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’.

Aged Beauty

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Most trees don’t have an easy time growing older in our area.  There is snow and wind, summer hurricanes, torrential rain, January ice storms and mid-summer drought.  Trees rooted near the water, like the old native redbud tree growing along the bank of the James River, are   marked by the storms they have  weathered.

Few survive long decades without scars to mark their resilient survival; yet there is beauty in the aged.

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“Wisdom comes with winters”
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Oscar Wilde

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Redbud trees prove hardy and strong in our area, and many still bloom this week despite being broken and aging.

December’s heavy snow pushed over the largest redbud in our garden; yet its roots held strong.  It leans now up the slope of our ravine, as though reaching out to us as we come into the back garden.  And yes, it has covered itself in buds.

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“How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true;
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.”
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William Butler Yeats

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“You don’t stop laughing when you grow old,

you grow old when you stop laughing.”
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George Bernard Shaw

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Aging always invites new growth. Pruning away the old stimulates new wood to grow from a latent bud.  So long as the roots hold firm and the trunk can transport water from roots to branches, and sugars from leaves to roots, life goes on.

The frame may age, but fresh branches continue to grow with vigor, reaching for the sunlight.  And the aging trunk generously harbors vines and moss.  Grasses grow above the roots, and many insects find homes in the thickened bark.  Birds nest and shelter in the branches even as pollinators come to drink the tree’s sweet nectar.

All these boarders share in the tree’s generous largess.  Its continued presence acts as a magnet, drawing life, even as it fills its niche in the web of life.  Some boarders sap the tree’s strength, each in its own way.  But somehow, the tree manages to keep going season after season, year after year.

The tree’s generosity, and its beauty, only increases with time.

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“There is a fountain of youth:

it is your mind, your talents,

the creativity you bring to your life

and the lives of people you love.

When you learn to tap this source,

you will truly have defeated age.”
.

Sophia Loren

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Cercis canadensis grow along the Colonial Parkway near Jamestown Island.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

Sunday Dinner: Breakthrough

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“Every challenge you encounter in life
is a fork in the road.
You have the choice to choose which way to go –
backward, forward, breakdown
or breakthrough.”
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Ifeanyi Enoch Onuoha

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“At the end, someone or something always gives up.
It is either you give up and quit
or the obstacle or failure gives up
and makes way
for your success to come through.”
.
Idowu Koyenikan

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“A tiny change today
brings a dramatically different tomorrow.”

.
Richard Bach

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Redbud, Cercis canadensis

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“Some of the most beautiful things we have in life
comes from our mistakes.”
.
Surgeo Bell

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“Breakthroughs arise
when someone can combine many ideas together.
Think broadly, not deeply.”
.
Joshua Krook

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Sandy Bay, Bald Cypress and Osprey

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“People don’t resist change.
They resist being changed.”
.
Peter Senge

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Circes canadensis

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“Many people have wonderful dreams,
but die without realizing them.
It is because they do not know how
to get a hold of a dream
and work with it to make it happen.
Everything happens by laws.”
.
Alain Yaovi M. Dagba

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Edgeworthia chrysantha

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“We change the world
not by what we say or do,
but as a consequence
of what we have become.”
.
Dr. David Hawkins

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Hydrangea quercifolia

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“As wave is driven by wave
And each, pursued, pursues the wave ahead,
So time flies on and follows, flies, and follows,
Always, for ever and new. What was before
Is left behind; what never was is now;
And every passing moment is renewed.”
.
Ovid,
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019

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“In every change,
in every falling leaf
there is some pain,
some beauty.
And that’s the way
new leaves grow.”
.
Amit Ray

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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.”
.
Renee Askins
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Hummingbird moth on a hybrid butterfly bush growing among native Rudbeckia. 

WPC: Awakening

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“The world is exploding in emerald, sage,
and lusty chartreuse – neon green with so much yellow in it.
It is an explosive green that,
if one could watch it moment by moment throughout the day,
would grow in every dimension.”
.
Amy Seidl

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“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression,
it must come completely undone.
The shell cracks, its insides come out
and everything changes.
To someone who doesn’t understand growth,
it would look like complete destruction.”
.
Cynthia Occelli

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Meaning is only found
when you go beyond meaning.
Life only makes sense
when you perceive it as mystery
and it makes no sense
to the conceptualizing mind.”
.
Anthony de Mello

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“Waking up from a deep sleep,
I always seem to be discovering life
for the first time.”
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Marty Rubin

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“A single event
can awaken within us
a stranger totally unknown to us.
To live is to be slowly born.”
.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Awakening

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“My speaking is meant to shake you awake,
not to tell you how to dream better.”
.
Adyashanti

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Fabulous Friday: Emerging

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“Acorn struggles in pain to crack the hard shell and emerge.
For it senses that out there… exists more and it knows it.
It feels that there is a sun, even if Acorn hasn’t seen it.
It has felt some warmth and energy
and it aches for more.”
.
Robin Rumi

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Once begun, spring’s progression continues in waves.  Sometimes faster, sometimes slower depending on the weather; it remains inevitable in its power to transform the world around us.

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Perhaps it is a painful experience for bursting bulbs and acorns, swelling seeds, and bark ripping open to allow buds to emerge and grow.  It is a birth of new life, after all.

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Growing up, I never thought of plants as experiencing fear or pain.  Recent research shows that they register both.

I’ve been reading Peter Wohlleben‘s book The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from a Secret World.  I am amazed to know that trees feel pain when cut or grazed, and can signal one another to chemically change their leaves so they are distasteful to grazing animals. 

There is so much more to understand about the natural world than we ever really consider….

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Now I wonder whether plants shiver and feel the cold on our frosty nights, especially now that our perennials are awakening and new growth has begun to emerge.

I certainly feel the cold, wandering through the garden to check its progress.  Surely they must feel the icy wind as surely as they feel the sun’s warmth on their emerging leaves.

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I relish watching the process unfold, as the earth splits open to allow tender shoots to push their way up to a new season of life.    The roots hold life, even when we don’t see or even remember them.

I am continually surprised as perennials emerge from the mulch, often spreading and popping up where they never were before.  Winter’s forgetfulness  is erased by the sudden unfolding of spring.

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The cat mint, Nepeta, is growing strong now, much to our cat’s delight.

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The dry and shaggy perennial stems hold life, too; ready to cover themselves in fresh leaves, when the time is right.

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Watching perennials emerge feels like greeting old friends returning from their travels far away.  We spot a few more each week, waiting not too patiently for their time to take off and grow once again.

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The excitement is building in my gardener’s heart, this Fabulous Friday, as we discover ever more signs of spring.

Gloucester’s Daffodil Festival begins tomorrow.  We have just returned from greeting friends there, and exploring the Heath’s display gardens at their Bulb Shop.

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Narcissus ‘Katie Heath,’ hybridized by Brent Heath and named for his mother. This stand blooms in our garden today.

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All of the roads leading into town are lined with thousands of blooming daffodils this weekend.  Shops in Gloucester Courthouse are preparing for the crowds tomorrow, all wreathed and tied with yellow bows.  Tents are popping up, and the Daffodil Arches have been raised.

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Did I mention that we have snow in our forecast for tomorrow night??  As much as we long for spring, winter has not yet finished with us here in coastal Virginia.  We studied the weekend weather, and decided to make our trip to see the daffodils today, when it was sunny and almost warm.

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We are ready to step up and do our part in the garden, just as soon as the weather settles.  But anticipation is a large part of the pleasure, isn’t it?

I hope that you have signs of spring around you this Friday afternoon, and plans to enjoy the weekend ahead.  Even if winter is still lingering in your garden, we each know in our hearts that a new season is emerging all around us.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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

WPC: Favorite Place

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My favorite place is one of magic and mystery, comfort, peace and ever expanding potential.

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It changes minute to minute, day to day.  Yet it always remains constant in its beauty.

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There are infinite layers to this place.  What the eye can see, and what the camera perceives, are sometimes different.

The air is filled with song from creatures seen and unseen.

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And the light infuses all. 

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Photos By Woodland Gnome 2018

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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Favorite Place
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Within the mystery of life
there is the infinite darkness of the night sky
lit by distant orbs of fire,
the cobbled skin of an orange that releases its fragrance to our touch,
the unfathomable depths of the eyes of our lover.
No creation story, no religious system
can fully describe or explain this richness and depth.
Mystery is so every-present
that no one can know for certain
what will happen one hour from now. 
It does not matter whether you have religion
or are an agnostic believe in nothing,
You can only appreciate
(without knowing or understanding)
the mysteries of life.

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Jack Kornfield
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“Those loving and most loved lights do not leave this world.  They remain among us, the stuff of sunbeams and whispers; always as close as thought, as real as dream.  Light and love bind us one to another, beyond the bounds of space and time. ” WG

Sunday Dinner: Expansion

Redbud, Cercis canadensis

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“Your hand opens and closes, opens and closes.
If it were always a fist or always stretched open,
you would be paralyzed.
Your deepest presence is in every
small contracting and expanding,
the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated
as birds’ wings.”
.
Rumi

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“We become aware of the void as we fill it.”
.
Antonio Porchia

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Clematis

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“Sometimes we know in our bones
what we really need to do, but we’re afraid to do it.
Taking a chance and stepping beyond
the safety of the world we’ve always known
is the only way to grow,
and without risk there is no reward.”
.
Wil Wheaton

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“Life can take so many twists and turns.
You can’t ever count yourself out.
Even if you’re really afraid at some point,
you can’t think that there’s no room for you to grow
and do something good with your life.”
.
Portia de Rossi

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“If we don’t change, we don’t grow.
If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living.”
.
Anatole France

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018
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“This life therefore is not righteousness,
but growth in righteousness,
not health, but healing,
not being but becoming,
not rest, but exercise.
We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it,
the process is not yet finished, but it is going on,
this is not the end, but it is the road.
All does not yet gleam in glory,
but all is being purified.”
.
Martin Luther
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“Physicists have yet to find anything
capable of exceeding our known speed of light.
The Tao cannot be named,
and so I say there is one thing
that out-paces all things: we call it “thought.”
I can fill a room a with light
before I’m anywhere near the switch.”

.
Laurie Perez
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Lilac, Syringa vulgaris

 

Blossom XXII: “…and Spring After Winter.”

Redbud

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“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth

find reserves of strength

that will endure as long as life lasts.

There is something infinitely healing

in the repeated refrains of nature –

– the assurance that dawn comes after night,

and spring after winter.”

.

Rachel Carson

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“Live in each season as it passes;

breathe the air, drink the drink,

taste the fruit,

and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.”

.

Henry David Thoreau

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“I only went out for a walk

and finally concluded to stay out

till sundown,

for going out, I found, was really going in.”

.

John Muir

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Blossom I
Blossom II
Blossom III
Blossom IV
Blossom V
Blossom VI
Blossom VII
Blossom VIII
Blossom IX
Blossom X
Blossom XI
Blossom XII
Blossom XIII
Blossom XIV
Blossom XV
Blossom XVI
Blossom XVII
Blossom XVIII
Blossom XIX
Blossom XX
Blossom XXI

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