New Hampshire Desert

The ground I garden on is the same ground that defeated New Englanders trying to farm and live on hillsides away from the fertile valleys of the Merrimack and Connecticut rivers. They abandoned their plots after the Civil War, and left for the more docile, welcoming soils of the Midwest.

Always dry, this soil is harsher this spring since no rain has fallen in a month. But the lowbush blueberries and the roadside and ditch weeds will abide.

This photo is of the lawn in front of a granite retaining wall. Feral daylilies hug the wall base because the foot of a wall is a moister place to be. Not one tuber tries to venture out.

But look at what does dare to grow here-

Hawkweed,cinquefoil, and in the center, Aster lateriflorum.

Just the place for a new garden bed! I have already dug out this aster and some others I found to save them from the mower man, if he gets to this patch of ground before my shovel does-

What will I grow here?

Russian sages, globe thistles, white perennial scabious, Clary sage, Silver King artemesia, “Fireworks” gomphrena-

Then, looking to the power lines and the harsh fields- the Old Field goldenrods, the Showy goldenrods, the Heath asters, and the Calico aster, the biennial tall Evening Primrose.

The Gold Sword Yucca, for architecture and as a foil to all the flowering.

Marsh Marigolds

These Marsh Marigolds were blooming last month along a stream in New Boston. I had not seen this flower since I was a child, and I am now old. I was going to post this photo earlier, but spent April unnerved. Every week the plants I ordered in February and March came via UPS or the mailman. I bought them before shadows came over everything, and I wondered if I would be dead or sick when they arrived, for I have a dangerous job.

I have started work now on the dooryard garden of a house 20 years shy of 300 years old. There are persistent plants out there, some too persistent. Lily of the Valley, the Rambunctious Bellflower, Spiderwort, white and purple violets. The bed liberated from the Lily of the Valley had to be dug out three times, and it is still not clean. Along the front, behind a lilac, the buckwheat that is the Kudzu of New Hampshire is still sneaking above ground, and I see it with a foot hold in foundation cracks.

The sun is dropping now, and I am headed out till late dusk to do tasks I avoided at 2pm when it was 87 degrees. And my best friend in Nashville thinks I have moved to the frozen North-


Snowy Fields along the Piscataquod River.

When I began this blog last year I was staying with my sister on a hill south of Concord. I cleaned up and replanted her gardens, and added additional beds on the south west side of her house where her lawn jumps off into a goldenrod field below. I will be taking care of this garden this year, and editing, adding, tweaking if needed. But now, I have a place of my own , an apartment in an old house along the Piscataquod River on the highway west and south of Goffstown, NH. To the southeast are the Uncanoonuc Mountains( which are really just two modest hills), and to the southwest is Mont Vernon, a village of unworldly beauty.

My landlords are letting me plant a vegetable garden in front of an old barn. They are also allowing me to put in a small flower garden in the dooryard of my apartment. The aspect is fortunate, with a winter- sunny south west exposure. The moss I see growing makes me wonder about the two small trees there, and to the south is a line of very old and very tall maples, which the owners are now tapping . Winter is misleading when it comes to the sunny hours. Only the leaves will later reveal the truth.

Another sister is moving to Sandwich , on the Cape, and has asked for my help in planning a garden there. What is more appealing than Zone 7 for a formerly southern gardener.

As of today. I am planning nothing. It is too early. I am bringing along the salvias I wintered over in my sister’s frigid mud room. Mystic Spires, Salvia greggi, and Amistad. They did well for me in my sister’s garden, and are now in a big south window in my apartment along with Fuschia Gartenmeister, one of the best shade garden plants I have ever grown.

Two days ago I had a red wing at my feeder. The snow is receding on the fields I would walk, if they were not so waterlogged. There is a pond behind my apartment, and when the peepers start they will be deafening.

It is not always about gardening- Today’s best Headline

November is inching toward us, the sun is low behind the trees, nothing in the garden is left to bloom, and the news is jarring and surreal.

And then we have this- on the CNN website- and I knew all was proceeding as planned. The Day of the Human will end, and the rats and the cockroaches will rise.

The rats, abetted by scientists, are already in training., and CNN has this exclusive:

“Rats have learned how to drive and steer their own tiny cars in exchange for Fruit Loops”.

Oh how I wish both E.B. White and George Carlin had lived to read this-

A Granite Turtle

Having spent almost four decades living on limestone, I now live among a multitude of granite remnants scraped from the bedrock by glaciers and randomly dropped everywhere . Impediments to early settlers, who broke backs and plows moving them and stacking them into walls, they are merely picturesque to us, unless we are trying to plant a tree.

I made a garden turtle a couple of weeks ago and put him in a parched part of the garden, where the drainage is extreme. Not the usual home for a sea turtle-

I think he is reading the plant label.

I left the label as a marker. I hope winter does not turn it into a tombstone!

Late Color in the October Garden

There has been no frost on this hill to stop the zinnias, but they are in suspended animation from the chill and the very low sun that barely clears the trees.

Still there is color.

I did not grow bergenias in Nashville, though I once saw them along a shady path near the mansion at the Cheekwood Botanical Gardens. I put two in the Bow garden this spring. They were substantial plants I found in a Henniker nursery. They did not bloom, and having seen their fall leaves, I do not care if they ever do. Their color is that of the Cortland apple.

How I wish the Monkshood, or aconitum had bloomed earlier, when I would not have to worry about it freezing.

This plant is over 60 inches tall.

I thought this tardy chrysanthemum was “Clara Curtis” , but it is pinker than the flowers I remember from my youth. How late its flowering is-

Even the hostas are sadly beautiful as they go ready to go underground.

Lastly, the Japanese woodland salvia “Momobana”.

Last of the Last

Aromatic Aster “October Skies”

Asters are true companions to autumn leaves. The low light and chilled mornings that make Hostas yellow and shrivel are a spring to asters.

“October Skies”, seen here in the worst and driest soil in this Bow garden, thrived in the equally awful dirt and inferno heat of Nashville. One plant from a 3.5 inch pot will spread three feet in two years, and not by seed. Its blue flowers are very complimentary to the ever present granite.

A quiet little plant that likes a rock garden is the Wavy Leaved aster, that grows in yards and ditches and all around the Town Pound in Bow. It resembles the Heart Leaved aster, but is smaller and less blowsy.

I see the Heart leaved aster not only along the roads and fields, but in the yards and gardens of Concord’s neighborhoods. Each stem is a bouquet in itself.

The New England asters are blooming now as well. Below is “Purple Dome”, a smaller, more modern cultivar . The field plants are larger. They can be ungainly in good soil, and their faces can end up in the dirt. Their lower leaves brown as well, and are ugly unless hidden by a small shrub or a shorter camouflage perennial such as the Clara Curtis chrysanthemum or the Montauk Daisy. I saw the species in bloom this year at a local wildlife center. It was trussed up to a bamboo stake, looking like a Salem witch about to be burned. No wonder that the online nurseries and local garden centers avoid selling anything beyond the short cultivars. I did put the tall variety “Harrington’s Pink” in the Bow garden this summer. I bought six plants from Digging Dog nursery in California because I could not find it anywhere else. The cost of shipping was greater than the cost of the plants.

Aster “Purple Dome”
Harrington’s Pink New England aster.

Another excellent aster from the wood edges is the White Wood Aster- aster divarticus. It is not large or flamboyant, but it blooms from early August to mid October. It spreads by shoots and runners and makes colonies.

Finding flowers that will grow on woodland edges, in shade and in pebbled soil can be hard, and that is why local nurseries should offer this tough little aster.

White Wood aster in the garden.
White Wood aster along a woodland trail in Bow.

For the gardener who is looking for an aster that does not flop, or spread around, and which can tolerate drier soil and some shade, there is Aster laevis, the smooth aster. Its cultivar “Bluebird” is a “Plant of Merit” according to the Missouri Botanical Garden, which has an excellent website. It is a wonderful plant, and is one of the best perennials I have grown. Its only flaw is that it blooms for under three weeks, perhaps because it comes on while days are still very warm. Its foliage, always a consideration, is exemplary. And it is easily rooted by cuttings, which bloom when they are only three inches tall.

Aster laevis “Bluebird”

Thus ends this post, but in my next I will talk about some of the other local asters I have found, and which ones might do well in the garden.

A final few photos taken yesterday, before the rains and the wind , out at Stone Sled Farm.

An antique sled
One of the loveliest ornamental crab apples I have ever seen.


Montauk Daisy, Blue Lobelia, and a non-blooming Old Field goldenrod

When I drove along Rockingham Street and Logging Hill Road the other morning, I saw frost damage in the gardens. There had been ice on my windshield when I left work at 7 and blackened plants were no surprise. The cold settled into the Merrimack Valley and the growing season ended for 2019.

But not up on the big South Hill and not in a forest clearing, and not in a garden facing south south- west. The yellow coleus leaves had some crispy brown edges, but the zinnias are still here.

The Clara Curtis mums have yet to bloom, and I expect buds to open on the Aconitums any day. From the forecasts I have seen, a freeze of frost is unlikely in the next week. And certainly no hard freeze.

I gardened for more than a few decades in Nashville, and I can remember only one frost before Halloween. October 31st was always the day, and November 1st in the garden was truly the Day of the Dead. In spring the last frost could be anywhere from March 1st to April 15.

I grew up in the Upper Connecticut River Valley of New Hampshire, but was away so long that I could not remember how long the growing season here would be.

It is longer than I thought, and the summers are warmer than I remember. This has been a surprise. Perennials bloom longer here than they do in the South. In Nashville the daylilies, the phlox, and the coneflowers are done by mid July. One turns to tender salvias, annuals, and exotics to keep the garden going. There is no predictable rain from mid June until mid September in Tennessee. Gardens are hostages of the Bermuda High, and only a thunderstorm or hurricane remnants fight the dryness.

My friend in Green Hills describes this summer as a 100 degrees every day and no rain for weeks and weeks. Everything is brown. If gardeners want to water they have to depend on the Cumberland River and hope that the water department does not ban the hose.

It has been dry here, but not as brutally. I do remember in the early 1960s though, when my family lived in an old farmhouse above the Little Sugar River in North Charlestown. Our spring and springhouse went dry, and we had to go into the village near the old Farwell School to get water.

As to the photo in this post, the Montauk Daisy is a perennial new to me. My sister ,who planted it, told me it was a Gerbera Daisy, and did not believe me when I told her that I was certain it wasn’t. I would still not know what it was, had I not seen it for sale at a garden center in Henniker. I have also discovered that it roots rapidly as a cutting, even in sand, though it is so large I do not know how many one small garden could absorb. It is as big as a shrub, and I would think it is best used as a specimen. I see it blooming all over Concord now, along the little side streets.

Matching Colors

The lilies of the field are now only the late asters-purple, blue, or white- and perhaps a stray Showy goldenrod.

But in the garden, where frost has yet to visit, we have colors to match the leaves.

These zinnias are a mixture of the common Cut and Cut Again variety and the “Lime Queen” series. They are not as subtle as the Japanese anemones in the background. They are not sophisticated flowers. But a child can grow them from a packet, even on stony sandy dry Yankee ground fit only for low blueberries. Their colors are not those of the demure dresses of Puritan ladies, but of the bright skirts and scarves of Bohemian immigrants.

There are cold nights coming this weekend, but perhaps the zinnias will fare better up here at eight hundred feet than they might down in the valley of the Merrimack.