Reach me a gentian, give me a torch!
Let me guide myself with the blue, forked torch of a flower
down the darker and darker stairs, where blue is darkened on blueness
even where Persephone goes, just now, from the frosted September
to the sightless realm where darkness is awake upon the dark.
— D. H. Lawrence, from “Bavarian Gentians”
From late August through September, deep blue bottle gentians are the show-stopper at the Knights Hill Nature Park in New London, New Hampshire. The bushwhacked path around the back of the pond is a carpet of gentian, which you can’t help treading underfoot as you walk. The word ‘sumptuous’ was invented for these flowers. Merriam-Webster’s definition of ‘gentian blue’ is “moderate purplish blue that is redder, lighter, and stronger than marine blue, bluer and duller than average cornflower, and bluer and lighter than old glory blue,” which perplexes me: it’s redder, and it’s bluer? it’s lighter and it’s stronger? it’s duller than … anything on earth? Well, see what you think, though of course computer screens vary in the way they show colour, so there’s no substitute for seeing the plant in real life.
It’s odd that gentian violet (aka crystal violet or methyl violet 10B), the medicine some of us endured as children — it has antibacterial, antifungal, and anthelmintic (de-worming) properties, and because it treats thrush, it was rubbed on our gums from time to time — has neither gentian nor violets in it. But it sure stained everything blue-purple.
“The golden-rod is yellow;
The corn is turning brown;
The trees in apple orchards
With fruit are bending down.
The gentian’s bluest fringes
Are curling in the sun;
In dusty pods the milkweed
Its hidden silk has spun.
The sedges flaunt their harvest,
In every meadow nook;
And asters by the brook-side
Make asters in the brook …”
— from “September,” by Helen Hunt Jackson
Gentians, goldenrod, apples, asters, sedges … Just some of what September brings to the nature park.
Monarch on the goldenrod:
Chokecherry and maples turning red:
Lots of fungi!
And some pond action:
A few more views …
Labor Day saw us out on the Northern Rail Trail again, for a 5-mile round trip walk in very comfortable weather. This time we walked from the Danbury General Store to the Grafton General Store, and back (passing mile markers 117 and 118, I think). Next time, we’ll bring another car so we can cover more new miles, from Grafton through Canaan to Enfield.
As usual, there were a few bike riders, but no other walkers, or runners. Saw a horse trailer in the parking lot, and manure along the trail, but no actual horses.
Part of the walk was a bit scary, maybe three-quarters of a mile southeast of the Grafton store: someone was apparently shooting targets (?) on a property just next to the trail, so that the gunshots were very loud and sounded close. I was ducking as we walked, quickly, past. The gunshots would stop, then start again, seemingly even louder. Probably coincidence, but on the other side of the trail there was a case or two of empty beer cans (Busch, I think), which didn’t give me an overall good feeling about that section. We almost walked back on the road (Route 4) for that stretch, it was so nerve-wracking. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard a volley of gunshots near this rail trail. I don’t think it’s safe, so close to people biking, walking, running, and especially riding horses and walking dogs.
Otherwise, the walk was fine, with new things to discover, as always.
One of my favourites was this Smilax (catbrier) vine, probably Smilax herbacea (smooth carrionflower), though it could be S. rotundifilia (roundleaf greenbrier) — but I don’t see any thorns — which S. rotundifolia has and herbacea doesn’t, and S. herbacea is more common here per Go Botany.
I had to get a few plants identified in Facebook Plant ID forums, including white sweet-clover (Melilotus Albus), which grows about 3 feet tall and very spindly here, sometimes in the center of the path.
Another plant with small white flowers, but only about a foot tall is Polygonum Articulatum (coastal jointed knotweed). We are not coastal — oh, how I wish we were! — but the map shows it in our area. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it before; it’s a bit of an insignificant plant taken one stem at a time. But look at the red and green stem, and see how lovely the tiny flowers are up close.
One that seemed familiar but that I couldn’t quite identify turns out to be, maybe , coastal plain Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium dubium) or possibly spotted Joe-Pye weed (Eutrochium maculatum), which is more common but which the plant ID folks thought the leaves resembled less than those of E. dubium. Either way, it’s some kind of Joe Pye weed, which is why it looked so familiar. I saw only a couple of plants.
(My Joe Pye weed: )
I think I finally got at least a genus identification for this yellow flower, which I’d seen on our previous rail trail walk, in Danbury, a week or two ago. I’m fairly certain it’s a Hieracium, and I believe it’s either Hieracium kalmii (Canada hawkweed), because the leaves have a few obvious teeth, and both the leaves and bottom section of stem are furry, or possibly H. umbellatum (northern or narrow-leaved hawkweed), which is what the plant folks thought but Go Botany claims it’s “widely distributed but very rare in New England, being represented by one or a few populations in New Hampshire and possibly Vermont,” and neither of the two counties where it’s been found in NH is Grafton county.
If you have an opinion, feel free to let me know!
The rest of the plants I could identify myself, which is satisfying after so many that confused me.
The first is sweet-fern (Comptonia peregrina), a fern I call stinking fern — I really dislike its odor. It’s fairly common in masses along the trail, along with other ferns, and it’s easily identified by its dark crinkly fronds and its supposedly turpentine-like smell. (With fronds like this, who needs anemones? Ha ha). It’s a nitrogen fixer, so it’s often found in disturbed wastelands, ready to return the soil to fertility, over time.
Next, pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea), a plant I first noticed growing in a friend’s yard a few years ago, and now it’s appeared in mine this year. It’s got a sweet flower, with silver leaves. I noticed two little patches of it on this walk.
There were quite a few mullein (Verbascum thapsus) plants at the start of our walk, closer to Danbury. One (not one of these shown) was about a foot taller than my spouse, who is 6’2″. It’s another plant found in my garden as well.
It’s blackberry season in New Hampshire, and there were many brambles along the trail to munch on as we walked.
Looks like someone else enjoyed them, too! (Bear, I’m guessing. The scat was almost all berry — beary? — and quite large.)
Some shrubs and trees are turning red earlier than others, including this chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) and some sugar maples.
I saw a few running club moss (Lycopodium clavatum) plants, including this one with a strobilus (fruiting body). Club mosses aren’t true mosses but they are very interesting plants, sometimes called ‘fern allies,’ as are horsetails (equisetum). More on club mosses here, from a Virginia perspective.
I saw a few mushrooms on this walk, including this pretty yellow amanita, identifiable by what looks like sea salt on its cap. This is probably an Amanita muscaria var. formosa, common in New Hampshire. Don’t eat it or let your pets eat it. (NH Mushroom Company article about amanitas.)
I liked this purple, bruised looking mushroom, too, though I don’t know what it is.
There weren’t many milkweed plants and almost none with pods, but this one, at a road crossing, overfloweth fluff and seeds.
We saw a garter snake last week but no snakes this week and the only frog we stumbled across bounced away before it could become famous on the web. I did spot this eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly caterpillar, though, which was fortunately moving toward the edge of the trail, at a fairly rapid rate. Doesn’t it resemble a tiny land manatee? The young ones (the first three instars) are this colour, while the older ones (fourth instar) are green with yellow eyespots (thanks, Wikipedia). It’s a baby land manatee. (Except, wait, “before pupating, the caterpillar will turn dark brown.” So it’s either young or old but not middle-aged.)
As I mentioned, we turned around this time at the Grafton Country store (Propane and Fresh Eggs), which was across the street from the rail trail kiosk (Hot Foods, Cold Beer). The sign noting major Grafton attractions made me laugh.
Unlike some of the rail trail, the material underfoot in this section varied quite widely, from tarmac, to hard-packed dirt, to grass and weeds, to pine needles, to sand.
I’ll end with a few sights alongside the trail.
Here’s the Northern Rail Trail map, published by the Friends of the Northern Rail Trail.
Here’s what’s going on in my patch of land in northern New England as of 31 August 2016:
We’ve had some rain in the last month but we’re still below normal levels and some towns in the state have instituted water restrictions. I haven’t watered anything but a couple of container plants in the last several weeks. We’re running the dehumidifier in the clothes closet, so I pour that bucket of water on the plants every other day or so. The two rain barrels are now more than 3/4 full, so they’re also available.
It definitely feels like we’re on the downhill slide to autumn now. Most of the veggie plants are wilting (squash), leafless (tomatoes), and no longer giving much harvest (green beans), except cucumbers, basil, and bell peppers. I thought about planting a fall crop of arugula but never did. I’ve never planted fall squashes because I don’t really like to eat them.
Of course, the inedible giant volunteer gourd plant is going gangbusters.
As far as the non-edibles, i.e., the lion’s share of the garden, most plants have finished blooming and are putting their effort now into strengthening their systems to withstand winter and flourish next year. Late season bloomers like Joe Pye weed, caryopteris, kirengeshoma, hydrangea, tall phlox, and heather are taking up the slack; and some long-season bloomers — hostas, buddleia, geraniums, echinacea — along with annuals and self-seeders — cosmos, calendula, marigolds, zinnias, cupea vermillionaire (large firecracker plant), borage, bachelor buttons and other plants from the butterfly mix, sweet William (reblooming), scarlet runner beans (edible, but I grow them for the red flowers), even a couple of volunteer sunflowers I didn’t pull — provide more colour, height, and insect and bird food as the garden sings its swan song and the nights grow colder (I think 47F is our low so far).
Here’s the photo tour:
So far, about 15 summer squashes, 20 cucumbers, 4 lbs of green beans, 30 cherry and sungold tomatoes, one bell pepper, a couple of batches (about 10 cups) of basil (not shown … made into pesto immediately), and about 20 garlic heads. I’ve also cut and used some parsley, chives, rosemary, thyme, and oregano this month. I let the dill and fennel flower to bring little parasitic wasps to the yard.
My vegetable garden contains multitudes of non-edible plants, including the aforementioned butterfly mix flowers, quite a lot of perovskia (Russian sage), cosmos, marigolds, zinnias, buddleia (butterfly bush), gladiolus, and other plants that have bloomed already.
Hummingbird moth and fritillary in buddleia:
Zinnias! A lot of bang for the buck.
And a catbird (photo taken through a window — but I think s/he knew I was there :-)):
And also some edible plants: elderberry, the berries at their height now; bell peppers; and arugula and squash plants that were.
Soon, it will be all asters.
For now, there’s deer, raccoons, neighbours’ cats:
As well as a long-blooming Neon Intensia phlox, a lobelia I didn’t plant, the rarely-seen-in-my-photos Red Fox veronica (because I unintentionally planted it in a hidden spot), orange and yellow calendula (pot marigold … an annual), and a common wood nymph butterfly on echinacea.
There is a rock wall between our yard and the neighbour’s. Mostly whatever grows there isn’t my doing (daylilies, lily of the valley, various trees, hydrangea, ferns), but I have planted a few things in it: a couple of Ruby Spice clethra shrubs, a viburnum cassinoides (wild raisin) shrub, a black pussywillow, two hazelnut shrubs, a couple of inulas (elecampane), a sweet cicely or two, a few lady’s mantle, two gillenia trifoliata (Bowman’s root), and a few weak plants when the alternative was to compost them. Here’s what’s happening there now:
Clethra ‘Ruby Spice’:
Chelone (turtlehead) and kirengeshoma (yellow waxy bells) are the stars now.
As predicted, Joe Pye weed is the main attraction now:
Phlox, hydrangea, heather, willow gentian, and grasses have been blooming all month, too:
And beyond the fence, there’s grapes vining through the trees and a few nice wildflowers in the back:
A few bugs joined me on the patio:
Not much happening here now – mainly the magenta buddleia:
Alas, no peaches this year. But, nasturtiums, anise hyssop, fennel, borage, a new batch of sweet William, winterberry, and weeds like hemp nettle.
Come back in September! Asters aplenty!
“The most that any one of us can seem to do is to fashion something – an object or ourselves – and drop it into the confusion, make an offering of it, so to speak, to the life force.” — Ernest Becker, from The Denial of Death (1973)
Sometimes I roam my garden or other places with an eye for the impression of colours, textures, intersections, shadow & light, how things move together, where the edges meet or don’t.
“I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers.” ― Claude Monet
Some other Wednesday vignettes this week:
…. or you will end up with cucurbits of gargantuan proportions. Fair warning.
The summer squash grew from nothing to its pictured extent in 5 days. The largest is 15 inches long.
The gourds by the composter — volunteers — have been stealthily increasing their girth for a month, millimeter by millimeter, but the moment my back was turned, they ballooned into Tweedledum and Tweedledee. And Tweedledoo — there are three of them that I have discovered so far; I’m afraid to look under any more leaves.
Even some of the cucumbers (see above) are zeppelin-like, though a couple retain their photogenic, market-ready dimensions.
Tomatoes and squash never fail to reach maturity. You can spray them with acid, beat them with sticks and burn them; they love it. — S. J. Perelman
When in Richmond, I like to visit the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, only a mile or two from the Amtrak train station. A couple of weeks ago, I visited for the 3rd time and spent six hours there; I never ran out of things to see and places to explore. My other visits were in April and September, so a mid-July visit was all new.
There’s a Lego exhibit on display there now (through 18 Sept), with 27 insects and other animals (and a machine, a person and a plant or two) made entirely from Legos, popping up all along the pathways and in the gardens.
The butterfly exhibit in the Conservatory had re-opened a day or two before I was there, after a bad storm in mid-June damaged their glass home. I guess the resident butterflies were sent to the Smithsonian butterfly pavilion (which I’ve visited and which is also great), but there are new butterflies in the Ginter conservatory, and adults are breaking forth from cocoons every day. It’s an amazing place to be, though very hot, especially on a day with temps in the 90s.
Great Owl butterfly:
There were lots of monarchs … and more to come!
Buckeye, I think:
The Clipper (Parthenos sylvia):
A Clipper with closed wings?
The Common Morpho:
And then there are the hot neon tropical gardens, the orchid and cacti rooms, the many woodland trails, the water features including a lotus bridge and a floating island, healing gardens, the tea house, a rambling children’s garden, a tree house, and a fountain garden. So much to see and do!
Orchids and Cacti:
and other things in and around the conservatory:
The conservatory itself, visible from many spots on the grounds:
Healing and meditation gardens:
Fountain gardens and other watery spots:
Treehouse and children’s garden:
The rose garden:
The tea house, where we had a great lunch:
Woodland paths and trails:
and assorted other goodies:
Goldfinches in echinacea:
Here’s what’s going on in my patch of land in northern New England as of 31 July (or really, 1 August) 2016:
It’s raining as I write, and we got soaking rain on Friday night, too. Temperatures yesterday and today are topping out in the low 60s. It actually feels odd not to set aside an hour to water my garden every day; I think the last time I did was five days ago.
The down side to not watering daily is that I am not noticing the garden’s activity as closely. When I took a swing around the garden this morning (in the rain), I found a couple of huge yellow squash that weren’t there, at all!, last week.
I also harvested a bunch of smaller squash, a healthy batch of green beans, and a few tomatoes.
I’ll get the garlic in when the rain stops in a day or two. One happy surprise: an actual cucumber on the vine!
Of course, the most abundant of my edible plants is one I didn’t plant, a gourd of some sort that sprang up again next to the compost. It’s not taking up valuable real estate, so I let it be, curious to see its fully fledged fruits. (It is starting to block the gate, which is making me a bit nervous about its intentions.)
On to the rest of the photos, taken in the last week or so. Let’s start with the veggie garden this time:
Squash, tomatoes, green beans, arugula, basil, and chard are all harvestable. Scarlet runner beans are starting to flower, and the cosmos from last year re-seeded everywhere. The butterfly mix is starting to bloom, beginning with annual bachelor’s buttons.
Both part of and apart from the vegetable garden … Right now, asclepias incarnata (a kind of milkweed) and crocosmia (a bulb that’s come back strong each year since planted in 2013) are stealing the show, but echinacea, vervain, bee balm, and phlox are all shining, too.
It’s all about the veronicastrum (culver’s root) right now. Coming soon: Joe Pye weed.
Mostly ornamental except for sage, lavender, thyme.
The two semi-dwarf ‘Red Haven’ peaches have no fruit this year, but last year’s self-seeded fennel is going strong, and the four Asclepias incarnata plants (a milkweed) are just starting to bloom.
Mostly ornamental, with two blueberries, some culinary oregano and thyme. The hostas, bee balm, and geraniums are up to bat now.
And this lovely slug on the door mat yesterday:
Come back in August!
“People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.” — Iris Murdoch