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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Pussy Willows Galore!

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!)

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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.

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!  dsc_0636I 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.

DSC_0649The 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!) 


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Suddenly Spring: Part One

In some cases, a picture truly is worth a thousand words.

This Garden with Grace update provides a snapshot of one of the most beautiful spring seasons that we’ve enjoyed in southern New Hampshire in recent memory.

Apparently, Mother Nature had a wonderful plan after subjecting us to a winter, that with each passing day, becomes just a distant memory.

Weeping Japanese Fantail Pussywillow was one of the first perennials to come to life in April.

Weeping Japanese Fantail Pussywillow was one of the first perennials to come to life in April

Magnolia & Weeping Cherry bloomed together this year.

Magnolia & Weeping Cherry Tree

Japanese Weeping Crabapple and standard Crabapple

Japanese Weeping Crabapple and standard Crabapple

Our State Flower, the (perfumey) Lilac, bloomed most of May

Our State Flower, the (perfumey) Lilac, bloomed most of May

Pansies grew everywhere, except where they were planted!

Pansies grew everywhere, except where they were planted!


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A Happy Return to the Boston Flower & Garden Show

It’s been about 20 years since I last attended the Boston Flower & Garden Show.

I finally returned for the 2014 show with my mom.

We’re both glad that we made the decision to give this event another try.

The Garden Marketplace
The vast array of exhibiting vendors was impressive. One of my favorites was the book area with titles like this!

Loved seeing titles like this one at the Boston Flower Show.

Great book titles, like this one, at the Boston Flower & Garden Show.

This book was one of my first finds, but I was holding off on purchases at the start of the show. Unfortunately, I forgot to go back to pick up a copy.  I think that I need to order one online for my own library.

Speaking of a library, my vote for most artistic vendor goes to the Hudson Valley Seed Library. Their seed packages are also amazing works of art – definitely suitable for framing.  Since I’m not sure yet what I want to start from seed this year for my own garden, I held back on any purchases, but definitely plan to place an order soon (even just to have these little works of art displayed in my backyard garden shed!)

Loved the artistic packaging for the Seed Library's offering.

Loved the artistic packaging for the Hudson Valley Seed Library’s offering.

I also enjoyed stopping by the display for Peony’s Envy. (The company name, of course, was a draw!) I’ve never seen such a variety peony plants in one small location.  My mom immediately recognized this vendor from the dozens of gardening and landscaping magazines that she’s been browsing. A Peony’s Envy peony is now at my home, tucked in the back of the ‘fridge until it’s ready to plant in the garden in a few weeks (or as soon as the snow melts!) 

One of my early blogs entries shared information about the peonies that have been in my garden for the past 40+ years.  It’s always nice to add something new to the mix!

Dozens of Peonies for sale at Peony's Envy

The new peony from Peony’s Envy is going to make my neighbors jealous!

Spring’s Arrival at Boston’s Seaport World Trade Center
The highlight of our visit was the feeling of being outside in so many beautiful gardens, all under one big roof.

Walking through these indoor gardens, on a cold Friday in early March certainly made it feel like spring. It also smelled like spring. So much so that a dose of Benedryl was required while walking through the expo.

One of the more interesting and surprising landscaping themes was the inclusion of many outdoor bedrooms in the garden.  While this is far from practical (imagine mosquitos and other nocturnal critters crawling into your outdoor bed – it gives new meaning to bedbugs), it was fun to imagine and displays like this one fulfilled the overall show theme of ‘Romance in the Garden’!

Sweet Dreams in the Garden.

Sweet Dreams in the Garden.

Something I wasn’t expecting to see was a landscape filled with ceramic fish, provided by a vendor called Fish in the Garden.  There was discussion in this display area amongst other show spectators.  We all thought that this garden looked like we were peering into an aquarium.

Garden Aquarium - Just missing the castle and treasure chest.

Garden Aquarium – Just missing the diver, castle,  and treasure chest.

The inclusion of sculptures into the garden is especially appealing to me — I enjoyed seeing a variety of stone, ceramic, metallic and other types of sculpture (including the giant rope spider web that you can see in the background of in one of these photos.)

Stone Sculptures (look to the far left for the rope spider web!)

Stone Sculptures (look to the far right for the rope spider web!)

Gate posing as sculpture in the garden.

Gate posing as sculpture in the garden.

Back to Life. Back to Reality.
With spring only a few days away, our happy return to the 2014 Boston Flower & Garden Show provided a nice dose of hope and optimism, even for just a few hours, before returning home to my (still) snow covered garden.

Back to Reality! Garden is still covered in a thick blanket of snow.

Back to Reality! Garden is still covered in a thick blanket of snow.

“Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart.”

~Victor Hugo


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Inspiration!

Maintaining a garden blog has been a challenge during  a long, harsh winter in New Hampshire.

While my head has been filled with motivation to keep a blog interesting during the midst of a winter filled words like “polar vortex” and “arctic blast”, actual inspiration to get the thoughts out of my head and out to the digital world has been lacking.

Until today…

Maybe the idea of an extra hour of daylight this evening and the pending arrival of spring, along with a great find that was tucked away in a binder of gardening materials, was all that I needed!

Here’s the great find. It’s a poem that a former neighbor named Kate,  wrote for my mom, Kathy, about the garden. It was written over a decade ago. Before the dog named Grace came along to inspire this garden blog. (You may need to click the poem to see a clearer version to read.)

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I love how words, put onto paper to create such a lovely poem, so many years ago, can have such a more impactful meaning many years later.  Which brings to mind this quote about inspiration that I think relates perfectly to gardening.

“Every moment and every event of every (wo)man’s life on earth plants something in his soul.” -Thomas Merton