Thank you to all the folks who invited me into their gardens or told me their stories. I couldn’t have done it without you.
Please enjoy these photos that I took this year.
The time has come for me to put the Friday Flowers and Folklore blog on a hiatus until next spring when the flowers and the stories will start popping again.
Thank you to all the folks who invited me into their gardens or told me their stories. I couldn’t have done it without you.
Please enjoy these photos that I took this year.
There’s more to the story about Susan and Jeff Figley’s King Blossom Farm but it has taken two blogs to tell it. There are still plenty of apples ripe for the picking which will continue for a few more weeks. Susan told me that the cold weather makes the Macintosh apples sweeter so she uses them to make much of her apple products.
Along with heirloom apple trees, they grow heirloom fruit including tomatoes with names like Aunt Ruby’s Green, Red Zebra, German Green, and Yellow Rainbow. Heirloom fruit may not be as uniformly pretty as their genetically modified relatives, but they are healthier and tastier.
Space is at a premium on their six acre farm so many of the vegetables are grown hanging from string in their greenhouse rather than on the ground which makes cool tomato and cucumber jungles. Another specialty is fresh and dried herbs.
Jeff does most of the growing, while Susan cans, preserves, and dries their produce making a huge variety of goodies including pickles, butters, simple syrups (like Sour Cherry and Pumpkin Spice), and a whole array of products that she sells in their little shop “The Heirloom Gourmet” on the property. She also sells her products online at Etsy filling orders from all over the country and beyond.
Susan actively seeks old recipes which she collects and creates. She told me it took her two years to talk someone into giving Susan her great grandmother’s zucchini relish recipe. She invited me into her remarkable kitchen where she had just made a batch of pear ginger applesauce which I got to sample. The only thing better than the aroma, was the flavor.
In the spirit of small farmers working together to produce quality New Hampshire provisions, King Blossom Farm has partnered with their neighbors including Greg Morneau of Daisy Hill Farm whom Susan refers to as her ‘gardener-in-crime.’ Greg taps his maple trees and Susan helps him boil the syrup, bottle it, add labels that Susan designed, and sell the finished products. Greg and Susan both keep hives on their properties and share the work of tending for the honey bees and collecting the honey which Susan sells in various shapes and sizes. Greg is also the pumpkin man who sells his overflow of pumpkins at Susan’s.
Bardo Farm in Croydon supplies meat that is sold at Susan’s shop and takes orders for fresh turkeys for Thanksgiving. The eggs they sell come from a number of neighbors who raise chickens and can’t possibly eat all their eggs. I have no doubt that farmers sharing their expertise and produce was the way of life for centuries with the “we’re all in this together” spirit that helped them survive.
Visiting King Blossom Farm is like a trip back in time. Jeff and Susan love to show people around and teach visitors about their natural form of agriculture. I brought my grandson there this summer to pick raspberries, and we stayed for an hour as Jeff walked us around his land and green house. My grandson asked a zillion questions that Jeff patiently answered.
A big thank you to Susan and Jeff for showing me their farm and letting me interview them. Here are the links to their websites:
In the spring, GGC member Marcia Hanke asked me to check out the beautiful white flowers that were growing in abundance on shrubs in her yard on her newly purchased property. My trusty app PictureThis identified them as hobblebush. The white flowers are hydrangea-like but what really intrigued me were the textured, heart-shaped leaves like valentines from Mother Nature.
I learned that when the tip of a branch touches the ground (which is often) they root themselves and grow more bushes making for a thick jumble of twigs and leaves. People bushwhacking through the forest were easily tripped up or hobbled in these under-story plants thus giving the Virburnum lantanoides its nickname.
During the growing season, I noted their progress and tried to capture their growing stages from white flowers to green, then red, then black, then no berries and their leaves from deep green to red with green veins. Most I came across while hiking but stopped again at Marcia’s house to see how her hobblebush stands were doing and got some more cool pictures in their fall colors.
Just like all the plants and flowers I have blogged about, whenever I come across one of them again, it’s like meeting up with an old friend.
Elise Kendall, who is the hardworking president of the GGC and my good friend, invited me to go with her to buy a daylily plant for the town library’s Shakespeare Garden. I envisioned a little garden store and was pleasantly surprised when we arrived at a farm with a huge field full of daylilies. Actually, most of the plants were flowerless on that September morning, but I could envision how amazing it must look in July with thousands of daylilies in full bloom. Even at that late date, I found some spectacular examples including the one above.
Elise introduced me to Milkcan Corner Farm owner Lisha Kimball who helped us pick out a late blooming, creamy peach colored plant which Lisha dug up on the spot and loaded on her tractor for delivery to our car. For the ten years it took the plant to get from seed to the beauty we purchased, Lisha sold it for the trifling sum of $10—a dollar a year. What a bargain!
I was intrigued by the farm, and Lisha told me how it all came to be. In 1963, Lisha and her husband Dan moved from Connecticut to the countryside in Webster, New Hampshire. Dan bought her a horse which she loved to ride and would often stop to talk with the neighbors she met and learn the oral history of the area. They were ‘Old Timers’ and called her “The City Girl.” She learned that back in the 30s, a large platform sat on Mutton Road where the local dairy farmers placed cans full of fresh milk every day. Later a truck would stop by and pick them up and deliver them to Concord to be pasteurized, bottled, and distributed. She and Dan decided that the Milkcan Corner Farm was the perfect name for their farm located near the very spot where all the milk was once collected.
For years, they grew blueberries, raspberries, and currants. It wasn’t until 2005 that the day lily gardens began. That year, Lisha was diagnosed with Amyloidosis and told she had two years to live. After much research and DNA testing, she learned that when her grandfather was gassed in World War I, it affected his genes, and he passed on this rare disorder to some of his descendants. Facing this grim diagnosis, Dan wanted desperately to help his wife and soul mate. He knew Lisha loved flowers and told her “Be happy. Buy flowers.” So she did.
After two years of dialysis and many trips to a hospital in Boston, Lisha received a life saving kidney and liver transplant. She began her daylily gardens before the transplant and continued to grow the farm with the help of her husband, children, and grandchildren.
She buys her cultivars (registered cultivated day lily varieties) from growers who raise them from seeds with the cultivars growing for years, first in green houses and then in fields before they are sold. Lisha plants them in her garden and raises them for another seven years before she splits them and offers them for sale. Lisha purchases about ten new cultivars every year at a cost of $40 each to add to her gardens.
She currently has 400 different cultivars in every color imaginable. She put signs in front of each plant with its registered name and characteristics. My favorite is “Naughty Ballerina”. There are 80,000 cultivars registered by the American Hemerocalllis Society so Lisha will always have plenty to choose from.
Here's the link to Lisha's facebook page so that you too can become her friend.
We folks who live in Grantham have a remarkable gem in our very midst. Right now is the perfect time to visit King Blossom Farm because their spectacular apples are ripe for the picking. Among the many varieties are 135+ year old heirloom Macintoshes and Red Delicious. The heirloom apples may not be as uniform or as pretty as the genetically modified relatives but they are a whole lot tastier and healthier. I bought some Macs and Rambos, which is a French dessert apple that’s great for eating. Amazing!
Jeff and Susan Figley purchased the farm in 1983 and chose the name King Blossom because every fruiting spur on an apple tree produces a cluster of six buds—five centered around the largest and first to bloom and called the king blossom. The orchard hadn’t been worked in years so they were given expert advice from the UNH Extension Agency and Cornell. There’s a great video on their website of Bill Lord of UNH Extension Agency showing them how to graft apple trees. Did you know that an apple tree grown from a seed won’t produce apples like the tree it came from? Grafting is the only way to insure getting the same type of fruit.
After the tree closest to his driveway was hit by truck, Jeff decided to use that tree for an experiment to graft a number of different kinds of apple scions to grow different apples on the same tree. As I walked around the tree, I saw Red Delicious, Hudson, and Black Oxford on different branches of the same tree!
Jeff told me that back in the days of the small farms, farmers would grow about six to eight apples trees of different varieties to ripen at different times. A lot of the farms have been abandoned, especially after the devastating 1938 hurricane. Jeff was able to get a nursery tree of the Scott apple cultivar from Bluffside Farm in Newport, Vermont, near where Susan grew up. Now Scott apples are flourishing in their orchard—a living memory of the past.
The lucky orchard has the benefit of their very own bees that Susan and Greg Mourneau of Grantham’s Daisy Hill Farm started keeping ten years ago. Susan loves springtime when she can see the orchard come alive with thousands of pollinating bees, hear their buzzing, and enjoy the heavenly aroma of the blossoms. But don’t wait until spring to visit King Blossom Farm. Take advantage now of the short picking season and head out to the farm and meet Jeff and Susan. They love to share their knowledge and passion for growing apples and fresh vegetables and creating other delights.
Here are links their website and more below: kingblossomfarm.com/
Susan makes delicious products from the apples and vegetables they grow and sells them in a little shop at their farm and on Etsy. Here are some more links:
What I’m about to share with you is going to blow your mind.
It all started with a purple mushroom growing in the Webb-Crowell Forest in Sutton. That bright purple color stopped me in my tracks and whetted my appetite for more. As I hiked with Kathy’s Friday Followers, we saw tons of mushrooms all along the trail—different colors, different shapes, different sizes. The biggest difficulty was not stepping on them.
Back home, I did a little research, and I learned that the mushrooms I saw were only a small part of the fungi. Most of their bodies are made up of a mass of thin threads known as a mycelium. Mushrooms bloom much like flowers do when conditions are right which explains why we saw so many in the recently-rained-on forest.
Up until the 1960, fungi were classified as plants, but it turns out they are more closely related to animals. Their cell walls are made of chitlin which is also found in the exoskeleton of insects, crabs, and lobsters. They are now classified in their own kingdom separate from plants and animals.
The honey mushroom is considered the largest organism on Earth spreading across more than 2,000 acres of underground soil in Oregon. It’s estimated to be at least 2,400 years old.
According to the Encyclopedia of Biodiversity, "There are 75,000 fungal species that are named. But this number is believed to represent only 5% of the species that exist in nature."
There are over 30 species of mushroom that glow in the dark. The chemical reaction called bioluminescence produces a glowing light known as foxfire. People have been known to use these fungi to light their way through the woods.
I saved the most surprising fact for last: All fungi digest their food outside their bodies. The fungi find their food (say a fallen log), dump their enzymes on it, and the mycelium absorb the digested nutrients. How crazy is that?
Gardens are chock full of stories and here is a delightful one that I learned while walking around Paul Mercier’s garden with him and the previous owner, Janice Vien. Janice told us the story of the poppies that grow there in abundance.
In 2003 Janice’s friend Pam Hanson gave her a plant grown from some poppy seeds that Pam found in an old olive jar that was marked “1984.” Pam is certain that her grandmother Ruth Avery French had collected those seeds. Pam lives in the house where her grandmother had lived from 1957 to 1987.
Everyone who drives through the main road in Grantham has seen the red clapboard farmhouse with pretty white trim and its beautiful garden. The house was formerly the parsonage for the Methodist Church (and Ruth’s husband Rev. Hollis French occasionally preached there in his retirement.) Pam has kept up her grandmother’s tradition and cultivates and maintains a gorgeous garden which every passerby admires.
The French family lore is that Ruth believed that hers were the illegal opium variety of poppies so she only told close friends about her suspicion for fear she would get in trouble with the law. Back in those days, Grantham had a population of fewer than 400 people. I can picture Mrs. French chuckling whenever she waved from her garden to the local policeman who would be oblivious to her criminal activity.
Pam showed me an article entitled Grantham’s Ruth French that was published in Newport’s Argus Champion’s April 5, 1978 edition. The article mentioned Ruth’s “ultra-exotic poppies” which means that descendants of her poppies have been growing in Grantham for at least 43 years.
In 2005 Janice planted the poppy seedling that Pam had given her. Within a few summers, her land was peppered with poppies, all from that one gifted plant. They not only grew on the tiered garden where Janice planted that first one, but some of them managed to find their way across her dirt driveway and start their own colony there. Because they are self-seeding and with a little help from the wind to disperse their tiny black seeds, more show up every year. When Janice sold her place in 2018, she brought some of the poppies with her and now enjoys them at her new home.
Year ago, despite their age difference, Janice formed a close friendship with Ruth based on their mutual love of gardening. (Janice was in her 20’s and Ruth in her 80’s). Ruth often had Janice over for tea and cookies. They spent many afternoons chatting about flowers. Janice told me that when the poppies blossom, she always thinks of Ruth.
Paul Mercier is thrilled to have the poppies growing in his gardens and has given some plants away to other garden club friends—a common practice among gardeners.
Pam wonders what her grandmother would think if she knew that her illicit poppies have spread way beyond anyone’s control and now are on the loose in Grantham and probably beyond. I’d like to think it would make her chuckle.
When I drive out of Eastman’s main entrance, I often notice the pretty field with the impressive cairn directly across the street. Imagine my pleasure when, through serendipity, I met the owner Janice Vien, and she invited me to tour her land.
Janice recently retired after 32 years as a yoga instructor. To prepare for retirement, a few years ago Janice decided to sell her home of 18 years where she maintained beautiful, but labor intensive, gardens. (She sold the home to Paul Mercier.)
On her acre of land, Janice has a tiny apartment in the same building as her yoga studio. “At first, I thought I wouldn’t have a garden at all, just a field. Then I had second thoughts. I felt I had plant allies that I didn’t want to part with. So I dug up about 20 plants and started a small 4 x 28 foot garden. Some feel special to me because of their blue color like the Gentians. Others I love because they attract pollinators. Others, I just enjoy being in their presence.”
For those plants in the field outside her well cared for garden, Janice has a very “New Hampshire” philosophy about them: Live Free or Die. From what I saw first hand, the purple chicory, maroon cosmos, black-eyed Susan’s, daisies, goldenrod, pink phlox, thistle, coneflowers, and Queen Ann’s lace are not only living but thriving. Along with the sight and smell of flowers, we enjoyed the buzz of bees near her “Pollinator Work Zone” sign.
Going from her fairly shady property to an open field has had a dramatic impact. For example, in 2004 she bought 10 white cedar trees from the NH State Forest Nursery through the Sullivan County UNH Extension Service. They were bare root cuttings which she planted around the frog pond in the woods beside her previous home. Those that survived grew only a few feet in 10 years. Since being transplanted to her sunny field, they’ve grown 6 feet in as many years.
Janice had an unsightly, five-foot high, plastic septic vent pipe in her field. She built a wire cage with 4x4's and turkey wire to keep it vented and wanted to build a rock structure around it. Luckily her son Gabe and some of his friends visited and energetically went to work on it. First they moved all the rocks from a rock wall Janice had built at her other house. They then trucked the rocks to the site and erected the cairn. According to Janice “They were just what I needed for this project: young healthy males trying to outdo each other. It was built in less than a day!” Now when you spot that large cairn as you drive on old Rte 10, you’ll know the rest of the story.
When I asked Janice about a tree that was decorated with shiny metallic bows, she explained that she tied 32 bows in memory of all the students she has taught with each bow representing a year. What a wonderful legacy for Janice. Not only has she helped so many plants stay healthy, but so many human beings as well.
Paul Mercier describes his home as “a portal to a wider universe: While the interior offers modern conveniences and protection from the elements, it endeavors connection to the energy of the planet. Flowers and woodland plantings produce a peaceful, natural setting; reduces maintenance; encourages native species; and provides for the local wildlife.”
Because of the prevalence of deer in Eastman, Paul doesn’t plant ornamentals that they like to eat (hosta, lily, and sedums). His little orchard is fenced in for that reason. Paul has been creative when it comes to keeping deer from eating his flowers and vegetables. Deer can jump very high so it’s more the distance between barriers that deters them. Thus, his two fence lines are four feet apart. As a further deterrent, every six feet or so, he has hung bars of Irish Spring soap on the outer fence line plus socks with blood meal, both of which seem to smell lousy to deer. Paul also hangs tin plates on bushes and has motion sensor plates that will light up and emit a high-pitched sound that doesn’t bother humans but drives deer nuts. The difficulty with deer is their intelligence. One morning he watched a convention of four deer standing together looking at his tiered garden, specifically at his netting. He imagined them discussing strategies to get past this barrier and eat some of Paul’s yummy vegetables and flowers. As the deer learn, Paul will come up with new gadgets to keep those ‘hooved locust’ out. Paul likes a challenge.
Besides the deer, Paul and his fiancé Sandra Gagnon have seen bear, bobcats, groundhogs, foxes, and porcupines from their cozy Yankee Barn in the woods. Mallards have taken up residence in the little frog pond on their property. Their house is heated with wood in a soapstone stove with electricity provided by solar panels.
They put up a lot of their vegetables either by freezing, canning, or dehydrating. They grow companion plants to deter pests and to enhance the main vegetable crops. For example, marigolds are said to deter soil pests while basil enhances the flavor of tomatoes. Alliums and dill are good companions for brassicas because they deter the cabbage looper moth and nasturtium repel squash bugs. Radishes are simply planted everywhere because they are a broad-spectrum deterrent. The same is true of garlic. Also, when companion plants are left to flower, they not only look nice, they also attract pollinators. Many have self-sown year after year like poppy and feverfew while annuals such as zinnia, cosmos, and snap dragon are added for a “cottage” touch. Common weeds such as lambs quarter, and purslane are left to grow as nutritious edibles to be added to salad.
Sandra showed me some huge rhubarb plants and told me that she uses in pies and cake and also to make simple syrup. Paul added that she makes a mean rhubarb margarita. When Paul was describing the ratatouille he makes with his tomatoes, zucchini, garlic, and onion; I must have looked envious. To my delight, Paul gifted me a jar before I left (yum!)
According to Paul “A garden is a living creature that grows and matures as it will . . . all we can ever do as humans is to respect and nurture it as best we can. I am merely the successor caretaker here with a little latitude to work within the bounds of nature as the pendulum swings . . .”
After visiting Paul Mercier’s garden as part of the GGC Mystery Garden Tour, I went back to get more of the story about his intriguing property. I learned that the buildings were built in 1975 as a camp for a family’s summer vacation. It had neither electricity nor running water. Eventually those modern necessities were added. Janice Vien bought the place in 2000 and added lots of trees, shrubs, flowers, and plants (including 100 Christmas ferns) until she sold it to Paul in 2018.
Janice hadn’t been back until this day, and was thrilled by what she saw. She and Paul walked all over the land discussing each plant. It was a pleasure for me to see their excitement as they strolled through the land they both love.
Paul explained that he is using the knowledge he learned from books, and the internet, and experiences with others as a volunteer at NOFA-NH and Cooperative Extension and the Grantham Garden Club. He has interesting ways of protecting his plants that I hadn’t seen before and mixes vegetables and flowers along with his fruit trees. Paul practices permaculture which emulates a natural eco-system, avoids the use of harmful chemicals, conserves resources (like water), maintains soil biology and thus fertility which has the win-win of producing nutrient-dense food.
Paul has worked hard to make his home and property self-sustaining. To water his large gardens, Paul repurposed four 275-gallon IBC tanks that formerly held balsamic vinegar or avocado oil. He covered them with six mil black plastic to protect them from the sun to prevent algae growth. One sits under the gutter on his garage where the rain water is first collected and is then pumped to the other three which sit at the top of the tiered garden. The plan/hope is to use gravity feed and a drip irrigation system for the garden. Paul added a heavy mulch of salt-marsh hay furthering water conservation. He uses salt-marsh hay instead of straw because it contains no pesticide residues and seeds won’t sprout since they are would not be native to the soils here. He also uses wood chips, which further supports soil biology. While rain has not been an issue this summer, when droughts like last summer reoccur, Paul is ready.
Stay tuned for next Friday’s blog for the rest of the story…