The ground all mucked up with plants

“Every year, back comes Spring, with nasty little birds yapping their fool heads off and the ground all mucked up with plants.” — Dorothy Parker

We’re getting fairly mucked up here (click on photos for larger image and description):

Make Hay While the Sun Shines – Part II

I reported earlier on my afternoon of planting hazelnut and elderberry shrubs, blue vervain and asclepias, and lupine, plus transplanting lemon balm and anise hyssop.

The other task I wanted to complete this past week was to build the vegetable garden, now that the combined compost and loam — with plenty o’ worms! — was delivered and I was able to accumulate enough newspaper and cardboard to complete the project. The weather Thursday was ideal, a high of 68F and mostly sunny, so I got started.  Four hours later, I was finished (my lower back was very finished) and the bed — with a depth of at least 4″ of dirt, on top of grass-and-weed-smothering newspaper and cardboard —  is ready to plant with any annual flowers, herbs, and veggies that aren’t root veggies or asparagus.

Today my spouse built a fence around the vegetable garden of bamboo poles (found in the garage of this house when we moved in in 2009) and fishing line. We are hoping to deter deer (because).

Below are the chronological photos of my sheet-mulching, starting with cardboard, then newspaper, then a mixture of loam and compost on top of that; plus the hopefully deer-resistant fence and a contraption to keep the “Crimson Passion” dwarf cherry safe from nibblers.

[Reminder: click on photos to enlarge them.]



Motion camera

Spouse gave me a motion camera for our anniversary this year, in March, and it’s been great fun to see  what animals are in our yard, and when. It takes photos at night, too, though they are very grainy; and the parade of raccoons, possums, deer and bear this spring, while not surprising (we knew they were here) is interesting to see and verifies what we suspected.  We knew we were on a deer path but didn’t know the various times the deer visited, and the same with the bears, nor that there are at least three bears that visit together. On the other hand, we didn’t have any idea how often a certain black cat visited before this, or that it sometimes sits in the apple tree that the birds like or stations itself at the chipmunk hole.

For me, the camera is another opportunity to “observe and interact.” Based on observations, we will be adding a fence around the new side yard garden in an effort to deter the deer that pass by it regularly. If we still had a dog, we would not let her out in the yard at night unattended for even a minute, knowing the bears, raccoons, and probably skunk (some small animals are too blurry to identify as yet) roam there as early as 8 p.m.

Here are a few of the photos; click to enlarge.

1. RACCOONS, early morning 9 and 10 April

2. DEER, early morning 12 and 13 April, 12:30 a.m. and 7 a.m. 15 April, 3:15 a.m. 18 April, and 1:30 a.m. 23 April

3. FOX (3:40 .m. 21 April), POSSUM (12 midnight, 6 May), SQUIRREL (morning, 19 April)

4. CATS: black cat, 9:30 a.m. 17 April (and many other times); ginger cat: 6 a.m. 24 April

5. BEARS, 8 p.m. 20 April, 9:30 p.m. 24 April, and 10:30 p.m. 9 May

Make Hay While the Sun Shines – Part I

<> Spoiler: No hay was actually made.  No irons actually struck. <>

shrubs for sale at Foundwell Farm
shrubs for sale, Foundwell Farm

The last two days were in the 60s and clear, a rarity so far this spring. Having  bought a few plants on Wednesday during a nursery field trip (more photos coming soon), I had some planting to do (this post), and a compost and loam delivery on Tuesday meant I could also make the vegetable garden bed (the next post). Reminder: click on photos to enlarge them.

My first planting task on Wednesday afternoon was to discover where on the property I could fit two hazelnut shrubs (Corylus americana), which can get 15 fewherelemonbalmpeachguild9May2014et high and 12 feet wide. I walked around and mulled this for a while, then procrastinated by weeding the entire peach guild (which really needs to be sheet-mulched, as it tends to a strange weediness — weeds I see nowhere else in the yard), digging up a large lemon balm plant (Melissa officinalis, which seeds like a weed, and for which there  exists a 43-page PDF!) and three anise hyssops (Agastache foeniculum, which seed like weeds) to move to new locations.

In fact, I was planning to plant one hazelnut next to where the anise hyssops were, and to that end started whacking recklessly into the ground with my pick axe. But I kept hitting a rock. I couldn’t hoist it. Eventually, I put down the pick axe and used my hands to remove the rock. Which wasn’t a rock — but the septic system pipe. electricalconduitpeachguild9May2014I checked to make sure I hadn’t punctured it, lying on the ground to smell for anything unpleasantly odoriferous, feeling and looking for moisture.  Seemed OK, so I covered it back up and put a bunch of small stones on it all to remind myself not to do that again.

Back to wondering where the hazelnuts would go. Still no idea. Wandered around the yard again. While I considered, I replanted the lemon balm into the new sideyard perennial bed, replanted two anise hyssops into a nearby border (one either side of a rose I inherited with the yard), and the other one in a different place in the peach guild, not far from when I removed it.

Then I planted the new elderberry (Sambucus nigra) with the other two in the sideyard bed;  the two new asclepias (butterfly weed … not sure which kind, though I suspect the orange-flowered Asclepias tuberosa) near the two I already had (which are pink-flowered swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata), in the peach guild (monarch hosts; they also attract green aphids … not good …, which in turn attract tiny little wasps and ladybugs); and the two new blue vervain plants (Verbena hastata), all of which I’d bought in the morning. The vervain should reach about 2-3 feet tall, with blue flowers that attract butterflies and bees. They like moist, even wet soil, but they don’t need it, and they like full sun, which they should get in their chosen spot (and — my motto:  if they aren’t happy here, I can always move them to a new spot).

sixlupinesinfrontbed9May2014Finally, I planted the 6 new lupine into the front yard bed, which took about two minutes for all six, they’re so small.

And then spouse came home. I met him at the car with the words all spouses love to hear, “I have a few issues.” (He was no doubt thinking, “Only a few??”)

First I showed him the septic pipe near-fiasco, and it turns out that that PVC conduit is actually what holds the electrical connections to the shed. Buried only 6-8″ deep, which is a bit shallow, but, still, whew.

Then we wrestled with the puzzle of the hazelnuts, walking around the yard, my third circumambulation on the same quest. Spouse suggested spaces just off the rock wall that serves as a property boundary, which I had discounted, thinking he would not want to mow around more shrubs there; there are already a tulip poplar tree, an apple tree, a dogwood, a euonymus and a small birch tree in the lawn that he has to dodge (since they can’t dodge the mower),  But by planting the hazelnuts near the rock wall beds and sheet-mulching them advantageously, they shouldn’t pose any obstacle. Out came the pick axe again and in went the hazelnuts, easier to plant than removing and transplanting the lemon balm had been.


Then it was time for a rest. And to admire this orange-belted bumblebee (Bombus ternarius) that was also resting, in the peach guild, while a robin serenaded us both for the better part of an hour.

‘Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers.’ – Ray Bradbury


Restorative Design

Halifax (Nova Scotia) Garden Network has put together (from a talk) a one-page description of permaculture principles, practices, patterns, and plants that I think is an excellent introduction for those unfamiliar with the idea of permaculture and a very handy reminder for those attempting to put it all into practice, whether in the garden, the community, or personally.

forestgardendesignMay2014Whether you’re looking for “a new commons,” “landscapes that can be art” (yes, please!), greater resilience in terms of the food and other necessary products that you and your community can produce, spiritual or practical personal and community regeneration and restoration, a way to garden more in tune with natural patterns, a way to align your actions more with your values, plants and planting designs to attract and nurture pollinators, or simply want to stop “resisting the forest” (while still eating locally),  permaculture is a powerful means, as this article briefly

A few excerpts that speak to me particularly:

“We need to get to sustainable design, but even more than that, we also need to do restorative design.  We need to restore health in ourselves and in the landscape.  Permaculture is a design methodology working to that end.”

“Permaculture focuses on relations — the relative locations of things, adjacencies and mash-ups.”

“Permaculture is a kind of post-modern gardening calling for regenerative design.  It is trying to design so that we live in a way that has the stability and resilience of natural ecosystems.  It has to be both socially and ecologically regenerative.”





coltsfoot in bloom, Kezar Lake, Sutton NH, May 2014
coltsfoot in bloom, Kezar Lake, Sutton NH, May 2014
coltsfoot in bloom, Kezar Lake, Sutton NH, May 2014

Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) is an early spring bloomer that many people mistake for dandelions, although it blooms before dandelions bloom, and if you look at it closely, you’ll see that the flowers, while similar in colour and shape, are different, and that there are no leaves at all showing on the plant right now. Soon there will be large leaves that look nothing like a dandelion’s.  (In fact, the leaves are said to resemble a colt’s foot. I guess I don’t know enough about what a colt’s foot looks like, because I would not have thought of that comparison.)

It commonly grows near wet places, like rivers, lakes, ponds, swamps, marshes, and fens, as well as in mixed-hardwood riparian floodplains. I’ve seen it in numerous places in New Hampshire and Maine, including alongside roads, on the edge of woods, and next to creeks and swampy areas. It probably wouldn’t be found in a predominantly pine forest,  as it prefers neutral to strongly alkaline soil.  In northern New England, it generally is up by mid-April and the blooms persist until some time in June.

closer look: coltsfoot in bloom
closer look: coltsfoot in bloom

It’s a plant I have had in a past garden — in the wettest part of the yard — but not in this current garden (yet). In fact, in that garden, on the coast of Maine, I spent many an hour removing them, thinking it was a weed. And of course, it is a weed but I would think twice about expunging it now, even though it is not native to the U.S. and is considered by some to be an invasive species.

For one thing, it’s a honeybee host (one of the few at this time of year, as Mary Holland notes) as well as a nectar source for some adult butterflies, like the American Copper. It also provides food for hoverflies (Syrphidae), flies (Diptera), and beetles (Coleoptera). It has medicinal properties — “it contains mucilage, bitter glycosides, and tannins; it is these that are thought to give the herb anti-inflammatory and antitussive (cough prevention and treatment) properties” — though it may also cause liver damage (especially) in infants) due to two rather potent alkaloids, senecionine and senkirkine.


coltsfoot leaves, Wolf tree Trail, New London, NH, Nov 2011
coltsfoot leaves, Wolf tree Trail, New London, NH, Nov 2011

Edible Wild Foods (also quoted above) says that “Coltsfoot flowers can be eaten. They can be tossed into salads to add a wonderful aromatic flavour; or fill a jar with the flowers and add honey to make a remedy to help calm a cough or to sweeten a bitter herbal tea. Dried flowers can be dried and chopped up so that they can be added to pancakes, fritters, etc. Young leaves can be added to soups or strews and small quantities of fresh young leaves can be used in salads. The leaves have a bitter taste unless they are washed after being boiled. An aromatic tea is made from the fresh or dried leaves and flowers. The dried and burnt leaves are used as a salt substitute.”

Note: Don’t confuse this coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) with another plant called sweet coltsfoot (Petasites frigidus).

More on coltsfoot

Wikipedia entry on coltsfoot

Plants For A Future database: Coltsfoot

YouTube video on identifying the coltsfoot plant from the leaves, up close and personal

A Modern Herbal: Coltsfoot

Slow Spring Here

chive bud, 5 May 2014

It’s been chilly and rainy here during April and so far into May, retarding growth and delaying bloom. Nothing stopped the hellebore, but it sure slowed down the daffs and other bulbs, plus meant a slow emergence for some perennials. Here’s what we have so far (click on photo for more info):



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