The gypsy moth dilemma

The oaks at one of my favorite hiking spots look almost like they do in the dead of winter. This is the result of a catastrophic gypsy moth defoliation last year. If you look in the upper edges of the photo, you’ll see a tiny bit of foliage emerging. The gypsy moths have truly changed this ecosystem, and while we have been assured that most of the trees will recover, I’m not convinced. This year, the infestation is going to be just as bad, if not worse, and the caterpillars are hatching right now.

The change is dramatic. Where there was once normal forest duff, grasses are now flourishing because there’s no canopy to shade the ground.

One brighter spot on this otherwise discouraging hike was a wild dogwood blooming against a large boulder. What a gorgeous plant.

The blooms are a tender, greenish-white. So lovely against the foliage.

We also came across this Northern water snake. Apparently they spend time on land in the spring. This one was about two feet long but they can grow p to 42 inches, according to the state’s website. Lots of sun now, without the leaves.

There have been suggestions that the state should “spray” the gypsy moths, but that was done in the 1980s and it was not successful. If this continues to be a wet spring, a natural fungus that requires damp conditions in order to work might become active, in which case our problem will be solved. My fingers are crossed.

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Species tulips

I discovered species tulips decades ago but I hadn’t planted any recently until last fall. This one is T. Clusiana Cynthia. It opened yesterday and I am very pleased. Species tulips are the tough old tulips that grow wild in the Mediterranean and Turkey. Unlike the modern hybrids we see most often today that are at their best the first year and wimp out in subsequent springs, these  get better with time and even naturalize.

It looks just as pretty when it clouds over and the flowers close. This plant is about a foot tall.

Another view of this charming tulip.

This very red species tulip, linifolia, dates all the way back to 1884, according to the catalog. I planted it in the small bed around my mailbox. It’s much shorter than Cynthia, about 6 inches tall, so a good choice for small spaces. Linifolia is also known for naturalizing.

Species tulips not only persist year after year and even spread, they are also very inexpensive. I bought 50 linifolia for $10.50, and Cynthia was 50 bulbs for $15. We have very sandy, and therefore well-draining soil where I live, so I just added good compost to the planting holes.

You probably won’t find species tulips at the big box stores, but you can order them easily from catalogs. I like the John Scheepers catalog from Connecticut,  because it’s chock full of different species and cultivars, and provides inexpensive opportunities to experiment.

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Bulbs are up

Last fall, I planted more than 600 bulbs at our new house.  This narcissus is one I’ve grown before and an all-time favorite. “Minnow” is only about eight inches tall, but it spreads readily. It’s a Tazetta type, with several flowers on each stem. Like other Tazettas, it’s also fragrant. Look at the impact just two stems have in a small vase. I bought 50 for $13.75, so they’re also incredibly inexpensive.

Here it is, growing in the mossy lawn.

This is an old-fashioned classic, “Professor Einstein,” which dates back to 1940. It, too, is fragrant.

This narcissus, a bit later than the others, is opening now. It’s called “Avalanche,” presumably because of the amazing number of blooms on each stem. Like Minnow, it’s a Tazetta, but it is much older, dating all the way back to 1906.

I had to resist the temptation to plant more bulbs. I’ll add some in the fall, but all the cultivars I planted are known to naturalize (which is the whole point) so they need lots of room to spread.

It’s so rewarding to finally see the results of all my work. I’ll post more photos as other bulbs emerge.

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We were back in New York City recently, and as usual, I went crazy taking photos. Here is a short series I took of Manhattan, from Brooklyn. The first one was taken in the late afternoon.

Dusk is a great time of day, too.

And finally, night. I couldn’t stop gazing at that iconic view.

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Inland wonders

Visitors to Rhode Island and residents alike flock to the shore to enjoy the beautiful beaches. I head inland to enjoy places like this. I can’t say where this photo was taken because this is private property and hiking here is a privilege that I don’t want to abuse.

This swampy area is not at all unpleasant. It seems like the kind of place where magical creatures would live.

Here’s one of them, slipping into a refreshing, leaf-lined pool.

On another section of the trail, we had to navigate a fascinating boulder field. These were left when the glaciers retreated. This area is also full of rhododendrons and mountain laurel, which must put on a spectacular show when they’re in bloom.

There was an intriguing cave in the woods. I should have gone over to look inside, but the bull briars are nasty and I didn’t want to get scratched. I wonder if something lives in there or just hangs out there sometimes.

The terrain was hilly in places. I am a sucker for huge, moss-covered boulders.

I also like the big, flat rocks with plants growing out of the mosses.

We came upon one of the largest American beeches I have seen in RI. It was still healthy, and it was all the more special because it was surrounded by a ring of young beech trees, still holding on to last year’s leaves. A tree family lending another touch of magic to this unspoiled landscape.

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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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