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!

 

It’s been a mild winter…

…..on the Seacoast of New Hampshire. Lots of rain with temperatures that have fluctuated in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s during the day, and the 20’s and 30’s during the overnight for the most part. But this mild pattern is about to change. Last night we had mild overnight temperature of 33°. Tonight’s temperatures will drop into the mid-teens. Nighttime temperatures will stay there or much lower for the rest of the month. Sigh. Winter has arrived.

So this morning, I had a job to do. Out came the burlap to protect two of my woody plants, the mahonias, that I consider borderline plants in my less sheltered garden sites. Officially we are zone 6 in Exeter, but I always plant for hardiness zone 5b as I learned while working at Rolling Green Nursery here in NH.

mahonia NH 2019

It’s a lovely winter blooming plant and they are beginning to develop terminal blooms on several stems. With temperatures dropping to single digits tomorrow night, I needed to protect those new blooms that are oh-so tiny.

mahonia bloom January 2019

Those blooms will open to beautiful, lemon-yellow clusters in late February or March and look like this photo (below) taken in my January gardens in Virginia. As an early blooming plant, these fragrant blooms are well-known for helping to feed those first bees that are searching for nectar in the spring.

honeybee on mahonia

After pollination, the fruits develop the most divine grape-like clusters of powder blue berries. Unfortunately, they don’t stay on the plants long. My catbirds arrive from warmer climes and devour all before any other migrating bird has a chance!

mahonia berries in Virginia

Mahonia is closely related to the barberry, but the leaves are spiny and look more like a holly shrub. These slow-growing plants are planted in a shady mixed-shrub border that I am currently planning a big redesign. Not to worry… my mahonia shrubs stay just where they are as the jewels in the crown of this garden in New Hampshire.

Ice on the pumpkin

These days it’s dark when we wake up in the morning and dark when we sit down for dinner. Alas….winter weather has arrived and we’ve had a few nights of very cold temperatures. It seems too early for freezing weather but, yes, it’s here. Overnight last week I lost my annuals.  I don’t plant many but ‘Hawaii Blue’ ageratum is a must. It’s a dependable plant that flowers all summer and carries the color of my lavender through other areas of the garden. I always buy two flats of seedlings at a local nursery.

This was a couple of weeks ago:

ageratum Blue Hawaii

This is after the first hard freeze:

ageratum Blue Hawaii

Oh well.  It’s all in the life of an annual. The cleome or spider flower that was glorious and fed the monarchs and bees not long ago melted into a heap of green and brown slime overnight.

cleome 2018

Not all is lost. In with the cold weather arrived our delightful winter birds! Juncos and white-throated sparrows blew down from the northern climes with one of the coastal storms. Flocks of bluebirds have stopped for a visit for the last two weeks. Some might venture south. Some might stay with us for the winter.

Grasses in the garden are giving us a show… especially my favorite native switchgrass, ‘Northwind,’ upright and 5′ tall in full bloom right now. Soon the blades will turn a golden shade and be glorious in the winter garden.

'Northwind' switchgrass 2018

I added some ‘Shenandoah’ switchgrass to another area of the garden this fall and anticipate the winter foliage will turn a lovely burgundy as promised. It’s not as tall and not as upright as ‘Northwind’ but just as hardy. Let’s hope it does not disappoint.

And so we seem to have more overcast days, more wet weather, snow in parts of the state but we are ready. The furnace is working. The fireplace is clean. Wood is stacked…. and our new addition is finished and furnished.  Life is good.

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!

Winter Walking in Exeter

I would define our community as a pedestrian friendly town. Many people who live here forgo their dependence on vehicles in favor of the healthy alternative…. walking and biking.

This is my 3rd winter in Exeter and it still amazes me that the streets are cleared of snow in the morning in the worst of snowstorms. Not just the streets….the sidewalks are cleared, too. Where some communities threaten to fine citizens for not shoveling their sidewalks, folks here can step out of their homes and walk to town almost immediately following a storm. It’s nifty mini-tractors that do the trick in today, but clearing local sidewalks is nothing new.

Here’s an old film showing our walks being cleared by horse and plow:

Today it’s done by modern horsepower:

sidewalk tractors

Here and there in the downtown, there are small alleyways dug through snow mounds  providing parkers access to sidewalks and shops. I don’t know if the town shovels these paths or the shop owners, but it’s critical for business. Otherwise you’d take a hike to the end of the block… in the street!

Stella brought us perhaps our last real dump of snow two days ago. This morning under sunny skies, I bundled up, stepped outside and was greeted by piles of snow on the sides of dry roads and cleared sidewalks. I love this little community that keeps the streets and sidewalks clear and makes winter walking fun.  All of it is quite indicative of the value Exeter places on pedestrians and a healthier lifestyle.

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Bluebirds in Winter

We have a family of Eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis) that is staying with us through the winter. The blues have been expanding their range for the last 10 years or so, and it’s not really unusual to see them in New England during the winter.

Two springs ago, mister gardener made a bluebird house and installed it along the edge of our garden. It wasn’t long before a pair claimed the house, fighting off chickadees, house sparrows and swallows for this real estate. During the summer, the pair fed on a variety of foods that they found in the landscape and we supplemented with a little snack of meal worms.

They only had one nesting that summer and the family wintered over. In the spring, the young were off to find their own territories and our parents managed three nestings last summer. So we have our original pair and 4 of the offspring wintering over this year.

Bluebirds in Winter

We have planted shrubs and trees that also provide food… such as serviceberry, viburnum, crabapple… for the fall when insects become more scarce. To help them out during the winter, we feed them meal worms but make sure we offer a mixed and balanced diet by adding bits of suet, hulled sunflower, and some berries and raisins. Bluebirds love to bathe!  A heated birdbath in the winter is a plus for bathing and drinking.

Bluebird with ice on beak

The blues generally roost at night in nearby pine forests, but will huddle in their bluebird house for shelter from time to time.

Bluebird in House

When I look out on snowy mornings and there is hardly a place for them to land, I wonder what these birds might be thinking. Could they be questioning their decision not to migrate to warm climes?  Just maybe…..

Bluebirds 2017

Top Ten Ways to Survive…

… a New England winter, especially if you’re a Southern transplant. I hear from friends in Virginia who say they’re still raking leaves in their yards. Our leaves in New Hampshire are hidden under 6″ of snow and ice. It seems the weatherman predicts Wintry Weather every other day around here. That means a little snow, rain, and sleet all at once combined with cold and blustery wind gusts. With these meteorological conditions, it’s easy to catch the dreaded Cabin Fever.  Some of our new acquaintances have kindly suggested a few of their favorite pastimes to get us out of the house.

10. Learn to ice skate on the pond out back. Not a chance.

9. Take up downhill skiing. Our bones are too brittle.

8. Snowmobiling. Well, maybe….

7. Snowshoeing. This looks favorable. We see folks our age out there.

6. Jogging. Not on your life. Black ice is rampant.

5. Skijoring. Have you ever heard of it? Skijoring is Norwegian for ski driving and it’s really gaining in popularity. Think of it as a cross between dog mushing and cross-country skiing. But not for us. We don’t have a death wish.

New York Times Skijoring

4. Hockey games. OK, we did that and loved it. Take a look at this adorable mini-hockey entertainment during halftime:

3. Exploring the area. Yes! Especially in a warm automobile with a GPS. Suggestions are sounding better.

2. Shopping. Portsmouth’s Market Street, voted one of New England’s Best Shopping Streets by Travel and Leisure Magazine. Now we’re talking!

1. Eating Out. Eureka! Our #1 favorite winter pastime so far is checking out area restaurants. And I’m happy to say we’re getting quite skilled at it. Restaurants are plentiful and varied. We’re having a great time wading through menus in different hamlets. The added bonus is a bit of personal insulation around the waistline to keep us warmer when the Wintry Weather hits.