Six on Saturday

13 January 2018


Weather:  Cloudy 16 C / 61 F (morning)  -7 C / 19 F (evening)

“If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a minute”

Mark Twain is credited with this accurate adage about the unpredictable weather in this part of the world. The weather does fluctuate… a lot.  That said, a 23 degree (C) / 42 degree (F) temperature swing in one day is very, very unusual.

After two days of record warmth and torrential rains, most of the snow that shrouded the trees, shrubs, and flowerbeds since Christmas melted away.  Unfortunately as with all January thaws, the temperate weather is fleeting and arctic weather will return by nightfall.  Thus, today’s warmth was a gift and I used the time to do the many chores that I neglected for weeks.

Here is my contribution to the Six on Saturday Project

ONE:  Prune the Wisteria


In talking to the neighbors and assessing the condition of the plantings, I estimate that it had been several years since the wisteria was pruned.  The wisteria had clearly been there for years and its vigorous growth had been thoughtfully trained up a pergola.  Unfortunately, that growth continued up and beyond-  high into my neighbors’ tree.  Moreover, there was no evidence of flowers, just leaves.  It had to be pruned and today I trimmed with abandon.

TWO:  Trim overhanging branches


There is evidence of an once thriving garden in the main flower bed, including some dead azalea bushes and some rusting plant hangers attached to a fence. Given the overgrown nature of the rest of the plot, most likely the dense shade eventually overtook that area of the bed and killed everything except the vinca vines beneath. As the ladder was already out for the pruning of other greenery, I took the opportunity to cut back a particularly poorly placed branch.

THREE:  Trim the Climbing Hydrangea


When we moved in, the climbing hydrangea DOMINATED the west side of the house, extending not only up, around, and into our fireplace, but also across the side of the house–damaging the wooden shingles with its aerial roots.

A few weeks back, the chimney sweep pulled down the vine to about 2.5m / 8 ft so that the fireplace could be safely used. He pulled it down in clumps, leaving ragged edges where the vine had been ripped away. Today I trimmed the edges of the shrub with the hopes that it will continue its climb up my chimney, albeit in a much more controlled manner.

FOUR:  Gather the fallen branches for removal



The absence of snow allowed me to pick up all the limbs that had fallen in the previous storms.  The pile is much too large for my Mini to bring to the municipal compost area, therefore I will have to call a landscaper to pick up the debris.

FIVE:  Turn the compost pile


My leaf mold (L) and compost pile (R) had thawed out enough to allow for good stir!  I hadn’t been able to do that for a week or so.

SIX:  Assess the rhododendron


The leaves have unfurled and the buds are beginning to swell.  In anticipation of a major pruning that will occur after it blooms, I took a good look at the structure to see where I should cut.

Those are my six for this Saturday!  Time to locate my winter gloves and hat…it’s getting chilly again!

The Six on Saturday project is inspired by The Propagator‘s fantastic garden blog.  I encourage readers to explore his site! 



Veg Bed Planning

8 January 2018

Weather:  Cloudy 2 C / 35 F

Given that I was pent up in the office for most of the day, I spent some time during my lunch break planning for the new veg bed.  In the space to the right of the driveway, I have room for six cedar beds.  Each bed will be 8 feet in length, 4 feet in width, and 16 inches high and would be spaced lengthwise, two by two by two.  Between the beds, there would be room for two feet all around-  enough to maneuver a wheelbarrow.

I’ve done some research as to how to prepare the bed and I am torn. The soil around here is pretty rocky, therefore I rather not till the soil.  Instead, I’d like to cover the weedy bed with a weed blocker prior to laying down the raised bed frames and filling them with compost.  Most veg will do fine in a bed 1-1 1/2 feet in depth (the only major exceptions are fruit trees and large carrots).

I’d like to keep things natural by laying down heavy cardboard to block the weeds.  Over time, the cardboard should break down.  However, I worry that the cardboard isn’t sufficient to block the weeds already in the bed from growing through the cardboard.   I could opt for a synthetic weed blocker that would definitely take care of the job– however that is far from earth friendly.  As I wont be taking on this job for at least two more months, I’m open to suggestions!

The final math problem I tackled was how many yards of compost I would need to be delivered.  By my calculations– six.

Next steps-  I’d like to obtain estimates on chopping down those two trees by the end of January.  Design the beds and order seeds by early February.  Cut trees and install beds by the end of March (weather permitting– sometimes there is still snow on the ground in late March!).  Let’s hope I can keep to this timeline!






Back to Work

7 January 2018

Weather:  Sunny -10 C / 14 F

Today is the last day of my extended vacation.  The students are returning a week from Tuesday and this week will be spent preparing for their return.  As such, this will be a true test of this blog.  My goal is to post every day, partly to record the weather and condition of the garden and partly to give me an opportunity to reflect upon garden-related tasks and to solicit advice.  It will be a busy week, therefore it will be an interesting test of my resolve.

The weather is still brutal cold, therefore I did not accomplish much in the garden.  I did take the opportunity to survey the two rhododendrons in the front of the house.  I’m not a fan of rhododendrons.  My neighbor had them growing up and I found them to be cold and uninviting plants.  Alas, with so much to do in the garden, they both will continue… for now.

The small one (pictured below) is about 1 m / 3 feet high and sits to the left of my rarely used front door. Given that all the plantings under the front windows are uninspiring, it will eventually be removed. However, I will take on that task perhaps in the summer of 2019– there is simply too much to do in other parts of the garden!

The large one to the right of the door, however, is a problem.  At 4 m /13-14 ft high, it is a monster!  It completely blocks almost all sunlight from streaming into the living room.  Looking at it today, its stems are almost tree like and will take some effort to prune. From what I’ve read, they can sustain a severe pruning, therefore I will wait until it flowers in the spring before I cut it back to no larger than 2 m/ 6 ft high.  My only fear is that in doing so all the green will be trimmed, leaving only stem.

In a rhododendron-related note, I had the fortune to come across the Breaking Ground in New England blog that focuses on gardening in this neck of the woods.  Apparently, New Hampshire locals can tell the temperature by how curled Rhododendron leaves get.  If they are in a super tight curl (as pictured below), it means that it is below -7 C / 20 F.  With each degree above  -7 C / 20 F, the leaves will open proportionally. Interesting!


With the weather expected to rise above freezing this week for the first time since Christmas, I hope to see that phenomenon in action.  Expected highs are expected to be 10 C / 50 F by Friday-  those leaves should be open!

Six on Saturday

6 January 2018

Weather:  Sunny -13 C / 9 F

I have been delving deep into gardening blogs.  Although there are some fantastic blogs here in the United States, the number and variety of gardening-related blogs emanating out of the UK is breathtaking.  I came across The Propagator‘s blog while on Twitter and am excited to contribute to the Six on Saturday project.  Here goes-  six garden related things that I’m doing now.

ONE-  Assess storm damage


It has been an unusually brutal winter in these parts.  The last time it made it above 0 C / 32 F was Christmas Day.  On top of the cold weather, we had a very damaging ice storm just prior to Christmas and a major snowstorm just two days ago.

The ice storm had caused a number of boughs to break off of the very large white pines in the front garden.  A few branches had been dangling precariously from a maple tree until a wind storm whipped through early this morning.  Around 4:00 AM, I was awakened by some cracking outside.  It turns out that all but one branch was knocked to the ground.

TWO-  Refill bird feeders


The brutal winter has been tough on the area birds.  I have two bird feeders, however because of the snow, I was only able to top off one of them.  The other is located above a snowbank approximately .6 meter / 2 feet high.  Thankfully the second has enough food to last through the anticipated thaw (late next week).

THREE-  Measure for a planned veg bed



I moved into this house relatively recently (late summer/early autumn 2017) and now that the interior is largely settled, I can focus on the garden.  The house is situated at an angle on a corner lot and the path of the sun cuts on the diagonal.  Unfortunately, this means that the sunniest part of the lot is my driveway.

To the right of the driveway is a plot of land that is largely unused.  When we first moved in, it was very overgrown. In addition to two smallish pine trees ( 4.5-6 m / 15-20 ft) that shade the spot, there are handful of tall phlox perennials that poked through mostly weeds and scrub.

Once the snow melts (March?) I will have the two pines removed and use the spot for a veg plot.  During the growing season, the spot gets about 8 hours of direct sun and then partial shade until sunset- the best I am going to get.  I have decided on a raised bed format and will spend the next few weeks planning its layout.  Because of the snow, I had to be satisfied with simply taking measurements.  9 x 3.5 m (31.5 sq m) or 30 x 12 feet (360 sq. ft).  Not bad!

FOUR-  Care for my amaryllis


My poor amaryllis.  I received one for Christmas and have spent the last few weeks moving it around the house chasing down the sun.  Morning it is in the kitchen, midday in the living room, early evening in the family room.  There is one little leaf beginning to emerge.

FIVE-  Order plants/seed


The first of my seed catalogs arrived this week and I will spend time assessing my needs this year.  I have a number of beds, however priority will most likely be given to the Kitchen Bed (to the right of my kitchen door) and the new Veg Bed.

SIX-  Reread Down to Earth


I love Monty Don.  LOVE.  Whenever I feel overwhelmed by this brutal weather, I reach out to one of my Monty Don books for inspiration.  Spring will come… someday 😉

That’s all!   I hope to have more outdoor photos next week.  It is supposed to climb to 10 C / 50 F!

The Calm after the Storm

5 January 2018

Weather:  Sunny -9 C / 15 F



Ooh… I ache.  Especially my arms and my back.  The ‘bombogenesis’ storm mostly lived up to its billing.  By 8pm, about 35 cm / 14 in of snow had fallen.  We went out to shovel three times (2pm, 4 pm, and 7pm) trying to keep up with the snow and to counter the efforts of the municipal plow who succeeded in blocking us in with every pass down our road.  We spent a total of 6-7 hours outside, frantically trying to clean up the snow before the brutal Arctic chill returned.



While the winds were (and still are) significant, we emerged here relatively unscathed.  The same cannot be said for a number of my friends residing along the coast.  The winds and astronomically higher tides caused the Atlantic to breach the seawall, flooding the roads, backyards, and in some cases cellars.

The fallen branches are still perched precariously on the limbs of the craggy maple.  With strong winds predicted into tonight, I hope that if they do fall, they land without damaging anything.

My only accomplishment garden-wise is that a number of seed-catalogs came in!  Lots of entertainment in the frigid days ahead.




4 January 2018

Weather:  Snow 7 C / 30 F


The winter of my discontent continues.  Apparently rare in the weather world, bombogenesis is a weather ‘bomb’ and occurs when a low pressure system intensifies rapidly.  This had crept up the coast overnight and was in full swing when I awoke this morning.  Snow is falling fast with more to come.  A total of 30 cm / 12 inches is predicted by the time this wraps up.

The snow is not really the problem however.  As my pictures may have revealed, snow is a fairly common occurrence in these parts in a typical winter and 30 cm/12 inches is considered a ‘medium’ sized storm. The problem with this particular storm is the wind-  50-60 mph gusts are expected.   Remember those fallen pine limbs from late December?  Most of those are still hung up in the craggy maple, yet to drop.  I’m afraid that they will become projectiles.

Fingers crossed.



Birds of a Feather

3 January 2018

Weather:  Mostly Sunny -1 C / 30 F


It’s time to clean the windows.

It is downright balmy here with the weather just missing the 0 C/ 32 F mark.  I took advantage of the warmer weather to fill the bird feeders.  I have two feeders-  a small tube feeder filled with nyjer seeds and a large tube feeder filled with sunflower chips and other wild bird food.  It is not unusual to see black-capped chickadees, goldfinches, sparrows, redpolls, juncos, and titmouses (titmice?) at the feeders.  Since the brutal cold weather snap started, downy woodpeckers and cardinals have also become frequent visitors.  A flock of robins swarmed in a few days back and ate the last of the berries on the winterberry tree.  I think I will set out some fruit in the hopes of seeing them again.