Swan Song

I visited an area today along the Oyster River that seems a cross between a park and a nature preserve. A small grassy area borders a busy street and a series of ponds are bordered by the Oyster River on the other side. It’s home to Mr. and Mrs. Swan. We can walk to the edge of the water and Mister Swan seems comfortable to swim and feed close by.

I think the photo above is Mr. Swan and the photo below must be Mrs. Swan, who is taking care of domestic duties on the nest far from shore. I could have their rolls reversed. They looked identical to me.

Both birds looked snug and content in their dwelling. They were totally at home…. which leads me to the next subject.

Home… The search goes on for a permanent domicile for us. In the meantime, I am doing a little gardening, planting perennials, mulching, and pulling weeds but no landscaping at all in a home that is only temporary. Since time is spent searching for something permanent for living, there is less time for other things… like blogging. This really isn’t a swan song but I’ll call it an intermission. I will jump back into the blog when something inspires me… a lovely garden, nature, birds, but blogging not so often.

Wish us luck that the house search goes well.

Cherry Blossom Time!

The yellows are slowly fading in this early spring landscape and the pinks are beginning to appear. A specimen tree in the middle of this lawn revealed its identity when its showy pink blossoms emerged last week. Blooming alongside its handsome copper colored leaves, the Kwanzan Cherry (Prunus ‘Kwanzan’) is considered by many the most beautiful flowering cherry. Up close, the double-pink blossoms are delicate and dainty, like the subjects of a fine watercolor painting. From a distance, the 20′ tree, boughs exploding with pink blooms, dances and bends in our powerful New England spring winds. But this Kwanzan Cherry has not surrendered for 20+ years which tells me that this is a tough zone 5 specimen that will continue to add punch to this landscape.

Hello World…

Happy Day to you, Earth! There will be the annual party for you today on the National Mall where citizens will rally for your protection to the music of numerous bands and the words of many speakers. And worldwide, over a billion people will bond with voices and commitments on this 2012 Earth Day and call upon everyone to do their part for a sustainable future. In this household as in many others, we celebrate Earth Day daily but it is important to come together once a year to recognize your gifts to all who depend on you for life.

In a small way, I’ve celebrated this time of year by giving and planting trees to schools, clubs or communities, first for Arbor Day, then after 1970, for Earth Day. In 2004, those trees were gifted to mark another occasion… Andy’s Earth Day in Williamsburg, Virginia. On Greensprings Trail in 2004, over 100 friends and family members gathered that year to recognize and honor the life of my nephew, an Eagle Scout, Colonial Williamsburg Fife and Drum Corps graduate and Biology major at Christopher Newport University, who tragically lost his life in a canoe accident the previous year. We gathered to clean the trails, rake, pick up debris, and plant native trees and flowers on the trail where Andrew helped make the signage and gave nature tours to youngsters, for he loved nothing better than to pass on knowledge, the appreciation of nature and environmental awareness. At the end of the day, family and a few friends migrated to Geddy Park in Williamsburg, the site of Andrew’s Eagle Scout project, to clean and plant in that park setting.

Since that time, the annual Andy’s Earth Day has continued. A spur trail from the Greensprings Trail now spills into a clearing near Jamestown Settlement onto an archaeological site of the historic Church on the Main, a site excavated by Andrew’s father, archaeologist Alain Outlaw. The site, protected by Williamsburg Land Conservancy, is where the annual Andy’s Earth Day takes place. Boy Scout Troop 103 spends the weekend cleaning and maintaining, adding paths, planting trees, and earning merit badges…. rain or shine! There is no better way to build a deeper awareness and convert ideas into habits than starting with the young.

I’m in New England now but I still feel the energy from Andrew and Andy’s Earth Day as I kneel to plant new life in these New Hampshire gardens. Let’s hope the many who stand together today can channel that energy into action, perhaps joining with a Billion Acts of Green… or in a more personal way… today and the other 364 days of the year.

Strawbery Banke…. forever

Once upon a time, the community of Portsmouth was known by other names. First known as Piscataqua, then Strawbery Banke for the wild strawberries along the riverbanks, and finally Portsmouth in 1653 in honor of the colony founder, John Mason, who was once the captain of Portsmouth, England in the county of Hampshire. Many original buildings survive in Portsmouth and much of the charm of the community is due to the wonderful and quaint New England architecture.

Within walking distance of the town is historic Strawbery Banke Museum, New Hampshire’s oldest settlement with restored Colonial, Georgian and Federal style buildings. On a chilly but sunny morning recently, we took a stroll around the grounds.

We visited before the museum was open for the season. Buildings were closed. But projects were happening. We saw mounds of topsoil being moved into place; we saw excavations and foundation work on the buildings; we watched earthmovers disappearing around corners; we spotted flats of flowers for planting and we even saw a few volunteers among the many workers, kneeling before gardens, digging and planting.This weekend, museum volunteers will arrive in mass to celebrate Earth Day by cleaning, raking, and planting all the gardens.

Most buildings looked completely restored but a few were waiting their turn.

This one had a new roof and foundation work was in progress.

This entire area was slated for demolition in the late 1950’s. It was city librarian Dorothy Vaughn who spurred on the local Rotary Club to save the homes. Local citizens were soon inspired as a community to rescue this historic riverfront area. When museum doors are unlocked on May 1 and the flowers are planted and all the soil is neatly spread where it belongs, we will again visit this 9.5 acre outdoor museum and be transported back almost 400 years through the 1950’s.

Home from California!

A parade of spring yellows greeted me on returning from California… not the Keukenhof river of blooms I had envisioned but lovely daffodils, all varieties in shades of yellow, have burst into bloom in borders and clumps throughout the lawn.

Our yellow forsythia blooms are now just past prime with tiny green leaves unfolding everywhere.

Pots of yellow pansies that I planted earlier have thrived in the sunny days and cool New England evenings.

Throughout the grass, the dainty four-petaled white Bluets (Houstonia caerulea) with their yellow centers, dot the yard. This is one tiny wildflower that I don’t mind seeing in the lawn. If I could find a way to mow around them all, I would. They bloom profusely until July.

The only yellow I was not thrilled to see was the dandelion….. not one but dozens of them spread out like blankets over the lawn. There was not a hint of a weed in this yard a month ago. Now I know this lawn is besieged with hundreds of dandelions. My sleeves are rolled up. My work is cut out. I must eliminate them all before they go to seed.

Balboa Park

Just a stone’s throw from downtown San Diego is Balboa Park, a 1,200-acre public complex of over 15 museums, numerous theaters, performing art groups and the amazing 100-acre San Diego Zoo. Set aside by San Diego founders for development in 1868, “City Park” struggled through early lean years of development. But by 1910, “City Park” was renamed Balboa Park in honor of Spanish-born explorer Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, and it was on a fast track preparing for the Panama-California Exposition of 1915-16. With the ornate buildings, boulevards, sidewalks, and roads, it was reminiscent of an old Hollywood movie set as we passed museum after museum on our way to gardens.

This remarkable urban treasure compares favorably with parks like New York’s Central Park where trees and ponds and lakes dominate the landscape. Locals and tourists flock in great numbers daily to stroll the sidewalks and pathways that curve around and over these gentle California hills. I was a little disappointed not to find labels on the trees in the park as many trees were unfamiliar to me. I suspect there was a plant guide or a self-guided tour that we somehow missed. However, I did enjoy seeing lovely agave, date palms, citrus, pomegranates, and large camphor trees (Cinnamomum camphora). We saw Torrey pines (Pinus torreyana) and interesting cork oaks (Quercus suber), Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa), the parent of our Tidewater VA hybrid leyland cypress, and I enjoyed seeing the beloved ginkgo and mulberry trees.

One breathtaking tree and the tallest specimen in North America, a Moreton Bay Fig (Ficus macrophylla), well over a hundred years old dominated an area. Once known to youngsters as “The Climbing Tree,” it is now roped off to protect the soil beneath. Several other specimens of this species are planted in the park, along with 32 other kinds of fig trees.

Moreton Bay Fig, Balboa Park

The Botanical Building, one of the largest lath structures in the world, built for the 1915-16 Exposition along with the beautiful “La Laguna” lily pond, is one of the most photographed scenes in the park. Yes, I did follow suit. Inside, palms, cycads, ferns, orchids and vines cool and moisturize folks against the dry desert air outside.

The Botanical Building, Balboa Park

Laths on the Botanical Building

Angel's Trumpet (brugmansia alba) caught much attention from shutterbugs

Botanical Building

Orchids inside the Botanical Building

With its huge leaves, the Chilean rhubarb (Gunnera tinctoria), both an ornamental and edible plant, is classified as an invasive pest in many parts of the world. It was contained in a pot inside the Botanical Building.

Pots of plants throughout the park reminded us that we were in a desert.

We wouldn’t be in a park if there wasn’t a spot or two for children to play with abandon.

Other gardens we stopped by for a visit was the Parker Memorial Rose Garden and the Japanese Friendship Garden.

The Japanese Friendship Garden

California Farmer’s Market

Easter morning was spent browsing the wide variety and kaleidoscopic colors of fruits and vegetables at a neighborhood Farmer’s Market. Just wandering from booth to booth was a visual circus for the senses. A photo sampling of our adventure is much more desirable than words. We hope to see some of these wonderful vegetables in our own New Hampshire gardens before too long!

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San Diego Dreams

Traveling from winter in New Hampshire where daffodils are just beginning to bloom to the city of San Diego, where colorful flowers blanket the community makes me feel like I’m visiting Never Never Land. Six brothers and sisters, husbands, nieces are converging on my one sister, a potter and artist who has the greenest thumb of all of us. Morning coffee is always spent discovering the beauty of her garden combined with her newest artistic creations. This year the bougainvillea was the first plant that caught my eye. Grown like a vine over a fence, the prolific blooms shade a garden bench like a pink umbrella.

On closer inspection in the dense branches, I discovered adorable new whimsical art hidden deep beneath the canopy. These magic wands were all alive with little faces and personalities. Perhaps we were in Never Never Land and these little wands once belonged to Tinkerbell. Siblings were invited to select a wand that spoke to us and take it home. We didn’t waste any time. Maybe they are magic and all our dreams will come true.

A Touch of Eden

Just about a mile from where we live, there are several large greenhouses on the UNH campus that are used in the agriculture, horticulture, and science departments for classrooms, research projects, breeding, Integrated Pest Management, organic gardening, sustainability studies and more. When I read they were opening the greenhouses to the community last week, we jumped at the opportunity to tour them, learn from professors and master gardeners, plus get a little break from the late winter bleakness.

Yes, there were crowds. We wandered and squeezed around people through the several greenhouses that were all connected to one building where educators, students, master gardeners were set up to answer questions or tell a little about the plants, the greenhouses and how they were managed. There were greenhouses devoted to annuals, some perennials, to crops, to herbs, to exotics and some where only students and staff were allowed entrance.

Hallways were arranged with attractive display gardens… pots, wall hangings, vertical gardens, tulip landscapes and horticulture students like Zack (below), tired from a late night getting ready for the open house, but ready to answer questions.

Zach yawned a bit but he was ready to chat...

We realized that some greenhouse had lots of healthy tomato plants and herbs for sale… CHEAP… and folks were buying and buying.

Other greenhouses held succulents, gorgeous exotics, and all those carnivorous pitcher plants, and orchids, some labeled, others not. There were ferns, a small pond, bananas, oranges… Pinch myself.  Is this Eden?

Flamboyant pitcher traps (Sarracenia levocphylla)

Another pitcher plant (Nepenthes x ventrata) from the Philippines

Orchids galore! (Paphiopedilum insigne)

Pitcher Plant with little bugs inside

Flamingo Flower or Boy Flower (Anthurium scherzerian)

Venus Fly Trap (Dionaea muscipula)

The melon greenhouse was filled with a variety of plants, all grown vertically. Fruits were supported in little hammocks. What a great idea!

And yes, like many others, we did succumb to the lure of healthy, large herb plants.  So we left after an hour and a half with a Tiny Tim tomato plant and some dill…. all for a good cause to raise funds for a trip for the students, we were told.

Now to keep them healthy until May 20 when the last frost is over in these parts…..