Summer orchids

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This orchid is Encyclia “Green Hornet.” My husband and a few friends have described it as “creepy,” “weird” and “cartoonish.” I think it’s cool, interesting and beautiful.

It is consistently hot and humid in our area these days, and the orchids are loving it, as long as we leave the ceiling fan on to keep the air moving. Good air circulation is one of the keys to orchid happiness. This hybrid  is about eight inches tall, and likes bright light and a bit more water when it’s in flower. Easy to grow, though.

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Blc “Hawaiian Sunset,” a cattleya hybrid, grows well on a table in a south-facing window. I took this photo, appropriately, at sunset. I won this orchid in a drawing at an orchid club meeting, and it has been a reliable bloomer. I don’t usually have much success with cattleyas, and I am not really fond of many of them, so this is the only one in my collection.

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Finally, a miniature, Podangis Dactyloceras, one of my kitchen windowsill companions. This is a species from Western Africa. Its sharp, fan-shaped leaves make it look almost like a cactus.

Each inflorescence carries a cluster of small, translucent white blooms with green centers. There’s a second spike on the other side of the crown. It has been a reliable bloomer for me since I bought it at an orchid show several years ago.

When non-orchid growing friends see one of my more unusual plants, they often say ” it doesn’t look like an orchid.” One of the reasons I grow orchids is because they are so incredibly diverse. It kind of boggles my mind.

 

 

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Higher ground

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This is the view from the trail to the summit of Mt. Roberts, in Moultonborough, New Hampshire. That huge lake is Winnipesaukee – at its bluest. My friend and I climbed this peak recently on a hot day, which, for  a cold weather girl like me, made the experience a lot more difficult. It’s 2 1/2 miles each way, and we were on the trail for 4 1/2 hours with a couple of short breaks.

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The trail was varied, with some shady stretches, but a lot of it was like this: typical rocky NH. Some people run these, but I have no idea how they do it. The footing can be very tricky.

The trail is owned and maintained by the Lakes Region Conservation Trust, which has done an excellent job. The red-orange  blazes are well-placed and easy to follow, and we didn’t see a speck of trash.

When we had reached a decent elevation, probably about 1,500 feet or so, we suddenly started seeing vivid spots of orange among the low-growing blueberries: wild lilies.

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Like  other plants that grow high on mountains, they were much shorter than their flatland cousins, only a few inches high. Below is a close-up so you can see how pretty they are.

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We also saw some lovely harebells, members of the campanula family. They prefer more sheltered, partly-shaded conditions.

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But we humans are never alone in the wilderness. At the summit, we heard several warblers and white throated sparrows. I saw a large pile of moose droppings, and then, smack in the middle of the trail, we came upon this: indisputable proof that bears do s**t in the woods.

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This scat was at about a day old. We did not encounter any black bears, but this was a graphic reminder that they’re out there.

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Gross but effective

As anyone who spends time in the outdoors knows, this is deer fly season. They’re impossible to ignore because they are so persistent and their bites hurt – a lot.

My friend and I were hiking recently and they were so bad, we were considering heading back to the car. Then I remembered the deer fly strips in my pack, unused since last summer.

You peel off the paper from each side, leaving a sticky death trap facing out. Stick the back of the strip to your hat and wait for the flies to meet their makers.

We noticed after a few minutes there weren’t as many of them buzzing around, and when I looked at my friend’s strip, it was absolutely covered with dead and dying deer flies!

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These strips are non-toxic, portable, and easy to use, and the adhesive doesn’t leave a residue on your hat. I ordered mine online. Great score.

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I’m in clover

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I was struck this morning by the difference between my lawn and my neighbor’s. Mine is the green one with all the clover in it, and hers is the brown, chemically-treated wasteland. I believe that I owe the health and resilience of my turf grass to the abundance of clover that I allow to grow in it.

The lawn chemical companies have convinced people that clover is very, very bad indeed and that they should do everything they can to eradicate it. And people believe the lies, dumping all kinds of chemicals – and money – into the effort to keep their lawns clover-free.

The secret that those companies don’t want people to know is that clover is what is known as a “nitrogen fixer”, attracting nitrogen from the air and releasing it into the soil, fertilizing it naturally. So instead of spending money on clover-killers, I let the plants grow and do their fertilizing thing – for free!

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“Clover lawns” are enjoying a renaissance these days as part of the movement away from herbicides and pesticides that kill every microorganism in the soil. The plants only bloom for a few weeks, so the rest of the time, they blend right in with the grass.

Another benefit to encouraging clover is the food you provide to bees and other pollinators, who could use all the help they can get. And clover smells good too. So defy convention and allow clover into your lawn. Your grass will thank you.

Happy Independence Day to all my American readers!

 

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A dilemma resolves itself

My dog was particularly interested in one spot in my flower border, sniffing with great interest every time we walked by. Then one day, my husband noticed some movement in the bed, right at the base of my Lonicera vine.

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Five little voles were sitting there, quite unafraid. Once in a while, one of them would venture out of the bed, scuttling onto the lawn. I don’t believe that you should kill something just because you don’t want in your garden, but I also know that voles are destructive pests.

Here’s one of them, giving me the stink-eye.

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They weren’t being particularly destructive – yet – but I had to do something. I decided to trap them and release them far away from my garden, but in a place where they would stand a chance – like a field.

Then, they disappeared. Suddenly. All of them. And I did not find any holes where they would have gone underground. So it looks like my problem solved itself, and I didn’t have to be mean about it.

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Garden by the sea

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This post is long on photos and short on chit chat.  I went on a garden tour in southern RI this weekend and spent about an hour in one of the most gorgeous gardens I have EVER seen.

What makes it so special? A combination of thoughtful plantings, spectacular views of the ocean, intriguing glacial moraine and the good taste of the homeowners, who, by the way, have done the work themselves over 25 years. OK I’ll stop yakking now.

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We entered by the “shade garden.” That’s one of the two houses, way up at the top.

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This is one of the huge millstones that was on the property when the owner bought it. He turned it into a fountain.

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There are several ponds in the garden. The gardener has strung monofilament over the water to prevent the predations of blue herons, who will eat every single fish, given the opportunity. Can’t blame them for trying….

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A 100-step staircase takes you to the top of the garden and the main house. There’s also a more gentle path up.

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This is your reward for the climb.

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You can see the lawn of the shade garden in the lower right corner. Gives you an idea of the change in elevation.

More views: Here’s the rocky moraine section of the property, proof that like Earth, RI is not  flat.

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We paused to drool (discreetly) over the deck.

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And the pool.

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We proceeded to the guest house, which also has a lovely pool.

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You can get a great view of Block Island through a thoughtfully-placed scope.

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Looking at the main house from the trail leading back down to the shade garden.

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Mountain laurel, at peak bloom, covered the hillside.

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Bird nesting boxes and hummingbird feeders, all well-maintained, were placed throughout the property.

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There were so many places to sit and relax, I don’t know how I would choose a favorite. I’ll close with a shot of another enticing spot: a fireplace with a view.

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A small solution

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A few years ago, someone gave me the white planter in the above photo. I tried growing all kinds of things in it, but it is just too shallow for most plants. I noticed that the one thing that seemed to thrive was moss, which I find attractive. Then a friend gave me a few alyssum and I put those in with the moss.

One thing led to another, and before I knew it, I had added a small pig, some beach pebbles, a shell or two, and several pieces of driftwood. It was beginning to look rather charming.

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Now, marigold seedlings from last year’s failed planting are popping up and I’m letting them grow, just to see what happens. It all began with that moss.

Spot the sheep!

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Columbines

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Hiking in an Audubon refuge recently, my friend and I came across this stunning sight. The large, thriving patch of aquiliegia canadensis, or Canadian – or Wild –  columbine. These native wildflowers were growing in light shade near a pond.

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We have seen this plant before, of course, growing in damp but well-drained soil. It blooms here in late May. But we agreed that these were particularly stunning because of the very red sepals and bright yellow, contrasting petals. The foliage is also attractive – delicate and fern-like.

The red spur is filled with nectar, and these plants are visited by pollinators such as butterflies and hummingbirds.

I would not try to grow this plant in my border. It’s just too hot and dry here. But I understand it does very well in the garden, under the right conditions.

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Wild

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How about this wild azalea? Don’t you just want to pollinate it? We have seen several growing in the woods lately. They are classic understory plants, preferring the partial shade of the forest canopy. The foliage is rather sparse, but the blooms speak for themselves.

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I have never seen as many Lady Slipper orchids as I have this spring. We come across them on almost every hike. The cypripedium acaule, also known as “moccasin flower,” grows in what must be rather acidic soil with all those pine needles. I have even seen one growing in a tiny cavity in a rock.

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We had what many people call a “hard” winter here in RI. I think it was normal, and that recent winters here have been too mild. The spring has also been cool, which is what these orchids (and I ) like.

I did a little research and found out that there are forty species of orchids growing wild here in RI. All but one are natives, and eight species are probably extinct. Our wild orchids bloom from May to October in a wide variety of habitats. “Rhode Island Orchids” is a great source of information.

Here’s a final shot of Lady Slippers growing on a moss-covered boulder. So lovely in the dappled forest light.

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Memorial Day weekend in Maine

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The above photo was taken on Orrs Island.

We have just returned from another short but sweet couple of days in Maine. The coast is so different from ours here in RI. We don’t have that ruggedness – or the tidal range.

Speaking of tidal range, we walked our dog down to the shore at low tide, and she sank up to her elbows in stinky muck, which stayed on her paws when she got back in the car. Here she is, heading for the mud. Such are the joys of traveling with dogs.

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We stopped for lunch near Bath, home of the Bath Iron Works shipyard. This is where the famous – or infamous – Zumwalt class destroyers are being built. We caught a glimpse of the first one, the USS Zumwalt. Two more are planned.

It is a strange-looking ship, narrow at the top and wide below, designed for maximum stealth, with a very low radar profile. However, there are also concerns about its vulnerability to capsizing in certain conditions. That’s it, at the end of the pier.

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On the way home, we stopped at Kettle Cove in Cape Elizabeth. It was relatively uncrowded for a holiday weekend. This is a lovely, relaxing place to sit and watch the ocean. You can hang out on the grass, or go down to the beach. Either way it’s a mellow spot.

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