Wisdom from the late John Prine

No photo today as I open up this blog for the season. Nothing much to see but bare ground.

But even bare ground is better than the World out There. John Prine was right.

“Blow up your TV”.

“Throw away your paper”

I cancelled cable TV weeks ago, unwilling to pay car payment sized bills to be depressed. MSNBC gone. CNN gone.

I do not get a paper, but I cancelled a dozen sites of a political bent.

The news of the small world around this old farm is that a Norway rat has come to live under the house. Every day he sneaks out at five to look for corn and peanuts under the tube feeder. The property handyman is now involved, and he came over the other afternoon to shove a bar of poison into the rat’s digs. Two days later the rat is still roaming. He tried to get to the ground under the platform feeder, but the resident sheriff is a red squirrel who sent the rat back under.

The handyman and I both agree that the rat did not walk here from Manchester, and even Goffstown would have been too far. Occom’s Razor says he came in a garbage truck, or the dumpster, though he may have stowed away with Amazon, UPS, or FedEx, since they are here many times a day.

And what creature is more of a rover than a rat, and has done as much damage to humans. Eating up grain stores, spreading deadly diseases. Dogs have been bred to dig him out and destroy him.

I am rereading the Aubrey-Maturin sea going novels of Patrick O’Brian. Fighting ships carried chickens, cats, cattle, and once in a mission to islands off Turkey, an rhinoceros as a gift to a local potentate. But these were bit players, compared to the omnipresent Rat. While the ships’ officers drank Claret and port and ate meat , the lower sea-going orders drank grog and ate rats.

And on to a different subject – local hardware stores. On weekends the one in Goffstown is the place to be. I had to park hell and gone, and then entered to find a line that went to the end of the store. The line was serenaded by wire cages full of cheeping baby chickens. I did not want chicks or seed packets, I only wanted 10 bags of potting soil, so I turned around and left, feeling stupid at having violated my own rule of never going into Goffstown on the weekend.

And to anyone wanting to order plants on line this year, here is some information. Bonnie Plants has ads popping up now offering vegetable plants to your front door. A two pack of tomatoes or peppers for 15.00 each. Seven dollars a plant. Truly the Pandemic has taken us into strange times.

Those ordering ornamentals from on line nurseries will be shocked by the companies that have abandoned the sad old USPS for the truck delivery companies. It has always cost to get mail order from the California companies. Add up the price of your order, then double it. But now other companies, burned by dead plants arriving two weeks late last year during the deliberate postal shutdown, have switched to Fed EX and UPS as well.

Yet this does not deter buyers. One excellent nursery in California has now suspended taking orders they cannot handle. They are weeks behind and invite you to look at their catalog anyway, which may not be the best business decision.

Why I bother to order plants from 3000 miles away is a different subject, and one I may get to soon.

It is chill and dreary today, but of course this is New Hampshire in April. But Nashville had its miserable spring days as well. They have names for them.

Dogwood Winter. Blackberry Winter. Cotton Britches Winter.

A Public Service Announcement About the Covid Vaccine

I am a 70 year old semi retired nurse. I work a few times a week in a nursing home. This past Saturday CVS came to the facility and gave the staff the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. They were professional and very organized. I had a sore arm, but no other reaction . I thought some people might be interested in this.

Out in the Dooryard

Mementos of Cape Cod

In the snowless months my bird feeders were well away from the front door and the flower beds. Now -when a fall could shatter my hip- I have moved them nearer the door. I will pay for the safety in April, when I will have to rake up the debris.

I find watching the feeders hypnotic, a respite in these awful last days of this awful year. The same birds come in sequence every day. A handful of juncos. Then, with more light, the scout blue jay. Once he spots that most desirable of desirables, the shelled peanut, he calls his fellows, for blue jays are loyal to each other, and would never show up solo at a dinner table. Once at the feeder in numbers ,they are as solicitous of the chickadees and the titmice and the woodpeckers as they are of their kin. They are the sentinels who expose the Cooper’s hawk as she eyes the dooryard buffet.

The Mourning doves come in numbers as well, and they strut over the seed on the snow like plump, gray, Colonial grandmothers. They have a sweet, docile look, yet last week I watched one, irritated by a jay, pounce on the jay , toss him on his back and give him a thumping-

The big birds I feed on the ground. The smaller, more delicate titmice, chickadees, and nuthatches eat at the tube feeders . They are picky eaters and remind me of my late Pekinese Cho-Cho, who would pick up kibble one bit at a time , but only after an examination. The little birds do not find every sunflower worthy, but their standards are lower when it comes to the peanut.

When I go out to refill the platform feeder, the crowd scatters, but two times now,as I was dumping sunflower seeds with my hand, a Red breasted nuthatch landed within my reach. Living as he does in tall Northern pines fifty feet up, he seems never to have heard of the sorry reputation of the human race. He looked at me, picked out a seed, then flew calmly away. Having seen him so close, I would describe his breast as reddish apricot.

Three days ago, after a foot of snow, the squirrels retreated to their nests. I saw only one, and he was in struggle mode trying to run while sinking.

Both red squirrels and gray are back this morning. They find the door yard congenial . No baffles on poles . No rodent proof feeders. They are big eaters and like the birds, worship the Peanut. The red squirrel is not cordial to the gray, and despite being small, can punch above his weight. The gray squirrels are playful , and chase each other just for fun. They are brave to live in this front yard, which is visited at dawn by a red fox.

In the ice less months I buy feeder food at the local hardware store, and it is costly, since I cannot tackle 40 lb bags of anything. The store is in a small Faux rural town close to Manchester. One street down the middle of town with traffic gridlock as bad as I ever saw in Nashville- But now I order off the Internet, and big bags land just outside my door. Cracked corn. Sunflower seeds. Peanut hearts.

By late February there will be new flocks to feed. Redwings come back then, and a few grackles.( My landlord’s handy man brings out the blue plastic tubing that drains sap from the giant maples along the drive.)

And being only 20 miles north of the border from what Mrs. Appleyard called “tropical Massachusetts”, there will be bare grass and robins.


More than snow and cold are keeping us inside this year, and long hours in front of screens and streaming do not feed the soul.

I would like to recommend a book that will.

“Mountain Meadow” a book by John Buchan written in the last century, is the story of Sir Edward Leithen, who travels into the Canadian Northwest at the behest of a friend, to search for a mad American banker who has followed a guru who claims the heart of God is to be found in the desolate wilderness. Leithen, a seasoned adventurer over all the world, is dying yet he takes on this last quest.

I will leave it to anyone reading this to meet John Buchan on their own. To read about his storied life, his books, his diplomatic life in Canada.

If you are lucky, the ending of this book will never leave you.

And for a teaser about Buchan, he was a friend of Lawrence of Arabia-

Plum Island October 18, 2020

My first visit to Plum Island yesterday. Birders and Bicyclists out in numbers on a warm, calm day.

There were only a few late asters blooming, but the leaves and grasses were resplendent.

Picklegrass in its fall color.

On the muddy flats on the marsh side we saw many Greater Yellowlegs dashing, swimming, and spinning. No pictures, alas. Birds stymie me-

Up the trail to the overlook to Ipswich

Many colors-


Pink Lovegrass

Bittersweet is lovely. When I was a child my mother used it as fall decorations. Unfortunately it has run wild, smothering shrubs and trees all over Plum Island.

I plan to go back in frigid January to look for Snowy Owls that winter in the dunes. I hope the seafood shack that sold me a lobster pie is still open. I will also go back in May for the tremendous spring migration this island is famous for. I regret that we did not tour Newburyport yesterday. I saw many fine front yard gardens as we drove through.

Lessons, not Mistakes

African Mallow

What a difficult year to start a new garden. A darkness over everyday life. A terrible drought. An early frost.

Yet here is the African Mallow I bought from Annie’s Annuals. An optimistic plant, if there ever was one. It was about 10 inches tall when it went into its container, and now is 4ft tall and 3 ft wide , even after three frosty nights. It did not shiver in our chilly June, it started blooming and growing and blooming more. I am going to cut it back, and bring it inside. It has all the qualities I want in a tender perennial asked to adapt far from its original climate.

Its equals in spunk and toughness are Salvia “Amistad”, still blooming on October 7th, and Euphorbia “Diamond Frost”. Almost as good is Salvia “Mystic Spires”, a small version of “Indigo Spires” , but an earlier and better bloomer. The latter is a laggard that blooms so much later in the season that its best fall display comes too late in this climate.

My beloved salvia “Phyllis Fancy” never bloomed as its buds and leaves froze. It is of no use where frost comes this early. Being sentimental I have potted it up, hoping that next fall I can grow it in a container and protect it.

Of the three nicotiana I grew only one had merit. As lovely as the candelabras of “Only the Lonely” were, the plant was out of bloom more than in, and its big leaves browned and and left its tall stalk naked. Nicotiana elata, a smaller plant bloomed better and kept its foliage respectable, but was not my choice for next years lease on limited space.

Nicotiana “Mutabilis” also from Annie’s Annuals in California was the best, and as long as I garden I will find it indispensable. It needed to be clipped and cut back only once, and it is still going. Its only flaw is its need for staking of the main stem. Its leaves never browned or dropped.

But gone from next years plans – Cleome and Dahlias. Cleome , to steal a phrase from Winston Churchill ( describing something far sadder and more serious) was a” good starter, but a bad stayer”. I do not want plants that collapse in the first week of August, leaving giant open holes that can only be cured by stuffing in something large and potted or buying something expensive at the garden center that might resent its new situation and sulk.

My two large dahlias had one bloom each, then looked like boiled lettuce after the three cold nights. After the frost, as I was vacationing on Cape Cod, I saw the dahlias in the wonderful small front gardens of Provincetown. They were magnificent in the sea air.

But I will not waste space on them again.

Here are some photos of a garden in Sandwich on the Cape. It has bloomed out its Siberian Iris and daylilies, but it is still beautiful-

October Garden

Wavy leaved and Heart leaved asters in a Bow garden

This garden was spared by the frost that blighted my garden in mid-September. It is at a high elevation, and cold air sinks right down into the Merrimack Valley. My garden, in New Boston is on a small river, and is in a frost pocket.

The asters in the photo are self seeders and can run all over a border. This does not bother all New Hampshire gardeners, who have welcomed these asters into their front yards-

Above is “October Skies”, the Aromatic aster. I have not seen it spread by seeds, but both here and in Nashville, its clumps can double or triple in size each season. It likes poor, dry soil in sun. Chanticleer, the stunning Pennsylvania garden ,has a rocky hillside border with masses of this plant. Next year I plan to add two of my seed grown Prairie Golden asters into this bed to contrast with it.

This is what I believe to be the Stout goldenrod, another fall flowerer of dry New Hampshire fields. One can see it everywhere under the power lines cut through on the South Bow Road.

This is Solidago “Golden Fleece”, a Mt Cuba introduction and a Missouri Botanical garden “Plant of Merit”. Another dry land plant minimally watered in this summer of severe drought. It is a front of the border dwarf.

Above is a feral chrysanthemum found on the side of a Bow country road. Its foliage is crisp and green and its flowers are pink, though not on this plant, which was visited by one of the resident four legged pruners that traipse on cloven feet through parts of this garden.

Lastly, golden in the spring, but burgundy and orange now- the common forsythia.

Sea Deserts and Marsh Prairies

Dried grasses tell time in the autumn dunes
Waves of grass in the Great Marsh

The marsh flooded behind us on this day. All you see here- became a lake in under 20 minutes. We walked out on a trail that had water almost to our knees. These photos were taken at Sandy Neck, Cape Cod.

The four photos above were taken in Orleans,Cape Cod. A view toward Nauset Marsh. The Coast Guard Station. The sublime words of Henry Beston, who spent a year on Nauset Beach in the “Outermost House”.

Two fine beach plants. Artemesia stelleriana , then the Seaside Golden Rod.

South of Truro
Reality Check south of Truro
The dunes at Sandy Neck
Fishermen at the Cape Cod Canal
Cape Cod Bay

This was my first time at Cape Cod. I spend my time now plotting to get back there, which should not be impossible since my sister and two cousins live in Sandwich.