Helping a Painted Friend

It’s that time of the year. Temperatures are warming and ponds and vernal pools have been full of activity around our neck of the woods.  Sadly, our neighborhood street cuts right through a wetland so we see water turtles following the pathway from one section to another for egg laying, which takes them right across our road. A common turtle seen crossing our road is the eastern painted turtle (Chrysemys picta), often a pregnant female on her way to lay eggs.

To prevent road kills, drivers are encouraged to avoid turtles on the roads and, if conditions are safe, carefully pull over to help them onto the side of the road in the same direction the turtles are heading.

painted turtle 2017

I put this one down on the side of the road and in seconds, it was on its way….

Painted Turtle- 2017

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

 

The pansies are here!

The pansies are here! The pansies are here! I love a blue pansy and a large bloom on a pansy and I was lucky enough to snatch up a flat at Churchill’s Garden yesterday. This is a popular shade of blue that always seems to be in short supply as the season marches on. Some years I miss out so I buy them when I see them no matter the weather. Later I’ll buy a solid large yellow bloom (a little easier to find) and plant a bed of blue and yellow pansies along a brick entry at the front door. I think the combination is a showstopper. The variety is Karma True Blue, a short, sturdy, and bushy plant that stays compact.

I’m thrilled to have them but it’s waaaaaay too early to plant them in New Hampshire.

This is the bed where they will eventually live, a border that won’t see the sun for a few weeks yet. For now they are living in a window in our garage. Pansies like cold weather but these just came from a greenhouse. It’s brisk in the garage, downright cold, but they will be well protected from the 12° temperatures we will experience tonight.

Hurry up spring!

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Spring… sluggish but emerging

Just feet from our front door is a small woods that drops off gently to a marshy area that is still partially blanketed in snow.  Yesterday, I decided to make my way down the incline to the meandering stream in the midst of the woodland to search for the first or one of the first native plants to flower in the spring.

The ground was spongy and muddy where there was no snow cover, and slippery where the snow patches were turning icy before melting altogether. This is just a small spit of woods but once inside, the tree canopy enveloped me. The earthy smells, the birds twittering, the squirrels moving along the tall hemlocks and pines, intensely green moss covering every fallen branch and tree stump, made this tiny wooded area a magical spot away from civilization. I felt I had just entered the magical portal linking me to a miniature Narnia.

Growing out of the snow at the edge of the stream, I spotted what I’d come to find, Symplocarpus foetidus, skunk cabbage. The first part of the plant is the spathe, a purplish mottled pod that is able to generate heat and melt a hole in snow. None I saw had opened yet but when they do, they will expose the spadix, the flower cluster inside that will attract insects. The green bud next to the spathe will become the massive leaves of the plant. When the days become warmer, these leaves will unfurl to a very large size… up to 2-ft. in length and a foot wide.

Not related to a true cabbage, the name of the plant, skunk cabbage, comes from the smell of the plant, a fetid odor that attracts early flies to visit and pollinate the plants. The raw leaves are eaten by insects but are toxic to most animals… including the human animal.

Some may think these plants ordinary or common, but I am fascinated by these natives, a true harbinger of spring, that can actually melt snow. Knowing how to do that this winter would have come in handy in New Hampshire!

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.

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.

Spring: Act I

It’s been a long time coming but the vernal season is finally upon us. Leaves are unfurling, catkins are hanging, birds have returned, pink crab apple buds, closed tight, are ready to take center stage along the side of the house.

We’ve had a handful of temperatures close to 80° but also our fair share of rain, cool days and brisk nights. Daytime temperatures in the 50°s seems the norm. What do we have in the garden that loves this weather? Violas, a gift from a new friend in my garden club gives us our only bloom in the front gardens today.

The rest of the yard is showing clear signs of new life. Blooms are lined up like soldiers in two rows along the branches of our doublefile viburnum. When this shrub fills out with showy lacy white blooms and large leaves, it will probably be the site of a robin’s nest.

doublefile viburnumOur other viburnum, arrowood (Viburnum dentatum), may need a little more time to bloom but when it does, it should be covered in lovely white flat flowers at the ends of the branches.

Chicago LustreCandles on our white pines have a long way to go before they begin to spew pollen and cover the deck and furniture yellow. I wonder if the pine pollen is blowing around my Tidewater Virginia hometown yet.

white pine candlesOne of my favorite shrubs is starting to leaf out. Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia), a native, will bloom in sweet fragrant white blooms that attract the bees and butterflies and me!

clethraThe first blooms of bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) hang like jewels on a necklace. Not sure that I wanted this plant, I removed it from the border and covered it haphazardly with pine needles last fall. It survived and I’m glad. It’s lovely beneath the white pines.

bleeding heartThe bleeding heart plants will go beautifully with several varieties of hosta that I also covered with pine needles beneath the white pines. I am shocked that they survived but I am glad.

hosta

 

 

 

March Sprouts

I don’t usually keep plants inside in winter. It’s too hot and dry indoors and I end up watching plants wither and drop leaves all winter. Plants are so much healthier and happier with outdoor sunshine and fresh air and moisture.

That said, I did venture outside late last fall to rescue one tender succulent from winter’s icy grip. All winter, I’ve moved it from sunny window to sunny window.  In a few weeks, it will be returned to the outdoors to be better cared for by Mother Nature. The succulent was a low maintenance venture for me.

succulentAlas, three weeks ago, a high maintenance and potentially huge indoor plant took control of me. The need to touch soil or plant a seed overcame logic because, by this time in Virginia my outdoor gardening has already begun…here, we can barely see the ground for snow. I now I have a new plant that may not make it to the great outdoors. Odds are against it.

After finishing off a cantaloupe one cold morning, I found one lone seed that escaped cleanup. Without much thought, I picked it up and pressed it into the soil next to the healthy succulent and thought no more about it… until three days later when I noticed a tiny green tip of a sprout on the surface of the soil. I watched for the next few days as the embryonic leaf, the cotyledon, emerged from the soil and opened as the first photosynthesis for the plant.

cotyledonOne by one, the vine began to send out hairy shoots and tiny buds. I was totally mesmerized by the miniature plant. We’ve grown melons in the garden before but this time it seems more like a scientific lab experiment on the windowsill. I have a magnifying glass and I am noticing details I’ve never noticed before.

leavesThose who grow cantaloupe know the leaves are fuzzy but I never noticed just how hairy the entire plant is. If by some miracle I keep the plant alive until the end of May after the last danger of frost, I hope to take my cantaloupe outdoors, replant it using a trellis with support for the trailing vines as it matures. We saw how the University of New Hampshire vertically grows sprawling melons several feet high on trellises in their greenhouses. The fruit is supported in small hammocks. Can I do that? My instincts tell me it’s too early to start indoor seedling in New Hampshire but I can hope.

At junctures, small leaves and vines are unfurling in a fuzzy mass. Click on photos to see more details.

leavesAs the leaves on my tiny plant mature, they are becoming more oval or heart shaped with edges that are wavy or uneven. They are very tender and fragile so I’m trying to be careful when I turn the plant in the sun.

cantaloupe leaves

hairy leaves

I have no idea of the variety of my little plant. I am hoping I’m lucky enough to have a quick growing, early maturing variety for our short New England summers. If it lives for the next several weeks, I’ll post on the progress.

 

Forsythia in bloom…

Plenty of people I know look down their noses at forsythia. I admit that I once dug up and discarded a lovely forsythia shrub because I was influenced by negative opinion from a more experienced gardener. But I’m more confident now and I plant what makes me smile and forsythia really makes me smile. It brings back memories of my childhood, the full, naturally arching boughs that invited playtime beneath the branches.  It’s just beginning to bloom in this yard and although someone has pruned it into a sad light bulb shape, those tiny yellow blooms still capture the magic of spring.