A Wonderful Sunless Few Days

Two of the last three summers have been severe droughts. The spring here dried up, and we have to depend on a well. I have tried to conserve water by watering sparingly this summer, and have been dismayed by the wilting and drooping. A Boltonia “Snowbank” I bought in June has withered on the weekly regime and is unsightly. The soil here is too sandy, and I will give it a chance in the alluvial soil at the Historical Society, which does not drain so quickly and is more often irrigated.

Future forecasts are for summers here to be drier than ever.

But last night a two day rain started and the forecast is for two to three inches. I do not care that I cannot go outside. I know the plants will look happy when this rain stops and the inevitable mushrooms sprout from the lawns.

I have never seen so much bug damage as I have this summer. It is dispiriting. But week after week of no rain is worse. The garden begins to look unenthusiastic, and I am depressed myself by the endless watering.

There are plants that soldier on and thrive in dryness. Yuccas, the aromatic aster “Raydon’s Favorite, the goldenrods, “Montrose White” calamintha, the hardy chrysanthemums, and New York Ironweed.

Fall is on the doorstep, and one of these mornings I will look for the hummingbirds, and they will be gone.

Now what I hope for most is that frost will hold off at least till mid-October for I find fall gardens the most beautiful of all and full of royal colors.

My favorite wildflower- the Blue Mist flower

“Salmon Sunset” Four O’clock

Four O’Clocks open in the afternoon and close in midmorning. Hence their common name. This plant was raised from seed. In my southern garden it was hardy, but here it dies with the frost unless I overwinter it as a dried tuber. This flower is my favorite shade of pastel orange and is in the Sunset Colors flower bed at the Historical Society. One never sees these at garden centers, for it is an old fashioned plant from the cottage gardens of mothers and grandmothers who took the time to raise their flowers from seed. I do not know if this color will return in self sown seedlings-


Harbinger of Autumn


Conoclinium coelestinum, or the Blue Mistflower, comes into bloom as the sun rises later and the mornings grow cooler. It is not native to New England, but it thrives in my garden and makes a sizable colony in only a few seasons. It does have Imperial ambitions, and left unchecked will spread and spread. Fortunately it is easy to pull out, if one can bear to.

Heliopsis, or false sunflower, is another late summer and fall perennial. This showy cultivar is “Burning Hearts”. It has all the colors of Fall- dusky brownish purple leaves and bonfire colored blooms. It is a tough plant as most heliopsis are ,and dry sandy soil does not bother it.

I think that artemisia “Powis Castle” is the best of the artemisias. It has the form of a shrub and its filigree foliage is fine from Spring through Fall. It does not spread like Silver Queen and Silver King. It does not disintegrate into mush like “Silver Mound”. It is easy to propagate from stem cuttings, and I have ten cuttings in pots now. One can also bury the stems in late fall, and cover them with a brick. They will root.

Phlox, decimated by the groundhogs, has come back into my home garden, since the groundhogs are gone, dispatched by a neighbor’s dog. This white and blush old variety was here when I moved in.

Planted in early summer, cleomes will bloom into fall, but plants put in in May may bloom out by August, so it is better to start them late.

We are in a severe drought here in Southern New Hampshire. Springs and wells are drying up. We spend hours watering the new garden at the Historical Society, which faces south west, is on a slope, and is hard to irrigate because of the excessive mulch piled on over the years. Every time I water my loathing of shredded bark mulch grows. It repels water, chews up nitrogen, and will be impervious to self sown desirable seedlings.

Rain is in the forecast for tomorrow. The local TV weather calls it” possible beneficial rain”. That sounds more hopeful than “showers” which are light and random. It is more hopeful than thunderstorms that pass north and south, avoiding our gardens. When one does track over here the downbursts come so fast that runoff sends the rain to the sewers or the river and not to roots.

Gallery of Zinnias Blooming Today

All the zinnias in the photos were raised from seed.

Their stems may be more angular than that of dahlias. Their leaves may be less lush, but they are not as needy or fussy. Their stems are not hollow, and when cut for the vase do not look maimed. The color range is similar and they are easily raised from seed by anyone who puts them in the dirt. To make them branch one need only to pinch down the central leader.

Also blooming – Cosmos “Seashells”.

Ornamental Garden Chives

I just bought several pots of white flowered garlic chives from a seller on Etsy. One of the gardens I worked in in Nashville had them as a border edger, and they were so handsome that I decided to find some and put them into the garden at the museum.

Here are several photos of that southern flower bed with the chives.

Companion plants in the first photo are melampodium, marigold “Queen Sophia”, Four O’Clocks, purple gomphrena, lantana “Miss Huff” , artemesia “Powis Castle”, and dwarf Mexican sunflowers.

What To Do With Half a Wishing Well

Garden ornaments such as wishing wells and gnomes are loved by some and sniffed at by others. All I will say about this one is that I am relieved the top half was never attached.

Since it is stuck in the ground, and we at the Historical Society are stuck with it, some function had to be found. It had to be good for something.

So we filled it with dirt and garden debris and turned it into a big planter. Two African Mallows went in to the center, some Lab Lab beans were positioned to start to creep down the edges, though they have not yet made up their minds about cooperating.

In a few weeks, no one will notice anyway, since the planter will be forgotten when the Giant Brazilian Tobacco plant, Nicotiana mutablis will be dangling its six foot stalks of pink and white and rose flowers up over the back of the well. The basal rosettes of the nicotiana are hidden behind the planter.

Also of interest now, the old fashioned Balsam, a variety of Impatiens. A stalwart of the old grandmother gardens.

In the porch garden in front of the museum, cosmos “Rose Bonbon” is blooming. I think she looks like a ballerina’s tutu.

Shirley Hill Farm, Goffstown

Here, on the southernmost of the Uncanoonuc hills that rise south of Goffstown, is the Shirley Hill Farm and the Benedikt Dairy.

I saw this farm yesterday for the first time. I thought the Uncanooncucs were just hills no different than any other hills. Wooded, unremarkable. Just hills. Somewhere to be crossed to get to Bedford. Not interesting enough to visit.

I was wrong. To turn off Wallace Road onto Shirley Hill Road – to find oneself in vast pastures and gardens lined with sunflowers , and telephone lines where dozens of barn swallows sit waiting for the instinct that tells them “leave now- go up and away into the August night”.

From a distance the South Uncanoonuc looks like the head of an unkempt old man with only a dozen upward bristles left on his scalp. These are an encampment of cell and tele towers that now run our lives. How incongruous they are, on the hilltop above the peace of this farmland with its smell of Jersey cows and the barnyard, with the fields of Queen Ann’s Lace. I stepped out of my car and was back over sixty years, in the old pastures and barnyards of the Alfred Smith Farm and the Haynes Farm on the Unity Road in North Charlestown.

But that was in the Valley of the Connecticut, and this high pasture with its haze and blue hills, cicadas and grasshoppers innumerable seemed far closer to heaven.

Strange, then, that one of the strongest feelings, I have about this enchanted place- is fear.

I am old now, and I have seen too much. I have seen what happens to pastures and fields that should be sacred. In the almost forty years I lived in a city in the South I saw a field of butterfly weed out on TN Rte 100 become a fried chicken shack.

I saw one of the most beautiful valleys in Middle Tennessee destroyed by a developer and complicit heirs . No more giant oaks on the edge of pastures. No more meadowlarks in the fields and Indigo Buntings flashing blue onto the fence wires. No more solitary kingbird watching over a stream lined with watercress.

A “planned community”, dreaded and loathed and resisted by its horrified neighbors. Million dollar homes and faux downtown streets.

I remember the last innocent evening the beagle and I walked along the dirt road through this valley. Another woman was walking her dog. We spoke about the loveliness of the old farm.

“Enjoy it now”, she said, “It won’t be here much longer”.

An abomination within sight of the National Park Service’s Natchez Trace Parkway.

Blooming Today- Some Fine Annuals

Warm weather is bringing out the first zinnias and cosmos. Every one in the Society garden was raised from seed, and if they are seeded in in mid-June, they are ready to bring new color and bloom starting in August, when so many perennials are finished.

Here is Zinnia “Profusion Bi-color, which I saw for the first time last fall in The Heritage Gardens on Cape Cod. It is a small plant that makes a good edger. Unfortunately a metallic gray beetle that is not Japanese has been chewing on it. Of course pesticides are out of the question, and any beetle seen is picked off and stepped on.

I do not care for petunias , but I cannot resist new versions of the old time ruffled double ones. They are as elegant as a 1950s evening gown.

Scaevola has been around for years, but I never planted it till this year, and I am impressed. Handsome, tough, and a good bedding plant.

This April I planted the seeds of “Asian Garden” celosia under lights. I kept them warm , and when the weather was mild enough took them outside to the sun. For two months they sulked at two inches, and only in July when the right weather came, did they decide it was time to grow. I think most celosias are deformed and hideous, but in the south I grew Celosia “Pink Flamingo”, which grew as tall as I am. Here is a photo of it in a garden in Green Hills, a suburb of Nashville in October 2017.

And here is its smaller cousin, “Asian Garden”, which should grow to three feet.

In the South the spike celosias come back from seed. If they reseed here, with our cool Junes, I do not think they would germinate in time to bloom before frost.

In the next few days I expect that “Peach Butterflies”, a Karchesky canna hybridized in Pennsylvania , will be in bloom. I will post pictures immediately.