Officially a Drought

The National Weather Service has announced that New Hampshire is experiencing a moderate drought. We’ve had scant rainfall this spring. You might ask: Where’d all that record-setting snow melt go? I wondered, too.

The answer is two-fold: Our snow was ‘fluffy and dry’ according to Alan Dunham, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Taunton, Massachusetts and the water content of our snow was low. Secondly, according to Michael Rawlins, an assistant professor of geosciences and a hydrology specialist at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, the small amount of water in the soil has evaporated. The upper surfaces of soil were saturated but with little precipitation, it’s gone.

Rolling Green1

It’s been hot and dry at  my work place, Rolling Green Nursery, but just seven minutes of overhead watering first thing in the morning on the hottest days give perennials enough moisture until we can get a hose to them all.

The National Weather Service tells us that summer will bring extended dry conditions to southern portions of New Hampshire. Voluntary water restrictions are already being put into effect. Thankfully, we aren’t experiencing the dire conditions that western states are enduring but we’re having a small taste of it and the National Weather Service is predicting a dry summer for us in southern New Hampshire. Mild droughts are more common here than many realize and data tells us that droughts are expected to become more frequent as our climate changes.

However, our collective wish was answered yesterday when the heavens finally opened for a good part of the day. Today we have a soaking rain and tomorrow should bring the same. We will need a lot more though!

I took a walk around my own landscape this morning and saw some happy plants just soaking it in. There is nothing quite so beautiful as a life-sustaining rain. Hover over photo to ID plants or click to enlarge.

Rainy Days and Mondays…

Our long winter has delayed spring in New Hampshire. Every gardener I know feels confined and itching to get outdoors to garden. In our yard, we have picked up sticks, raked a bit, pruned dead and damaged branches from the weight of snow, and transplanted a few shade plants, hosta, bleeding hearts, where they were once happy beneath pines, now gone. Folks are flocking to nurseries because they need to see color, to dream, to plan, and to buy pansies, pansies, pansies!

It is the New England Mud Season. And it is cold. And it is rainy. And windy. And we have coastal flooding. The temperature today hovered in the mid to upper 40’s, with 50’s in the forecast for the next 10 days, dropping to the high 30’s at night. But, in spite of the delay, the plants and animals know spring is here. Red maples are bearing their bright red blooms, branches of the willows have turned golden, spring peepers and wood frogs are singing a chorus in every ditch, osprey and great blue heron have returned, and our winter pine siskins and juncos have left us.

drainI donned my raincoat this afternoon, walked through a very soggy yard to take a few photos of my borders…. all new last season with plans to be pretty full before this season’s end.

IMG_4998The liriope muscari above has been trimmed, awaiting new growth, and tulips are making progress.

sedum sedumLast summer’s planters of sedum successfully wintered over in the garage and are happy to finally see the light of day.

azalea rhodyIt will be awhile before they open, but the rhodys and azaleas blooms are swelling and will be bursting into color later in the spring.

crocusCrocus that we found blooming under two feet of snow, now must deal with another weather complication….

parsley chivesOh, how thrilled the kitchen herbs are to be moved from a hot and dry kitchen window to the great outdoors.

And finally… the violas. Along with crocus, the violas are the only plant giving us tiny blooms of color in the garden. They are just waiting for better weather to be joined by more blooming plants and then the mulch.

It may seem that I am grumbling about the rain but I know how fortunate we are to have water. Between the rain and snow melt and lakes, reservoirs, ponds, rivers in New Hampshire, there is no immediate threat of water depletion as in several western states where the epic drought has caused crisis conditions…. a crisis that belongs to all of us in the end.

Protecting Shrubs in Winter

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

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

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

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

Dwarf Helleri Holly protectionThe next snowstorm covered the boards.

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

7-ft drift

For the birds…

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

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

finches on nyjer sock

American Goldfinches

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

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Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse

junco..

Dark-eyed Junco

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

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chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

 

Female P. Finch

Female Purple Finches

 

Pine Siskin

 

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

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

Snow’s a’comin…

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

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

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

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

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)

Bye Bye Violas

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

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

Rhododendron Fireworks

It was 39° in the garden this morning and I could see my breath in the air as I walked around the yard. Yet, cold,wet spring or not, we are on the verge of a HOT explosion of color. Rhododendrons are finally ready to burst into spectacular blooms. We are eager for the pizzazz and punch of color that the rhody brings. It will be glorious!

Here is a timeline of the last 10 days of bloom development in our yard.

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Abundant Sunshine

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

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

Crocus

Crocus blooming in the neighborhood

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

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

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

snow

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

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

Tide Hill

 

Let it snow, let it snow!

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

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

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

Click to enlarge:

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

When it snows, it pours….

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

Monster Blizzard or Not?

With Nor’easter Nemo bearing down on us, mister gardener said perhaps I should remove my last blog post entitled, “It’s Snow Wonder I Like New Hampshire.” He said I might feel differently about snow after the weekend. I chuckled at the time but later I considered his suggestion. With predicted amounts changing by the hour for the coastal region of New Hampshire, we are still unsure whether we will have 24″…. or 32″ as we heard one forecaster announce tonight. Cancellations are streaming across the television and on the radio. By 9 pm, schools and colleges, 2,933 flights, businesses, functions and events have been canceled or postponed. The entire area is shutting down for perhaps historical amounts of snow.

The Great Blizzard of ’78, Boston

We shopped today for all the survival necessities found on everyone’s lists, then dined out tonight. Native New Englanders, clerks, checkers, baggers, waiters, with whom we exchanged greetings throughout the day, seemed nervous. These hardy, robust, resilient natives who normally take everything in stride, expressed real concerns about Elmo. The 1978 snow-mageddon was all the talk today…. the storm with 80 mph winds that left 10 foot drifts, flooded homes, stranded motorists, tons of debris, collapsed roofs, and 99 New Englanders dead. We knew about the storm 35 years ago but mister gardener and I were unaware of the extent of damage the storm caused.

With our minds changed about this potentially crippling storm barreling down on us, we nervously decided to re-check our survival to-do list tonight. Water… check.  Batteries…. check. Groceries….. check. Dry firewood…. check. Snow shovel…. check.  iPad, iPhones charged…. check. Bird feeders filled…. check. Laundry washed…. check.  Autos fueled…. check. Blankets…. check.

How will I spend the days secluded at home beneath drifts of snow? I hope to hibernate, keep my toes warm in front of a fire in the fireplace, hot chocolate in a mug, a good book on iPad. Whether we have total white-out conditions with hurricane-force winds or not, I’d like to block out the dangers of the storm that twists and turns and howls outside. The drapes might be closed for this snowstorm.

It’s Snow Wonder I like New Hampshire…

As long as I have a nice fire in the fireplace, a good book and a hot drink, I love a snowy day. I love it if I don’t have to clear the driveway, take the trash to the street through deep drifts, traipse out the mailbox, trudge out to get the morning newspaper, or drive on slippery streets. mister gardener did a lot of that today.

In an all-day-winter-storm like we had today, my favorite pastime is putting my feet up in front of a roaring fire, glancing up every now and then to check snow accumulation. However, lest I sound a bit too inert, I do journey outside for walks in the yard with the dog, refill the bird feeders, sweep the steps of snow or take a few photos of snow laden branches. And here are some photos of the fluffy stuff today. Click on them if you want to see the snow falling. It was an especially beautiful snowfall.

Snow on White PineSnow on roadSnow on Feedersnow clearingAs evening approached, our driveway was finally cleared as the storm began to wane. Perfect timing. Snug again by the fire, one final glance out the window at dusk gave me the last hazy view of the meadow and the house lights of our neighbors, just minutes before the curtain of darkness fell over the field.

I love a snowy day!

Snow on Meadow

Sandy ain’t so dandy….

I walked the dog tonight in the light of an almost full moon. No breezes were stirring. Stars twinkled in the skies and the temperature hovered in the high 50’s…. sweater weather. It’s hard to imagine that astronomical high tides due to this beautiful full moon will align with Hurricane Sandy, a wintry weather system from the west, plus a frigid jet stream from Canada to send tropical force winds great distances inland, with significant rainfall and tidal storm surges along the east coast. We are thinking about our friends in Virginia and we are bracing ourselves for what may come to New Hampshire.

Local lobstermen are moving their traps to deeper waters where they fare better in rough seas and others are taking traps out of the waters. Communities have moved Trick or Treat night and schools will be soon closed. Today I jostled grocery carts with other shoppers stocking up on batteries, water, and some non-perishable goods. We will batten down the hatches, fill the bathtubs and pots with water and download a few iBooks to read in case we lose power. We’ve been through enough of these to know what to do. This will a serious storm but weather forecasting is not a perfect science. Perhaps Sandy’s ferocity will wane. We can keep our fingers crossed. Stay safe, friends….

Lots of Snow… or Not?

Our first winter in New Hampshire was mild last year… so mild that we wondered what all the fuss was about severe New England weather.  We’ve been told by locals to ‘brace yourselves’ for a real winter this year.

Weather predictions call for more snow this year. But with our very own barometers in the garden, maybe we can substantiate or dispute that prediction. The Old Farmer’s Almanac states that, according to folklore, that one can predict how much snow and cold the season will have by the ratio of black to orange or brown banding on Woolly Bear caterpillars. The narrower the area of orange, the more snow and winter weather we will have.

This fella is almost all orange! Maybe, just maybe, we can slip by with another mild winter!

The new almanac does call these Woolly Bear weather predictions just legends. It adds that an entomologist states the color bands do tell about a heavy winter or early spring, but it’s for the previous winter. Interesting…..

You’ve Got Snow!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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