Lion’s ear: impressive!

This plant is Lion’s Ear, or Leonotis Leonorus. Originally from South Africa, it’s a fast-growing, tropical shrub that will reach 3 to 6 feet and attract pollinators like crazy. I bought mine on a whim a couple of weeks ago and I hope I can get my hands on some next summer, because this is a very interesting-looking and generally cool plant that hummingbirds cannot resist.

I love the orange color, which will also work well with fall decor. Lion’s Ear is hardy only to Zone 9, though, so I will grow it as an annual.

This is a fairly drought tolerant plant that likes full sun and the occasional dead heading. It is also salt tolerant, so coastal gardeners take note.  I read that it is sometimes grown as a hedge, which would look awesome.

The flowers remind me of a cross between monarda blooms and tiny pineapples and they look great in a vase. Lion’s Ear has been added to my “must buy more of these” list for next summer.

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Not peachy

Late summer brings back memories of peaches. We used to buy them in baskets back in Canada, and my sister still does. The ones she buys in Quebec are grown in Niagara, Ontario, which has a warmer climate than most of Canada.

Those peaches are a bit smaller than the ones we get here, but they are delicious; dripping with juice, sweet and fragrant. Everything you expect when you bite into a peach.

Now cast your eyes on the peach in the above photo. It is typical of several I have bought in recent weeks. It smelled fine and seemed ripe after a few days (slightly soft to the touch, with a peachy smell), but it was all a cruel hoax. The fruit was dry and mealy inside. Fit only for the compost. That slightly wet part at the bottom in the photo below? That’s rot, not juice.

I even bought a few peaches at a fancy speciality market that usually has great produce, but  those peaches rotted before they ever ripened.

Don’t tell me that this peach was bred for long distance transport, because New Jersey is about the same distance from Rhode Island as Niagara is from my sister’s supermarket in Quebec.

I have traveled to a few “third world” countries and one thing they had in common was tasty fruit, usually sold right on the side of the road. I feel so ripped off, buying peaches that may or may not be edible, and 90 percent of the time, finding out I’ve wasted my money.

I guess the only decent peaches will remain in my childhood memories – and at my sister’s.

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Best friends on vacation

With summer winding down, I thought I would share some photos from the vacation I took with my dog, Fidgit. It wasn’t anything earth-shattering, but we spent time outside, the thing she and I both enjoy most of all.

Fidgit is a Pembroke Welsh corgi, and she is seven. We adopted her when she was 2 1/2. I must note here that people who do not know about corgis assume that because they are short, they are somehow un-athletic. Corgis were bred to herd cattle and they can walk all day – and swim – and climb – regardless of the length of their legs. Fidgit is annoyed by the “short little legs” stereotype.

We went hiking in New Hampshire for a few days. The first day, we hiked to Sawyer Pond.

The trail was very wet from a recent rain, just the way Fidgit likes it. In case you’re wondering, I always have a leash with me and I leash her whenever the situation calls for it. I have a carabiner on the belt of my backpack and I attach her leash to it so I can still use my poles. It works great and she knows not to pull when she’s leashed.

When she’s off leash, I constantly refresh her recalls and commands like “wait” with treats, and she has become an excellent hiking companion.

After the hike, a well-deserved rest on the deck at my friend’s cabin, where we were staying.

The next morning, we climbed up to Zealand Falls, and the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Zealand hut.

The trail is steep and rocky when you near the top, perfect for a rock-scrambling corgi with a low center of gravity and a badass attitude. She always waits for me to catch up.

At the hut, she endured more questions from hikers about how she had managed the climb with those  “little legs” but she took it all with good humor and her usual corgi smile.

We took a quick look at Zealand Falls before heading back down. By this time, she was so muddy that her belly and legs had become a different color. But that’s all part of the fun.

Here’s a dog-less shot to give you an idea of how beautiful it is on this trail and in these mountains in general.

Fidgit sticks to the trail and follows nicely. She particularly enjoys bridges and obstacles.

And boardwalks.

Back at the cabin, relaxing around the fire pit. A great time with my favorite hiking companion.

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Stop and smell the clethra

The clethra is blooming now in Rhode Island. Commonly known as summersweet or spice bush, Clethra Alnifolia is a lovely native shrub that grows in sun or partial shade, in wooded and semi wooded areas. It is hardy in Zones 3 to 9 and prefers moist, slightly acid soil.

I have a great fondness for this shrub and for its wonderful fragrance in particular, so I was happy to see that it was growing on the property when we bought our house last summer. Just to make it even more appealing, it also attracts pollinators like hummingbirds and bees AND turns a lovely orange color in the fall.

Here’s what the entire shrub looks like. I guess this one is about 15 feet tall.

There are all kinds of tips online about when to prune clethra and how to care for it in general. My approach is to leave it the heck alone.

I brought a few stems inside recently, and added ferns and a couple of sprigs of fennel. Here’s the bouquet on my dining table. I love how it looks and the scent is fantastic.

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Look what I found!

We were hiking the Zealand Falls trail in New Hampshire and this plant, with its bright pinkish-purple flowers, caught my eye. I stopped to look at it closely, and realized that it was an orchid. Regular readers of Digging RI will recall that I grow orchids, and I have even attended a talk on native orchids, but I still needed help identifying this one.

A friend sent a photo of the plant to a very useful website, Garden Compass, where experts will ID plants and plant diseases for free.

Here’s what they told me about this stunning orchid, which is: Platanthera psyches.

“Commonly called Lesser purple fringed orchid or Small purple-fringed orchid. It is a terrestrial orchid from the genus Platanthera. Native to North america from from eastern Canada to the east-central and northeastern United States (Great Lakes Region, Appalachian Mountains, and New England). The specie name “psycodes” means butterfly-like, in reference to the ‘winged’ flower shape. A plant of wet habitats where they share it with sedges, sphagnum bogs, cedar or Alder swamps and along stream edges or the moist edges of coniferous forests. Its range is being pushed northwards as global temperatures warm. Often confused with Platanthera grandiflora with similarly colored but larger flowers. “P. grandiflora” has a much more restricted range and where the two species do overlap in range, “P. grandiflora” typically blooming from late June through early July while “P. psycodes” blooms from late July through early August.”

There were several  of these orchids scattered throughout the marshy area where I spotted the first one. They were an unexpected and lovely discovery on the trail.



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Cool container combo

This is my bronze fennel in flower – the one that fed the black swallowtail caterpillar for a week or so. I planted it in a container with some mini dahlias, which also have clear yellow blooms.

Here’s a look at the dahlias. The container, which looks like real concrete and is, in my opinion, a perfect color and a classic design, came from Marshalls – $19.00. I should have bought more of those. It’s light as a feather, too.

Back to the PLANTS. The fennel is about three feet tall now, having fully recovered from the swallowtail predation. It needs to be staked, because it leans toward the sun and tends to get a bit off center. I will leave you with a last look.

I won’t be posting for a couple of weeks, but I’ll be back with more  stories. That container! OMG!



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We have liftoff!

This is the concluding chapter of the metamorphosis saga, in which  a black swallowtail caterpillar hitchhiked from the nursery to our home on a fennel plant. I watched the caterpillar grow, and pupate, and finally, emerge.

The backstory: As I walked by the chrysalis one morning early last week, I touched it gently. To my immense surprise, it reacted almost violently with a series of jerky movements. (I had no idea they did that.) I went to work and when I returned, I saw that it had opened.

Such a tiny opening! I immediately started looking for the butterfly, and there it was, drying its wings on the lawn.

End of saga. I was lucky to be able to follow it from beginning to end.

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Odds and ends

I am still waiting for the black swallowtail caterpillar to emerge. It should be any day now.

In the meantime,  check out the destructive and most annoying gypsy moth caterpillars, killed by Entomophaga maimaiga, a fungus that needs rain to work. And we have had just the right amount of rain for it to get the job done. The caterpillars hang upside down, often forming v shapes, when they are dead. Now our trees can start to recover. Woo Hoo!

And on a totally unrelated topic, horseshoe crab mating season is nearly over, but I had a chance to see some late- mating crabs on a recent visit to Napatree Point, in Westerly, R.I. While still attached, they swam up into the shallow water, allowing us to get good long looks at them.

The female on the bottom is older than eight years, because she has stopped molting, and organisms like barnacles are beginning to grow on her shell. This arthropod looks like a fossil, and it is is as old as one – about 450 million years. They have been over harvested for bait and medical testing, but here in R.I., a new-ish management plan will, we hope, boost their numbers.


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More on the metamorphosis

Two days after writing my last post about the black swallowtail caterpillar that came home with me on some fennel, I went outside and the caterpillar was gone. I looked through the fennel plant, and in nearby shrubs, but it had disappeared. Later, as I was getting into my car, I just happened to glance at the side of our house and there it was.

It annoys me when humans underestimate wildlife, but I still  think it’s pretty amazing that this caterpillar made its way more than 25 feet from its fennel plant, around the side of our house, and climbed five feet up to the spot where it obviously intended to pupate. I also wonder when this happened. Probably during the night.

Every time I park my car, I now glance over to see how the caterpillar is doing. For about 24 hours, it remained as you see it in the above photo.

Then, it became this.

We are usually too self-absorbed to see what’s going on in the natural world. Sometimes, if you’re lucky and you pay attention, you learn secrets and witness miracles like this one. I hope I get to see the final transformation.

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Caterpillar chronicle, continued

One week ago, I bought a bronze fennel plant at the nursery and on it was a tiny, black smudge of a caterpillar – a very young black swallowtail larva. I have been watching all week as it has grown, and every day it’s noticeably larger. I am expecting it to pupate soon.

Here’s a close up. You can practically hear it munching. I am so glad I am one of those people who notices the little things going on in my garden. Nature makes my days much more interesting.

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