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Curtis Loew in the Snow

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Dogs in the snow... So many times I'd yearned to take our sweet Boston terrier Chet Baker sledding; I had a feeling he'd love it if only he'd try it, but having no hair at all on his little belleh, he was not terribly tolerant of cold, and would have been miserable for the hours we usually spend trudging up and flying down the bowl. So we never got to see what Chet Baker thought of it all. 

Mind you, Chet loved a good romp in the snow, but I never wanted to take him out for a long time, without the option of taking him right home when he got too cold.  I love this photo. And this one...he was such a wonderful little beast, especially in his letter jacket. 

Curtis is another animal altogether; he's clearly spent his life outdoors and he adores cold and snow.    

Here he is in the Dec. 17 2020 snow, one of the most beautiful we've had. 
He's a mile from home and feeling no pain at all.

So off we went down the driveway to see what would happen. We thought he needed his coat since it was in the teens and still snowing. He donned it happily and frisked around, clearly appreciating its extra warmth. He's no dummy!

He is a FIRST CLASS sneak, though, and I was apprehensive that he would tiptoe off and go on a hunt while wearing that coat. If he snuck off and dove into the briars wearing it, he could get hung up for hours in freezing cold, perhaps needing rescue. I was worried and unsure that we could keep close enough tabs on him to prevent that from happening. Well, as it worked out, he DID sneak off in his new coat as soon as we got to the slope, and I was both exasperated and concerned for him. I envisioned him getting hung up somewhere in the noisome multiflora rose tangle that surrounds the big field and goes deep into the woods in the holler. 

Way to wreck a sledding outing, Curtis! As soon as he disappeared, I started cussing, then walking the nearly half-mile back to the house to get the tracking unit so I could go find him if he got snagged. In the time it took me to get home, remove the snow and ice from my car, grab the tracker and a trek stick and some clippers (for briars) and drive back, the prodigal cur showed up and started romping with the kids as they took their sleds down the slope. They took this video of the first run with him beside Phoebe.



 This is the genesis of Curtis' interest in sledding. You can see that he's highly excited and amused by Phoebe's first, mostly failed, flying saucer run.


 Liam is Curtis' touchstone. I absolutely love how that dog willingly climbs on the sled, and Liam gently steadies him as they go down the slope together. "I got you." And at the bottom, Curtis skips free, but turns right back to the sled and Liam with wagging tail, ready for more fun! 

 When I finally got back to the slope, the kids and Curtis couldn't WAIT to show me his new trick! I just could not believe that he loved schussing at high speed down a very steep slope. But knowing Curtis, with his need for speed, and his spirit-- adventurer to the core--it shouldn't have surprised me. I guess I figured him for a dog who would run down beside the sled, but wouldn't deign to be carried on it. Wrong! Look how he climbs aboard! As I go down the hill, you can hear me say, "I have a sledding dog!!"


 At the bottom of the hill, Curtis jumped off the sled and began digging madly in the snow. He was just SO excited and happy he had to release that somehow. People roll around on their backs laughing after a great run. I guess Curtis digs!! 

 Of course, it didn't always go so smoothly...This is a particularly cute look at Curtis' face as he passes me on down the slope.


 And when he was done for the day, he was DONE. He communicates perfectly without a word, just stands his ground with a no-thank-you look on his face. Oh, how we love this dog. It was about 17 degrees, snowing hard, and despite his fabulous sherpa coat, a gift from our friend Mim, he was feeling the cold at last. We turned toward home.


 Feeling especially lucky to have a dog who loves to sled, and a thrilling huge slope within walking distance of our house. Oh, and having my kids here to sled lucky can you get? 

Happy New Year! May it be EVER so much better than OLD YEAR was! 

Hope you've enjoyed Curtis Loew in the SNOW!!

Fairy Skirts for Christmas!

Saturday, December 26, 2020


 I've been going back and forth about the identity of the mint that's making those beautiful frost flowers in my gasline cut. First I thought it was American pennyroyal (Hedeoma puleginoides). Nope. Then I thought it might be Wild Marjoram from Europe (Origanum vulgare). Nope. All this attests to the difficulty of identifying a dry, apparently dead plant in December, and my peculiar mental block about it all.

Now, with the help of my Internet pals, I know it's Dittany (Cunila origanoides), and it's native to Ohio. 
Whoopee! I love a native plant, especially one that does what this one does in the dead of winter!

An early illustration of Dittany by none other than the famous early botanist William Bartram hisself! (Borrowed from

And guess what its other common names are? 

Frost Mint.


I'm shouting in all caps because this frost flower production is a THING and people, mostly old-timers like I am now NOTICED IT and KNEW ABOUT IT and I had to just stumble on it myself, wonder what these white things in the leaves might be, and go re-inventing the wheel, bumbling through trying to identify its shriveled stems, when all along there was this native plant with the common name of Frost Mint, which means that it is, after all, a known thing.
I love the feeling of others having walked on what I fancy are my private little paths of discovery. To wit:

For a lengthy, breathless and beautifully written treatise on Dittany, please see Ericka Galentin's gorgeous blog called Sovreignty Herbs at this link 
There's a lot of stuff about faeries at the beginning, with some boffo drawings, and then scrolling down a bit further, she gets down to brass tacks about this fascinating and beautiful plant. I have a freakin' Dittany ranch on my back 40, and am so pleased to know it! 

And Ms. Galentin is from Athens, Ohio! Squeeee!! There's magick (and moss, and fair folk) in these here hills. Who knows. I might even run into her, or a faerie, down in Orchid Holler.

On December 23, I woke up and saw a sunrise for the first time in a couple of weeks. It had been MOV gray here, with a beautiful snow and then rain and lead-gray skies for a week. And finally, here was the sun. Oh, I will take it. And the ice. Everything. 

The old bonsai, protected from bucks by a bit of Bill's grave fencing. He doesn't mind. It goes back to protecting the coneflower and liatris when the bucks finally drop their weapons in February. 

After walking the meadow, we headed straight to the gas line cut where the Dittany thrives and makes its magic. I had a feeling that the 5" of snow we'd had wouldn't have brought things to a halt, and I was right! 

December 23 and we still have activity!

And crazy shapes--long flower-fins stretching out!

Backlit by rare morning sun--mo betta--especially when the temperature stays low. You can see the stratae.
Notice how the dittany stem has broken off--the snow did that to most of them. Then the question becomes--will the stem still draw water as well if it's busted off? Looks like it. 

It's only going to make a frost flower below the break. 

As I photograph these things, there are a few things I particularly like. One is coils, and the other is when they come up out of mossy patches. This is a twofer.

I also like the ones that send out multiple fins--usually four. This may be because, as a mint, dittany has a square stem, so the fins are being extruded from each of the corners on the stem. 

I really like this one, but I have to keep telling myself it doesn't look like a tampon. Ha ha! And honestly, that's kind of what they look like when you first stumble on them. I always think it's trash, maybe Kleenex that dribbled out of my pocket, that I'm going to have to pick up, and then I look closer and start crowing in delight, before you know it I've been hobbling around in a semi-squat for an hour or more, making portraits of frost flowers. 

If you click on this photo, you'll see how many I have to play with in this one view. What a treasure trove!

A mature dittany plant has many stems (they're perennials, and the plants get bigger each year) and may make five or more fairy skirts. This one is an overachiever!

I like this one's style. 

This one reminded me of a ballet dancer on point. A Sugar Plum Fairy for Christmas. 

Continuing the Christmas theme is a festive black raspberry plant.

And now for my favorites--the fairy circles and hearts!

I love fairy skirts and frost flowers. 

This one has a bow!

More on moss...

The sun was beginning to melt them; the day's high was to be in the upper 50's, so I indulged myself and crunched a few down. It's a meager breakfast. I prefer persimmons, Concord grapes, apple and pear falls, but I'll take what I can get.

This is a swiftly melting fairy skirt. It has pulled away from the motherstem, and it's going translucent. 

It doesn't take much sun to melt away a frostflower! 

Oh no, please don't go! Phoebe had an early appointment in town and I was frantically texting her to hurry home and meet me in the gasline cut. I so wanted her to see this latest bloom before the show was over.
Liam has made the pilgrimage with me several times this winter, and he was still in Dreamland. You have to get out early to find frost flowers!

Curtis and I turned for home, to meet her. 

When she arrived, they were still blooming, though the ones in the sun were worse for wear.

Thank you for indulging me with all these repetitive photos of frost flowers, fairy skirts, elf tubes, and assorted ephemera. As a thank you, I give you Curtis Loew trying his first frost flower. Suspect it won't be his last. Hope you had a wonderful Christmas and are looking forward to the New Year as much as we are!



House Plants Make Me Happy

Tuesday, December 22, 2020


Like most everyone else, I'm hunkered  down to wait for the world to stop wobbling, for ignorance and willful disregard for truth to subside, for some better times to come our way. This winter with the miracle vaccine finally and oh so slowly coming our way, reminds me of how deer are most likely to die of starvation just as the new green growth starts in spring. It's hard to stay sane and hang on, and I'm thankful for every minute that I have Liam safe here with me at home. Now Phoebe, who's been careful and kept herself safe, has made it home for Christmas, and I'm feeling especially thankful to be confined in a place that I love, surrounded by beauty and deep woods. Really, how lucky can you get?

Since the multiple groanhouse freezes over the years, I've learned the hard way that I must grow plants indoors as well as out in the greenhouse. I rarely get through a year without a greenhouse freeze, thanks to condensation in my natural gas line, which is a plastic pipe that runs over the top of the ground from an oilwell out in the meadow to my house.  The company that leases my oil and gas well has left the broken welljack untended for four years now, and it's grown high with brambles. A big aspen fell on it and I paid someone to cut it off, but the oil/gas company still hasn't bothered to revive it.  My house is heated with gas which comes through that pipe thanks to the natural pressure at the wellhead, not because oil is being pumped. It all makes me nervous and uneasy, and the greenhouse freezes are the manifestation of Stonebridge Operating Company's negligence. Free gas is really great until it goes off on in the middle of the night. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, there is a lot of cussing and sometimes quite a few tears. There's nothing quite like walking into a greenhouse that was a riot of color and beauty the evening before, to find everything frozen solid.

So I decided to have doubles on my favorites, and not to trust the Groanhouse not to kill them. I have young understudies on my favorite hibiscus, and the plan is to bring them in the house when the temperatures plunge to single digits. So... I have a lot of houseplants now. And that turns out to be a wonderful thing. I took a little tour around the house, photographing some of the plants that make my everyday world more beautiful and interesting.

This teeny Crown of Thorns from Kenya is so sweet. Three times, it has self-pollinated, and dropped seeds into its own pot, which have made another tiny plant. It's just the coolest thing to see this little seedling come up and to recognize the fleshy round leaves as those of a Crown of Thorns. Oh my!  Gotta love a plant that does that! I give them to sisters, friends, and wait for the next seed child.

I rarely buy plants at the store, getting most of my material from friends (and giving just as much away), but I couldn't resist the lime, olive, white and forest green Martha Stewart striping on this Dracaena deremensis "Lemon Surprise"  which I bought off a huge rack of foliage plants at our Lowe's years ago. It's just the most beautiful thing, unfurling leaf after candy striped leaf, so shiny and sturdy. I'm not sure what its adult form will be--I suspect it will form a trunk with a Seussian tuft atop it in time? It's almost 2' tall now and has racks of leaves all the way to the soil line. Highly recommended,  slow growing, gorgeous, and it doesn't want a lot of sun. In fact mine got a bit sunburned in a south window in November! This is how they tell me to move them back from the window.

My friend Leah gave me a tiny Haworthia pygmaea pup off her plant, and it's about to bloom, whatever that's going to look like. Knowing a bit about this genus, I'm prepared to be underwhelmed by its splendor, but I'm glad it's happy enough to send up a spike! Looks like the flowers will be white, lined green. If I remember correctly, this succulent is actually in the lily family, so I expect the flower to be three parted. We shall see!

I spotted the first shy bloom of a tiny Lobelia seedling volunteer in my outdoor shade garden in early November, and couldn't believe it was my favorite color of blue. I dug it out with my finger and potted it up and it's so happy to be indoors under a grow light. It makes me think of spring, when I'm always looking for just this shade of sky blue and am only ever able to find the dark purple ones at the garden center. 

I hereby pledge to nurture and propagate this plant until I can fill my hanging baskets with it come spring. 
They root quite easily in water! Have already made one propagule. 

Speaking of rooting, here's a cutting of Fuchsia "Trandshen Bonstet" that finally rooted. I took it in August, stuck it in water on the windowsill, and waited literally months. But eventually it threw out some roots and we were off to the races.

This plant is well worth the wait!

I grow a cutting in the greenhouse each winter, and set it out in the shade garden in May. By frost, it's almost as tall as I am, putting out cascades of these gorgeous, hummingbird friendly flowers. It roots in water and the cuttings bloom constantly while you wait. What's not to love about a plant like that? I got it probably 12 years ago at the Glasshouse Works in Stuart, OH, but thanks to its willingness to root in water and overwinter in the greenhouse, I've never had to buy it again.

I absolutely love this tiny variegated Syngonium podophyllum "Mini Pixie." The mother plant is going on four years old and only 6" tall. Easy as pie to propagate; they constantly make pups off to the side. It's in the arum family, like a teeny Caladium.

Another easy propagator is this jewel orchid, Ludisia discolor, a terrestrial (soil dwelling) orchid from SE Asia. When jewel orchids start sprawling over the sides of the pot, it's time to propagate them.
It's as easy as snapping off a cutting at an obvious joint, dipping the stem end in rooting hormone, and putting it in wet sphagnum moss or vermiculite until it roots. 

I hear a lot of people say this orchid is grown just for its gorgeous velvety black-green and red foliage, but the flower spikes are terrific, beautiful, long-lasting and fun to watch!

I have truly lost count of how many propagules I've given away off my Ludisia over the two decades since my friend Jason brought me a single stem in a 2" pot. 20? 30? Such fun to have friends check in from all over Ohio, Minnesota, South Dakota, North Carolina to tell me theirs are coming into bloom just when mine is! I suspect that in the jungles of southeast Asia, it forms a groundcover, since it crawls and sprawls in captivity. I grow it in a long, shallow planter to give it room to do its thing.

OK, so they're not exactly corsage material, but look at these happy little snowbirds, caught in mid-flap!

Seen against snow, they warm me straight through. 

The last houseplant I'll sing of here is my buttercrunch lettuce. Though we've had virtually no sun this winter, it grows beautifully up in the tower room, where it gets the cool temperatures and constant bright light it needs to make impossibly tender, thin leaves.

Every 4-5 days I go up, pick and water. The seven large planters take 5 gallons of water at a time. 
The last two pickings have been epic!

Enough to share.  I hope you've enjoyed this little tour of my houseplants. I pledge to be vigilant, and bring in the little hibiscus understudies "The Path" and "Creole Lady," when the next polar vortex blows in. Even if I have a greenhouse freeze this winter, I'll still have plenty on my windowsills to dote on--and eat!
Stay home as much as you possibly can. Wear your mask, wash your hands, and hunker down. I'll see you in a few days with a greenhouse tour!


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