Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Exploring Connecticut's Last Green Valley

It's a glorious summer day.  But you can't walk.  What do you do?

I've just had hip replacement surgery, so I can't walk much right now. 

Instead, I took a ride with my husband Joe the other day, inspired by a story in the August issue of Connecticut Magazine:  http://www.connecticutmag.com/travel/the-last-green-valley-head-east-to-explore-our-national/article_24d88ade-6712-11e7-91c5-377881458ea8.html

The Last Green Valley, described in the story, is one of the few areas in the state not plagued by light pollution:  a swathe of green running north and south along the state's border with Rhode Island.

It's actually been designated a national heritage corridor: not an actual physical park, but a geographic area, in which local government, businesses, and nonprofits work together to uphold the historical and cultural heritage of the place, not to mention its natural beauty. http://thelastgreenvalley.org/

I didn't set out to blog about our ride on Saturday July 29, and I didn't take notes, or photos, but boy I wish I had.  The ride was such a thoroughly enjoyable experience that I want to share it, even if sharing means cadging photos off the Internet for illustrations.

 We started on highways, driving south and east to Norwich, Connecticut, but soon leaving the Interstate for poky Rt. 12, which winds its way out of Norwich and into the rural towns and villages of Plainfield, Moosup, Killingly, Danielson, Sterling, and Brooklyn before making its way to Putnam, Thompson, and eventually Webster, Massachusetts.

The route follows a river valley, or rather a river system:  the Quinebaug River and its tributaries, which, according to the Norwich Bulletin, include the Patchaug, the Moosup, the Five Mile, and the French River.  When Europeans came to the area, they used the rivers to power mills, first sawmills and grist mills, finally textile mills.  The textile mills, which once provided jobs, are now weathered brick hulks, or sometimes just isolated smokestacks, brooding over the landscape in these towns and villages with their pawn shops and crumbling sidewalks. Many of the old mills have been repurposed for housing, but others loom brokenly.

This photo of the Prym Mill in Dayville is from the Norwich Bulletin

This refurbished mill in Plainfield, now condominiums, was the Plainfield Woolen Company.
These old mills are tokens of the reasons why this area of the state is known for its poverty and the social problems that go along with it.  I'm thinking that the National Historic Corridor designation goes some way toward turning that story around, focusing as it does on the culture and natural beauty of the area, and bringing in people like me to explore it.

The scenery was midsummer lush, all Queen Anne's Lace and orange wild lilies, and the few stops we made were delightful.

The first was at Logee's Greenhouse in Danielson, Connecticut.  Did you know that Danielson isn't a town on its own, but a borough of the town of Killingly?  There in Danielson are the venerable Logee's Greenhouses, founded in 1892. Logee's is known for its unusual tropical greenhouse plants, as the man who started it, Ernest Logee, was an avid horticulturalist.  Its several greenhouses are buried halfway into the ground and its aisles are twined with the tiny heartshaped leaves of a ficus pumila, a tropical vine which I imagine must be as old as the building.

The greenhouse interiors are as labyrinthine as they are green.

For some reason on which I'm not entirely clear, Logee's is now operated by a descendant of the original Logee family, a guy named Byron Martin.  I remember Byron from Michael J. Whalen Junior High in my hometown of Hamden, Connecticut.  His dad, another Byron Martin, was a minister in town.  Last time I saw Byron the son, he was about 12 years old, riding his bike down Brook Street like a bat out of hell, standing on the pedals.    Now he's the owner of Logee's and the guy in this video: https://youtu.be/g95ExtOQpTw

He probably doesn't remember me.  I only remember him because I have the blessing or curse of remembering everything and everyone, always and forever after, amen.

Back at Logee's, neither Joe nor I set out to buy plants, but the greenhouse was so lovely, and the plants so luscious, that we each bought a few.  I chose this Black Jewel orchid for its velvety dark  foliage streaked with orange:

I've never grown this one before, but I understand it's fairly undemanding for an orchid. It flowers, too.  Take a look: http://www.logees.com/black-jewel-orchid-ludisia-discolor-1796.html

I also chose a flowering maple, Abutilon Miss Marmalade.  I've had good luck with flowering maples in the past.

Joe chose the drama of a night blooming cereus, epiphylum oxypetalum Mark Twain, a plant once grown in Mark Twain's home conservatory.


Joe also bought a carnivorous plant known as a sundew.  He's had good luck with another carnivorous plant lately, and his success with that pitcher plant has inspired his purchase of the sundew.  He plans to put them both in a terrarium.

So much more to say about Logee's--the lush greenhouse smell, the remote location--and the tiny borough of Danielson itself.  And I haven't even begun to tell you about the Antiques Marketplace in Putnam, and the beautiful piece of green glass I bought there, and the Cafe Mantic, in the old mill town of Willimantic, where Joe and I had a delightful locally sourced dinner.  Maybe I'll tell you about those next time.

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