Container Plants in Zone 5

In Virginia’s zone 7b, I could leave most of my container plants outside all winter. Rake some leaves over pots in a sheltered corner and they’re good till spring. It’s definitely NOT what you want to do where I live in New Hampshire…. zone 5b. I tried my southern method last winter and lost all plants and the pots. I don’t have too many container plants yet as I’m still designing my small landscape… one that involves the removal of trees, a decision made by the residents in our association. Next year I may have an all sun garden and my landscape plan will change accordingly.

My favorite container I designed this summer is a variety of sedum… some bought, some bits being swept up and discarded after cleaning up around plants at work. They’re the easiest plants to root so I threw tiny leaves into the pot when I arrived home from the garden center. Most flourished. Some grew too much and had to be transplanted to the ground.

They eventually merged into one another, blending yellows, greens, reds, and blues. They grew tall. They cascaded over the pot. It was a showstopper and I want to save it. So, today, into the unheated garage the pot has gone. Sitting in the light of a window, I’ll hope for the best for this blend of magic so it can again shine for me next summer.

Click to enlarge photos.

On the move

Fall migration is in full swing in New England and I’ve seen some spectacular birding sights along this coastal region of New Hampshire. Many of these migratory birds I see when I’m out and about but if I was not a gardener, I’d miss some of my favorite little friends right in my own back yard.

Yesterday, while adding a new border and path beneath the crab apple tree, I heard a familiar jit-jit-jit-jit and knew I was being visited by the tiniest of birds, the kinglet. A Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula) was flitting from branch to branch totally ignoring the fact that I was working just feet away. This bold little friend foraged beneath the bark nonstop for insects making it almost impossible for this gardener to drop all and photograph it.

KingletI’ve always enjoyed watching the kinglet, both the Ruby-crowned and the tiny Golden-crowned as they migrate in the spring and fall. This one is on its way from breeding grounds of northern New England, Canada, and Alaska to southern United States and Mexico and beyond.

A bit blurry but this shows the distinct eye ring and bold wing bars that help identify a Ruby-crowned Kinglet from the Golden-crowned. The scarlet crown patch was not visible so either it was concealed by feathers, as it often is, or this 4″ bird is a female that does not have the patch of red.

kinglet 2kinglet3One last flit of the tail and it was off to warmer climes.

I ❤ Clethra!

When I saw the scraggly thicket along the foundation wall of our new home, I clethramade a mental note that it needed to go. Summersweet (Clethra alnigolia), was planted in the wrong place. This native plant looks lovely along the edge of the property but as a foundation plant, it was a tangled, unruly mass that grew in all directions.  I planned to do the deed as soon as spring thaw arrived.

When March rolled around, I waded into the tangle with clippers and began to chop. After 30 minutes, I stepped out and was taken back at what I saw. I had tamed the thicket and liked the look. I decided to keep the clethra as a foundation plant.  Bare during the winter months, spring brought green serrated leaves, and two months into summer brought fragrant and spicy clusters of white racemes that stood upright in 6-inch candles.  Bees loved it. Hummingbirds loved it. Butterflies loved it. I love it…

The shrub does sucker and tries hard to grow into that thicket again. I simply don’t allow that. With a sharp bladed shovel, I chop through each sprout to keep the shrub tidy and I make sure I don’t over water as it seems to sucker more in wet soil. Late fall or early spring, I will prune out the dead and remove some of the oldest stems at ground level since the plant blooms on new growth.

Today I am enjoying another season of color from our clethra. Autumn brings bright yellow leaves that add some interest to the yard. Yes, I’ll be keeping my clethra.

Clethra

White Pine Musings

To me a lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is
more welcome than the most luxurious Persian rug.  
Helen Keller

White PineIt’s fall and the time of year for the white pines (Pinus strobus) to drop their soft, golden innermost needles. These are the 3rd year needles that drop swiftly after yellowing and cover everything beneath. For me, it’s a welcome opportunity to do as I have always done as a Virginia gardener.  I rake piles and piles of needles and create the most beautiful mulch for borders.

pine needlesIn the spring new needles will replace the old on white pines and the annual needle drop will again be scheduled for next fall…. only there won’t be a spring or next fall for these old trees. The home association has voted to remove them all.

I understand some of the rational for removal. The trees are large, a soft wood growing too close to homes. I’ve seen pine trees snap in two and several pines uprooted around the yard during storms in Virginia. These pine trees shade several yards and homes including ours. We could use a bit of passive solar energy during the long, cold winters. Finally, mister gardener complains about not finding one single spot with enough sun to grow a simple tomato plant.

Still, I’m sad and sentimental when a tree goes. I may be the only resident who will miss the trees, but I’m sure my birds will miss them… and the squirrel that nests in the treetop will miss them. Insects like the two-spotted pine cricket will miss them. My connection to trees most likely comes from my childhood when there wasn’t a tree I couldn’t climb… limbs or no limbs. I loved the adventure of exploring the treetops of any variety of trees. (Yes, I have climbed these white pines, too, pruning out a truckload of dead limbs.)

Life will go on. I have a landscape plan for this area of the yard but plans will have to wait until the tree work is complete and I see just how much sun will come our way. Right now the area is a holding nursery for hostas that will find a permanent home elsewhere come spring. Sigh…

Beating the Invasion

colorThere is something about the fall season that lifts my spirits. The air is clean under crisp blue skies and the vibrant foliage can take your breath. You just want to step outside and bask in the beauty of buttery yellows and blazing reds of the maples, elms, birches and the sumacs that front every wood line.

Fall colors are reaching their peak right now on the Kancamagus Highway, the National Scenic Byway from Lincoln to Conway NH, and I’m sure the hoards of leaf peepers have arrived. A year ago we ventured up during the peak of color and found the 35-mile road through the White Mountain National Forest bumper to bumper with cars, campers, and buses. We hardly found places to pull off and park for the perfect views. This year we thought, “Wouldn’t it be a neat idea to beat the leaf-peeper invasion?” Yes! So last weekend we jumped in the car for a pre-peeper drive on the Kancamagus Highway just to see what we could see.

We hoped to arrive just before peak color and see the emerging reds, oranges, and yellows mixed with the cool, green of conifers without the distracting flood of vehicles driving bumper to bumper along the way. The timing was perfect as we had the approaching highways almost to ourselves.

fall colors 2014 The colors were a little cooler in the distance but quite grand. It was a peaceful and enjoyable drive.

A special delight was visiting the same apple orchard farmer as last year whose truck was brimming with juicy just-picked apples and some fresh vegetables. This time we sampled and bought a bag of crisp Mcintosh.

Apples!And when we arrived home, I made this and invited the kids to come and enjoy! Life is good…

Apple Crumb Pie

Apple Crumb Pie

Autumn in New Hampshire

Orange pumpkins, colorful gourds, vibrant mums, and Indian corn at garden centers and roadside stands tell us that fall has officially arrived. Although today, September 23, marks the first day of fall, subtle signs have been all around us for weeks.

Click photos to enlarge.

Rolling Green Nurserygourds at Rolling Green Nursery The change of seasons seems to begin around the time of our Harvest Moon when days begin to shorten, nights become cooler, and frequent morning mists create crystal dew drops on spiderwebs and fading blooms in the garden.

Harvest MoonGrasses become the star of the late summer/fall garden. The inflorescences of various species of grasses, whether fuzzy or lacy, replace the fading flowers of summer.

grasses at Rolling Green NurseryFall seeds, such as this milkweed seedpod, ripen slowly. The milkweed pod opens late in the season and releases hundreds of seeds attached to fluffy white hairs that aid in dispersal by wind.

Milkweed Seed Pods at Rolling Green NurseryIn my garden, a volunteer sunflower from our bird feeder slowly changed from glorious to battered and faded, but it is busy producing small sunflower seeds.

The magical transformation of leaf color comes a bit later to the Seacoast of New Hampshire. But with the cooler nights, mild days, and intense blue skies, colors are beginning to be teased from the maples.

MapleThe biggest sign of fall so far, I spotted while working at Rolling Green Nursery. When is the last time you saw a handsome puppy fully outfitted in a lovely argyle  sweater (It’s a people sweater!) on a cool day? That’s the surest sign that Autumn has officially arrived.

JD in his argyle sweater at Rolling Green Nursery

Garden Drama

Of all places in the garden to attach a chrysalis, one of our black swallowtail caterpillars (Papilio polyxenes asterius) chose the smooth metal drainpipe along the side of the house.  How the caterpillar bridged the collar with an opening to an underground drain, I can’t guess. But here is where I found the emerging butterfly struggling to gain a foothold on the smooth surface… and failing. It was in big trouble and I could tell it had been here too long with wings partly out and beginning to plump.

cocoonI felt a little like a butterfly midwife as I assisted in the birth by offering a twig. It was readily accepted and it climbed aboard. I gently urged the butterfly onto a viburnum shrub and watched as she began to unfurl and pump up those gorgeous wings… that I believe identified her as female.

butterflyIt was exciting to be so close and be able to study the beautiful wings, her huge eyes, and watch her coil and uncoil her proboscis.  Click for closeup.

I left her on a trunk of the viburnum where she continued to dry and pump her wings. An hour later I checked and she had flown…. I hope straight to the summersweet for a nice first meal as a butterfly.

It made me smile to think she got her start in the parsley beds 5 feet away that I planted just for her and her siblings.

Eastern Black Swallowtail

The Fairies Are Coming…

It’s Portsmouth Fairy House Tour time again. As new residents last year, we stumbled upon the event when we just happened to visit Strawbery Banke that day. (Click HERE to see our adventure a year ago.) Not only did we have a lovely time touring the restored village, we delighted in seeing the whimsical fairy houses tucked into every nook and cranny.  And we were enthralled by the excited, giggling children, most dressed like adorable fairies with wings and tutus, hurrying their parents and grandparents along on their journey of discovery.

This, the 10th year of the tour, organizers have gone all out. On September 21 & 22, there will be over 200 fairy houses designed by artists, garden clubs, gardeners, children, community members at three locations in Portsmouth, NH. So definitely the World’s Largest Fairy House Tour will remain so for another year.

This is the first year that Rolling Green Nursery has not entered a fairy house (see update in COMMENTS below), however, they are contributing in another big way. For weeks, my co-workers have been gathering and drying flowers and seed heads to contribute to the fairy houses being built on Peirce Island in Portsmouth. Our perennial garden ‘clubhouse’ has been transformed. Small bundles of flowers tied with string are hanging from the beams and all four walls, filling the room with aromas of mint and lavender.

Perennial Garden Clubhouse

That’s not all. Inside Rolling Green Nursery, a vast array of miniature furnishings, bridges, animals, bee hives, flags, and tiny fairies are available to make every fairy house builder’s dream come true. Ahhhh…. I wish I was seven again!

No More ‘Bugs’ till Next Year

Whether you come by boat or arrive by car, Chauncey Creek Lobster Pier is one of the most fun destinations for an evening meal in southern Maine. The menu is simple with the star event being the ‘sea bug’ or lobster, of course, but other delicacies from the sea are offered along with a sprinkling of nice sides and a few non-seafood dishes.

Kayaks arriving for dinner?

This is a very popular, casual and colorful BYOB restaurant located right on the creek in Kittery Point. It closes the day after Labor Day so my daughter and family thought it’d be a great place to celebrate the holiday with one last crustacean indulgence, especially since it was featured in Bon Appétit in July.  We arrived early under threat of impending rain but the deck was already full of happy diners and noisy merrymakers who seemed settled in for awhile.

Chauncey Creek Lobster PierDiners are welcome to not only bring their own alcohol, they are encouraged to bring any dish that isn’t on the menu. And everyone does… complete with tablecloths and their own glasses!

Welcome!BYOB and food!We shared tasty appetizers and drinks that my son-in-law provided until our meal was served. With the attentive servers, mostly young college kids, it didn’t take long at all. Bibs tied on, napkins in place, these finger-licking goodies disappeared fast.

On Mother’s Day 2015, Chauncey Creek Lobster Pier will throw open the gates and again welcome diners to a lobster feast on the river as they have done since 1948. If you’re ever in this neck of the woods and have a hankering for good seafood and a lively atmosphere, hop on over to Chauncey Creek Lobster Pier in Kittery Point, Maine.

Meet the Girls

There are a dozen cute girls who live just a stone’s throw from our home.  These girls just happen to wear red and white feathers because they’re chickens, Golden Comets to be precise, a cross breed between a Rhode Island Red and Rhode Island White. They love visitors and they’re the friendliest chicks I’ve ever met.  Plus they supply us with super large organic brown eggs every weekend. We love the girls!

Golden Comet eggsThe Golden Comets are very well-behaved so it’s always fun to pay them a visit. Recently I thought it’d be fun to drop in on the girls with my toddler grandson. I’m not sure he’d ever seen a chicken except the ones in picture books. The owner fed the hens well so the toddler could approach them without scattering them.

hensBut as soon as he saw them, he stopped in his tracks. We kept telling him these were chickens… just like the ones in his book.

hens and D.I’m not sure the girls had ever seen a little person either and they gave him the once-over. But it didn’t take long for them to approach and welcome him. That gave him a enough confidence to be a little boy and soon he was off. Run girls, run!

Click to enlarge

St. Nicholas’ Greek Festival

We’ve been to a Greek festival only once several years ago and had a great time. Our Ware Neck VA friend, Helen, invited us to a festival at her childhood church, Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Newport News VA. We just went for an evening meal but were swept off our feet as soon as we entered the big tent. This place was a ‘Happening’! The aromas. The excitement. The crowds. Families. Great food. Music. Dancing. Laughter. While mister gardener sampled his share of Greek delicacies, Helen led me to the crowded dance floor to teach me a few traditional Greek dance steps. Sigh. Someday I may actually make a trip to Greece but for this one night, I was already there.

Greek Orthodox churches across America have similar versions of annual festivals to share their rich heritage, culture, and traditions of the Greek community. When we recently saw one advertised at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Portsmouth NH, we were psyched at the chance to go for lunch. We used our GPS to help us find our way, but we knew we’d found the right church when we spotted the neat Byzantine architecture.
St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox ChurchIt was lunchtime but the parking lots were full and the crowds were already thick.
Greek Festival, Portsmouth NHWe stopped in the desert area first where we found delicious sweets and a great marketplace with jewelry, clothes, religious artifacts and food imports from Greece.

On the menu were Greek favorites like Baked Lamb Shanks, Souvlaki , Pastichio, Moussaka, Spanakopita, Gyros, Dolmathakia, Loukouades, salads, vegetables, and more. I’m still understanding what all the foods are but we learned an interesting Greek lesson from our first server. The Greek pronunciation of Gyro is Yih-Ro. I’ll definitely need to know that when I visit Greece… and I hope I can… since I discovered from our family’s DNA genetic testing that I have a ‘spot’ of Greek in my ancestry. Yippee!

St. Nicholas Greek FestivalMister gardener ordered the lamb shanks in tomato sauce and declared it DE-licious! I ordered my standard favorite, moussaka, which was quite tasty. We dined to traditional Greek music but no dancing at lunchtime. We knew we missed the excitement of the evening before when an announcement was made that a lone shoe was found from the night before. Oh boy… it must have been another ‘Happening’!

 

Flower Containers 2014

It’s getting to be the custom each summer for me to take a snapshot of flower containers that catch my eye at shop entrances and downtown homes. This summer I walked through Portsmouth NH and Exeter NH with my trusty smart phone. As usual, colorful petunias and sweet potato vines were predominant in most arrangements. I’d call the cities about even in attractiveness, however, my favorite container of all was one in Portsmouth at Stonewall Kitchens.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Portsmouth NH:

Exeter NH:

What’s all the frass about?

I have always planted an abundance of parsley and dill in the spring… one clump for us and 3 or 4 for the butterflies. Not many butterflies have been fluttering through this neighborhood so I was overjoyed three weeks ago when I saw some frass or caterpillar poo beneath a big pot of parsley, the parsley we used for the kitchen! Immediately, I took the pot off the deck and placed it in a secure place in the garden.

I knew exactly what caterpillar made this frass… the Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) that uses plants in the carrot family as hosts. I spotted several tiny caterpillars on the parsley and watched them develop through several instars for about two weeks.caterpillar poo

Dainty but constant eaters, they almost cleaned out the potted flat parsley and moved on to curly parsley and dill in the garden.

They were plump and beautiful and ready to pupate when we left for a week’s vacation.

We returned home yesterday and I checked the parsley. All the caterpillars were gone, hopefully tucked securely in their chrysalis quite a distance from the host plant. How exciting to play a part in raising these beautiful butterflies!

I keep checking for an egg, but unfortunately no monarch butterfly has visited their host plant in our garden, butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa). At Rolling Green Nursery where I work, I have seen a few monarchs feeding on butterfly weed we have for sale. Let’s hope the female below left an egg on the plant. Just seeing the insect is encouraging for our diminishing population of monarchs.

monarch butterfly at Rolling Green Nursery, NH

 

Road Trip to Peterborough

I couldn’t refuse a recent invitation to lunch with my son who lives in Keene NH. He had a special restaurant in mind in the picturesque town of Peterborough NH, The Waterhouse. He’d eaten there once and knew I’d enjoy it as we could dine outdoors overlooking the bubbling Nubanusit Brook. We arrived before they opened and found they were completely booked for the terrace for lunch but we were lucky. Seeing our sad faces, the wait staff was able to rearrange a party at another table and squeeze us in. Atmosphere, rushing brook, great food, and superior service. We shall return!

After lunch we decided to stroll the sidewalks and shops and a few gardens of this upscale yet quaint little village. We crossed a bridge, admiring overflowing colorful containers and planters and stopped to observe a line of photographers opposite us. We’ll have to check out their view on our walk back.

Click to enlarge any photo:

The first public garden we visited was located across the brook from our restaurant. The Putnam II Park and Boccelli Garden is a quiet oasis, a place to sit for awhile, read a book, or relax and watch the action on The Waterhouse terrace. The Boccelli Garden has an interesting and diverse mix of perennials, annuals, shrubs… a great variety of colors, textures, and shapes to study. And it was fun to walk beneath the apple tree with fallen apples dotting the grass.

Crossing the street, we enjoyed the Nubanusit River waterfall, the view that the photographers were capturing, then strolled around the first Putnam Park, following a trail through the woods to a second waterfall…. and a third. Lovely!

On the other side of the bridge is a small garden called Nubanusit Terrace. I delighted in the trimmed box and yew with the healthiest and most vibrant Russian sage that I’ve seen this summer.

Nubanusit TerraceThe last garden we had time to visit was Depot Park, carved out of a parking lot close to where the original train depot once stood. Lining the walkway to the pavilion is the Pavilion Garden, probably best liked of all the gardens. I love the clipped hedges, variety of shapes, and shades of green punctuated with bright flowers along the way.

Depot GardenWe did not get around to all gardens on this day. We still had our shopping and sightseeing to do but promised to meet again to finish our tour. Peterborough is an appealing small town with residents who are extremely proud of their community. I think our next visit will be springtime when I know gardens will be bursting with blossoms and spring bulbs.

antiques, etc.

 

Cider Hill Farm

Just a short 7-mile drive from our home will find us in the state of Massachusetts. One more mile takes us to Cider Hill Farm, a fruit and vegetable farm along with some great eggs from Red Star laying hens. We learned about their method of growing delicious ripened tomatoes before field tomatoes were ripe anywhere nearby. We had to check this out…

IMG_2129The first things we noticed were solar panels in fields and wind turbines high above the buildings. As we drove in, we could see though a colorful border to another solar panel on the hen and goat house where families were visiting and children were feeding the chickens and swinging on tire swings. Renewable energy! So far we were feeling good about this farm operation.

IMG_2044The country store was an ancient cow barn now housing a plethora of home goods and foods, Stonewall Kitchen goodies, cider doughnuts, flowers, fresh foods.

IMG_2067IMG_2055In the rear of the store, we found what we came for… tomatoes and more tomatoes! But the corn and beans were also too lovely to pass up.

IMG_2058cornAfter making our purchases, the gals at the register urged us to follow the path to see more of the farm. It’s blueberries and raspberry picking season but we could see apple orchards and strawberry fields… but we really wanted to check out their method of growing tomatoes in hoop houses.

The blueberries were completely enclosed in a wall and ceiling of nets to keep out the critters.  The berries were plentiful and plump! Raspberry fields were occupied by pickers and strawberries in interesting troughs looked healthy.

Ahhh… the hoop tomato houses. Tomato plants begin here in April, heated with sides rolled down like a typical greenhouse. Plants have a good start when the sides are rolled up and exposed to sun and breezes… but not rain. The foliage is kept dry by watering plants at the roots. No diseases! They have 10 greenhouses for tomatoes, planting them every two weeks so they can harvest past frost.

While we were poking around, a team of workers pulling a trailer of vegetables drove by. These weren’t just any workers. Cider Hill Farm provides opportunities for international exchange students in agricultural universities to become interns for one year here. They are housed on the farm. I don’t know where they are from this year but they stopped to chat and were happy and delightful young men.

1-year internshipsThat night we enjoyed the bounty of Cider Hill Farm and declared it delicious. Tomatoes had the perfect amount of acidity. You would never know they weren’t grown under the summer sun… not like awful hothouse tomatoes we tolerate all winter. The corn was beyond perfection and we’ve returned 3 times for more! How divine!

First tomato, first corn, first beans

 

Staying Cool…

On hot, dry days at Rolling Green Nursery, overhead sprinklers can buy us a little time in the morning until we can get the hose on plants that flag first in the July heat.

Rolling Green SprinklersThat means a lot of time on sultry days is spent deep watering.  We move slowly through the rudbeckia….

Rudbeckiathe liatris….

Liatristhe sage….

sageIt’s a bit of a relief to slip beneath the covered area to water the shade plants,

Fernsand then it’s back out in the hot sun for a second watering of the Leucanthemum…..

Shastas….until the end of the day when we sometimes need a cool shower ourselves before calling it a day. We love our work!

Heidi

Heidi cools down before heading home for the day

Another Uninvited Visitor

I’ve discovered another insect in New Hampshire that I never met in Virginia. At first I thought it was an unusual Japanese beetle but, no, it’s a relative… same size but different markings. According to UNH Cooperative Extension, this is the invasive Asiatic garden beetle or Oriental beetle (Exomala orientalis) that was first discovered in the US in the early 1920′s. It is found in most of New England although it has moved as far as South Carolina and west to Indiana and probably still spreading. It feeds off the roots of grasses as a grub and the adult can attack garden plants.

Click to enlarge photos.

oriental beetleI think it’s actually kind of a cute looking little beetle… and “about the size and shape of a coffee bean,” says cooperative extension. Cute looking, but does damage as a grub to the lawn, then in June and July, it emerges from the soil to mate and eat. Adults generally eat little but stick around all summer nibbling in the garden.

oriental beetleAfter mating, the females burrow into the soil to lay eggs that hatch in about 2 weeks. UNH states that rarely are chemical controls needed for these grubs in New Hampshire. Japanese beetle grubs in this state are more destructive than the Asian beetle grubs, however the USGA says it’s the most important white grub species in turfgrass in New Jersey, southeastern New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island and causes major damage in ornamental nursery stock.

oriental beetleI do not see damage on many leaves or blooms in our little gardens. I’ve read that favorite foods are leaves and the petals of daisies, hollyhock, roses, phlox, petunias, sugarcane, and blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, peaches and sweet potatoes. Whew! I don’t have any of those!

Often overlooked in the yard because they are not good flyers like Japanese beetles and are nocturnal, doing all flying and mating at night. An Integrated Pest Management system that traps and disrupts mating with an in-ground pheromone lure for the adult male beetle may be my solution if it gets worse. The lures are good for 6 weeks but must be emptied weekly.

I wonder what new insect I’ll meet next….

 

Grackle Problem Solved

In Virginia, the migrating flocks of mixed blackbirds (grackles, red-wing blackbirds, starlings and cowbirds) would descend on our bird feeders during spring and fall migration. One moment we could have finches and cardinals eating at the feeder and the next minute, the yard would be filled with hundreds of blackbirds clamoring for bird seed. Migration lasted for about 2 – 3 weeks and the birds were gone.

We think we know where they were all going in the spring… to New Hampshire where we now live. Experts say that as food becomes more plentiful in the warmer months, feeders account for less than 25% of most songbird’s diet. But it must be 90% of the grackles’ diet. We took the seed feeders down early but continue to feed our hummingbirds and the woodpeckers with suet feeders pictured below….that is, until the flocks of grackles found the suet.  In numbers, they could tear apart a suet cake in two hours.

woodpecker on suetMy daughter showed us her grackle-proof suet feeder that worked for them so mister gardener got to work to build one for us. He crafted the new feeder to fit the suet cage, which he fixed horizontally beneath the structure, pictured below:

suet feederThe suet is caged just inside the structure to allow clinging birds to hang on to the bars of the cage. The grackles (and squirrels!) try their hardest but so far have been unsuccessful in hanging upside down. The birds we enjoy have no problem hanging on to the horizontal cage. The noisy chickadee families, the nuthatches, several kinds of woodpeckers and the titmice visit our new feeder and entertain us…. all dining upside down.

suet cage

What the garden center didn’t tell me….

Being responsible caretakers of our environment, we removed a 12-ft. tall invasive burning bush (Euonymus alatus) from our foundation after buying our home a year ago. It is illegal to sell them in New Hampshire. The seeds are scattered by birds and the plant is out competing native plants in the wild.

The burning bush was replaced with a native arrowwood viburnum, one of which grew in my Virginia gardens. It produces lacy white flowers in the spring and berries for the birds in the fall. I thought I tackled the right questions about this beautiful shrub at the nursery but we already knew a bit about their versatility. The shrub is tolerant of sun or shade, all soil types, wet or dry areas, and is pest resistant. It sounded like a perfect addition to our shrub border…. that is, until this week.

Japanese BeetlesIt seems the shrub isn’t so resistant to insects. Japanese beetles love this species of viburnum!  Never in Virginia, but here each morning, it’s a mating and dining Japanese beetle playground. And there’s evidence of a more sinister insect at work, the Viburnum Leaf Beetle. This is a beetle that I have not encountered before. Now I’ve spotted a couple of the insects and witnessed their telltale pattern of holes in the leaves.

via Wikipedia

via Wikipedia

I’m watching and speculating what our next step should be. Sadly, this beautiful shrub may need to be removed in the fall and replaced with a more insect resistant variety of viburnum.  Sigh….

 

Bye Bye Violas

violasSummer temperatures have been slowing creeping upward and every now and then, it’s been absolutely hot. Yesterday, with 90° and high humidity, our poor spring violas fizzled in the afternoon heat. Those planted in the shade were fine but those leggy plants that melted in the blazing sun needed to be removed from the garden.

Cutting off the roots, I plunged the wilted blooms in a little cool water. Result: Totally revived and days of new life on the breakfast table. How divine!

Garden Conservancy’s Open Days 2014

Earlier this spring, I was working in the perennial gardens at Rolling Green Nursery, greeting customers and tending to the plants when I met the owners of one of the gardens on the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days.  I was already holding 2 tickets for the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days tour of private gardens in Cape Neddick, Maine and was looking forward to unforgettable experiences.

This local tour and many others across the country take place on different days to raise awareness of the Garden Conservancy’s work to preserve extraordinary gardens and to educate and inspire the public by opening private gardens on Open Days. Four remarkable private gardens were open this year. Three homes and fabulous gardens offered panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean with mighty waves beating on craggy shorelines. We saw rock gardens, rose gardens, shade gardens, pool gardens, perennial gardens, pond gardens, vegetable gardens, pergolas, container gardens, and even experienced a young eagle swooping low over our heads and landing in a near tree at one home.

Click on all photos to enlarge:

Awestruck is a good word to describe how we felt about these gardens. And I was very excited to visit the fourth garden, the home of Jonathan King and Jim Stott, founders and owners of Stonewall Kitchen, the two shoppers I encountered strolling through the perennials at Rolling Green Nursery.

We stopped for an early lunch at their business, Stonewall Kitchen, a favorite destination of ours for good food and lovely gardens.

Approaching by foot along a graceful curved drive, we could see that the property was a wonderful blending of home and garden. Hornbeam trees and a cedar pergola acted as a screen in front of the house.

Every inch of the entry garden was filled with delight. A mix of cottage-style gardening in one area and clean lines of formal boxwood with connecting pathways added variety and invited visitors to linger here and enjoy the colors, textures, shapes and function of the different garden beds.

We peeked inside the ‘glass house’ and thought… yes, this would be a lovely addition to our home. Magnificent!

We enjoyed the raised-beds in the vegetable garden supported not with wood, but with granite slabs… then on to the inviting pool area with built-in fire pit, containers overflowing with blooms, and handsome pool house.

But the most fun of all was the poolside Meet & Greet by the owners. Down to earth, personable and friendly, we both enjoyed the hospitality of the hosts… and their sweet pups!

I am always amazed at the generosity of folks who throw open their garden gates for a good cause.  We had a fabulous day exploring the wonders of gardening in Maine.

Nuts for this Squirrel

We are a stone’s throw from beautiful coniferous woods with plenty of oak trees. But during the most brutal of snowstorms, ice storms, and frigid temperatures this winter, a small American Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) risked life and limb dashing out of the woods, crossing a road, running atop snow several feet deep to eat fallen seed beneath our bird feeder. Looking like a tiny snowball as the snow fell and covered it, we watched month after month as the little fella dined with the hungry birds… until late winter when it stopped appearing. I soon knew why. In early spring, it returned and I could see evidence SHE had become a nursing mother.

It wasn’t too much longer that she introduced her three tiny offspring to sunflower seed. These miniature creatures, unsteady as they navigated trees and limbs, tugged at our heartstrings. The wary Mama and two babies have since moved on. But one brave youngster seems to prefer scraps beneath the feeder more than foraging for coniferous seeds this summer.

SpunkyThis one loves to perch on the stump of an old lilac and eat the seeds one at a time. There are those who say these are the most destructive squirrels but we have not seen evidence of anything like that….yet.  He co-exists with birds, respectfully waiting his turn to feed after the birds. Red squirrels are known for their loud bark and foot stomping in the presence of danger or intrusion. He does none of that. I can drag the hose around the yard and water the garden while he feeds quietly just a few feet from me.

We’re not trying to tame him or have him eat from our hands but we are charmed by his antics. Every now and then, he amuses us by diving for seed that has fallen into the stumps of the old lilac. All we see is a wagging tail as he forages.

Red squirrels usually only have one litter a year in this area so we’re pretty sure we won’t be swamped by these natives. Should he decide he’s had enough of us and head back to the woods, our mixed coniferous-deciduous forest should sustain him well.