Re-Weaving the Web

Viola papilionacea

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Our ‘lawn’ hosts many wildflowers, including the always beautiful violet, Viola papilionacea.  I’m happy to see these lovely wildflowers bloom each spring.  They are so common, and so elegant.  And I’ve always assumed that their nectar is a welcome source of nourishment for bees and other pollinators in early spring.

But I was surprised to learn, when browsing recently on the National Wildlife Federation’s website, that the common, native violet is a larval host to 30 different species of moth and butterfly.   By simply allowing these pretty spring wildflowers, rather than stopping their growth with a ‘broadleaf weed’ herbicide, I’ve been helping to support moths and butterflies.

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Monarch butterfly on hybrid Lantana, an excellent source of nectar.

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Once we begin to understand our own lawns and gardens as part of an intricate web of life; the daily decisions we make, and the actions we do, or don’t take assume an entirely new and more meaningful context.

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Spiders often weave large webs in our autumn garden.

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I certified our garden as a wildlife habitat some years ago.  Ever since, I get regular mailings and emails from the National Wildlife Federation offering me things if I’ll only send a bit more money to them.  I respect their work and detest the constant fundraising.  But an email last week somehow caught my attention, and in a spare moment I began clicking through to find a personalized list of native plants that thrive in our zip code and also support wildlife.

Imagine that!  A personalized plant list just for me and my neighbors to assist us in preserving habitat!

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Our native redbud tree, Cercis canadensis, supports 25 species of butterfly and moth larvae.  Our dogwood tree supports 110 larval species.

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Also on my list: Fragaria, Solidago, Aster, Geranium, Hibiscus, Rudbeckia, Achillea and good old Joe Pye Weed, Eupatorium.  It’s the first plant on this list, Fragaria, that nudges that guilty sense that maybe I’m not as good as I want to be.

Common (weedy) ground strawberries, Fragaria virginiana, thrive in our garden.  They thrive and spread themselves over and around every bed I start and every other thing I plant.  Along with the ubiquitous Vinca minor vines, Fragaria are the plants I find myself pulling up and throwing away the most.  And to think that this common and enthusiastic plant; which feeds pollinators, songbirds, small mammals and reptiles; also supports 73 different species of larval moths and butterflies.  How did I ever miss that?

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Wild strawberries, Fragaria, mix with other wildflowers as ground cover at the base of this stand of Narcissus. Brent and Becky Heath’s display gardens, Gloucester VA.

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You may have read Dr. Doug Tallamy’s revolutionary manual, Bringing Nature Home.   Dr. Tallamy makes a clear argument for why including native plants in our home landscape matters, and offers simple advise about how to do this in the most practical and easy to understand terms possible.

The National Wildlife Federation has based their Native Plant Finder on his work, and will give anyone an individualized list of native plants that form the basis of the ecosystem in their particular area, down to their zip code.

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The American Sycamore tree, Platanus occidentalis, supports 43 species of larvae, including the beautiful Luna moth..

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The change in my sensibility came when I realized that I don’t really have to do anything special to grow a garden of native plants.  Rather, I need to allow it to happen, by understanding and respecting the natural processes already at work in our garden.

We modern American gardeners are often conditioned to feel like we need to go and buy something in order to be gardening.  Dr. Tallamy helps us to understand that going to our local garden center or nursery may not be the best way to heal our local ecosystem.

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How many of us already have an oak tree (or two or three) growing in our garden?  They are handsome shade trees, and I’ve always admired oaks.  Did you know that in addition to producing acorns, oak leaves support over 500 species of larval butterflies and moths?  A birch tree supports over 320 species.  That is a lot of mileage from a single tree, when it comes to supporting the insect world!

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Virginia Creeper, a native vine which crops up in many areas of our garden, provides nectar, berries, and it also supports 29 species of butterfly and moth larvae.

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Keep in mind that this is only a counting of butterflies and moths, and doesn’t even consider the hundreds of other insect species which live on our native trees.  Even a pine tree supports over 200 species, and the simple mistletoe already growing in several trees around our yard will support 3 species of moth larvae.

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 Zebra Swallowtail feeding on Asclepias tuberosa ‘Hello Yellow’ at Brent and Becky Heath’s display gardens in Gloucester .

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I keep returning to this conundrum about native vs. ‘exotic’ plants. I listen closely when experts, like the erudite speakers at our local chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society, speak on this matter.  I have also been doing a bit of reading about the balance between natives and non-native plants in our home gardens.

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Hibiscus syriacus is not our native Hibiscus… but our bees and butterflies love it anyway.  It has naturalized in our area.

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Some landscape designers suggest planting exotic plants near our house and native plants towards the edges of our property.  This assumes, I think, that the native plants may not be beautiful enough or refined enough to plant along our daily paths.  Somehow, I know there must be a better way….

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Purists try to demonstrate to us that ‘native’ means the plants that have grown in our particular location for centuries, maybe even millennia.  It is the particularly adapted sub-species that have grown in symbiotic relationships with the local fauna and geo-forms which matter most.  They are adapted to our soil, climate and may not be truly ‘native’ 30 miles down the road.

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Asclepias incarnata, July 2017

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The problem with this analysis comes from understanding that there was a lot of movement of people and spreading of plants in North America before the earliest recorded European inhabitants.  It doesn’t matter whether you take that back to the Vikings, Sir Henry Sinclair, The Templar fleets or Captain Chris; the truth is that many different groups of native Americans carried plants around from place to place and established agriculture long before there was a European around to observe and record their activities.

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Muscadines are a native North American grape.  Vitis species support 69 larval species, and were cultivated long before the European migration to our continent.

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Many of us mail order an Asclepias or two and know we have done a good thing for the Monarchs.  But Asclepias only supports twelve larval species, while the Rudbeckia systematically colonizing our entire front garden support 20!

But Rudbeckia don’t feed Monarch larvae.  And neither do many of the Asclepias I’ve planted in recent years.  Their leaves remain pristine.  It is not just what we plant, but many factors in the environment that determine whether or not a butterfly will choose a particular plant to lay their eggs.

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I am happiest when I realize that the plants I want to grow anyway also qualify as ‘native’ and benefit wildlife.

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Native Hibiscus moscheutos grows in our garden, and has naturalized in many wetlands in our area.  Sadly, non-native Japanese Beetles feasted on its leaves.  Hibiscus supports 29 species of butterfly and moth larvae.

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I am content when the ‘exotic’ plants I want growing in our garden also offer some benefit to wildlife, whether it is their nectar or their seeds.  And I still stubbornly assert my rights as The Gardener, when I commandeer real-estate for those non-natives that I passionately want to grow, like our beloved Caladiums. 

As long as I find hummingbirds buzzing around our canna lilies and ginger lilies each summer, and find the garden filled with song birds and butterflies, I feel like we are doing our small part to support wildlife.

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Many of us enjoy watching pollinators gather nectar and pollen from the flowers in our garden.  We enjoy a variety of birds attracted to seeds, berries, and insect life in our gardens, too.  But how many of us relish watching caterpillars nibble the leaves of our garden plants?

We see nibbled leaves as damaged leaves, without taking into consideration that before we have butterflies flitting from flower to flower, we must shelter and support their larvae.

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Black Swallowtail butterfly and caterpillars on fennel, August 2017

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Assuming that you have read Doug Tallamy’s work, let me invite you to take the next step by reading Larry Weaner’s thought provoking new book,    Garden Revolution:  How Our Landscapes Can Be A Source of Environmental Change.  Where Doug Tallamy writes about plant choice, Larry Weaner is all about ecological landscape design.  He teaches how to begin with a tract of land and restore an ecosystem.  Weaner teaches us how to work with the processes of nature to have plants present their best selves, with minimum inputs from us.

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Restoring our environment, preserving our ecosystem, are holistic, systemic endeavors worthy of our energy and attention.  As we develop a deeper understanding and sympathy for these matters, our aesthetic, and our understanding of our own role in the garden’s evolution, also evolve.

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The Devil’s Walkingstick, Aralia spinosa provides nectar when in bloom, and thousands of tasty berries in the autumn.  It also supports 7 larval species. A volunteer in our garden, it is one of the most spectacular trees we grow.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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“The wild is where you find it,
not in some distant world
relegated to a nostalgic past or an idealized future;
its presence is not black or white,
bad or good, corrupted or innocent…
We are of that nature, not apart from it.
We survive because of it,
not instead of it.”
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Renee Askins
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Hummingbird moth on a hybrid butterfly bush growing among native Rudbeckia. 

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Signs of Autumn

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There are signs of autumn everywhere in the garden.  Never mind that it went over 90F here today.  As the days grow shorter, plants have a sense of the change of season and respond.  This is one of the great mysteries entertained by those of us who live in gardens.

Of course, leaves began to turn and drop in early August from our searing drought.  But now, even plants I’ve kept well-watered have joined in. Most of our Japanese painted ferns have dropped fronds now, modestly disappearing from the bed as leaves of Italian Arum begin to emerge.

Why is that?  How do they know it is time to rest?

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Oakleaf Hydrangea

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Some dogwoods and maple trees sport reddish leaves now.  It makes for pretty sightseeing on a drive.  The Aralia seed heads have been purple for weeks.  Even perennials, like our milkweed, have turned yellow and dropped most of their leaves.

As spring unfolds over many months here in Williamsburg, so too, does autumn.  And autumn leaves me feeling a bit melancholy and nostalgic.

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Although my birthday comes each spring, I never really feel that year older until fall creeps across the garden.   My steps slow a bit;  my enthusiasm wanes a little, too.  I’m ready to settle and just ‘let things be’ for awhile.

I look around and see that our garden is entering its final acts of the year, preparing for a few months of rest .  I suppose that like naps, a few months of rest allows the garden, and us, to store up the vibrant energy we need to greet another spring.

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Aralia spinosa with pokeweed

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Even so, there are still a few perennials and herbs just coming into bloom.  The Mexican sage is in bud, and goldenrods are just opening.  The pineapple sage is covering itself in scarlet flowers now, and tender fresh leaves have emerged on some of our spring bulbs.

I could try to fool myself that this is a ‘second spring;’ the preponderance of the evidence says otherwise.

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Pineapple Sage

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We are swiftly entering back into restful darkness, now that the autumn equinox has passed.  I feel it most in the evenings, when it’s noticeably dark earlier each evening.

I go for a walk, and darkness has gathered before I return.  A thin sliver of moon mocks me, nestled in its soft, moist cloudy cloak.

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Mexican bush sage

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I’m beginning to catalog the autumn chores ahead, and doing the math to decide how much time I have to procrastinate before lifting tubers, carrying pots indoors, and starting the round of fall planting.    I have flats of little shrubs stashed behind the house, waiting for autumn’s cool and damp.  I’ve ordered daffodils and more Arum, and will soon buy Violas for winter pots.

I expect at least another month of frost-free days and nights; maybe another six or seven weeks, if we’re lucky.  Today it felt like summer.  The sun was intense, the air humid and dense.

Hurricane Maria still swirls off of our coast, though far enough away that we had no rain and only a little wind.  We were glad it stayed away.

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Goldenrod coming into bloom

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And yet, I see the signs of autumn everywhere in the garden.  Huge spiders spin their webs on the deck.   Monarchs as large as birds visit our baskets of Lantana, floating above the garden in their vivid orange finery.

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  Goldfinches swoop and dive, stopping to snack on ripe seeds on the Rose of Sharon shrubs.    Their bare branches and yellow leaves make the message clear:  “Get ready.  Change is in the air.”

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Crape Myrtle with its last flowers of the year, just as its leaves begin to turn orange and red.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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Blossom XXXI: Lantana

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“For it is in giving that we receive.”
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Francis of Assisi

Lantana proves a most generous flower.  It’s prolific blooms, full of sweet nectar, nourish butterflies from May until November.

As each flower fades, a small berry forms in its place.  These delight our hungry birds.

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“Generosity does not come from wealth.
Wealth comes from the flowers of kindness and love.”
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Debasish Mridha

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Lantana asks little for itself.  It thrives in poor soil.  It tolerates weeks of drought as its deep, sturdy roots seek out water to fuel its prolific blossoms.

It covers itself in flowers continually, growing ever larger, week by week, until it is touched by frost.

Its sturdy, green leaves soak in every ray of summer sun without wilt or burn.

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“When a person becomes aware of their genius
and they live it and they give generously from it,
they change the world, they affect the world.
And when they depart
everyone knows something is missing.”
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Michael Meade

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Many of the Lantana that we planted five or more years ago have firmly established themselves in our garden.  Their woody bones burst into life in late spring, and they quickly grow back to enormous proportions.  We leave their skeletons in place through the winter, where they offer shelter and food to the birds who hang back in our garden.

Their drying berries provide a long lasting source of food.  Their dense branches and soft, fallen leaves give shelter from wind and snow.  Small birds play in their structure,  flying in an out of openings in the canopy as they search for insects.

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We wait to cut the Lantana back until the Crocus are blooming.  Once we see these signs of spring, we cut them hard, nearly back to the ground.  Their beds are opened once again to the warming sun.

Bulbs bloom, roses bloom, grass greens, spring settles; and finally, the Lantana re-awaken;  their first blossoms opening in time to greet a new generation of visitors to our garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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“The Universe blesses a generous heart.”
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Eileen Anglin
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Blossom XXV: Elegance
Blossom XXVI: Angel Wing Begonia
Blossom XXVII: Life 
Blossom XXVIII: Fennel 
Blossom XXIV:  Buddleia 
Blossom XXX:  Garlic Chives

A Royal Visitor

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We have been watching for a Monarch butterfly to visit our garden for the last several weeks.

We still have Yellow Sulphurs and Painted Ladies.  But most of the Swallowtails took off before our storms.  We miss them.  The garden has felt quite lonely and empty without them flying around.

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October 8 Parkway 051

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But we started spotting Monarch butterflies on our errands this morning.  We saw them hovering over flowering shrubs at the shopping center.  We saw them flying about near the Colonial Parkway.  When would one turn up at home, we wondered?

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And then at dusk, as I was bringing a pumpkin around to set on the front porch, I spotted our first Monarch butterfly of October, feeding on the Lantana in our front garden.  What a thrill!  After the joy of simply watching it for a while, I quietly retreated back inside to tell my partner about our visitor, and to grab my camera.

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Wondering whether our Monarch would still be around when I returned, I powered up the camera and quietly approached the Lantana again.  And yes, our visitor was enjoying the feast too much to mind my presence.  I was happily snapping photos as my partner approached, watching from a distance.

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Maybe it was the socks….  Today I chose a pair of Monarch butterfly socks my partner had given me in late August.  All stages of a Monarch’s  life from egg to adult are woven into these wonderful socks, which we found in the shop at Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester.  I pulled them on this morning hoping to soon finding Monarchs visiting us on their fall migration.

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Now that the storms have passed, and clear cool days have brought a new freshness and vitality to our garden, we observe renewed activity from birds devouring ripening berries and bees enjoying Goldenrod and autumn Salvias.

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Salvia leucantha, Mexican Bush Sage

Salvia leucantha, Mexican Bush Sage

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And now our garden has finally hosted the long awaited royal visitor:  a lone Monarch butterfly feeding in our garden as it travels to warmer destinations further south.  We hope this is the first Monarch of many who find our garden this month. We hope to find it alive again with the flutter of brilliant wings, as they taste each  blossom filled with sweet autumn nectar.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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Sunday Dinner: Spirit Swans

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“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience.

We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

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Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

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“One thing: you have to walk,

and create the way by your walking;

you will not find a ready-made path.

It is not so cheap, to reach to the ultimate realization of truth.

You will have to create the path by walking yourself;

the path is not ready-made, lying there and waiting for you.

It is just like the sky: the birds fly,

but they don’t leave any footprints.

You cannot follow them;

there are no footprints left behind.”

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Osho

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“I once listened to an Indian on television

say that God was in the wind and the water,

and I wondered at how beautiful that was

because it meant

you could swim in Him

or have Him brush your face in a breeze.”

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Donald Miller

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“We are all connected;

To each other, biologically.

To the earth, chemically.

To the rest of the universe atomically.”

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Neil deGrasse Tyson

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“The power of human thought grows exponentially

with the number of minds that share that thought.”

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Dan Brown

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

Jones Mill Pond, along the Colonial Parkway, near Yorktown, Virginia

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“The Way is not in the sky;

the Way is in the heart.”

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Gautama Buddha

WPC: Orange

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Orange does liven things up a bit.  Its warmth and energy feel like the perfect foil for the icy garden outside our windows.

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Just as orange juice brightens up a wintery morning, so a collection of orange photos might make us all feel a bit warmer as we close out this first full week of March.

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When I think of orange, I think of October.

Today’s collection of photos, all from October of 2014, take us back to butterflies and roses; leaves changing color on the trees and warm autumn sunsets.

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I hope you will soak up a little of their warmth as you enjoy this photographic retrospective.

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Inspired by the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Orange

All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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The Butterfly Effect

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After a summer spent watching for butterflies, we celebrate each one which crosses our path this October.

I say, “Crossing our path” intentionally.  We  cringed each time a Monarch came fluttering towards the windshield as we drove along  the Colonial Parkway this weekend.

We believe they all survived, carried in the wind over the roof of our car and safely on their journey.

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Often, as I stopped to take photos, familiar orange and black wings lit somewhere nearby.

Monarchs and Painted Ladies  delight us as they flutter around our garden on these warm, late October afternoons.

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A Painted Lady enjoys nectar from Lantana in our garden.

 

Paging through the new “Winter” issue of Arts and Crafts Homes,  I was a little surprised to see a photo of Monarch butterflies crowded on an evergreen branch.  Since the butterfly is a common motif in “Arts and Crafts” decor, the decline in our butterfly population rated an article even here.

Artist Amy Miller is raising Monarch butterflies in her kitchen!

The article explains how Amy set up a “mating tent” made of mosquito netting in her home,  stocked with nectar flowers and fresh milkweed.  Amy brings pairs of butterflies to the tent, releasing the males back into the wild after mating.  Females are kept until they lay their eggs on the milkweed.

Amy carefully raises the caterpillars until mature butterflies emerge.  Thus far, Amy has released more than 500 adult monarchs back into the wild.  Her 27 acre property along Wisconsin’s Trimbelle  River, is a natural habitat for Monarchs.

 

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Also mentioned was fellow blogger Kim Smith, who initiated the Cape Ann Milkweed Project  in Gloucester, Massachusetts.  Kim distributes milkweed seeds and  encourages homeowners to create more habitat for Monarch butterflies.

Kim often blogs about Monarchs and her efforts to support gardeners around the country willing to grow their host plant.  Milkweed is the only plant on which Monarch butterflies will lay their eggs. Monarch larvae eat only milkweed as they grow.  Often considered a weed, few homeowners include it in their landscape.

Monarcch on Staghorns umac along the Colonial Parkway this weekend.

Monarcch on Staghorn Sumac along the Colonial Parkway this weekend.

As natural areas, and the native plants they support, disappear; and roads, neighborhoods and shopping centers proliferate across the landscape; we see the direct consequences in our dwindling butterfly populations.

Many of us in the blogging community have written about our search for Monarchs and other native butterflies this season.

Many of us share the concern that they haven’t visited our gardens in their usual numbers this summer.

This male Monarch has made himself at home in our garden, enjoying the Lantana buffet these last few weeks. Do you see the spots, near the body, on his rear wings? These spots indicate a male butterfly.

This male Monarch has made himself at home in our garden, enjoying the Lantana buffet these last few weeks. Do you see the spots, near the body, on his rear wings? These spots indicate a male butterfly.

 

Eliza Waters, another Massachusetts based blogging friend,  also documents her efforts to support the Monarch population in her gardens.

Much like Rachel Carson raised the alarm about our native birds in her 1962 Silent Spring, so our generation documents our concerns for the butterflies.  Carson’s book launched the environmental movement in the United States, bringing about sweeping changes in our laws; eventually  banning DDT and other harmful insecticides and pesticides.

And now, more than 50 years later, we witness a resurgence of the  environmental movement inspired, in part, by the loss of our beloved butterflies.

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We know that herbicides used in commercial farming, along with over development, play in a major role in the loss of both milkweeds and the nectar flowers Monarchs, and other butterflies, depend upon for their life cycle.

And although this problem appears very large, each of us can do our own small part to make a positive difference.

We can each have our own tiny “Butterfly Effect.”  Do you know the term? 

Edward Lorenz coined the term in 1961 to describe how one tiny change in the initial conditions of a system may dramatically effect the outcome.  It is an axiom of Chaos  Theory.

 

Monarch spotted feeding in our garden this morning.

And while we might feel helpless to have much effect against multinational corporations spraying herbicides on their GMO crops, or the energy giants building thousands of miles of new gas pipelines across our communities; we can create a safe and supportive habitat on our own properties for butterflies, frogs, songbirds, and the other beautiful little creatures whose presence indicates a rich web of life in our garden.

 

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Tiny insects on Rose of Sharon seedpods

We can plant milkweed for the Monarchs. And we can plant  fennel, parsley, dill, black cherry trees, and other native trees to host  the other butterflies we love.

Even those of us gardening on a condo balcony or patio can grow these simple host and nectar plants in pots.

Every tiny effort makes a positive difference.

 

Joe Pye weed, new in our garden this season, has fed many creatures over the season.

Joe Pye Weed, new in our garden this spring, has fed many creatures over the season.

 

We can stop using pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers in our gardens, thus keeping them out of the water supply and out of the food chain.

 

Unknown larvae feed on Virginia Creeper vines growing on this Eastern Red Cedar.

Unknown larvae feed on Virginia Creeper vines growing on this Eastern Red Cedar.

 

We can include berry and seed producing shrubs and trees in our garden, and leave some untended “wild” places for creatures to nest and shelter.

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And we can support our neighbors in their efforts to create wildlife habitat in their own gardens.

 

MIlkweed pods bursting to release their downy seeds is a sure sign of October in Virginia.

MIlkweed pods bursting to release their downy seeds is a sure sign of October in Virginia.  These grow beside  College Creek in our community.

 

Let us all keep “The Butterfly Effect” in mind. In our seemingly chaotic world, every small act of kindness and goodwill has the potential to make an enormous difference as our story unfolds here on Earth.

Every milkweed seed we nurture may host hundreds of Monarch butterflies.

Every bit of garden we cultivate may feed thousands of creatures.

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Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

The Daily Post Writing Challenge:  The Butterfly Effect

 

The Butterfly Garden- plant lists

 

 

Silent Sunday: Autumn Leaves

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“I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house.”

Notebook, Oct. 10, 1842

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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“I loved autumn, the one season of the year that God seemed to have put there just for the beauty of it.”

  Lee Maynard

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“I was drinking in the surroundings: air so crisp you could snap it with your fingers and greens in every lush shade imaginable offset by autumnal flashes of red and yellow.”

Wendy Delsol

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“Listen! The wind is rising, and the air is wild with leaves,
We have had our summer evenings, now for October eves!”

Humbert Wolfe

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

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Monarchs in the Garden

Monarch spotted feeding in our garden this morning.

Monarch spotted feeding in our garden this morning.

 

Monarchs have returned to our garden.  In the past three days I’ve seen Monarch butterflies feeding on several different occasions.

The first time wasn’t in our garden at all.  It was Sunday afternoon in far western Chesterfield County.

I was driving out towards Amelia, and made a “U” turn to return to a little roadside nursery.   There was a small stand of goldenrod growing in the median, and to our delight, a beautiful Monarch was hovering over the goldenrod.  I was thrilled to finally see one again after watching for them all summer.

 

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And then this morning, a Monarch flew past our porch, and lit in the upper branches of our pear tree.  We watched it until it took off again.  We took it as a very good omen.

Especially since my partner had found, and shared with me, an article about cooperative preservation efforts involving Canada, The United States and Mexico in the current Scientific American magazine yesterday morning.

 

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It is always good when our nations cooperate. 

To find a high level of dedication and coordination in an effort to save the Monarch butterfly is astounding.

One idea mentioned in the article, which shows a lot of promise, is to establish corridors of native plants, especially milkweed species, along certain north-south interstate highways.

Monarchs need habitat and food all along the way of their annual migration.

 

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This is such a good idea, it begs the question:  Why not establish native plant habitat along ALL of our interstate highways? 

I know that many states have planted wildflowers and allowed native plants to grow along their highways.  To me, this is not only common sense, but also a beautiful approach to highway maintenance.

It certainly makes a trip more interesting for the traveler to have wide swaths of beautiful flowers and trees to enjoy along the roadside.

 

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It helps travelers get a better “sense of place,” too, to see how native vegetation varies form region to region.

But it also would save each Department of Transportation money that in currently spent mowing the roadsides and medians every few weeks.

Our butterfly and songbird populations both would benefit from corridors of native plants all along our major highways.

I hope that efforts to preserve habitat in Mexico, and efforts to curtail the use of insecticides and herbicides  in all three nations prove successful.

This is the patch of roses and Lantana where I found the Monarch this morning.  It now reaches well over our heads.  The Lantana are several years old, but still die back to the ground each winter.  So this is one season's growth....

This is the patch of roses and Lantana where I found the Monarch this morning. It now reaches well over our heads. The Lantana are several years old, but still die back to the ground each winter. So this is one season’s growth….

 

Efforts to plant more milkweed should be encouraged and supported by individuals and institutions, in addition to  government agencies planting milkweed along the roadsides.

We can all make a small effort towards providing a supportive habitat for wildlife and the specific plants our butterflies need to reproduce.

 

Many of us plant exotic plants and purely ornamental plants, like these roses, instead of Milkweed and other host plants for butterfly larvae.  The dill, fennel and parsley we grew this year, host for swallowtails and other butterflies, weren't eaten by larvae this season.  We have been concerned at how few larvae and butterflies we've spotted since spring.

Many of us plant exotic plants and purely ornamental plants, like these roses, instead of Milkweed and other host plants for butterfly larvae. The dill, fennel and parsley we grew this year, host for swallowtails and other butterflies, weren’t eaten by larvae this season. We have been concerned at how few larvae and butterflies we’ve spotted since spring.

 

The third Monarch butterfly was feeding on our Lantana when I came out to work in the garden this morning.  I was thrilled to find it there, and even happier that it was still blissed out on Lantana nectar when I returned with the camera.  It  kept peacefully feeding as I joyfully photographed its progress.

 

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When it finally fluttered off, it was to another patch of Lantana a few yards away.

Although Lantana won’t support Monarch larvae, it offers a good food source to fuel the mature Monarchs’ migration this month.

 

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I hope you have recently spotted Monarchs feeding in your community. 

October is the time when they gather together for the long trip back to Mexico, where they will spend the winter.

We also hope this winter is gentler to them than last, and that this beautiful species will not only survive, but will respond to our conservation efforts (as many eagles have) and become a common sight in our summer gardens once more.

(All of the links today will take you to interesting and current information on Monarchs and efforts to preserve them.)

 

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Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Butterflies, Dragonflies, and Bumblebees

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Eliza Waters is a wonderful advocate for wild creatures of all sorts, but she has a special interest in Monarch butterflies.

We have been corresponding this spring about the plight of the Monarch.  She has been involved in creating habitat for them.  And she responded to the post with photos of a Monarch  we found near Yorktown, Virginia, in late May.

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We found this Monarch on May 23, 2014. There was no sign of Monarchs today, sadly.

Eliza asked, earlier today, whether we had found any eggs or signs of Monarch larvae on the Milkweed by the pond where we have been watching for butterflies.

So my partner and I returned this evening, to see what we might see.

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We found the Milkweed plants just covered in bumblebees, feasting on their tiny flowers just as the flowers were opening.  And the bumblebees were so blissed out on the wonderful nectar, they were totally oblivious to my presence.

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Just inches away, they continued to feed while I took photos.

But in the entire time we explored, there was only one small butterfly or moth.  I don’t know its name, but suspect it is a moth.

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Not a single Monarch to be found.  And at Eliza’s suggestion, I searched for signs of eggs or larvae on the Milkweed plants.

I”m so sorry to say that I couldn’t locate either.  The Milkweed leaves look pristine- no larval munching.  I checked the closest Milkweed plants and found no eggs, either.

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Perhaps the Monarch did lay her eggs on one of these plants closer to the pond; one I didn’t climb down the bank to inspect.  Let us hope that is the case.

And we’ll continue to check back from time to time to see what evidence we may find as the summer unfolds.

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Today we were happy to find a brilliant blue dragonfly.

He was quite happy to sit still while I snapped off several portraits of him.

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He was watching me, but didn’t even flinch until I moved away.  He was a great sport, and I appreciate his patience.

The swans have moved on, too.  But we found Egrets wading further down the road.

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Early summer brings such a pageant of life to our community.

We enjoy the staccato music of the frogs and the basso continuo buzzing of bees under the melody of birds calling to one another.

So much life, and such beauty.

All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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