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Books and Bee Balm

I grew up in a rural town in Western Massachusetts, where a large patch of bee balm featured prominently in our garden each summer. One day an elderly couple, complete strangers, stopped their car to ask my father what the fiery red blooms in the garden were.

“It’s bee balm, a perennial. Would you like some?”

He dug up a clump for the pair to take to their summer home at the edge of town.

A few days later, the couple reappeared with a box of children’s books. They were retired teachers, who had noticed my siblings and me playing in the yard.

“We have collected so many books over the years, and since we are retired, we don’t need them. Would your children like some?” they asked my father.

That summer, and for many summers thereafter, the couple brought boxes of books of a variety of genres. Some were almost new; some were gently worn. Each box was a thoughtful gift.

The sight of bee balm might bring thoughts of insects, bright flower petals in a salad, or perhaps herbal tea to most people.

But me? I simply think of books.

Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds are especially attracted to bee balm, which is a member of the mint family. Monarda, bergamot, horsemint, and oswego tea are other names for this plant. It has many uses, being found in everything form skin salves to digestive teas to salad toppers.
Bee balm getting ready to bloom.
The blooming time for bee balm is July through late summer. Cutting back the blooms as they finish flowering will encourage regrowth and extend the blooming period.
A Silver Spotted Skipper butterfly visits.
Although bee balm likes sun, it tolerates partial shade, as shown here growing in a mix of ferns and Queen Anne’s Lace.
Vigorous bursts of bee balm contrast with the calm of the apple tree in my yard. Time to sit in the shade and enjoy a book!

A Colonial Style Summer

A walk through the small historic district of Holden, MA allows time to view many details of colonial architecture and landscaping.

This home in the historic district of Holden, MA, displays the simple beauty of early American design and decoration. Lilies, phlox and daisies, traditional New England perennials, become the “front lawn”. No mowing needed.
The rest of the “lawn” is dominated by common ferns. Look closely to the left of the door. A golden colored “guard” is on duty there.
Door guards such as this one have been popular in China for centuries. This might be a representation of a lion, dragon or dog. Although I was unable to find direct links from this style of ceramics to early America, The Boston Tea Party Ship and Museum notes that: In 1741, ships belonging to the British, Danish, French, and Swedish brought a total of 1,200,000 pieces of Chinese porcelain into the European ports. A good portion of those pieces ended up in the fine homes of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston. I welcome comments if you have expertise in this area!
A recent trend in primitive decorating is the use of gourds. Here, eye-catching Italian gourds (or possibly small snake gourds) hang on the side door underneath panes of traditional bull’s eye glass. The five-pointed star atop the door was a symbol of good luck in colonial America. A side lantern in colonial style utilizes faux candles.
The smaller golden guard of the side door sits next to a pot of basil. Basil was brought to the New World in the 1620s. Along with flavoring food, it was used as a strewing herb. Additionally, the leaves were dried for use in snuff to relieve headaches and colds.
Whitewashed picket fences were popular in colonial days. These fences were expensive and harder to maintain than plain wooden fences, so they became a symbol of prosperity.
This rooster weather vane, with its tail perfectly shaped to catch the wind, stands proudly atop the house. Weather vanes were popular in colonial times, but were first used centuries before this era.

Yellow Celebration

A coat of paint on one small structure can sometimes uplift a whole yard.

A coat of paint on one small structure can often uplift a a whole yard.
A fresh coat of yellow paint on the backyard hut led me to consider the many shades of yellow vegetation to be found throughout the yard.
A coat of paint on one single structure can sometimes change a whole area.
The yellow stair rail extends the color theme. Queen Anne’s lace, orange daylilies, and red bee balm pop out against the bright backdrop with white accents.
Queen Anne’s lace seems to float on a yellow wall.
A lemon yellow daylily remains vibrant after yet another shower.
Erin Lea lilies show ruffled yellow petals tinged with brown.
Stella d’Oro daylilies, white yarrow and rose campion contrast with the cobalt blue birdbath.
Amber and gold-toned calendulas are companion plants throughout the vegetable gardens.
The blue chair lends a “primary colors” touch to this area.
Erin Lea daylily.
Purple D’Oro lily with a buttery yellow center.
Pineapple yellow non-stop begonia with blue hydrangea in the background.
One final touch: a mint green ladder hung on the back wall lightens up the shady side of the hut, and provides a year round color contrast.

Stopover

Summer friends.

Whether these birds perched on bird feeders, fence posts, tree branches, or telephone wires, I’m glad they paused long enough for me to snap a photo during the past two weeks.

Baltimore Oriole
Eastern Bluebird
Eastern Phoebe
European Starling
Gray Catbird
American Goldfinch
Cedar Waxwing
House Sparrow
American Robin
Off to the open skies once more.

Rainy Day Vegetable Blossoms

The various blooms popping up in the vegetable gardens are an appealing sight, especially during wet and gray weather.

Scarlet Emperor Beans
Green Peppers
Eggplant
Calendula (The whole flower is edible.)
Yukon Gold Potato
Green Zebra Tomato
Trailing Nasturtium (Flowers are edible.)
Summer Squash

Wachusett Meadow

A meadow is an area with shallow ground water that allows grasses and wildflowers to flourish. Meadows support a wide range flora and fauna that could not thrive in other habitats, including flowers for native bees and other pollinators.

A recent ramble through this habitat at Mass Audubon’s Wachusett Meadow enabled me to study and appreciate the flowers and grasses up close. In turn, three common meadow creatures kept an eye on me as I walked.

Eastern Bluebird
Common Purple Vetch and Other Meadow Grasses
Wild Turkey

Red-winged Blackbird
Common Milkweed

For more information visit: https://www.massaudubon.org/get-outdoors/wildlife-sanctuaries/wachusett-meadow

To learn more about meadow habitats, visit http://www.magnificentmeadows.org.uk/conserve-restore/importance-of-meadows

All Are Welcome

It’s turkey time at the Wachusett Meadow Audubon in Princeton, MA.

Wachusett Meadow Audubon Sanctuary
A group of thirteen baby turkeys, also called poults, strolled with their mother last evening at the Wachusett Meadow Audubon. Starting at the visitors’ entrance, they ambled across the front porch and over the lawn. Their destination? Bird feeders with fallen seeds underneath.

A Home For All Seasons

A beaver lodge is built for any kind of weather.

A summer evening is the best time to view beavers cruising the Wildlife Pond at Wachusett Meadow Audubon, but the beaver lodge at one corner of the pond is picturesque in all seasons. Canada geese are especially attracted to this home on the water.
Lodge in Summer
Fall
Winter
Spring

Orange You Glad…

An extravaganza of orange.

…that there are easy to grow flowers?
I planted Pacific Beauty Calendula seeds in early April, and they survived a Spring snowstorm.
Orange Ton Asiatic Lily
The Asiatic Lilies started as one plant a few years back, and expand every year without my help.
Common or Orange Daylily
Just to to stop those orange daylilies!

A Regal Visit

This stately Ringed-neck Pheasant dramatically paused on a high stone wall for a few moments. His flamboyant red face mask and iridescent blue neck feathers were clasped by a white neck ring. Completing this regal couture was a train of extravagantly long golden brown tail feathers edged with dark brown bars. After posing gracefully over the rocks, he exited with dignity into the nearby meadow.
I hereby name him, “The Posh Prince”.

Ringed-neck Pheasant, Wachusett Meadow Audubon, Princeton, MA

Peony Present

My neighbor, a fellow plant enthusiast, appeared in my garden yesterday with this gorgeous peony bouquet. What an exquisite gift for me and my garden!

During the pandemic, neighbors have been walking by my yard more frequently than in years past. This has offered us all opportunities for friendly chats and shared interests, making the year much more pleasurable.

Nature’s Stitchwork

The Mountain Laurel is native to the eastern United States, and was first recorded in America in 1624.

Mountain Laurel is in full bloom in Massachusetts this week.
Cup-shaped buds open up to display tiny blossoms. These blossoms are sometimes said to look like miniature origami rice bowls .
Each blossom has five fused petals that surround ten stamens. Each stamen looks like a tiny half-pulled stitch.
The leaves are evergreen, providing year-round interest to the New England landscape.
The purple tones of a nearby rhododendron contrast with the pinkish laurel blossoms.
Mountain Laurels usually live for fifty to seventy-five years. Happily, this laurel in my yard is at least seventy years old, and is still going strong.

Painted (Turtle) Portraits

The Painted Turtle, common throughout Massachusetts, spends up to six hours a day basking in the sun. This turtle was doing just that at Wachusett Meadow Audubon’s Farm Pond in Princeton, MA.

This photo study includes side and straight-on views, close-up and long views, and some images that include the turtle’s vivid reflection in the water.

The turtle dipped off the log at the sound of hikers.
A close-up of some water lilies nearby.
This pond was man-made for the use of farmers when these acres were part of a large dairy farm.

A Yard For People and Rabbits

Rabbits visit my gardens each Summer. This is how we co-exist.

I expect the rabbits to appear in my yard for “Summer Vacation” any day now.
High raised beds keep the bunnies out of the Spring greens. However, they are welcome to all the lawn clover they desire.
New fencing around the pole beans and squash means the beans are off-limits to rabbits this year, as well. Sometimes they pick at the hostas nearby, and that is acceptable to me.
Tall pots encase my favorite red-blossomed Scarlet Emperor beans. The wild bleeding hearts next to the pots are plentiful, though.
Removable fencing keeps the largest vegetable bed protected, but with easy access for me.
Grow bags keep the Yukon Gold and Early Red potatoes safe. However, the clover and wild daisies left in between the bags are available for munching.
Wild strawberries are everywhere in the yard. The rabbits can eat their fill!
The cold frame provides great protection from both weather and critters in three seasons.
Kale is safe in a small enclosed garden on the edge of the woods.
Time to get some fencing around this cucumber and nasturtium tripod. If you have heard that rabbits don’t like nasturtium, don’t believe it!
The rabbits have ignored the tomatoes in previous years. Plenty of Solomon’s Seal nearby to eat instead.
Garlic has not caught the rabbit’s fancy, either. But will they go for the lettuce purposely planted among it? Stay tuned…
Hopefully, this blue bucket will protect the eggplant. Wild Strawberry is nearby as an alternate selection.
Thank goodness the blueberry bush is out of reach! Alas, the birds are drawn to it like magnets.
A restful area for both people and critters.
One final touch added after the garden is planted.
Wishing you wonderful times outdoors this season!

Ancient Irises

Iris means “rainbow” in Greek.

In Greek mythology, the goddess Iris carried messages from heaven to earth on the arc of the rainbow. Beautiful flowers appeared wherever she set foot on the ground.

Irises in a rainbow of colors are blooming in my garden this week!

The Queen of Shrubs

The easy-to-grow and fragrant lilac was brought from Europe to New England by the early colonists. Today this “Queen of Shrubs” is ubiquitous in Massachusetts.

Better Homes and Gardens notes that:

“Lilacs are known for their hardy nature and long lives—many lilac shrubs live to be more than 100 years old. Because of their life span, they often survive longer than the home of the gardener that planted them. So, if you’re on a country road and see a few seemingly-random lilac bushes, there was most likely a house or farm there in the last century.”

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