Well, we got the rain...... And plenty of it. Fortunately
our sandy soil drains well so we rarely have to worry about
plants washing out. The weeds, of course, look just great
- we have knee-high dandilions, and plantain and mullein
leaves the size of dinner plates.
In the greenhouse the tomatoes and peppers are longing to
see the sun. They're fine, just small and stout....waiting
for the sun's warmth and brightness to grow. All the annual
flowers are up - Soraya, Lemon Queen and Teddy Bear sunflowers,
my favorite zinnias and five kinds of nasturtiums, as well
as ageratum, scabiosa, calendula and cosmos. The basils have
shown their color but have barely cracked the surface and
ventured out of the soil, waiting, like the peppers, for
a brighter and warmer day. If there's a letup in the showers
today I'll transplant some of the verbena into our entry
garden and move some delphinium and gloriosa daisies around
I think every strawberry we transplanted has taken hold
and they're leafing out beautifully in the steady rain. We
just put in about 225 plants this year, mostly Sparkles,
my favorite for preserves. The 2004 planting, which we'll
harvest for the second year in June, came back beautifully.
The beds are full of healthy plants that are just beginning
to blossom now.
Our new elderberry planting is lovely - a crescent shaped
bed that half-circles our lower pond. I'm really looking
forward to experiment with making elderberry preserves -
I also know full well that the birds will identify this planting
as their own and that I'll be competing with the master berry-pickers
when it comes to harvest.
Speaking of birds and fruit, they'll be happier than ever
next month when the sweet cherries ripen. I've never seen
as many as are on our two trees, an Ulster and an Emperor
Francis. I gave up hope of ever recovering more than a handful
of cherries long ago, ceding the whole harvest to the birds.
We cover the blueberry and red currant plantings with netting
to thwart the birds but there's no way to cover 30' cherry
The currants are blossoming and some have even set fruit
already. The blueberries are still coming out slowly. They
seem pretty sparse to me. Last year was such a heavy harvest
that it may be that this is an off year for them. We'll have
The oldest of the summer bearing raspberries look weaker
than I would have expected after such a mild winter - but
they are 17 years old after all.....We've gone back and forth
on taking out this planting and have now decided to take
out the lowest row this year so we can begin the process
of building it back up for use in a future year. (These three
old rows are 120' long each so removing the old canes is
a big job and we can really only handle one row at a time.)
Three years ago we removed our original raspberry rows and
reconfigured the top of the slope. The new plantings there
look excellent so I'm confident we'll have plenty of berries
for summer picking, just not a wild year like last year.
The Autumn bearing Heritage berries (who get pruned completely
to the ground) are shooting up new growth with great vigor
in the rain. My main job here will be to ensure that weeds
don't get a foothold. Stinging nettles and lambsquarters
both threaten but bindweed could pull down everything in
this ten year-old planting.
The Damson Plums all blossomed to some degree this season
and I'm confident that we'll see fruit even though pollination
had to have been diminished by the cloudy, rainy weather
that discourages bee flight. The French Damson ("Renee")
appears to be loaded with fruit yet again and I don't see
how she does it. Perched on the point, facing southwest,
and with borer damage to her trunk that makes it look as
though she'd dancing, she put on beautiful crop of dark blue
plums last year. I would expect her to simply withdraw and
produce foliage this year but she was covered with so many
blossoms I'm sure she'll carry a fruit load again this season.
The two oldest "Shropshire Damsons" also appear
to have set a fair amount of fruit, and many of the younger, "Blue
Damsons" as well.
All but one of the three and four year old Seckel Pears
have set fruit so I hope I have some to experiment with.
(I did pick pears last year, but couldn't do much with just
The Teddy Berry Blackberries are still filling out, but
I think I can predict a crop this year. It looks like buds
are beginning to form on canes in most of the rows. These
guys have bedeviled me since we planted them - an unidentified
variety that we had discovered in an abandoned orchard about
30 miles from here. Although they produce heavily in their
original habitat, they have been weak here, probably because
our site is appreciably colder. Since this past winter was
more typical for Virginia than New Hampshire, I am hopeful.
I had a fascinating interaction when I was pruning the blackberries.
This is a tough job because of the dastardly thorns but I
was happily working away, thinking of my dear Teddy as I
was pruning the berries he had discovered when two very fat
garter snakes came toward me. I was surprised because they
usually run away from me and I waved my red loppers at them
to send them back. They kept coming at me so rather than
argue I picked up an armload of cane prunings and carried
them away to the burn pile. As I returned to my work, two
more fat garter snakes came at me from the same direction
(or the first two, again?) then another, then another, then
another. All in all, seven fat garter snakes crossed my path
in about ten minutes (or maybe five, if the first pair returned,
then turned around again). I'd ask a psychic what it all
means but I'm kind of afraid to find out.
Oh, the Birds!
Gainesborough the bluebird is back, although I don't know
where the family is nesting. Rose-breasted grosbeaks are
having a fine time spinning around on the gazebo-shaped feeder.
Orchard orioles and a Baltimore oriole are all around and
the towhees are visiting. Red-winged blackbirds also visit
often and of course, the robins and cardinals and chickadees,
titmouses, and finches are all around. In the woods the thrushes
thrill us with their calling. The phoebes that kept Teddy
company on his last nights are nesting atop a vent on the
porch. (We've stopped using that entrance.) Another phoebe
family is residing in one of Ralph's temporary buildings
housing the building materials salvaged from the old house
The new three-acre pond built for us by the beavers attracts
more ducks than we've ever had here and even a great blue
heron has stopped by. Our larger pond is filled with frogs
and polliwogs (isn't that a great word!?!?!) and all the
accompanying insects that flourish in ponds. I was mesmerized
watching it all yesterday during a sunny break. The pond
surface sparkled with insect life and I saw my first dragonfly
of the year - "old clubtail" we call him.......
In the Woods
"Pride goeth before the fall".......Well, I didn't
actually fall off the ridge.....but scampering down the steep
slope all winter long did wreak havoc on my knee. When I
lost 40 pounds three years ago I mistakenly thought I had
lost 40 years as well. I didn't realize that even though
I felt like a spunky twelve-year-old again flying through
the woods, my knees were appreciably older. Something crackled,
snapped and popped and everything shifted to the left and
I've been trying to heal now since February. Consequently,
my woods walks are shorter because the steep slopes are especially
difficult. Rosie and I still walk everyday and she manages
to flush turkeys and birds regularly but I haven't been deep
enough into the woods to see signs of wilder animals. The
trail at the school in Northfield makes a good workout for
us because it's not as rugged and she finds the sniffs of
other canines intriguing.
The rain stopped and I've begun to recapture the perennial
beds from the weeds. Ralph has been catching up on the mowing
which makes the birds sooo happy as legions of insects take
flight. I still can't imagine planting next weekend - Memorial
Day - but maybe things will warm up between then and now.
Rosie has sat patiently with me as I finished this letter
but I sense that she's getting anxious to stretch her legs
and so am I. She's had some visits from doggie friends Emma
and Dark Star which were fun, and had a great time playing
with Riley Bear at Dancing Bear Farm. Both Rose and Auggie
the Kitty are missing the old boy who was such a part of
their lives. We're not quite ready yet to look for a big
baby boy pup to join the family, but pretty soon. Until then,
I've got a ton of planting to do!