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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Autumn Surprise

While I dread the end of the summer, there’s always a surprise in the garden in autumn.

This year, the surprise was late – the Maximillian (or New Mexican) Sunflowers.  These have been in the garden for over a decade, started from seed and over the years have been shared with friends across New England. As I write this, I’m reminded that a clump of them will be travelling this weekend to a special garden of an artist friend in Weare, NH.

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Not your typical sunflowers, these look ‘weedy’ all summer, until they start to bloom in late September.  This year, the bloom didn’t start until mid October – just in time for the frost that is expected this weekend.  There’s nothing more refreshing than a bright burst of yellow in the garden as everything else is ready to come to an end.

Mother Nature is magical!


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Pussycat, Pussycat, Where have you been?

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!)

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!)

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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!)

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!


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What Lies Beneath

Two words come to mind when I’m asked to sum up this year’s winter in NH: Historical & Hysterical.

We’ve had record-breaking snowfall and frigid temperatures in January and February. The depth of the snow has reached nearly 80 inches in some areas around my yard — several back-to-back storms with blizzard conditions created drifts, like never seen before. A typical conversation over the past month includes words and phrases like: Roofrakes: Soldout, Snowblowers, Snowplowing, Ice Dam, Damn Ice, Retire to Florida, Too Cold,  Frigid, etc.

As I looked out of the window this am, I was greeted by two more inches of snow that fell overnight – definitely no big deal at this point (and, secretly, not necessarily unwanted, as the fresh snow covers the filthy black piles that have been building up all winter!)

Then my thoughts started to spring forward, just as our clocks will spring forward for the start of Daylight Savings Time this weekend.

I imagined the garden underneath all of this snow.

I imagined the garden sleeping under a thick white blanket, being protected from the Polar Vortex winds that have not allowed the temperatures to rise above 20 degrees (until today, March 4th.)

I imagined that the plants, especially the early ones, like the crocus and lilacs are as anxious to see and feel the warmth of the sunshine (just as I am!)

Thankfully, a file filled with garden photos, from over the years, allows me to see some of what I imagined, creating the inspiration to share some views of “What Lies Beneath.”

For me, these photos provide hope for the arrival of spring, as well as context to always remember this historical (and hysterical!) winter, that will soon be only a memory.

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View of the back garden on March 4, 2015. Two weeks ago, the snow completely covered the sun and bird garden ornaments.

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Nearly same garden view during late June 2014.

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Looking down the purple coneflower path. March 3, 2014

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Similar view of the purple coneflower path in late July 2014.

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View of the back patio – there’s a table and chair set as well as a grill under all of that white! (You can see the remnants of last years pink mandevilla on the far right!)

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This is the back patio in mid June 2014. It looks more livable when not buried in snow! Thankfully, spring is just around the corner!


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Observing ‘the Risk to Blossom’ Today

The weather in New England, specifically where I live, in southern New Hampshire (NH) has forced me to follow my calendar this year. This fall, the garden continues to offer daily surprises, even though we’re well in to November and just over a month away from the Winter Solstice.

We’ve had a spectacular foliage season in NH – lots of red, orange, and yellow to decorate the landscape. This Japanese Maple is a good example of the bright colors:

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Typically, the 7-10 days after Halloween is a big leaf raking/blowing week.  We’re fortunate in Nashua to have curb-side pickup of soft yard waste until the end of November.  In past years, the leaves were blown/raked, shredded, and either put to the curb or added to the compost bin by now.

Today, I looked out of the window.  If I didn’t know better, I’d thought it was a beautiful mid-October day.

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Not only have the leaves refused to fall, but some of the flowers in the garden are still blooming as though it were still late summer. Most unusual is when I look out to the back patio and see that the Mandevilla is still looking great! I’ve never had one of these plants last in my garden/yard past mid September because even the smallest touch of frost kills this tropical plant in an instant.

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While there has been a chill in the air the past 6 weeks,  we’ve yet to have a hard freeze.  What a treat it was to walk thru the garden and find some surprises on November 9!  Typically, the Hollyhocks bloom mid-late summer.  This one got wrapped into the Morning Glories. While the Glories are not so glorious anymore, there’s still one last bloom being pushed out by the Hollyhock. I can actually see it from across the yard while looking out of my home-office window.

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Weeks ago, I thought I had seen the ‘last rose of summer’. Maybe I did and these are ‘the last roses of autumn’? If they stick it out, they could be the first roses of winter.

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Also paying a surprise visit today were the ‘Pinks’ aka: Dianthus and the ‘Indian Blanket’ aka: Gaillardia.

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Isn’t Mother Nature incredible? She definitely has a plan.

It makes me wonder if these flowers in the garden today were late bloomers or perhaps they are the best example of Anais Nin’s quote that has always been an inspiration to me in early spring:

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”


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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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My Secret Garden and the Discovery of a Schizo-Zinnia

There’s a secret garden in my backyard. You can’t see it from the street, from any of the windows in my home, or from anywhere else in the perennial gardens in the yard unless you follow the path that takes you along the neighbor’s fence, behind my potting room at the back of the garage.

The secret garden has a long, 20+ foot row of zinnias along its path. The zinnia bed was added to the garden two years ago after seeing all of the beautiful zinnias at the Community Gardens in Nashua’s Greeley Park. I still visit there to get inspired and to visit Sophie who has the most beautiful zinnia garden you’ll ever see.

This year, I planted the zinnia seeds late in June, so they just started to put on a beautiful show as we flipped the calendar to September. There are zinnias of every color, shape, and size that you can imagine.

There is one that you’d never expect to see, let alone imagine. It stands taller than all the others. It’s nearly 55″ tall.

55inchZinnia (1024x768)Its blossom measures nearly 3″ across.3inchZinniaBloom (1024x768)It’s a Schizo-Zinnia.

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This flower has two distinct personalities. It didn’t know if it wanted to be hot-pink or white with speckles. So it’s both.

It looks like someone took two completely different flowers, cut them in half, and stitched them carefully down the middle to become one interesting bloom.

As a gardener, I’m in awe of every flower in the garden. From April to October, I run out early each morning to see what Mother Nature has delivered since the day before.

Over the past 2 weeks, the morning garden walks include a turn along the path to inspect the zinnias. Usually a blur of color and textures, I’ve walked by and have been glad to see that they are finally blooming and adding every color of the rainbow where you’d least expect it at the back of my yard.

Mother Nature is incredible. She surprised me by making this special flower stand tall and be noticed.

She made me stop.   And look.    And wonder.

This flower will stay in the garden until it’s ready to be dead-headed in mid-September.

Then the seeds will be saved to plant a surprise for next summer……in the now, not so secret garden.