This garden story is a tribute to my mom. She’s the one who had the original vision that transformed my grandfather’s quarter acre of lawn into a grouping of perennial gardens over 25+ years. The idea for such a transformation was a bit of a shock. Especially, because my grandfather’s lawn was his pride and joy. It was the the greenest, most lush grass in all of southern New Hampshire – maybe even in all of the Granite State. It there was ever a weed to be found, he’d be right on it. However, over the years, the reality hit. The time and cost for the upkeep of a pristine lawn is a monumental challenge…and honestly, really bad for our environment.
Now, the formerly highly manicured lawn is a series of small ‘garden rooms’ as my mother calls them. She often reflects how she created her plan by looking out the backyard from inside the house. Over time — as in the time of over two decades — today’s perennial gardens have very little grass or lawn and instead are a series of ‘rooms’ with sitting areas to relax and take in the view (And in many cases, enjoy a garden inspired cocktail. Raise your hand if you’d like a Lavender Gimlet!)
Back to the garden and the thoughts about church. When asked what kind of garden we have, I used to just say, “Oh, just a perennial garden – with a small area for summer vegetables.” Now, I often refer to the same space as a cottage garden – because of an elderly neighbor. I think of how he (Dennis) used to find a solace in our garden before his wife passed away from cancer. While Maggie was ill, he would bring his dog, Luke, to visit and stroll through the garden (it was always a good stop for Luke on hot summer days, as it’s customary for all canine visitors to receive treats and fresh water when they stop by). Dennis emigrated to the US from England decades ago, and always shared how our gardens reminded him of the cottage gardens “back home”. Because of his testimony, I confidently now say our garden is a ‘cottage garden’.
According to my mother, this cottage garden is also our family church. It’s not only a place for solace, we, as well as Dennis and other friends have often found over the years, but also a destination worthy of contemplation, prayer, meditation, and gratitude. I grew up Catholic, and always think of chimes, kneelers, Saints, baptismal fonts, candles, stained glass, and incense as being important parts of the physical things one would find in a church. Well, you can find all those items in our garden, too.
We have chimes and kneelers.
We also have Saints and fonts (well, actually birdbaths – and there are seven across the various garden rooms).
Our Saints include Saint Fiacre, the Patron Saint of Gardening. He overlooks a birdbath and has a prominent spot in the garden landscape all year long.
We also have Saint Francis, that Patron Saint of Animals. He also keeps watch in the garden year round. The neighborhood garden cat especially likes his company.
And while not technically a Saint, there is some diversity of garden statuary with the inclusion of Budai often referred to as Happy Buddah or Fat Buddah – a harbinger of abundance and good health. He sits on a small granite block, keeping him off the ground, and faces the back door of my home that leads to the garden. You can find him sitting among some roses – not far too far from Saint Fiacre.
Oh, and there are many candles, stained glass, incense, as well as smudging herbs like sage, rosemary, and lavender (yes, we use the lavender for more than cocktails!)
When this garden started it’s transition from an area of green lawn to the cottage garden we now enjoy, there was never the overt intent to create a ‘church’ environment. It’s one of those things that just happened. I’m sure other gardeners can attest to how this happens and may see similarities in their own environments, too.
I usually end my garden stories with a themed quote. But this post is different because my mother inspired it – so, I’m ending with a piece by her favorite poet. I think this is perfect!
Some Keep the Sabbath Going to Church
by Emily Dickinson
Some keep the Sabbath going to Church – I keep it, staying at Home – With a Bobolink for a Chorister – And an Orchard, for a Dome –
Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice – I, just wear my Wings – And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church, Our little Sexton – sings.
God preaches, a noted Clergyman – And the sermon is never long, So instead of getting to Heaven, at last – I’m going, all along.
from (02138: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, ) Source: The Poems of Emily Dickinson Edited by R. W. Franklin (Harvard University Press, 1999)
Interesting note: I never realized this poem was from the Belknap Press of Harvard University until I searched it for this post. There’s no relation to me, but it seems that a better poem could not have been planned for this piece.
Lord Byron wrote, “Letter writing is the only device for combining solitude with good company.”
What’s happened to the art of letter writing to communicate with friends, family, and loved ones? In an era when texts outpace telephone calls for instant communication, I always welcome the wonderful surprise of a handwritten note or letter delivered to my mailbox. When that happens, it’s the first piece of mail I excitedly – but carefully open. Gone are the days when most of us keep beautiful stationery and embellished letter openers at our desks. In fact, thinking of letter openers makes me laugh because I’m reminded of the time my mother asked, “Is this to open your email?” as we found an elegant letter opener while shopping together at a local Nashua gift shop.
During the Christmas season, cards and letters still make their way to my home, but not nearly as many as in the past. Perhaps because it costs 50+ cents (I think!) for a stamp? Or maybe people have been too busy with every day life to send cards. Granted, most of the holiday correspondence these days consists of ‘form letters’ that recap the memories of friends who want to share the highlights of their past year. But even these ‘letters’, along with Christmas cards seldom find their way to the mailbox on my front porch these days. (Yes, we still have a mail carrier who walks door-to-door to deliver mail in my neighborhood.)
I admit, I’m guilty of sending very few cards at the holiday season over the past few years. And in 2019, sent less than five – or maybe three! It has nothing to do with how much I care about my friends, the price of postage, or my availability of time. I simply prefer to send my notes and cards at other times of the year like Valentine’s Day or even Halloween, but mostly Birthday cards and Thank You notes.
My thoughtful friends do notice this and often give me beautiful notecard and stationery gifts (there are still some of us out there who treasure such things – as well as the constantly changing selection of USPS postage stamps – I loved the frog stamps last year!) I also have a desk-drawer with notecards I create with the garden photography I post to Instagram. I wrote about these cards as part of a gifts from my garden story back in 2018. That one time project back in 2017, turned into an annual ritual (So, I guess now I have a series going! But I’ve also set a lot of expectations that I unfortunately didn’t fulfill this past year.)
I pulled out the most recent set of notecards today – this is actually my last full set from 2019. (I’m still determining if I’ll do another small print run.)
All of these cards are created with photos I take in my garden. Occasionally, I’ll get some requests to use a specific image from my Garden with Grace Instagram page for a future notecard. My favorite part of this annual project is aligning the images with appropriate quotes for the backs of the cards. This is actually the part of the project that takes all year. Sometimes I’ll come across a quote or one will be shared with me – that creates the challenge to capture an appropriate image. My mother has been a longtime collector of quotations – via books (Bartlett’s Book of Quotations was always on the family bookshelf while I was growing up – and still is today), and newspaper/magazine clippings.
With so many of my friends across the country – and around the world – practicing their social distancing right now due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I’m reminded that the simple practice of letter writing is an excellent way to ensure we maintain our connections and share our experiences with our friends and family. (Apparently, it’s still safe to send mail, but we should avoid licking envelopes – thankfully the USPS has self-sticking stamps – they prepared for this day!)
Right now, notes and letters can also be a nice option for work teams to stay connected in the coming weeks. While video- and teleconferencing is helpful each day, there’s something special about receiving a note from your boss or colleague recognizing your good work, attitude, a special contribution, or heck, even just to know you’re in someone’s thoughts.
So this is a great time for all of us to resurrect the art of letter writing. (I bet you have stationery or cards someplace in your desk or home office just waiting to be used – remember those cards you received from the nonprofit you’ve been generously supporting for years?! Some of my friends who are Garden with Grace readers may also have notecards I’ve shared in the past.)
Interestingly, as I was drafting this story, my friend Terri, unexpectedly dropped by to continue a ritual that she started over 10 years ago. For over a decade, maybe closer to two now, she has – without fail – given me an Amaryllis at Christmas. The nicest thing is that it always blooms in January, around the time of my Birthday – so it’s really two wonderful gifts in one. We haven’t seen each other in recent months – with the exception of a quick pass by while out at the grocery store – no real excuses other than life and work schedules not able to align. So here we are now – unable to connect in person even though we’re both in the same state at the same time for the first time in what feels like years.
Terri dropped off the annual amaryllis this past weekend – it’s called the Spring Amaryllis – at my back porch. It will bloom in a few weeks – maybe on or around Easter. Along with bulb (I’ll share a photo in an upcoming story when it blooms!), she added a notecard. Coincidently, it was one of the favorites in my Garden with Grace notecard series! In fact, it’s the very first card I made back in 2017 that started my annual project.
I’ve added this experience to my letter writing story because in a rather serendipitous way, Terri’s note and garden gift arrived at the same time I decided to pull up the draft of this story that’s been sitting idle for months. When I started it, I wasn’t expecting it would be during a time of pandemic and the need for more human-to-human connection. It’s interesting how our worlds and our lives intersect at just the right time. Those moments that are just ‘meant to be’. And often, those moments include a kind act or even a simple, handwritten note. That’s what I call GRACE.
Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds.
When the Beatles wrote ‘Get By with a Little Help from My Friends’ they never could have imagined those lyrics would be this writer’s ‘ear worm’ when she shared the decades long story of how thousands of wine corks ended up in her New Hampshire garden.
This story started back in the very early 1990s – during my first trip (of eventually many!) to the Napa Valley region of California. It was a much anticipated destination after working a long week at a technology trade show in San Francisco. Still early in my career, this was one of my first real business trips. My coworker and mentor, Claire, provided the best advice that I’ve now carried for nearly 30 years – always include some fun travel with your business travel.
Together, we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and headed north to ‘Wine Country’. It was our reward after a grueling week of demos for an imaging and document management software startup – Keyfile Corporation. We had the coolest – and busiest – product demos because it was still a time when email was fairly new and most people had no idea about the possibilities of something called the “world wide web”.
The show was a big success for Keyfile and I was told to expect a nice bonus upon returning to NH. This information let me splurge on the weekend’s Napa/Sonoma adventure that included a lot of wine tasting/drinking and even a hot air balloon ride that landed in the Kendall Jackson Vineyard where brunch was waiting for us.
The first stop upon arriving in Napa was the V. Sattui Vineyard. This was where my wine cork collecting began – and never really ended. Corks were easy to carry and pack and provided great memories of the trip. Claire also collected some of the same corks and when we returned home, her husband hand-crafted a small trivet with the them as a souvenir gift that I still treasure today.
The corks in the trivet remind me of my first tasting at V. Sattui where I fell in love with their award winning Madeira (before I really even know what Madeira was!)
The Cuvaison winery was very small at the time of my early 90’s visit. I loved their stained glass logo – and their Chardonnay too! Cuvaison was the first wine club I joined when wineries could finally ship to the Granite State.
St. Clement remains in my mind for their beautiful front porch, overlooking vineyards for as far as the eyes could see. I learned to appreciate red wine there when I tasted their Cabernets. And, today, I frequently still purchase their wines from my local NH Liquor and Wine Outlet in Nashua.
And finally, Korbel (center cork). I learned the difference between champagne and sparkling wines while there when I was in my early 20s. (Korbel makes sparkling wines.) At the time, they also had a very comprehensive tour. (I don’t drink Korbel wines often now, but also don’t snub my nose at them, either.)
Flash forward over two decades later. During that quarter of a century, corks were saved from other trips to Napa, along with other fun events and travel where wine was enjoyed with friends and family, including DIY craft nights to make wedding centerpieces and wine cork wreaths.
They were also saved by other friends who had deep pride in their custom NH wine cellars (often closets, actually). John and Ginger were avid oenophiles…and were the first to hand over a trash bag filled with corks – it must have weighed 30 pounds. The corks sat for a few years in hopes of making more trivets. But, they eventually found their way into my garden with thousands of others saved during the same period of time.
Today, after collecting over 10,000 corks (Yes! That’s correct – 10K!), three landscaping projects have been completed across my garden. I shared information about the first one with my overview of various garden hacks a few years ago:
Project #1 – Mulch the Paper Bark Maple Tree
Twenty-five years of corks were tested as mulch, instead of using bark, around a newly planted paper bark maple in the center of the garden a few years ago. The results are both useful – the corks did hold back the weeds – and beautiful. That area of the garden sparks so many conversations now. It became – and still is – a central, fun focal point.
Well, this ‘test’ sparked a question, “Should we continue to mulch different areas of the garden with wine corks?” The answer was a resounding, “Yes!” This is where my friends jumped in…whole-heartedly.
Project #2 – Entrance to ‘My Secret Garden’
I continued to save corks over the next two years, but had barely enough to make a dent in mulching other beds. Then I attended an estate/yard sale down the street from my home. Sarah and David actually had a big box of corks for sale. I think it was under $5. So it went home with me! This was the next big push for mulching with corks. We prepped the back bed behind the garage – the one that leads to the zinnia garden.
But, the corks didn’t go nearly as far as I’d expected or needed. So, I kept looking for more. I shared ‘my plight’ to my personal Facebook page and almost immediately learned that many of my friends also saved corks – but didn’t know what to do with them. My plea for additional corks made them realize they’d been saving the corks for me!
The summer of 2017 became the era where I finished two more cork mulch projects – thanks to the help of old and new friends. I don’t have photos of everyone, but have kept a list to give everyone credit in this story.
Additional donors to my ’cause’ included friends who just dropped by – from near and far (including a surprise visit Connecticut!) to deliver corks; friends who casually opened my purse at parties and threw in corks for me to take home; and friends who mailed corks to my home – including corks from North Carolina and California via trip to the Czech Republic (Yes! International corks, too.) Local bartenders also joined in the fun and saved corks for me.
Even with all these corks, by late summer of 2017, I still needed a few more handfuls to complete the section behind the garage in.
Then I received a text from a new friend – Cindy, whom I met through my friend Marie. Like so many other friends who find themselves downsizing and have no rationale to continue saving years of corks, Cindy was packing up her home to move and came across a huge stash – her husband saved wine corks going back to the 80s. So, they were hauled up to NH from MA on a late summer afternoon for a first time get together. I finally had an over abundance of corks.
BONUS! Project #3 – Freshen Up the ‘Thinking Garden’
With many corks still unused after project #2, it was time to scour the garden for a home for the rest of them. This was a bit of a challenge due to the slope of the overall landscape. We needed a level area and the beds around the ‘Thinking Garden’ were perfect. With the removal of old bark mulch, and a little raking, the rest of the corks settled nicely into their new home.
So, that is how – over a few decades – or nearly half of my life – I’ve been able to amass enough corks, over 10,000 by some estimates, to mulch three large beds across my garden. It’s created quite the conversation piece when people visit or when they run into me while out in the Nashua community. I’m often introduced as ‘that friend who puts corks in her garden’.
While some of my friends – many of them donors to my own project – have started their own collections for their backyard or lakeside gardens, for some reason, the corks continue to migrate to my home. I never complain!
If you like this idea and don’t want to wait to have enough corks for your own landscaping projects, you can put them in potted plants. They add a nice finishing touch, and unlike other ‘mulches’ are free of insects and dirt.
It’s a clean way to add interest to your potted house and patio plants. As of now, none of the corks across my garden beds over the past few years have rotted or disintegrated. However, sometimes the birds and squirrels like to occasionally do a little rearranging of the landscaped areas.
So drink up – before all the wineries replace corks with screw tops. The wine industry will thank you and your garden will be become a fun local topic of conversation – among both oenophiles AND gardeners alike. Best of all, like wine always does, the corks, too, add so much to your friendships, both far and near.
Cheers! Salud! Prost! Nostrovia! Thank you to all of my CORK CONTRIBUTING FRIENDS, including, but not limited to: Ginger & John, Sarah & David, Cynthia & Chip, Terri & Steve, Sarah and Jeff, Lindsay & Megan, Karen G & Karen W, Kathy & Larry, Liz & Paul, Cathy & Tom, Cheryl & Bruce, Michael Timothy’s Wine Bar, Rosemarie & John, Cindy, Karen, Marie, Bobbi & Steve, Bobbi’s sister Diane, Colleen B, Diane S, Steve & Jane, and the mystery donors who occasionally leave corks on one of my porches for back steps!
Gardeners can relate to the euphoria felt when finding seed and gardening catalogs while sifting through a pile of mail – usually holiday bills – as the darkness of winter sets in. The delivery of these catalogs in late December and early January bring excitement akin to the of the arrival of the old-time Sears Wish Book when we were children.
I have several gardening and seed catalogs in the rooms across my house right now, but there are three I keep returning to as I dream about my 2019 garden. In fact, I’ve just set a date to go through these catalogs with my friend Jane later this week. Together, we will make final decisions on what to order and then share the costs and, of course, the work as we look toward spring.
Jane is one of my BFF’s when it comes to gardening (and in everyday life in general, too!) I love it that she is very methodical when it comes to starting her plants from seed. She did this for the first time last year and her results were fantastic, with a variety of eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, and herbs – that she generously shared with me. Jane in the only person I know who has even successfully started rosemary and parsley from seed.
I used to be obsessed with starting my seeds in late winter/early spring. I had all of the shelving and other supplies like grow lights and warming mats. For a gardener, there’s nothing more motivating than the fragrance of soil wafting through the air while starting seeds when there’s still snow on the ground. Our effort of starting seeds indoors was quite successful and we’d end up with hundreds of seedlings – way too many for our small garden, so there were always plenty of unique plants to share with friends across the region.
Over time, the cost and commitment for the small amount of plants I could actually plant in our garden forced the decision to stop this late winter ritual. Now that I have a friend who is eager to start her seeds (she has much more space for a vegetable garden than I do), I’m looking forward to again, digging in to this favorite activity in 2019. I’ll share our progress as we move toward spring.
Meanwhile, an unexpected gift arrived at my doorstep last week – and it ended up being my first batch of seeds for 2019. My friend Maria and her daughter Sophia send me “Garden BonBons”.
I wish I had known about these ‘seed bombs’ when I wrote about great garden gifts for the holidays in late 2018.
Well, with Valentine’s Day right around the corner, these ‘Garden BonBons’ created by Moultonology are beautifully packaged just like fancy, high-end chocolates. But, they are not candy to eat, they are candy (seed bombs) to plant in the garden.
While I haven’t planted these yet (the ground is frozen in New Hampshire until May), I still love the idea and creativity they represent. One box is a mix of seeds for garnishing cocktails. The other is to attract bees and butterflies. I’m already planning document how they grow in a story later in 2019 – so keep an eye out for that update this summer.
As you may have been noticing, the days are getting a little longer now. (In New Hampshire, we can see a little daylight at 5pm!) Are you now inspired to take the step to turn the dreams of your 2019 garden into reality? What are some of your favorite seed and plant sources? And what seeds will you be starting this year? Do you go with the tried and true, or are you an experimenter? I’d love for you to share your thoughts with a comment.
“All the flowers of all the tomorrows are in the seeds of today.”
While there are so many things I love about time in the garden each summer, the daily ritual we call “Hummingbird Watch” is my favorite. During this 90 minute period, just before the sun sets from late April until early September, the hummingbirds – all ruby-throated in southern NH – can be seen flitting from feeder-to-feeder and flower-to-flower — and sometimes even from gnat-to-gnat — across my garden.
I’ve never met a person who isn’t delighted to have these tiny creatures visit and take up residence in their gardens. But interestingly, even the most savvy nature lovers I know often wonder how to continuously attract hummingbirds to their outdoor sanctuaries.
There’s a lot of information online about techniques, tips, and tricks to draw more hummingbird visitors to your garden or yard. However, I’ve found that some important details are often omitted behind the headlines that offer advice for attracting and keeping hummingbirds nearby. Here are three proven tips I’m sharing from my own experience that will hopefully set you up to start your own Hummingbird Watch Ritual.
1. Keep Your Hummingbird Feeders Clean – ALWAYS!
A male Ruby-Throated Hummingbird visits one of our garden feeders in early spring.
In mid-May, when I ask my neighbors and friends how many hummingbirds they’ve seen since putting up their feeders, they often tell me that they haven’t seen any at all. They sometimes even blame me for keeping them in my garden (which is not a valid argument for their lack of visitors!)
The first questions I ask are, “How often do you change the food, and what are you using in your feeder?”
The response is almost always that the feeder has had ‘food’ in it for weeks, or even months and is never emptied. So, that’s a BIG RED FLAG as to problem number one. The best advice I can provide is to keep your feeders clean – which means emptying them, cleaning them, and refilling them with fresh nectar aka: sugar water at least weekly – twice a week during heatwaves in mid-summer.
If your sugar water is cloudy – that’s a hint that you’re overdue to change the food. Same thing if you see black particles or scum floating in the water. That’s mold and fungus and can poison the hummingbirds that visit your feeder. I’ve found when I clean my feeders (with a few drops of Dawn dish soap) every five to six days, there is less buildup of mold in the feeder.
If I see any, I use a diluted bleach solution and small brushes to clean my feeders thoroughly. (The other incentive to keeping them clean weekly, is that it’s a lot less work, and sometimes a quick rinse of hot water is all that’s needed.)
2. Create Your Own Sugar Water for Feeders – And Skip the Red Dye
What are you feeding your hummingbirds? Are you buying packaged mixes from the store? Or do you make your own nectar? To save money and provide food with no chemicals, start making your own fresh sugar water with basic white sugar – sucrose. When mixed with water, it most closely resembles the natural nectar that hummingbirds get from flowers. Don’t use honey because it will promote fungal growth. And stay away from raw or organic sugar as it contains a higher amount of iron that can harm your little visitors.
At first glance, this appears to be a female hummingbird. Look closely for the speck of red plumage on the neck. This is juvenile male Ruby-Throated during a late summer feeder visit.
The Audubon Society instructions advise using 1 part sugar (plain, white sugar) to 4 parts water to feed hummingbirds – and no red food dye. Boil the mixture until the sugar dissolves. Then let cool before filling your feeders.
Since I fill several feeders, I use 1 cup sugar to 4 cups water. During early spring, when the hummingbirds first arrive and late summer and as they fuel up for their mid-September trips back to Mexico and Central America, I make the mix just a little sweeter/stronger and cut back on the water by about a half cup. I have a friend who uses a much stronger mix, but have read that this isn’t good because too much sugar can damage the liver of hummingbirds.
If you make extra sugar water, you can refrigerate it for about a week. This will save you time as you fill your feeders weekly – even more so when experiencing heatwaves that will require more frequent food changes.
Finally, I keep my feeders up until the end of September. While most of the hummingbirds who visited all summer leave by September 10, we get stragglers from up north as they join the annual migration. It’s fun and honestly, a little bit rewarding to see an occasional visitor stop by to fuel up on sugar water and nectar from late blooming zinnias through September 30.
3. Plan Your Garden to Attract Hummingbirds – They Love Red & Pink
The gardens at our house are primarily well-established perennial gardens. They’ve always attracted hummingbirds, but after putting a little extra thought into new plantings (all gardeners add new plants to their gardens every year, right?), we always think about what will attract hummingbirds and other pollinators, including bees and butterflies.
While there are three feeders across the garden, I look at them as supplemental to the flowers that are planted to provide a continuous bloom for our enjoyment – and food for the hummingbirds throughout the summer. This not only makes the garden look beautiful throughout the summer, but it’s also one of the best ways to keep hummingbirds coming back to visit. Did you know that hummingbirds eat as much as half of their weight every day – and feed five to six times per hour?
Over the past few years, I’ve learned to pay attention to what flowers and trees the hummingbirds like to visit for their feedings and for resting. One of the resting areas that I know to look up to is the very top of the Weeping Cherry tree in the back garden. When I see one up there, I know that there are at least three more in the nearby flowers.
Lookout Point at the top of the Weeping Cherry tree. A sign if the hummingbirds are active.
Add These Flowers to Your Garden and Attract More Hummingbirds
The past two summers, I’ve kept my camera with me while in the garden, especially during the daily hummingbird watch ritual I mentioned earlier.
While I’ve caught great shots of these incredible creatures at the feeders, I’ve wanted more ‘natural’ photos of them visiting the flowers in our garden. (I post many of these on my Instagram page, also called Garden with Grace).
Here are some of my favorite new shots of the hummingbirds enjoying the flowers in our gardens over the past year. You may be inspired to add some of these to your own landscape. Keep in mind to plant flowers for your specific zone. We are in zone 5B in Nashua, NH. So you may or may not have success with all of these.
In addition to the photos captured here – other flowers the hummingbirds visit include Purple Siberian Iris and Purple Lilac in the spring. And Zinnias! They love the secret zinnia beds scattered across the back gardens. Zinnias are annual flowers, but I keep the seed heads each autumn to start next year’s garden. If there’s not a butterfly flitting among the zinnias, you can usually find a hummingbird. (I’m hoping to catch that photo next summer! – UPDATE- On September 21, I captured a good photo that includes a zinnia and have added it to the end of this post.)
Cardinal Flower aka: Lobelia Cardinalis
Lucifer Flower, aka: Sword Flower, aka: Crocosmia. This is new this year and big hit!
Lucifer Flower, aka: Sword Flower, aka: Crocosmia. This is new this year and big hit!
Here’s another of the Lucifer Flower, with St Francis (Patron Saint of Animals)
One of the few annual flowers – Fuschia. This always attracts the hummingbirds late summer.
My first and all-time favorite action shot of a hummingbird above a trellis of Alabama Crimson Honeysuckle on a clear, cloudless late summer afternoon.
Alabama Crimson Honeysuckle. Resting on a leaf while enjoying sweet nectar.
Looks closely to see this bird’s tongue sample the new buds of the Endless Summer Hydrangea.
I finally captured a photo of a hummingbird visiting a zinnia in my garden on Sept 21 – well after I assumed they left for the season.
“May my faith always be at the end of the day like a hummingbird…returning to its favorite flower.” ~Sanober Khan, Turquoise Silence
The photos in this post were all taken in my garden in the summers of 2017 and 2018 and belong to the owner of this post. If you’d like to use any of these photos, please request permission via a comment on this post.
Once again, a calendar is not needed when paying attention to the garden. It’s been easy to know we’re in late July because it’s time to weed the thyme.
A few years ago, we replaced bark mulched paths in the garden with blue stone. The spaces between the blue stone are perfect for planting Creeping Thyme. It spreads between the spaces of the stones, emitting a soft herbal fragrance when people and pets walk along the paths.
In late May, the thyme produces flowers bringing the stone to life, adding extra color to the late spring garden and creating patterns of purple and green in the spaces where the stones almost meet. While we’ve planted various colors of thyme – purple, white, and hot pink over the years, the thyme with purple blossoms is the hardiest and has outlived other colors over the years. We’ve also learned that while Woolly Thyme adds texture and a lighter, almost silvery color among the blue stone, it doesn’t last as long as the regular creeping thyme.
The flowers on the thyme bloom from late May until early July in our Nashua, NH garden. It’s at that point on the calendar when the garden truly transitions from spring to summer. The purple and pink colors across the garden fade as the green, orange and red plants take over.
This year, the weeds have emerged during this transition period and have been more prolific than ever. We usually see this trend later in the summer, so attribute the abundance of midsummer weeds to the ‘extreme drought’ our region experienced in 2016. (Or perhaps I’m just noticing more weeds since attending a weeding seminar with Roger Swain at the Nashua Public Library earlier this year?!)
Over the 10 days, my mother and I have spent a combined 25+ hours weeding the various beds and paths throughout the garden. Her time out there beats mine by 2:1! The challenge has been the infiltration of weeds with the thyme. In addition to the typical crabgrass, it seems the ideal impostor weed has been the spotted spurge.
You see, it’s a flat weed that starts under the thyme plants. It spreads like thyme as well. The bigger challenge: As you walk along the garden paths, it’s not easy to see until suddenly it’s huge because it’s taken over the delicate thyme planted in that space. The single deep root sends shoots that spread up to a few feet in diameter. And, it seems to happen overnight. When it does, it’s difficult to remove just the weed, so inevitably, some sprigs of thyme are pulled in the mix.
Yes, there’s also white clover mixed in too, which is my fault. However, while some gardeners consider white clover to be a weed, it’s the latest solution to the Sad Sod Situation I’ve shared in the past. (I’ll save that story update for later – but here’s a sneak preview: The second planting of lawn two years ago died during the 2016 drought. It was decided we’d fill that area with white clover last fall and this spring, and the seed shaker helped scatter a little clover to a few paths where it wasn’t intended to grow.)
Even after hours and hours (and yes, more hours) of weeding through the thyme over the past week…sometimes feeling like I was wasting time…I must admit there’s something cathartic about the process of weeding. It allows me to get incredibly close to to the garden and forces me to slow down. It takes time to find the roots of weeds and fully remove them. Additionally, when working so close to the ground, it’s easier to notice soil conditions, pest issues, and beneficial garden creatures including dragonflies, toads, and worms.
That said, I’m thrilled the worst part of weeding thyme is behind us so we can spend the rest of the summer enjoying thyme!
The Japanese Fantail Pussy Willow has a history of over 20 years in our garden. My mom originally received the first cuttings from a work friend who had a connection to one of the Boston Garden Clubs. She was excited to bring home five small rooted branches of this exotic plant for the garden. She even had a few to spare and shared them with a neighbor across the street. Of course, the cuttings that ventured across the street took off and grew into a beautiful tree. The ones my mother planted didn’t make it through the first season.
So the next year, she grabbed a cutting from the neighbor. This exchange took a few seasons for the plant to finally get established in the garden it was originally intended. Eventually, with pruning to remove bottom branches, my mother created a small, beautiful tree.
In late winter the weeping, twisted, burgundy colored branches of the Fantail Pussy Willow are covered with tiny, soft, shimmery silver buds, actually known as catkins. By mid-spring, the branches become covered with gold puffs (I almost wrote ‘Gold Fingers’ in keeping with this story’s title!!) of pollen. By summer it leafs out to create a unique summer /fall ornamental shrub.
Over time, new cuttings from the established Pussy Willow were shared with friends and neighbors, but unfortunately with a less than 50 percent success rate (mostly because non-gardeners wanted to try to plant them and didn’t follow the simple instructions.) The one other place where the cuttings did well was in Hampton Falls, on the New Hampshire seacoast. My friend Bobbi – a true gardener – was able to create a beautiful tree from one of the early cuttings. It eventually reached over 8 feet tall.
Everything changed in 2011 when the now infamous Halloween Nor’Easter hit New England. The heavy, wet snow decimated many of the trees and shrubs across the region – including the Pussy Willows that we worked so hard to propagate in Nashua and Hampton Falls. The weight of the snow and wind split the trees in half, all the way to the ground. (Lilacs and Bradford Pear trees were also hit hard across the area.)
Bobbi chose to simply remove the damaged tree from her Seacoast garden. In Nashua, my neighbor did some pruning and was able to keep most of the height of the tree shape he created. On the other hand, in our garden, a decision was made to cut the damage all the way back to ground level to see what would happen. (We also knew we could start all over again with a cutting from next door!)
While this Pussy Willow grows relatively fast, it took a couple of years for it to eventually fill in the back area of the garden. Since receiving the first cuttings 20 years ago, my mother always called it a ‘Weeping Pussy Willow’ (Fake Gardening News!)
We finally learned this plant’s true name at the annual Boston Flower Show in 2014 – it is a Japanese Fantail Pussy Willow. There was a vendor at the show from the midwest with thousands of cut stems, selling them for about $15/bundle. My mom and I talked to the grower and learned this Pussy Willow is meant to be a shrub and should be cut back hard every year in late winter, just at the silvery catkins start to emerge.
Even with this newfound knowledge, we never got out in time during 2014 to cut the branches back – then in 2015, during our hysterical/historical winter, the deep snow cover through late March made it a challenge to even get to that part of the garden.
Finally, all conditions were perfect in 2016! I went out on a bright late winter afternoon and cut the beautiful branches back by almost half. By the time I was finished, I was worried that I’d cut too much from what suddenly became a bare tree trunk. On the plus side, we now had a huge pile of Pussy Willows branches to use for decoration.
Yes, Pussy Willows Galore!
I used many in my own home and shared even more with friends and neighbors. They could also be enjoyed on Main Street in Downtown Nashua at Scontsas Fine Jewelry & Home Decor. My friends, Philip and Amalia are both gardeners and used many of the Pussy Willows to decorate their beautiful store, inside and out last spring. (If you visit their store, tell them I sent you – they are regular readers of this blog, too!)
Pussy Willows for a Decorative Spring Touch at Scontsas Fine Jewelry & Home Decor
The cut stems, dry and keep their silvery buds when put into dry containers. For people who want to try to grow their own Pussy Willow shrubs, a little bit of water in the container keeps the branches alive, allowing them to root and eventually transplanted. Here are examples of keeping the branches in dry containers in my home (on the left) and also being enjoyed at Liz’s home (right). Liz was highlighted in the Garden with Grace Blog a few years ago when we Gardened at the Gardner Museum in Boston.
Pussy Willows in my home
Pussy Willows in Liz’s home
As March 2017 arrived, I’ve now CAREFULLY followed a full cycle of the Japanese Fantail Pussy Willow. While it was cut back hard last year, there were still some beautiful curvy branches to cut for decoration – but not nearly the bushels we had in 2016! I went light on the cutting this year, so that that we can have a larger and more mature bounty in 2018. In late February, I put five branches in water (with a few branches of magnolia and flowering crabapple) to force some early spring flowers in the house. The magnolia bloomed within a week – the crabapple should open within the next few days.
The Japanese Fantail Pussy Willow is already self-rooting and will be planted back into the garden in late May.
The cycle continues.
Special Note: I’ve had this blog – with its clever title – in mind since last spring. But held off on posting because I wanted to highlight a full growing cycle of the gorgeous Japanese Fantail Pussy Willow in our garden. I planned to publish this story in late fall of 2016. Ironically and unfortunately, when I first completed this post, one word in the title was making headlines tied to the US Presidential Election – and honestly, I didn’t want to change it. As a result, I held off to rewrite the ending and finally finished and posted this story in early March 2017! (I’m sure that some Google searches will unexpectedly bring some search results to this blog since this word is still appearing in news feeds today — for those who found my story this way, thank you for reading until the end!)
(I’ve edited the title of this blog thanks to the inspiration of my friend Liz…and Toby Keith)
Over the years, I’ve enjoyed the promise of a new gardening season by starting a few seeds in my house in early to mid March. Usually one or two varieties of tomatoes and hot peppers, along with a culinary herb or two thrown in (most often basil or cilantro.)
Seven years ago, that annual feeling of promise turned my gardening hobby into a full-blown commitment! A Costco-sized package of Red Solo Cups, that would have been more appropriate for a college keg party, became my new favorite gardening tool in 2009. Using an icepick, I carefully poked three holes for drainage in the bottom of every one….that in itself took over an hour!
A variety of organic seeds were ordered online and a new shelf for warming trays and adjustable grow lights that were stored in the basement, transformed my little sun porch into a tiny green house. By early May, I had over 100 plants ready for my garden (and all my friends’ gardens!)
By Memorial D￼ay, the seedlings were outside in their summer containers and garden beds.
In August, we enjoyed the fruits of our nearly six months of labor. Of all the heirloom tomatoes, the Black ￼Krim were the hands-down favorite with Brandywine being a close second.
It’s been seven years since I’ve started seedlings indoors in late winter. While I really do enjoy the ritual of researching new seeds to plant, I’ve been leaving that part of my gardening process to local nurseries and greenhouses in recent years.
Today, after I fell across the 2009 photo with all the Red Solo Cups, I admit that I had a sudden urge to pick up a bag of potting soil while I stocked up on woodpecker suet cakes at the Nashua Farmer’s Exchange this afternoon. I let the urge pass, and will save my impulse buys for my first visit to the local greenhouse in early May.
The post-gardening months of November and December were remarkable as 2015 came to a close. It was unusally warm as autumn transitioned into winter. And, for the first time that I can remember, the outdoor water spigots were still open on December 31st. (I just shut them off this week vs. the standard ritual of this happening by Thanksgiving weekend.)
Most notable as the year ended, an amazing sight appeared on Christmas Day. Mother Nature offered the gift of a single viola (Johnny Jump Up) blossom in an area of the garden that is literally ‘between a rock and a hard place’. The honeysuckle on the back trellis pushed out a few orange-pink blooms, as well. It was a sunny, warm day on December 25th (the First Day of Christmas!) So warm in fact, the furnace was off for the day and the windows and doors had to be opened…..oh, and yes, the flowers were blooming!
It was so different from Christmas Days past when it was almost impossible to go outside with temperatures in the single digits. But as always in New England, you just need to wait for a moment (or two) and everything changes. Snow and ice finally arrived four days later and the garden is now under a soft white blanket to sleep for the next few weeks.
Don’t let a sleeping garden fool you. Now is the most exciting time of the year for this garden blogger. January is the month when I find that gardening activities are the most focused and important.
I browse the hundreds of photos that I’ve taken over the past season and make notes of what needs to be moved and removed. And this year, I’m adding the best photos from the season to my new Garden with Grace on Instagram page to complement this blog.
I flip through catalogues that still arrive by mail in January and February to see what is marked “NEW!” for 2016.
I confer with my mother (my gardening mentor and co-gardener!) about plans for the coming spring. Our discussions over the past few years always involve the same three basic questions:
Should we start some things from seed? (No. Not after that time in 2009 when we ended up with nearly 200 red solo cups of seedlings in our sun/garden room.)
Will we order any special or “NEW!” plants to add to the landscape? (No. Let’s mark what we want from the catalogues and patronize local nurseries in the spring, instead.)
What are we going to do with the two areas of grass that died again? (Don’t know yet. But the grass from my Sad Sod Situation story, just over a year ago needs attention again!)
These questions will no doubt be brought up in the coming weeks (usually during an evening ritual that my grandfather called ‘Coffee Break’. Others call it Cocktail Hour!) No matter the season or time of year, gardening is a 365 day obsession in my home.
So here it is, my 2016 Gardening Epiphany that arrived on January 6, the 12th Day of Christmas: You can take the Gardener of out of the Garden, but you can never take the Garden out of the Gardener.
As plants in the garden evolve and change over the years, so has the collection of “Garden Cats” that have taken ownership of my property. It’s funny, because not one of the “Garden Cats” of the past 20 years has belonged to me!
There are too many to mention, but some of the favorites are remembered in a collage in my potting shed.
L-R clockwise: Momma Cat, Cuddles, Bradley, Peppermint. (Momma Cat is the only one still living at 19 yrs old!)
For about 10 years, a long haired black cat with bright green eyes has visited the garden somewhat regularly. He’s always been shy, until this year’s gardening season started. His name is Oreo and his owners live a few houses away. Oreo prefers to be an outdoor cat and can be seen here and there and everywhere around the neighborhood.
When Grace was still with us, Oreo would watch intently as we’d walk by, always staying out of her sight (Grace was a big dog!), but I’d always see him peering around corners or from under bushes nearby. I think that he realizes that there’s no longer a dog at my house.
This was especially evident today. Oreo’s ‘cattitude’ was in full force. Everytime I looked out the window, or walked outside, there he was, taking ownership of the garden. He especially loves being near the Wine & Roses Wiegela (it seems to be an aphrodisiac for cats when the pink flowers are in bloom, similar to a kiwi vine that was in the garden a few years ago!)
Oreo resting near the Wine & Roses Wiegela today.
Of course, he’s interested in the Catmint too, but I think that’s due to the fact that the chipmunks have a path nearby.
Oreo enjoying the view (and fragrance of the Catmint flowers in bloom!)
I never thought I’d blog about cats. I’m allergic to them. I don’t own any. And, I’ve always been a ‘dog-person’ as is evident by the premise on which this blog was created a few years ago.
However, I do enjoy the company of my “Garden Cats.” And as any cat-person would tell you, you don’t own them. They own you! In this case, I feel honored that Oreo, and all the other “Garden Cats” of the past two decades, have selected to take ownership of such a special place (and of course, me!)
Just as “Good Queen Bess”, (who inspired the nursery rhyme ‘Pussycat, Pussycat’) decreed that an old cat could wander around her throne room as long as it got rid of mice, I allow the old (and young) cats to wander the garden as long as they do the same! Meoww!