Pretty, simple

I love the wild asters at this time of year, so much, in fact, that I brought a few inside.

I have a teeny tiny vase that I bought on Cape Cod last year, and I enjoy filling it with a sprig of this or a stem of that. This time, the sprig is wild aster with a couple of small mums.

This makes me smile every time I look at it.

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Putting down roots

We’ve been in our new house for more than a year, and I have added several trees to our already wooded landscape. The Japanese maple in the photo was a housewarming gift from friends, right after we moved in the summer. It is Acer palmatum Tamukeyama laceleaf. With protection from voles and rabbits and watering during hot dry spells, this tree has grown and thrived. It also adds interest to the predominantly green landscape in our front yard.

Then last fall, another friend gave us several trees from the Arbor Foundation. The problem was, they didn’t deliver them until December, (really????) when the ground was too hard to plant them. My friend found some soft earth next to her house and planted them there for the winter.

I went to get them in early spring – March if I recall – and they were a sorry sight, a collection of small sticks. I dug them up and planted them at home and then I waited for them to begin to grow leaves. The only one that showed any life was the supposed red maple, Rhode Island’s state tree.

Here it is, a very pretty tree, although I am not sure it is a red maple. The leaves look different, almost like silver maple leaves. I would appreciate your comments on what you think this is, because I can’t accommodate a silver maple in that spot.

The other trees were three dogwoods, species as yet unknown, (labels missing) and a Washington Hawthorn. All were  twigs, just a couple of feet high. The dogwoods put out a couple of leaves after a month or so, but the hawthorn did nothing. A friend who knows about trees stopped by, snipped off a tiny branch and pronounced it dead. I didn’t have time to remove it, but I continued to water it when I watered the dogwoods, and one day in July (yes, July, four months after planting) I noticed that it was sprouting leaves.

This small tree will have pretty white flowers in the spring, red foliage in the fall and even berries for the birds. I’m surprised and delighted that it survived, and I have already protected its trunk for winter.

Here’s one of the dogwoods. I believe this is a gray dogwood, a native species. Corrections are always appreciated. After a successful growing season, all the new trees should be fine going into fall and winter.

Gardening is always an opportunity to learn, and I came away with two valuable lessons from this experience: keep watering and be very, very patient.

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At last

This photo, taken very early on a recent morning, looks like it could be any number of places, but it was taken in southern Rhode Island. Fall arrived last week, bringing with it my favorite hiking opportunities.

I enjoy looking at ensembles of plants in the fall, but I always take time to appreciate the wild asters, which I think are stunning right now.

Speaking of ensembles, this meadow scene looked like it had been painted against the sky.

Although we are experiencing a strange (and for me unpleasant) little heatwave at the moment, fall is usually a great time to get out on the trails because you can actually hike without wanting to pass out from the heat and humidity.

If you get out before the dew evaporates, you can enjoy things like this spider web on a pine.

Or on the grass.

The goldenrod, so important to monarch butterflies, is resplendent this year.

Happy fall everybody.

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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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