Monday, January 31, 2011

To Mulch or Not to Mulch

by Jon Latimer

At the last meeting of the Landscape Committee, the committee chair reported on planting practices and plant culture information garnered from a closed meeting she held with an outside landscape company. That meeting excluded all incoming members of the Princeton Landing Landscape Committee, even though they will take office next month and will be involved with any decisions made based on information gained at this meeting. Beyond that, the information that was reported is simply wrong.

The chair told the Landscape Committee that the landscaper said that mulch raises a soil’s pH, making the soil more alkaline. Therefore, using mulch will eventually kill acid-loving plants in Princeton Landing such as rhododendrons and azaleas. The chair went on to say that she checked these facts and they are true. She also made it clear that she would like to eliminate the use of mulch in the community altogether because of its cost.

This raises two questions. First, where did the landscape chair check her facts? The most widely held view among gardening experts is that mulch has little or no impact on soil pH. Long-term scientific studies in Iowa and Connecticut have confirmed this. Whatever effect mulch may have is more than compensated for by the use of fertilizer (which can lower pH).

Second, experts agree that mulching is essential for the proper care of rhododendrons and azaleas. Mulch protects the roots of these shallow-rooted plants against extremes of heat and cold—and against drying out. Failing to mulch also promotes the growth of weeds, which compete with the roots of rhododendrons and azaleas for water and nutrients. In addition, removing weeds by hand is likely to injure the shallow roots of these shrubs. It is clear that our plants will die much sooner from lack of mulch than they will from using it.

It is difficult to understand why the landscape chair would be so adamantly against mulching and so willing to put our large investment in landscaping at risk—especially when her opinion is based on such erroneous and misleading information.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


Will you start a fire?
I'll show you something nice—
A huge snowball.

— Matsuo Bashō
Translated by Makoto Ueda

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Digging Out . . . Again

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Nature Guide: Woodpeckers

Once upon a time . . . before I lived in Princeton Landing, I had bird feeders that brought great joy—and many birds. I especially enjoyed watching the different kinds of woodpeckers at this time of year as they hung acrobatically on the suet feeders and trees. There are 22 species of woodpecker found in the US; most live in woodlands like ours. Our Nature Guide Jon Latimer describes four species commonly found in our area.

“Our smallest species, the Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens), is about the size of a sparrow. It has a black-and-white checkered pattern on its wings and white stripes on its head and neck. Males have a narrow area of red on the nape of their neck. Downy Woodpeckers are active and acrobatic feeders. In winter they often join mixed feeding groups with chickadees, titmice and nuthatches. In spring and summer they tend to forage alone, noisily drumming on trees and making their shrill whinnying call.

“The Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus) can be easily confused with its close relation the Downy. Both are very similar in color and shape, except the Hairy is bigger (about the size of a robin) and has a longer beak. Both species occur together throughout most of their ranges, but the Hairy is less common. Also, the Hairy Woodpecker tends to spend more time on the trunks of trees, while the Downy will search for food on smaller branches.

"There is no confusion about identifying the slightly larger Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus). It has a pale grayish underside, striking black-and-white bars on its back and wings, and a distinctive red cap. In flight its wings have white patches near the tips. Red-bellied Woodpeckers eat insects, seeds and nuts. They usually search for food in deciduous trees, but they also forage on the ground. A Red-bellied Woodpecker will sometimes wedge a large nut into a bark crevice, then whack it into bite-sized pieces with its beak.

"The Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) is about the size of a pigeon. Its brown and gray feathers are marked by an unmistakable pattern of black and white stripes. It uses its long, slightly downward-curving beak to dig up ants and beetles, so don't be surprised if you scare one up off the ground. The flash of a broad patch of white on its tail feathers and the yellow (in the East) or red (in the West) on the undersides of the wings are easy identification marks. Like most woodpeckers, Northern Flickers drum on objects to communicate and to defend their territory. The goal seems to be to make as much noise as possible. Last spring one of our local flickers outdid itself. It could be heard more than a half a mile away drumming on a metal silo near the D&R Canal."

All photos by Ken Thomas, except Hairy Woodpecker by Mdf

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Highclere Castle

Downton Abbey was filmed at Highclere Castle in Newbury, England, home of the Carnarvon family since 1679. Highclere is a Victorian castle set on 1,000 acres of parkland. The present castle was designed in 1842 by Sir Charles Barry, the architect responsible for building the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. You can visit Highclere's interesting website to see extensive photographic tours of the castle and grounds. The Gardens & Landscape link alone is worth a look, as are the links to the interior and exterior photos of the film locations. Just a click on the map of the Highclere estate shows why the fortune of the American Heiress Cora would be critical to the Crawley family in the upkeep of Downton Abbey.

Below is a film from Helen James Productions in the UK, which features Lord and Lady Carnarvon, Julian Fellowes and some of the actors from Downton Abbey talking about shooting at Highclere.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Downton Abbey on Masterpiece Classic

Watch the full episode. See more Masterpiece.

Yes, I know the Golden Globes were on last Sunday night, but I had a previous engagement. Episode 2 of Downton Abbey was airing on PBS. Are you watching? Downton Abbey is the latest offering from Masterpiece Classic and it's wonderful. It's set in an Edwardian country house in 1912 and follows the upstairs life of the Crawley family and the downstairs life of their domestic staff. The talented cast includes Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Brendan Coyle—and Dame Maggie Smith. Downton Abbey was created and written by Julian Fellowes, who wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay for Gosford Park. If you'd like to watch too, you can catch up with Masterpiece's synopses of Episode 1 here and Episode 2 here. You can also view Episode 1 and Episode 2 in their entirety online here. There are two more episodes to go; Masterpiece airs on PBS on Sunday at 9:00 pm.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Cold Morning Fifty Years Ago

by Paul Nolting

Today is the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy. Fifty years ago I was a first grader in a Catholic school in Queens, New York. I remember the day with the fogginess and clarity of childhood memories. It had snowed heavily, and school was closed. I was out playing in the snow drifts on Sutter Avenue. Just before the ceremony began, my mother called me to come inside and see it on TV. John Kennedy would be the first Catholic president, and he was Irish like we were. I had to watch history being made, and I would be glad I did when I was older.

I don't remember the oath of office or President Kennedy's speech. I only remember watching Robert Frost. The new President had invited the famous old poet to read a poem at the event. He stepped to the podium and began to read, but he stumbled and stopped. Everyone got worried. Then he recited a different poem from memory, in a strong and clear voice. My mother said that he was old, and the glare from the sun shining on the snow made it even harder for him. But it was wonderful that he remembered the other poem, and recited it so well.

Fifty years later I watched the inauguration again. President Kennedy's speech is so famous that I recognize many of the words even though I don't remember watching it. I now know that the poem Robert Frost tried to read was Dedication, which he had written to honor the occasion. When his eyes failed him, he recited The Gift Outright, a poem he had written many years earlier. It was a favorite of the new President, who sometimes quoted Frost's poems in his speeches.

I remember a cold morning and Robert Frost's white hair and strong voice on the television. I also remember my mother's pride in what was happening and in the fact that her children were watching. Fifty years later I am glad.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

by Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Parcel 6 — 10:18 am

Monday, January 17, 2011

Darkness Cannot Drive Out Darkness

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiples violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction . . . The chain reaction of evil—hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars—must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.

— Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Picture-books in Winter

by Robert Louis Stevenson

Summer fading, winter comes—
Frosty mornings, tingling thumbs,
Window robins, winter rooks,
And the picture story-books.

Water now is turned to stone
Nurse and I can walk upon;
Still we find the flowing brooks
In the picture story-books.

All the pretty things put by,
Wait upon the children's eye,
Sheep and shepherds, trees and crooks,
In the picture story-books.

We may see how all things are,
Seas and cities, near and far,
And the flying fairies' looks,
In the picture story-books.

How am I to sing your praise,
Happy chimney-corner days,
Sitting safe in nursery nooks,
Reading picture story-books?

Illustration by Jessie Willcox Smith from A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson, 1905.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Attention Parents: Baking Class for Kids

Nicole Bergman of Simply Nic's Artisanal Shortbread and Jen Carson of Jen's Cakes & Pastries will be giving a baking class for children on how to create all-natural Valentine's Day sweets. Nic and Jen will teach kids how to make and decorate beautiful heart-shaped sugar cookies with royal icing and chocolate ganache brownies using the best all-natural and organic ingredients.

This Kids in the Kitchen baking class will be held at The Whisk & The Spoon at Whole Foods Market in Princeton on Sunday, January 30, from 10 am to 12 pm. The cost for the lesson is $15 per child (ages 8–12). Ten percent of the income from the class will be donated to Dress for Success Mercer County.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Monday, January 10, 2011

Cleanup Event at the Mapleton Preserve

The members of the Friends of Princeton Nursery Lands invite you to join them on Monday, January 17, for their first event of 2011—a cleanup at the Mapleton Preserve for the National Day of Service in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. From noon to 3 pm volunteers will be clearing small trees, brush, vines and trash. Tools, gloves and litter bags will be available, but you are asked to bring any tools you may have, such as clippers, loppers, saws and rakes. Be sure to dress appropriately for the weather—whatever it is. Hot cider and doughnuts will be provided. For more information, visit or call 609-683-0483. Interested participants can also sign up online here. Mapleton Preserve/D&R Canal State Park is located at 145 Mapleton Road in Kingston.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Snow Fun at Princeton Landing

Nature Guide: Mysterious Mass Bird Deaths

Thousands of blackbirds fell out of the sky on New Year’s Eve in Beebe, Arkansas, a town about 35 miles northeast of Little Rock. This was followed by strange animal deaths in several different parts of the world. Our Nature Guide Jon Latimer takes a look at these perplexing events.

"First reports of mass die-offs appeared when about 5,000 dead birds were discovered in Beebe, Arkansas, on New Year’s Day. A few days later 500 birds were found dead in Louisiana and several hundred more in western Kentucky. Many of the dead birds were red-winged blackbirds, but there were also grackles, starlings and even robins.

"These events were followed by the discovery of dead jackdaws (similar to our American crow) in Falköping, Sweden, and turtle doves in Faenza, Italy. Then an estimated two million fish were discovered dead in Chesapeake Bay and other fish kills were reported in Brazil, New Zealand and Arkansas. Some 40,000 crabs washed up on English beaches. All these mass die-offs began to look like an international catastrophe.

"In fact mass die-offs are not that uncommon, but they are rarely related. More than 150 are recorded each year by the US Geological Survey. But these events normally go unnoticed by the public because they happen at sea or in rural areas. Since they don’t get reported (although they do appear in popular fiction), people don’t try to link them together into a larger pattern. The die-offs of birds in Arkansas and Louisiana took place within cities and received far more attention than they otherwise would have.

"The good news is that authorities investigating these incidents have found no sign that the birds died from diseases such as bird flu. They also found no sign of parasites, poisons or other toxins.

"The bad news is that so far experts have no idea why these birds died. The birds in Beebe may have been startled into flight by New Year’s fireworks and crashed into buildings. The birds in Louisiana may have collided with power lines or cars. But none of this has been proven yet.

"Another theory is that pollution or climate change is creating stress in animals, making them more vulnerable to disease or cold weather. There is good evidence that climate change is killing frogs and salamanders, but there is little evidence of any similar effect on birds.

"So, why do mass die-offs occur? We don't know, but it is reasonable to say that we will find out eventually. And it is nice to know that nature still has plenty of mysteries for us to solve."

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Snow Storm

by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,
Arrives the snow, and, driving o'er the fields,
Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air
Hides hills and woods, the river, and the heaven,
And veils the farmhouse at the garden's end.
The sled and traveler stopped, the courier's feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of storm.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Attention Parents: Event at Terhune Orchards

On Tuesday, January 11, Terhune Orchards will host the first 2011 winter session of their Read & Explore Program at the farm. The topic of the session is The Gingerbread Man. The classic tale of The Gingerbread Man will be read and each child can have fun decorating a large gingerbread man cookie to take home. The children will be able to see how many ingredients of the gingerbread man come from farms.

Read & Explore is Terhune Orchard's winter education series with sessions in January, February and March. The program combines reading stories and doing related craft activities. Parents/guardians and young children (ages preschool to 8 years) are welcome. The sessions begin at 10:00 am and last about one hour. Each session costs $5.00 per participating child, which includes the materials for the activity. Parents should call ahead to register. The number at the farm is 609-924-2310. Check-in is at the farm store. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Terhune Orchards is located at 330 Cold Soil Road in Princeton.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Local Music

Contemporary jazz guitarist B.D. Lenz and his band will be performing at Salt Creek Grille in Princeton Forrestal Village on Friday, January 7, from 7 pm to 10 pm.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Tenth Crucial Day

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Princeton, which took place on the morning of January 3, 1777. The American victory at Princeton closed a period now known as the Ten Crucial Days that began when Washington's army crossed the Delaware River on Christmas night and defeated the Hessian garrison occupying Trenton.

In ten days of heroic fighting in bitter winter weather, Washington and his men turned the tide of the Revolution. Since summer, when Lord Howe had defeated Washington at Brooklyn, Britain's military power had overwhelmed the Americans. British troops had occupied New York and New Jersey and threatened Philadelphia, where the Continental Congress had boldly declared independence only six months earlier. Washington's victories at Trenton and Princeton destroyed the illusion of British invincibility and restored faith in the American cause throughout the former colonies.

The Princeton Battlefield is a quiet but stirring place to visit on a winter day. Two hundred thirty-four years after the battle, it remains an important site of historical investigation. The Princeton Packet reported this past week on a new study, the "Battle of Princeton Mapping Project," which offers new insight into how and where the fighting took place. This new study applies current computer mapping techniques to information from recently discovered American and British accounts of the battle. The study was funded by the American Battlefield Protection Program and administered by the Princeton Battlefield Society.