Fabulous Friday: Hurricane Lilies

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August often proves to be awkward and uncomfortable here in coastal Virginia.  If it’s not the heat and humidity chasing us back inside, it’s the torrential rain.  Many mornings, when we first open the kitchen door to step outside, the air is so thick with humidity that we wish we had scuba gear.

Afternoon thunderstorms insure I won’t need to stand out in the mugginess with a hose to water, but they also keep the humidity and ‘ick’ factor high.

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Lycoris radiata, Hurricane lilies, appear after heavy rain some time in mid-to late August.

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The last morning I stood outside to water was Tuesday.  By the time I finished my ‘to do’ list, every stitch I wore, including my hat, was soaked with perspiration.  But I felt quite proud of myself for making the effort, as the forecast called for another hot and sunny day, with no rain until evening.

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Parts of the garden are looking a bit worn by mid-August. But I look past them to the beauties of our visitors.

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Well, by 11:30 that morning the skies opened and torrential rain caught us out on the roads, returning from the grocery store.  And every day since Tuesday we’ve been treated to the passing drama of rolling thunder, bright flashes of lightening, gusty winds and pelting rain.  We count ourselves lucky as the hail has mostly avoided our little bend in the river, but we know others nearby have endured hail and broken trees this week.

Sometimes, the storm passes quickly and allows the sun to burn through the clouds once again.  Curtains of steam rise from every paved surface and temperatures rise after the passing cool of the thunderstorm.

And then, yes, you guessed it:  another storm forms and passes over a few hours later.  We listen to thunder rolling in the distance during the night, and awaken to find the world wet from pre-dawn showers.

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Garlic chives and an emerald green fly.

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August proves a very wet month, most years.  It is a month of transition, preparing us for the first breath of autumn in September.

Along with the transition from summer to fall, we often have a hurricane or two blowing in from the Atlantic or up from the Gulf.  (Knock on wood) we have been very lucky thus far, this year.  May the blowing sands of the Sahara continue to keep things calm off the coast.

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For all of the inconveniences of August, there are also some treats and treasures.  I always look forward to our black-eyed Susans coming into bloom, filling our upper garden with their cheery golden faces.  I love watching the comings and goings of our butterflies and listening for the rare blessing of a visit from one of our hummingbirds.  And I especially love the unexpected surprise of seeing the bright red flowers of our Hurricane lilies, Lycoris radiata, when they suddenly pop into bloom.

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Lycoris burst into bloom after sudden, heavy rains; thus their moniker.  While spring bulbs are pretty predictable, these late summer bulbs time their bloom to the amount of heat and moisture in the soil.

One of those summer bulbs also known as ‘naked ladies,’ the bloom stalks appear suddenly, long before their leaves.  If you want to know more about Lycoris, you might enjoy this post about them from 2014.

I’ve never planted a whole bed of Lycoris, though I’m sure that would be stunning.  Rather, I plant a few here and there, just little accents and exclamation points to delight us and revive our spirits in August.  We only have the red, though they come in white, pink and yellow, too.

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I’m enjoying ours through the front windows, where a zipper spider has spun an enormous web, and on my occasional walks up the driveway.

The rain this week has ended up a blessing, as I’m still recovering from Lyme’s disease and wanting to stay indoors and away from the possibility of any more insect bites.  The rain and humidity have added another reason to stay in and do quiet things this week; and I’m grateful.

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But when I do wander outside, there are always new developments to enjoy.  There’s fresh growth to admire, new flowers blooming, a cutting that has struck roots, or a new spider web to examine.  The wonders unfold all on their own, a satisfying counterpoint to the inconveniences of August.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious- Let’s infect one another.

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Wildlife Wednesday: Wings

Male Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on Lantana ‘Ham and Eggs’

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“If you were born without wings,

do nothing to prevent them from growing.”
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Coco Chanel

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Female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on Lantana ‘Miss Huff’

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“Similar to a butterfly,

I’ve gone through a metamorphosis,

been released from my dark cocoon,

embraced my wings, and soared!”

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Dana Arcuri

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“She made broken look beautiful
and strong look invincible.
She walked with the Universe
on her shoulders and made it
look like a pair of wings.”

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Ariana Dancu

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“Use the wings of the flying Universe,
Dream with open eyes;
See in darkness.”
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Dejan Stojanovic

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Common Buckeye Butterfly on Verbena bonariensis

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“Wings are like dreams.

Before each flight,

a bird takes a small jump, a leap of faith,

believing that its wings will work.

That jump can only be made

with rock solid feet.”

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J.R. Rim

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019

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“I wanted to tell you I loved you,

but the butterflies in my stomach

swarmed my throat,

and all the words

got caught in their wings.”

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Nitya Prakash

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Late Summer Nectar

A Tiger Swallowtail butterfly at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden feasts on annual Cleome, which flowers exuberantly for several months each summer in full sun and reseeds itself each year.

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I had an interesting chat with a local beekeeper on Saturday morning.  We were both at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.  He was there as a part of the annual August Butterfly Count, and I was there wishing I was joining them.  I had my to-do list and a schedule to keep, but we spent a few minutes discussing some of the most generous and reliable nectar plants growing in that part of the garden.

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A Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly feeds on Verbena bonariensis in the Iris border of the WBG.  This South American native Verbena is a pollinator magnet, feeding many species from late spring until frost.  It is hardy in our area and also reseeds.

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I am absolutely delighted to learn that the team counted 25 different species of butterflies on Saturday morning in and around the Botanical garden.

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Pollinators find plentiful nectar in annual Zinnias, even after the petals fall.  Zinnas withstand full sun, heat and drought, lasting until frost.

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Whether you have bee hives to feed or simply want to support the wild pollinators in your area, planting late summer nectar plants in your pots and borders proves a win-win for you as the gardener and for the hungry creatures in search of a reliable buffet.

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This sunny spot in our Forest Garden supports many species of pollinators and birds.  Black-eyed Susans are just opening beneath this mixed planting of fennel, Verbena bonariensis and butterfly bush.

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Some beekeepers rent out their hives, moving them from place to place to take advantage of seasonal bloom.  The hives might be in an apple orchard for a few weeks, then in a peach orchard or near an agricultural field.  The bees follow the path of seasonal flowers.

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An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoys Agastache ‘Rosey Posey’ at the Heath family gardens at their Bulb Shop.  This native herb has been developed into many colorful cultivars and is very attractive to bees, butterflies and other pollinators.  Agastache is one of my top picks for a long season of bloom and high quality nectar.

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A beekeeper who wants to keep their hives at home must plan for that succession of bloom nearby so the bees are fed on local nectar year round.  That includes late summer, fall and winter when flowers grow more scarce.

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Many pollinators feast on the rich nectar of Buddleia, butterfly bush.  Newer hybrids are smaller than the species and many are sterile.  I started this one by sticking a pruned branch into the soil a few springs ago.  They are very easy to root from stem cuttings.  Butterfly bush is drought tolerant, grows in full or partial sun and blooms non-stop until late autumn.

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We are always delighted to watch butterflies, hummingbirds, hummingbird moths and many sorts of bees and wasps feasting in our garden.  We get just as much pleasure from watching a cloud of goldfinches rise up from the upper perennial beds as we draw near, or listening to the songbirds calling to one another as they glide from shrub to tree.  I saw a cardinal balancing on the swaying stem of a tall Verbena bonariensis on Friday, clearly finding something there tasty to eat.

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Goldfinches and other birds find as much joy here as the pollinators. After the nectar lovers enjoy the flowers, birds follow along to enjoy the seeds, especially Rudbeckia seeds.

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Selecting plants that will bloom reliably through the heat and dry spells of July and August rewards the gardener with ongoing color and garden interest.  Choosing nectar rich plants that prove both colorful and highly attractive to wildlife keeps the garden alive with flight and song.

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Tubular flowers, like these from Hosta ‘Fire Island’ please hummingbirds.  The Coleus, growing in the background, produces spikes of flowers loved by pollinators and hummingbirds, too,

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A diversity of plant species attracts a diversity of animal species.   By growing a diverse combination of trees, shrubs, vines, and herbaceous annual and perennial flowering plants, including herbs, it is possible to provide nectar rich plants throughout the year.  A reliable food source is key to attracting wildlife and encouraging them to raise their young in the garden.

Cultivating such a wide variety of plants is as much about ‘selecting’ as it is about ‘allowing.’  Many of the plant species growing in our garden were planted by a previous owner, or simply appeared; wild sown, and we chose to allow them to grow.  A few were gifts from gardening friends.  There are many sources for plant material at little or no cost.

When a plant doesn’t perform well or fit into the overall garden scheme, it should be removed to make room for something better.

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Rose of Sharon, Hibiscus syriacus, grows into a large shrub or small tree. Planted near windows, they invite bees, butterflies and hummingbirds to feed near the house, where you can observe them in comfort.  These bloom continuously from mid-spring until late fall, and produce tasty seeds to tempt birds through the winter.

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It may take a few years of close observation to develop a useful list of late summer nectar plants appropriate for your own climate.  What blooms happily in one area may prematurely shrivel and fry in another.

Or, there may not be enough hot sunny days to bring a particular plant to its full potential.

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Canna flowers thrill both humans and nectar lovers. They bloom reliably over a long season.  These heat lovers grow in full to partial sun, but like moist soil.  Many insects, including larvae of some moths, attack their leaves.  They may be a bit too messy for some gardeners to enjoy them.

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As our summers heat up, and precipitation patterns grow more erratic, we discover that popular plants may not do as well here as they once did.  A drive around town shows many commercially landscaped spaces looking derelict in mid-August.

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Lantana is one of my top picks for attracting pollinators. It blooms continuously from mid-spring until frost in full sun. It keeps pumping out flowers even during dry spells. Lantana develops woody stems and deep roots. Some varieties prove hardy and return bigger and better each year here in Zone 7.  It is native in warmer areas of the Southeastern United States, but is also considered invasive along the Gulf Coast.

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Our pollinators’ lives depend on a steady supply of nectar rich flowers.  Their lives depend on it, and future generations of them depend on habitat, host plants, and a steady food supply.  If you want to have a more active role in supporting the butterflies observed frequenting your area, spend some time poking around https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org

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This established stand of Lantana in our front garden breaks my resolve to control it every year. There used to be roses and Iris here, and I planted out lots of annuals this spring. Once things heat up, the Lantana and morning glory vines just get ahead of me, but the butterflies flock here on hot afternoons.

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From the main page, click on ‘Regional Species Checklists.’ In the box on the left of the screen, click under region.  Choose your country, and then as menus appear keep choosing your own state, local, etc. until you land on the list of butterflies observed in your own area. 

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As you then click on any species name, you’ll learn about host plants required for its larvae to mature and nectar plants that feed the adults.  By providing nectar plants, you invite the adults.  Also providing host plants, allows you to support that species as it lays eggs in your garden for its next generation.  

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Fennel, an edible herb, serves as a host plant for swallowtails and its flowers attract many different types of pollinators. Parsley, a biennial, is another swallowtail host plant that produces similar flowers in its second year. Both produce seeds for the birds.

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Some gardeners prefer a professional, groomed appearance to their yards.  There is mulched space between carefully trimmed individual plants.  The plan is serene and green, with large blocks of a single plant species and few flowers.  That style might invite compliments from neighbors, but doesn’t necessarily invite wildlife or nurture species diversity.

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There are hundreds of different types of Salvia available.  Some are hardy in our area, some need warmer winters. All delight pollinators and hummingbirds while blooming in difficult conditions over many months.

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Butterflies, bees, wasps, and birds need a richer landscape that provides for their basic needs of shelter, water, secure movement and diverse food sources.  They’ll also seek out the native plants that sustain them and their young.

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Cutleaf coneflower, native Rudbeckia laciniata, draws in many different pollinators. Each plant grows to 6′ or more tall and wide, producing many flowers over a long season. it is just getting started in our garden, but will bloom from now until frost. Bees and wasps love it.

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The mulch in a wildlife friendly garden quickly disappears as plants grow together, coming and going as the season progresses.  There is a rich diversity of species with native trees, shrubs and perennials mixed in among the gardener’s choice of non-native plant species.

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Crape myrtle isn’t a native plant in Virginia, but it naturalizes here and is widely grown in our coastal region. It feeds pollinators and birds while brightening up the summer garden. Keep in mind that many butterflies use native trees as host plants. Allowing native hardwood trees to colonize is a way to support our butterfly and moth populations.  Many other insects shelter in hardwood trees.

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The list of late summer nectar plants offered here isn’t exhaustive.  But it is a good core list that offers choice and variety for gardeners in our region.  I hope you will perhaps find an idea here of something you’d like to try as you grow the buffet for pollinators in your area.

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Native mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum, blooms over a long season in late summer and fall.  This easy native perennials spreads itself around and requires very little from the gardener.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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When allowed to bloom, Coleus provides abundant nectar and attracts many pollinators.

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Basil attracts many pollinators when allowed to bloom.  Goldfinches love its seeds.

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Eastern Tiger Swallowtail is one of many pollinators attracted to native purple Coneflowers.  All of the Echinacea cultivars bloom over a long period during the hottest, driest part of summer.

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A bumblebee enjoys native Monarda fistulosa.  There are many types of Monarda available that perennialize here, blooming over many weeks. 

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Tiger Swallowtail on Monarda.

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Native milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa is one of many Asclepias species that perform well in our climate.  Monarch butterflies use Asclepias as their only host plant.

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Monarch feeding on Asclepias syriaca at the Stonehouse Elementary native plant garden.

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Asclepias incarnata, milkweed.

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Clerodendrum trichotomum, Harlequin gloryblower, is a small tree which attracts many pollinators to its nectar rich flowers.  It gets its common name from the electric colors of its blue seeds a few weeks later. (below)

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A male Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoying the Joe Pye Weed.  This tough, native perennial feeds many sorts of bees and wasps alongside the butterflies.  The species grows quite tall, but there are shorter cultivars available.

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Alliums, like these garlic chives, are wonderful nectar plants. These edible herbs perennialize in our garden. You may also enjoy the flowers or the leaves in salads and other summer dishes.

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Most herbs, and certainly all of the types of mints, reliably feed pollinators. This Nepeta, cat mint,  blooms continually from mid-spring until frost.  If the flowers slow down, simply cut it back and let it regrow.

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‘Black and Blue’ Salvia is a special favorite of hummingbirds.

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Obedient plant and black eyed Susans are both native perennials, that quickly fill any open area with roots and seeds they drop. 

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Sunday Dinner: Fragile

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“if only these treasures

were not so fragile

as they are precious and beautiful.”

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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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“What they all knew was this:

Life was fragile.”

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Kaya McLaren

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“The world is changeable,

and its ability to change is so fragile

that a single person

can be responsible for it.”

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A.J. Darkholme

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“The air was swollen with music,

shouting, and something I could not quite place-

a feeling of happiness,

but happiness with an edge,

a sense of joy

that was all the more meaningful

because it was so fleeting.”

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Chelsey Philpot

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“Human spirit

is the ability to face the uncertainty of the future

with curiosity and optimism.

It is the belief that problems can be solved,

differences resolved.

It is a type of confidence.

And it is fragile.

It can be blackened by fear, and superstition.”

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Bernard Beckett

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“I discovered in nature

the non utilitarian delights that I sought in art.

Both were a form of magic,

both were a game of intricate enchantment

and deception.”

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Vladimir Nabokov

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019

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“The rest is just wishes and hope,

the most fragile of things.”
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Sabaa Tahir

 

Pot Shots: Caladiums and Lady Fern ‘Queen of Green’

Caladium ‘Starburst,’ with white veins, and Caladium ‘White Delight’ share this pot with a hybrid lady fern, Athyrium filix-femina ‘Victoriae.’  Both of these new hybrid Caladium varieties can take full sun.  The fern can take partial sun.  This is a shady spot for most of the day; bright shade, and I expect them all to be very happy here until at least the end of October.

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I have been looking for a good pot for an  A. ‘Victoriae’ lady fern and some Caladiums, still waiting for their permanent spot.

I was delighted to find this green pot, that had room for both a fern and several Caladiums, at The Great Big Greenhouse this weekend.  The Great Big Greenhouse is my favorite source for beautiful and interesting pots of all shapes and sizes.

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I started several hundred Caladiums this spring and still have some in nursery pots.  I ordered several new varieties, and also had great success saving Caladiums that grew last summer.

Part of the fun of trying new Caladium hybrids is to observe as each develops its full colors and patterns.  Each leaf is unique, but the leaves change as they emerge and grow, their colors becoming more intense with age.  I have grown C. ‘White Delight’ for the last few summers, appreciating its tough, beautiful leaves that last well into the fall.  I am trying C. ‘Starburst’ for the first time this year.

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Caladium ‘Starburst,’ a Caladium for full sun that was developed by Dr. Robert Hartman at Classic Caladiums.

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In addition to the pot, the GBGH also had a lovely Athyrium filix-femina ‘Victoriae’, also called ‘Queen of Green’ lady fern, which has divided tips on each frond.  I have been holding another A. ‘Victoriae’ in its original nursery pot since last fall, waiting for the right pot to transplant it out of its nursery pot into something more permanent.

I was very glad that I had picked up the additional ‘Queen of Green’ fern on Saturday, which fits this more shallow pot;  because the other’s roots were deeper than this little green pot allowed.

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This unusual lady fern is sometimes hard to find.  I first noticed it on Tony Avent’s Plant Delights site several years ago, ordered one, and lost it within its first year.  I am always happy to buy larger plants of interesting cultivars, locally.

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The larger A. ‘Victoriae,’ that I kept in a nursery pot over winter, ended up going into a pot where a Helleborus had been growing.

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I ended up switching the larger lady fern out with a Helleborus that can spend the rest of the summer in a plain plastic pot, while it rests and gets ready to bloom next winter. 

The lady ferns, hardy to Zone 4, can stay in their ceramic pots through the winter.  They are deciduous, and so will go dormant as winter approaches.  The Caladiums will need to go dormant too.  Hardy only to Zone 10, the Caladiums will spend the winter inside.

I can fill out their spaces in the pots with spring bulbs, pansies, Italian Arum, hardy Cyclamen, or even ivy.  These will be ‘four season pots’ with the lady ferns as anchor plants that remain in place year round.

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C. ‘White Delight’

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Even at the end of July, I am still planting out new arrangements and switching out plants in older ones.  We still have a good three months of good growing weather here in Williamsburg.

Spring planted pots may be looking a little tired by now.  After the intense heat earlier this month, most pots and baskets need a boost to see them through until fall.

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The displaced Hellebore will have a chance to recover for the next few months in deep shade. They really don’t like our summer heat…

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If your pots are looking a bit tired and shabby, please don’t give up in the face of August.  Sometimes a good pruning, a foliar feed of fish emulsion, and attention to hydration is all a potted plant needs to bounce back.

Other times, you know its time has come and gone.  Just dig it out and replace it with something fresh and interesting.  This is the time to find some excellent deals at your local garden center.

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Late July and early August are still great times to plant.  Just keep an eye on those pots during our remaining hot summer days, site them carefully, and enjoy the many pleasures these plant treasures will give.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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This is one of our Tiger Swallowtail butterflies feeding on a Zinnia at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.  Enjoy the Butterfly Festival at the Garden this coming Saturday and Sunday, 9-4.

 

Sunday Dinner: Resilience

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“A good half of the art of living
is resilience.”
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Alain de Botton
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“No matter how you define success,
you will need to be resilient,
empowered, authentic,
and limber to get there.”
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Joanie Connell
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“I will not be another flower,
picked for my beauty and left to die.
I will be wild,
difficult to find,
and impossible to forget.”
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Erin Van Vuren
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“Never say that you can’t do something,
or that something seems impossible,
or that something can’t be done,
no matter how discouraging
or harrowing it may be;
human beings are limited only
by what we allow ourselves to be limited by:
our own minds.
We are each the masters of our own reality;
when we become self-aware to this:
absolutely anything in the world is possible.

Master yourself,

and become king of the world around you.
Let no odds, chastisement, exile,
doubt, fear, or ANY mental virii
prevent you from accomplishing your dreams.
Never be a victim of life;
be it’s conqueror.”
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Mike Norton
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“to be successful,
you have to be out there,
you have to hit the ground running”
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Richard Branson
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“One’s doing well
if age improves even slightly
one’s capacity to hold on to that vital truism:
“This too shall pass.”
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Alain de Botton
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“In the face of adversity,
we have a choice.
We can be bitter, or we can be better.
Those words are my North Star.”
.
Caryn Sullivan
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019
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“Grief and resilience live together.”
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Michelle Obama
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“On the other side of a storm
is the strength
that comes from having navigated through it.
Raise your sail and begin.”
.
Gregory S. Williams

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Sunday Dinner: Seeing What There Is to See

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“Philosophy [nature] is written in that great book
which ever is before our eyes –
– I mean the universe –
– but we cannot understand it
if we do not first learn the language
and grasp the symbols in which it is written.
The book is written in mathematical language,
and the symbols are triangles,
circles and other geometrical figures,
without whose help it is impossible to comprehend
a single word of it;
without which one wanders in vain
through a dark labyrinth.”
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Galileo Galilei

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“In the various arts,
and above all in that of writing,
the shortest distance between two points,
even if close to each other,
has never been and never will be,
nor is it now, what is known as a straight line,
never, never, to put it strongly
and emphatically in response to any doubts,
to silence them once and for all.”
.
Jose Saramago

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“His way had therefore come full circle,
or rather had taken the form of an ellipse or a spiral,
following as ever no straight unbroken line,
for the rectilinear belongs only to Geometry
and not to Nature and Life.”
.
Hermann Hesse,
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“The brain does not own any direct copies
of stuff in the world.
There is no library of forms and ideas
against which to compare the images of perception.
Information is stored in a plastic way,
allowing fantastic juxtapositions and leaps of imagination.
Some chaos exists out there,
and the brain seems to have more flexibility
than classical physics
in finding the order in it.”
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James Gleick

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“Give me a place to stand,
a lever long enough and a fulcrum.
and I can move the Earth”
.
Archimedes

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“The pits and tangles are more
than blemishes distorting the classic shapes
of Euclidian geometry.
They are often the keys
to the essence of a thing”
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James Gleick

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“Maths is at only one remove from magic.”
.
Neel Burton

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019
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“That’s the thing about magic;
you’ve got to know it’s still here,
all around us,
or it just stays invisible for you.”
.
Charles de Lint

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Cats on Monday

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It was a foodie weekend for many celebrating Father’s Day with cookouts, picnics and fine dining.

It’s been a ‘foodie weekend’ for many creatures in our garden, too.  From deer munching a favorite blooming Hydrangea and goldfinches grabbing a few ripening Basil seeds, to finding rabbits had eaten some vines out of pots at the Botanical Garden; I’ve been coming across many signs of hungry animals picnicking in the garden.

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I found several very well-fed rabbits picnicking in the Williamsburg Botanical Garden yesterday.

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Our fennel is hosting these beautiful black swallowtail cats this week.  It won’t be long before they retire to their chrysalides, only to emerge later in July as beautiful butterflies.  We can hope to host three generations of swallowtails a year here in coastal Virginia.

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I think of the butterflies, birds, and other creatures as our garden ‘guests,’ and plant the garden with a thought to their comfort and feeding.  I’m so delighted to spot a hummingbird on a blossom, hear the bees in the shrubs, watch a dragonfly sparkling in the sunshine, or hear the birds call to one another in the trees.

Ours is a wildlife garden, which is what it needs to be here in our wooded neighborhood.

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One of our cats noshing the fennel on Friday evening.  He certainly has grown over the weekend!

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We are glad to provide host plants, nectar plants, water and shelter for the many creatures that share the garden with us.  The fennel and parsley will soon grow new leaves to replace those grazed by the cats.

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Our butterfly species are dwindling. We can all lend a hand to help protect them and increase their chances of survival, so that our children and grandchildren will still enjoy the magic of watching them in their own future gardens, too.

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There are many butterflies and moths native to Virginia and all of them are currently in decline. We have a network of dedicated butterfly enthusiasts in our area who rescue and raise cats, releasing the butterflies into the wild as they emerge. By protecting the butterfly larvae, they help insure that more individuals make it to the adult butterfly stage, mate, and increase the population.  This black swallowtail was released in our garden by a friend in mid-April. We hope to host many, many generations of its young.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Fabulous Friday: Floods of Rain

Native sweetbay Magnolia virginiana, in bloom this week at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden, fills the garden entrance with its musky perfume.

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This Friday dawned humid and grey, and I set out as soon as we finished a quick breakfast to meet a friend at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.  While I am all about the plants, she is all about the cats and butterflies.  Today, she was hunting for a few special cats to use in her upcoming program  at our local library  about protecting butterflies and providing habitat for their next generations.

We checked all of the usual host plants: Asclepias,, spicebush, Wisteria, fennel, Passiflora vines, and parsley.  We weren’t equipped to check out the canopies of the garden’s host trees, like the paw paw or the oaks, but we were left empty-handed. There were no caterpillars that we could find today.

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A Zebra Swallowtail butterfly enjoys the Verbena bonariensis at the WBG last week.  Its host plant is the native paw paw tree.

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In this peaceful nectar and host plant rich environment, where are the butterflies and their young?  We both happily snapped photos of interesting views and blooms as we searched, took care of a few chores together, and then she was off.

By then the first Master Naturalist gardeners had arrived.  All of us had one eye to the sky and another on our ‘to-do’ lists.

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Native Asclepias tuberosa is one of the Asclepias varieties that Monarch butterflies seek out as a host plant to lay their eggs.

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I have great admiration and affection for the Master Naturalists who work at the WBG, and I appreciate the opportunity to ask questions when they are around.  I hope to join their ranks one year soon.  The course is rigorous and the standards high, and the volunteer work they do throughout our area is invaluable.

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This is our native Carolina wild petunia, Ruellia caroliniensis, that blooms near the gate at the WBG. 

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One of the Master Naturalists was also working on an inventory of butterflies in the garden today.   He checked out all of the tempting nectar plants from Verbena to Lantana, the Asclepias to his blooming herbs, the pollinator beds of native flowers, the various Salvias and Agastache.  Where were the butterflies today?

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Native spiderwort, Tradescantia ohiensis, also grows near the garden’s gate.

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I had the constant company of bees buzzing around my knees and ankles as I climbed into a border to weed and deadhead.

But no Zebra Swallowtails danced among the Verbena.  Not a single butterfly fed on the Salvias where I was working.  A Monarch showed itself briefly and promptly disappeared.  We observed the heavy, humid air and decided they must be sheltering against the coming rain.

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Native Iris virginica blooming last week at the WBG.

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But as the storm grew closer, there wasn’t much time for sociability today.  We could hear the thunder rumbling off in the distance as we weeded, cut enthusiastic plants back, potted and chatted with garden visitors.

My partner kept an eye on the radar maps at home and phoned in updates.  When he gave the final ‘five minute warning!’ it was nearly noon, and the rain began as I headed back to my car.  It was a good morning’s work and I left with the ‘to do’ list completed.

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Seedpods ripen on the sweetbay Magnolia

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But the rain has been a constant presence this afternoon, falling loudly and insistently all around us.  There are flood warnings, the ground is saturated, and I am wondering how high the water might rise on local roads and along the banks of the James and its feeder creeks.  It has been a wet year for many.

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The James River last week, before this last heavy rain brought it even higher.

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There was a timely message from the James River Association in my inbox.  The river is brown with run-off, and has been for a while now.  They are encouraging folks to address run-off issues on their properties.  The best advice there is, “Plant more plants!”  But of course, the right plants in the right places!  Successful plants help manage stormwater; dying ones, not so much.

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I use both rock and hardwood mulch in our garden at home to help protect the soil during heavy rains. This is a native oakleaf Hydrangea in bloom.

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Rain gardens are encouraged to catch the run-off and allow it to slowly percolate into the earth instead of running off so quickly.  There are programs available that help plan and fund new rain gardens to protect local water  quality.

Where there is no good spot for a rain garden, then terraces help on slopes like ours, and solid plantings of shrubs and perennials help to slow the flow of water downhill towards the creeks.

Most anything that covers the bare soil helps with erosion.  But deeply rooted plants help hold the soil while also soaking up the water and allowing it to evaporate back into the atmosphere through their leaves.

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Groundcover plants, like this golden creeping Jenny, also hold and protect the soil.  Our Crinum lily is ready to bloom.  This hardy Amaryllis relative gets a bit larger each year as its already huge bulb calves off pups.

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We’ve been watching flooding news roll in from all over the region this afternoon.  Streets and sidewalks underwater, cars floating away, and families chased indoors by the weather.  It looks like a wet stretch coming, too.

I’m glad have a new garden book, The Thoughtful Gardener by Jinny Blom waiting for me; the prose is as inspiring as the photographs.  I love seeing how other gardeners plant and how they think about their planting.  There is always more to learn.

Once these flooding rains subside and the soil drains a bit, I expect to be back outside and “Planting more plants!”

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Woodland Gnome 2019

Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is Contagious; Let’s infect one another!

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Echinacea, purple coneflower, delights pollinators and goldfinches  in our forest garden.

Wildlife Wednesday: Eastern Black Swallowtail

Novembr 27, 2018, I spotted two tough little Eastern Black Swallowtail cats munching on a lone fennel plant, left in a cleared out bed at the Williamsburg Botanical garden.

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Eastern Black swallowtails lay their eggs and their larvae feed on parsley and fennel. This bed was filled with Lantana, Salvia, and with fennel all summer, and hosted many butterflies from May until November.

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Butterflies covered this planting of Lantana at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden in August.

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When I told my friend Judith about the caterpillars, she came and rescued them the afternoon before a hard freeze, at the very end of November.

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Judith cared for the caterpillars until each formed its chrysalis, feeding them organic parsley in little habitats indoors; then she added them to her collection of living chrysalides. She cared for the sleeping caterpillars all winter and brought them over to our garden yesterday morning,  just as they were ready to leave their chrysalides as butterflies.

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She named the two caterpillars rescued from the fennel at the botanical garden ‘Rough’ and ‘Tough’. They spent the winter pinned to this Styrofoam in her butterfly habitat.

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A total of three Black Swallowtail butterflies emerged during her visit yesterday morning. She generously set all three free in our garden. There were two males and a female. The amount of blue on the hindwings is the main way to distinguish gender in these swallowtail butterflies.

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Here Judith is releasing the first of the butterflies, a female. Then she invited us to help release the other two butterflies into the garden.

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The butterflies need some time for their wings to fully stretch, dry and toughen before they are ready to fly. We were able to hold and observe them as they prepared for their first flight.

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Would you like to attract butterflies to your garden?

The first step is to plant a variety of both nectar plants and host plants.  Nectar plants attract butterflies, and host plants allow them to lay their eggs and will feed the larvae as they grow.

If you attract butterflies and host their larvae, it is important to commit to not using insecticides in your garden.  Yes, the larvae will eat some leaves on their chosen host plant.  The plants will survive.

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Fennel and parsley host several types of swallowtail caterpillars.  Other easy to grow host plants include oak trees; spicebush, Lindera benzoin;  paw paw trees, Dutchman’s pipevine, Aristolochia macrophylla; passionfruit vine, Passiflora lutea; and even common wood violets.

Most butterflies prefer very specific host plants and may only use one or two.  For example, Monarch butterflies want Asclepias, or milkweed.  There are several different species of Asclepias available, and most all of them will support Monarchs.

It is useful to do a little research on common butterflies that live in your own region, and then plant their host plants, if you don’t have them growing on your property already.

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This was the last of the three butterflies to emerge from chrysalis, and the last to be released. He wasn’t ready to fly, and so we gently placed him on this red bud tree, where he rested while his wings hardened. Finally, he also flew away into the garden.

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Butterflies need safe places to shelter out of the wind at night and during storms.  Trees and dense shrubs serve them well.  They also need places where they can ‘puddle,’ landing on the ground to drink water from mudpuddles, moist earth, or even shallow saucers filled with gravel and water.  Butterflies need the minerals they absorb this way.

Butterflies will feed from a variety of nectar plants, including trees, vines, and flowering plants you may plant in baskets, pots or beds.  Lantana is an absolute favorite source of nectar.  Agastache, anise hyssop, attracts even more butterflies than Lantana!  All Verbenas attract butterflies and are very easy to grow.  The more flowers your garden offers, at a variety of heights, the more butterflies will likely stop by to visit your garden.

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We have seen a variety of butterflies in our garden already this spring, including Black Swallowtails. In fact, an hour or so after the release, we saw another Black Swallowtail laying eggs on an emerging fennel plant in the upper garden. This is one of the butterflies we released, resting before its first flight,

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There are many butterflies and moths native in Virginia and all of them are currently in decline. We have a network of dedicated butterfly enthusiasts in our area who rescue and raise cats, releasing the butterflies into the wild as they emerge. By protecting the butterfly larvae, they help insure that more individuals make it to the adult butterfly stage, mate, and increase the population.

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One of the greatest problems faced by butterflies is loss of habitat.  The native plants they depend on to raise their next generation are often the ones removed for development, but not replanted by landscapers.

Gardeners can make a significant difference by providing a small bit of habitat in their own yard.  Like a patch in a quilt, our own bit of habitat may be small.  But, when many of us are all working together, we can provide safe places for butterflies to rest and refuel along their migration routes, and can provide safe and welcoming places for them to lay their eggs.

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Butterflies feed on Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’

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By working together, each of us providing a bit of habitat and safety for butterflies, we can help support the next generations of butterflies; making sure that our own grandchildren can enjoy these beautiful insects and share their magic with their own children, far into the future.

Will you join us?

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail feeding on Verbena bonariensis ‘Lollipop’.

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