A month of monarda

IMG_5198I have written about Monarda, or Bee Balm before, but I am doing it again because I have to gush about how fantastic these plants are in my garden this year. I purchased the plant in the above photo at a garden club sale, and it was labelled “Jacob Cline.” The flower does look red in the photo, but it’s really more of a wine-red, probably the cultivar “Raspberry Wine.”

IMG_5185THIS is Jacob Cline. Much redder in person. Below is a wider view of it growing against the house.


I bought a new cultivar last year, and it has turned out to be the earliest bloomer in my Monarda collection. It’s called “Purple Rooster” and it is rather short, so I have it at the front of the border. It’s slightly gone by, but the photo below will give you an idea of how purple it is.


Actually, now that I look at it, the photo does not give you an idea of how purple it is. (That’s the one downside to digital cameras, They don’t capture nuances of color very well.)

Below is a shot of the two plants growing together. Hopefully this gives you a better idea of the difference in their colors.


My Monarda Fistulosa, aka Wild Bergamot, just began flowering this week. It fills in the back of the perennial border very nicely, and is a pleasing light pink color. This plant is a native that has been known to get unruly, but I have never had that problem. Maybe we’re far enough North.


The front of the house is more or less a wall of Monarda these days, and I have the hummingbirds to prove it. Swarms. Flocks. Hordes. Other pollinators, too.


I’ll be taking a couple of weeks off from the blog. Time for a break from writing! Enjoy your gardens.

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Oldie But Goodie


HerbDoc sings the praises of Kolkwitzia.

Here’s an old fashioned shrub that was extremely popular in the fine gardens of the 1930’s and 1940’s.  Kolkwitzia, or Beauty Bush, is a dense, twiggy, fountain-shaped shrub with pink tubular flowers that appear in late May to mid-June.

The positives of this shrub are many.  It has no diseases; pests don’t like it; and it is easy to grow in average soil (pH 6.6 – 7.5).  Flowers, although short lived, have a sweet fragrance similar to vanilla and are very attractive to bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

Visitors to my yard often remark about it when it’s in bloom but tell me it’s hard to find.  Mine came many, many years ago from an older garden club member’s offshoot.  If I had been lucky enough to have offshoots, I would have planted them all over my property line!  When not in bloom, the plant is rather nondescript.  It has yellow leaves in the fall and is deciduous.


If you plant Kolkwitzia, give it plenty of room!  The one in this photo is about 12 feet high although it is said to grow to 15 feet.  The plant grows on old wood so avoid the mistake I made a few years ago and resist the urge to prune it.  Not only will you do away with next season’s bloom, you will also end up with a “witches’ broom”.  It will eventually grow out, but in the meantime it will be quite ugly!  To renew the plant simply cut thick old branches down to the ground after the spring bloom.


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Cha-Cha Chive


HerbDoc is growing an interesting chive:

Here’s a newly developed chive, developed by Cook’s Garden and only available by plants two years ago.  Allium tuberosum ‘Cha-Cha’ is grown exactly like the purple headed variety.  It’s extremely cold hardy and loves the sun.  Because I was unsure if it would cross pollinate with the chive and garlic chive stands in my herb garden, I chose to plant them in a pot on the deck.

They have survived two cold winters in that pot, and this year a bunch of seedlings sprouted with them.  It will be interesting to see if they mimic their parents at maturity since I noticed Burpee was offering the seeds for sale in the 2015 spring catalog.


‘Cha-Cha’ has an outstanding false inflorescence filled with mini green chive leaves.  The entire plant is edible with a mild onion flavor.  Try the “mini chives” in salads or as a garnish on other summer dishes.  They can also add a touch of whimsy to flower arrangements when left on their stems.

Editor’s note: This is a very cool-looking plant.

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You never know…



…who’s reading your stuff. Imagine my surprise when I received an email a few weeks ago from a writer at Rhode Island Monthly magazine. She had discovered Digging RI (!!!) and wanted to include it in a feature on Rhode Island blogs. Being of sound mind, of course I said yes. The feature is in this month’s issue.


Here’s the page. She also mentions HerbDoc, which is cool. It looks as if she read quite a few posts. I am not sure how far back she went, but she liked the one I wrote about the manure festival.

I have been blogging since 2009, and there have been many times when I considered giving it up, especially now that I write full-time for a living. I still feel that way sometimes, but it’s good to know that your writing and photography reach more people than you ever thought they would.

Happy Independence Day to all my readers.

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Hummingbird Explosion!


Here at Digging RI, we’re big hummingbird fans. HerbDoc shares some thoughts on her resident hummer population:

The peep has gone out far and wide that my hummingbird feeder is always filled with sweet, fresh nectar.  At least that’s what I think happened!

As of this writing, I have six fearless and feisty hummers constantly visiting.  Here’s a photo of three of them sharing the feeder for a change.  It seems the females are especially territorial this year and chase anyone who dares to close in on the food source.  One squeaks loudly while another looks furtively over her shoulder between sips.  It is very unusual for them to sit together like this.

The males come on a totally different time schedule and are not quite so disagreeable.  Both sexes are very friendly to me and visit me in the gardens to assess what I’m doing in the herb garden or the perennial bed.  Hummers have been constant nesters for years in the bushes behind the herb garden.

I’m amazed that we have six in the same location.  In the past I counted myself lucky if I had a pair so I wondered if some of these were juveniles.  If that’s the case they are the same size as their parents.

The only change I’ve made in the last year is to trade in my plastic feeder for a beautiful glass one that my son gave me for Mother’s Day last year.  My feeder always goes out in mid-April, and the nectar is changed every three days.  The time period is shortened to very other day when it becomes hot.  Because there are so many of them this year, we’re already filling the feeder every other day and even purchased a larger bottle.  I’m considering the option of hanging the smaller bottle in the front yard, but then I’d miss some of the action.

Editor’s note: If you want to learn more about hummingbirds and how to attract them, click here.

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IMG_5019Looking like tiny fire crackers, the intensely-colored blooms of Lonicera Sempervirens Major Wheeler are right up in your face, demanding to be noticed. This climbing honeysuckle has been variously described  as “the best,” a “stand-out” and a “non-stop bloomer,” and guess what? It’s all true.

This vine is not to be confused with the invasive honeysuckle shrub. Major Wheeler is a relatively new cultivar that promises and delivers an explosion of intense red blooms that cover the plant all summer. It is hardy to Zone 4, and unlike clematis, (which I also love), it requires no care other than planting and initial training up whatever it is you want it to climb. This plant grows to about eight feet.

I planted mine last summer to attract hummingbirds, and they do go crazy for all those tubular red blooms. I love watching them probing every single flower. The plant did ok the first year but this summer, what an explosion! As you can see in the photo below, it all but covers my ugly light.


Drought-tolerant, hardy, floriferous, and a hummingbird, butterfly and bee magnet, this is a wonderful plant with tidy, mildew-free foliage. I have also read that later in the season, it produces berries that other birds like robins love. Try it this summer – if you can get your hands on one.

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Here’s HerbDoc again, writing about one of my favorite plants: clematis.

The bowers of the tiny white flowers of Autumn Clematis trailing over rock walls and trellises are gorgeous, but as a dear friend of DN’s and mine found it, after the enticing bloom comes disaster.

Every one of those irresistible white flowers produces seeds, and come next spring you’ll be wondering where all of that new clematis came from that’s all over your yard and the neighbor’s! Next you’ll be cursing what has become an invasive thug.

After researching an alternative, I settled on Clematis “Paul Farges.” Not many nurseries seem to carry this variety so I ended up buying mine via mail from Massachusetts. I had never purchased plants from this source before, but two sturdy, knee high vines arrived in short order and were very well packed. “Paul Farges” is also called “Summer Snow” and is a cross between C. fargessi and C. vitalba.

This cross is said to be strong, hardy and floriferous without the tendency to be invasive. It grows from 18 to 22 feet tall but is not dense. The flowers are creamy white, fragrant stars. This clematis blooms on new wood (a group III) so top growth can be cut back anytime between late autumn and early spring. I’m excited about adding “Paul Farges” to my perennial bed and will let you know how he performs!

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Spring Planting


Here’s a post from my good friend, HerbDoc, who is always up to interesting things in her garden. Welcome back, HD!

It seems that every year, a container calls me to be planted. In very cold April, it was this cute little vine and moss teapot that beckoned. I envisioned it perched in the middle of my glass table on the deck where it now stands surrounded by other plants waiting patiently to be put in the ground. Eventually it will stand alone!

It is as much fun to decide what should be planted in a container as it is finding the right one.  I love the organic, non-GMO “Freckles” green romaine, which is a bright green splashed with crimson markings. It has upright growth, is crisp in texture, and is very heat tolerant. Set it off with a sprinkle of yellow pansies and variegated thyme, and it’s an ode to spring. When the romaine goes by, I’ll replace it with various tea herbs for snipping all summer.

If you find a container like this one and wish to plant it, I’d add a soft plastic bag to the interior to hold the soil, so it will last more than one season. Maybe I tend to be pennywise, but these containers can be pricey, and will easily be destroyed if they get too wet!



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Dispatch from a little town


This is the kind of scene I encounter on my way to work. Sure beats sitting in freeway traffic. This is Meadowbrook Pond in Richmond, RI, one of many peaceful and lovely spots in the largely unknown southwestern part of the state. There is much more to Rhode Island than beaches and the mansions in Newport.

I always enjoy the constantly changing, creative displays when I stop in at the Back in Thyme restaurant in Hopkinton. This isn’t really a sit- down place, but I usually grab a bite at the one table, and gaze at the quirky and fun decorations, all created by the owner, who is also a professional gardener.



IMG_4769She integrates the organic with the whimsical in such interesting ways, using lots of plants, both living and dried.

IMG_4770See what I mean? She is just as creative with her food, and I am completely addicted to the  tea she makes from herbs she grows and picks herself. There’s lots of fresh ginger in it. Below is another strangely attractive creation. The leaf is a nice touch. This woman is an artist who notices and appreciates the beauty in little things.


If you ever visit RI, consider venturing into the interior, where many pleasant surprises await. The state is so small, it’s an easy and pretty drive from the coast.


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Memorial Day musings

IMG_4737Happy Memorial Day America. To those who serve our country, and those who have served, Thank You.

IMG_4750These are the flowers on my comfrey plant, which is opening now. I bought it last year, and it shrugged off the nasty winter without any problems. I recommend this plant for several reasons. Pollinators love it, it is a medium-sized plant that adds a nice blue color to my perennial border, and although I will never explore its medicinal properties, it also has a ton of those. According to my cursory research, comfrey tea can be used to treat everything from digestive upsets to cancer. It can also help treat skin problems and even fractures.

IMG_4744Here it is, growing next to my very red azalea. You can see it is not at all diminutive or retiring. This plant can hold its own.

IMG_4749Here’s another view of it. It’s more impressive when the flowers are completely open.


On a less positive note, this photo, taken through a window with my phone, depicts the quick and tragic end of my snap pea crop. We thought that maybe this year the rabbits would somehow overlook them, but no. They simply waited until they were about six inches tall, hopped over the fence, and devoured them. Then this big, plump lagomorph, (looks like a doe to me) stuffed with tender shoots, had a nice rest IN the bed. Where are those foxes that kept the rabbits in check? This is what happens when the predators go away.

I cannot conclude this post without saying, once again, for the record, that the new Mac photo application is without a doubt one of the most annoying I have ever had to use. I am still trying to figure out how to label my photos, and even the editing has been made more confusing and inefficient.

Why, why, why did they do this? To see how far they could push their customers before they went running back to the welcoming arms of Microsoft? Did they have some down time on a rainy afternoon, and someone suggested they screw around with iPhoto just to see what would happen? Did someone slip something into the Red Bull that day? And did they decide NOT to warn their users before springing this travesty on us because they wanted to watch us suffer? I guess we will never know.

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