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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Regional specialities

img_0339The above photo shows a favorite Quebec food: the iconic poutine. For those of you unfamiliar with this dish, it consists of just three ingredients: french fries, cheese curds, and brown gravy. Because there are so few components, each one must be perfect. The fries have to be thoroughly cooked, the gravy can’t be too spicy, and the cheese curds must be fresh, with a slightly squeaky texture when you bite into them.

Cheese curds are sold in plastic bags in grocery stores throughout Quebec. In addition to using them in poutine, people enjoy them as snacks straight out of the bag.

The poutine at the St. Albert dairy co op in St. Albert Ontario, which we visited during the holidays, was the best we had ever tasted. We already knew St. Albert cheese curds were delicious, but this dish, with its slightly sweet fries and melting cheese, blew us away.

img_0345 The restaurant is in a new building that replaced the facility lost in a fire a couple of years ago.

The gift shop sells the cheese curds, of course, but you can also buy all kinds of Quebec specialities like Tarte au Sucre (maple sugar pie) and Tourtiere (a French Canadian meat pie).

img_0346We also bought some of St. Albert’s award-wining cheddar, which is aged for five years. Coming from Canada, I miss their good cheddar. The cheeses in RI are usually too creamy and mild for my taste.


All this food, especially the poutine, is hearty winter fare that tastes great and keeps you warm on a day of skiing or working outdoors in the cold. It’s not stuff you’d want to eat if you were spending the day on the couch, and one serving is enough for two people to share.

The St. Albert dairy co op is well worth a visit if you’re in western Quebec. They have amazing ice cream, too.

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img_7320I am writing this on the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. As they pine for those long summer days, everyone says “it gets better from here on.” I truly love this time of year because it is so cozy and restful. It’s as if nature is taking a well-deserved break, so we can too.

img_7245The woods are beautiful in winter, especially when there’s snow. And there’s the added bonus of animal tracks. I think it’s going to be another green Christmas in Rhode Island, unfortunately.

img_7285I’ll be taking a couple of weeks off from the blog, but I wanted to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a peaceful, restorative holiday. See you in January, and thanks for reading.

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It was a bear


In a recent post, I wrote about a probable bear attack on my bird feeders. Here’s the culprit, captured by my neighbor’s wildlife cam. I didn’t want to write about it while it was still in the area, because I was afraid some yahoo would hunt it down.

I took my bird feeders inside every night for a few weeks, but lately, I’ve been leaving them out, and the bear seems to have moved on.

We don’t hear a lot about bears in southern Rhode Island, but yearling males are known to frequent bird feeders in the fall as they roam around, looking for a territory of their own. (Although in recent years, researchers have speculated that there might be bears living and breeding in RI.)  I was told that this one weighs approximately 150 pounds and is very skittish, running away from people.

We moved here because it’s wooded and quite wild. I love the idea that an animal as impressive as a black bear has been here, even if he was just passing through – and even if he destroyed a couple of my feeders.

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