The Preservation of Gardens

According to the Washington Post, some of the members of the American Horticultural Society Board, quietly put George Washington’s River Farm in Alexandria ,Virginia, for sale for 32 million plus, and turned down an offer to buy the place and preserve it made by the County of Fairfax. These soul less, greedy people, members of our Ruling Class, smelled money, and they wanted it as they always do. I hope the light shines in on these people, and they go down in shame when the plans for the theme park or the planned development go public.

A few years back the same kind of humans decided to dig up the Russell Page garden at the Frick Museum in New York to build more museum on top of it. Worthy people stopped it.

I have been thinking about the impermanence of gardens. And I think I am angry when I see how they are bulldozed or turned into buildings named for rich donors. In this country, we will destroy anything if we can turn it into money-

I have several best loved books by Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd , the graceful souls who created North Hill garden in Vermont. I would love to see North Hill. I would drive there in June, now that I live back in New England.

But is there a North Hill now? After Wayne Winterrowd died, the house and grounds were sold, and no where on the web can I find out what happened. No local paper announces that it is being reopened. I can find nothing.

Did the couple decide to let the garden go back to woods when they were not around to care for it? Did the Garden Conservancy ever look at preserving it? Did a developer buy it?

I would like to know.

One Day of Spring

And in my garden, there is not much to show for it, though sedums, Silver Mound artemesia, and the “October Skies” aromatic aster are above ground and looking tidy and fresh.

On Wednesday overnight, we had a hard freeze to 27 F. That afternoon, I looked out the window of the place I work, and it was snowing.

But today was sunny and 70, and that meant a plant holiday for all the new plants from Louisiana and California nurseries which had just come out of the box. Out they went, along with the hostages and the minimally content who had spent six months in a south window. And now the plant shuttle begins. Over sixty daytime? Outside! Under 40 at night? Back in.

Wintering over desirable tender plants is easy in theory, but one finds that the tender sub shrubs such as salvias pine for the outside, and if placed near a sunny warm window spend the winter deprived and desperate. Warm enough to grow, but not enough sun to thrive. As is evident in the photo below.

My sister had better luck keeping her salvias in an unheated mudroom that faces east. She did not feed them false hopes, and as the days grew longer, they came out of suspended animation looking optimistic.

I did have plants that did well inside. I made my self a little forest of Nicotianas by pulling up off shoots and replanting them, and now there is no need to buy new ones from the California nurseries.

Others that did well were the Mexican Petunias(Ruellia), the “Diamond Frost” euphorbias, the “Gartenmeister” orange fuschias, the Sinningias, Begonia grandis, and a Cuban Oregano.

Those stunted looking salvias will survive , and if I am lucky they will be larger and more impressive than the cuttings they came as last spring.

My neighbor Dave, who went out trout fishing this morning with his grandson, knocked a bit earlier and handed me two Brook trout for my supper.

I grew up with fisherman brothers. Three of them. They sniffed at Rainbow trout and the Brown trout, accusing the latter of being such a lowlife that it “would live in a sewer”.

The Brook trout they never demeaned.

I never caught a trout. I have caught Walleye in the Connecticut River in my younger years, though later my fishing life was on the Gulf of Mexico. But that is another story-

Weed Robot

No photo with this post, since borrowing pictures from an ad would be copyright infringement, and anyone reading this can look up “Tertill” yourself, though if you do, the ads for this little machine will start following you everywhere around the Internet.

The Saturday Wall Street Journal has inserts devoted to all the stylish, expensive goods and pursuits people can afford after they spend the rest of the week reading about how to make money. I read this past Saturday that chic hostesses, now feeling free to open up the dinner parties again, are matching their party outfits to their tablecloths. I think the only other times this has happened in US history may have been the Depression and Pioneer days, when one bolt of cloth had to go a long away.

Another article, for people bored with, or too good for French Bread frozen pizza, gives a source for ordering “artisanal” pizzas. Frozen ones.

Then, front page on the insert called “Off Duty”, comes “How Does Your Robo Grow”.

Someone has taken the idea of the roving vacuum, and turned it into not only into a lawn mower, but into a weed controller that chops off weeds at ground level as it goes up and down between the pea trellises and wiggles around the perennials. Of course this little “Tertill”, which is what is inventor calls it , requires that the buyer also must buy ” plant guards”, which makes me wonder how smart this $350.00 machine really is.

I have never seen a robot vacuum cleaner, except on TV, and not in an ad. I believe it was in an episode of “Breaking Bad” or maybe “Better Call Saul”, when a room full of stoned, passed out addicts are lying about on the floor of a flop house ,while a poor little cleaner keeps trying to vacuum while bumping into shoes and inert bodies.

So many things could go wrong with this idea, and I think the market for this will be short lived. But perhaps the designers could go in a different direction. And if they did, I might be ready to buy.

If they could remove or disable the weed whacking string, then program the Robo to just go straight and true down the path between the beans and to wander 24 hours around the vegetable garden, just imagine how a fawn, following his mother into the lettuce, would react to meeting a crawling, buzzing nemesis that would smash right into his delicate little legs. And that would just be at night and during the twilight hours.

During the day the Robo could take on the Woodchuck. No more guns. No more electric fences. I would buy it.

And strawberry and blueberry growers! Just forget the netting and the fake owls! Just let the Robo inventor develop a long, slivering Black Racer Robot to go on patrol.

This would be a great idea. I should patent it, make lots of money, and be able to read the Wall Street Journal every day so I can finally say I know what a derivative is, and how I could switch to Bitcoins.

A Small Shrub for a Small Garden

Looking at my small, bare garden beds just before the snows and after the snows are melted away, I realized that my annuals and perennials are, as Russell Page once said, no more than “brightly colored hay”. I had thought by adding a Montauk Daisy or two I might add a little substance, since their stalks persist through winter and resemble a large shrubby sedum. Then, having seen these daisies in bloom on Cape Cod, I have decided they are not the plant for me. Their outsized white daisies and igloo appearance look as though they jumped off a kindergartener’s drawing into the ground.

I needed a focal point, something with substance to place in the corner where two small flower beds meet. A small orange or yellow leaved spirea came to mind, and I was looking at either “Candy Corn” or “Goldflame”. Some gardeners might call spireas “common as dirt”, but in the South they said the same thing about Crape Myrtles, a shrub no one could ever have too many of.

Today- a day after a two inch snow(now melted)- I went down the street to the garden center just to see what might have arrived.

I found this. It was pricey, but it was just what I needed. Small, controllable, and with yellow leaves that would last all season.

This is the “Lemon Candy” Nine Bark , and I think its open and airy form suits this garden bed more than a cushiony , ground hugging spirea. Not to say that if I see a “Candy Corn” at some point, I won’t hesitate to add it in a different bed, perhaps next to the spiky Santolinas that made it through the winter.

Having said disparaging things about the Montauk daisies, I do appreciate that gardeners on the Cape with their wind, sand, and drought may be happy to have these daisies. I think if I had a house on the beach and my garden was a sand dune, the Montauk daisy would look wonderful, looking like an exotic desert plant and having the dunes to itself, its only neighbor the sea side goldenrod and artemesia stelleriana. But I think they would be difficult to place in a flower bed-

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.