Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day, 2012: Honoring Black Hawk #517

Memorial Day has come to have very special meaning for us. 

As members of Soldiers' Angels since 2006, we have supported many, many soldiers who served in Afghanistan and Iraq with cards, letters, care packages, and holiday gifts.   

In 2010, we adopted an entire unit of 35 soldiers who were members of the 101st Airborne Combat Air Brigade, 101st Airborne Division.  This unit was based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky and had been deployed to Afghanistan where they were stationed at Kandahar Air Base.

In addition to the soldiers of the 101st, we also supported another platoon of 12 soldiers, members of a combined joint special operations task force serving in Tarin Kowt.    

Capt. Nick Craig
Our unit of the 101st CAB brought mail, food, and supplies to  groups of soldiers stationed in the mountainous region  near Kandahar and served as the extraction team for any NATO troops in that region who were either in extreme danger or who had been injured or killed.  It was grim, dangerous work.

Our main contact for both units during the deployment was Capt. Nick Craig, one of the Black Hawk pilots in the CAB unit we were supporting.   Nick relayed messages to us, letting us know what kinds of food, clothing, and toiletries the special forces soldiers needed, and what the soldiers in his own unit needed as well.  

We sent cards and letters every week and more than two dozen care packages every month, including complete meals, toiletries, and snacks for the special forces soldiers.   

We also sent each of our soldiers a Christmas stocking stuffed with goodies from their "Wish List". (That was a major production but we pulled it off!)   And we sent each one of them one of the "US Flag" T-shirts we are wearing (above photograph).

On September 21, 2010, the U.S. suffered one of the most devastating losses of the entire war when one of the unit's Black Hawk helicopters, tail #517, crashed, claiming the lives of 9 soldiers and sailors. 

While we were grateful that Nick was not flying that day, the five soldiers who perished were members of the 101st CAB.   The other four troops who died in the crash were sailors, members of a special forces combined group.  Three were Navy SEALs and the fourth was a Navy cryptologic technician assigned to a Naval Special Warfare unit. 

Their unit emblem, sent by Nick, shortly after the crash.
Nick sent us an email about the crash and a couple of days later, when names were officially released, sent along their names as well as photographs.  He helped in the recovery of the remains of soldiers who he knew and flew with.  We can't imagine how difficult that must have been for him and for the entire unit.   

Despite not having met any of "our" soldiers or knowing them personally, the loss was very personal to us.  We held every one of them very close to our hearts. 

Nick organized a memorial to honor the soldiers who died and singlehandedly raised the funds to build it.  The memorial was dedicated at Fort Campbell this past January.    (Note:  The fund is till shy of its goal;  click HERE if you are able to help in some small way.)  

We couldn't be there for the dedication, but Nick sent us a certificate commemorating the day and acknowledging that a flag was flown in our name by a Black Hawk over Afghanistan.  We were very touched by the honor.  He also sent us their unit emblem which hangs in our kitchen.  

As we did last year, today on Memorial Day, we are remembering and honoring the soldiers and sailors who perished in the  crash of Black Hawk #517.  

Last year, we dedicated the circular rose and cottage garden in front of our home to the memory of these soldiers and placed American flags around  the circle, one for each soldier and sailor lost.   We left the flags flying in place until it was time to close the garden for the winter.

This year,  we  erected a permanent memorial in the form of a figure of a soldier bearing a flag.   At night, the statue and flag are lit by a spot light.   
We are grateful for the safe return of the many soldiers we supported over the past six years.   For those who gave their lives to this effort, we have pledged to honor their memory.  With this garden, we will never forget. 

Here is our garden tribute to the soldiers and sailors who died on September 21, 2010 in the crash of Black Hawk Tail #517.

Roses, iris, and (off to the side out of view) peonies are in bloom.
Close-up of the statuary.


Remembering the Soldiers and Sailors 
from Black Hawk #517

Chief Warrant Officer Matthew G. Wagstaff
Sgt. Marvin R. Calhoun Jr.
Chief Warrant Officer Jonah D. McClellan
Maj. Robert F. Baldwin
Staff Sgt. Joshua D. Powell
Petty Officer 2nd Class Adam O. Smith
Lt. Brendan J. Looney

Senior Chief Petty Officer David B. McLendon
Petty Officer 3rd Class Denis C. Miranda

Author's Note:  Much of the content of this post is taken from our previous post about this courageous crew which we posted on Memorial Day, 2011.  You can read the previous post HERE

Friday, May 25, 2012

Happy Anniversary! Celebrating Our First Year as Blotanists

Time flies when you're having fun!

One year ago today, we became members of Blotanical.  It hardly seems as though it's been that long, but it has.  And what a year it has been!  Much of what we first learned about Blotanical and hoped to gain by being part of it has come to pass. (You can see our initial post about Blotanical from a year ago here.)

Steve and I have been gardening for nearly a decade together and for decades separately before that.  But in the last year, we've achieved milestones that in some cases, we didn't even know existed, and in other cases, while we were aware of various organizations and programs, we never anticipated becoming involved in them and certainly not to the extent that we have.  We can definitely see how being members of Blotanical has figured heavily in the choices we have made.

What a difference a year makes!

Attending a Titanic era afternoon tea, April, 2012.
Since last spring, we've gotten more involved in the regional and international gardening community than ever before.  In April, 2011, we joined both the American Rose Society and the New England Rose Society, renewed our membership with the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, and started posting regularly on our blog.  We also began logging the number of visitors to our blog.

After we joined Blotanical in May, the number of visitors to our blog increase ten-fold.  We've met scores of  fellow gardeners and have developed friendships across our own county, in every quadrant of the country, across oceans, and across several continents.

Combining our love of old garden roses with my love of regency novels and recently discovering vintage dancing has also given us a wonderful pastime for the long winter months when we can't be out in the garden.

So what are some of  the actual stats?  Well, here are a few....

Since May 25, 2011, garden lovers have visited our blog nearly 19,000 times. We've gone from just over 100 views per month to as many in the average day.  We've posted 90 blog posts to date of which 84 were published between May 25, 2011 through May 25, 2012.

And lest you think we spend all of our time blogging, we actually spend a fair amount of it weeding.  We now have 32 distinct garden beds on our half acre property that include several sun and shade cottage beds, a formal English garden, briar patch, woodland garden, shrub and tree grove, herb garden, blueberry grove, butterfly garden, and water garden.: We went from 179 roses last May to over 200 this year (despite the damage caused by the dreaded voles).

At Blotanical we currently have a user rank of 191 and a blog rank of 190.  We've been "faved" by 38 fellow bloggers.  We've earned 5,812 Blotanical points.  More important than the numbers however, has been the sense of community, the support we've received, the genuine feelings of camaraderie and friendship.  Being a part of the Blotanical community has made us better bloggers, better gardeners, and more involved in our local and national gardening groups.

We attended our first district convention, the annual main event of the Yankee District of the American Rose Society held in March in Rhode Island.  This month, Steve and I were elected to the Executive Board of the New England Rose Society as Treasurer and Secretary respectively.

A sparrow takes a bath in the waterfall of our water garden.
Statistics aside, the most important things we've gained in the last year through our participation in Blotanical are knowledge and friends.  We've learned a lot.  We've learned about flowers, birds and wildlife all over the world.  We've learned to take better photographs, we've learned shortcuts and better ways of doing gardening chores, and we've learned to be better inhabitants of the planet.  Our garden is now a certified wildlife habitat. We've also learned that there are untold resources at our disposal and we frequently tap them all.

But best of all, we've made friends all over our county, our country, and around the world.  Friends we care about and who care about us.  Now, when we hear about a natural disaster or terrible storms or floods in other parts of the world, it's much more personal for us and we quickly check the blogs of people we will likely never meet in person but who we have come to call "friend".

Steve spends a few hours each month tending to the Masonic Center Garden.
We've also learned that sharing is caring.

We share our time and knowledge, teaching others about "green" gardening and encouraging others to nurture and protect the environment.

We also help in more tangible ways. We share plants from our garden with neighbors, guests and even strangers who stop to admire the gardens.

As members of the New England Rose Society, we support the mission of the Rose Society by volunteering in the rose yard of the Wolf Hill Garden Center.  There, we help people to choose the perfect rose for their yard and then teach them how to properly plant, prune, and care for it.

We also continue to help maintain the rose garden at the Masonic Center in Newburyport which we helped to design and build two years ago.  We open our gardens to the public one day a year for the Country Gardens Annual Water Garden Tour.  (This year, the tour is scheduled for Saturday, June 23, 2012.)

Our love of roses extends all the way to Brooklyn, NY where next week we will spend much of our vacation helping rose curator Sarah Owens to prepare the Cranford Rose Garden for the Brooklyn Botanical Garden's annual "Rose Night", a labor of love we are eagerly anticipating.

So what does any of this have to do with Blotanical, you might ask.  All of these activities and more have been shared on our blog, generated comments and interest within the Blotanical community, and have contributed to the ever widening audience of readers who have encouraged us and supported us.

Most importantly, we've appreciated being part of a community where we can share the highs and lows of our lives through and by gardening.  Our blog has been the vehicle and Blotanical has been the means by which we've done that.

Last June, we showed our roses for the first time ever in a juried rose show sponsored by the New England Rose Society and earned a Best in Show prize in addition to a fistful of first and second place ribbons. We blogged about our experience here.  We also shared our grief and the memorial garden we've established in the memory of nine soldiers who died in the crash of Blackhawk #571 in Afghanistan.  As Memorial Day approaches,  we have once again dedicated one of our garden beds to the soldiers of that mission and will share that with the Blotanical community on Monday (Memorial Day, for those of us here in the U.S.).

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Topsy Turvy Calendar - GBBD, May, 2012

March winds and April showers 
bring forth May flowers.
                              ~ Old English Proverb

This calendar rhyme has held true for generations here in New England.  March is typically blustery and chilly.  According to another proverb, it "blows in like a lion and goes out like a lamb."  April is often the rainy month, and April showers give rise to the greening of the grass, budding of trees, and sprouting of bulbs that result in beautiful spring flowers in May.

These year, however, Mother Nature skidded back end over teakettle on the slippery of slope of winter into spring and got the entire thing wrong.  March rolled in on a heat wave.  Trees began to leaf out and spring bulbs sprouted and bloomed as temperatures climbed into the 80's with gentle breezes.  Magnolias and daffodils bloomed six weeks early.  Then it got cold, and for many of us things went somewhere in a handbag.

April was sunny and dry.  So dry, in fact, that we had fire warnings for much of the month.  The temperatures were more seasonable but the lack of water saw me actually watering the beds and everything new that we'd planted.

May has been warm, wet and windy... as strange combination indeed.  Breakfasts under the deck canopy were impossible with the wind frequently gusting to 25-35 mph.

In the garden, I've found signs of mildew on some of the roses and one of the yellow magnolias and aphids found the honeysuckle, but it's been hard to spray when the dry days have been so scarce!

In northeastern Massachusetts, you can count on common lilacs to bloom for Mother's Day.  Most of the lilacs bloomed weeks early - the common lilacs at right were fully open and beginning to fade by April 20th.

We had planted some later blooming varieties in order to be able to enjoy the sweet lilac fragrance well into Juneso we had some fragrant blooms for Mother's Day after all.

Photographed at the end of the first week of May, these lilacs bloomed in early June last year, a full four weeks later into the season.  Unfortunately, with all of the rain we've had, we barely got to enjoy them.

Colby's Wishing Star will bloom again later in the summer.

May brings a lovely medley of columbine, sage, coral bells (heuchera), and dicentra to the cottage garden.

The columbine began blooming several weeks ago and continues to thrill and impress as new blooms in an ever widening range of colors open in all of our perennial beds..

Evidence of self-hybridizing is everywhere. I saw some familiar varieties from last year and in some of the same places in the garden where they had b loomed before.  But in others, the colors were different, evidence that the columbine self-seeded and the blooms were a result of open pollination in the previous plants.

We also added some new varieties this year, including some with double petals in the center of the blooms. But may favorite is still the soft, pastel blue and ivory blooms that sprouted out of nowhere last year in our all white shade garden.


The last of the apple blossoms are winding down along with the last of the spring bulbs. We still have a handful of grape hyacinths and late flowering jonquils in bloom, but the star of the tree grove is the dark pink dogwood, Cherokee Chief.  .

Cherokee Chief, blooming in the tree grove behind the waterfall.

The last of the jonquils and daffodils.
A few last grape hyacinths bloom in the shade of the climbing hydrangea.
Another early bloomer is the wisteria.  The Chinese wisteria started blooming a full five weeks ahead of last year and the American wisteria, "Amethyst Falls".   The American wisteria usually blooms a few weeks after the Chinese wisteria and the large buds look as though they will be opening any time. 

The Chinese wisteria vines bloom in these shades of purple and lavender as well a deep, rich mauve and burgundy.
The buds of "Amethyst Falls" will be opening any day now.
We lost nearly an entire bed of iris to the destructive activities of voles, a consequence of a very mild winter and a warm, early spring.  In the main cottage bed, we were left with a few scattered iris tubers that sent up young, non-blooming plants.  Across the driveway, the news was much better;  the mauve clump on the island and the purple and white and pale lavender on the far side of the parking area were spared and are blooming beautifully.
The floribunda Scentimental blooms behind the iris on the island in the driveway.
In the water garden, the variegated yellow iris are beginning to bloom as well.
The cottage and perennial beds are boasting a bounty of color thanks to perennials that have continued to bloom over the past 6-8 weeks as well as newer blooms bursting forth from other plants every day. The hellebores and fragaria have been blooming for over two months and the dicentra have been blooming for several weeks as well. The  anemones just started blooming this week as have the bachelor's buttons and English laurel.

English Laurel "Otto Luyken", Prunus laurocerasus and fringed bleeding heart, Dicentra exemia
"Otto Luyken was a sleeper in a small bed behind our gazebo until it bloomed last year.  Prior to that, the shrubs languished and showed very slow growth.  After blooming last year, they have been revitalized and not only increased in overall size by more than 50% over last season, but are covered with their typical bottle brush blooms.
Fragaria "Lipstick", a wild strawberry cross, which produces very small but very flavorful and sweet strawberries.
In the shade cottage garden, white dicentra arches over variegated hostas and white hellebores.
Pink dicentra is a mainstay in both the cottage gardens and woodland garden.
The Snowdrop Anemones,  Anemone sylvestris, just started blooming.
Lilies of the valley make a fragrant ground cover in the cottage and woodland gardens and along the hill down to the back gardens.
The woodland garden likewise did not disappoint.  Our beds of trillium have continued to multiply, and the wiegela and Solomon's seal is blooming as well.

The azaleas added a pop of color in the woodland garden as well.
Trillium grandiflorum, brilliant white against the dark green foliage, is stunning in the woodland garden.
Our bed of red trillium has spread under the variegated willow.
Yellow trillium
The dark red blossom of the red trillium is a bright spot in dense shade.
Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum commutatum)
Foamflower  (Tiarella) is an early surprise in this corner of the woodland garden.
Both the European and Canadian wild gingers are blooming as well, their rather unusual blooms tucked out of sight under their leaves.
Canadian Wild Ginger, Asarum canadense
The Canadian Wild Ginger bloom is larger and more dramaticthan the European bloom.
European Wild Ginger, Asarum europeum
The blooms of the European Wild Ginger are insignificant and easy to miss.
The azaleas, dogwoods, tree peony, yellow magnolia. and rhododendrons have also been blooming with abandon both in the tree grove and in the front of the house. 

Rhododendron "Capistrano", is a soft butter yellow.
Rhododendron "Nova Zembla"
Magnolia acuminata "Yellow Bird"
Tree Peony
Blooms of the red tree peony.
The blooms of the kousa dogwood just opened.  Over the next several weeks they will get creamier in color.
A few other surprises include some fragrant white honeysuckle, tall spikes of ajuga, sedum, and beautiful bachelor's buttons.

White honeysuckle has the delightful scent of vanilla.
The ajuga is a colorful ground cover for a shady area.
Yellow flowering stonecrop
The bees enjoy the bachelor's buttons as much as we do!
Elsewhere in the perennial beds, even the weeds are providing swaths of brilliant color.  Below, buttercups self-seeded throughout one of our perennial beds, and while we need to rein them in before they choke out everything else, they make a striking contrast with the penstemon.

Some of the showstoppers in the garden this spring are none other than the roses. Ordinarily, we don't see our first blooms until after Memorial Day, although the rugosas can occasionally bloom a bit earlier.  This spring, the rugosas began blooming nearly three weeks early, following the trend of the rest of the garden. They were soon followed by the floribunda "Scentimental", and then almost immediately the Knock-Out "Blushing".  Within a week nearly every rose in the garden sported plump buds, but it was "Zephirine Drouhin" and another unidentified climber who tied for the fourth place honorable mention for an early bloom.

Rosa rugosa rubra
The floribunda, "Scentimental", fragrant and stunning.
KNock-Out "Blushing"
"Zephirine Drouhin's" first bloom of the season.
We don't know the name of this climber but it is an early bloomer that continues to bloom all summer long.
This winter, the voles attacked many of our roses and hostas.  We lost nearly 20 roses, not to the New England winter, but to the hungry appetites of the many voles who tunneled through our bed, feasting on the tender roots and main stems of the rose shrubs.  We began replacing them immediately.  New additions to the rose beds often come budded and many have also started to bloom early, giving us a bright burst of color in nearly every bed. 

Clockwise from top left:  "Pat Austin", "Graham Thomas", "Heritage" (all David Austin English roses), and "Love's Magic" (Hybrid Tea)

Each month, gardeners from all over the world share what is blooming in their gardens with a Garden Bloggers Bloom Day post.  Hosted by Blotanist Carol of Indiana, you can find links to visit all of the gardens that participate in this monthly bloomfest on her blog at May Dreams Gardens.