Garden with Grace

"I hope that while so many people are out smelling the flowers, someone is taking the time to plant some." ~H.Rappaport


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Spring Awakening

It snowed again in southern New Hampshire over the weekend – about five inches of slushy, heavy snow. The wintry early April day brought a flock of seven Cedar Waxwings to the garden. When they weren’t stripping the few remaining red berries from the holly shrubs, they were huddled in the Weeping Cherry tree.

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Today, it’s sunny and 60 degrees (F) at 4pm. The longer days of sunshine are quickly melting the latest – and hopefully last – blanket of snow.

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While most of the paths in the garden are still white and slippery,  a swath of purple blooms caught my eye when I stepped onto my my front porch to get the mail.

Spring has arrived! The crocus are blooming — just as expected in early April.

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I grabbed my camera and walked through the areas of the garden where sun melted the snow from the stone paths.  (The ground in these few areas is very soft, almost muddy, so I didn’t venture far.)

It’s always a thrill to find the crocus in bloom. While expected, it always feels like the first flowers are a miracle.

The garden still has a brown dormant winter appearance – from the decaying leaves, pine needles, and sticks that will eventually be picked up either by the birds building their spring nests or during the initial hours of our annual spring cleanup gardening day.

No matter how sleepy the garden appears under the latest blanket of snow, Mother Nature does a spectacular job of waking the flowers that typically appear in late March thru early April.  This includes the crocus and scilla.  As soon as the purple crocus start to wind down, the bright scilla open to full bloom to bring new life and spectacular streaks of blue to line the garden paths. I don’t even need a calendar to know when Easter is just two weeks away.  Seeing these two spring flowers in bloom is always the first indication that the Easter Bunny is expected very soon. (And that it’s time to pick up the ingredients to make the traditional Pickled Beet Eggs for the pending holiday.)

While walking through the garden this afternoon, my soul filled with gratitude. Not just the sights of pops of bright color hear and there, but with the sounds of the songbirds who are out, searching for their spring mates.

I felt caught between two seasons – winter because of the snow cover. And, spring with with the early blooming bulbs.  I’d once read a quote about crocus that included the word Grace. That seems like the perfect way to end today’s story.

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“A single crocus blossom ought to be enough to convince our heart that springtime, no matter how predictable, is somehow a gift, gratuitous, gratis, a grace.”

-David Steindl-Rast


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Beauty – Always in the Eye of the Beholder

At the end of a very rainy day, I felt the need to stroll through my now fading garden. After a few minutes, I was feeling a little down that the flowers, especially the mandevilla, are starting to shrivel and drop after a very dry summer season.

I heard a car pull up and stop on the other side of the hedge and could see a woman in the driver’s seat waving to me.

She rolled down the window and asked about the “beautiful red flowers” on the trellis. (The mandevilla that I was looking at as she pulled up.)

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The woman got out of her car and told me how she enjoys looking over the hedge and into my garden while she waits to pick up her daughter who visits nearby. (She enjoys listening to the wind chimes and watching the birds, too!)

We chatted for a few minutes about gardening and nature and peacefulness. It was an interaction that lasted only a few minutes.

The irony hit me. I felt sad about the exact same thing that brought her joy.

Before she left, we exchanged introductions. Her name is Grace.


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A New Fall Favorite! The Purple Beautyberry Shrub

An important aspect of my garden is that it was planned to include a variety of plants to create interest all through the year.

Just as the flowers are starting to fade, there are still some late season surprises popping up.

My favorite is arrival of the amethyst colored berries on the Beautyberry shrub that we planted in the late fall of 2013. (I’ve recently learned not to call this a Beautybush, because that’s a whole other type of plant.)

It was an impulse purchase only because of the color of the berries and it is suited for zone 5. Before planting this little shrub in it’s permanent spot, it sat for a few days here and there in garden, so we could find the perfect spot to admire it the future.

Honestly, with so much coming to an end in the garden the past few weeks, I forgot about this plant.

It’s still small, about 2 feet in diameter. It will eventually get up to 4 feet tall and wide.

In the spring it had tiny white flowers. When the foliage color changes later in October, it should morph into a bright yellow shrub (if not hit by frost first!)

We are starting to see a little color change since we’ve been fortunate that the temperature has only dropped to 36(F) degrees in the Nashua area so far this fall.

And now, as we head into the middle of October, it is one of the most striking plants in the garden!

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But, take a closer look. I just think “WOW!” Its color is so unusual – personally, I think that the berries look fake because that color of purple is not normally seen in my garden. Even with the iris and day lilies.

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All of those bright purple berries are just beautiful. The birds enjoy these only when they exhaust the supply of other fruits and berries on the nearby holly and crabapples.

It’s nice to have something so unusual and striking in the garden appear as the nights grow long, the days grow short, and time in the 2014 garden is quickly coming to an end.


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The Summer Ritual of a Daily Hummingbird Watch

Mother Nature does an excellent job to let us know that the seasons are changing in New England.

The biggest hint that she offers is the changing color of the foliage across our region, with little flecks of red and yellow peeking out across a lush green landscape, sometimes as early as late August.

The other hint is the arrival and departure of the Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds to the garden.  To me, this cue is more indicative of the transition from winter to summer and summer to winter than the changing trees.

There is always so much anticipation in mid April when the hummingbird sugar water (we call it “Hummingbird Hooch”) feeders go up for the season.  The arrival of the hummingbirds to the garden is a sign that the spring flowers including the lilacs and iris are starting to bloom.

This summer, evenings on the back patio included the ritual of a daily “Hummingbird Watch” from 7:00-8:30pm each evening. It was the same, yet different every night.  Different visitors would join this ritual but conversation would always stop (or at least tone down to a whisper) when the hummingbirds arrived. The males were very active and were the most frequent “hummingbird hooch” consumers during the early part of the summer. (The spectators of these birds would enjoy their own hooch, too!  This summer’s favorite was the Garden Cucumber Cocktail or a refreshing. cold glass of Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc.)  Here’s one of my favorite photos from June of a Ruby Thoated male that includes a red weigela in the background.

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While being able to capture any photo of a hummingbird is exciting to me (I use a simple point and shoot Canon Powershot Elph310 HS camera), I had a goal after capturing this shot of being able to snap a photo of one of the birds in the garden, getting nectar from one of the many flowers that I’d see them visiting during the day (of course, always when the camera was not in my hand!)

Finally, in early August, as I started to think about the pending departure of the this year’s resident hummingbird residents, a new perennial Cardinal Flower bloomed and attracted female hummingbirds all day long. I finally met my goal by capturing this shot.

IMG_4718For as long as it seems to take for April to arrive each year, without fail, September always comes too quickly.

This year was no exception.  By late August the hummingbirds were ingesting 3x as much sugar water than they consumed between May and July. It was another cue that the summer season was about to change – these tiny powerhouses always need to fuel up before their long flights for their winter vacations in South America.

By Labor day, the male Ruby-Throated birds were gone, headed south (probably to Costa Rica) to claim their winter territories and wait for their mates. By mid-September, the females were gone, too. The feeders are now empty and stored away until April 2015.

It’s time to create a new daily garden ritual.