Which one did I buy?

Toward the end of the growing season, I picked up a witch hazel plant on a mark down sale at a local nursery. The plant was labeled Hamamelis virginiana, the common witch hazel that blooms in late fall in eastern North America. This understory native tree flowers about mid-fall and may continue through December when no other flowers are in the landscape.

Several of these small trees grow along the wood line across the street and I love seeing the splash of color beneath the conifers as both the leaves and the flower turn a golden yellow. It’s a pretty smart plant to bloom when there isn’t any competition for pollination by insects. Bees are buzzing late in the season around these trees… and the fragrance? It can be intoxicating on a fall day.

Witch Hazel, Hamamelis virginiana

My tiny witch hazel, planted late in the season, has just become visible after a big snow melt and it is beginning to bloom during the final days of February. I think the label was correct. It probably is a Hamamelis virginiana that is blooming late the first year. But could it be mislabeled?  There are some witch hazels that bloom in February, the Vernal witch hazel and hybrids…. one of which I grew in Virginia, Hamamelis vernalis, Diane’ with a bright red and beautiful bloom.

Secretly, I’m hoping the witch hazel is mislabeled and I have an early spring blooming Vernal witch hazel. Fingers crossed….but just maybe, someone who knows lots more than I do, can verify this plant’s identity.

witch hazel

A Marshmallow World Today

Exeter NHWe were told it would be a big storm for most of New Hampshire but living on the coast, we expected mostly rain and wet snow yesterday. And that’s exactly what we got. The city, with help from the sun and rising temperatures, took care of snow and ice on the roads and we could be out the door early on our errands.

The year is drawing to a close and we are looking forward to moving on in 2017. We had a wonderful Christmas with the wee grandchildren doing all the things that make the holiday special. Baking and dining seemed to take up a lot of our energy so resolutions for getting back in shape top the list for 2017.

Christmas Cookies 2016

Christmas Dinner

Phone calls, FaceTime, photo sharing albums of family, festive decorations, gatherings from Kentucky, Virginia, and Ohio brightened our December days. Garden club activities… Christmas luncheons, a fun Yankee Swap, decorating the Exeter Historical Building, and annual neighborhood gatherings capped off the month…..

Neighborhood Christmas Party 2016

…..until finally the big day arrived and excited wee youngsters hurried up to bed with visions of sugarplums keeping them awake way too late!

Off to bed...

Hope everyone had a wonderful and meaningful Christmas. Best wishes for a healthy and prosperous 2017 and I’ll be right back here in the new year.

 

Bringing the outdoors in…

On a snowy day like today with dangerous roads, we decided to stay home rather than continue holiday errands, a very wise decision. Hot chocolate and a fire in the fireplace was the theme of the day. But, we were also warmed by wonderful  blooms of an outdoor plant brought indoors several weeks ago.  In Virginia, I’d just stick geranium pots in the garage to overwinter but that doesn’t work in our New England climate. Brrrr…!

A year ago, encouraged a couple of years ago by Judy over at NewEnglandGardenAndThread, I brought my favorite annual geranium indoors as an experiment. The first year it stayed in the original large clay pot until spring. It did fine, never got leggy, and bloomed regularly. Outdoors it happily went in the spring, but at summer’s end, it had grown too huge for our windowsill.

So I cut that mammoth geranium down to small nubs, dipped each in a rooting hormone and stuck them in a soilless mix in a trough that now sits in my sunny kitchen window. I thought I’d lose most but, no…. the results really surprised me!  Every wee plant rooted quickly and flourished. Blooms seem to multiply overnight even on the tiniest plants. As soon as one fades, there are 4 or 5 blooms waiting to take its place. It’s our winter flower garden on the windowsill and those sweet blooms warmed us on this wintry day.

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Planting for Nostalgia

It’s warming up in New Hampshire. We’ve been informed that this area is decidely USDA Hardiness Zone 6, not 5 as my blog title states.  But when asked by customers at the nursery, some employees say to plant for Zone 5b because we can have those atypical winters. That sounded like good advice to me and I followed it.

That was before I spotted two shrubs for sale locally that flourished in my Virginia, Zone 7b garden. I’d never seen them for sale around here. Surprisingly, one was tagged Zone 5 and the other Zone 6. Huh?? I was intrigued but hesitated for a moment because I knew they are semi-invasive or invasive in warmer climes.  Probably because of the drought and low sales, the manager approached me…the only customer… and said “For you, everything is half price today.” Hesitation over. I packed my cart.

Forever and ever these shrubs have screamed Virginia as they’re seen in practically every garden, old and new. Nandina domestica and Leatherleaf mahonia. A slice of Old Virginia in my cart. Nostalgia!

#1. Nandina domestica, imported to England from China and Japan in 1804, is a care-free showy shrub, disease-resistant, pest-resistant, that is widely used for flower arranging both for the attractive lacy leaves that vary from red to green to copper and the clumps of bright red berries that follow clusters of tiny white blooms. The berries are fabulous for holiday arrangements! A common name for nandina is Heavenly Bamboo as the multi-stem plant bears a striking resemblance to the canes of bamboo plants. We will discover whether this Zone 6 plant survives as an evergreen as it does in Virginia. I fear it will die back to the ground each winter and never grow as a 5′ tall ornamental as it was in Zone 7b. Fingers crossed…

Nandina from my Zone 6 garden: flower buds not open; new copper growth:

nandina-bloom nandina-new-red-growth#2. Leatherleaf Mahonia, labeled Zone 5, has been grown for generations in the US since brought from China in 1800’s. Members of leatherleaf are labeled noxious and planting is prohibited in Alabama, Georgia, SC, and Tennessee. A stiff leaved multi-stemmed spiny evergreen shrub resembling a holly but in Zone 7b, it redeems itself with fragrant lemony clusters of flowers appearing in late winter giving a multitude of bees some very early nectar. Those attractive flowers then develop into interesting bunches of blue-ish berries that hang like fat grapes…thus giving its other name, grape holly.

Mahonia photos from my Zone 7b garden: winter blooms; blue berry clusters:

honeybee on mahoniamahoniaI love both of these plants and will probably tent them for winter protection until I discover how they get through our winters.  Ahhhh…. How divine!

Survival of the Fittest

Our population of neighborhood turkeys has dwindled. I’m sure some turkeys didn’t make it through the worst of winter weather but, also, about this time of year, late winter or early spring, the flocks divide into smaller groups… one of hens, one of young males, and older males in another group.  It’s been a tough winter for all wildlife and we’ve tried to help out our birding population as much as we can… and that includes our posse of turkeys.

Snow has drifted to just below the window in the kitchen, which has allowed us to be eye to eye with these noble creatures as they feast on seed that we scatter. They are wary of us but hunger trumps caution.

Tom TurkeyThe dominate male gobbler, above, keeps a sharp eye on us at the breakfast table and when he feels he’s had enough, he gives a silent sign and the flock slowly follows him through the shrubbery. We’re not sure how he does that. We think he watches us and the rest watch him.

We’re visited by 8 turkeys now, we think young males, from about 18 turkeys that visited us all fall. We watch this small group appear at dawn each morning, quickly devour the food we scatter the night before. They take the exact path each morning through a neighbor’s yard and across the road, then disappear up another neighbor’s driveway to their backyard.  I’m sure our small posse takes the same route because a generous soul has a laid out another breakfast course for them.

Turkey hunting season approaches in New Hampshire in May. We hope you fare well, young gobblers!

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.

ICE!

Today the temperature reached 37° and our icicles took on a life of their own. Drip. Drip. Drip. For the next 10 days or so, the temperatures will fluctuate. We may have negative temperatures at night and daytime will be in the teens, the twenties and a couple of thirty degrees here and there. We will have thawing and freezing of the very heavy snow atop everyone’s roofs…. which causes the dreaded ice dams that become leaks in a home. Ice dams are already creating havoc in many homes in New England and we are crossing our fingers that we won’t have a problem this year.iceRoof raking is a big business around these parts. We’ve had our home cleared of ice and snow twice. And we will have it done one more time this week. That should be it for the winter (knock on wood) for us but many others are waiting to have theirs done for the first time and just hoping for no more snowstorms. The weight of snow and ice has caused several major roof collapses in the area and created structural damage to schools, homes and businesses.

ice on cottage It is not an easy job, nor a safe job to clear roofs of snow and ice. Roofs are generally steep in this part of the world. Workers climb tall ladders and cross roofs in frigid temperatures carrying very long snow rakes. We’ve watched numerous homes being done, including our own. It’s a job I would not want!

Huge icesnowThe removal of ice dams is not for the faint of heart. Swinging a sledge hammer overhead like this, you would think it would go through the roof, but I was amazed at how exact these workers were at hitting only ice. They completed the task without causing structural damage to the home.

bang!Even though the ground is beneath about 4′ of snow, I can feel spring. It’s definitely in the air.  I am dreaming about those warmer days ahead and making lots of plans for our garden. Spring officially begins on March 20…. just weeks away (actually 25 days, 34 minutes, and 30 seconds!). Will the snow have melted by then? I rather doubt it…

Protecting Shrubs in Winter

In the milder zone 7b of my former home in Tidewater Virginia, people often tie up their roadside shrubs with burlap to protect them from road salt. Now we’re in New Hampshire. Here it’s done, not only for that reason, but to protect branches and shrubs from the weight of snow. We often see small shrubs and large ones protected with tents of burlap or tied up tight with roping.

Tide Hill Korean BoxwoodWe learned the hard way last year when three new dwarf boxwood (Buxus microphylla “Tide Hill”) were buried under 6′ of snow. In March, when I finally dug them out, the entire crowns were crushed. Multiple stems were completely snapped off (bonus: I rooted them and now have a dozen baby boxes).

The three boxwood were transplanted to a more protected garden and three dwarf Helleri holly (Ilex Crenata “Helleri”) replaced them. More rugged than box, but they have similar small leaves. We will maintain them as a small hedge.

Even though a mild winter was in the forecast for the 2015 winter months, we weren’t taking any chances. We wanted to protect the small Helleri hollies from the elements. So mister gardener made small sandwich boards that he put over the hollies when the first flakes began to fall.

Dwarf Helleri Holly protectionThe next snowstorm covered the boards.

Helleri HollyNow take a look below at our 7-ft. snowdrift over the hollies today. The final snowstorm this week confirmed our suspicions about the Seacoast of New Hampshire. Listen to no one… not the weatherman, not the clerk in the store, not the Farmer’s Almanac, not the mailman, not friends or neighbors. This we know: snow is a given. Take preventive measures to safeguard the garden, the house, the automobiles, and yourself. We are learning….

7-ft drift

For the birds…

It has been an extreme few weeks in New England that has brought us over 40″ of snow in our area of New Hampshire. Today the snow is coming down steady again… enough that the snowplows have cleared our drive 4 times! We always feed the birds but during severe weather we step up our support as natural food supplies are difficult to find. We have trenches and we shovel out to refill feeders twice a day. The snow is as light as ivory flakes so the shoveling isn’t strenuous. And, amazingly, it’s full of tunnels where the squirrels are searching for wayward birdseed. They pop up here and there like Whac-A-Mole game.

trenchThe familiar backyard avian crew frequents our feeders… just in greater numbers in this weather. The black-capped chickadees, the white-breasted nuthatches, tufted titmice, and tons of American goldfinch, pine siskins, and purple finches dine on the tube feeder and the covered bluebird feeder. The noisy finches that number in the twenties also monopolize the nyjer seed feeder.

finches on nyjer sock

American Goldfinches

Northern cardinals, mourning doves, a handful of blue jays, white-throated sparrows and a few other sparrows, a large number of dark-eyed juncos, a common redpoll or two, American finches and pine siskins hop around atop the snow for the seeds we scatter.

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Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse

junco..

Dark-eyed Junco

Red-bellied woodpeckers, Hairy and Downy woodpeckers, white-breasted nuthatches, the chickadees and titmice go through the suet in no time.

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chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

 

Female P. Finch

Female Purple Finches

 

Pine Siskin

 

The avian activity provides a lot of excitement and entertainment at our house. Breakfast, lunch, and dinnertime at our table are hives of activity at the window feeder. We enjoy watching the shy, the gregarious, the bullies, the bold, the eat-and-run birds, the noisy, and the birds that like to watch us watching them.

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At least it’s a leisurely hobby that you can enjoy from the comfort and warmth of your home… unlike some of our neighbors who must wait for the snowplow to clear enough snow so their animal friends can have a little recreation. Brrrr….
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Cindy and pup

Snow’s a’comin…

Our granddaughter, seen here with her pony, has had more snow at her home in the Midwest than we have in New England. We’ve received family photos of snowmen and romps in the yard. How could that be? Shouldn’t we have more snow? We hear all that is going to change very soon as we’ll be getting the BIG SNOW beginning tomorrow morning.

Claire and her pony, Pongo The National Weather Service is cautioning residents that a strong nor’easter will be bringing us to 7 or 8 inches of heavy snow. You might think that with severe weather warnings, moaning and complaining would be heard across the community but all I hear is ‘bring it on!’

These hearty New England residents have missed seeing the white stuff. They don’t clear out grocery stores with stashes of survival foods like folks do in Virginia when threatened with snow. Here, their skis are waxed, boots lined up, sleds by the door, snowmobiles gassed up. They are ready.

Our plans are less exciting than our adventurous friends. We might take a walk in the snow or sit by a roaring fire or watch the birds at the feeders or make some good soup or snap some photos. We have certainly missed the snow, but as southerners, we have not learned to embrace the outdoor adventures like our enthusiastic neighbors. We will likely venture out to keep our walks clear and will wave to all as they set out on their winter activities.

Gardening in January

New Hampshire winters arrive early and by the time January rolls around we are yearning for green. So earlier this month we made an attempt to create a bay window herb garden in the kitchen even though we must deal with the low light winter sun and temperature fluctuations next to the window.

Selecting an attractive planter was my job. No plastic planter on my windowsill! I wanted metal and I found the ideal trough at Terrain, one of my favorite online stores. The dark zinc metal tough is 36″ long, 5″ wide, and 4″ high and fits perfectly in the bay window.

Habit & Form Troughmister gardener was in charge of buying and planting herbs. We now have chives, basil, oregano, and sage growing in the kitchen and being used in cooking. Because they aren’t getting the needed 6 hours of sunlight, we supplement with a grow light.  So far, so good.

We are now satisfying our need to dig and tend a garden and mister gardener is having fun with our herbs elsewhere in the kitchen.

carrot soup

Carrot soup garnished with fresh chives from the new kitchen garden

Quick Carrot Ginger Soup

2 T. butter
7 large carrots
1 large onion
1 t. minced ginger
2 c. vegetable stock
2 c. water
1 t. orange zest
salt and white pepper
chopped chives for garnish

Melt butter in a large pot. Add carrots, onions and salt and stir until softened but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add chicken stock, water, ginger and orange zest. Bring to a simmer, cover until the carrots thoroughly soften, about 20 minutes. Remove the orange zest and discard.  Add the soup to a blender in very small batches holding the lid down and purée until completely smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with chopped chives.

Adapted from Simply Recipes

Angry Birds?

It was frigid yesterday and we always take extra care of the birds in severe weather. Fresh suet, heated bird bath, filled feeders, and sunflower seed scattered to attract the ground feeding birds. Who came to dinner? Our neighborhood rafter of turkeys!

I don’t dare intrude when our 18-20 hungry turkeys arrive. The gobblers can be a trifle aggressive and I sure don’t want to ruffle their feathers so I videoed a few of them from the window. The dominant Toms had slim pickings as they kept watch on the fringes allowing the rest access to the sunflower seeds that I scattered for much smaller birds on this icy morning.

I’m becoming rather attached…

Hiking through the Winter Woods

After wet, heavy snowfalls this fall, I thought for sure we were on our way to more polar vortices and deep snowfalls like last winter. Click to enlarge all photos.

There’s never 100% certainty, but because a strong El Nino did not materialized, the Climate Prediction Center of the NOAA now predicts a 40% chance the Northeast will have above average winter temperatures. We still may have our share of memorable snowstorms because those can only be predicted one or two weeks before. Fingers crossed…

This weekend the temperatures in Exeter hovered in the 40’s….great Virginia-like weather for a holiday hike with family. Blue skies. Abundant sun. Mild temps. Light breeze.

farmWe hiked over private land to the Phillips Exeter Academy woods and numerous trails that run along the Exeter River and beyond. With hardly a ripple in the water, we were treated to some spectacular reflections of the sky and trees…. only broken up by the activity of 20 or more mallards happily enjoying the mild weather.

Winter is the time to notice the bark on trees and we stopped several times to witness activity and interests along the trails. Click to enlarge.

Finally, with abundance of wet weather, the tiny natives along the trail were gloriously happy and green on the woodland floor when little else was green except tall evergreen trees.

Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens) with its bright red berries grows slowly and will form a thick mat when conditions are right. I am careful not to disturb it.

Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens)Princess Pine (Lycopodium obscurum) is a club moss that looks much like a tiny pine… whose 100′ tall ancestors existed almost 400 million years ago before flowering plants populated the earth.  They reproduce by rhizomes and spores. Often used for Christmas decorations, many states now protect this delicate native plant.

Princess Pine (Lycopodium obscurum)

Abundant Sunshine

“Abundant sunshine” is the Yahoo Weather forecast for today. It is 39° this morning but temperatures will rise to an enjoyable 51° by noon before dropping back to 30° tonight. Forecast calls a welcome warming trend with temperatures pushing into the high 60s on one day early next week. There should not be a flake of snow left on the ground then.

Although we see wonderful signs of spring around the neighborhood like my friend’s crocus below, our home lingers in the shade of tall pines.

Crocus

Crocus blooming in the neighborhood

Where there is deep shade, there is snow. Yesterday I took matters into my own hands and helped some of my newly planted treasures see daylight for the first time in many months. I had no idea what I’d find under the crush of snow and ice but I knew there had to be damage. Plants will live but, darn that snow!

This southern gardener is learning about New England winters. Next fall, the holly below will be tied or wrapped in burlap to protect the shape of the upright growth.

Beneath the snowbank (below), I was most worried about three tiny boxwood I found nearby at Rolling Green Nursery. I fell hard for these dwarf Korean boxwood (Buxus sinica var. insularis ‘Tide Hill’) that were described as ‘rugged.’ The weight of snow from the roof and from driveway and sidewalk clearing was severe in this border. I tried shoveling it off early in the season, but eventually I had to give up trying to minimize or prevent damage to stems. The snow came too fast and too often.

snow

Tide Mill BoxwoodOnce I located all three shrubs, of course I found crushing damage to the top of shrubs…which is sad as these plants only grow about a foot in height.

Thankfully, when handed lemons, my philosophy is to make the sweetest lemonade on the block. Box can be propagated! I carefully removed the stems that were broken, removed the bottom leaves, dipped the stems in a hormone solution, and I’m growing them in a potting mix. Instead of three dwarf boxwood, I should end up with 8 or 9 babies in about 8 weeks. Who knows? My new landscape plan is to have a full border of these most attractive dwarf boxwood.

Tide Hill

 

Winter Walk-Off 2014

I enjoy following Les over at A Tidewater Gardener. His garden and adventures are much appreciated links to my home state, Virginia. For the last few years, he’s challenged readers to a winter walk-off and it’s been fun to participate…. although winter is tougher in New Hampshire for a walk-off. I fully understand why the Eskimos have 50 different words for snow.

A very common scene around here as folks shovel out their mailboxes.

A very common scene around here as folks shovel out their mailboxes following the snowplows.

I’ve been a little hesitant to walk in the snow after a series of falls that my sisters have suffered. Misfortune began on cobblestones in Paris when a sister slipped to her knees right in front of me. Result: a hairline fracture just below the knee. A second sister fell in England, breaking her arm. She was just recovering from surgery when my sister-in-law fell in her home, breaking her arm. The last victim was my youngest sister who fell while hiking in Maui a week ago, breaking both arms! Yes, she is sporting two casts. Now they say it’s my turn for a tumble. It ain’t gonna happen, girls!  When temperatures hit a mild 49° yesterday, it was a good day for a very basic winter walk-off.

We first passed a marsh of Phragmites australis that is rampant in New Hampshire’s seacoast area as it is in low-lying areas almost everywhere. It’s an invasive monoculture replacing cattails, but not entirely all bad according to Dr. Carl Hershner of Virginia Institute of Marine Science. I heard him state in a lecture that it can prevent shoreline erosion and create stability with a mass of roots that can go 6′ deep. It is attractive and full of birds on this day, but I’d rather see a marsh of cattails.

phragmitesTraveling on, we decided to drop in on our friend, John, a master carpenter who was hard at work in his workshop.

JohnJohn and his father built his two workshops beginning in 1955, working on them when time and funds were available, finishing it all in 1957. We could sit forever with John in his toasty workshop soaking in information and history of the area and just watching the master at his work. The atmosphere in the workshop takes you back in time, a better time, and I hope he never changes one thing inside.

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dogsWe continued along our slushy pathway passing only two people and 3 dogs along the way. As we trod along, we noticed a few interesting winter flora and we stayed on the lookout for signs of spring. The following is a sampling of what we saw:

Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

Did you know that the U.S. Forest service recognizes this tree as the most common variety of tree in America? This lovely tree with red twigs, buds, flowers and fall foliage is one of the first plants to flower in the spring.

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Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina)

sumacBuds are quite small on hairy twigs that will soon grow into a small tree or upright shrub and expand into a colony along this trail. In the fall we are awed by the rich reds and scarlets of the leaves of this woody perennial.

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Red-twig Dogwood (Cornus sericea)

red-twig dogwoodRed Osier Dogwood spreads by suckering, forming dense thickets and gives us amazing bright red stems in winter.

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Milkweed Pods

milkweekSeeds are spent from the pods of the common milkweed (Asclepius syriaca). Some folks collect these pods for craft projects.

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New England Aster

asterThese New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) have already offered their seeds up to birds. We hope to see new growth soon.

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Queen Anne’s Lace

queen anne's laceDried seed heads of Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) decorated the edge of the paths.

After about a 3-mile walk-off, we returned home… soaking wet socks but invigorated by the outing. And, guess what… no one fell down!

Faux Spring in Wintry Weather

During the winter season in Virginia, I engaged in a craft project or two to help ease the pain of not getting outdoors enough. I’m tackling a few more indoor activities now because of the longer winters in New Hampshire.

To bring springtime indoors, one familiar craft I’m enjoying again is faux flower bulbs in faux water. I love finding daffodis and muscari with the bulbs and roots attached. But a simple cut daffodil stem looks nice, too. Craft stores carry faux everything from faux dirt to faux moss to make projects fun. I don’t think these florals look exactly like live plants, however I loved it when a visitor once said, “The water looks low in that container. You’d better add a little more water or the plant will dry up.”

BulbsI like the look of pebbles beneath the bulb with roots and perhaps a little faux dirt still attached here and there.

I search for bulbs that are on sale. These 11″ muscari plants were under $2 each.

A small bag of pebbles should cost under a dollar.

pebblesI position the plant atop the pebbles and add a couple of strips of tape to hold the bulb steady.

There are different faux water products, some are ready-mixed and some you must combine before using. Follow directions exactly. Pour around rocks carefully and be on guard to prevent any spillage on the side of the container or anywhere! Old newspapers beneath the project help.

Acrylic Water KitIn about a day, maybe two, you’ll have your own faux touch of spring for your windowsill.

faux water

Let it snow, let it snow!

People tell me they can sense subtle signs of spring. My Kentucky daughter tells me that, although they’ve had a very severe winter in Louisville with temperatures that mirror ours, there are signs “spring is right around the corner.” She senses more light during the day, her garden seeds are bought, and her fingers are tingling to get in the soil. Closer to home, Keene, NH blogger at New Hampshire Garden Solutions posted photos of skunk cabbage emerging through the ice and snow, something I didn’t expect to happen for a couple of weeks. The signs are here but I honestly cannot feel spring at all.

Our arctic freeze may tease us with a partial thaw yet refuses to lessen its grip. Snow drifts are waist deep around the house and 10 times that deep at the edge of parking lots…. with more snow in our forecast for this week. We have spent the last couple of weeks trying our best to thoroughly winterize this home. We have sealed the house, added a couple of more feet of insulation in the attic, and cleared the skylights of ice and sealed sealed them well. No, I just can’t feel spring yet.

Jack Frost on skylightAlthough I know nature is preparing for spring, an activity we attended last weekend seemed to confirm winter’s grip. On Saturday, we traveled to Keene NH to visit family and were entertained at the 12th annual Ice and Snow Festival. We could partake of hot cocoa and cotton candy while strolling the streets of downtown Keene watching the ice sculpting artists at work. That’s not all. We could have fun making s’mores over a bonfire, join in the snowball throwing, watch snow sculpting artists at work, jump on a horse drawn wagon, and meet the official Ice Princess!

Click to enlarge:

Spring is certainly on the way in New England, but winter weather is still being celebrated in carnivals and festivals across the state. Hundreds of New England folks bundle up on weekends and enjoy ice skating contests, ice fishing derbies, snow golf, sled dog racing, and horse drawn carriage rides. As a southern transplant, it’s all new to me and I’m having a ball….

Freeze, Thaw, Snow, Rain, Fog, Sun, Wind

They say you should move to New Hampshire if you want to see all four seasons on the same day. I laughed when I heard this, but no more. This weekend brought a heat wave early in the day (55°), followed by the heavens opening with a deluge of rain, then thick fog billowing from the cold snow, twisting and blowing across the landscape like smoke. Snow began to disappear and chunks of frozen icebergs slid from rooftops… large enough to do great damage to any unfortunates who could have been beneath. Surprise! We awoke the next morning to sunshine and blue skies and less snow.

We had to get outdoors! For our walk today, we chose the riverside path along the Squamscott River, a tidal river that empties into Great Bay, then the Piscataqua River, an inlet of the Atlantic. After the thaw and rain, what better time to check the ice on the river and just have an adventure after being snowbound and iced-in.

Seagulls were hanging out everywhere on the ice. I’ve always liked these birds. Yes, they can be pests but they are entertaining and simply do what they have to do to survive…. just like every living thing.

Squamscott RiverBrrrr… Stopping to observe the 50 or 60 birds dozing on the ice made my feet feel cold.

seagullsAlong the edge of the river, the high temperatures, rain, and tidal action had done the job on the ice along both sides of the waterway. There will be no ice fishing on this river for awhile.

IMG_7614We weren’t ready to go home after this short jaunt and decided to follow the river by car for a few miles to the tiny town of Newfields, a quaint village that we’d only driven through previously. You couldn’t miss the country store in the middle of town and I hoped they were open on this Sunday…. and they were!

IMG_7704We were greeted by faded Christmas greens and a delightful Christmas pig sitting on an Adirondack chair made from recycled skiis.

Christmas PigStepping inside was like stepping back in time, a virtual museum of yesteryear. I had immediate flashbacks to our small country store in the Ware Neck area of Gloucester where I spent summers growing up and eventually bought a home as an adult. That country store, Nuttall’s, has not changed much in all those years… still the same grocery store/restaurant/post office… that now has wireless!

The aromas hit us as soon as we entered the Newfields store. Freshly made soup was hot off the stove and the sandwich menu was immense. We each decided then and there to sit down and have a little lunch.

Newfields Country Storepotato soup at Newfieldsmister gardener enjoyed a fabulous just-made potato chowder and I enjoyed my choice of curried chicken vegetable soup. A half sandwich for each of us completed our lunch.

While we waited for our sandwiches, we poked around this slice of Americana. There was a miniature bakery in the back that produced inviting homemade breads and desserts. We browsed the shelves of candies, snacks and the well-stocked with drinks including wines, beer, ale and other spirits. Click for larger photos.

A bit of Yankee ingenuity seems to greet us wherever we go around these parts. So many talented folks offer their crafts for sale and this store was no exception.

On our way out, we made sure we added our bottle caps to the bucket!

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I don’t mind winter but I hate ICE

I don’t mind winter. I don’t mind cold weather. I rather like snow. I don’t mind doing a little shoveling of the white stuff. Cold winds don’t bother me.  But I simply hate ice. I’m terrified of driving on it, walking on it, and hate scraping it off sidewalks and windshields. The Northeast has had a lot of snow followed by fast thawing, then freezing sleet and rain with more of it expected overnight tonight.  Even my cute little deck snowman has shrunk into a solid block of ice.IMG_7490We didn’t see icicles when we moved in March of last year but the ice stalactites we now see around Exeter, including our house, could be a scene from Virginia’s Luray Caverns. Take a look at the similarity of structures…

English: An image of the Drapery or Flowstone in Luray Caverns known as "Saracen's Tent". (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wikipedia: Luray Cavern stalactites

icicle stalactites

Our icicle stalactites

When you have a freezing and thawing and freezing pattern, you can easily develop ice dams. This is all new to me but evidently our home inspector was wrong when he said our attic insulation was just fine and dandy. We developed ice dams that trapped water melted by escaping attic heat. Ice dams can destroy gutters and force water into a home. When we saw a drip inside, we knew we had to take action. We have now contracted to have the attic insulated much MUCH better but we found a trick from This Old Home that temporarily saved us.

We filled a stocking with a calcium chloride de-icer and laid it over the ice dam. It melted a channel to the gutter to help water to flow. We also sprinkled it on the ice along the gutter. It worked like a charm! All clear now and we know a lot more about New England ICE.

The North Wind Doth Blow…

Old Man Winter is quietly slipping into New Hampshire. On our morning outings we see more signs that he has a foot in the door.

Vibrant colonies of  the holly shrub winterberry (Ilex verticillata) dot the brown landscape in ditches and low lying areas.

Winterberry What a showstopper! I read in the blog New Hampshire Garden Solutions, that due to low fat content, birds may not have these berries at the top of their menu in the winter. Therefore the berry laden branches are available for folks to cut for Christmas decorations. I like to purchase cultivar branches at nurseries so I can enjoy the native berries in their natural surroundings.

winterberryYou don’t see cord wood like this in Tidewater Virginia, but homes around here are often heated with wood. I am still stopping to stare at sights like this! This family is ready for winter.

woodMost mornings finds thin ice covering low-lying area ponds and creeks.

frozenRunning water falls from an icy ponds and leaves have fallen from deciduous trees allowing the evergreens and berries to take center stage this time of year.

water fall/winterberryIt is also common to see small flocks of Dark-eyed Juncos and White-throated Sparrows foraging beneath our feeders. These birds are likely migrating from Canada to warmer climates for the winter… although some stay here. Both are in the sparrow family, flock together and are known to produce hybrid offspring.

Lastly, with the leaves gone from the mighty oaks and maples, a synchronized scene is taking place in every yard in Exeter. The last of the leaves are being blown, mowed, raked or bagged all over the area. Let’s hope that most end up in a nice compost. How GREEN!

leaf raking

When it snows, it pours….

We are hunkered down today watching the snow fall with the blowing and the drifting. We have been told that we officially have just under 2′ of snow on the ground so far. We measured our drifts against the house at over 3′.  Portland ME, just north of us, broke their previous 27.5″ record with 29.3″. Snow will continue to pile up through the day in the area.  Lovely to watch but we’re staying put!

Baby, it’s (almost) cold outside

Around these parts, there have been hints that locals are preparing for the wintry weather they know is around the corner. Trucks delivering firewood regularly pass us on the highway, a visit to LLBean two days ago had mister gardener and a number of other customers converging on the down outerwear, and our farmers’ markets have all moved indoors. Around the house, we’ve tested the furnace, stored umbrellas, and discarded annuals in pots. We’ve also dusted off the bird feeders as bears are now thinking more about their winter den than raiding birdseed.

Another sure sign of the approaching season is the colorful scene I photographed from our front door on a warmer day last week. These young people were roller skiing using long inline skates with wheels and ski poles fitted with special tips. Although they had skied past the house, they somehow spotted me and waved. The motion in this activity is similar to cross-country skiing in snow and it’s a terrific way to train for the upcoming season.

Even though my daughter kept her cross-country skills intact just like this for her Vermont school ski team years ago, it’s still a novelty for me to see such a sight. And from the expressions on their faces, you can tell it’s a good way to get in shape and have fun doing it.

I’m learning a lot about zone 5… but my thoughts always return to my family and friends in Virginia. I wonder whether any preparations are underway for cold weather in zone 7. Somehow I imagine them still enjoying a bountiful garden and colorful blooms in the borders…

You’ve Got Snow!

We awoke early to sounds of trucks plowing driveways… forward, reverse, forward reverse… piling mountains of snow in ditches and yards.

The weather forecast seemed to change hourly yesterday. First we heard “All Snow with totals of 3 – 5″,” then “Snow/Rain Mix,” then “Snow turning to Rain,” then it was “Brace yourself. Snow and lots of it.”  And the last forecast was dead right. When it was all said and done tonight, we measured 12″ of snow at this home.

We ventured out for a walk after lunch to see what havoc the heavy snow was causing. It was heartbreaking to see several major limbs torn from the midsection of a number of large white pines. Small birch trees were bent dangerously low in the swirling snowstorm. mister gardener shook the snow from the boughs of the right birch but it seemed frozen in position.

We cleared off a bit of the snow from the feeder for our fine feathered friends.

We lost power for part of the day. Then it was restored. We then lost our cable internet connection. After darkness fell and snow was lighter, a truck found its way to our driveway. Forward, reverse, forward, reverse.  Lickety-split, we had a snow-free driveway.

Tomorrow, with temperatures reaching 40°, the slow melt will begin.