Post-Fire Views of Devil’s Hopyard State Park

The early spring fire that burned an estimated 150  of the 860 or so acres of Devil’s Hopyard State Park in East Haddam, Connecticut, was noteworthy because brush fires that burn up to tree tops is an unusual occurrence in this region of Connecticut. But this fire was not nearly as destructive as those out West where forest fires frequently consume thousands of acres, leaving remnants of charred dead trees that once towered overhead.

At the Hopyard, most of the park remains untouched by the fire, looking as it has for decades. There are many trails to hike if you want to avoid seeing fire damage.


Along stream banks where Skunk Cabbage and False Hellebore grow, life is completely normal.



But follow the orange trail that leads to the Vista and eventually you’ll find fire damage. The photos below were taken April 1, 2012, about a week after the fire.

As the trail winds higher toward the Vista you begin to see evidence of fire here and there. In many areas it’s clear that fallen, dead trees burned but not nearby dead leaves.




Other areas burned more completely.




But life goes on. The hole at the base of this tree shows evidence of use one week after the fire.


Below, fallen leaves burned but underbrush holds natural color.



I find the contrasts fascinating. The tree trunk here burned nearly to its top, yet nearby trees were unscathed.


I don’t know if the unburned paths below are evidence of man’s intervention or just the way fire acts.


Looking down from the Vista shows remains of the fire below.



The Devil’s Hopyard fire offers an unusual opportunity for Connecticut residents – the chance to watch a forest regenerate. In many of the charred areas fire burned the top layer of fallen leaves, but did not reach lower leaf layers. I expect that a period of rain will encourage a rash of undergrowth and, before long, green will again dominate most of the blackened forest floor.

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Coleus for Connecticut Gardens: You Can Grow That!

If you have yet to discover coleus or think this warmth-loving annual is too tender for Connecticut gardens, it’s time for your pleasant awakening. Coleus is easy to grow that provides constant color through its phenomenal range leaf hues and patterns. It makes a wonderful houseplant, an impressive container plant, and will fill spots in garden beds with splashes of season-long color. Coleus is my feature plant for this month’s You Can Grow That!, a gardening is good for people blog meme begun by C.L. Fornari at Whole Life Gardening.

Coleus likes moist, but not soggy, well drained soil.  It’s Latin name, Solenostemon scutellarioides, is a mouthful. Coleus originated from warmer areas of the globe and is commonly hybridized, so now there are varieties that thrive in partial shade and full sun. Coleus have such diverse leaf patterns and shades that there’s bound to be one that fits in your garden.


I can’t recall when I fell for coleus … it was long ago … but this tropical annual has been part of my life for decades.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA My windowsills house small coleus plants during cold months and water-filled vases of coleus cuttings in late summer. Once you buy one variety you like, it could be with you many seasons. These are from cuttings taken last summer. Now growing under florescent lights, they will be some of my outdoor container and garden plants this summer. To increase the diversity of the colors available to me each year I also start coleus from seed. Many catalogues sell coleus seeds in a mixture of color and leaf patterns, often Rainbow Mix. Pinetree Garden Seeds sells individual seed packets with enticing names like Chocolate Mint and Dark Chocolate, Black Dragon, or Palisandra, all with leaves in shades of burgundy and no green.  There’s coleus in shades of lime-green such as Limelight, and Pineapple (above), with lemon-lime leaves. Gardeners looking for shades of bronze to peachy orange can choose Sunset, the variety in the foreground of the photo to the left.

Coleus do not like cold. They are the saddest looking plants when touched with even a hint of frost so be sure to keep them in a protected area until all risk of frost is gone. Coleus cuttings root easily in water. About mid-summer, when coleus are beginning to get a bit leggy,  cut off the top few inches of growth to just above a lower set of leaves. This forces lower leaf growth and gives you plenty of cuttings to root in water. Once rooted, plant the cuttings in soil to grow indoors during winter. In late winter, take fresh cuttings of these houseplants to root and plant in small pots to become outdoor plants when warm weather returns.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Aphids can be a problem on coleus plants but are easily washed off. A steady stream of water to the undersides of the leaves, where aphids like to hide, usually does the trick. Make sure any cuttings you bring inside are aphid free. And be sure to keep coleus out the reach of deer … they love to munch on juicy coleus leaves.

Coleus flowers, shown at the right, are tiny and purple. Once coleus to go flower their energy goes from leaf production to seed production, so the plants get tall and lanky. To maintain bushy growth, flower buds, such as the one growing out of the coleus in the foreground photo above, should be pinched off. If you do let some of your coleus go to flower, as I do at the end of summer when Connecticut’s season for  tender annuals is nearing and end, you’ll find that pollinating insects love the blossoms.

With such ease of growth and diverse color choices you’ll find coleus work in many combinations and situations. Here’s a few ideas:



In 2011, Elizabeth Park, a Hartford treasure, featured coleus an annual bed. This photo is from early June. By July, as I’m sure the plants filled in and turned this bed into an explosion of color.


With so much to offer you may find it’s hard to choose just one coleus variety. What makes growing coleus even more fun is that new color and leaf forms appear in garden centers every year. After all my years of growing coleus, I still can’t choose my all time favorite.

Garden thoughtfully, and remember …431580_3416780018870_1251184494_33429590_369171884_n[1]








Please visit Whole Life Gardening to check out other You Can Grow That! ideas.

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My Silly Gardening Oops for April 2012

I should have known better. I’ve gardened for more than 30 years. I know that early spring emerging plants can handle cold. Still, my mothering instinct beat out my common sense instinct when faced with the idea that my white lilac buds might be harmed by the a hard frost that visited my Connecticut gardens last week. The previous stretch of unusual record warmth caused a growth explosion in lilacs and other spring bloomers. Then, true to typical New England weather, the temperature dropped just as gardeners and gardens were feeling comfortable with the early warmth. I should have known better than to try to protect the larger of my two white lilacs from the freeze. This is my Gardening Oops, GOOPs for short, for April 2012.

All gardeners make mistakes. It doesn’t mater how long you have gardened, you’ll still make mistakes. That’s why I started this Gardening Oops blog meme. On the first of each month I share one of my Gardening Oops, GOOPs for short, and I ask other gardeners to join me. Some are too shy or simply don’t want to publically admit their gardening mis-steps, others are brave and self-confident enough to play along with me by acknowledging and sharing their GOOPs.

The GOOPs I’m sharing this month will have me asking, “What were you thinking?” for a long time.

When a hard freeze was forecast for last week I wondered how well the foliage of many of my perennials would fare. I know they are used to growing in cold temps, but after a week of temperatures reaching 70 degrees Fahrenheit caused their unusually rapid growth I wondered if this new growth would be damaged. New England weather can be cruel. The adage that you know you’re a New Englander if you’ve used your air conditioner and furnace in the same day holds true.

When temperatures had fallen to 34 degrees by dusk leading to that cold night, my mothering instincts led me to cover many of my perennials with overturned apple baskets and large pots … not unusual and generally a sound idea when early spring temps drop to the 20’s. But I was still worried about the white lilac so, in a last ditch move I secured a sheet over it hoping to protect it. I did this even when a nagging voice in my head said don’t.

I should have listened to the nag.

The buds on the lilac I covered now look like this:


Sad, isn’t it. This is frost burn. The sheet I placed as protection rested on these buds and captured the cold enough to cause leaf burn.  The sheet transferred the damp cold to the lilac buds and held it there. My nagging voice kept trying to tell me this would happen. Obviously I was too deaf to listen. Now, just outside the windows of my house, in an area passed frequently going to and fro, I get to look at the browned tips of lilac leaves. For quite some time this will be a daily reminder of my early spring GOOPs.

At the opposite side of this stretch of garden is another white lilac. One I purposely did not cover. I wanted to later compare how well the covered lilac bloomed as opposed to the one left uncovered.

Here’s how the buds of the un-mothered lilac look:


Exactly as they should.

And the perennials I covered? They are fine and look no different, so far, than those left uncovered.

Gardening is a constant learning experience. Sometimes even seasoned gardeners, like me, need to be reminded to listen to their nagging voice and leave things be.

I hope you’ll consider playing this GOOPs game. All you need to do is muster up enough strength to admit a Gardening Oops and share it in a comment below. If you share your GOOPs on your own blog, then leave a teaser comment below so readers can head to your blog to read your GOOPs.

Here’s hoping you learned from my GOOPs … I sure hope I’ve learned to listen to my nagging voice.

Garden thoughtfully,


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