Helianthus by night

In my last post, I rambled on about my helianthus giganteus, or giant sunflower, and how large and flamboyant it is.

I wanted to show you what this perennial looks like at night. It transforms the front of the house into a mysterious, tropical jungle.

IMG_2333The foliage looks awesome when I turn on the outside light. But it gets better! Hanging out in the leaves is a tiny  frog.


I am usually pretty good at identifying wildlife, or at least looking stuff up, but this one has me stumped. It doesn’t look like a grey tree frog, but I think that must be what it is.

IMG_2342Here’s a closer look. It’s obviously an arboreal frog, and RI only has two of those: grey tree frogs and spring peepers.

Please let me know what you think.

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It’s huge!


This is helianthus giganteus, commonly known as giant sunflower. I bought four plants at a community plant sale last May and stuck them at the back of the border, so they would be against the deck railing. These are perennials, unlike the big-headed annuals.

Well, they kind of took over the entire bed. They’re supposed to grow to about 10 feet tall, but mine seem to be 12 feet or taller. They were late to flower, but now they look great, and the pollinators are loving them, too. Here’s a clump next to my lonicera “Major Wheeler,” another favorite plant.


Maybe this will give you a better idea of how big these plants are.


The one fault I have found is that despite their thick stems, they are not that sturdy and will blow over in strong winds. I have done by best to resolve that by tying them up to the deck railing, but I have still lost a few plants.

Here’s a shot of one of the flowers, which are respectable but not overwhelming. The leaves are huge, though.



Here’s what the plants look like when I’m standing on the deck.

DSCN1120I am all about color in the garden, and this is a most colorful display at a time of year when a lot of plants are winding down. If I remember, I paid $4 for all the plants, which, if you consider their impact, is most respectable bang for my buck.

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Bye bye hummingbirds

DSCN1070Hummingbird season got off to a rather slow start here this year, but once the babies fledged, it was crazy for a while. The birds particularly loved this fuchsia, probing each blossom with their long bills. This hatch year male made a lot of squeaking noises while feeding. Like people, some hummingbirds are more vocal than others.


I had three feeders this summer, two in the front of the house and one at the back. I like the “HummZinger” type, because it has perches, which hummingbirds love, and it’s so darned easy to clean. That entire red lid lifts off. These feeders were designed in RI and used to be made here until the inevitable happened and they began making them in China.

DSCN1076This adult male spent hours surveying his territory from a nearby wire and swooped down on all interlopers who dared come to “his” feeders. He’s gone now, and so are almost all the others. Last weekend they were in a feeding frenzy and on Monday, just a couple of juvenile birds remained. I saw one this morning, probing the fuschia.

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The flowers of Neustift

I couldn’t resist taking some photos of the flowers I saw in Neustift, Austria. The plantings,  most of which were annuals, were typical of what you see in the Alps.

Unlike my containers, which tend to get straggly by the end of the summer, these were thriving. Is it the air? The water? A secret alpine fertilizer? Or good old TLC?

DSCN1038One of several nurseries in the village.

IMG_2270A flower box on the wall of an alpine hut.

IMG_2271Geraniums are very popular here.

IMG_2312Skis sit in a rental shop, waiting for winter. I liked how the mountains were reflected in the window.

IMG_2306There were so many window boxes, I didn’t bother photographing most of them. This hotel, however, really stood out. I loved the way they mixed plants and colors.

IMG_2307This village cat was also colorful.

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Home again

I have just spent a few days in the Stubai region of Austria. My friend and I had signed up for two weeks of hiking in the Alps, but sadly, we had to cut our trip short and return to the US.

Here are a few images from our time there.


This is the Maria Waldrast abbey, which we were told, is the highest in the Tirol region at 1,640 meters.

These were the views as we hiked up the mountain. Nothing like the Alps. So imposing.


Everywhere we climbed, we heard cow bells and saw the cows they were attached to. These two seemed so chill.


This is Neustift, the village where we stayed. It was small and pretty, with a fabulous bakery.


Here’s one of the alpine huts where we stopped for lunch. One of their specialties is buttermilk with wild blueberries floating in it. I found it surprisingly delicious and refreshing.


And that, my friends, is my vacation in a nutshell. Back to work in a couple of days.

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Random photos

This blog will be taking a  break for the next couple of weeks. I will leave you with a few photos I  have not yet had the opportunity to post.

First, some iconic summer treats, which we get to enjoy year-round here in RI: the lobster roll and fried clam bellies. Rhode Islanders are persnickety about their seafood. The lobster roll must be overflowing, with not too much mayo.


People here prefer clam bellies to strips, although I like the flavor of strips better.

IMG_1956IMG_2050I saw a creative bird-feeding set-up on a garden tour. Using a big, dead branch to hold your feeders is attractive and functional, don’t you think?


I also saw this row boat planter in the same garden. Do you love it or do you find it kitschy?


The last stop on the tour featured several clematis, including this one, which looks more like a dahlia to me. The owners are dahlia growers, which might explain it.


I saw a man walking down a street in Hyannis, Cape Cod, with what looked like five dogs. They were all perfectly behaved and seemed to walk in sync, almost like doggie Rockettes.


Then I looked again and there were seven! Imagine walking that many big dogs at the same time. He knew what he was doing, though.

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Summer orchids


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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!


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


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!


“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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