On 7 May, after a good breakfast near the waterfront at the Beehive Cafe —
— we visited Blithewold Mansion, Gardens, & Arboretum in Bristol, Rhode Island. The history of the place is interesting.
Blithewold was originally purchased as a summer retreat for coal baron Augustus Van Wickle and his wife Bessie, in 1896. Two years later, when their daughter Marjorie was 15, Augustus met an untimely demise in a skeet-shooting accident in Hazleton, PA, where the family lived most of the year. A few months later, their daughter Augustine was born, obviously quite a bit younger than her older sister In 1901, Bessie remarried, to William McKee of Boston. Five years later, in 1906, the first Blithewold mansion was totally destroyed by fire, but the furnishings were pulled out of the house as it burned and were saved. The home was rebuilt, about twice as large as the original (around 26,000 square feet, and not as a attractive as the original in style, in my opinion), and the family was able to spend the summer of 1908 there. In 1914, daughter Marjorie married George Armstrong Lyon at Blithewold.
A few years before her accidental death in 1936 (falling down a Blithewold staircase), mother Bessie transfered ownership of Blithewold to her daughters Marjorie and Augustine and the family moved there permanently. Ten years later, in 1946, Bessie’s second husband, William McKee, died (age 83), and Marjorie bought her sister’s share of Blithewold, becoming its sole owner. Thirty years after that, in 1976, Marjorie died at Blithewold, age 93, and ownership of the home and grounds transfered to the Heritage Foundation/Trust of Rhode Island, with an endowment of $1.2 million for upkeep (unfortunately, by the late 1990s the endowment was spent and the property was almost closed, until local residents formed Save Blithewold, Inc., raised $650,000 in three weeks, and saved it). Marjorie’s sister Augustine had two children, Dee and Marjorie, but I guess when Augustine signed over her portion of the house to her sister, who didn’t have children, it was Marjorie’s to do with as she wished.
the back veranda, overlooking the Narragansett River
I wasn’t sure what to expect of the gardens and grounds, especially so early in the season, but I was pleasantly surprised especially with the arboretum aspect of the place — so many old and lovely trees, some specimen and nut trees planted around a 10-acre lawn —
and the “Bosquet,” or glade, with May apples, gone-by daffodils, and other wildflowers blooming under a shady canopy.
The rose garden, the North Garden (a small English-style border garden), the East Lawn with some huge trees like a Franklin Tree (Franklinia alatamaha, last seen in the wild in 1803) and a Giant Sequoia (Sequioadendron giganteum), and the shrub walk were also blooming (though it was mostly tulips and double tulips in the rose garden). And there were fairies and fairy houses everywhere.
The Yellow Groove Bamboo (Phyllostachys aureosulcata) is growing nicely.
You can also walk down to the water (the Narragansett Bay) and along a small beach there.
Later in the year, the idea gardens, vegetable garden, pollinator gardens, and others will be in full flower and fruit. If we move nearby, we can visit all the time.
And eat fine street food from a food truck!
Lots more information about and many photos of the Blithewold mansion and history of the owners at Big Old Houses: (Very) Far From the Coal Mine.
We drove by some houses for sale (always house-hunting) and then hit Fogland Beach in Tiverton, RI, on 9 May. It’s a short beach and I didn’t have high expectations, but it turned out to be a very interesting walk. Two wild things were occurring:
First, the gulls and crabs:
Spider crab after being nibbled by gulls:
Spider crab shells:
Now the slipper snails/limpets:
There were also a surprising number of whelk shells lying around the beach in various stages of completeness — more than I’m used to seeing on New England beaches — and lots and lots of snails all over the rocks.
I especially liked this underwater rock and tiny snails on it:
I’m surprised when I see spiders on the beach:
And there was yet another lighthouse, though I think this one is actually a private home, High Hill Point:
I’ll end with some beach and water (cove) views:
Looking toward the Atlantic ocean:
We could have spent a half-hour here, if we had just walked the beach back and forth, but instead we were so enthralled with what we saw that we were there for an hour and a half. Then we had a great lunch at The Black Goose Cafe.
As we acquire more knowledge, things do not become more comprehensible but more mysterious. – Albert Schweitzer, “Paris Notes”
In early May, spouse and I walked the three trails at Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge in Middletown RI: the Flint Point trail, the Ocean View Loop, and the very short trail to Price Neck Overlook.
I was helped a lot planning all our walks by the Trails & Walks in Rhode Island blog, which describes lots of coastal Rhode Island walks, taken in all seasons from 2013 through the present, and gives GPS lat/long locations to make it easy to find the starting points.
The cautions on the online map (PDF) of Sachuest Point NWR make the place sound sort of scary — “Slippery rocks and heavy surf are often present and can be dangerous. Never turn your back to the ocean! Poison Ivy and ticks are abundant. Steep banks are treacherous. Approach trail edges with care” — but it was actually a very pleasant, easy walk through a habitat perfect for songbirds and rabbits. Neither of us got into poison ivy, found any ticks on us, slipped down a cliff, or got taken by a rogue wave.
There’s a large visitors’ center here, open until 4 p.m. when we visited, though we didn’t go inside. Bathrooms!
What I will remember most are the warblers (lots of them darting around, but I managed to get only one warbler butt on film), the many rather tame rabbits at almost every turn, the thicket and bramble, and the ocean.
Here’s the parking lot and initial trail signs:
We walked toward the ocean first, on the same principle that causes some people to eat dessert first:
I love the ledge along oceanscapes.
But don’t turn your back on the ocean!
The sky really cooperated for lovely photos.
Spearfishers, we’re talking to you!
I’m not a lighthouse fan but if you are, you can see one from here, Sakonnet Lighthouse off Little Compton:
Cormorants, gulls, and ducks? on ledges out at sea:
So, rabbits. These photos are of at least three different individuals.
Here’s the one warbler I managed to capture, photographically that is: a yellow warbler that would not cooperate:
This mockingbird was apparently eating whatever it’s got, but I can’t discern what it is. Then it took off with the prized item.
The crabapples were starting to bloom.
There was some kind of gall on some branch (not the crabapples), but I don’t know what it is; looks a bit like The Addams’ Family’s Cousin It. I suspect tiny wasp larvae inside.
I really love these kinds of paths, sort of gravelly, sandy, with bramble and meadow all around, and ocean close by. This is my habitat.
Rating: 12/10 … I’d walk it again!
I visited the Heritage Museums and Gardens in June last year and reported on it. Spouse and I were there again a few weeks ago, at the end of April, finally with time to visit the two non-auto museums — permanent and visiting art exhibits — and of course to enjoy early spring in the garden.
I really appreciate that the museums, and in fact that place as a whole, encourage photo-taking. There are signs instructing visitors to take photos and post them to Instagram, Twitter, and other social media with hashtags. They have even imagined hashtags for each painting in the temporary exhibit of Painted Landscapes.
I rarely use my phone to take photos, so didn’t post to Instagram (whose requirement is to use the phone app to post; no posting from a computer or laptop allowed) but I took plenty of photos to post here, of the art and the gardens.
Trees and Landscapes
“What a strange thing! To be alive beneath cherry blossoms.” — Kobayashi Issa
Landscape Art (look for the imagined hashtags on the labels). “Painted Landscapes: Contemporary Views” is on display until 9 October.
Bulbs & Annuals
Spring Perennials and Shrubs — I have no idea which are actually azaleas and which are rhododendrons, but they are closely related and I just went on feeling when labeling them
Woodland Plants and Creatures
Pool, Waterfall, and Creatures Therein
Final bits of art
I just loved this painting, “Still Life with Squirrel”! I think it’s the pointy ears.
A windmill is art, right?
And this weathered wooden bench near the maze:
Visit Heritage Museums & Gardens if you’re in the area. The Rhododendron Festival is coming right up.
I’m far behind in blogging various field trips and garden developments and ideas. Here’s what I’m working on, or planning to work on, or planning to plan to work on, in the next few weeks. So check in again soon! [Posts are linked as written.]
BOOK REVIEWS and LISTS
And coming up later in June, Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens and various land trust field trips in Boothbay, ME!
Finally, some blooms to share!
Though we did get 2 inches of snow yesterday morning. Really. It melted by late afternoon.
It’s been mostly in the 40s & 50s here lately, with lows in the 30s & 40s, but we’re expecting high temps in the 80s on Wednesday and Thursday this week, for the first time since last summer. Rollercoaster (of love).
Poor plants. Poor birds. Poor insects. No one knows what to expect.
Meanwhile, here’s what’s flowering and budding!
Bulbs: tulips, fritillaria uva vulpis, fritillaria meleagris, daffodils, muscari
Perennials: pasqueflower, brunnera, spring bush pea, hellebore
So-called Weeds: dandelion, coltsfoot, violets
Shrubs & Trees: lilacs, ‘Olga Mezitt’ rhododendron, dwarf Andromeda, quince, peach trees
Come back in June for lots of flowers!
Spring is like a perhaps hand (which comes carefully out of Nowhere)arranging a window,into which people look(while people stare arranging and changing placing carefully there a strange thing and a known thing here)and changing everything carefully spring is like a perhaps Hand in a window (carefully to and fro moving New and Old things,while people stare carefully moving a perhaps fraction of flower here placing an inch of air there)and without breaking anything. -- e e cummings
More GBBD, hosted at May Dreams Gardens:
… danger garden – always fun for me to see interesting spikey things that don’t grow here
… Late to the Garden Party (south coastal California, so MUCH in bloom!)
… Commonweeder in western Mass. is more my speed
… Veg Plotting in the UK focuses on a clematis
… Dirt Therapy in Vancouver, WA already has lupines, lilacs, salvia, oh my.
… Garden in a City (Chicago, to be exact) has lilacs, columbine, trillium, bleeding heart …
What a difference a day makes, 24 little hours.
Yesterday, spouse & I hit the local nurseries and bought two weeping trees to replace two trees that died over the winter. In some ways, it seems fitting to shed tears over their loss and to memorialise them with weeping trees, and in other ways, these is no loss, no need to weep, because life and death merge.
Actually, the Nishiki willow (Salix integra ‘Hakuro Nishiki‘) had been dying for four or five years, since it was attacked by some kind of borer, possibly in 2012, definitely by July 2013.
Here’s the story of its short life, since it came into ours.
In May 2012, it started losing leaves and we sprayed it with Bonide.
After this past winter, it had quite a few catkins, or flowers, but only two branches with leaves. We made the difficult decision to pull it out and replace it with another “specimen” tree.
Here it is in its new spot, in the rock wall, with as much sun as possible. I don’t expect much, but nature is resilient.
We dug up maybe half the tap root … I pulled out another 4 feet or so (and still hadn’t hit bottom) after the tree was moved:
— but willows are very good at rooting. In fact, I have rooted some cuttings from this willow around the yard over the years and they are all growing. Here’s one from Oct. 2015:
The Nishiki willow will be replaced in the next day or so by a weeping white spruce (Picea glauca ‘Pendula’), which we bought yesterday. It’s hardy to zone 2, which may matter as this spot gets some winter wind, and I don’t think it’s susceptible to many diseases. In fact, the waxy coating on the needles that makes it “white” (or bluish) protects them from strong sun and the desiccation of drying winds, which should help it stay strong.
By contrast, the ‘Tina’ crabapple (Malus sargenti ‘Tina’) looked fabulous in the fall but never leafed out this spring, and on inspection all its branches were dead. In fact, instead of digging it out, I simply pushed the trunk and it tipped over. I guess it rotted? The roots were harder to remove.
Here is her story. She was planted in Sept. 2010.
And this year, after nurturing pollinators and birds, and us — she’s gone. Here she is ready to return to the earth from whence she came.
In her spot, yesterday a weeping larch (Larix decidua ‘Pendula) was planted. I’ve wondered if Tina’s trunk rotted due to drainage issues in the spot, so decided on a tree that thrives in a bog nearby and is very hardy (zone 3-6; we are 4b or 5a).
And here we come to the sudden snow in this post’s title, the difference a day makes: When planted, the larch enjoyed temps in the 50s and no snow. This morning, she (Tamara, for tamarack, another name for larch) woke to a couple of inches of slushy snow and temps in the 30s.
Figurative sidebar concerning the dead trees: The only two things the Nishiki willow and Tina crabapple had in common that come to mind are that they were both Monrovia products and were both sold by the same NH nursery; but I bought many other plants — including a thriving weeping ‘Red Jade’ crabapple, a weeping Norway spruce, two junipers that have spread incredibly, three lilacs of different varieties, two hydrangea, several leucothoe, an andromeda, and a Fine Line — from the same nursery in 2010 and 2011, and they all seem healthy and happy. I did lose a pagoda dogwood last year that I bought there in 2010, due to fungus, and replaced it last week with a ‘Wintergreen’ umbrella pine (Sciadopitys verticillata ‘Wintergreen’).
I’m sure I have other Monrovia products that have survived for years, though I don’t keep that info. I only know these were because it’s noted online. I hope Monrovia is not the problem, as both the new trees are theirs as well.
Their conditions in the yard were quite different: The willow was planted in the front yard, near the driveway in rather sandy, poor (but amended) soil, with good drainage, some northwest winds, an east-northeast location (perhaps not enough sun?). The crabapple was planted in the back, near the patio, in somewhat clay soil that might have a drainage problem, protected from wind through at the bottom of a bit of a slope (too chilly?), in a west-southwest location.
RIP Tina. And sorry to have to move you, Nishiki. I’m sad that you didn’t thrive. May the larch and white spruce fare better, and may the Nishiki be resurrected.
“It takes a while to grasp that not all failures are self-imposed, the result of ignorance, carelessness or inexperience. It takes a while to grasp that a garden isn’t a testing ground for character and to stop asking, what did I do wrong? Maybe nothing.” ~ Eleanor Perényi, Green Thoughts, 1981
As you can see in a couple of the photos, above, and as I have briefly mentioned, yesterday it was in the 50s and our last snow was a distance memory. This morning we were awakened by the snow plow or sand truck and looked out to see a couple of inches of snow on the ground, covering the peas, weighing down tree and shrub branches that have started to leaf out, showcasing the peach, lilac, and crabapple blooms.
Some mourning doves fluffed up and waited it out on the pea trellis:
Now the snow has mostly melted again, at 2 p.m. And by Wednesday, we may have temps in the low 80s for the first time since last summer. Life on Earth continues for now, even for the Tina crab, returning to it.
“There are souls, he thought, whose umbilicus has never been cut. They never got weaned from the universe. They do not understand death as an enemy; they look forward to rotting and turning into humus.” ― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed