August Wonders

Azalea indica ‘Formosa’ in bloom on August 22, 2017.

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A deeply pink blossom shone like a beacon in its sea of dusty August green.  What could that be?

I know that color; a color normally enjoyed in late April: Azalea indica ‘Formosa’.   But the Azaleas in our garden are old ones, planted years before the ‘Encore’ series of fall blooming  Azaleas was ever marketed.

I studied this beautiful flower, a wondrous anachronism, as I drew closer and saw that yes, it was blooming from an Azalea shrub.  In August…

August is filled with wonders. 

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August often melts into a reprieve of sorts.  Relentless heat and drought eventually give way to soaking rains, cooler nights; and a chance for new growth to replace the burnt and fallen leaves of high summer.   Each new leaf whispers a promise of renewal.

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Virginia Creeper

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After the rains begin, one morning we’ll find living fireworks sprung up nearly overnight from long forgotten bulbs.

The spider lily, or hurricane lily, has awakened for another year.  Their exuberance is a milestone along the long downward arc of days from Summer’s Solstice to Autumn’s Equinox.

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Hurricane Lily, Lycoris radiata

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The cast of characters in our garden shifts through the seasons.  The topography of things changes, too, as Cannas and Ficus and Rudbeckia gain height with each passing week.

The poke weed I cut out so ruthlessly in May finally won, and has grown into a 12′ forest in one corner of our garden.

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Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana, proves an invasive native perennial loved by birds.

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Countless clusters of beautiful purple berries hang from its spreading branches, an invitation to the feast.  Small birds flit in and out of its shelter from dawn to dusk, singing their praises of summer’s bounty.

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After so many decades of gardening, one would think that I could have learned the twin disciplines of faith and patience by now.  It is a life long practice; perhaps never perfected. 

Time seems to slip past my muddy fingers each spring as I race to plant and prepare our garden for the season coming.  But nature bides her time, never fully revealing the bits of life she has nurtured through winter’s freezing nights; until she chooses to warm them back to life again.

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Mexican Petunia, Ruellia simplex

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At first I assumed it was a windborne weed, this bit of green growing up through the Oxalis in a humble clay pot by our back door.  I very nearly plucked it one day.  But something about its long narrow leaf was familiar, and echo of a memory of summers past.

And so I left it alone, keeping watch and feeding it, hoping it might be the newest incarnation of the marginally hardy Mexican Petunia.  My patience was rewarded this week with its first purple blossom.

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Hardy only to Zone 8, this Ruellia is one of the plants I search for in garden centers each spring.   And this spring I didn’t find one.  And the pot where I grew it on our deck last summer with Lantana and herbs showed no life by mid-May, and so I threw its contents on the compost.

But this pot by the door sat undisturbed, filled with growing  Oxalis and a bit of geranium.  And obviously, the dormant, but still living, Ruellia’s roots.  How often our plants live just below the surface, waiting for the right moment to show themselves, bursting  into new growth.

We somehow have to wrap our minds and memories around the full scope of our garden’s possibilities.

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Garlic chives spread themselves around the garden, blooming in unexpected places in late summer.

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Autumn is our second spring, here in coastal Virginia.  It is a fresh chance to plant and harvest, plan and prune and putter in the garden.

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Caladium ‘Desert Sunset’ has renewed its growth with vibrant new leaves.

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We have ten or twelve weeks remaining, at least, before cold weather puts an end to it for another year.

As our season cools, we can spend more time outside without minding the heat and humidity of July and early August.

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Hardy Begonias have finally begun to bloom.

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We breathe deeply once again, and share the renewed joy of it all with the small creatures who share this space with us.

Late August is filled with wonders, teasing us out from the air conditioning of our indoor havens, back out into the magic waiting in the garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

 

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A Welcome Weed

Joe Pye Weed

Joe Pye Weed, Eutrochium purpureum

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“Weed” or “welcome” remains firmly in the eye of the beholder. 

This beautiful plant is known as “Joe Pye Weed,” but I consider it a lovely perennial flower.  A native wildflower throughout Eastern North America, this Eutrochium purpureum, was used by our Native Americans for healing.

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July 21, 2015 garden midday 002

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If you follow the link back to last summer’s post, you will see how our plant looked this time last year, soon after we planted it.  It has grown considerably larger this year.  It is a tall, architectural statement plant in our sunny garden this summer.

Not a single seedling appeared, so I wouldn’t consider this plant invasive in the least.  It hasn’t been so much as nibbled by a deer or rabbit, and is a hub of activity on sunny days.

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July 21, 2015 garden midday 003

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I love the red stems and sturdy foliage.  You’ll see that the leaves have not been nibbled by the insects who come to enjoy the flowers’ nectar.

Have you grown Joe Pye Weed?  It has proven to be a drought tolerant beauty in full sun.  The flowers last for more than a month.  It isn’t an easy plant to find in our area, but were I to find it again, I would definitely purchase another plant or two.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

The Butterfly Effect

October 19, 2014 fall color 015

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

 

 

Joe Pye With Tiger Swallowtail

Tiger Swallowtail on Joe Pye Weed

Tiger Swallowtail on Joe Pye Weed

 

Just finishing up in the front garden this morning, picking up my tools, movement caught my eye…

…The fluttering of a golden butterfly, crossing the garden, heading straight for the crowning blossom of our Joe Pye Weed.

Finally!  This is the first butterfly visit I’ve observed since it bloomed. 

May it be the first of many!

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Our golden Tiger Swallowtail  sipped and flew, sipped and flew a few times as I worked with the camera.

And then just as quickly disappeared to another part of the garden.

Butterflies, dragonflies and bees, this morning’s companions, express appreciation by their simple presence.

What a beautiful way to end a morning’s work of planting, watering, weeding, and feeding.

 

Tiger Swallowtail on Joe Pye Weed

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

Joe Pye: No Weed To Me….

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Named for Jopi, a Native healer who used this beautiful  plant, Eutrochium purpureum, to  heal early colonists with fevers and other health problems; this gorgeous perennial wildflower is found throughout Eastern North America.

 

Joe Pye Weed begins its season of bloom around the end of June or beginning of July here in coastal Virginia.

Joe Pye Weed begins its season of bloom around the end of June or beginning of July here in coastal Virginia.

 

Jopi Weed, or Joe Pye Weed, reminds us of the rich botanical legacy Native Americans generously shared with early European settlers in America.  Native Americans continue to use Eutrochium for urinary tract infections, fevers, and other health conditions.

But I purchased this plant from Knott’s Creek Nursery in May not for its medicinal uses, but for its beauty.

 

July 6, before the tiny blossoms began to open

July 6, before the tiny blossoms began to open

 

I was looking for Asclepias tuberosa, or native Milkweed,  at the time.  I wanted to purchase a native perennial which would attract more butterflies to the garden, and would serve as a host for butterfly larvae.

Since Knott’s Creek was out of Asclepias that day, I purchased the Eutrochium instead, knowing it is also a butterfly magnet.

Jopi Weed, like so many native plants we purchase for the garden, is easy to grow.

 

July 24, open and ready for the business of welcoming nectar loving insects

July 24, open and ready for the business of welcoming nectar loving insects

 

It prefers moist soil and full to partial sun.  This one is planted in compost, mulched with bark, and gets regular water from both rain and irrigation.

It hasn’t grown much taller in the few months we’ve had it, but it has begun to form a clump.

Planted in the right spot, with abundant moisture, these plants can grow to 6′ or more tall and form a clump several feet wide.

Close up of new growth filling in from the bottom of the plant

Close up of new growth filling in from the bottom of the plant; every branch has blooms forming at its tip.

Deciduous, it should be cut to the ground sometime between a killing frost and early spring.

Clumps can be divided as they grow.

Although we haven’t found butterflies on the flower head yet, it is alive with clouds of bees, flies, and wasps visiting this nectar rich part of the garden.

 

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We recently heard Dr. Doug Tallamy of The University of Delaware speak on “Bringing Nature Home,” also the title of his 2009 book.

He described ways to support our populations of wild birds by designing landscapes which not only feed a large number of bird species, but also support their ability to raise the next generation.9780881929928s

Dr. Tallamy made the point that although berries and seeds are desirable; birds need a steady supply of insects in their diet more than they need the plant foods we offer.

And further, the more insects we can attract to our gardens,the more birds we can attract and sustain.

 

This Aloysia virgata, Sweet Almond Tree Verbena is native to South America.  It is also known for attracting butterflies and other nectar loving insects.

This Aloysia virgata, Sweet Almond Tree Verbena, is native to South America. It is also known for attracting butterflies and other nectar loving insects.  It eventually grows to 8′ and blooms from July through until a hard frost kills it back to the ground.

 

 

Now, that sounds counter-intuitive to a gardener, doesn’t it? Who among us wants more bugs out there eating our plants?

But Dr. Tallamy spent a long time explaining that in a balanced garden, the insect damage is insignificant and nearly unnoticeable because those bugs get eaten up by our happy bird tenants.

Which brings us back to our Joe Pye Weed, in a round about sort of way…

 

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Do you see how many insects are gorging themselves on the nectar provided by  this one gigantic bloom?  When we plant nectar rich native plants, we support a huge variety of insects, and the insects feed our birds.

And we don’t have to be native purists to achieve a rich web of life  in our gardens.

We just have to be smart enough to  select natives which support a variety of species.

 

MIlkweed, growing in the wild in the edge of a marsh on Jamestown Island.

MIlkweed, growing  wild in the edge of a marsh on Jamestown Island.

 

 

Native trees, like Oaks and Birch each support hundreds of species of animal life.

If this interests you, please take a look at Dr. Tallamy’s book, which goes into useful detail about how this all works; and how to strategically include the best native species of plants in your wildlife garden.

And this lovely Joe Pye Weed is a step in that direction for us.

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While we watch for the butterflies to find it, we’ll also appreciate the beautiful nectar loving insects it brings to our Forest Garden.

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Female Tiger Swallowtail on Lantana.  Lantana is the most visited plant in our garden by both butterflies and hummingbirds.

Female Tiger Swallowtail on Lantana. Lantana, native to parts of the Americas,  is the most visited plant in our garden by both butterflies and hummingbirds.

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