Ridiculously simple to grow, Mexican sunflower, or Tithonia, is a stunner all summer long, but is especially welcome in the fall. Here it’s paired with an annual salvia, maybe Indigo Spires. The combination of intense orange and intense blue is a real show-stopper. This Tithonia is “Torch,” my personal favorite.

Tithonia is a tall annual, which is direct sown and prefers hot, dry conditions. Pollinators, including Monarch butterflies, love it.

Another view of this terrific plant, grown in a big, fiery mass. The pure orange also adds drama and impact to cut – flower bouquets. A packet of seeds costs less than $5, so major bang for your buck. More information is available here:  http://www.johnnyseeds.com/flowers/tithonia-mexican-sunflower/torch-tithonia-seed-1320.html?cgid=tithonia#start=1

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Out with a bang

Some of the late-flowering plants, like dahlias, are at their best right now. This post contains a good helping of eye candy, so be forewarned.

My favorite nursery has an impressive field of dahlias behind the greenhouse. They sell cut flowers and they also offer a cut-your-own option. It was interesting to see which flowers attracted pollinators. The pink dahlia in the above photo was covered in honey bees, while many others didn’t have a single one.

With dahlias, there is something for everyone. Some are demure, like this white-flowered plant.

Others are more in your face.

Despite the grayness of the sky, the blooms lit up the space. I was alone with thousands of dahlias, exclaiming to no one about how striking they were. I do not grow these plants, because I have never been able to store the tubers over the winter. They always seemed to rot no matter how dry the storage area, so I gave up.

Another planting. This makes me want to drive over there right now and cut a huge bunch.

I’ll have more late season bling in my next installment.

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My summer vacation

Maybe it’s habit from all those years of going back to school in September, but it seems fitting, on this Labor Day weekend, to write about my summer vacation. It only lasted two weeks, but the weather was great and my sister was visiting me from Canada, so we packed a lot into a short time. Of course, she wanted to spend time at the beach. This is East Matunuck state beach, our favorite because of the excellent boogie boarding, which we still do with abandon.

We couldn’t pass up the Washington County Fair. Here are a few images from opening day.

We loved this new mural on one of the buildings near the entrance.

Here’s the zucchini that won first prize for being the heaviest – 9 pounds!!!

I loved this scene so much I tweeted it, so forgive me if you have already seen this photo. It was very touching to see the two exhibitors offering water to their show chicken on a hot afternoon. Their faces show such compassion.

A boy and his rabbit, waiting to enter the show ring. I had a pet rabbit, (his name was Dennis) so I know that they will do this if they are relaxed and you put them on their backs. This rabbit was so chill, though.

I asked this girl if I could take a photo of her with her beautiful chicken, and she obliged.

We watched the carousel for a while. Just look at the joy on that little boy’s face! This made us talk about the fun things we did when we were little kids that we still remember today. Happy times stay with you.

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A summer oasis, for a song

When we bought this house a couple of years ago, the covered front porch was bare. I wondered how and even if we would use it, and now, this is where I spend much of my free time during the summer. As you can see, it isn’t a large space, but it’s a very pleasant place to sit and listen to the tree frogs and the owls and the whippoorwills.

The challenge was to furnish it comfortably without spending thousands. I bought the chairs and coffee table, as well as a loveseat that’s on the back deck, as a set, at our local supermarket (!) a few years go for less than $300. The outdoor rug, from Rhode Island’s iconic Job Lot store, was $10, and I’ve had that for a few years as well. The ottoman with the beige cushion was a birthday present to myself last summer – $200 I think – a splurge, but I am so worth it.

This sweet tabletop fountain came from my favorite local nursery. I wanted one with a flat surface to encourage birds to use it.

I bought this little corner table at Home Goods for about $10, if I recall.

A slightly different view. The throw cushions are from Pier 1. The sabre – leafed ficus lives outdoors all summer and sulks for a couple of months when I bring it inside. I have two hummingbird feeders hanging where I can watch the action (which is considerable these days) and that cuphea, or cigar plant on the left also brings them in close so I can watch them feeding.

Now I have a comfy, tranquil spot to watch birds, read, and drink my morning coffee, and the roof provides shade and allows me to use it when it’s raining. A great deal of enjoyment for very little money.

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My plumeria’s kicking it

I wanted to share a new photo of my plumeria. I ordered it from a grower in Florida and when I received it in late May, it was just a cutting, so I had to root it. This is a cultivar that has been developed especially for containers. I’ll bring it inside for the winter, follow the instructions and hope it makes it.

The flowers (which smell incredible) came first, then leaves started emerging about two weeks ago. I fertilize it weekly with a granular, high phosphorus fertilizer, again, following the instructions that came with the cutting and other information I’ve gleaned online.

Lest you think I am fixated on a single plant, here’s another summer favorite: cuphea, or cigar plant. These are grown as annuals in my part of the country, which is Zone 7, but in southern climates, they are evergreen shrubs.

This is an undemanding annual that also serves as a serious hummingbird magnet. I have another one on my porch so I can watch the hummingbirds up close as they probe the tubular, red flowers.

You can find more information on cuphea here.






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Some thoughts on garden tours

It’s garden tour season, a great opportunity to check out some of the more interesting gardens in your area and donate to a good cause at the same time. This water feature, one of many in a fabulous and luxurious garden on a hill in Charlestown, R.I., is one of the reasons I try to do the “Gardens by the Sea” tour. The proceeds help fund a local library.

Another view of the same garden, looking out at the distant ocean and Block Island.

Obviously, this is not the kind of garden most of us would ever be able to afford, but it had several features that the gardens on some other tours do not, things that I absolutely insist on if I am going to pay $15 or $20 for a ticket/tour booklet.

I get very annoyed when I visit a tour garden that does not have:

  • THE OWNERS PRESENT: The owners in the above garden were greeting visitors, and they were also engaged in their garden.
  • PLANT MARKERS: The more obscure plants  should be identified so visitors know what they are.
  • NEATNESS: I have gone on tours where I have seen messy brush piles and even trash just outside the garden and visible to visitors. I did not pay $20 to see your trash.
  • HONESTY: I visited a garden touted as “sustainable” and when I came upon a fruit tree orchard and asked the owner how he grew apples without spraying, he readily admitted that he sprayed.
  • RESPECT THE GUESTS: Don’t charge me to see a garden that isn’t weeded and dead-headed. And don’t cram in a bunch of Home Depot impatiens at the last minute to fill in your bare spots.
  • KNOW YOUR PLANTS: Nothing makes me crazier than visiting a garden where the owner doesn’t even know the names of his or her plants.
  • SHOW-WORTHINESS: Unfortunately, it seems as though garden tour organizers will accept almost anything these days. Some gardens will have little patches of tended plants surrounded by out-of-control trees and shrubs and general neglect. I have spent weeks helping gardeners prepare for tours and on tour day, those garden were as perfect as we could make them.

One of the reasons I enjoy the Gardens by the Sea tour is the generally high caliber of the gardens. Out of the six we visited, three were worth the trip, which is a pretty good average. Another great tour is the Secret Garden tour in Newport. Well worth the drive.

This is another garden we loved. The location! That’s a fresh water pond, not the ocean.

The charming house blended unpretentiously into its wooded setting, but the garden wasn’t dark. We came upon this whimsical scene tucked into the ferns. A tasteful alternative to all those fairies.

Art in the garden can add considerable interest. The decorated poles in the photo below are also in the garden by the pond. It was a peaceful place that made me want to sit down and read – or nap – or take a swim.

Then there was this garden, a sea of California poppies. We did not see any particular design here, just an effort to fill spaces with color. That’s a worthwhile garden goal and the orange is pretty, but we didn’t learn anything from it or come away with new ideas.

I guess my conclusion on the subject of garden tours is, if you believe your garden is something people will pay money to see,  please make sure it’s worth the price of admission.

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To Canada, again

I recently spent several days visiting my family in Canada. I have lived in the United States for so long, I have to refresh my knowledge of my former homeland’s cultural icons. This is one of them: the doughnut.

These aren’t your run-of-the-mill doughnuts. These are made fresh to order, at a tiny shop which has won “Best Doughnuts in Canada” two years in a row, which, in doughnut country, is a major achievement.

Here are our doughnuts being finished in powdered sugar, or as they say in Canada and the rest of the Commonweath, “icing sugar.”  He allowed them to cool for a few minutes before dusting them, but they were still a bit warm when we had our first bite. Ecstatic eye-rolling ensued.

Speaking of the Commonwealth, and food, we also stopped at a store that specializes in all things British, Clarence and Cripps.

Craving old-fashioned English toffees? Got’em. Scones you can bake at home? Yup. And proper English cheddar? Yes! This store has tons of English cookies and candies and tea and other foods, in addition to a large selection of souvenirs. I was told that their royal wedding party was a real blow-out.

My sister needed to buy beer (she plays hockey so naturally that’s her beverage of choice) and we stopped at the local supermarket, which, like every other supermarket and convenience store (they’re called depanneurs in Quebec) has a giant walk-in beer fridge.

This is just one half. The fridge was so large it was impossible to get the entire thing in the frame. Being of “a certain age” I could have spent all day in there. It’s very refreshing on a hot summer day.

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Adventures with Plumeria

There are few scents more tropical than that of Plumeria. It is often used to make leis, and we saw it growing everywhere in Hawaii. The waxy blooms give off an intoxicating but not cloying fragrance. I have always wanted to have a Plumeria, but it is usually grown in very warm climates as a shrub or small tree and it is definitely not winter-hardy, so living in Rhode Island, I thought I was out of luck.

Then I found a grower in Florida who sells a cultivar that is especially for containers. (Click on “Patio Plumerias” to see the one I bought.) After talking with them about growing requirements, I had to have one. They aren’t cheap, but I am an adventurous gardener who likes to try new plants every year, and this patio type can be brought indoors in the winter.

My patio Plumeria will have white and yellow flowers like the ones in the above Wiki photo. Right now, though, it doesn’t even have leaves.

See what I mean? This is a Plumeria cutting. That’s how they are shipped. The instructions say to support it with a stake until you are certain it has rooted, so that’s what I’m doing. I am also misting the tips of the branches every two or three days, also as instructed. Plumerias require really good drainage and as much sun as you can give them.

Here’s one of the branch tips, which, I believe has flower buds already, although they could be leaf buds. I’m learning as I go with this plant. Of course, I will post more photos as it grows and hopefully, blooms.

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Win some, lose some

These are the alliums I planted last fall. They were pricey, but so worth it for their impact. This is “Globemaster,” the cultivar I have always wanted. It’s a big plant with a 3 to 4-foot stalk. Because it’s in the onion family, deer and rodents won’t touch it.

Globemaster lives in the bed where I used to have dinky little shrubs that didn’t even produce fruit or flowers. So, out they went.

Here’s a closer look at the cluster of flowers. They are pinker than they appear in the photo.

The alliums are a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing spring. I lost so many narcissus last winter, after planting several hundred around the property. The first spring they were gorgeous, but this year, almost nothing emerged. And the rock garden iris I had planted (Katharine Hodgkin) completely disappeared. I am not sure if it got too cold for some of them or whether the series of storms we had in March finished them off.

This is what remains in the bed; a couple of alpine plants and some species tulips.

I must say my scilla and crocus came up and flowered bravely. The crocuses were repeatedly buried by snow.

This is one of the narcissus I lost. It is called “Avalanche,” and I loved it because there were several flowers on each stem, and those flowers smelled divine. I would really like to plant it again, and will probably give it one more try.

Yet another loss: perennial geranium, “Azure Rush,” which I raved about last year because it’s bluer than Rozanne. Well, despite its supposed hardiness from Zone 5 to 8 (we are in R.I., where zones range from 5b to 7a, depending on how close you are to the ocean) Azure Rush has disappeared, too. So, I am not sure it is really hardy to Zone 5 after all. Either way, it’s a bummer.

I have heard from other gardeners that they, too, lost perennials and bulbs, so maybe I am not alone.

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Spring things

It’s full on, in-your-face spring here in Rhode Island, and so far, it’s been a great one for frogs, with all the water. My friend and I took a hike recently on one of our favorite trails, and it was even a bit too warm (in the 80s) for my taste.

My dog loves these little adventures…

…especially when there’s an opportunity to swim.

On a completely different topic, my neighbor has a lobster buoy attached to his mailbox, and about a year ago, a woodpecker excavated a very fine hole in it. Walking by it the other day, I noticed a chickadee head poking its out of the hole, and I saw the bird again this morning. I am hoping she’s nesting in there.

There are a couple of other interesting nests in our trees right now, and not all of them belong to birds. I’ll keep you posted.

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