An afternoon with the prince

pamphlijNext on the agenda was the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, which in typical Roman fashion was not on the corner as depicted on the map but several buildings in.  Never mind, we found it despite the map.  Here is its serene courtyard.courtyard

Its attraction is that it is a family collection of paintings and sculpture, started  in the sixteenth century by the Pamphilj family and its complicated set of descendants – the current inhabitants are the adopted English step-children of the late, beautifully named Princess Orietta Pogson Doria Pamphilj. Over the centuries, the palazzo was expanded and redecorated and sports plenty of baroque ornamentation.  The sculptures, by the way, were assembled in the style of the times – you have a headless torso and a torso-less head?  Glue them together and call it done! This photo by a TripAdvisor visitor gives you the idea.pamphlij-sculptures

We rented the audioguide narrated by the Prince, who adds charming details such as the way he and his sister were chastised for roller skating on the newly beeswaxed ancient terracotta tiles in the ballroom. tilesThe big attraction  to us was the Caravaggios, many of which can be found in Rome  (as you will see in a later post) and two of which are famously found in Malta.  The Flight into Egypt from the Pamphilj may be my favorite.  michelangelo_merisi_da_caravaggio_-_rest_on_flight_to_egypt_-_wga04096The musical angel’s black wings divide the picture in half – on one side the mother and child, on the other Joseph and the big-eyed cow (he does animals exceptionally well).  The music Joseph is holding was played in this gallery at a concert not too long ago, according to the Prince.

The Penitent Magdalene is the other star.  So many Caravaggios are dramatic, even violent, but these two are calm and beautiful.  (Both images from the Web Gallery of Art)michelangelo_merisi_da_caravaggio_-_magdalene_-_wga04094The model for Magdalene was one of Caravaggio’s favorites, a prostitute who was perhaps his mistress.

Now here’s a mystery:  we had already seen Caravaggio’s St. John at the Capitoline yesterday, and then we saw TWO  almost identical St. Johns here.  Neither of them was mentioned in the audioguide, although the Flight into Egypt and the Penitent Magdalene, hung right next to one of the St. Johns, were made much of.  The second St. John in an adjoining gallery  was bigger than the other two we saw and included a dove in the top right corner that’s not present in the first two.  So what’s going on? The nice man in the gift shop explained to us (with some difficulty) that the smaller St. Johns in the Capitoline and here were real, and the larger St. John in the Pamphilj is a copy. More research must be done!  (Note: our tour guide for the Borghese pretty much said that both St. Johns here were likely copies but that no museum likes to admit it.  So we did see the original at the Capitoline…)  This is Caravaggio in his frisky, playful style.michelangelo_merisi_da_caravaggio_saint_john_the_baptist_youth_with_a_ram_c-_1602_wga04111

By now, we were thoroughly saturated in art, and it was time to head back to the apartment.  Dinner tonight was at a small hole in the wall famous for its spaghetti carbonara.  We arrived right at opening time – 6:30 – which was clearly a tad bit early for the staff despite the open door.  Soon enough the place began to fill up (mostly with other tourists) and we enjoyed our absolutely delicious pasta and house wine, then wound our way back through the streets to home and bed.

Greatest hits of the Forum and the Capitoline Museum

After yesterday’s drizzle and rain, today dawned clear and cool and sunny. We walked from our apartment to the Vittorio Emmanuel monument, which has got to be the silliest memorial to a dull man that ever was. (Though when I mentioned this to one of our guides she pointed out that the monument is as much about Italy’s independence as about VE himself.) Nevertheless,  it gleamed in the sunlight and the flags unfurled beautifully in the slight breeze.  vittorioNearby is Trajan’s column, though it’s almost impossible to see the details from any distance, especially the higher areas.  But having read about it somewhere, I was able to imagine the images of the Dacian conquest curling around the column from bottom to top.  The statue of Trajan was replaced by a pope some 500 years ago with a statue of St. Peter, oh, well.   trajanFrom here we made our way up and up the steep Capitoline Hill to the Capitoline Museums.   Along the way were good views of the Roman Forum, which I am only now beginning to understand despite reading about it for months.  Here is the first view, showing the remains of the temple to Castor and Pollux (lots of twinning in Rome) and the ubiquitous umbrella pines.  castor-pollux Next up is the Arch of Septimius Severus, celebrating victories over the Parthians.septimius-severus

Even when you’re not entirely sure what you’re seeing, the scale and mass of these arches and columns are arresting.  This is the the remains of the Temple of Saturn, I do believe.  temple-of-saturnWhen you finally reach the top of the Capitoline Hill, you are rewarded with Michelangelo’s Campidoglio, featuring the marvelous statue of Marcus Aurelius (a copy) in the center.  marcus-aurelius-copy Once inside the courtyard of the museum, we saw bits of the enormous statue of Constantine (we saw the original location of the statue on Thursday) and posed next to a foot, a bicep, a toe.  constantines-foot

Inside the Capitoline are some iconic sculptures, including Romulus and Remus with the she-wolf (the twins are apparently not original, added later according to one account); romulus-and-remusoh, and a view of the city through an old wavy window; wavy-windowa death mask of Michelangelo; michelangelos-maskand Bernini’s Medusa.dedusasc07391Walking further along, we came to a modern wing that houses the original Marcus Aurelius, beautifully displayed in a vast open space with lots of light pouring in.  Note that his hand gesture indicates that he is pardoning the barbarians, one of whom originally was crouched at his feet.  Stirrups had not yet come to the Roman Empire, so you will see his feet dangling free.marcus-aurelius He really is breathtaking.

From here we went to the adjacent tabularium, Rome’s archive, which affords some of the best views of the Forum anywhere, especially on a clear day like Returning to the Capitoline, we revisited the Dying Gaul (whom we saw in the National Gallery in DC when it was on loan a few years ago), complete with his Gaulish hair and torc; dyding-gaulsome gorgeous ladies with very special hair;

the delicately beautiful Capitoline Venus, slightly blurred here;capitoline-venus and the mosaic of doves from Hadrian’s villa.doves

We rewarded our art study with a good sandwich lunch in the cafe and enjoyed beautiful views over the old city.  city-viewOn our way back down from Michelangelo’s Campidoglio we saw the insulae tucked under the hill.  These were the original apartments lived in by so many Romans.  The higher up you were (some were more than five stories high), the poorer you were – less safe in case of fire, for example.  Like so many ancient buildings, these are now many feet below the current ground level.  insulae

We were not done with our day, but let’s stop here for now and catch our collective breath.

Bulbs planted, fall 2016

spring-bulbsAs usual, my eyes are bigger than my – well, than my ability to plant bulbs in the hard clay soil that abounds here.  But here is what I have.

  • More Lady Jane tulips in front of the trellis because I have so enjoyed the ones I already have
  • Leucojum ‘Gravetye Giant’ in front of the autumn ferns by the trellis and among the marsh fern in the walkway bed
  • Tulips ‘tarda dasystemon’ and polychroma, both yellow species, among the hostas under the maple tree.
  • more narcissus ‘Sun Disc’ because I love their chalky yellow color and their small perfect blooms (not sure where to put these, I already have some under the oak tree that are supposed to bloom along with the English bluebells and occasionally do)
  • more trout lilies and English bluebells under the oak tree
  • more Ipheion in the walkway garden since the originals seem to have petered out
  • Narcissus ‘Tete-a-tete’ in the front garden so there is some early color there
  • more West Point tulips, an elegant lily-flowered yellow that persisted for years but has finally died out
  • a selection of tulips from Roxbury that are destined for cutting and to fill some containers:  Passionale, Tom Pouce and Elegant Lady in shades of purple, rose and pale yellow.

Note that the picture above is just a generic pretty picture from a landscaping site and reflects none of the bulbs I have planted!

Rome and Malta!

We had to go to Rome, because, you know, Rome.  We were a little intimidated by the size, the potential crowds, and the complexity of finding our way, but we persevered nonetheless.  I don’t remember quite when Malta was added to the mix, but I’m sure it was in part because of Dorothy Dunnett.  At any rate, we made arrangements for a week in Rome, five days in Malta, and on October 10 we flew away.

We arrived on a Tuesday morning and the pre-arranged driver met us at the airport.  At the apartment, our landlady, the lovely and charming Lucia, explained everything to us (well, almost everything).  Here is the entrance.  But first you must unlock the big wooden door that gives out directly on to the street, then go down a passageway with a tiny elevator for the other apartments, then through a heavy metal gate, then finally the front door to the apartment.  Very safe!  (Though there is a key crisis yet to come.)rome-aptIt was not quite ready, so after our tour Lucia gave us the keys and we went out for a short wander through the Campo de’ Fiori nearby.  We stumbled around the beautiful market for a while, puntarellemarket-vegetablescampothen returned to eat the two kinds of delicious pizza Lucia had left for us, welcome pizza.jpgfollowed by a deep two-hour nap.

It was drizzling just a bit but we made our way along Rick Steves’ walk to the Pantheon.  The maps do not make much sense but we persevered nonetheless and along the way visited  Bernini’s Four Rivers fountain in the Piazza Navona.  Here is one of the four rivers, the Rio de la Plata, gesturing in fear at St. Agnes’ Church.piazza-navonaAt least, that’s the story.  As Wikipedia says, “A legend, common with tour-guides, is that Bernini positioned the cowering Rio de la Plata River as if the sculpture was fearing the facade of the church of Sant’Agnese by his rival Borromini could crumble against him; in fact, the fountain was completed several years before Borromini began work on the church.”

At one end of the piazza fontana-del-morois the Fontana del Moro, featuring the Moor sculpted by Bernini.  A whole book could be written (and undoubtedly has been) about the fountains of Rome.  They are justly proud of their abundant water, much of it still arriving via aqueducts, and you can find fountains monumental and simply useful, all over the place.

 Then on to the Pantheon. There it is, just around the corner, pantheonbecause Rome has gradually built up around all these amazing places.  It was full of people but we still loved the space, the ceiling, the oculus, the pillars, the floor pattern.  pantheon-pillarpantheon-flooroculuspantheon-in-the-rainFrom here we went to Santa Maria sopra Minerva with the delightful elephant and obelisk out front.  The elephant is by a student of Bernini, and the obelisk is is yet another Egyptian one, this one uncovered during excavations in the 17th century.santa-maria-sopre-minervaOn the wall outside were markers of floods through history (the Tiber frequently overflows its banks). tiber-floods Inside was  Rome’s only Gothic church, built on a previous temple to Isis (not actually Minerva).  Michelangelo’s muscular Christ is the star of the interior.  Someone famously said the knees alone are worth all the art in Rome – me, I didn’t quite see it.muscular-christ

Dinner on this first day was panini from a local market and then an early bed.

Bug of the day

mason wasp

Just spotted this today and luckily got an ID right away since it’s so distinctive.  (Thanks to for the image.)

This is the four-toothed mason wasp, a solitary wasp that uses existing holes for its nest.  Mine was eating the pollen on the clethra.  It’s looking a little weedy here, but the scent is divine.  You will just have to imagine the wasp cradling one of these blossoms.clethra Find out more at this informative site.


Newly planted this spring

Two dinner plate dahlias ‘AC Dark Horse’

2 semi cactus dahlias karma corona (this series good for cutting per Chanticleer)

Heartleaf Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ in container

‘Fireworks’ fountain grass

Sedum ‘Watch chain’ by mailbox

Sedum ‘Angelina’ by mailbox

Cosmos ‘Purity White’

Summer splash marigolds

color fountains cleome

basil genovese




Refresh Your Garden Design

refresh your gardenWell done but not my cup of tea.  No matter how often I read about analogous and non-analogous color schemes, I can’t keep it in my head.  And occasionally I would look at a picture and think it was fine only to discover this was the bad “before” picture.  So, not too helpful for my limited visual skills.

Having said that, the book like all of Rebecca Sweet’s is very well organized and beautifully illustrated.  A bit of a California bias means she includes some zone 8 and above plants that are gorgeous but probably annuals for us.  The final chapter, offering suggestions for plants that will provide the desirable form, texture, weight and so on was quite inspiring.  Here are my notes with images pulled from hither and yon.

For “texture with weight,” consider a small weigela, only 3′ x 3′.  ‘Dark Horse’ offers bronze foliage in full sun – might work as a good weight to the sunny border.  Image from the Sunray Gardens blog.


I am looking for something to put in front of the yews by the steps.  At the moment this little bed is a dog’s dinner of little bitty things that I put there in despair, punctuated by the  pipe thingy.yew bedI was thinking of a low-growing viburnum or maybe this dogwood,  Cornus sanguinea ‘Cato’ Arctic Sun, that Sweet recommends.  But I think it needs a more prominent spot to do well.

Cornus sanguinea Arctic Sun 7249

Next are two plants for “form and shape.”  Here is donkeytail spurge, Euphorbia myrsinites,


whose form and repetition I love. Low-growing, drought resistant, offers a sense of movement in the garden.  I’m just not sure where I would put it.

And this is spiral aloe, aloe polyphylla.aloe polyphylla

She recommends this as a specimen for a container or succulent garden.  Only zones 7-9 but it could work here.  I love it in this container.

Finally, cotoneaster, aka bearberry.  I already have this at one end of the walkway garden.  Perhaps it or its relative, Cotoneaster dammeri ‘Streib’s Findling’, an “excellent spreading ground cover with a stunning herringbone silhouette,” 6″ tall by 8′ wide, might help a driveway area that’s gone all to hell.cotoneaster_procumbens_streibs_findling_01

This bed came with low-growing juniper that I extended farther along up to the walkway garden.  But this year it is dead and dying and depressing.  I think low is the way to go, so maybe this cotoneaster or another one?

Note: I did my best to find plants that might solve a problem rather than plants that just caught my fancy.  Whether I will implement any of these ideas remains to be seen.


For the Birds?

Over the last few years, the supposedly squirrel-proof feeder I had became less and less satisfactory.  old feederIt was a good one from Droll Yankee, but it never really worked all that well.  First of all, the squirrels quickly figured out how to work around the baffle and helped themselves. See the bite marks on the edges of the baffle?!

Next, it attracted only some of the birds and I wanted to expand my scope.  Finally, I had an old hummingbird feeder from Dad that was hard to clean and had lost a few parts that I had to tape on.  Time to move forward!

The young guy at Roxbury Mills recommended two feeders, one for thistle seed and the other for sunflower seed and supposed to be squirrel-proof.  I also picked up a simple hummingbird feeder.  The results have been great, despite a few bumps in the road.

Here are the thistle and seed feeders, hanging from a new shepherd’s hook.feeders

You can see that the goldfinches have found it!  Also the house finches.  Here’s a close-up of them actually feeding.feeders2

So far the visitors have included Mr. and Mrs. Goldfinch, Mr. and Mrs. Housefinch, chickadees, tufted titmice, cardinals, and  a nuthatch that swoops in from climbing upside down on the oak tree.  On the ground below I’ve seen mourning doves, a brown thrasher, robins, and white-throated sparrows.  Nothing out of the ordinary, but such fun to watch.

However, I have also managed to attract two pests, squirrels and cats. The perch on the sunflower feeder closes up if enough weight is on it, theoretically deterring squirrels. It took the damn squirrels less than a week to figure out how to put all their weight on the pole so that they can get to the sunflower seeds.  I try to shoo them away but it’s really useless unless I want to sit there all day with a BB gun on my lap.

The cats are my neighbor’s free-range cats.  More than once I’ve noticed an ominous silence and when I’ve looked the window have spotted the orange and white cat sitting patiently below the feeder, waiting for a SNACK.  Not on your life, buddy.  I plan to invest in a spritzer and stand ready to spritz him with water the next time I see him.  Yes, I know this is a losing venture, but it might give me some satisfaction.

On a happier note, the hummingbirds have found my new hummingbird feeder!  I can see it right out of my kitchen window and have had lots of fun watching them.  Unlike the feeder’s on Kristi’s deck in Vermont (seen here sans hummingbirds, but what a view!)

hummingbird magnet

hummingbird magnet

my feeder attracts only one at a time.  In typical fashion he (sometimes) or she will zip in, sip either while fluttering or, something I didn’t expect, perch and sip.  Here are a few pictures thanks to the burst feature on my camera.hummingbird3

This is the Mrs., without the ruby throat, hovering until she can find the right spot.DSC07087

And here she is feeding.  I’ve also seen her husband, whose brilliant ruby throat is visible for a fraction of a second as he flies away.  I have my camera right by the kitchen window in hopes of getting a better picture.

I’ve also bought a second, window-mounted hummingbird feeder, but it may be poorly sited.  I’ll play with its placement a little and see if I can get some good close-ups once they find it.

This has been a ridiculous amount of fun, despite the swearing at pests.  I may just add to the feeders until the place looks like a scene out of The Birds.

The Great Culling of 2016

Years and years ago, Mom gave me some of her columbines, mostly blue, and they happily grew and self-seeded throughout the garden.  The bees love them (as you can see below), they provide a sea of blue in April and May, and they fill in lots of gaps.

Bees on the columbine

Bees on the columbine

But this year I looked around and realized that the columbines had taken over.  They were EVERYWHERE, leaving no room for what had been purposely planted and no room for any new plantings or annual seedlings.  Time for the great culling!

I learned quickly that although they have self-seeded, many must have come back every year, digging their fleshy roots even deeper into the ground.  Here’s just one pile of uprooted plants, sent to the compost pile (where they will doubtless self-seed again).columbines in compost

If you look closely, you can see how big some of those roots are.

I started in the sunny border, then moved on to the front side garden (underneath the bedroom windows) and finally turned to the walkway garden.  To see what a difference it makes, here is a before picture of the walkway garden:columbines before

All those upright stems are seedheads, ready to start the cycle over again.  But after the culling you see this:after columbines

I’ve planted three Juno hostas and you can actually see them now.  The calla lilies, which I got as a freeby with a bulb order years ago, have room to grow and might even bloom this year.  The bare ground I’ve sowed with zinnias in hopes that they will fill in and add some color.  A very satisfactory result.

Not again!

It has been raining almost every day for about a month, and we are sick of it, as you can see from this extremely witty Facebook post.just-walking-my-fish


Even someone like me, who welcomes a rainy day as an excuse to quilt and read, is getting weary.  We had one sunny day last week, and the air was ringing with the sounds of lawn mowers.  I was able to edge the sunny border, fighting with the witch grass all the way, and started to replenish the soil in the newly installed raised bed.  Rainy today, Sunday, and predicted to go on until some time on Tuesday.  And to top it off, we are still in a rain deficit for the year!

On another note, garden bloggers’ Bloom Day has come and gone yet again without a post from me.  Here is a reconstruction, and a list from 2014 (another of those pieces of paper that floats around the kitchen counter until needed).

Early May 2014

  • Cherokee phlox
  • False Solomon’s seal
  • Ghostly bulb in white garden
  • small white allium
  • hellebores
  • mazus reptans
  • bluebells
  • tulips (going by)
  • columbine and wild columbine
  • sweet woodruff
  • Topolino (I think) daffodil in sunny bordertopolino
  • tiarella
  • euphorbia
  • vinca
  • sorrel
  • Star of Bethlehem
  • dandelions
  • Viburnum ‘Shasta’ and neighbor’s pink dogwood
  • bleeding hearts (white and red)
  • white azalea
  • garlic mustard
  • geranium macrorrhizum ‘Ingwersen’s variety’
  • bugleweed
  • lily of the valley
  • pink azalea
  • coral bells
  • Sun Dial narcissus
  • pansies

This year is much the same, except that mid-May this year found nary a trace of the mazus and wild columbine, both lamented.  I think the hellebores might have crowded out the columbine.  The Topolino daffodil again was the last to bloom and is most welcome.

‘Sarah Bernhardt’ is in bloom, as gorgeous and over the top as ever.

2016 peony

Equally magnificent in a very different way is the Jack in the pulpit that either Becky or Judy passed along to me.  It seems to be very happy in this cool, wet spring. Jack in the pulpit

Thanks to advice from Adrian Higgins, I sowed my Shirley poppy seeds in February and hoped for the best.  They were just lying around, so why not give it a go? Lo and behold, it worked!  poppy

This gorgeous red is a good contrast with the blue columbines that have taken over the garden (their days are numbered if it ever dries out a bit).