Adventures with Plumeria

There are few scents more tropical than that of Plumeria. It is often used to make leis, and we saw it growing everywhere in Hawaii. The waxy blooms give off an intoxicating but not cloying fragrance. I have always wanted to have a Plumeria, but it is usually grown in very warm climates as a shrub or small tree and it is definitely not winter-hardy, so living in Rhode Island, I thought I was out of luck.

Then I found a grower in Florida who sells a cultivar that is especially for containers. (Click on “Patio Plumerias” to see the one I bought.) After talking with them about growing requirements, I had to have one. They aren’t cheap, but I am an adventurous gardener who likes to try new plants every year, and this patio type can be brought indoors in the winter.

My patio Plumeria will have white and yellow flowers like the ones in the above Wiki photo. Right now, though, it doesn’t even have leaves.

See what I mean? This is a Plumeria cutting. That’s how they are shipped. The instructions say to support it with a stake until you are certain it has rooted, so that’s what I’m doing. I am also misting the tips of the branches every two or three days, also as instructed. Plumerias require really good drainage and as much sun as you can give them.

Here’s one of the branch tips, which, I believe has flower buds already, although they could be leaf buds. I’m learning as I go with this plant. Of course, I will post more photos as it grows and hopefully, blooms.

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Win some, lose some

These are the alliums I planted last fall. They were pricey, but so worth it for their impact. This is “Globemaster,” the cultivar I have always wanted. It’s a big plant with a 3 to 4-foot stalk. Because it’s in the onion family, deer and rodents won’t touch it.

Globemaster lives in the bed where I used to have dinky little shrubs that didn’t even produce fruit or flowers. So, out they went.

Here’s a closer look at the cluster of flowers. They are pinker than they appear in the photo.

The alliums are a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing spring. I lost so many narcissus last winter, after planting several hundred around the property. The first spring they were gorgeous, but this year, almost nothing emerged. And the rock garden iris I had planted (Katharine Hodgkin) completely disappeared. I am not sure if it got too cold for some of them or whether the series of storms we had in March finished them off.

This is what remains in the bed; a couple of alpine plants and some species tulips.

I must say my scilla and crocus came up and flowered bravely. The crocuses were repeatedly buried by snow.

This is one of the narcissus I lost. It is called “Avalanche,” and I loved it because there were several flowers on each stem, and those flowers smelled divine. I would really like to plant it again, and will probably give it one more try.

Yet another loss: perennial geranium, “Azure Rush,” which I raved about last year because it’s bluer than Rozanne. Well, despite its supposed hardiness from Zone 5 to 8 (we are in R.I., where zones range from 5b to 7a, depending on how close you are to the ocean) Azure Rush has disappeared, too. So, I am not sure it is really hardy to Zone 5 after all. Either way, it’s a bummer.

I have heard from other gardeners that they, too, lost perennials and bulbs, so maybe I am not alone.

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Spring things

It’s full on, in-your-face spring here in Rhode Island, and so far, it’s been a great one for frogs, with all the water. My friend and I took a hike recently on one of our favorite trails, and it was even a bit too warm (in the 80s) for my taste.

My dog loves these little adventures…

…especially when there’s an opportunity to swim.

On a completely different topic, my neighbor has a lobster buoy attached to his mailbox, and about a year ago, a woodpecker excavated a very fine hole in it. Walking by it the other day, I noticed a chickadee head poking its out of the hole, and I saw the bird again this morning. I am hoping she’s nesting in there.

There are a couple of other interesting nests in our trees right now, and not all of them belong to birds. I’ll keep you posted.

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Big week

I was working in my home office last Tuesday, when my eye was drawn outside, to a spot of blue. Too dark for a bluebird, and anyway, our neighborhood isn’t bluebird habitat. It could only be one bird: an Indigo Bunting.

This wasn’t a first for me. I saw one several years ago while visiting friends on the north shore of Lake Superior, but this was the first time I’d seen one in Rhode Island. I went back to my work and when I was done, I went into the living room and glanced at the back deck and there he was.

The bunting has returned every day, feeding on sunflower seed and suet.

But wait. There’s more! The same day the bunting arrived, I also had several Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, females and males.

Maybe it was because we’d had a storm the day before, (or it was kismet) but my feeding station looked like a photo on a bag of bird seed. The bright yellow goldfinches, the red house finches and even redder cardinals, the bunting, grosbeaks, red-breasted, hairy and downy woodpeckers, a yellow-bellied sapsucker, white-breasted nuthatches, chickadees, titmice, a PAIR of flickers and mourning doves. It was amazing.

I will be taking down my feeders very soon, but what a way to end the season.

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Quirk of nature

I have been watching this line of white birch trees for years. Most people would probably never give them a second look, but to a tree geek like me they are a marvel, because they shouldn’t be doing so well in a narrow strip, sandwiched between a car dealer and a gas station.

Like so many trees, they are buried in mulch, which has been applied right up to their trunks. (If you are going to use mulch, please keep it away from the trunk. Tree roots need to breathe.) But to me, the interesting thing is that despite this terrible location and poor care, they are doing quite well.

White birches are everywhere in Quebec where I grew up, but in Rhode Island, they are not liking the hotter, dry summers and we are urged to plant river birches instead. For some reason, though, these trees are happy in their unlikely gas station habitat and I always enjoy looking at them when I stop here.

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Enough already

This has been the view from my office during the four nor’easters we have had so far in March. The first one was the worst for us, because we lost power. The second brought about a foot of snow. The third and fourth brought varying degrees of snow, wind, ice, rain and annoyance.

Here are my first crocuses, the day before one of the storms – I can’t remember which.

Here are the same crocuses 24 hours later, as the storm was beginning. I know they can survive these storms, but they do get mushy.

The first storm was very windy. This large pine came down across the road, inches from my husband’s car as he was driving home. Those are his car’s headlights in the photo, after he quickly reversed. It really was quite scary, because we weren’t sure if more trees were going to fall.

Dog-owners have to venture outside, no matter what. This was the scene that greeted me on one outing. It was during that brief period when the plows were waiting before clearing the roads, and everything was still white. When I was a kid back in Quebec, we’d all be out playing in this until our mothers yelled at us to come inside.

With her thick double coat, my dog really enjoyed just lying in the snow, wearing a blissful expression.

I made sure to get out the next morning as the sun was coming up. I knew the light would be optimal, and it was.

All that snow has melted, of course. It’s amazing how quickly weather can transform the landscape.

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I bought this plant yesterday from an orchid-grower who was speaking at my club. I have no idea why he was selling these in addition to the orchids, but I thought it was a cool plant. It is a Pinguicula, commonly known as Butterwort. (The name alone was enough to hook me.)

The more I learned about butterworts, the more interested I became. The best part is, this is a carnivorous plant that will capture and slowly devour fungus gnats, those nasty little flying pests that plague indoor gardeners.

No one could tell me which cultivar my plant is, (which I always find annoying) but after doing some research, I’m pretty sure it’s a tropical butterwort, that unlike the temperate species, will not go dormant. Native to Haiti, Central America, Cuba and southern Florida, tropical butterworts produce a sticky substance on their leaves that traps insects, which are then slowly digested. They are said to be particularly fond of gnats.

Like other carnivorous plants, butterwort grows in a relatively nutrient-free medium, hence its need for supplemental nutrition from insects. No potting soil or fertilizer required – in fact, those will kill the plant. Mine came potted in Sphagnum moss which, I understand, should be kept moist.

I like this plant’s almost cartoonish appearance, and I can’t wait for it to start eating.

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My new Witch Hazel is in bloom! I planted it last May to add some structure to the front garden and I made sure to keep it watered through the dry days of last summer. This cultivar is “Purpurea,” but I think it should be called “Burgundia,” because the little flowers are more burgundy than purple. But niggling aside, what else flowers in Rhode Island in February?

The flowers are very pretty and most welcome at this time of year. They are also supposed to be fragrant, although I haven’t detected a fragrance. Maybe you have to stick your nose right up against them.

This shrub, whose correct botanical name is Hamamelis vernalis, or Ozark Witch Hazel, will grow to about 10 feet tall and is hardy in Zones 6-a to 9-b. I have read that it likes moist growing conditions, so I will water it faithfully when necessary. Other than that, it’s deer-resistant and generally care free. It even has lovely foliage in the fall.

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Creatures of the night

Do you ever wonder who visits your yard at night? We now live in a much wilder place than our previous home near the ocean, and in addition to a larger more wooded property, our neighborhood has a protected wooded buffer, offering even more wildlife habitat so there’s lots going on almost every night.

The above photo was taken with our relatively new wildlife camera, the Reconyx Microfire, which was recommended to us by a friend. We have it mounted on a fence, facing the back of the property. It’s pricey, but so far anyway, worth it.

This game camera is automatic, so anything within its range that moves it photographs or videos. I am hoping that when our resident black bear emerges from hibernation, it’ll get a few shots of him, too.

Here are a couple of other visitors. This fox, (or maybe it’s several, who knows?) swings by almost every night. Nice bushy tail!

And here’s one of those big, burly Rhode Island coyotes, looking like he or she is just hanging out. The camera downloads images to my iPhone, so I can view and edit them easily.

I’ll be sure to post new and interesting photos as they happen. So far, it’s been a lot of fun to see what’s going on while we’re sleeping.


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A chance encounter with mushroom hunters

I was walking my dog (and shivering because it was wicked windy and cold ) at the Charlestown Breachway this afternoon and ran into this interesting couple, who gave me a copy of their intriguing 2019 calendar/book, “Gourmet Mushrooms of the Northeast.” They were in search of snowy owls, so we chatted a bit about birds and then they  produced the 48-page calendar from their car and handed it to me through the open window. Serendipity at its most serendipitous.

“They” turned out to be Ryan Bouchard and Emily Schmidt, founders of the Mushroom Hunting Foundation, an organization devoted to the study and safe consumption of wild mushrooms. The couple also conducts workshops and seminars on finding and identifying wild mushrooms. I wish I had thought to ask them how they fell so deeply into this passion, but my fingers were too cold to hold a pen.

In addition to detailed color photos of mushrooms, there’s a wealth of information, including an interesting piece on the history of wild mushroom-hunting in Rhode Island. Here’s a cool page showing everything you need for a hunting expedition.

Each month features gorgeous photos of a particular species, a calendar and a detailed description of the mushroom. Here is October’s mushroom of the month: Hen of the woods.

The authors do not encourage people to just head into the woods, find mushrooms and eat them. There is a clear warning about consuming species you are not familiar with and even possible allergies to mushrooms which are normally considered safe to eat.

Here’s the May mushroom, a lovely species called “Pheasant Polypore.” Even if you never harvest a single one of the mushrooms in this calendar/book, it’s still a lovely thing to hang on a wall.

More information on the calendar and the foundation is available here:

Editor’s note: The mushroom hunters responded to my musing about how they became so passionate about wild mushrooms. Here’s the comment:

“It was a pleasure meeting you and thank you for featuring us in your blog!,” Emily Schmidt wrote. ” To answer your question, we fell so deeply into this passion because after sampling the flavor of our first wild mushroom, we were utterly hooked. The flavor of the wild varieties are so much different (and in my opinion much better and more complex) than store bought varieties. We knew we had to learn how to collect more of them.”





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