Those are orchids????

This plant, which looks for all the world like a succulent, is an orchid. Angraecum distichum is from Africa, and has tiny, white flowers. Orchids are among the most diverse plants on earth, and I enjoy growing the more unusual ones because, when they’re not flowering (which is most of the time) the foliage is interesting.

Epidendrum porpax is native to Venezuela and Colombia. It has greenish flowers with dark pink centers. I like the foliage, which is sort of rambling out of the pot.

Specklinia Pruinosa is an interesting Pleurothallis that I purchased from a South American grower who spoke at my orchid club. Shipping is always really tough on orchids, and when I bought it, it had just a single leaf. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to bring it back, but it’s doing fine and even blooming for me right now. Like most of my orchids, this is a miniature that lives on a windowsill humidity tray.

The leaves of Sophronitis cernua are also intriguing. This orchid grows in Brazil and attaches itself to rocks. I have had this miniature orchid for several years and it is a reliable bloomer.

This orchid last flowered at the end of January. I really love the red-orange color.

And this orchid is Dendrochilum. Its flowers are not very spectacular and tend to blend in with the grass-like foliage, but the plant is interesting and easy to grow.

Finally, Pleurothallis alata, which is my smallest orchid, and one I have had for about seven years. It is about an inch and a half tall. You leave the spent blooms on the plant and new flowers will emerge. I once had an orchid show judge tell me he “didn’t know what to do about this plant” because it is so tiny, it’s almost impossible to display at a show.

There is so much more to orchids than those white phalaenopsis that seem to have taken over the home improvement shows on TV. If you’re interested in orchids, you might want to try growing something different sometime.

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Spring…or not?

We begin on a positive note, with my first rock garden iris, “Katharine Hodgkin” blooming by our mailbox.  Also called “Orchid Iris, or “Dwarf Iris,” (it’s only a few inches tall) this is a cross of blue Iris histroides and yellow Iris winnogradowii. It is known for its hardiness, which it demonstrated last week when it was covered with snow from two storms and then subjected to single digit temperatures. This iris likes dry conditions during the summer, which it will most certainly receive here.

Here’s “Katharine” again, poking up through the snow. I planted quite a few bulbs in this space, including miniature narcissus and species tulips. The suspense is killing me.

The crocuses did not fare as well. They are looking sort of beaten-up and mushy from the winter weather.

The purple crocuses are in the same tenuous state.

Back on a positive note, the air is always so clean and clear after a big storm, and the surf was awesome off Narragansett Town Beach last week. There were plenty of surfers braving the cold and enjoying the waves, and the sea wall was a great place to watch them.

Here’s one more surfing shot. They don’t call Rhode Island “The Ocean State” for nothing.

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These buds are for you

Despite the freakishly cold weather we had last weekend, and the ridiculous vacillations in temperature, the buds on my trees and shrubs seem to be taking it in stride.

The Mountain Laurel, a prized, wild understory shrub here in Rhode Island, is also showing buds. I have lots of this native in my garden and I can’t wait to see it flower. (This is our first spring in our new house.)

This pine is beginning to show candles.

The first crocuses of the hundreds of bulbs I planted last fall are blooming today! These are planted at the foot of a large oak, and I was so excited to see the flowers. I enjoy tucking bulbs into spaces here and there throughout the garden. I remember planting them, but somehow, it’s always a wonderful surprise when they emerge in the spring. Another reason I garden.

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Flower time

img_0617This tropical-looking flower belongs to one of my newest orchids, a cattleya I won in a raffle at a meeting of my orchid club. It was donated to the club by a member who was moving out west. He was an accomplished greenhouse grower who specialized in cattleyas, (he gave away his entire collection when he moved) but this plant was unnamed. There are four of these blooms on the plant. My orchids are the only flowering plants in my life at this time of year, and they are greatly appreciated for their color. Also, it’s just really cool when you get a new orchid to bloom without having a greenhouse. This plant sits on a humidity tray on a sunny window sill.

Outside, now, to the garden, where the tips of the more than 640 bulbs I planted last fall are beginning to push up through the soil. Since the garden at our new home is a blank slate, I am trying to show restraint and take my time with plantings. I do have a thing for bulbs, though, and not just spring-flowering species. I also love the autumn-flowering colchicums, or autumn crocus, so I’ll plan some of those this year.


And I really love crocosmia, a mid summer-blooming bulb pictured above. The flowers of my favorite cultivar, “Lucifer” are as red as they come. Here’s a photo of some growing at the edge of the perennial border at our former home. (Please excuse the mediocre quality of this photo.) They add small pops of red wherever they are planted.


Crocosmia require well-drained soil and full to partial sun. They are hardy in zones 5 to 9, and can be invasive in some parts of the country, although not here in Rhode Island. They’re inexpensive, they spread when they’re happy, hummingbirds go nuts for those tubular, red flowers, and their tall, skinny foliage adds some vertical interest to the border.


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Sea and sky

img_0609It was one of those afternoons when the sky and sea met in a particularly glorious way. The February light was razor-sharp and the sun was still pale, giving everything a silvery sheen. This is Sandy Neck beach in Barnstable, on Cape Cod.

img_0604There was some big league kite-flying going on.  So pretty against the sky and clouds.


This kite was waaaaay up. Kite-flying is prohibited at this beach in the summer, but in the winter, it’s dogs and kites and endless possibilities.

Speaking of possibilities, I spotted this on my way back to the parking lot. I wonder if it was meant for me. (I’ve been feeling kind of defeated lately.)

img_0613Here’s one last shot, showing all the kites in flight. So uplifting, in more ways than one.


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Hunkering down, getting out

img_0526I took this photo near our house the morning after last Thursday’s storm. It’s blue-ish because the sun hadn’t risen yet.  That white mound in the center of the frame is a spruce, covered in snow and ice.

As I write this, we are having another weather “event” with snow and possibly freezing rain and even rain, and there’s another one coming tomorrow. That said, it’s winter, so I expect these storms. I like to go outside when it lets up a bit and take photos of our dog running around.

If you’re thinking, “Dirtynailz, don’t you have anything more profound and meaningful to write about?” Well no, actually, I don’t. Watching her play in the snow makes it more enjoyable for me.

img_0540People who don’t know corgis always ask me how she can run so fast on those “short little legs.” Corgis were bred to herd cattle and therefore can walk or run for miles. They are badass.

img_0543My dog needs a fair amount of exercise, and particularly enjoys off-leash opportunities to blow off steam. Who doesn’t?

img_0557Here, she demonstrates perfect form, feet together and toes pointed. Ears are forward for a streamlined posture. I’d give her a 10.

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A failed experiment

In a recent post, I wrote about how members of my orchid club recommended Dawn dishwashing liquid to treat scale and other pests. I mixed a solution according to the recommended formula (3 parts water to 1 part Dawn) and applied it to a couple of plants.

One of my orchids, Epicattleya Rene Marques “Flamethrower” did not like this treatment at all, and showed its displeasure by dropping all its leaves.

Here’s the result: a bunch of defoliated stems.

img_0503The stems are still showing green, so I am hoping it will recover. After the harm I inflicted, I think the least I can do is give it a chance. Here’s what the flowers look like – the reason I bought this orchid in the first place.

img_1487The other treated plants seem to be okay. I guess the lesson here is not every plant will react to a treatment the same way.

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Brightening a bathroom

img_0455This is “Begonia Richardsiana,” a semi-tuberous begonia purchased several years ago for about $12 at Logee’s greenhouses in Danielson, CT. It lives on the windowsill of our master bathroom, with a nice view of a shady part of the garden.

If you’re wondering what’s up with the pinecones, I have a thing about bringing nature indoors, and I put together this little arrangement for Christmas. I think it looks pretty, so I’ve left the cones in place for now.

This unusual-looking plant has interesting, maple-like leaves and a thick trunk. It does well in low light situations, and even blooms in the spring and summer – nothing fancy, but pretty, white flowers.

Here’s what the leaves look like up close:


And here’s that strange trunk, also called a “caudex”:


If you are thinking that this plant looks a lot like a bonsai, you’re right. In fact, when I bought it, it was in a tiny bonsai pot, like the one in the photo on the Logee’s website. Predictably, it soon outgrew that, so I ended up planting it in the pot it is still in today.

I take this plant to the sink once a week and give it a good watering. I also fertilize it once in a while with seaweed emulsion or Dyna-gro. This is an easygoing, pretty houseplant.

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Winter woods

img_0373I spent some time hiking in the woods over the Christmas holiday. We were in Quebec, and there was plenty of snow. I am always lagging behind the others on the trail, taking in the forest and the details of individual trees.


Like this pine bark.

img_0377Fallen trees can be interesting too, unless you are very short.

img_0335Trees are also beautiful at night, especially in the snow. It’s a different world up there, where winter is still a season to be reckoned with. Pretty, though.

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Non-toxic plant pest control

Orchid pests were the topic at the most recent meeting of my club, the Ocean State Orchid Society. We geeked out over images of revolting aphids, mealy bugs and everyone’s favorite, scale. One of the club’s most respected and knowledgable members, a retired Brown University chemistry professor with a large greenhouse and a penchant for Cattleyas, repeatedly stressed the dangers of using some of the more toxic chemicals on our plants, especially, in our homes. And he should know, right?


A couple of the other members said they had been using the basic, blue “Dawn” liquid dishwashing soap with terrific results. Using a 3 to 1 solution of water to soap, they spray their plants’ leaves and use a toothbrush  if necessary, to gently clean the leaves.  This works well if you treat the plants a second time a week later to remove the eggs.

Of course, all houseplant growers confront insect pests from time to time, so this remedy is not confined to orchids. I rushed right out and bought a bottle of Dawn. Apparently only the original blue formula works. I will let you know if it works for me.

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