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…

Great Backyard Bird Count 2015

Well, it’s that time of year again…. time for me to become a citizen scientist and count birds for a minimum of 15 minutes a day during this 4-day weekend, February 13 – 16. Then report my findings at birdcount.org. It’s easy, it’s free, and it helps avian researchers have a real-time picture of how birds are doing.

There are two days are left in the count… today and tomorrow. Just Do It!

Ice-encrusted mourning dove (Zenaida macroura) in Portsmouth NH

Near the feeder, it’s an easy task but in other locations, it can take a bit of concentration. Can you spot the lone chickadee among American goldfinches and a junco in the crab apple tree? Click to enlarge.

American finches and chickadee

 

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

Soup does a body GOOD!

After running errands trying to beat one of our recent snowstorms, I was greeted at home by rich aromas wafting from the kitchen. mister gardener, who does practically all the cooking in this household, was making his mother’s chicken noodle soup. That means starting with a nutritious stock from scratch using an organic whole chicken from our farmers’ market and his mother’s homemade egg noodles.

He was removing the chicken bones and vegetables from the stock pot when I poked my head around the corner. It had been simmering for an hour and a half with an assortment of vegetables and herbs and smelled heavenly. The dough had been rolled out and drying on a side table.

As a toddler, he remembers climbing up on the kitchen stool up to watch and ‘help’ his mother roll out the dough and cut the noodles. He uses her recipe and her methods to this day… rolling out the dough, letting it dry, dusting the dough with flour, rolling it, and cutting the noodles.

Sliced carrots, sliced celery are added to the stock and it all simmers away until the vegetables are just tender. The reserved cut-up raw chicken is added and, finally, the delicious noodles are tossed in for the last 5 minutes. A little salt and fresh ground pepper to taste and some chopped fresh parsley just before serving, and dinner’s ready. (I’d like to think the parsley is my small contribution since I am tending it in my lovely winter herb garden!)

Dinner is served….

Chicken Noodle SoupChicken Stock: mister gardener makes his stock mostly with chicken bones. He reserves the raw breast and thigh meat, and partially cooks the bones and a few extra chicken parts, sans skin and fat, in water until the fatty foam forms on the surface. He tosses that water and starts a fresh pot of water with the same bones and simmers the stock for 1/ 1/2 to 2 hours with cut up carrots, onions, celery, garlic head, fresh thyme, and parsley. He strains the stock through a colander and he’s ready to make his soup!

Blizzard 2015 Visits New England

A week ago, I spoke a little too soon about needing some snow in New Hampshire. This week the January 2015 blizzard came to town. The snow started on Tuesday and never stopped. When all was said and done on Wednesday morning, we officially had 25+ inches on the ground in Exeter…. however, high winds whipped snow, swirled snow, and piled snow in every nook and cranny creating mountains you could get lost in. Beautiful to watch from the window with a crackling fire, a fine cup of java, and two good books to take me far away.

To give you an idea of the Great Dig Out, here is my grandson with his dog following along as his parents forged a path to their mailbox in Portsmouth, a city that received a whopping 31 inches of snow, according to local news.

Drew on Path

And this is how they found the mailbox, buried by the snowplows under several feet of snow. More dig out…

Mail Box in PortsmouthIn Exeter, mister gardener dug a series of deep trenches to the bird feeders trying to keep our feathered friends well-fed for the duration of the storm. All birdseed we scattered atop the snow was completely covered within minutes.

birdprintsBefore the storm hit, we built a small snowman with available snow on the deck railing.  The snows of ‘Juno’ began and we were certain it would be the end of Mister Snowman.Our small Snowman But he withstood the whipping winds of the blizzard. We found him standing upright in the morning although he’d lost an arm and had transformed into Mr. Conehead with a cape.snowman2Very slowly over the next three days, our little man began to lean more and more until he finally toppled and expired late today.

The cleanup continues in New Hampshire with two more winter snowstorm warnings on the horizon. We are ready for them, but not for another threat that emerged this morning. Icicles can possibly foreshadow the dreaded…. ICE DAMS …..identical to the one that caused a leak around our skylight last winter! Yikes! Give me a good snowstorm any day!

icicles

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.

Surfs Up But…

… the mercury was down in the Atlantic Ocean on this January day. The icy 40° water temperature did not seem to deter our brave winter surfers!

The popularity of winter surfing in New England simply amazes me. I’m told that many surfers prefer the winter when the sand isn’t packed with beachgoers and large numbers of surfers aren’t competing for the same perfect wave.

Temperatures seemed mild today for January so we took the short drive to the beach to watch the action. Well… there they were. About a dozen or so surfers were bobbing in the water just waiting to catch a wave.

I’m not exactly sure how warm they were but they appeared comfortable out there. It looked like every inch of their skin, except for the face, was covered in a thick wet suit and I’m sure faces were covered in a substance like petroleum jelly to protect the skin.

I would think the most difficult part of this activity would be getting out of the water, back to their cars, maneuvering out of the skintight wetsuit, drying off and changing into dry clothes… likely done before the cars warm up!  Gives me a chill to think about that.

click to enlarge.

surferscatching a waveJust below me on the rocks were some shore birds huddling on a boulder, resting and trying to stay warm. I am not great on identifying shore birds but I do think the white breasted birds with dark legs may be non-breeding sanderlings. The orange legged and beaks belong to another species of sandpipers…. perhaps the purple sandpiper that winters here. Someone else may have to make positive IDs for me.

Wave runners!

Look who came to breakfast!

Yesterday I attached a small bird feeder to the kitchen window. I used it for a while last year but the messy spillover on the basement bulkhead below resulted in removal of the feeder.

My daughter’s interesting birds at her kitchen window convinced me to turn a blind eye to the oily mess and just enjoy the birds. Immediately the bold little chickadees lifted out most of the nuts. Very early this morning before the sun was fully over the horizon, the American finches found the feeder filled with shelled sunflower seeds for those dainty beaks.

Heck with the mess. C’mon little tweetie birds!

The American Goldfinch is the only finch to molt twice a year. Their dull winter colors are a stark contrast to the bright yellow breeding colors of spring and summer.

In Virginia, I participated as a Cornell Lab of Ornithology citizen scientist in a data collection survey called House Finch Disease Survey for Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis. This terrible condition caused swollen, crusty eyes, and often blindness in a good number of my goldfinches, house finches and Northern cardinals. It was heartbreaking to watch a bird trying but unable to land on a feeder. Some diseased birds recover but many starve or are eaten by predators. Because of the contagious nature of the disease, feeders are the best place for transmission. I regularly removed all feeders, disinfected them, and waited a week or so before hanging clean feeders and clean food. Thankfully, I have not seen this condition in New Hampshire.

The survey has ended, however, one can report a disease sighting through Project Feeder Watch until April 3.

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…

The Thrill of Stratham Hill

On a rather gray day in October, mister gardener and I explored another recommended trail in nearby Stratham NH. Our goal was to find and climb a restored fire tower for a bird’s eye view of the surround. I’d never climbed a fire tower and could hardly believe folks were allowed to do it. We had no idea how far we had to walk but it turned out to be a rather short and gradual assent to the summit, an elevation of 280 feet.

We soon approached a tree-tunneled opening and were surprised to find an expanse of well-maintained fields. To the right, a sign pointed to other trails but we could see the tower at the summit on the left. Well, I thought, that tower certainly doesn’t look imposing. I’ve seen taller.

Click photos to enlarge.

We walked up the dew covered grass and noticed the tower that seemed so manageable was looming larger as we got closer. And once there, I saw that the metal steps were dew covered and slippery. I had qualms… but I swallowed my apprehension and began the slippery climb, holding on very tight and photographing each level as I passed with my free hand. The worst part was a see-through metal grate instead of a solid surface beneath my feet. Whenever I looked down, I saw all the way to the ground. Add a breeze up there and I developed a slight case of vertigo. I didn’t linger.

On a clear day not only Portsmouth and the Great Bay can be seen, but several mountains can be identified… including Mt. Washington 88 miles in the distance.

Can you spot the picnic table? We are up high! Click to enlarge.

I stayed long enough to see what people tagged on the beams… mostly nice thoughts but when I saw one about jumping, I decided it was time for my safe descent.

On the way back down to the parking lot, we took a steeper trail, the Lincoln Trail named for Robert Lincoln, Honest Abe’s son.

We stopped to read the plaque on a large boulder that marked the spot where Robert Lincoln, a student at Phillips Exeter Academy, read the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1860, the year his father was elected president.

Once back on level ground, we checked our GPS and found that we had logged less than 2 miles, a short walk. This map of all the trails in this area illustrates the amazing 9 miles of trails on both private and public land. We had barely scratched the surface!

Stratum Trail Map

Christmas for the Birds

As a special treat to her feathered friends, my daughter added a handful of shelled pecans to the sunflower seeds on her window feeder. She wondered whether the birds would even like the nuts, but lesson learned. It took 15 minutes before all the pecans were gone. Click to enlarge photos.

First the chickadee eyed them.

chickadeeIt was the titmouse’s turn next….

IMG_7500…followed by the white breasted nuthatch.

IMG_7497All the regulars, the nut lovers, arrived to share a gourmet Christmas treat. Joy.

My Ten Favorite Photos of 2014

Les over at A Tidewater Gardener annually posts his ten favorite photos from the year and he challenges readers to do the same. Since we have downsized and no longer maintain our acres of gardens, I’m not as serious about garden photography and rarely carry my heavy 35mm camera around my neck. But I do carry the world’s most popular camera in my pocket at all times. My iPhone! Not sure about these being my favorite photos but they jumped out at me while scrolling through hundreds!

Since we spent most of the winter under a blanket of snow, I thought I should add at least one photo of the beauty it can bring. Taken on February 8, prints in the snow show where animals come to the stream banks.

Click on photos to enlarge.

IMG_8150I love photos that tell a story and there’s one here. Peaceful demonstrators in Keene NH braved the elements for several hours for a cause on February 7. I can almost hear them talking amongst themselves…. maybe seeing whose turn it is to get some coffee.. among other more important things.

Make Love, Not War!Keene NH also provided another photo that I like. A rainy, gray day was brightened only by taillights at a stoplight on April 15. With family in Keene, we visit this area on a regular basis.

IMG_9886We ventured out of the Granite State for this photo. Two lovely ladies in straw hats were admiring a seaside garden on the rocky shores of the Atlantic. We toured several Cape Neddick Maine gardens on this day during Garden Conservancy Days, June 22.IMG_1338Anyone who knows me knows I am interested in insects and have hundreds of photos and IDs The plump fellow below, the jumping spider, claimed the watering hose as his own at Rolling Green Nursery this summer. These are brave and scary looking spiders, but, oh so harmless. Whenever I moved in, he moved closer. They stalk prey and can pounce a few inches but I just give them a puff of air and they fall to the ground and scamper away. I really like these spiders because they have personality plus. July 12.

The second photo below was a two-for-one. I was photographing the tachinid fly and didn’t see the second insect until I downloaded the photograph. The tachinid is a nectar eating fly as an adult, but one that lays eggs in insect hosts. This time the lowly hover fly is the victim seen just below her body. I don’t like these flies very much as butterfly caterpillars are often victims. July 16.

IMG_1635 IMG_0712Rain drops on vegetation after an all night soaker is always interesting to me. The new growth on this spirea is an especially nice color. May 19.

rain dropsThe sunflower below was a volunteer from our bird feeder. Several seeds that the birds overlooked germinated but only this one grew tall and straight and eventually fed the chickadees many ripe sunflower seeds. (Staring at the center long enough may hypnotize!)  August 26.

volunteer sunflowerFinally, the highlight of 2014 was a vacation with the youngins to Bethel, Maine. Below are two photos from that hiking, swimming, boating trip in August.

IMG_2741IMG_3346

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)

Gardening with Conifers

Winter officially arrived yesterday at 6:03 p.m.  The contrast between December 22, 2013, and today is remarkable.  On this date in 2013, we had a few feet of snow on the ground and 5 – 6′ icicles  hanging from the roof…. and it only got worse for weeks and weeks… ending with ice dams on the roof and a few dead or damaged shrubs. Folks tell me last year was not a normal year. We shouldn’t have a repeat this year.

So far, so good. We’ve had enough snowfall to have the driveway cleared, followed by some warming and freezing this fall. The forecast for Christmas is 50° and rain. That suits me fine, but after that, I’ll begin to miss the white stuff. Even though the natives say last year was a fluke,  I’m not taking any chances after losing some new plants to the weather.

I asked for advice, I studied other gardens, I formed my vision, I made a plan, and I decided to install a mixed conifer border that will provide interest and give us screening for a cozy backyard retreat. I looked for plants that would survive in zone 4. Conifers bring diversity in color, shape, and texture for every season. The greens are welcome in the spring before perennials and leaves of trees emerge. Summer’s colors in the perennial garden look even more dramatic against the evergreen backdrop. Autumn colors abound in trees and shrubs but it’s pleasing to see contrasting green foliage. However, conifers own the winter season. Cold arrives early in the Northeast. Bare branches, brown grass, barren and bleak landscapes need conifers. Add a bit of snow along the green boughs and, voila! Magic!

Plus, I’m all about the birds in our compact habitat. They have taken to these new woodies as I knew they would. On brisk or snowy days, I can see them seeking shelter inside the branches and dining on the berries. Here’s the short list of what I chose:

  • 6′ Ilex x meserveae ‘Blue Maid': the hardiest of these hybrid blue hollies, fast growing, bright red berries, can reach 10′-12′ but will prune to about 8′. Her ‘Blue Prince’ grows nearby for pollination.
  • 5′ Juniperus chinensis ‘Hetz Columnaris': sharp needle-like green foliage and full of  bluish-green berries for the birds.
  • Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Kosteri': a semi-dwarf falsecypress known for its twisty olive green foliage and dense texture; this 2.5′ species will slowly reach 4′.
  • Ilex glabra ‘Shamrock': several of these evergreen native hollies are scattered in the border; I will keep these inkberries at about 4′.
  • Buxus sinica ‘Tide Hill‘: I moved my 3 miniature Korean boxwood to this border after the snowplow mounded 5′ of packed snow on them, crushing the centers. They have recouped for two seasons in a temporary nursery until recently. Full size: 15″ high by 3′ wide.
  • Taxus x media ‘Densiformis': this popular yew is thick and lush and easy to maintain.

Click on photos to enlarge:

Some perennials and ornamental grasses grow in the spaces between the young plants but this landscape will be developed in stages. More decisions will be made after the neighborhood association removes the mature white pines later this winter. I’ll then know how much sunshine my cozy backyard will receive.   

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.

Click on photos to enlarge:

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