Summertime Blues

Someone told me today that we have about 6 more weeks of summer weather in New Hampshire. Bummer!  By mid-October temperatures drop, days are shorter and the leaf peepers will begin to stream into the state.

I will miss the warmth of summer. The August calendar filled quickly.  We have traveled. We have entertained house guests. I’ve made pickles from garden fresh cucumbers. We’ve frequented farmers’ markets, celebrated the youngest grandson’s first birthday and the oldest grandson’s 18th birthday, enjoyed a big family gathering, and continued our walks.

I visited public gardens, wandered through garden nurseries, met with a landscape architect, planted a few shrubs and pulled a few weeds and crabgrass, but no real gardens on this property yet…. except for my newest garden endeavor…. container gardening!

I loved making my own, pictured somewhere below but I’ll never tell. It was also fun to photograph different planters throughout the summer travels as I passed by with my handy iPhone. It seems as though the healthiest container plants were often the tried and true hot petunias, chartreuse or purple sweet potato vine and coleus in variety of shades and variegation. I was also surprised to see pots of healthy impatiens as most good nurseries did not sell them around here because of a mildew problem.

Any favorite color combinations for you?

Some were interesting but could use a little help…

And others had gone to plant heaven.

A Garden Party…. Maine Style

This being the first official weekend of summer, we decided to celebrate by taking in a garden tour just over the Maine border in York. It was a fabulous opportunity to peek over the hedge (see below) into a lovely estate, stroll through the gardens, enjoy refreshments and come away inspired by what we saw.

Brave Boat Harbor Farms I love a landscape that beckons visitors along gentle pathways from one garden to another, around corners, up hills, along stone walls, through woodlands and meadows with wonderful vistas and surprises along the way. Brave Boat Harbor Farm did just that. It was a true slice of heaven on earth.

Pathway to the PondA sampling of sights from our adventure:

The Gunhouse, built by the last owner, a marksman and a gunsmith, was completed in 1980. This tiny getaway sparked a real interest among the men on the tour but I’d be perfectly thrilled to claim it as my personal retreat…

Many thanks to Old York Garden Club for sponsoring the tour and our gratitude to the family for throwing open the garden gates for visitors.

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth

Clouds of colorful tall phlox greeted me in the garden after returning from a family vacation. Although not the exact shade of pink I would have chosen, these billowy blooms still supply a mid-summer punch to the border and nectar for garden friends.

At first glance, some might mistaken this guest (below) for a tiny hummingbird as it hovers above the blooms sipping nectar. But it’s a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe) that is seen through central and eastern North America and Alaska. The ‘fur’ on the body of the insect looks more like a hummingbird’s feathers.

These attractive moths may confuse some because they are active during the daytime along with hummingbirds, not at night with many other moth species. Below see the curled proboscis or mouth part used to suck nectar from the flower.

As the moth prepares to feed, it uncurls the proboscis and inserts it into the center of a bloom.

I suspect the host plant for the hummingbird moth is my coral honeysuckle growing against a post beneath the deck. Tomorrow I will inspect the plant to see if I can discover any hummingbird moth caterpillars… which is fine with me. This insect is a delight to see in the garden… not a pest at all.

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.

Winter Farmers’ Market

We just arrived home from the Winter Farmers’ Market in Rollingsford NH. It was an indescribable experience so I’ll say it mostly with pictures.

Days are growing longer by almost 3 minutes a day, one of the farmers told me. Did you know that winter greens thrive on these lengthening days? We found plenty of greens at the market, such as different kales, lettuces, bok choy, and beet greens. We found carrots, potatoes, onions, garlic, and winter squash galore. There were also rudabagas and beets.

The mother and daughter team selling at this booth were bee keepers and vegetable growers. It is mainly a one woman operation with help from her daughter when she is home from school. This farmer said she worked from 9 am to 9 pm harvesting vegetables yesterday. We bought her honey.

I didn’t expect so much meat to be available. They offered organic beef, pork, chicken, and lamb. Yes, mister gardener could not pass up the pork spare ribs and a few strip steaks.

Did you know that beans are one of the world’s oldest foods? I’d never seen such variety. Have you ever heard of Marfax, True Red Cranberry, or Yellow Eye beans? These beans are a lot fresher than the ones in the grocery store that could be years old.

Lengthening daylight also brings an abundance of eggs. Locally raised eggs are amazing, full of flavor and nutrition. The farmers were quick to tell me their chickens are treated humanely. I thought the colors of the eggs were gorgeous.

The eggs we ended up buying were quail eggs. This farmer raises 3 varieties of quail and was excited to talk about each. I wonder which one laid my eggs.

We evidenced cookies, doughnuts, granola (tasty samples). We could have had breakfast or lunch of cheeses, pastas, crepes, soup, milk, yogurt and a breakfast sandwich that looked hot and delicious. We settled on crepes…. savory with organic cheeses and herbs for mister gardener and, alas, Nutella for me.

There were many bread bakers and we love bread. We choose some whole wheat yeast rolls for dinner tonight.

Author Kathy Gunst was cooking up a storm and serving samples of several different recipes from her newest cookbook. Mister gardener loved the roasted root vegetable and lettuce salad but this bean dish was delicious, too.

“It’s an award winner,” the owner said as she handed us samples of her maple syrup. Couldn’t pass this up! Our bags were getting heavy: meats, cookbook, bread, honey, maple syrup (and candy), eggs.

Rugs, slippers, blankets, mittens, hand-dyed wool was all prepared by this happy farmer. She loves her craft and it shows.

Finally, we stopped to enjoy the music of MiKe & MiKe who now have Lily Hope sleeping through the entire show.  Mike Morris, guitarist and Heather Mike, fiddler, entertained the crowds with foot stomping high-energy folk music. What a treat!

Spring is around the corner… I hope.

While I was chopping ice off the walkway last week, a neighbor out for a stroll stopped to chat. The conversation turned to gardening. “Do you like bulbs?” she asked.  Hailing from the area of Brent and Beckys Bulbs in Ware Neck, VA, naturally I said yes. “Well, they’re planted all over this lawn,” she added. I looked around. I know they’re up and blooming in Virginia but not a one had broken through the ground here.

After she left, I tried to visualize a lawn full of blooms. That is difficult to do. But just trying to visualize tulips made me reflect on our small group that traveled with Brent and Becky to Holland in the spring of 2010 and our visit to the dazzling gardens of Keukenhof near Amsterdam. Oh, how much fun it would be if this lawn lit up with a rainbow of colors like we saw in Holland.

I posted some photos from that 2010 trip while traveling, but being in a bulb mood now, I’m posting a few more pictures today.

I’ll be checking the lawn in New Hampshire every day for signs of emerging bulbs. I’ll post a photo if it looks anything like Keukenhof Gardens.  Hurry up, spring!

Women Are Better….

… at choosing, arranging and tending to flower gardens, that is according to a 2011 poll by Roundup of 2,000 Brit gardeners.  Men agreed they were better suited for cutting the grass, looking after the vegetable garden, minding the patio and decking. They also admitted they were better at fixing and painting fences, digging and preparing the ornamental gardens beds, building a garden house or a greenhouse.

mister gardener's fence and vegetable garden

Women gardeners, on the other hand, acknowledged they were more skilled in the area of choosing plants, laying out the landscape plan and taking care of the flowers. They are more skilled at planting hanging baskets and choosing garden ornaments. Do you think the study would have the same results in the good old USA? According to ME, strengths in our gardens seem to be divided along these same lines.

Ann's playground

Whether men are better or not at gardening is irrelevant. I don’t think we are any better. I think they are just darn smart. Although the planning, buying and planting is great fun, it’s the weeding, trimming, deadheading that takes the most time. The Roundup survey found that tending the garden is the most consuming job with the average gal Brit spending about 9 hours a month making sure the garden is weed free, watered and trimmed. By the time I’ve filled three wheelbarrows with weeds and debris, mister gardener has finished his veggie garden maintenance, showered and sitting with a glass of wine watching me work.  Smart fella.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Nightmare On My Street

At first they looked insignificant and harmless but these plants were really the devil in disguise. Like those really bad reptilian creatures with sharp teeth and claws who rampaged a town in the 1984 horror movie, Gremlins, I am currently under attack by a weed…. a devil weed, a dangerous villain, a Gremlin. It’s Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata), a biennial plant in the Mustard family. Native to Europe, it is thought to have been brought to America in the 1860s as a culinary herb and indeed, it is edible.

The small rosettes of leaves appeared among my roses and lavender several years ago. I pulled up tons without recognizing the weed until successive years when the plant had matured into tall shoots, competing with the lavender, then moving on to other borders . Each year, I weed and weed and I think I’ve gotten it under control but when I turn my back, it multiplies as fast as those little Gremlins that terrorized an entire community.

It is a destructive invasive plant that is controlled best by hand-pulling before the plant goes to seed. Each mature plant can produce over a thousand seeds and once it produces seeds, it can become so prolific that it is difficult to eradicate. When it’s introduced into a new environment, it can aggressively spread into woodlands where it out-competes native plants and flowers that insects depend upon for life. The West Virginia White Butterfly (Pieris virginiensis) and the Mustard White Butterfly (Pieris oleracea) that lay eggs on Toothwort plants are choosing to lay eggs on Garlic Mustard which has proved toxic to both the eggs and larvae. The plant also produces toxins that suppress the mycorrhizal fungi that plants require for growth.

The plant has no natural enemies. For very heavy infestations where risks to desirable plants is at a minimum, applications of systemic herbicide glyphosate can be effective.  Since the seeds remain viable for five years in the soil, diligent monitoring is important. After weeding, do not compost this weed as the plant can germinate in the compost bed.

Wish me luck.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Garden Tools

One of my required master gardener classes was a lecture on garden tools. Instructors were scheduled to instruct the class on the tools available for gardeners and the purpose of each. They were bringing examples of spades, shovels, trowels, rakes, saws, shears, weeders, pruners, loppers, hoes, garden forks and pitchforks. Whew! In the world of gardening there are as many tools as there are jobs and we were going to learn all about working in the soil with some and working with plants with others. I felt a little smug going in to this class. I was already a gardener and I had my basic arsenal of garden tools. I knew I’d be yawning, drawing doodles in my book, and looking at my watch a lot during class time.

No rust on these tools!

Boy, was I wrong! I began the class elbows on the desk and head in my hands. Several hours later, I was sitting up straight and had taken copious notes with small sketches in the margins. I found I did not know all the names of the tools I already owned. And I learned a few new names of other handy garden tools. A Winged Weeder? A Garden Bandit?  A Swoe?  A dibber? I learned when to use bypass pruners and when to use anvil pruners. I discovered I knew nothing about choosing a tool to fit my grip, did not understand the benefits of short-handled tools and long-handled tools, styles, weights, and materials. I learned, like proper shoes, garden tools need to be fitted to the gardener.

That was then....

This is now.....

And I learned valuable knowledge on sharpening my own tools (I tossed the dull and bought new ones) and the proper care of tools (I tossed the old and bought new ones).  I took my tools for granted and left them where I last worked in the garden. I’m much better now about wiping tools clean of any dirt or grass before storing them in the garden shed. I sharpen tools regularly and coat the metals with a mixture of petroleum jelly and light oil or a rust blocker spray like Bull Frog Rust Blocker (environmentally safe) to prevent rust. Another master gardener tip for treating metals is to fill a pail with sand and mix in used oil. Any oil will do… cooking, motor… but I do wonder about the environmental impact of eventual disposal.

I still have my favorite tools in the garden shed and it’s nice to know their names, to know how to use them, to know they are better cared for and that they might last a lifetime.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Hot and Dry Weather: Survivors in the Garden

Hot, dry, windy summer weather can be extremely stressful for plants in the garden. Temperatures in Gloucester have hovered near 100º for the last several days, topping out at 102 yesterday. Life seems to be fading from much of the garden. I am usually found hiding inside during intolerably hot weather, however in the late afternoon, I’ll take a stroll to check out heat tolerant plants that shine through the high temps. Several shrubs and perennials are doing well. Here are two that stand out:

The ‘Becky‘ Shasta Daisies, Leucanthemum superbum, that I planted en masse in early spring for our June ‘wedding garden’ are still going strong. I have been rewarded a hundred times over with waves of showy pure white blooms… great for admiring and great for cutting. They’re the 2003 Perennial Plant of the Year and are proving to be heat and drought tolerant. All they ask for is sunshine and a little deadheading.

Becky Shasta Daisy

Hardiness: USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9

Light: Full sun

Soil: Growth is optimum in moist, but well-drained soil

Bloom: June to September.

Another favorite that I’ve blogged about a couple of years ago is the Blackberry Lily or the Leopard Lily, a plant that is three plants in one.

1. In the spring, we are rewarded with blue green leaves than fan out in an attractive pattern much like an iris. Indeed it is a member of the iris family.  Familiarly known as Belamcanda chinensis, after a DNA analysis, the new classification is Iris domestica.

Iris-like leaves of the blackberry lily

2. In mid-July we are blessed with a multitude of small orange and red lily-like flowers, each blooming for a day then twisting like tiny wrung out rags before dropping from the plant. I’ve not read anything about the nectar of this flower but have observed a variety of insects actually competing over the sweet fluids.

Blackberry Lily and Sweat Bee

Blackberry Lily and red ants

3. In the late summer and fall and winter, the 3-lobed pods that are green and swelling now, split open to reveal the glossy fruit that resemble blackberries. These will fall from the plant and self seed or stems can be used for flower arrangements. I adore all three phases of this colorful summer perennial.

Belamcanda chinensis

Image via Wikipedia

It will reproduce by seed and by rhizomes which may be divided and shared. Plant rhizomes under 1″ of soil and allow to dry between waterings.

Hardiness: USDA Hardiness Zones 5-10

Light: Full sun, partial sun, partial shade (I moved my plants from full sun to partial sun and they seem less stressed)

Soil: Well-drained; grows taller in fertile soil.

Bloom: July and August

Zones: 5-10.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

A Winter Vertical Garden

Vertical walls, living walls, green walls – no matter what you call it, growing a garden on inside or outside walls seems to be a hot trend in gardening and much in the news these days. Whether it is good for the atmosphere or whether a vertical garden causes more harm for the environment than good, I am uncertain. Vertical gardens originated in France, migrated to the West Coast and moved east from there. While some believe these gardens may save the planet, others say the electricity needed to supply water outweighs the benefits.

Portsmouth NH, one of the oldest cities in the country, is where I came upon a vertical garden yesterday that seemed to be struggling to survive one of the toughest New England winters of late. The garden was installed in September, 2010, on the aged brick wall of Cava Restaurant in a narrow old street named Commercial Alley.

John Akar

Needless to say, I was intrigued and while studying the plants that looked like they’d had seen better days, the owner, John Akar, appeared in the Alley, proud as a papa about his vertical garden. He said the installers had just visited the garden and declared the roots on all the plants healthy and vital.  Cava Restaurant is proud to own the first outdoor vertical garden in New England with hearty native New England perennials chosen for low maintenance and their semi-evergreen nature.

Although the wall looks a little like woolly mammoths that have been skinned and hung to dry, I can visualize flowing tussock grass, the purple leaves of coral bells, the red berries of bunchberry, lacy Christmas ferns and wintergreen soon providing a lovely atmosphere for diners on the patio of this popular restaurant.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Eat Your Flowers!

For me, it’s always around this time of year that winter seems to go on forever. I’m simply DONE with appreciating the lovely shapes and textures of a winter garden. I’ve been teased by a few warm days and I need to see flowers and I need to touch flowers and I need to plant flowers. But I had no idea I needed to taste flowers.

White chocolate mascarpone cups with rose water and candied violas

Fellow master gardener, Marion Baker of Duchess of Gloucester Flowers arranged an educational workshop on common garden flowers that are edible. I signed up early. Marion provided the flowers and the popular chef at Gloucester’s Inn at Warner Hall, Eric Garcia, prepared the mouth watering delicacies.  Just entering the room set for high tea, I was hit with a visual smorgasbord of color that cured my winter flower withdrawal at a glance.

Chocolate truffles rolled in lavender sugar

I learned that not only can your eyes appreciate the beauty of flowers in the garden, many of those same flowers can dress up and flavor the foods we eat. While Marion lectured us on flowers we can eat and those that are poisonous, how to harvest, how to keep our harvest fresh, and the dangers of pesticides, we were served tea and an array of flower-infused, garnished or tossed choice treats from the kitchen at Warner Hall.

Marion and Eric

While we sampled from the table, Marion gave us recipes, shared her abundant knowledge and Eric added great cooking tips. We asked many questions and shared stories and we ate and we learned and we sipped our tea. I was fulfilled. Now I think I can make it through the rest of the winter.

Some of the other delicacies served were:

-Cream cheese and edible flower mix on crackers

-Smoked salmon, Boursin cheese and edible flowers on crackers

-Cheese selection of smoked cheddar and paprika, Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Wisconsin

-Pear, lavender and cornmeal cake topped with pears glazed in wildflower honey

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Slice it, Dice it with Fiskars

According to the manufacturer, the Multi-Snip is the ultimate tool. “It slices! It dices! It washes the dishes and makes your bed.” Well, it doesn’t do all that at my house but it has fast become an indispensable gardening tool for me.

I was introduced to this handy tool at a master gardener meeting where our County Extension Agent wore one in a sheath on his belt, displaying it and saying he couldn’t do without it. It was his most used tool in the garden. I bought two of them on his word, one for me and one as a gift for a gardener son.

The Multi-Snip features four tools in one: pruning/multi-purpose snip, fine-edged knife, serrated kniife, and wire-cutting notch. It comes with a sheath that hooks over a belt or pocket to keep the precision sharp blades covered. This is important as the blades can cause injury if not used properly.

It’s a perfect snip for soft or smaller woody stems. As Fiskar says, “…when it comes to garden chores, there’s nothing this handy device won’t do. It clips wayward stems, slices twine, eats through burlap bags, and even cuts wire.”  Check it out at Amazon or a good gardening store. It is a versatile small tool for gardening that I highly recommend.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Race Against Time

There is nothing more beautiful in the spring landscape than an azalea, a member of the genus Rhododendron. Fifteen azalea species are native to the eastern part of our country and gardeners are becoming more appreciative and knowledgeable about them. Whether white, pink, red or orange or any combination of these colors, the native azaleas are said to be the most fragrant of all azaleas. These natives grow naturally in woodland settings beneath tall hardwood or pine trees where the sun is filtered and the soil is acidic.

In Gloucester, we feel fortunate to have fellow resident, George McLellan, a landscape designer who values the native azalea. He is a member of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society and chairman of the Species Study Group. He knows his azaleas well, as he does everything else in the world of gardening including native plants, trees, bulbs, perennials, the uncommon, the rare and newest hybrids. He also knows his birds and is a regular on our birding walks where, if asked, will take time to share horticultural knowledge along the way.

Last week George also shared an azalea success story. Recently, on a tiny postage stamp plot of undeveloped land in Gloucester surrounded by a sea of man-made surfaces and buildings, a sign went up announcing the construction of a new fast food restaurant. George and fellow ARS member, Jim Brandt, with no time to waste, took shovels to the tiny woodland site to save a native azalea.

Growing under the pines were Pinxter Azaleas (Rhododendron periclymenoides), a wild azalea found from Massachusetts to Georgia and Alabama. The name Pinxter is the Dutch word for Pentecost, named thus by the colonists because it bloomed on Pentecost, 50 days after Easter. It can grow to 6-8 feet tall with clusters of long-tubed pink to white flowers with a wonderful sweet fragrance. George and Jim were able to save some azaleas before dozers leveled the land, paved and built the restaurant in record time.

Protected in New York state, the species is obviously not safe from harm in Virginia. The azalea is certainly fortunate to have friends in need.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Predator vs Prey

Here is a little quiz for you. Is this a good bug or bad bug?

It’s quite possible that you’ve never spotted this well-camouflaged bug called a Wheel Bug (Arilus cristatus) in your garden, one of the largest of the assassin bugs. It is fairly common in the eastern part of the country, a slow-moving member of the Hemiptera (half wings) order of True Bugs that includes stink bugs for one.  The adult pictured is resting on the outside of our screened porch. A semicircular structure appearing much like a cogwheel on the thorax gives the Wheel Bug its nickname. No one knows the function of this armor-like wheel but it is thought to add protection from predators.

The answer is:  this is a GOOD BUG for the garden but it comes with a caution.

All True Bugs have long straw-like mouthpieces that fold up beneath their body that most insect pests use to suck up juices in plants. Not so with the Wheel Bug or other assassin bugs in this order.  Their mouthparts are used to suck the body juices of other insects. In the photo  above, the Wheel Bug’s mouth is visible as a red tube beneath its long head. It waits in ambush to prey upon caterpillars, aphids, Japanese beetles, sawflies, stink bugs and other pests of the garden. It plunges the tube into an insect, injecting an enzyme and within seconds, the prey’s organs have been dissolved. It then sucks out all fluids much like a spider does. A little gruesome sounding, yes?

juvenile Wheel Bug- Wikipedia photo

It is an especially beneficial bug in the garden and should be ignored when seen around the yard. Don’t run and fetch a pesticide.  Maybe you’ll see one this fall as numbers of Wheel Bugs have increased, perhaps due to the proliferation of its pest cousin, the stink bug. Where there is an abundance of a pest, we are lucky that Mother Nature supplies us with an effective predator.

A word of caution: do not handle the Wheel Bug. It is a benign insect and seeks out quiet, hidden spots, however it is not particular where it will stick its sharp tube when it feels threatened. And due to the enzyme, it is a painful poke.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

We could all use a ‘Soft Caress’

Mahonia eurybracteata, ‘Soft Touch’ mahonia

At a garden show a year ago I finally put my hands on a plant that I had only read about: ‘Soft Caress’ Mahonia (Mahonia eurybracteata), a new introduction marketed through Novalis’ Plants That Work.  The leaves of this plant were nothing like the spiny holly-like leaves on the mahonia that grows in my garden. This plant really was soft. The leaves were long and graceful, looking a bit like bamboo.  I knew then that I would eventually own one.

There are around 70 species of mahonia plants around the world, with North America’s native Oregon Grape Holly (Mahonia aquifolium) being one that we know well.  Named after Bernard McMahon (1775-1816), a horticulturist and one of two men selected by Thomas Jefferson to receive and grow these Pacific Northwest seeds from the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Mahonia aquifolium, Oregon Grape Holly. Click photo.

Last week I finally stumbled upon a young ‘Soft Caress’ in glorious bloom at a nearby nursery and I snatched it up.  It’s tucked into a more shaded spot in the garden, close enough to the house that the lemony yellow racemes of blooms will be visible from a window. Later in the winter, bluish berries should replace the blooms. I expect ‘Soft Caress’ to be a relatively fast growing evergreen, reaching about 4-feet in height and I’m certain it will continue to give interest and structure to this zone 7 garden throughout the winter months.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

The Snake is Gone… I think.

Maggie knows it's in there!

Maggie knows it’s in there!

I heard it rattling through dry leaves before I glanced over and saw the Northern Water Snake slowly disappearing into the pachysandra garden on the edge of the property. (See Where Have All My Frogs Gone?) He had been warming himself on the fieldstone path as I passed by this garden. Could he really be leaving us? It’s been two weeks now and he has not returned to our little frog pond garden.  And, magically, two new frogs have found the pond.  My fish numbers are lower but they will recover. All is well in our small aquatic paradise.

With the snake gone, I knew this was my window of opportunity. Today I waded knee-deep into the garden that borders the pond, armed with loppers and pitchfork and a stick to drive away anything scary. Chop, chop, dig, dig. I slowly cut back the cotoneaster, dug up large sections of the spreading Black-eyed Susan and all of the variegated Japanese sedges, leaving the fieldstone visible.  I left alone the poor sun starved Blue Sedge (Carex flacca) that once gracefully flopped over the rocks along the border. It will rebound.
img_2198If the snake makes it through the winter, he will probably return to the pond next summer, however the shelter he found beneath the overhanging branches and flowers is gone.  Let’s hope he keeps on truckin’.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Our New Rain Barrel

We love our new rain barrel. We’ve been in the market for one since spring and finally decided on the Kyoto 75-gallon barrel made by Koolatron, a Canadian company with warehouses in the states and elsewhere. It didn’t cost an arm and a leg and the barrel is is able to withstand extreme temperatures that we occasionally have in our temperate zone. It came well packed and ready to use. I pulled it out of the box and at 18 lbs., I could lift and easily carry it to its chosen location. At this time, there is only one color available: sandstone.

No rain barrel is particularly lovely but this one works for us. The 75-gallon capacity is the primary reason for selecting this product. We diverted our gutter directly into the barrel and I attached a net to the end of the gutter for easy removal of leaves. The screen guard lid on the top is heavy duty but the larger holes allowed mosquitoes to enter and breed.  We solved that problem by attaching porch screening to the bottom of the lid.

The brass spigot works great.  It is threaded which allows me to attach a short hose to fill sizable or bulky watering cans or buckets.  Lower than the spigot is a clean out spout, the black cap seen on the footing.  It screws off for cleaning of sludge buildup.  There is an overflow valve on the top rear of the barrel that we attached a permanent drain for a rain garden, not knowing if this would work or not. It works! A recent 1 1/2″ rainfall filled the barrel and nicely watered the rain garden.

The most surprising thing for me for how quickly the barrel filled in any rainstorm. At first, I found myself running out and checking the level. “Oooo, we have two feet of water!”  But now, I just know I can fill my buckets and water those plants that need it between rainfalls. This one works so great, I do want to add more barrels.  And I tell myself, it’s one small step for the environment but a giant step for our gardens.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

A Garden Stitch In Time

Caterpillars of all shapes and sizes, both moths and butterflies, are invading areas of the garden at this time of year.  Some, like the black swallowtail caterpillar, I welcome; others are pests, like the Eastern tent caterpillar, and then there are a few that interest me, like the Redbud Leaffolder.

A tiny moth caterpillar, the Redbud Leaffolder (Fascista cercerisella), has turned some of the tree’s lovely heart shaped leaves into a patchwork quilt by folding or rolling the leaves. These black/white striped caterpillars pull a corner of the leaf over and ‘stitch’ the edges together with silk thread while they consume the leaf from the inside. I have opened some of the leaves to have a peek inside. I found several caterpillars in each fold and I was met with a flurry of movement.  The caterpillars twist and jump, eventually falling to the ground as an escape.

A tiny leaffolder moth visits lamps at night

The adult is a teeny black moth with white spots. I have read that that these common moths breed twice a summer. I would not describe our tree as infested and I’m not ready to use pesticides.  I’m watching and waiting. If I sense a problem, I’ll first try picking the leaf and stepping on it to squish the inhabitants.  Pesticides will be the last option and it would have to be ruinous for the redbud before I take that final step.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Potato Harvest

The potato plants have looked brown, nearly dead, for a week, a sign that the tubers were ready for harvesting. This is always a rewarding adventure for mister gardener, a time to savor after weeks of hard work in the garden.

Two days ago, he raked away the straw surrounding the plants and sunk his garden fork into the first hill of potatoes. Imagine his excitement when up came a fork full of enormous spuds! Hill after hill told the same story. Conditions this year, whatever they were, resulted in a bumper crop of potatoes…. abundant and huge!

It took a couple of days for mister gardener to finish digging all the hills of potatoes. But when the job was done, one fourth of the garden surface was covered in five different varieties of potatoes, waiting to be picked up. All have been gathered in bushel baskets and moved into a cool, dark corner of the garage.

Two of the colossal Yukon Yellow potatoes were cooked and mashed tonight, feeding six of us at dinner with leftovers to spare for potato pancakes for breakfast. I look forward to making the annual switch from pasta and rice to potatoes.  Whether boiled, baked, fried, roasted, there’s nothing that says comfort food quite like a potato.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

The cat’s away…

… and the mouse has played all week.  For several days, I’ve had the house and kitchen and garden all to myself while mister gardener becomes mister golfer in New England with our son.  Not having the mister here takes the hands off the clock for me. He is so scheduled that I always know what time of day it is by the particular activity he is performing.  Coffee: 6:45 a.m. Mail: 10:30 a.m. Lunch: 11:30 a.m. and so forth.

This week I awoke when the sun hit my eyes. Breakfast could be a piece of cake or a bowl of Reese’s Puffs (both leftovers from grandchildren a week ago). I puttered around the yard every morning weeding, edging, and simply sitting for long periods enjoying the Zen of the pond, connecting with the gardens, the birds, the blooms, the stars, being a part of something much larger than me. I did not feel idle and unproductive. Quite the contrary. I was recharging my inner being, my essence, my thoughts and ideas, all that is easy to lose in the distractions of daily life.

When it was too dark to see, it was time for the dogs and me to come inside for the night but then again I could find myself back outside before bedtime, sitting or walking on across the dew laden grass, enjoying life in the nighttime garden.  Very late suppers could be sauteed squash and tomatoes from mister gardener’s abundant crops or cheese and crackers or it could be another bowl of Reese’s Puffs.

I cherish these few days I had with the dogs, the cats, the flora and fauna of the gardens, and the cosmos. But I do look forward to mister gardener’s return and the hands returning to the clock. We both should feel refreshed and revitalized with our batteries fully charged.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Box Turtles in Our Garden

It is on wet, misty mornings like the ones we’ve had this week that Eastern box turtles (Terrapene carolina carolina) are encountered lumbering across roads in search of worms and other insects. If I’m on foot, I’ll simply help the turtle across the road. If I’m driving and it’s safe, I’ll pull over, activate my flashers and move the turtle to the berm, if possible in the direction it was heading.

The Eastern box turtle is most likely the best known turtle in Virginia, named for its ability to tuck in its head and legs and close up like a box, a defense action that causes thousands to be crushed beneath the wheels of automobiles each year. Deforestation for development is rapidly consuming the habitat of these gentle creatures that have survived for 250 million years. They have not been declared an endangered species although they are protected in some states. Once so numerous in my childhood, it’s apparent to me that the box turtles are disappearing from our landscape.

We do encounter these beautiful reptiles in our gardens and lawns in our rural area. Their diet consists of insects, fruits, mushrooms, berries and vegetables. Our dogs ignore them in the grass, the cats take a wide berth but I tell mister gardener that the greatest threat in crossing lawns is the tractor or lawn mower. It’s a good habit to always mow when the grass is dry and turtles have found cool shelter under mulch or leaf litter in the borders.

This male box turtle does not have the usual red eyes but does have bright orange legs.

Recently, while a passenger in my neighbor’s car, I said, “Stop the car! There’s a turtle.”  We were the only car on the road so I jumped out and helped a big male box turtle to the edge of the road. Upon returning, she said, “I’d never do that. How’d you know it wasn’t a snapping turtle?”  Had I known she didn’t know the difference, I would have brought it back to the car to show her.

Concave plastron is best indicator of male box turtle

A box turtle’s carapace, or top shell, is domed and each turtle is colored in a varied pattern of yellow or orange on brown.  The hinged lower shell, the plastron, is an indicator of the sex of the animal. Males have a concave shell and the female’s lower shell is flat. Males will often have bright red eyes, but not always! Females have brown or yellowish eyes.  The male carapace is brighter and their legs can have

This box turtle is approximately 20 years old

bright orange or red scales. The tail is longer on the male and their claws on the rear legs are thicker and more curved. The turtles you encounter could be 50 years old or more as their life span is over a hundred years. The approximate age of a turtle can be gauged by counting the growth rings on the bony plates of the carapace.

Although we have other species of turtles in the Commonwealth, the box turtle is our only terrestrial turtle. Others, such as snapping, musk, painted, spotted, so forth, are aquatic. Welcome these good-natured and ancient animals if you see them in your garden but avoid the temptation to pick one up elsewhere and bring it home. It’s now thought that they are territorial and will try to return to the original site.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Virginia

They Did it Their Way

Through the garden gate

From the street in this west side Richmond neighborhood, you would never know that behind the dense growth of winter jasmine, tall bayberries, plump boxwood and red-tip photinia is a garden gate that opens to a compact, well-designed landscape. Soothing greens with varied textures and shapes entice you to enter through the gate and explore.  I always enjoy an invitation to this charming garden. There’s something magic and restorative about the cool spaces in the dappled light of tall trees.

The couple who lives on this lovely property designed the garden layout themselves and every bed was developed and planted by them. The space has been embellished through the years to become a lush tapestry of foliage punctuated by colorful treasures of flowering trees and perennials. It’s obvious that this garden is their retreat, a place to enjoy the outdoors and fulfill their passion for gardening. It’s great fun to stroll through the grounds with them for he showers her with credit for aspects of the garden and she returns the praise.

The rear of the home opens onto a terrace that flows into a small grassy lawn. Steps away are several garden paths that beckon. Birdbaths, benches, sculpture, bridges and lighted pagodas are focal points along the woodland journey. A clear stream winds through the shade providing interest and a home for many small visitors. Native plants and new cultivar discoveries pepper the landscape.

Following the brick walk along a natural rise, a border of  boxwood, variegated hostas and liriope edging become the nucleus of this garden. A hand crafted martin house beneath a golden rain tree is a reminder of the birding paradise the couple has created.

Exiting through the garden gate, we are not disappointed by what we encounter. A colonial garden house, designed and built by the owner, greets us in this space.  I’ll say no more. A photograph of this structure is worth a thousand words.

The newest feature in the landscape, the Charleston Garden, bids a welcome to enter and rest on one of the benches. High stucco walls, beautifully designed brick walks, statuary, a pool with splashing water and colorful fish, and cool green groundcover, invite you to linger. With a daughter living in Charleston, the couple made numerous visits, falling in love with the courtyard garden designs.

I’m sure readers will agree that the owners have created an Eden…. but I might be a bit biased. On an earlier blog entry, I whisked you away to California to visit my sister’s whimsical garden in San Diego. This time you left your stresses at the gate and toured the garden retreat of my brother and his wife who live in Richmond.

For another view of his garden house, click HERE.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Snake Attack!

No, no, not me but my newly hatched Carolina Wrens in the Williamsburg bird bottle. I was edging the borders near the garden shed when I heard the adult wrens raising a commotion. I just figured old Jack, our cat, must be sunning near the daylilies. I kept the shovel moving along the edge. But after a few minutes I turned and glanced over my shoulder, following the escalating noise. What I saw was a shocker. To my horror a 3′ snake was hanging from the shingles of the shed roof with his head at the nest entrance. The adult Carolina wrens were in turmoil with other birds joining in the pandemonium.

Dropping my shovel and running, I reached up and knocked the snake from the roof. It tried to scurry away but I stopped it. It turned direction and tried to escape over the grass but I stopped it again. It then curled into a vent of the shed, vibrating its tail in the dead leaves like a rattler to frighten me. I was not intimidated. You see…. I like snakes.

I was wearing garden gloves so I gently reached down and captured the snake behind the head and supporting its body, I picked it up.  I was holding an adolescent Eastern Rat Snake (Scotophis alleghaniensis) that was as terrified of me as the birds were of it.  As adults, these snakes are solid black with cream colored bellies but the young are hatched with a distinct black and gray pattern along the back. My snake’s pattern was still visible beneath the black.  Many people come across the juveniles with their clear markings and mistakenly believe they found a copperhead.

Rat snakes are plentiful in Virginia and their numbers seem to be growing due to our fragmented forests. Snakes prefer the edge of woods to be able to sun themselves. Their average adult size is about 6′ but they can grow one or two feet longer.  They are non-venomous and usually quite docile. Believe it or not, young ones like mine can make good pets (if you want to stash a supply of dead mice in the freezer or watch them constrict live mice or lizards). They will eat a wide variety of animals from rats (duh!), mice, lizards, moles, rabbits, squirrels and…. birds. One of their easiest prey is in the bird nest, either eggs or baby birds, for this is the snake well-known for climbing. If you ever see a dark snake in a tree or in a bird house, it’s probably the rat snake. Last summer, one scaled the smooth side of my neighbor’s garage refrigerator and dined on her baby birds in a nest. Unfortunately, that was its last meal.

After letting mister gardener photograph the snake (he used zoom so he wouldn’t have to come too close), I walked it about a half mile down the road, released it and watched it slither away and find shelter beneath a downed tree. “Don’t come back,” I warned. “I know you must eat but my little wrens can’t be on your menu.”  Returning home, I watched the traumatized wrens fuss around the nest for over two hours, checking every shingle for a possible hidden predator. Eventually they resumed feeding their young and resumed singing 24 hours later.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester