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!

 

Not my mama’s biscuits…

Maybe not so much anymore, but when I grew up, there were distinct regional differences in what folks ate. In Ohio, where mister gardener was a member of a large German farming community, sauerkraut was considered a staple. I had not tasted sauerkraut until I moved to Ohio in my mid-twenties. But I did like it on my first Reuben sandwich. mister gardener has become our main cook these days and there is always a head of cabbage in the refrigerator that he’ll use in a variety of recipes.

From my home state, biscuits were a staple, a food that mister gardener absolutely does not like. Rolls were his mainstay. Every now and then, I hunger for a good biscuit like my mother made but, alas, I don’t have her perfect recipe. I’ve tried unsuccessfully to duplicate it through the years. This morning I tried one that flashed up on my Facebook yesterday. The ingredients were simple: self-rising flour, frozen butter, buttermilk. Stir 15 times, roll out and fold 4 times, cut out and bake.

In Virginia, we always had a little country ham (Edward’s Ham) to accompany biscuits but bacon was my substitute this morning. First glimpse right out of the oven was promising, but the first bite was a DUD! Although flaky as promised, the biscuits were TASTELESS next to the memory of my mother’s. Another recipe in the trash, but I’ll keep trying. Sigh….

Not My Mama's Biscuits....

I remember my mother throwing ingredients together without measuring, rolling out, then cutting biscuit dough in squares to feed a family of 9. The result was always perfection. Who has a good old Virginia recipe to share?

It Was The Best of Times, It Was The Worst of Times….

Whew! Irene packed quite a punch in Tidewater Virginia.  We awoke to a cleanup nightmare but we weren’t fazed by the sight of branches, trees, and debris. We spent the nighttime hours worrying about the worst that could happen and awoke to the best… only because we came through the hurricane unscathed. As with all storms of this magnitude, the morning after brings the hum of chain saws, the songs of hungry birds and the sight of boats on the river returning to their moorings.

Cleanup has begun all over this yard and we’ll soon be back to a normal routine. mister gardener is tackling the larger job of cutting up three large trees that were downed by the storm, a magnificent white pine and two old maples, one that fell across the driveway. After our job is completed, we will venture out to see what assistance our neighbors need after Irene’s assault on Ware Neck.

We left plenty of nectar in the garden for the hummingbirds during the storm but they were buzzing around the feeders in force this morning to top off their little tanks.

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Our thoughts and concerns are with those less fortunate individuals who were casualties of this massive storm in property and in person.
Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

A New Secret Garden

When I announced over dinner to mister gardener that I am developing a spot in the yard for a new secret garden, his response was, “A secret garden? Why would anyone want a secret garden?”

Surprised, I had to think a minute.  “Well, it’s the delight of planning, planting, the joy of using it, sharing it and the excitement of discovery.”

“If you ask me (nobody did), I don’t think it makes sense. It would be like me making a beautiful chair in the workshop, then bringing it up to the house and hiding it in a closet.  Maybe I’d share it.  Maybe I wouldn’t.”

I could see we were going nowhere with this.  “You’ve got a point, dear…”  And we switched to the conversation to the wonderful tomato harvest.

Like sugarplums, visions of the new secret garden are dancing in my head.  I have already spent several days hidden deep inside clearing, pruning, transplanting, and making room for what is to be. Dragging in a chair, I sometimes sit and think about the habitat I will create for the birds that I already see in this area, I imagine leading the grandchildren on anmy other bunny adventure picnic to an enchanted new wilderness, and I think of sipping my morning coffee here watching a microcosm what goes on in nature.  There are two bunnies that call this garden home.  They do not scurry when I approach.  They are stretched out on the cool earth.  Like the animals of the Galapagos they have no fear of humans.  So together we share this space, just me and the bunnies.

One fun feature is that I can peek out into the world of bright sunshine and roses and mowed grass but no one notices me hidden in the dappled sunlight in this new space.  The labs walk by searching and sniffing the air and I have seen mister gardener scratch his head and look around for me.  “Yoo hoo,” I say.  Up until my little announcement, he thought I was just weeding. Now he wonders if I’m actually going through with this notion.  I see it on his face.  I think secret gardens must appeal more to Maid Marions of the world who grew up with playhouses and sisters.  I will allow this Merry Man to join me in my secret garden for a cocktail on occasion.  I shall name it Sherwood Forest.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

The Cow Killer, also known as Red Velvet Ant

Cow KillerI’m not walking in the garden without shoes again.  Today I saw a Cow Killer as I weeded in my bare feet.  I called for mister gardener to quickly bring me my camera because the insect moves fast.  Named Red Velvet Ant for the fine layer of hairs on the body, it is also called Cow Killer for the venomous punch it packs when it stings.  Actually, it is not an ant at all but one of the 475 species of Velvet Ant parasitic wasps in North America.  The winged male does not sting but the wingless female, usually nocturnal, wanders the flower garden dining on nectar while searching for the tunnels of ground-nesting wasps, especially the cicada wasp.  The female Velvet Ant will sneak into the tunnel and lay eggs on the host larva which the Velvet Ant young will consume after hatching. She has a nearly indestructible exoskeleton which protects her from the sting of the cicada wasp should they meet in the ground nest.

cow killer

The Cow Killer is a solitary wasp and does not live in a colony or have a nest of her own.  She is not aggressive and will try to escape if disturbed.  Interestingly, she does make a sound.  As a child, I would touch one with a twig just to hear the tiny squeak it made.  These beautiful wasps are not numerous and cause no damage to plants. No chemical control is needed.  Teach others about them, appreciate them, and leave them alone as they have a purpose in keeping the bee and wasp population in check.  My advice: Simply defend yourself against a painful sting and wear shoes in the garden.

Red Velvet Ant

See September 12:  “A Red Velvet Ant Stops in for Lunch”

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester