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The Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre can be found between Genoa and Pisa and is an easy train ride from Milan or Florence.

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The 5 towns of the Cinque Terre are a UNESCO World Heritage Site stretching for 6 miles on the Italian Riviera but are very different from their glitzy neighbors.  We will explore each of the towns as we go.

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Monterosso coastline

Many people who plan to visit these towns also plan to hike at least part of the trail so I’ll start there. Heads up- starting April 1, 2019 a new law takes effect banning hikers from wearing flip flops or face fines. This seems like a no-brainer to me since I had on hiking boots but we saw many people who probably decided on the spur of the moment to hike part of the trail and were not prepared either with the proper footwear, water, snacks, first aid for bees, cuts, etc.

Hiking trails are available from Monterosso to Vernazza to Corniglia.  Recently the path has been closed between Corniglia , Manarola and Riomaggiore due to landslides so be sure to check if they are open. You can hike in either direction.

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We hopped the local train from Santa Margherita Ligure, our home base, to Monterosso al Mare and hiked to Vernazza then after lunch grabbed a ferry to Manarola. Plan your time wisely! It was insanely hot when we were there in early September and we encountered quite a few hikers.  Move over and let people who are quicker pass.

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This was the easy part!

Don’t overestimate how much you can accomplish in one day! The hike is strenuous, no matter your age, and exhausting!

Don’t forget to enjoy each town you do visit remembering why you went there in the first place. This section of the Italian Riviera is breathtakingly beautiful but sadly, too much tourism, like in Venice, is threatening these gorgeous places.  Be considerate and don’t ruin it for the next guests.  The area is fragile and needs to be preserved for us all to enjoy. Goes without saying in my book!!!!

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Make sure when buying your tickets for ferries or hiking that you are paying for the right thing.  We were sold hiking tickets in Monterosso but after hiking about 15 minutes up a steep hill we were told at a checkpoint that we had the wrong tickets- more money and too late to turn back!

Be prepared as things run slowly here! Our train back was well over an hour late unlike the Trenitalia trains that run all over Italy.  The local trains are not as prompt where the Trenitalia trains are very prompt!!! Don’t be late! No one will wait for you! Buy your tickets in advance is great advice!!

Your choices are limited for staying in one of the 5 towns for the most part so you might consider staying nearby and making day trips to the Cinque Terre and Portofino. Some towns to consider are: Santa Margherita Ligure, La Spezia, Levanto, and Rapalo. Leave the car elsewhere.

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Portofino

Monterosso al Mare

This town has a beautiful stretch of beach where you can just hang out and relax and then explore the town’s architecture in both the New town and the Old town or just start your hike.

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Monterosso al Mare
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Monterosso- play time!
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Monterosso al Mare coastline

Vernazza

This town is so picturesque with its beautiful natural harbor and tiny narrow cobblestone streets and cute restaurants flanking the small Piazza. Linger along the breakwater built only in 1972 that surrounds the harbor. Take in the sights in Piazza Marconi and watch the boats come and go as children play in the waters.

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In case you didn’t hike in from Monterosso be sure to take a few extra minutes to find the narrow stairs that mark the start of the trail that lead you up to the most quintessential view of Vernazza.

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Vernazza

The harborfront church of Santa Margherita is unusual for its east facing entry rather than the more traditional western orientation.

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Santa Margherita church

This town dates mostly from the 12th and 15th centuries. The color of the buildings are regulated (known as ‘Ligurian pastel’) MAGICAL!!!

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Just like many parts of Italy the hillsides around the Cinque Terre are dotted with olive and wine vineyards. Be sure to walk uphill in each town to avoid the crowds of the waterfront.

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Manarola

Manarola is the last town we visited as it was already late and our train ride back was about an hour and then we were delayed another hour plus. The town seems to hang in a ravine and is relatively quiet. These towns all seem to hang on the cliffs like on the Amalfi Coast and Positano. Manarola is probably the steepest of the 5 towns. Be sure when there to head uphill out of the harbor area where the crowds are less dense. The hills here are also covered with vineyards and lemon groves. For lovely views late in the day head up the trail towards the town’s cemetery.

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Manarola

Sadly we did not have enough time or an extra day to get to Corniglia or Riomaggiore but here is some information on both. Next trip!

Corniglia is the only town not on the coast. Wine is still the lifeblood of this town as it was in ancient times.  The hike from here to Vernazza is a challenging, hilly 1.5 hour hike. Check to see if the trail is open to Manarola before setting out!

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Corniglia

Riomaggiore offers lovely views back on the harbor from the breakwater. Have fun just strolling from the train station down to the harbor.  This town is very photogenic especially just around sunset.

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Riomaggiore by Kevin Mercier http://www.kevmrc.com

(sorry I couldn’t get there this trip) here is a great shot by Kevin Mercier

Where is your next trip?  My wish list is so long and made even more complicated by all the towns I really want to revisit. Hard to complain! See you in our next town 🙂

If you are planning a trip to Italy I have blogs on many towns some which I have visited 2 or 3 times often employing guides so I don’t miss the local highlights that most tourists miss.  Guides are well worth the extra money.  If it is pricey for you, consider some less expensive meals or forget the souvenirs to compensate.  You won’t be sorry.  Travel Agents who specialize in Italy can help you with guides, train and travel arrangements as well as affordable accommodations in convenient locations so you don’t waste too much time checking out your location.

Bologna- a Food Lover’s Paradise

When you think of Italy most people think art, history, gorgeous landscapes and FOOD!

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The city of Bologna is a foodie paradise! The old centro storico is lined with ancient shops with the most amazing fresh cheeses, meats, breads, oils, vinegars and wines. OKAY to be totally honest we tried everything! First stop was a small shop our guide brought us to where we sampled mortadella on freshly made small baguettes.  We never tasted anything like it! If you think mortadella is bologna you care seriously mistaken.  My husband was hooked and has been on the hunt for some ‘real’ mortadella ever since we came back.

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From there we had Parmesan cheese, my weakness, we tasted balsamic vinegars, (checked!) and shipped lots home.  Of course, olive oil, biscotti etc. Then to add insult to injury she brought us to a wonderful little restaurant for a lunch we will never forget! Da Cesari, a Bologna staple since 1955. The original Eataly is located here in the centro storico too.

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You may know Bologna as the home of the Two Towers {(Le Due Torri Asinelli Tower (right) and Garisenda tower (Left)} and as the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy.

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The city’s architecture is unique in that early in the 13th century all walkways were covered so in the rain you could walk and stay dry all around the city – like umbrellas!

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This is a lively college town and an easy train ride from either Milan or Florence. You arrive right near the center of the city basically near the Porta Galliera and the Piazza XX Settembre an easy walk to the historical center. Pass right by the bronze statue of the Italian General and politician, Giuseppe Garibaldi and across the street the theatre.

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Teatro del Sole

Don’t just confine yourself to only the historic center. Walk out into other neighborhoods and explore. There are many churches, restaurants and shops to experience away from the crowds.

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Basilica Di Santo Stefano

Maybe stay in an ancient tower now a B&B!

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The town center is Piazza Maggiore and the adjacent Piazza del Nettuno.  All of this town’s important buildings are around these two squares but please don’t just confine yourself to this small area.

The Basilica began in 1390 and still isn’t complete. The two Towers- Le Due Torri, made famous by Dante in The Inferno tower above the city. Towers were a symbol of power and wealth and you see this all over Italy, especially in towns like San Gimignano. It is possible if you are up to climbing 500 steps one of the towers, Torre degli Asinelli is open and provides commanding city views. ( see above) Not for me!!! Too claustrophic 🙁

 

Like many cities if shopping is your thing head to Galleria Cavour to check out top designer labels.

On our way back to the train we cut thru the Giardino della Montagnola while dodging oncoming rain.

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Did you know Bologna had many canals like Venice? I bet you didn’t! You can still get a glimpse of them today on Via Piella.

 

Bologna is totally worth either a day trip from Florence or Milan but we wished we had stayed at least one night.  Most towns really reveal themselves after the day’s crowds are gone and make for the most memorable experiences.  Lastly, I cannot stress enough the benefit of using local guides.  Their knowledge of history and local food and events is invaluable and they are well worth the money.  You miss so much otherwise that you just can’t get from guidebooks alone. We never would have found this hidden gem without a guide! Look at all those family crests! there were thousands of them!

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Biblioteca Communale Dell’Archiginnasio

We also saw the remains of the original city walls. Ancient history right at your feet. Very moving.

If you need help I can refer you to a few agents who specialize in Italy 🙂

 

The Italian Riviera – Santa Margherita Ligure

Santa Margherita Ligure is part of the Ligurian region on the Italian Riviera. We stayed at a wonderful hotel called the Imperiale Palace Hotel.  We chose this specifically because they had both a pool and a beach area so we could unwind after two weeks of traveling around Italy and it was close to the train station and a quick walk into town.

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Imperiale Palace Hotel (pool and beach below)

Here and in Portofino you find the outside of buildings painted with Trompe L’oeil frescoes typical of this part of the Riviera during the Art Nouveau period.  They used the painted exteriors to identify and distinguish their homes. Painting fake balconies, 3D effects, window sills, etc.

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There are many lovely hotels here and in this old fashioned town there is more room to spread out than in The Cinque Terre or in Portofino.  It is a great place to make your home base when staying in the area.  Day trips to Portofino, Genoa, The Cinque Terre and Milan are easy day trips from Santa Margherita Ligure. You can catch a boat to Portofino or the Cinque Terre from the Pier right in town and buses run daily down to Portofino as it is a very short trip.

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Portofino

We arrived via an easy, convenient train ride from Florence. The old town center is so charming with shops, bars and restaurants lining the streets while its glitzy neighbor, Portofino is filled with yachts and movie stars.  Santa Margherita Ligure has a beautiful harbor and beaches with room to enjoy it all since the crowds typically head to Portofino and The Cinque Terre.

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The Cinque Terre is any easy train ride from Santa Margherita Ligure so you can go for the day.  This area is well known for its 5 quaint towns.  You can swim, shop, eat or hike your way from town to town.  The scenery will take your breath away.  Sadly, these towns are very crowded with tourists just like us. Be considerate and don’t ruin this beautiful place for the next group to come. We headed down to Monterosso and hiked to Vernazza (be prepared and dress appropriately and bring water and snacks) then a ferry to Manarola and the train back to Santa Margherita Ligure in time to hit the pool for a quick swim and cocktail!

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Vernazza

Be sure to spend time wandering around in Santa Margherita!! Loved it!

There are farmers markets to enjoy near the Basilica in Piazza Caprera.  Fresh fruits and veggies but the flowers were calling my name!!

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There are statues of both Christopher Columbus and King Victor Emmanuel II in town commemorating the town’s history.

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We walked into town to the Basilica of Santa Margherita.  Be sure to go inside!! The Italian Baroque interior is ornate and the altar features a statue of Our Lady of the Rose since 1756.  The inlaid marble floors and glass chandeliers are remarkable to say the least!

After the Basilica we walked up to Villa Durazzo with its Italian and English Gardens and Chiesa Di San Giacomo Di Corte – wow- gorgeous! They were decorating for a wedding.  It’s well worth the walk up the stairs!! Also the views of the entire harbor are striking.  This Baroque church dates back to 974.

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Harbor views

As you wander you will find other gems: some were closed when we stopped by in our wanderings.

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Oratorio di Sant’Erasmo
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Chiesa dei Frati Cappuccini

This was the last stop in our two week adventure this time and a nice place to slow down and revel in living in Italy, even if just for a few weeks!!  We will return!!

Have you been? I’d love to hear your favorite places.

 

 

Portofino, Italy

Well Portofino is probably the most photographed fishing village on the Italian Riviera! Whatever you have in mind, relaxing is in store since there is not much to actually DO here! Be prepared to just stroll around the boutiques, the harbor and walk up to Castello Brown maybe and of course, don’t forget people watch!

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The yachts that grace this picturesque harbor are luxurious to say the least but it is also full of small fishing boats.  Don’t forget this was always a fishing village!

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It is worth the short hike up to Chiesa di San Giorgio and Castello Brown.  The views from both spots will not disappoint you!

Chiesa di San Giorgio has had a commanding presence over Portofino and the Ligurian Sea since it was constructed in 1154 or perhaps even earlier.  This Romanesque church was sadly bombed during WWII and then reconstructed in 1950.

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Chiesa di San Giorgio
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Chiesa di San Giorgio

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Castello Brown was well suited as a defensive site and was used as such since the 15th century. There are 2 methods to ascent to the Castle. You can walk up the steep staircase or take the winding path up.  We walked up the stairs and down the path which opens up the best panoramic views of this town.

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Castello Brown

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Don’t miss a chance to walk around this picture perfect town!  The brightly colored buildings just beckon you in. Sit and sip in the Piazzetta or at a seaside bar in the U-shaped harbor or grab some gelato, always a favorite.

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Don’t miss the Chiesa di San Martino in town with its beautiful bronze doors is just up the hill off the Piazza.  Note the mosaic on the landing made from rocks gathered on the shore.

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Portofino is a very convenient day trip from Genoa, Milan, the Cinque Terre or the towns just above it of Santa Margherita Ligure and Rapallo.  We made Santa Margherita Ligure our home base to travel the Riviera heading to The Cinque Terre, Portofino and exploring the wonderful town of Santa Margherita Ligure.

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See Santa Margherita in the distance

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If you are looking for luxury; look no further in Portofino than the Belmond Hotel Splendido.  This is a luxury hotel built in the 1920’s and sits on a hill overlooking the sea and its lovely gardens.

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2018 Italian Grand Prix

This is one of the longest running events on the Formula One circuit and has been held continuously since the World Championship was introduced back in 1950. With the exception of one year it has been held in Monza, IT just outside Milan since 1922 when the Grand Prix was established.

Monza-2Monza-4When you arrive the Fan Zone is a place to have fun while waiting for the events to begin including music, old cars and games and of course: FOOD and DRINKS!

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Poor guy is always carrying my bag and not complaining!

They had some of the original race cars on display.  How far technology has come but these cars are gorgeous! So fun to look back as we enjoy today!

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One of the original race cars

This year Kimi Raikkonen held the pole position but sadly Ferrari couldn’t close the deal and Lewis Hamilton on the Mercedes team took the prize.  That did not make the crowd (Tifosi – pronounced [ti’fo:zi] the Italian word used to describe a group of supporters in sports) happy or my husband who was rooting for Ferrari and Kimi! The Ferrari team has actually won the most times: 19 to be exact but Michael Schumacher is credited with the  most individual wins and widely considered one of the greatest Formula One drivers ever.

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Italians are fanatic about their Ferrari team and the crowd (Tifosi) enthusiasm is infectious from the flag waving to the chants!

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I highly suggest you do not ask your spouse or significant other what is the one thing they would love for their birthday (a big one!) anywhere in the world. My husband said the Italian Grand Prix as he has been a car racer himself and a major racing enthusiast his whole life. So off we went — of course, with some negotiation I got to stay in Italy fo 2 weeks!!

The race starts with a fly over by the Italian Air Force showing the Italian colors in the airstream.  Sadly it was over the roof in the stands where we were sitting.

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The race, for those who have never been to a Grand Prix, is crazy fast!!! I mean up to 210 mph!!!!! The circuit is 3.6 miles long.  Luckily we had seats right between the start and the finish line.

Monza-10Of course, getting there was an adventure in itself! First we had to catch a train from Milan to Monza, then a shuttle bus from the train to the park and then a crazy long walk to get into the arena and then do it all in reverse at the end of the race. Whew!!!

I will say it was quite a challenge getting tickets for Formula One as tickets are not actually printed until right before the race so we were going a little nuts trying to get them to the US before we left for Italy.  Food there is a challenge as are the “facilities” but we had a great time in spite of the inclement, cold weather. Figures the only day in our 2 weeks that was not sunny and warm.

There were races all day thankfully since we got there first thing in the morning and there was even a Porsche Cup Event race in between the Formula Two and Three and Formula One events.

There is even a Ferrari store in Milan at the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele where you can grab your Ferrari gear and look the part before the race! Of course, we were sporting our Ferrari shirts 🙂

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All and all I would say a very happy hubby and a well deserved birthday present.  If you get the chance to go to any major sporting event the crowd excitement is infectious and a ton of fun albeit very expensive!!

MILAN, ITALY

Recently I had an opportunity to travel to Milan and the Italian Grand Prix in Monza. I only spent a few days in Milan near the Piazza del Duomo while starting my exploration of the Lombardy region.

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Milan is the capital of the Lombardy region in Northern Italy and is surrounded by the famous Lakes region. This city is usually associated with fashion, travel, finance and of course, architecture!

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Milan’s Gothic Cathedral towers over the Piazza del Duomo and is the 3rd largest in Europe and the country’s second largest behind St. Peters. On one side of the Piazza you will find The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele with its shops, all sorts of entertainment and rooftop bars and restaurants.

The impressive enclosed shopping arcade known as The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele features high end shops, like Gucci, Prada, Versace, Ferrari and Louis Vuitton. The 19th century Belle Epoque domed ceiling is the crowning piece of architecture.

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The Galleria was the first building in the city to have electric lighting!!

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The paintings at the base of the dome represent Europe, Asia, Africa and America.

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The Cathedral has stood on this spot in Milan for 2000 years. It has fifty-two 100′ pillars which represent weeks of the year.

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Don’t miss the chance to walk up to the roof and marvel at the 2245 marble statues and 135 marble spires that adorn the church.  The white marble was quarried in the nearby  lakes region of Lake Maggiore.

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Milan’s streets radiate out from the Duomo stretching out to its very contemporary financial district.

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If you are in this region be sure to find a day to visit Milan!

 

Time to Order those Bulbs!

Okay I know you are thinking: WHAT!!! It’s still summer, but in many parts of the country bulbs go in the garden in the fall from late September until frost so start perusing those catalogs now and get your orders in.  If you have favorites, you’ll want to order them quickly in case those special bulbs get sold out!

If you are on Instagram you can’t miss all those lovely photos of fields upon fields of tulips just waiting to be sent to us 🙂

Here are just a few varieties and collections for you to consider when planning your spring garden.  Combine Daffodils, Muscari, Alliums, Hyacinths, Tulips, and Camassia for a long lasting display!

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COLORBLENDS- Moris Gudanov Tulip
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Allium Globemaster- my all time favorite!

 

Bulb Sources: COLORBLENDS     Old House Gardens   

White Flower Farm     John Scheepers

Daylilies – my secret passion “besides travel!”

Day Lily is just what it means! A new bud opens and then closes every day.  There are daylilies that start early in the summer and others that open later so it is completely possible to have daylilies for months! They are reliable, simple to grow, require no fuss and I have to say a favorite of deer in some yards, thankfully not mine!  I have had some deer damage this year but for the most part they have left them alone.

Daylilies are good companions to many perennials like Shasta daisies, Black-eyed susans, Phlox, Coneflowers, Liatris, Russian Sage, Bee Balm, Grasses, Catmint, Shrubs and annuals.

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Magenta Princess

Daylilies are great flowers for beginner gardeners as they are not fussy plants in any way! There are literally thousands of varieties in every color and form. The actual name for a daylily is Hemerocallis from the Greek words day and beauty. As I mentioned blooms last only one day but each scape has multiple buds!

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Passion’s Lunar Eclipse
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Sweet Aubergine
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Primal Scream
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Punk

 

 

If you are truly devoted you might consider becoming a member of The American Hemerocallis Society (AHS)  They recognize seven main daylily types, including singles, doubles, spiders, sculpted, minis, multiform and others.  New varieties are being hybridized daily by hundreds of gardeners who are truly passionate. There are nearly 90,000 varieties registered with The AHS.

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Olallie George Darrow
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Elmer Anderson
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Olallie Ethel Peters

 

 

 

Many gardeners start out as casual lovers but quickly get consumed with this lovely plant. Most can be grown in Zones 3 through 9 and vary in height, bloom size and basically prefer sunny locations.

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Olallie Perky Purple
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Pride of Wells

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A great benefit is that if you want more you can divide the clumps every 3-4 years either when they first come up or after bloom is finished.

Have fun and trade with friends! There are many daylilies to try beyond the reblooming daylily- ‘Stella de Oro‘ seen everywhere.

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Pardon Me -A great reblomming Red!

Day tripping in CT at Lavender Pond Farm

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In their effort to make the world a more beautiful place the owners of Lavender Pond Farm have created a little slice of heaven right here in Connecticut on 25 acres now filled with all sorts of lavender varieties.

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Located in Killingworth, CT the Farm caters to lavender and garden lovers alike.  Lavender typically blooms from June into August but can last later depending on the weather.  With almost 10,000 plants in the fields there are 12 varieties including: Grosso, Munstead, Edelweiss, Hidcote Giant and Provence.

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Children old and young enjoy walking thru the fields, taking their family photos and just enjoying the outdoors. Check out the Rooster and his harem or play some chess on the life size board.

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To help with the necessary pollination they have honey bees which play an important role.

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Honey bees hard at work!

Recently they built an authentic covered bridge on the property and there is a lovely gazebo to sit and just surround yourself in this sea of lavender! Stay tuned as they are planning to open a bed and breakfast!

Want to take some home? No problem, they sell lavender plants and a variety of lavender based products in their on-site shop, including sachets, soaps, scrubs, linen sprays, oils and lavender lemonade to name a few.

 

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