, including a few new terms, good and bad… a bad one being ‘ice icedam.’  In our first year, it took a dark dawn morning of towels, buckets and jugs catching water dripping coming through our walls to learn we had an ‘ice dam.’

A what? As soon as we reported the anomaly to our association, teams from a roofing company pulled up, unloaded ladders and sledge hammers and quickly worked their magic over our heads. That icy event was what we now call our ‘New England Baptism by Ice Water.’

Another unusual term I learned my first year in New Hampshire was ‘munchkin.’ When I was asked to bring ‘munchkins’ to a garden club meeting, they didn’t mean for me gather up the crew from the Wizard of Oz. A munchkin is the tiny hole from Dunkin’ Donuts doughnut, a bite size pastry. That was easy. There was a line at the first Dunkin’ Donuts, so I drove to the next one because there’s a Dunkin’ every two blocks in New England. I do not kid….

And don’t go through the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru and ask for a regular coffee if you drink it black. I learned the hard way. The regular coffee comes loaded with cream and sugar. Explain that one to me….  Also, just yesterday I was in a Verizon store where the employee helping me abruptly interrupted our conversation to tell another employee, “It’s almost 3 o’clock. The iced coffee is 99 cents at Dunkin’!”  Hey, it must be their version of ‘Happy Hour.’

Snow 2018

At first driving in the snow was frightening and difficult for me. For two winters, I hibernated during the snow season, afraid even to back my Prius from the garage. If I was forced to go somewhere, mister gardener either drove or I chugged along slowly in my Prius, white knuckled, holding up traffic. My children pressured me to get a car with all-wheel-drive. So I now drive my Suburu everywhere with a smile. “Love”… right?

Even though it doesn’t feel like spring, the vernal equinox arrives tomorrow at 12:15 pm EST.  The earth in the Northern Hemisphere will tilt toward the sun and days will become longer, warmer and sunnier. When I feed our hungry birds during the day, I call out to our sole winter robin to ‘Hang it there! Spring is on the way!’ I don’t think he believes it and some days not sure I do. He patiently waits for me to to throw food over the snow a few times daily and he’s the first of all the birds to attack the sunflower seeds and mealworms. I hope he’ll pack his suitcase and head south next fall.

Robin (March 2018)

Well, I wouldn’t characterize myself as a New Englander yet. We both still have lots to learn and understand…. the system of government for one.  Exeter operates as a town government with a traditional Board of Selectmen and Town Meeting form of government.  And it can and it does get a bit feisty to watch!

We’re learning more and more each year why this is a “Live Free or Die” state. Yippee!

 

 

 

 

How much snow?

Our garden bench seems to provide us with a pretty accurate snow depth from each winter storm. We haven’t heard the official amount for Exeter but unofficially we received 17″ – 18″ additional snow on top of the last nor’easter. Very beautiful to see at first light but enough….. Where is spring?

bench 2:13:18

Yesterday….

bench 2/14/18

Today….

Another Nor’easter

The East Coast took a beating in the last two days from a fierce nor’easter. The storm left perhaps millions without power and too many people losing lives in several states. Family members in Tidewater Virginia were affected by downed trees, flooding, travel woes, snow, rain, and loss of power, but they’re safe. Massachusetts, Maryland and Virginia issued a state of emergency.

Moving up the coast from the mid-Atlantic, the storm pounded the coastal communities of New Hampshire forcing high tides into neighborhoods. Roads became rivers for two days but the nor’easter pulled away from the coast today leaving us with cold, blustery winds and rough seas. We drove to the coastline to survey the damage.

Higher elevations showed evidence of very little damage….

nor'easter 2018

…while waves were still pummeling the seawalls and shoreline.

Nor'easter 2018

We witnessed the power of Mother Nature on seawalls up and down the NH coast. Huge chunks were missing or the walls were simply gone in places.

nor'easter 2018

The sheer force of the storm ripped large holes in parking areas, eroded road edges, and left massive amounts of rocks everywhere. Locals were busy clearing them away from driveways and yards, a monumental job on some properties.

nor'easter 2018

Crews working around the clock cleared roadways of rocks, sand, wood, and rubble.

nor'easter 2018

This sidewalk simply disappeared and was replaced by rocks.

nor'easter 2018People are drawn to the ocean in good weather and bad. Today’s weather brought out many folks who, like us, wanted to be a part of the experience, check out the ocean, or grab some photographs of the waves.

A 5K and Half Marathon scheduled for the Seacoast today was being held in spite of standing water. When the going gets tough…. those New Hampshire runners get going. Hot soup and Smuttynose beer awaited the runners at the finish line.

Local police were bundled up against the cold at the finish line.

Finish Line Half Marathon 3/4/18

Spectators braved the rocks to view the ocean.

nor'easter 2018

A downed barrier offered this photographer the perfect perch for photography.

nor'easter 2018

The downside of the storm was evident but there was an upside for a few. Surfers are always excited to experience the after effects of  a storm. This afternoon, there were about a dozen of them riding massive wave action out in the Atlantic.

nor'easter 2018

Spring might be right around the corner, but we are rudely reminded that winter is not finished with us. Weather forecasts predict that a major winter storm in the northern plains may bring us more snow, heavy rain, and strong winds by next weekend… that while thousands of utility workers are racing right now to restore power to millions. Sigh.

Incredible Incrediball!

Crazy weather. After two days of record setting warmth we have been plunged back to into the depths of winter tonight with a wet snowstorm covering the landscape. Yesterday the temperature reached a toasty 77° on our New Hampshire Seacoast, a record for the books!  Of course, the ground was still frozen solid with piles of snow everywhere, but it was warm enough for mister gardener and me to take our meals outside for two days without coats….or sweaters!

Yesterday was also a good day to do a little yard work. Too soon for cleaning up borders but perfect time for pruning our 3-yr. old hydrangea arborescens ‘Incrediball’ shrubs. I left the flower heads on the shrub for visual interest in the fall, but they had become frazzled from winter weather.

The ‘Incrediball’ is an improvement of the old favorite ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea or the smooth leaf hydrangea because the stems are sturdier and the white blooms are much larger. (I am withholding judgement for one more season) Because it blooms on new wood, pruning can be done anytime from from the first frost to late winter so now, on this warm winter day, I chose to prune these shrubs.

Incrediball.jpg

I removed sick, dead, and crossed branches and shaped the shrub a little. Some experts advised cutting ‘Incrediball’ to the ground but I chose to leave about 2′. I cut out many of tiny branches, leaving the sturdier branches for support.

pruned

Looking at the same shrub through our screened window this afternoon, a whole different scene greeted us. It’s 27° now and that’s okay because it’s winter in New Hampshire and this is our norm. The unusual 77° we experienced yesterday was an anomaly but a sweet hint of spring, a gift that we greatly appreciated.

incrediball.

 

Today everyone eats

Today we are experiencing a fierce blizzard in New Hampshire and I have invited all hungry animals, even these pesky ones, to dine on birdseed, peanuts, and fruit. It can be life or death out there. The snow is deep and the wind is ferocious.

 

squirrel

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It will get a heck of a lot worse today before it gets better. But we’re safe and snug inside with a nice fire and plenty of cocoa… and with fingers crossed that we don’t lose power!

Rhododendron Thermometers

Can you tell how cold it is in winter by looking outdoors at your rhododendron? Locals in New Hampshire tell me that a quick glance out the window will indicate whether the temperature has dropped to 32° or not. When the temperatures drop to freezing, the normally horizontal rhododendron leaves begin to droop and curl.

The amount of droop and curl does correlate to the severity of winter temperature. The lower the temperature, the tighter the curl. At 20° they are curled as tight as they can possibly get. Our rhododendron leaves are drooped and tightly curled right now and that’s a clue to the frigid outdoor temperatures…. a -8° at daybreak and currently a -3°.

Junco on Rhody

But why do the rhododendron leaves droop and curl in the first place? Theories and debates abound. Some say it is to prevent branch damage from the snow load. Others theorize it helps prevent or reduce water loss in the leaves, although horticulturists and scientists dismiss this theory because the openings on the underside of the leaf are closed during the winter.

A likely reason is drooping and curling prevents rapid freezing and thawing of the leaves. If the leaves are horizontal as they are in warm months, thawing may occur on a sunny day in winter, then the leaves may quickly freeze again overnight. This quick freezing and thawing could destroy leaf cells. So possibly, the drooping and curling would be nature’s way to protect leaves from the thawing solar rays during the day.  They are better off staying frozen until they can thaw slowly.

Rhododendron

More study is needed to answer all the rhododendron leaf questions but I’m just happy to know I can rely on these magnificent shrubs to let me know when the thermometer hits 32°.

Autumn frost

Temperatures on the Seacoast of New Hampshire are dropping at night, but warming to the 60’s or 70’s during the day. It’s a favorite time of the year for me. Most of the garden is still green. Grasses are at peak, berries are ripe, lawns are happy, annuals and some perennials are blooming, and a variety of migrating birds are passing through. Each morning, the sluggish fall bumblebees and dragonflies wait for the sun’s warmth before they take wing. It’s all about the beautiful changes in the garden… not the colorful blooms of summer.

Early Fall, Exeter NH 2017

Early Fall, Exeter NH, 2017

No hard freeze yet, but we are having mornings of ‘frost on the pumpkin.’ With nighttime temperatures dropping to the upper 30’s for short periods, the garden wakes to a thin coat of ice on the birdbath and a silvery coating of crystals on the lawn and leaves. Plants don’t seems to be damaged and this hoar frost is a pretty sight to behold in the first light of day…. almost like a sprinkling of sugar or jewels.

Yes, days are shrinking and the leaves are beginning to drop but for a few weeks until the winter blasts arrive, it’s a delightful time of year. I hope you are embracing autumn wherever you live.

Sedum, Hoar Frost, 2017

Hoar Frost, Oct. 2017

Hoar Frost

Hoar Frost, 2017

Ice on the birdbath, October 2017

Rhody, Hoar Frost

Hoar Frost

 

 

 

Atlantic Heights Garden Tour 2017

My first home as a child was in a planned neighborhood, the nation’s first Federal war-housing project established during World War I in Hilton Village, Virginia. Five hundred lovely English cottage-style homes were built by Newport News Shipbuilding to supply homes for their workers. The neighborhood opened on July 7, 1918. Following the war, the homes were sold.

Years later, my parents bought the small home below and, my gosh, what a wonderful neighborhood it provided for a community of young families in a much simpler time. We had sidewalks, shops, an inn, our church, a movie theater, and a very nice school… all on the historic James river.  After the 4th of 8 children was born to our parents, it was time to move from this small home… but nostalgia being what it is, we siblings occasionally still meet to drive through the hood and reminisce. Nothing has changed in this well-maintained historic neighborhood… but maybe the paint colors. Yes, we have home movies and photos galore so we can’t forget, and one brother still keeps up those childhood friends.

On Friday last, mister gardener and I saw a news article about another World War I Federal war-housing project located in Portsmouth NH, 20 minutes from us, that provided housing for the Portsmouth Shipyard. We knew nothing about this war housing project. They were having their annual garden tour the following day…. no charge, just donations.  We didn’t have to think twice about visiting this hood.

Absolutely adorable was my first thought when driving through the neighborhood…. quaint brick homes, sidewalks, a beautiful park with a baseball game in progress, old people and young people, a great sense of community. The folks we met were friendly and happy to share their neighborhood and their pocket gardens. Most of the homes were old brick and several styles that repeated with small changes, many were duplexes, and all the residences were quite tiny but very charming. Here are a few of the homes I photographed at random (click to enlarge):

And here are some photos of interesting sights here and there and some of the gardens they graciously shared with so many visitors (click to enlarge):

Thank you to Atlantic Heights for throwing open your garden gates to fellow gardeners and the curious… both of which we were. Great hospitality!

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

FullSizeRender

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.