A bonus in the fennel

I bought some bronze fennel at my favorite nursery, hoping it would look interesting and dramatic in my garden and that it might attract butterflies. It already has.

If you look carefully at the photo, you’ll see a small black caterpillar on one of the stems on the left. Sorry the shot is so crappy but the camera kept focusing on the wall. For decent photos, click here.

The caterpillar is about a half an inch long and has a white band around its middle. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I brought the plant home with the caterpillar on it and did some research.

It turns out that this is the first instar, or stage, of a swallowtail butterfly caterpillar. (There are several instars before the caterpillar pupates.) I believe it’s a black swallowtail, because they like to lay their eggs on these plants.

I haven’t planted the fennel yet, but I will be very careful when I do. I’m hoping to watch this metamorphosis.



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A fine day for a garden tour

The weather gods smiled down on the Stonington CT Garden club’s “Gardens by the Sea” tour, which took place June 9 and 10. It was a truly splendid day for a walking tour of 10 gardens, described by the garden club as ” a hand picked collection of rarely seen gardens behind the walls and gates of Stonington’s historic properties.”

We picked up our tickets at Wadawanuck Square. They were $40, and $35 if purchased in advance. We arrived just at the start of the tour at 10 a.m. and it was a good thing, because parking was tight – well-organized, though, with plenty of volunteers waving us into a parking area.

Consulting the booklet, which, like most tours, has descriptions of each garden and a map so we could walk there, we began at Garden Number 1, “An Elegant Town Garden.” The promised flower carpet roses were not yet blooming, likely a consequence of the recent rainy, cool weather.

 Finding ourselves caught in a crowd of visitors, we decided to live dangerously and walked all the way over to Garden 10, figuring it would be far less crowded. We just did the rest of the tour in reverse, a good strategy.

This garden, somewhat comically named “A Hidden Hideaway,” was one of the more floriferous of the gardens.

There was also some charming garden statuary, like this presiding pig.

The ninth garden was described as “several gardens in one,” and the largest garden on the tour. It was large indeed, and featured some fantastic trees…

…like these impressive, mature Japanese umbrella pines.

The charm of this water feature was somewhat compromised by the pond itself, which needed a thorough cleaning. I feel strongly that if people are going to pay $40 to visit your garden, then you should ensure that every inch of it is show-worthy and in tip top shape.

(And lest you think I am overly critical, I have helped prepare several gardens for tours so I am very familiar with what that entails.)

Here are a few shots of the remaining gardens:

This one had stunning views of Long Island Sound.

This “White Garden by the Sea” was pleasant, even though it was not, strictly speaking, white.

We all agreed that walking the streets, most of which were lined with beautiful mature trees, was the highlight of the tour. We also enjoyed looking at some of the historic buildings in the town.

This is Dr. Lord’s Hall. The sign said it was the “former headquarters of the 1st Stonington Band” and had been built “prior to 1784.”

I’ll have more photos from this tour in a future post.



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A new blue

This flower belongs to the perennial Geranium Cranesbill “Azure Rush.” It is the happy outcome of a mistake I made at the nursery. I thought I was buying the cultivar “Rozanne,” which I have grown and loved for years, but when I got the three plants home and looked carefully at the labels, I saw that they were Azure Rush, not Rozanne.

Mildly irritated, I planted them anyway, in partial shade under a shrubby pine. Then I went inside, got on my computer and began to read the accolades. One of the reviews raved about how vigorous this geranium is, and I think so far, that’s true. Just look at one of the plants in the photo above, less than a week after it went in the ground.

Here it is, with some Gaura. Blue Azure was introduced in Germany back in 2007, but it’s new to me. It is hardy in Zones 5 to 8 and grows to about 16 inches tall. From what I have read, it flowers like crazy,  is less inclined to sprawl than Rozanne and has a more tidy, mounded appearance. It grows best in well-drained soil in full sun to part shade, and prefers some shade in the heat of summer. It attracts butterflies and is deer-resistant.

In gardening, some mistakes end up turning out for the best.

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The last narcissus

Here it is, nearly Memorial Day, and I still have some narcissus blooming. These have been flowering  for about three weeks. The cultivar is Baby Moon, and as it name implies, it is a miniature, hardy in zones 5 to 9.

As you can see, the foliage is reed-like. Never having grown these before, I wasn’t sure where the buds were going to emerge. They just sort of pop out of the leaves.

This is a fragrant narcissus, which grows to about 8 inches. It looks incredibly cute in a tiny vase or in a rock garden, and it’s also very inexpensive. I bought 50 for $11.75. If you love narcissus and want to prolong the season, you might want to plant some of these.

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A welcome, rainy spring

The rivers in Rhode Island are full; gushing, flowing, cascading and rushing. Bringing relief after two dry springs. This is a change that also bodes well for a natural fungus and a virus that need moisture to become active and destroy those vile gypsy moth caterpillars that defoliated more than a quarter of a million acres of forest last year.

The last time I hiked this trail, the river was reduced to a trickle.

As I walked through the woods, I kept thinking how wonderful it would be to have a cabin – or even a tent – next to the river so I could listen to that wonderful sound all the time.

We needed this. I understand people complaining about rain when there is flooding, but there hasn’t been any here. So please stop and just appreciate all the water.

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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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