I’m taking a winter botany class through adult education this month. One of our walks was along Mink Brook, in Hanover, NH. As our class stood in the parking area, we spotted two minks, chasing each other along the bank of the brook! I wasn’t quick enough with the camera to capture it, unfortunately, but it was thrilling to see them. The only other place I have seen mink, twice, was along creeks on Jekyll Island, GA.
I went back to the trails a couple of days later and took a few different paths. Didn’t see the mink that day, but here are some other photos of flora and fauna (mostly flora, because winter botany), plus snowy landscape views. Hope you enjoy.
There’s a kiosk with trail maps and other info near the small parking area off Route 10 in Hanover (there’s also a bigger parking lot up the hill from the trails).
The Mink Brook Nature Preserve is a 112-acre preserve meant to protect habitat for wild brook trout, waterfowl, black bears, minks, et al.
There are two brooks in the preserve, the smaller Trout Brook and the larger Mink Brook, which is a direct tributary to the Connecticut River, which eventually flows into the Long Island Sound.
Then look out for the little brook in March,
When the rivers overflow,
And the snows come hurrying from the hills,
And the bridges often go.
The Upper Valley Land Trust collaborated with the Conservancy to buy the Preserve and it now holds the conservation easement; also part of the same trail system are the Angelo Tanzi Tract, owned by the Town of Hanover.
The main trail runs atop the Hanover sewer system, as you can see by the many sewer covers along the way, obvious even in the snow.
The Conservancy, the Hanover Lions Club, and other volunteers have worked to control invasive buckthorn, honeysuckle, barberry, and Japanese knotweed that had overrun the floodplain, then replanted with 2,000 native trees and shrubs, including silver and red maple, red osier dogwood, and elderberry, selected because they are adapted to changes in water levels and provide wildlife food and cover. (We still saw buckthorn, barberry, and knotweed on our walks, though.)
Pets are allowed so long as they are under voice control and their people pick up their waste (which not everyone does, I noticed). Fishing is also permitted, though trapping, hunting, biking, and camping aren’t.
Herewith, some trees and evidence of trees and shrubs:
Musclewood aka blue beech aka American hornbeam tree (Carpinus caroliniana ssp. virginiana) tree trunk
And perennials, wildflowers:
Two of the three kinds of goldenrod galls:
The first shown is the ball gall (aka apple gall), which forms in late spring when the Goldenrod Gall Fly (Eurosta solidaginis) lays an egg on a goldenrod stem: “After the egg hatches about ten days later, the hungry larva eats its way into the stem and forms a feeding/living chamber. This stimulates the host plant to create the ball gall, which provides more space and a lot more succulent goldenrod cells on which the grub can dine all summer long.” The ball starts out green and shiny like the stem but over time it turns brown and eventually this purple shade. Inside the gall — though not this one, as a downy woodpecker seems to have bored its way in — a small fly larva overwinters by replacing its fluids with glycerol, a sort of larva antifreeze. (source for more info and pics)
The second is called a bunch gall (or a flower gall) and occurs only in Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis). It’s caused by a Goldenrod Gall Midge (Rhopalomyia solidaginis) that lays its egg in a leaf bud: “After the grub hatches, its presence somehow keeps the stem from growing and elongating, even though the goldenrod continues to produce leaves. This results in a tight, flower-like cluster of foliage, usually at the top of the goldenrod’s main stalk. Although the Goldenrod Gall Midge is the only insect known to cause a bunch gall, the heavily leaved cluster may become home to a diverse assemblage of arthropods, including spiders and other midge species; for this reason, the Goldenrod Gall Midge has been referred to as an ‘ecosystem engineer.'” (source) There were lots of these on one side of the brook.
Finally, ferns, lichen, moss:
Sometimes, I just like the look of rocks:
I slip, I slide, I gloom, I glance,
Among my skimming swallows;
I make the netted sunbeam dance
Against my sandy shallows.
I murmur under moon and stars
In brambly wildernesses;
I linger by my shingly bars;
I loiter round my cresses;
And out again I curve and flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.
— last lines of “The Brook Poem,” Alfred Lord Tennyson
Well, there’s a foot or two of snow on the ground here, but it’s time to order seedlings! I sent in my order yesterday to a new place (for me), Good Earth Farm in Weare, NH (I’ve never even been to Weare. Where? Weare.)
This year, in a break from past planting seasons, I’ve decided to go with seedlings almost exclusively, and eschew seeds almost completely. I have always had a lot of trouble planting seeds but persisted because a. their packets are so appealing, b. they seem like a good value, c. there are so many varieties of seeds.
But because I plant vegetables, herbs, and annual flowers not only in rows in a sort-of-dedicated vegetable garden (that also has perennials and annual flowers in it), but also among perennials, bulbs, and shrubs, I tend to lose track of where the seeds are entirely — even when I take photos of them in their planted spots — or if I plant them “as soon as the ground can be worked,” as is often advised, I’d learn a month or two later that some ninja perennial had leafed out, spread out, and otherwise completely (and literally) overshadowed the little seeds, which only wanted sun + water to survive. I just could not keep track of the little rascals.
Even in the vegetable bed, except for large seeds like green beans and peas (I love you, legume seeds), I felt the soil was too coarse to really plant them well. I’d scatter and then have to thin 90% of the seeds, which ended up feeling tragic and seeming a waste of money, time, and life force rather than a good value.
So. This year — other than for peas — it’s seedlings all the way, little plants that I can see from the get-go.
Here’s what I ordered from Good Earth Farm, and will pick up in late May to plant in my yard by early June:
3 4″ pots organic ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ echinacea – red, orange, purple, yellow, or white! (from Johnny’s Seeds)
2 4″ pots Chocolate Covered Cherry’ coleus – “rose and mahogany leaves” (Harris Seeds)
1 six-pack organic ‘Standard Mix’ Bachelor Button – pink, blue, violet, white
1 six-pack organic ‘Alpha’ Calendula – orange
1 six-pack ‘New Day Formula Mix’ Gazania (I love this annual!) – bronze, orange, yellow, white
1 six-pack ‘Vanilla’ Marigold – white/cream
1 six-pack organic ‘Jewel Mix’ Nasturtium – red, orange, yellow
1 six-pack ‘Lime’ Benary’s Giant Zinnia — three feet tall!
1 six-pack ‘Queen Red Lime’ Zinnia – pink/burgundy petals with lime centre
1 six-pack ‘Benary’s Giant Mix’ Zinnia
(I do love zinnias)
Herbs – all organic, grown from either Johnny’s Seeds or Fedco, except the thyme, from High Mowing Seeds
4 4″ pots organic Arugula
2 4″ pots organic ‘Bouquet’ Dill
3 4″ pots organic Thyme
1 six-pack organic ‘Aroma 2’ (organic classic Genovese) green Basil
1 six-pack organic ‘Giant of Italy’ flat Parsley
Vegetables – all grown from Johnny’s, Fedco, or High Mowing Seeds
1 six-pack organic ‘Provider’ bush Beans
1 six-pack ‘Diva’ Cucumber
1 six-pack organic ‘Marketmore’ Cucumber
1 six-pack organic romaine mix (‘Jericho’ green and ‘Marshall’ red) Lettuce
1 six pack organix ‘Yellow Crookneck’ Summer Squash
1 six-pack ‘Bright Lights’ Swiss Chard
4 4″ pots ‘New Ace’ red Bell Pepper
2 4″ pots ‘Sun Gold’ gold cherry Tomatoes
2 4″ pots ‘Tomatoberry Garden’ red cherry Tomatoes
2 4″ pots ‘Honey Bunch Red Grape’ grape Tomatoes
The tips for choosing, planting, and caring for vegetables on Good Earth’s website are very useful for me. For example, although I know cucumbers and tomatoes like warm soil, I didn’t realise I should water them both with warm water, at least the first week, and probably delay planting the cuke seedlings until the 1st or 2nd week of June, when night temperatures are warmer. Makes sense; I just never thought of it. And now I know not to put straw around the tomatoes right away, when the soil is cold, because straw reflects some of that hard-to-come-by spring sunlight and warmth; I should wait until the end of June or start of July to apply the straw.
I also learned not to separate the bean seedlings, which will be planted 2 or 3 to each cell in the six-pack, because that would disturb their roots, but rather I should plant them as a cell clump and leave 4″ between the clumps. Probably this root disturbance is an issue with other seedlings planted more than one plant in a cell and may be the reason for some past transplant failures.
I’m looking forward to meeting my new plants in three months and tucking them into the soil here, confident that I will be able to find them again. Photos of the seedlings in situ coming in June!
“But each spring…a gardening instinct, sure as the sap rising in the trees, stirs within us. We look about and decide to tame another little bit of ground.” — Lewis Gantt
“Ever seen a leaf – a leaf from a tree?”
“I saw one recently – a yellow one, a little green, wilted at the edges. Blown by the wind. When I was a little boy, I used to shut my eyes in winter and imagine a green leaf, with veins on it, and the sun shining …”
“What’s this — an allegory?”
“No; why? Not an allegory – a leaf, just a leaf. A leaf is good. Everything’s good.”
— Fyodor Dostoevsky in The Possessed
(Wednesday vignette is brought to us by Flutter & Hum)
The Atlantic White Cedar Swamp in Bradford, NH, is a good example of an inland cedar swamp (others in NH are Cooper Cedar Woods in New Durham and Loverens Mill Preserve in Antrim; I haven’t been to either). These inland swamps, located more than 30 miles from the coast and at an elevation higher than 500 ft., are known for their quite acidic (pH 3.4 to 4.8) and usually wet soil. At the end of the swamp trail (mostly boardwalk) is the Bradford Bog, which is really a fen — a medium-level fen system, to be exact. There’s a short observation tower from which to view the bog and the surrounding hills.
I’ve visited the swamp and bog four times, in August of 2014, May of 2015, October of 2016, and just this past weekend, when the snow was about 18 inches deep, or more. We parked on the narrowly plowed edge of E. Washington Rd., then when we left we saw that there was a large plowed parking area a hundred yards or so farther up the road that we could have used if we had seen it. There was no plowed path into the trail but the kiosk was visible over the snow mound; with snowshoes on, it was easy to clamber over the snow and onto the trail, which was fairly well packed down by others who’d used it before us (we saw only one family in the 2 hours or so we spent here).
What’s nice about winter, snow, and snowshoeing is that you can travel off-trail in these wet bogs, swamps, and lowlands, without damaging the delicate plants or risking being sucked into eternal mummification beneath the mossy hummocks, dark standing water, and/or peat moss. We took a couple of side trails that are often too wet to walk, and once we reached the bog at the end of the trail, we were able to trek all through it, which is not possible or advisable at other times of the year.
Usually, you don’t get this view of the observation tower, taken from in the bog:
There was some animal fur in the bog snow:
Views around the bog in winter and in other seasons:
And as doors to the next world go, a bog ain’t a bad choice. It’s not quite water and it’s not quite land – it’s an in-between place.” ― Ransom Riggs, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
The downside to visiting in winter is that you can see only a few of the species common to this community: the Atlantic white cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides) of course, as well as red spruce (Picea rubens), black spruce (Picea mariana), balsam fir (Abies balsamea), eastern larch (Larix laricina), sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia), rhodora (Rhododendron canadense), some lichen. And of course, no butterflies or other insects were out.
And Rhodora in the spring:
And larches at other times:
Atlantic White Cedar:
And a non-snow shot of the trunks, with mosses:
Off the main swamp trail, I also found some stands of speckled alder (Alnus incana) growing, as well as winterberry (Ilex verticillata) and cherry birch (Betula lenta), and some polypore fungi on a white birch snag:
Cherry birch – the bark smells strongly of wintergreen!:
In other seasons, you might see (those in bold are pictured below) black huckleberry (Gaylussacia baccata), northern highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), three-seeded sedge (Carex trisperma), bluebead lily aka Clintonia (Clintonia borealis), creeping snowberry (Gaultheria hispidula), wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), bog rosemary (Andromeda polifolia), bog cotton (Eriophorum angustifolium or the tawny variety, E. virginicum ), pitcher plants (Sarracenia purpurea), pink lady slippers (Cypripedium acaule), painted trillum (Trillium undulatum), spotted wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata), star flower (Trientalis borealis), three-leaved goldthread (Coptis trifolia), Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) …
and many kinds of mosses, ferns, and fungi:
“In a swamp, as in meditation, you begin to glimpse how elusive, how inherently insubstantial, how fleeting our thoughts are, our identities. There is magic in this moist world, in how the mind lets go, slips into sleepy water, … how it seeps across dreams, smears them into the upright world, rots the wood of treasure chests, welcomes the body home.” ― Barbara Hurd, Stirring the Mud: On Swamps, Bogs, and Human Imagination
For More Info:
Inland White Cedar Swamp, Natural Communities of NH, at NH Division of Forests and Lands
Map and info at Ausbon Sargent Land Preservation Trust
The Ecology of Atlantic White Cedar Wetlands: A Community Profile, 1989 report of the Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Dept. of the Interior. 125 pp PDF
Atlantic white-cedar: Ecology and Best Management Practices Manual, by Kristin A. Mylecraine and George L. Zimmermann, Dept of Environmental Protection, New Jersey, 2000. 19 pp PDF.
As we acquire more knowledge, things do not become more comprehensible but more mysterious. – Albert Schweitzer, “Paris Notes”
Recently I’ve travelled in Savannah, GA, Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island, at the northern end of Florida, and Jekyll Island, GA. As I walked trails, Savannah’s city squares and botanical garden, and looked at plantings in yards and public spaces in these locales, I couldn’t help but notice again how different not only the vegetation along trails is from what I see in northern New England, but also how different are the plants in the created gardens.
This small succulent garden, on the corner of Jasmine and Fletcher streets in Fernandina Beach, across the road from the beach, was a favourite; the sign said it was installed by Rockstar Gardens (get it?).
Although the garden has an exotic, tropical appeal to me, some of the plants look not unlike the sedums and ice plants in my own garden, 1,200 miles away:
In Savannah, in some of the downtown squares as well as in the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens, I saw Giant Leopard Plant (Ligularia tussilaginea ‘Gigantea’), which is very similar to the Ligularia stenocephala ‘Little Rocket’ we plant in our gardens (some do; I haven’t) in New England.
This planter, on a street in Savannah, is more familiar than not:
The sage, rosemary, lavender, and (I think) thyme or oregano in these pots is similar to what’s in my herb container in NH — with rosemary, tarragon, and parsley — except that mine is now covered in snow:
As is the sage in my sunroom border:
On Bull Street in Savannah (and probably elsewhere in town) there are small plantings along the sidewalk that include edible plants and others — I think I see rosemary in the top photo here, and perhaps Brussels sprouts, though it’s probably ornamental cabbage; plus the lush foxtail fern, and penta, lantana, and ‘Diamond Frost’ euphorbia (in the bottom photo), all annuals here, the latter of which never seems to survive even a few weeks for me.
In the Jekyll Island historic district, there’s this planter with dead nettle (Lamium sp.), which is also perennial here in NH, and it looks like perhaps a heuchera or a tiarella, also perennials in NH (and tiarella grows wild):
My dead nettle and tiarella:
In the market/shops area of Jekyll Island, there are containers of neon, tropical plants, quite different from what’s normally seen here in northern New England even in summer as hothouse annuals, much less in December:
(IDs for two planters above are by someone else, not me!)
By contrast, here’s one of the containers at The Fells, in Newbury, NH, this past June, with coleus (an annual here) and dahlias, which have to be dug up, stored in a basement or other cool dark spot, and replanted each year; and by no means will they bloom outside in December:
Finally, in downtown Fernandina Beach, just before Christmas there were containers of tropical canna lilies, hardy in zones 8-12 but not in my zone 4 or 5:
Since I can’t have canna lilies in my climate, I’ve planted crocosmia bulbs, which are hardy here and provide a showy tropical display that attracts hummingbirds and butterflies for several months:
Just looking at these photos almost convinces me that spring is just around the corner. Almost.
(Featured image: ginger plants in Wright Square in Savannah, December 2016)
Go to the winter woods: listen there; look, watch, and ‘the dead months’ will give you a subtler secret than any you have yet found in the forest. ~ Fiona Macleod
True, not much blooms in December in northern New England (witch hazel is an exception), but there is still a lot to notice in the winter woods — and in the winter fields, streams, lakes, marshes, hillsides, town landscapes.
Some photos taken in the garden, on a walk in Concord NH, and at the nearby lake, from 1-10 December:
In the garden …
Pieris japonica by day and night (5 December) —
Animals on the motion camera —
Fox (2nd, 4th, and 6th Dec)
Deer (1st, 3rd, and 7th Dec)
Birds (mourning doves, blue jays, cardinals) and Squirrels (2nd, 5th, 6th, 7th Dec)
Other garden photos —
On the Winant Trails, Concord NH … 3rd December
At the lake …
Stump cairn (1st and 10th Dec) —
Water inflow (1st and 10th Dec) —
Other lake photos —
It was beginning winter.
An in-between time.
The landscape still partly brown:
The bones of weeds kept swinging in the wind,
Above the blue snow.
It was beginning winter.
The light moved slowly over the frozen field,
Over the dry seed-crowns,
The beautiful surviving bones
Swinging in the wind.
Light traveled over the wide field;
The weeds stopped swinging.
The wind moved, not alone,
Through the clear air, in the silence.
— “It Was Beginning Winter” by Theodore Roethke