Planning ahead

Plant bulbs now for spring blossoms

Now is the time to buy your bulbs for spring blossoms. Most years I have bulb flowers pushing their way up through mushy snow and fallen leaves in early March, delighting me with their improbably delicate flowers.

First the small bulbs bloom: snowdrops, glory of the snow, scilla, winter aconite and crocus. Next come daffodils, tulips and alliums. Finally come summer snowflake and camassia. You have plenty of time to plant bulbs as you can do so until the ground freezes. But I recommend that you get them now before they are sold out. Gardening has taken a big uptick in interest this year, and I predict bulbs will go the way of seeds and hoses — all sold out early.

Here are the basics: you plant bulbs in the fall and they bloom in the spring according to an internal clock. All need plenty of sun, though the little ones that bloom early can be grown under deciduous trees, as they will get enough sun to “re-charge” the bulbs by photosynthesis before the leaves are on. Don’t plant bulbs of daffodils or tulips in the lawn because you won’t be able to mow it until July (if you do, the bulbs will not get enough energy and they won’t bloom).

Planting depth matters. The small bulbs only need two or three inches of soil cover over the top of the bulb; bigger bulbs like tulips and daffodils generally need 6 inches of cover. Follow the directions that come with the bulbs.

Tulip bulbs are loved as food by rodents like squirrels and chipmunks. Deer will eat the foliage and flower buds — often the night before you planned on picking some. Daffodils are vaguely poisonous, so not eaten by anything. Alliums, in the onion family, are not eaten by anything, either. Crocus are not generally bothered by anything, but this past spring we had a plague of chipmunks that ate the blossoms just before they bloomed. I’ve never had trouble with any of the other small bulbs.

I like to plant bulbs in big batches. Fifty daffodils will knock your socks off when they bloom, but five will hardly be noticed. I know that some stores sell tools that can be used to cut out and lift a circle of soil all in one motion. The idea is to dig lots of holes (three inches across) and plant one bulb in each hole. I find that method tedious. The same goes for using an auger on a drill to dig holes for bulbs.

What I like is to dig a bulb bed for 25 or more bulbs. Dig down six inches, remove the soil in an oval or circle 24 to 36 inches across. I put the soil in a wheelbarrow or on a tarp so as to keep the area tidy. Once the hole is excavated, I add some bulb booster or slow-release organic fertilizer in the hole with my CobraHead weeder. I generally add some compost, too, and scratch it into the soil at the bottom of the hole, along with the fertilizer.

After all that, I just place the bulbs in the soil, pointy end up. Space them according to the directions, or a little closer than the directions indicate. Daffodils and tulips I space about three inches apart, small bulbs less. Then I take the soil I removed and return it to the hole, being careful not to disturb the bulbs. I remove any stones that are the size of the bulbs or larger, and mix in some compost with the soil if it is a heavy clay or very sandy.

What about those rodents that want to eat your tulips or small bulbs? People try many things to deter them. Some sprinkle hot pepper powder on the soil surface, or crushed oyster shells, which are sharp and unpleasant. A variety of animal repellents are sold, and some may do the job. I like to hide the hole with a layer of fall leaves so it won’t be so obvious to rodents.

Back at the end of Bill Clinton’s time in office I got to interview the White House gardener in the fall. They had just planted, for the newly elected President Bush, thousands of tulips, a variety named Hilary Clinton. I asked how they would keep the squirrels away — I saw them everywhere. Dale Haney, the head gardener, told me they keep the squirrels fat and happy — they give them all the dried corn they can eat. That reduces the desire for tulips. And, he said, they put a layer of chicken wire two inches below the soil surface after planting. Squirrels are deterred by the wire. I tried that method, and it is not easy to do — I needed to cut the chicken wire to fit my plantings, and it was like handling razor wire.

There are a few fall-blooming bulbs, too. Saffron crocus and colchicum need to be planted before this, but you might like to try them another year. Colchicum, generally planted in August, is also called “fall crocus” (even though it is not a crocus at all). But the blossoms look like giant crocus, and each bulb produces several blossoms. I love them.

Colchicum are leafless now, but they put out leaves in the spring that disappear by mid-summer. Bulbs cost $5 to $8 each and are generally sold in packages of three. Good garden centers may have a few for sale potted up and already in bloom now.

I’ve been planting bulbs every year for decades and find it one of my favorite gardening activities. Now, in fall, when the garden is declining, I plant something and dream of spring.

Featured Photo: Photo by Henry Homeyer.

Lose yourself in fall fun

Corn mazes are a quintessential autumn activity

Whatever you want your corn maze experience to be — easy or complex, during the day or under the cover of darkness — local farms have plenty of options to choose from.

Beech Hill Farm in Hopkinton has two corn mazes within an eight-acre corn field, each with themed activities to do along the way.

“That’s what sets our mazes apart,” said Holly Kimball, one of the family owners of the farm. “Having an objective other than just ‘Can I find my out?’ makes the maze-navigating process more meaningful, and most people really enjoy having an activity to do inside the maze.”

“Animal Olympics,” which is shaped like Olympic rings, comes with an animal crossword puzzle activity sheet, and “Ocean Action,” which is shaped like a sea turtle, comes with a game board filled with trivia questions about the ocean and marine life. The answers are revealed on signs hidden throughout the mazes.

“They’re fun, and they have educational merit,” said Kimball, who uses her 20 years of experience as an educator to design the maze themes and activities. “Children can come to the farm, go through the maze and learn something.”

Each maze takes around 45 minutes to complete, and most participants go through both during their visit, Kimball said.

The corn maze at Elwood Orchards in Londonderry, which spans 15 acres, is more traditional, with the only objective being to find your way out.

“We design it ourselves — it changes every year — and we try to make it as difficult as possible,” farm owner Wayne Elwood said, adding that the farm has gotten a lot of positive feedback from corn maze enthusiasts who are seeking a challenge. “It’s not about just going in and following the path. You have to choose all the right paths and really figure it out.”

The time it takes to get through the maze, if you can get through it at all, is unpredictable and completely up to chance based on the choices you make. Elwood said if you make all the right turns, it could take as little as half an hour, but he has seen people spend up to three hours in the maze before reaching the end.

“There are people who go in and come right out, and there are people who never find the end and give up,” he said. “We’ve even had people who wear [pedometers or smart watches] that keep track of how many miles they walk tell us that they walked two or three miles trying to find their way out of the maze.”

There are six emergency/cheat exits in the maze for participants who want to call it a day or need to leave the maze for any reason.

On weekends in October, Elwood Orchards keeps the maze open after dark for bring-your-own-flashlight nights.

“Those have been a big attraction every year since we started doing them 10 years ago,” Elwood said. “It’s more of a challenge to do it in the dark, and I think people just like to go out at night and do something under the stars.”

Some of the farms with the busier or smaller mazes are requiring participants to wear masks while others, including Beech Hill and Elwood Orchards, are not, reasoning that it’s an outdoor activity with plenty of room to practice social distancing, and the number of participants inside the maze at one time is monitored.

“We haven’t really had any issues [with safety],” Kimball said. “Since we’re open all day, people arrive at all different times, and things are just kind of staggered naturally.”

Corn mazes at Beech Hill Farm. Courtesy photo.

Find a corn maze

* Beans & Greens Farm
Where: 245 Intervale Road, Gilford
When: Now through Nov. 1; Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; additional haunted nighttime maze every Friday in October (times TBD)
Cost: $12 per person, $8 for kids age 9 and under, free for kids age 2 and under; tickets must be purchased online in advance.
More info: 293-2853, beansandgreensfarm.com

Beech Hill Farm
Where: 107 Beech Hill Road, Hopkinton
When: Now through October; weekdays, 2 p.m. to dusk, and weekends, noon to dusk
Cost: $6 per person, free for children under age 3
More info: 223-0828, beechhillfarm.com

* Coppal House Farm
Where: 118 N. River Road, Lee
When: Now through Nov. 1, Monday, Thursday and Friday, noon to 5 p.m. (Columbus Day, Monday, Oct. 12, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.), Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; additional nighttime flashlight mazes on Saturdays, Oct. 10 and Oct. 24, 7 to 9 p.m.
Cost: $9 per person; $7 for kids ages 5 through 12, seniors age 65 and up, and military; and free for kids age 4 and under; flashlight mazes, $12 per person, for ages 5 and up
More info: 659-3572, nhcornmaze.com

Elwood Orchards
Where: 54 Elwood Road, Londonderry
When: Now through Nov. 7; daily, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., with nighttime mazes on Fridays and Saturdays starting Oct. 2, until 9 p.m.
Cost: $10 per person, free for kids age 5 and under
More info: 434-6017, elwoodorchards.com

* Riverview Farm
Where: 141 River Road, Plainfield
When: Now through October; Tuesday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Cost: $5 per person, free for kids age 4 and under.
More info: Call 298-8519 or visit riverviewnh.com

Scamman Farm
Where: 69 Portsmouth Ave., Stratham
When: Now through October; September hours are Tuesday through Friday, noon to 5 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; October hours are Monday through Friday, noon to 5 p.m. (10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Columbus Day, Monday, Oct. 12), and Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., plus nighttime flashlight mazes on Fridays, Oct. 9, Oct. 16, Oct. 23 and Oct. 30, from 6 to 9 p.m.
Cost: $9 per person, $7 for kids ages 5 through 12, and free for kids age 4 and under.
More info: Call 686-1258 or visit scammanfarm.com

* Sherman Farm
Where: 2679 E. Conway Road, Center Conway
When: Now through Oct. 25; Saturdays and Sundays, plus Columbus Day, Monday, Oct. 12, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Cost: $10 to $13 per person, depending on the date, and free for kids age 2 and under; purchases tickets online in advance.
More info: 939-2412, shermanfarmnh.com

Trombly Gardens
Where: 150 N. River Road, Milford
When: Now through October; daily, 9 a.m. to dusk, plus nighttime flashlight mazes on Saturdays in October, until 10 p.m.
Cost: $5 per person, free for kids age 3 and under
More info: 673-0647, tromblygardens.net

Washburn’s Windy Hill Orchard
Where: 66 Mason Road, Greenville
When: Now through October; Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Cost: $5 per person, free for kids age 3 and under
More info: 878-2101, facebook.com/washburnswindyhill

* Masks required

Putting the garden to bed

Get started early to avoid the cold

This year I resolve to get my garden put to bed early so I am not wearing gloves and long johns as I cut back the daylilies on cold, wet fall days.

First on my list is the need to sow some grass seed. I have places where my lawn was killed when a torrential downpour dumped sand from my road onto the lawn. Fall is a better time to sow seed because the ground is warmer and it will germinate quickly. In the spring, seed can rot during cold, wet weather. I will spread some topsoil or compost to improve the soil, then mix it in with a short-tined rake. After spreading seed, I will cover it with a layer of straw. That will help to keep the soil and seeds from drying out, though I will water occasionally if it gets dry.

Chrysanthemums are for sale now at farm stands, and I purchased a few pots of them to brighten up the front yard. I treat them as annuals, even though some of them are perennial. But the growers cut back the plants as they grow, causing them to branch out and produce hundreds of blossoms on bigger plants. If I let them over-winter, the plants would have some flowers, but never so many as what the professionals produce. It’s worth it to me to buy a few each fall.

Mums in pots tend to dry out quickly, so I have been soaking mine in my birdbath. That way the pots suck up water, getting it down deep. I could actually plant my mums in the ground, but I like them in pots on the front steps or in my wooden wheelbarrow. They need water every few days.

This is also the time of year when I move shrubs. I recently moved a diervilla, one called Kodiak. It was given to me years ago, and it was crowded in between a crab apple tree and a red-veined enkianthus. I decided it needed more space to grow, and I wanted to expose a stone wall behind it. So I dug it up.

This shrub is about three feet tall and wide and had been in the ground more than five years. I used a shovel called a drain spade: a spade with a long, narrow blade. I pushed it into the ground at a 45-degree angle in four places around the bush. Each time I pushed the shovel handle down to lift the shrub slightly. Then, when I’d gone all around it, I got the spade under the middle of the plant, pushed down hard, and popped it right out. I tugged on the plant and pulled it loose, roots and all. Some were cut by my shovel, others not. I moved it to its new home, covered the roots and watered well. A week later it looks fine.

The vegetable garden is winding down, and as each crop is harvested, I weed the row and apply mulch as needed to keep wind-blown seeds from finding a home. My favorite mulch consists of chopped fall leaves: I run over leaves on the lawn with my lawnmower to chop them, and rake them onto a tarp, which I drag down to the vegetable garden. It’s too early for leaves, so I’m using straw for now.

When cleaning up the vegetable garden it’s important to keep diseased plants separate from healthy ones (which go on the compost pile). I generally have a location for noxious weeds and diseased plants and do not use that material after it breaks down, or not for many years.

I tend to get a little lackadaisical about the perennial flower gardens late in the season. Weeds and grasses have a way of showing up there, and by pulling them now, the work will be less in the spring. Cindy and I have done a pretty good job of mulching the flower gardens this year using a ground hemlock bark mulch, though some weeds push on through. This is a good time to get rid of those rascals.

I cut back some flowers in the fall but like to leave some tall perennials — birds enjoy their seeds, and some beneficial insects need places to lay their eggs, or to use as shelter. On the other hand, there is a lot to do in the spring, and cleaning up the flower beds now reduces the work later on. Cutting back perennials with a pair of pruning shears is tedious. I prefer to use a serrated harvest sickle that allows me to slice through a handful of stalks in one quick motion.

This is also a good time to divide perennials to make more plants. Peonies, for example, are best divided and moved in late September to mid-October. Dig up daylilies, phlox or asters now the way you would a shrub, and then use a small saw or root knife to divide it into two or more plants. Most plants like being divided, assuming you give them some compost and a little fertilizer

Featured Photo: Photo by Henry Homeyer.

Store like a squirrel

How to prep your food for winter

Like a conscientious squirrel, I put away food for the winter in August and September. I freeze and dehydrate lots of vegetables and store some in my cool basement. Here are some tips on ways to save food for later.

I grew about a dozen kale plants this year. The workhorses are those that end in “bor” — winterbor, redbor, starbor and others. I get seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds of Maine to start my own indoors in the spring, or find them at my local garden center growing in six-packs. Most of the kale I grow is for winter use because it freezes so well. This week I put up eight-quart freezer bags of kale, and I still have more I may process later.

To freeze kale I wash it first and make sure it is free of (ugh) slugs and bugs. Then I either pull the leaves off the midrib or slice it off. I chop the kale into one- or two-inch squares prior to blanching in boiling water.

To blanch the kale I submerge it in boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds. This will kill the “aging” enzymes in kale, allowing me to keep it frozen and good to eat practically forever, if need be. Normally I eat all the kale within a year of freezing it, which is recommended. I could freeze kale without blanching it if I were planning on eating it all in three months or so. But blanching also allows me to pack more kale in each bag.

For the blanching of kale and other veggies, I use my big black tin pot that is sold for hot water bath canning — it is roughly 14 inches wide and 9 inches deep and will hold seven quart mason jars for canning tomatoes. I fill the canner half full and bring to a full, rolling boil.

I have a special blanching pot that fits inside it — a metal pot with big holes in the bottom and sides, and a handle for putting it inside my canning pot and taking it out. You can buy a canner at any hardware store, but the inserts are harder to find — a restaurant supply store should have them.

Then I drop in the kale; I do 15 leaves or so at a time. The water will just barely come to a re-boil in 60 seconds. Use a timer. If you use lots of water and not too many leaves, you can blanch for just 30 seconds.

Next you want to cool the kale quickly. Some people prepare an ice bath, but I just fill the kitchen sink with cold tap water. I lift the blanching pot and let the water drain back into the canner. Then, with the lid of the canner under the pot, I move from stove to sink and drop the kale into the cold water. I stir, then scoop it out with a colander or slotted spoon, and put it into my salad spinner. The brand I prefer is Zylis, which has a pull string, not a crank. Sometimes I squeeze the kale to get some of the water out before spinning it.

Lastly, I dump the damp kale out of the salad spinner and onto a clean dish towel on the countertop. I pat it and roll it in the towel to remove more moisture. I fill bags, squeeze out some air, and then suck out as much air as I can with a straw inserted into the bag when it is closed right up to the straw. Still sucking, I pull the straw and snap the zipper shut.

Other veggies I blanch include beans, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, corn, kale, peaches, spinach and Swiss chard. But not all veggies need blanching. Things I don’t blanch include apples, berries, pears, peppers, leeks and tomatoes. And I bake or steam winter squash, then freeze it.

Summer squash for use as a side dish needs only 30 seconds of blanching, but squash for soup I don’t blanch at all. This week I put up 11 quarts of grated Romanesco zucchini for use in soups. Even big Romanescos are good, if you remove the seeds. I use the grater blade on my food processor to grate it — it would take forever by hand. One bag of grated zucchini with an equal amount of tomato (which I freeze whole), some onions or frozen leeks, vegetable bouillon and spices makes a great winter soup.

I grow a lot of leeks, in part because they freeze so well. I wash them, take off a layer or so of outer leaves, cut off the tops and quarter them lengthwise. I chop them, put them in freezer bags and suck out the air. They last forever in the freezer. I store lots of onions, but always run out before next year’s crop comes in. And onions don’t last forever, even in cool storage, so I use leeks in soups and stews when I run out of onions. I’ll put up a dozen quarts of leeks or more this year.

I haven’t harvested potatoes yet. I plant mine in June to avoid potato beetles. Didn’t have a single one this year! But it also means my potatoes are still growing now and are not ready to harvest. I have “stolen” a few by reaching under a plant and grabbing a few but not disrupting the others.

Potatoes store well in a spare fridge, or in a cement-block enclosure with a plywood lid in a cold space that stays in the 33- to 50-degree zone. Mice love them, so an old fridge really is best unless you are storing a lot of them. If I had to survive on what I grew, I’d grow a lot of potatoes and store them well.

So get to work. No point in growing a lot of produce and letting it go to waste. Of course, it’s fun to share with friends and the local food pantry.

Treasure hunt
Dear Donna,
This was mine when I was young and now I have no need for it. Can you tell me if it has value or should I pass it on to my niece?
Claire


Dear Claire,
Barbies have evolved drastically since the first one was created and signed by Ruth Handler in 1959. My thoughts are that any doll or case that made it through all these years of playing should have a value. That, however, is not always the case.
The first Barbie is still sought after. She can bring a very high value depending on condition. I think that other items such as outfits can be in demand as well. It all depends on how many of the items were made and their condition, and if the dolls are American-made.
Now let’s get to cases such as yours. They made so many and in different styles. Yours is a 1961 Ponytail Barbie carrying case and looks to be in fair (but faded) condition. I’m not sure how they could have ever made it through in excellent condition — who didn’t play with their Barbies every day?
Because so many were made, the value on the cases seems relatively low, in the range of $15 to $25, depending on condition and whether the drawer is still inside. If it were me I would pass it down and let your niece enjoy an old case for new dolls.
Donna Welch has spent more than 30 years in the antiques and collectibles field, appraising and instructing, and recently closed the physical location of From Out Of The Woods Antique Center (fromoutofthewoodsantiques.com) but is still doing some buying and selling. She is a member of The New Hampshire Antiques Dealer Association. If you have questions about an antique or collectible send a clear photo and information to Donna at footwdw@aol.com, or call her at 391-6550 or 624-8668.

Featured Photo: Blanching kale is worth the work. Photo by Henry Homeyer.

Flowers fit for a dog

In celebration of Daffy

Daphne mezereum was the registered name of my corgi, Daffy, who passed away on Aug. 25. Born in 2006, Daffy was my constant companion who was always ready for an adventure — or especially a meal or snack. When her back legs gave out, she figured out ways to propel herself forward with glee — ignoring the inconvenience, and trying to overcome the pain. Finally, when the pain was nearly constant, we reluctantly called the vet.

We buried Daffy alongside her cat friend, Winnie, who passed naturally at age 23 in June, and Abby and Stanley and Emily, all good dogs who have passed on and been buried in a quiet shady place on our property. Each had their graves decorated with flowers from the garden. Let’s take a look at some of the plants I grow, and that I used to commemorate Daffy and celebrate her life.

Of course I cut branches of her namesake, Daphne mezereum or February Daphne. It is a fabulous shrub that blooms in May here in Cornish Flat, displaying pinky-purple fragrant flowers in abundance. It is slow-growing, so easy to maintain. No need to do much pruning, other than stems I cut to force in a vase each year in April.

And I put in her grave a couple of stems from a Harry Lauder’s walking stick shrub. A walking stick seems fitting for a dog that had trouble walking. It’s a curly hazelnut that would not really be good as a walking stick — there are no straight bits. Mine is a variety called ‘Red Majestic’ of the European filbert (Corylus avellana).

In the spring the leaves are a deep red-purple but develop a greenish tinge as the summer progresses. I have mine in a flower bed and have been able to keep it to a six-foot-wide and -tall tree by annual pruning.

And I sent Daffy off with diamonds: Pink Diamond, that is. It’s a lovely variety of hydrangea paniculata. I bought one that is a “standard,” meaning that it came with a straight trunk that had branches grafted on at the four-foot-high level. So it started out as a shrub with some height, and never suffered from the awkwardness common to many hydrangeas that start as multi-stemmed shrubs.

At the bottom of Daffy’s grave I placed boughs from a Canadian hemlock (Tsuga canadensis). This is a native evergreen tree that grows well in sun or shade. In 1972 I dug up several growing wild in a field nearby and planted them as a hedge. They are now 50 feet tall or so. My late sister, Ruth Anne, lived in Canada and loved Daffy fiercely, calling her “the dog of joy.” So these boughs commemorated them both. I no longer promote planting hemlocks because an insect pest, the wooly adelgid, is decimating them, though thankfully not in my area, as yet.

Of the woody plants, the last I placed in Daffy’s grave was a stem from my Bartlett pear. Daffy, always hungry, would gorge on the pears that fell on the ground beneath this tree, so it seemed fitting to put a branch in.

I cut fresh perennial flowers for Daphne’s grave, too. Phlox have been gorgeous this year, disease-free and fragrant. Daffy is the only dog I’ve had who noticed flowers. I have a picture of her checking out a vase of tulips. But phlox is in all its glory in sunny beds, so I cut some.

Daffy had a sunny disposition, even at the end when she was in pain, so I included a sunflower. Like Daphne, it was a short one, perhaps ‘Teddy Bear.’ There are so many great sunflowers out there, many short and with multiple flowers branching off the main stem. They are easily started from seed. Chipmunks love them when they are just starting, so I grow them in six-packs until they are tall enough to ignore the rodents. Deer love sunflowers, too, however, when they get bigger.

And roses went in the grave, too. My favorites are the Knockout roses. Perhaps because they are not fragrant, they don’t seem to be attractive to the Japanese beetles that can plague old-fashioned roses. They are fast-growing and can reach a height of four feet in a couple of months even if all above-ground stems died over the winter. The one I selected for Daffy has had 25 blossoms most of the time this summer.

Then we added some Shasta daisies, those wonderful, cheerful flowers with white petals around a central yellow button. My patch of those gets a bit bigger each year in full sun. And Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia rotundifolia), a six-foot-tall orange annual in the daisy or sunflower family. We start lots of these by seed each year, and I am always delighted by the results.

I suppose there were other flowers we picked for Daphne’s last day, though it’s all a bit of a blur. I do know that flowers always lift my spirits, and certainly they needed some lifting that day. But I’m doing better now, and being in the garden has helped. Later this fall I will plant bulbs on her grave – snowdrops. They are the first flowers to bloom in spring, and always bring me joy. And after all, she was the Dog of Joy.

Glorious hydrangeas

Now in full bloom

When I was a boy, I always took note of cemeteries as we drove by them. I’d lost a beloved grandfather, the original Henry Homeyer, and my mother’s mom. I was taken with a shrub or small tree in cemeteries that I called either “the snowball bush” or the “cemetery bush.”

Back in the day what I now call the PeeGee Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora’) was present in every cemetery. They bloom for months, require no work other than planting, and will grow anywhere. Now there are dozens of species and varieties of hydrangeas, offering a great choice for small gardens — these never get huge, like a maple or an elm.

In the nursery trade the PeeGee hydrangea has fallen out of favor, mostly. Now Limelight, Pinky Winky and others with jazzy names and bigger flowers are more popular. But I love my PeeGee that I planted some 25 years ago. It is blooming with over 100 large white flowers now. It’s about nine feet wide and eight feet tall. Like most hydrangeas, if I wait until just before frost and cut some flower stems to put in a dry vase, they will look good all winter — and longer.

Most hydrangeas like full sun or part shade, good soil and adequate moisture. Some, like the panicle hydrangeas, bloom on new wood, while others — those that bloom early in the summer — bloom on buds developed the summer before, also called “old wood.”

The blue hydrangeas (H. macrophylla or big-leaf hydrangeas) generally bloom on old wood, and for those of us in the northern part of New England, that is unfortunate. Our tough winters ruin the flower buds, so the plants don’t bloom in June as desired. Nurseries in the South grow them, ship them to us in full bloom, but after Year 1 we are lucky to get three blossoms in September. Period.

Then along came Endless Summer, a big-leaf hydrangea that promised to bloom all summer long. I tried it, and called it Endless Disappointment. It died back in the winter, grew, but rarely flowered. Newer varieties are out there, and may be tougher, but in Zone 3 or 4 I say buy them in bloom and use as annuals. Not only that, blue hydrangeas produce pink or insipid colors if the soil pH is not acidic enough. ‘Nuff said.

I like my Pink Diamond, a panicle hydrangea with strong stems and fewer florets per flower head than the PeeGee. That means it doesn’t get weighed down by rain and drop to the ground like many other hydrangeas. It starts out white, then gradually turns pink. It is an excellent cut flower, too.

What about shade-growing hydrangeas? There are two nice ones. H. arborescens Grandiflora, also known as Hills of Snow, does well in shade. Its pompoms are much smaller than those of Annabelle, another of the same species, so it does not flop much after a rain. I like it better. It gets to be five or six feet tall and wide if left to its own, but many people cut it to the ground in late winter. The vigorous new growth will be shorter, and the pruning invigorates the plant.

My favorite shade hydrangea is the climbing hydrangea (H. anomala ssp. petiolaris). This tough vine will grow on the north side of a wall and can attach itself to brick or stone. It is slow-growing when young but after five years or so becomes quite vigorous. I attached the stems of mine to the side of my barn when young, but later the stems slipped through cracks in the barn and held on. Mine has even bloomed inside the barn! Climbing hydrangea has showy white, sterile petals on the outer rim of each flower panicle, and less showy, fertile flowers in the center. It blooms in June and the white petals stay white all year, so the flowers always look good. The vines have shaggy exfoliating bark, which is interesting in winter, too.

I recently attended a Hydrangea Walk at the home of Chris Wilson of Newbury, Vermont. Chris is a nursery professional, having worked at EC Brown Nursery in Thetford, Vermont, for over 35 years. Chris collects hydrangeas, lilacs and daffodils and opens his gardens three times a year to view them. This time we all wore masks and practiced social distancing. We didn’t want, as Chris said, “to die to see a hydrangea.” Chris has at least a couple of dozen different kinds of hydrangeas — and a good sense of humor.

Chris had two hydrangeas I had not ever seen before that I like. The first, called Great Star (H. paniculata), was first discovered in the gardens of Princess Greta Sturdza in Varengeville Sur Mer, Normandy, France. It appeared as a naturally occurring branch mutation of an unnamed seedling of Hydrangea paniculata. It has very prominent wide, strap-like sterile florets that are star-like. I hope to find a specimen and plant it in my garden.

The other hydrangea I saw there is another that does well in shade, H. paniculata White Moth. Chris had it tucked in near a large tree, and it was blooming nicely.

Don’t have a hydrangea? I highly recommend them. Most have blossoms now, when most flowering trees are done for the year. So go to your local family-run garden center and see what they have. I bet you’ll find something you like.

Featured Photo: Hydrangea “Great Star”. Photo by Henry Homeyer.

Re-wild your lawn

Start small to build up your garden

Tired of mowing your lawn, but afraid to stop? What would it look like, and what would the neighbors say? I was on a panel discussing “re-wilding” the lawn on New Hampshire Public Radio recently. Here are a few of the points we discussed.

First, a lawn is the easiest, least time-consuming way to maintain your property. If you want a meadow of flowers for birds, bees and pollinators of all kinds, lots of work is involved. You can’t just quit mowing, or rototill the lawn and broadcast some wildflower seeds, and then step back to enjoy. You would get some nice flowers, but your yard would also fill up with weeds and invasive trees.

My advice? Start small. A little corner of the yard, say something four feet wide and 15 feet long, would be a good start. Decide how much time you can commit to it, and how often you want to work in the garden. Can you dedicate half an hour each morning before work? An hour after work? Good gardens are built by people who do something in the garden every day.

Get a soil test done. New Hampshire and Rhode Island have stopped doing tests, Vermont will do them for Vermonters, and Maine, Massachusetts and Connecticut accept samples from out of state. Get a home gardener test with as much info as possible.

Next, you have to remove the grass. That means slicing through the lawn to create one-foot by one-foot squares that you can remove and take away to your (new?) compost pile. Don’t try to do it all at once. Do a little at a time.

Do your homework. Read books and go online to see what will work in your yard. Do you have full sun (six hours or more each day), part sun, or shade? Is your site hot and dry or cool and moist? Select flowers that will work in your climatic zone, and get a variety of bloom times: some for spring, others for early summer, late summer and fall.

Improve your soil. All soil can be improved with compost. Buy it by the truckload, not the bag. Get it delivered if you don’t have a truck. Work the compost into the soil after the grass is removed.

If you want to support butterflies, birds and bees, think native plants. Native plants are those that co-evolved with the wildlife. And let wildflowers be part of the mix. Right now Queen Anne’s lace is in bloom along the roadside. It’s a biennial in the carrot family and is loved by the bees. Learn to recognize the small first-year plants, dig up a few and plant them. Once established, the flowers will drop seeds each year.

But what about the neighbors? One of the panelists had done a study in Springfield, Mass. She asked homeowners to mow their lawn either weekly, every two weeks, or every three weeks. So that the neighbors would be more understanding, they put signs in the yards telling others that they were part of a scientific study.

They counted insects and found a two-week schedule for mowing was best for bees and pollinators: clover and dandelions had time to bloom and to provide food without being hidden in tall grass.

To create a sustainable non-lawn, you need to introduce not only those tall, bright flowers like black-eyed Susans and purple coneflower, but groundcovers that will fill in between plants.

One of the panelists, Thomas Rainer, is the co-author with Claudia West of the book Planting in the Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes. In their book they explain that in nature there are plant communities: plants that need roughly the same soil and light, and that co-exist nicely. If you want a balanced plant community, you need a diverse, supportive collection of plants, including groundcovers.

Groundcovers can act a bit like mulch: They can prevent soil erosion and suppress weeds. It is often tough to find good native groundcovers like groundsel or goldenstar for sale, but they are available if you look hard enough. Winecup is a good groundcover for hot dry, sunny places, and is often available. Oregano and thyme can be used as an understory ground cover that bees love, and they are readily available.

And Creeping Charlie? It’s that “weed” hated by lawn-lovers because it can “spoil” a nice lawn and spread like crazy in part shade. But it is a native plant with nice flowers and is loved by bees. Think about letting it proliferate in your “non-lawn.”

Lastly, if you want a landscape that is beautiful and low-maintenance, think about planting trees and shrubs. Many bloom nicely and all are useful to wildlife. Some native shrubs that I grow and love are fothergilla, blueberries, elderberry, buttonbush and our native rhododendron and azalea.

If you stop mowing the grass and want flowers, put up a sign. I recently saw one that was very simple: it said “Butterfly Crossing.” Hopefully that appeased the neighbors a little.

A sign like this lets neighbors know you are not lazy, but letting the lawn grow for a reason. Photo by Henry Homeyer.

Good riddance

Three plants to avoid

Three plants you don’t want on your property are wild parsnips, purple loosestrife and Norway maples. The first causes severe skin reactions in many people, the second can take over our wetlands and the last can outcompete our native sugar maple and eventually take over our woods.

Wild parsnip is in bloom now. It’s a tall plant, 24 to 60 inches, and has yellow blossoms arranged in flat flower panicles at the top of the stems. It looks a lot like Queen Anne’s lace. It is genetically the same plant as garden parsnips but has escaped and become a weed. Some people are horribly allergic to its sap.

Here’s how you and your kids can stay safe. Learn what it looks like, and avoid it. Sap from the stem, if on the skin and exposed to direct sunlight, can cause horrible burns. Not everyone reacts, however. Assume you do. If you get sap on you, go inside immediately and wash the affected area thoroughly.

Wild parsnip has a two-year cycle; the first year it stays low and develops a deep tap root. The second year it bolts and produces a tall flower stalk. If you have a field of wild parsnip, get it mowed before the flowers set seeds, and re-mowed until it gives up. The sooner you mow it, the less likely the flowers are to produce viable seeds after they are cut down.

First-year plants growing now will send up flower stalks next year. And each year, for a while, seeds in the ground will grow new plants. But each year there will be fewer, and eventually they will be gone.

This is the time of year when swampy areas often are ablaze with tall, pink-purple flowers that dominate the wetland. These are the flowers of purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), an invasive plant that you should not encourage but that you probably can’t get rid of once established.

But why worry about it? It’s such an aggressive grower that it out-competes native plants. It moves into shallow wetlands where fish and frogs lay their eggs among native plants, creating dense monocultures. Biodiversity is healthy for the environment, and purple loosestrife inhibits many other kinds of plants from growing.

Mature plants develop massive root systems that can’t be dug out. They also develop long side-roots that will easily break off and start new plants if you try to remove the clumps.

A big clump can produce up to 2.7 million seeds in a year. And like time-release cold capsules, the seeds become active over time, not all in one year. And since they grow in wetlands, you can’t use herbicides.

If you have big, established plants the best thing to do is cut them down every summer, just above the soil line, preferably more than once. Do it now, and this should prevent them from producing seeds this year. It will also reduce the vigor of the plants. It won’t kill them, but it will keep them from spreading. A string trimmer will do the job, if you have one.

First- or second-year plants often show up in my garden near my stream but can be hand-pulled. Look for plants with a square stem that quickly get 18 to 24 inches tall and may have a reddish-brown tinge to their stems. Older plants get to be three to seven feet tall or more. Leaves are long and narrow with a smooth edge, and they attach directly to the stalk without an attachment stem. Leaves generally appear in pairs, across from each other on a stalk. Many flower stems arise from the main stem.

Beetles from Europe have been introduced in some places to eat purple loosestrife, reducing populations by as much as 90 percent. But those beetles are not available for purchase, at least not yet. So if you have it, cut the plants down. Today!

Lastly, there is the Norway maple, a maple that will thrive anywhere wet, dry, shady or sunny. It sends roots long distances, sucking up water and soil nutrients. It produces massive numbers of seeds, seeds that blow or wash away and end up in our woods. It can out-compete our native sugar maples, and will. Fortunately, it is now against the law to propagate, sell or transport these bad boys.

The most popular Norway maple is a cultivar called “Crimson King.” It has leaves that are a deep purple almost black. Many cities and homeowners bought these 50 years ago and installed them. Removing them is difficult and expensive.

Here’s another problem: Crimson King is a hybrid, and its seeds rarely produce trees with that distinctive purple color. So they pass themselves off as sugar maples.

The leaves are a bit bigger and wider than sugar maples, but you can I.D. a Norway maple by picking a leaf. Look at the place where it snapped off: if it oozes a white sap, it is a Norway maple. If you have one, please consider having it removed.

Saving the world starts with small steps. If we each do what we can, we can leave the world a better place.

‘Crimson King’ Norway maple. Photo courtesy of Henry Homeyer.

Find art outdoors

Watch artists at work, hunt clay monsters and browse a bazaar, plus more in-person arts events

It’s been a trying year for the art world. Galleries and theaters have been closed, art shows and festivals have been canceled and artist collaborations have been forced to go remote or stop altogether. But things are looking up. As restrictions on public gatherings are lightened, some arts organizations have found a way to still hold their events, and to do so safely: take it outdoors.

Nashua International Sculpture Symposium

The sculptors for this year’s Nashua International Sculpture Symposium had already been selected by the time a state of emergency was declared. Jina Lee from Australia (originally from South Korea), Jorg Van Daele from Belgium and Taylor Apostol from the Boston area were expected to arrive in Nashua in May, but the travel ban made that impossible, and with the quarantine order in place, the Symposium’s start date of May 7 was out of the question.

Because the symposium takes place entirely outdoors, organizers and the City of Nashua were hopeful that they could still hold the event later in the year. They set a new tentative start date of Aug. 20 and invited two sculptors from the U.S. — Elijah Ober of Maine and Kelly Cave of Pennsylvania — to join Apostol and take the places of Lee and Van Daele.

“We felt that, if we could figure out a way to continue this annual tradition and do it in a way that is safe, we should do it,” symposium co-chair Kathy Hersh said. “Having it outside is the perfect way to do that, because that’s what we do anyway.”

Started in 2008, the Nashua International Sculpture Symposium was inspired by the Andres Institute of Art International Sculpture Symposium, a similar event held in Brookline every fall. It is the only international sculpture symposium in the U.S. that is held in a city, with the sculptures being placed on public property.

“The idea is that these sculptures belong to the public,” Hersh said. “There are no signs saying, ‘Fragile’ or ‘Don’t touch.’ They are made for people to see, touch, sit and climb on.”

Traditionally, the symposium brings in three experienced sculptors from all over the world. They spend three weeks in Nashua, creating sculptures that are permanently installed at different sites of their choosing throughout the city.

This year’s symposium, however, will look very different. For one thing, it will be the first time that all three sculptors are from the U.S.

“Even though it’s supposed to be the ‘international’ sculpture symposium, I think it’s really exciting to be able to give local and regional artists this opportunity,” symposium artistic director Jim Larson said.

All in their 20s, the sculptors are also the youngest to ever participate in the symposium.

“We really wanted to help out emerging artists, artists who are early in their career,” said Larson, also in his 20s and acting as the sole artistic director for the first time. “This gives them a chance to expand their portfolios with large-scale public work, and to work with new media.”

Rather than creating standalone sculptures to be placed in separate locations, the sculptors will work collaboratively to create their sculptures as a series. All three pieces will be placed together at the west entrance of Mine Falls Park, situated on a secluded wooded hill above the parking lots for a boat ramp and skate park.

“The space itself is definitely off the beaten path and doesn’t get much traffic,” Larson said, “but I think the artists are excited to make work for this forgotten little patch of woods that will surprise viewers as they stumble upon it.”

Some aspects of the traditional symposium, however, will remain the same. Volunteers from the community will still host the sculptors at their homes and provide them with meals and transportation to the worksite. The sculptors will still work six days a week, Monday through Saturday, outside of The Picker Artists collaborative, and, as always, the public will be welcome to observe and interact with the sculptors, as long as they practice social distancing.

“It’s still very much a community project,” Hersh said. “That’s the way it was designed, and that’s the way we want it to be.”

“Being able to see the artists working gives the community a better understanding of where the work comes from and what it took to get it there,” Larson added, “and being able to have that communal experience is meaningful, especially right now.”

The sculptors were all required to quarantine for 14 days before their arrival. They will be kept at least six feet apart from each other at the worksite and “are no strangers to wearing masks,” Larson said, since respirators are needed while sculpting anyway, to protect from inhaling debris.

Visitors will also be required to wear face masks and stay at a safe distance from the sculptors and other visitors.

An opening ceremony will be held on Thursday, Aug. 20, where the mayor, the symposium board, Chamber of Commerce members, funders and others involved with the symposium will welcome the sculptors to Nashua. The ceremony is not open to the public but will be streamed online.

The closing ceremony, at which the finished sculptures will be revealed, will take place on Saturday, Sept. 12, at the installation site. The public can attend, as long as they wear face masks and maintain social distance, or they can watch the ceremony online as it will also be streamed.

13th annual Nashua International Sculpture Symposium
Opening reception:
Thursday, Aug. 20, 5:30 p.m., not open to the public but will be streamed online at accessnashua.org/stream.php at 8:30 p.m.
Visit the sculptors: Sculptors will work Monday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., outside The Picker Artists studios (3 Pine St., Nashua) from Aug. 24 through Sept. 4, and at the installation site at the west entrance of Mine Falls Park from Saturday, Sept. 5, through Friday, Sept. 11.
Closing ceremony: Saturday, Sept. 12, 1 p.m., at the west entrance of Mine Falls Park, open to the public and will be streamed online.
More info: nashuasculpturesymposium.org

Meet the sculptors

Elijah Ober, Maine

What do you enjoy most about sculpting?

I really enjoy how there are so many different stages to it: the conceptual thinking at the start of a sculpture, considering what a material brings to the table, seeing how the material responds. The process is often meditative.

What do you have planned for the symposium?

I’ve been letting the site inspire me. It’s right next to the Mine Falls dam, so I’ve been thinking a lot about the river as a timepiece … and how it creates a sense of time without really telling it. I want to create a work that does that in a similar way.

What do you hope to get out of the experience?

I hope to learn some new skills and get some experience working with new materials that I haven’t worked with much in the past … and [to form] new friendships, connections and a tie to Nashua.

Kelly Cave, Pennsylvania

What do you enjoy most about sculpting?

I love making things come to life, especially as public art. I love the idea of creating work that can talk to a community, introduce people to art and bring people together to admire a space.

What do you have planned for the symposium?

With Covid and so many people losing so much, I’ve been thinking a lot about memorializing loss. … I’ve been doing a lot of research about monuments and memorial markers, and how they’re incorporated into our society. … I definitely want to get there and feel the space first, though, and let the space have its effect on me, so I’m keeping things a little loose.

What do you hope to get out of the experience?

The symposium is very unique in that it’s encouraging us [artists] to talk to each other and have our work talk to each other, so I’m hoping that will lead to a lifelong connection with them, and with people in the community.

Taylor Apostol, Massachusetts

What do you enjoy most about sculpting?

I think it’s the physicality of it, especially with public works. I love making something that draws people in, that people want to touch. I love that sense of interaction.

What do you have planned for the symposium?

My piece will be very connected to the natural setting, but also brightly colored with flocking. … Right now, I’m planning one large piece with a few smaller abstract pieces emerging and scattered around, kind of playing with scale and manipulating form.

What do you hope to get out of the experience?

The experience of shifting to more collaborative work as opposed to installation-based work, and of doing something more spontaneous, taking things as they come, instead of being stuck in that focus, ‘finish-it’ mode like when I’m doing something for commission.

Greeley Park Art Show

Nashua’s 67th annual Greeley Park Art Show is still on for Saturday, Aug. 22, and Sunday, Aug. 23.

“So many art shows have been canceled already,” said Lauren Boss, co-president of the Nashua Area Artists’ Association, which hosts the event. “We didn’t want to take away another show from these artists when we know we can have it safely outside and the park is big enough to spread everyone out.”

Around two dozen juried artists from New Hampshire and Massachusetts will display and sell a variety of artwork, including oils, acrylics, watercolors, pastels, drawings, mixed media, jewelry, photography and digital art. Works will range in price from under $20 to over $1,000.

“Everyone has their own style,” Boss said. “It’s a good representation of all the talented, professional artists in our region.”

The artists’ booths will be situated 10 feet apart, and artists are encouraged to display their art on the outsides of their booths as much as possible. Visitors must wear masks (masks will be provided to those who don’t have one) and observe social distance from others. There will be hand sanitizing stations set up as well as hand sanitizer at the artists’ booths.

Boss said the Greeley Park Art Show is a “Nashua staple” and an event that people look forward to all year.

“Even though it’s going to be a little different than in past years due to the pandemic, I think this is something people need right now,” Boss said. “People need to be able to get out and do something normal, and if we can help them do that safely, we’re going to do it.”

Where: Greeley Park, 100 Concord St., Nashua
When: Saturday, Aug. 22, and Sunday, Aug. 23, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Cost: Free admission
More info: nashuaarts.org

Capital City Art Bazaar

The Concord Arts Market and Concord Handmade present the first Capital City Art Bazaar on Friday, Aug. 21, outside in Concord’s Bicentennial and Eagle squares. The evening arts market will feature 10 to 13 local and regional vendors in each square, selling a variety of handmade items like jewelry, pottery, textiles, paintings, photography, home decor, fashion accessories, soaps and more.

The bazaar was originally scheduled to take place in May at the Bank of New Hampshire Stage. Instead of canceling, organizers decided to postpone the event and move it outdoors.

“Having it outside is a viable option, and it’s definitely safer,” Concord Arts Market producer Christa Zuber said.

All vendors are required to wear face masks and have hand sanitizer available at their tables. Attendees are requested to wear masks and not touch the items for sale unless they plan to purchase them. Payment will be contactless, via card.

The bazaar gives artists an opportunity to “get back in the habit” of participating in arts events and selling their work, Boss said, and art lovers an opportunity to reconnect with and support local artists.

“Artists, whether they do [art] as a living or as a hobby, do it because they love it,” Boss said. “After having so many events canceled this year, I think they are really excited to be able to get out in a safe way and talk to people about their art again.”

When: Friday, Aug. 21, from 4 to 8 p.m.
Where: Bicentennial and Eagle squares, Concord
Cost: Free admission
More info: concordartsmarket.net/capital-city-art-bazaar

More outdoor art

• The Music Hall (28 Chestnut St., Portsmouth) presents two outdoor author events as part of its Live Under the Arch Series. Meg Mitchel Moore will discuss her book Two Truths and a Lie on Thursday, Aug. 20, at 6 and 8 p.m. Tickets cost $44.75. Then, Acadia Tucker will discuss her book Growing Good Food on Thursday, Aug. 27, at 6 p.m. Tickets cost $38.75. Tickets include a signed copy of the featured book. Events will be held right outside of the theater. Visit themusichall.org.

• Intown Concord’s Market Month continues in downtown Concord with International Arts Week from Thursday, Aug. 20, through Sunday, Aug. 23, with a full schedule of multicultural music and dance performances, arts and activities on Saturday; and a Sidewalk Sale from Thursday, Aug. 27, through Sunday, Aug. 30. Admission is free. Visit facebook.com/intownconcord.

• The Concord Arts Market takes place in Concord’s Bicentennial Square every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., now through Sept. 26. The juried outdoor market features a variety of art and crafts by local artists and craftspeople. Visit concordartsmarket.net.

Monsters are on the loose again in Manchester. On Saturday, Aug. 22, Studio 550 Art Center will hide 100 small red clay monsters — each a unique and handmade piece of art — around downtown in outdoor places that are typically overlooked, such as windowsills, benches and flower planters. The hunt starts at 1 p.m. and goes until all of the monsters are found. If you find a monster, you get to keep it, and receive goodies, giveaways and discounts from downtown businesses like Dancing Lion Chocolate and Bookery. The person who finds the one colored monster will get a free workshop at Studio 550. It’s free to participate in the hunt. Also on that day from 1 to 3 p.m., Studio 550 will host outdoor low-cost monster-themed activities for all ages. Visit 550arts.com.

• Alnoba (24 Cottage Road, Kensington) will give an outdoor guided tour of its international and eclectic collection of art on its property on Friday, Aug. 28, from 10 a.m. to noon. Visitors will be able to see the art up close, touch it and hear stories about it and the artists who created it. Tickets cost $15 and must be purchased in advance. Visit alnoba.org.

• Enjoy some outdoor theater with Seussical Jr., presented by All That Drama and Nottingham Parks & Recreation, outside at the Nottingham town bandstand (139 Stage Road). Performances are on Saturday, Aug. 29, and Sunday, Aug. 30, at 5 p.m. There is a $5 suggested donation to see the show. Visit allthatdramanh.com.

• The 20th annual Hampton Beach Sand Sculpting Classic is still on for Thursday, Sept. 3, through Saturday, Sept. 5. Head to Ocean Boulevard to watch as 10 of the world’s top sand sculptors compete for cash prizes and awards. Stick around on Saturday for the judging and to vote for your favorite sculpture from 1 to 3 p.m., and for the awards ceremony at 7 p.m. The sculpture site will be illuminated for night viewing through Sept. 13. Visit hamptonbeach.org/events/sand-sculpture-event.

• Theater and baseball come together at “Shakespeare in the (Ball) Park” on Sunday, Sept. 20, at 2 p.m., at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium (1 Line Drive, Manchester). Cue Zero Theatre Company will perform a reimagined baseball-themed version of Romeo and Juliet. Tickets will go on sale soon and will cost $10. Visit cztheatre.com.

• Now, you can take a self-guided audio tour of the public art in downtown Nashua. There are two types of tours — sculptures and murals — with 10 to 15 stops on each. They are offered through the Distrx app (available for free on Android and iOS), which uses Bluetooth iBeacon technology to automatically display photos and text and provide audio descriptions as tourists approach the works of art. Visit downtownnashua.org/nashua-art-tour.

Featured Photo: “For the Love of Friendship” sculpture by Tony Jimenez, near Lovewell Pond in Nashua. Photo by Matt Ingersoll.

Queen of the garden

Why tomatoes rule

If I could only bring the seeds of one plant with me when exiled to a distant island, I would bring tomato seeds. Tomatoes are the center of much of my cuisine from soups and stews to sandwiches and salads. They are tasty raw or cooked, are healthy to eat, and are relatively easy to grow and propagate. My tomatoes are ripening up now, and I’m not only eating them two or three times a day, I’m putting them up for winter use.

My mother and grandmother slaved over a hot stove in August and September to can whole tomatoes or to make sauce and store it in jars. I rarely do. Mainly I freeze tomatoes whole. I call them my “red rocks” and store them in zipper bags for use in soups and stews.

To prepare red rocks I simply rinse them off, allow them to dry, and slip them into gallon freezer-grade plastic bags. I use a straw to suck the air out of the bag after I have the zipper closed 99 percent of the way. That minimizes frost on the tomatoes in the freezer.

To use frozen tomatoes, I just run hot water from the faucet over them. The skin thaws quickly, and rubs right off. Or I’ll drop a few in a pan of hot water. That helps to thaw the tomatoes and makes them easier to chop up for use. If I freeze cherry tomatoes, I don’t bother removing the skins before cooking with them.

I have a couple of food dehydrators that I use to dry tomatoes, too. The Cadillac of dehydrators is the Excalibur. Mine is a $300 deluxe model that blows hot air sideways equally over all nine trays. My other is the NESCO American Harvester, a serviceable machine that pushes air up or down through a stack of trays.

The downside to the NESCO model is that you must rotate the trays to get equal drying. And it uses 1,000 watts of energy per hour, while the Excalibur uses only 660 watts. Still, at about $125 for the basic machine, it is more affordable. You can stack up to 30 round 15-inch trays over the fan and heating element, but the more trays you add, the longer it takes to dry all the food. I find about eight trays is as many as I want to stack.

Most summers I grow eight to 12 Sun Gold cherry tomato plants, and each is prolific. Most of the fruit I dry in my dehydrators. I cut them in half and dry, cut side up. I store them in zipper bags in the fridge or freezer, and use them in soups and stews. Dried tomatoes can be stored in the pantry, too.

Sometimes I dry plum or slicing tomatoes. I cut them about 3/8 of an inch thick. They tend to stick to the trays, so be sure to buy the special no-stick screens to put on the trays. That makes cleanup much easier.

A sandwich is not really a sandwich, for me, without slices of tomato. One way to save slices of tomato for winter use is to roast them. I do so in the oven at low heat until they are caramelized and soft, not tough and dry. Then I place them in zipper bags and freeze them — but just one layer of tomatoes per bag. When I crave a tomato in my sandwich, I pull out a few slices and heat in my toaster oven until warm. Not a fresh tomato, but better than most sold in the grocery store in January.

I also make tomato paste. Lots of paste. I store it by freezing it in ice cube trays, and then putting it in zipper bags when frozen. No more half-used cans of purchased paste going fuzzy in the fridge for me. To make paste I use imperfect tomatoes — and I usually have plenty. I cut out the bad spots, then core them. I squeeze the cored tomatoes in the sink, which gets rid of most seeds and lots of juice. Then I quarter them, place them in a food processor, puree, and then add to a large enameled iron pot and cook them slowly for hours. I know they are done when I can literally stand up a spoon in the pot. I let it sit all night, uncovered, to cool and lose some more water. In the morning I spoon the paste in the ice cube trays. When it’s frozen, I empty the trays and put cubes in zipper bags.

Canning tomato sauce the old-fashioned way is hard work and takes hours of work. Part of that work is blending the tomatoes and herbs, salt and pepper to get the flavor and consistency just right. In addition to pureed tomatoes I use onions, garlic, basil, oregano, parsley and thyme. I cook it for 45 minutes or so, as I like it nice and thick.

But then there is the canning itself. First you have to boil the jars and lids to sterilize them. Once they’re filled with cooked sauce, one needs to boil the sauce in sealed jars to kill the bacteria that causes botulism, a potentially fatal disease. Forty minutes at a rolling boil is recommended. All in all, making seven jars of sauce — which is what a canning pot can hold — takes an evening.

The Lazy Guy technique for making sauce is to freeze it, not can it. I have an aversion to using plastic for storing food, but make an exception for tomato sauce. I have quart plastic containers with screw tops, though one can also use zipper bags. Since I have two large freezers, I have plenty of space for garden produce.

People raise their eyebrows when I tell them I grow between 35 and 50 tomato plants each year. But since I eat my own stored tomatoes all year, I can barely grow enough of the Queen of the Garden.

Email henry.homeyer@comcast.net.

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