Month: November 2010

Hammonasset Beach: one of Connecticut’s great places

Last month you read about two parks, Bartlett Arboretum and Harkness Memorial State Park, in guest posts here from Debbie at A Garden of Possibilities and Cyndy at Gardening Asylum. I continue the great parks in Connecticut series with a visit to Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison.

Connecticut beach lovers have soaked up summer sun along the Long Island Sound shores of Hammonasset Beach since 1920.  A visit there during off-season may be less warm, but just as charming.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Hammonasset’s shoreline and the shores of the nearby Hammonasset River were once inhabited by Native Americans who grew crops, fished, and hunted until they sold the land that is now Hammonasset Beach to colonists. Before becoming a state park, the area supported salt hay farming and porpoise fishing (porpoise were used as fertilizer and fin oil), and served as a rifle firing and ammunition testing range. (see Friends of Hammonasset for more history)

Today’s visitors to Hammonasset Beach State Park can still fish from the shore, but hunters seek only crabs, clams, and shells, and the only shooting is via the lens of a camera.

In spite of the Native American meaning of the word Hammonasset – where we dig holes in the ground – the park does not have cultivated garden areas. Instead it offers more than 400 natural beach and tidal wetland acres ripe for investigation, observation, and enjoyment.

Shoreline strolls may reveal a garden of shells.


A garden of seaweed, uncovered during low tide.


Or the silhouette of an ancient spirit that steadfastly keeps watch over water and tide.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Tidal wetlands covers just over 300 acres of the park. Over the course of a year it supports as many as 300 species of birds. The salt marsh and sand dunes also contain beach grass, cord grass, beach plum, and bayberry.



Hammonasset claims to have the largest tidal wetland in the state, and it’s accessibility makes it easy for all to study and admire.


Visit Hammonasset for a beautiful winter stroll along more than two miles of beach or along the parks many boardwalks and paved or dirt trails along the tidal wetland.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The shore, the birds, and even the shells are a welcome sight on gray days.

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Thankful for sage

I’m thankful for so many things, for example a loving family; good health; the ability to garden, read, and see and to listen to birds sing, wind blow, and ocean waves break on-shore; the rights I’m afforded by living in the U.S., and you, my readers. But when I’m preparing Thanksgiving dinner, and specifically the homemade stuffing that traditionally goes into our turkey, I can’t help but sing praises for common sage (Salvia officinalis).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs  offers a rather ordinary description for this herb – a hardy perennial subshrub with woody, wiry stems that are square and covered with down. This rather nondescript description, however, does not give sage its due.

My ordinary Salvia officinalis, happy now for about a dozen years in the same spot, is the main source of fresh picked sage and sage for drying. It leafs out later than many perennials but holds its own against other plants once the stems fill with gray-green fuzzy leaves and the early-summer blue-lavender flowers open. Its fresh leaves flavor egg dishes and summer salads, and large sage leaves, lightly sprayed with olive oil and grilled until crisp is a taste not to be missed.

Still, the bulk of the leaves from this one shrub end up in tied bunches, hung upside down to dry.

Harvested in September (left photo), leaves are amply dry by Thanksgiving (right photo).


Early on Thanksgiving Day, with a fresh brewed cup of coffee nearby and cranberry orange bread warming in the oven, this dried sage becomes the mainstay flavoring ingredient for homemade bread stuffing. I’m warmed by the pungent scent of dried sage leaves being crushed between my palms, but the essential Thanksgiving aroma comes from sage combined into home-made bread cubes stuffing with celery, onions, home grown and dried thyme, turkey stock, apples, and cranberries.

If this alone is not reason enough to include sage in sunny planting beds, there’s more cause to be thankful.

  • Sage tolerates, in fact prefers, drier soils – no need to spend time and energy watering
  • Sage requires little care – just prune off damaged branches and remove spent blossoms
  • Sage is deer resistant. I’ve never, in all my years of gardening, seen sage nibbled by deer
  • Except for occasional caterpillar munching (some is evident in the photo above), sage is rarely bothered by unwanted pests.
  • Common non-variegated sage shrubs can be excellent additions to perennial beds. When happy – no wet feet and in full sun – they grow about two feet tall and wide (at least in Connecticut). As such, sage shrubs make nice back drops for lower blooming perennials or annuals, or act to hide unattractive lower regions of taller blooming plants.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I use more ornamental varieties, such as Tricolor with green, white, and red leaf color variegation and golden-edged Icterina with yellow and green leaf coloring, in perennial beds in need of some season-long, little-care, color-boost. I’m not overly impressed with Tricolor’s flavor, scent, drying ability, or hardiness in my zone 6a garden (I’ve had to replace Tricolor many times) but the interesting leaf variegation continues to speak to me. Golden-edged Icterina holds a nice flavor used fresh or dried. Icterina still thrives in my gardens after three very different winters and even retains some color through the early snowfalls.

With northern gardeners heading into our season of garden dreaming, visualize a sunny,cry spot for sage. It’s a simple herb that offers extraordinary returns as a foliage plant and a source for home-grown flavor and fragrance.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving!

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