Fabulous Friday: Who’s Welcome to Dine?

White butterfly ginger lily produces abundant nectar loved by hummingbirds and other pollinators. It perfumes the garden, making it one of our favorites, too. Deer never touch it.


When planning your garden and buying plants, is your first consideration who, or what, might eat them?

If you’re planting fruit trees, tomato vines, or salad greens you’re likely planning to share the fruits of your labor and investment with family and friends.  Some friends of mine garden in a community garden, where much of the produce raised is donated to our local FISH organization.


Begonia ‘Gryphon’ sometimes gives up leaves to deer, or even squirrels. Begonia ‘Pewterware’ has holes on its leaves from nibbling insects . These are plants I grow for the beauty of their leaves, and I hope to enjoy them without wildlife feeding on them.


But food crops aside, when planting ornamental plants, do you expect them to get nibbled down to next to nothing?

That is an interesting conundrum that many of my gardening friends grapple with each season.  We’re inconsistent in our views here, too.  I’m irritated with the deer who sneak into our garden and then nibble at our shrubs and flowers.  I’ve been struggling to keep rabbits away from ornamental sweet potato vines planted in some pots, spraying Repels All with determination on a regular basis so the vines might grow.



And yet, many, many gardeners plant perennials and herbs specifically to feed the butterflies and their larvae.  We sold hundreds of pots of milkweed at the recent Butterfly Festival plant sale at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.  I can’t tell you how many gardeners happily bought plants and considered it a bonus to have a resident Monarch cat already munching away on their leaves.


Monarch cats already munching on our milkweed plants, for sale.


I checked in with a friend the following week.  “How is your milkweed doing?”  I asked.

“Not so well,” she replied, “All of its leaves are gone.”  She thought she had done something wrong in caring for her new plant, to make it lose its leaves.  I explained that the reason to grow milkweed is for it to feed and support Monarch larvae.  The cats had eaten her plant’s leaves, and the roots were still alive.  She should be patient and watch for new growth.


Asclepias, milkweed left over from the Butterfly Festival plant sale at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden has been nibbled down to nubs. But the roots are alive, and new top growth will appear soon.  The fencing will help keep out bunnies, but Monarchs can still reach the plants to lay their eggs.


How many of us are willing to buy plants, expecting their foliage to be eaten away by insects?

One of my butterfly loving friends visited yesterday afternoon, and as I was walking her back to her car, we detoured into the upper garden.  We were watching the hummers, bees and butterflies go about their always hungry business when she spotted a clearwing moth.  That was the first I’ve seen in that part of the garden in several weeks, and we were both happily watching it feed on the black-eyed Susans when I suddenly noticed a cat covered fennel plant beside us.


Fennel plant covered in nearly two dozen cats.


The fennel plants had been an afterthought.  I bought them on clearance in early June, and planted three or four in a sunny spot where I thought they would grow well, but not necessarily where I thought they would add much aesthetically to the garden scene.



We could barely see the plant, most of its leaves already stripped away.  It was something like an odd-ball Christmas tree almost completely covered with crawling cats.  We counted nearly two dozen.

We were both excited to see so many Black Swallowtail larvae at once, and found more on a nearby plant.  This is my friend who released three emerging Black Swallowtail butterflies into our garden this spring, and she was clearly ready to adopt these cats.


Black Swallowtail butterfly cats make short work of our fennel plants.


Since the food source was nearly all gone, I was happy for her to take them.  I know she will patiently feed them parsley until they pupate, and then I know she’ll bring at least some of them back to release here, when they are ready to emerge from their chrysalis and fly. What a magical experience to watch a butterfly emerge from the husk of what was once a caterpillar!


In mid-April, Judith released three emerging butterflies that she had collected as cats late last November; the day before a hard freeze.  She raised these on parsley for several weeks until they were ready to pupate.  I had originally spotted them at the WBG, and so she brought them to our garden when they emerged.


We still have time this year for another generation of eggs to hatch and their larvae to mature and pupate.   Eastern Black Swallowtails don’t migrate like Monarchs, but a generation will overwinter here in their chrysalides, ready to emerge next spring.



More and more, my plant choices aren’t so much about form and color to please myself, but rather plants to support various birds, butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, wasps, and other pollinators.  We love watching them feed and go about their life cycles.


A male, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly feeds on Lantana. The flowers are long lived, continually producing fresh nectar over several days.


I used to make the distinction that pollinators suck nectar, but leave the plant intact.  That is how I shaped my thinking to support pollinators, while trying to keep the deer away.  Rabbits are always welcome to graze our front lawn, eating whatever grass or other plants may grow there, but the voles who eat the roots of things, are not.  I confuse myself sometimes making these distinctions about who is welcome to dine, and who is not.

And now my mind and heart have opened to include the caterpillars happily munching away on herbs and other host plants.  They are welcome, and I happily plan for their sustenance, too.


Fennel and parsley support many Swallowtail butterflies. Monarchs need Asclepias. Many native trees, vines and shrubs also support particular butterfly larvae as host plants.  The darker caterpillar here is younger than its mates, but is the same species.


I’ve spent a happy Friday observing caterpillars and asking those smarter than me to teach me about them.


None of us have yet been able to identify these cats covering a hybrid Angelonia. There are more than a dozen on this plant, growing at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.  It is unusual to find native butterfly larvae on non-native plants, and so we wonder whether this may be some sort of moth…?


I’ve taken pleasure in the flight of hummingbirds and butterflies.  This afternoon, I thought I saw a yellow leaf, gently falling to the ground.  Only the leaf landed on the Lantana and fluttered there, revealing itself to be a beautiful male Tiger Swallowtail butterfly, in the midst of his feeding rounds around the garden.



I read yesterday that researchers have determined that quietly listening to birds singing is more relaxing than most medications people take to cope with the stresses and disappointments of modern life.  I would add watching butterflies feed, and listening for hummers, as simple pleasures that bring us great happiness and contentment.


Our upper garden, looking a little bedraggled after storms and heavy rains last night, still supports many different species of pollinators and birds, rabbits, turtles, lizards, squirrels, and who knows what else?


As with so many other things we might do, when we open our hearts to generously provide for others beyond ourselves; I would suggest that planting a wildlife garden is a good antidote to the stresses and sorrows of life.

Perhaps we can offset some of our other environmental transgressions a bit, by creating a safe space to nurture wildlife.  A safe and beautiful place, to find joy and peace of mind for ourselves, too.



Woodland Gnome 2019



Walk in kindness toward the Earth and every living being.
Without kindness and compassion for all of Mother Nature’s creatures,
there can be no true joy; no internal peace, no happiness.
Happiness flows from caring for all sentient beings
as if they were your own family,
because in essence they are.
We are all connected to each other and to the Earth.”
Sylvia Dolson


Newly emerged Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly dries its wings in our garden late last summer.


Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is Contagious; Let’s Infect One Another

The Power of Seeds

August 30, 2015 garden 004


“Seeds have the power to preserve species,

to enhance cultural as well as genetic diversity,

to counter economic monopoly

and to check the advance of conformity

on all its many fronts.”


Michael Pollan 


August 30, 2015 garden 001~

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

Seeds of Change

Milkweed pod ready to share its seeds:  Asclepias incarnata

Milkweed pod ready to share its seeds: Asclepias incarnata


“Only those who sow seeds of change

can hope to grow and reap a harvest.”


Andrea Goeglein


Photo by Woodland Gnome 2015


August 25, 2015 garden 003

Butterflies, Dragonflies, and Bumblebees

June 5, 2014 dragonfly 016

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

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

May 23, 2014 Mountain Laurel 035

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

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

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

June 5, 2014 dragonfly 006

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

June 5, 2014 dragonfly 007

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

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

June 5, 2014 dragonfly 004

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

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

June 5, 2014 dragonfly 010

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

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

June 5, 2014 dragonfly 017

Today we were happy to find a brilliant blue dragonfly.

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

June 5, 2014 dragonfly 014

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

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

June 5, 2014 dragonfly 023

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

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

So much life, and such beauty.

All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

June 5, 2014 dragonfly 026

Weekly Photo Challenge: Orange

Alliums grow wild along the Colonial Parkway near Yorktown.

Alliums  and native grasses grow wild along the Colonial Parkway near Yorktown.

Challenge is the operative word this week.

“Jennifer’s Weekly Photo Challenge”  inspires all sorts of weird and wonderful photos.  Everyone who participates may interpret it in their own way, and Jennifer is unfailing gracious to all of us who participate.

I was particularly touched by the lengths to which Jennifer herself went last week to create an interesting photo for Glow In The Dark.

Just a wonderful bit of photo-wizardry.  And I realized that she is putting tremendous effort into the little worlds she creates as her own entries.

Asclepias incarnata just coming into bloom.  Do you think the yellow orange on the bee might count as orange?

Asclepias syriaca just coming into bloom. Do you think the yellow orange on the bee might count as orange?

But I play by my own set of rules for this challenge. 

Since “Forest Garden” is about things green and growing, I prefer to meet Jennifer’s challenge with garden-themed photos.

Dandelions somehow seem a little to yellow to count for orange....

Dandelions somehow seem a little to yellow to count for orange….

And, I prefer to use fresh photos, taken within the last few days.  No stale photos here, thank you very much!

But  June is not a very good time of year for taking photos of  “orange” in the garden.

Had Jennifer offered up her “orange” challenge in October, it would have been simpler.

But here is “orange” in the first week of June, before we even have decent day lilies to photograph!

These wild daisies have "almost orange" centers....

These wild daisies have “almost orange” centers….

So my partner and I went in search of  “orange” this evening.

And we found such wildflowers as one dreams of in January- only in shades of plum and cream, yellow and pink.

White Achillea just coming into bloom among the daisies and purple milk vetch.

White Achillea just coming into bloom among the daisies and purple milk vetch.

I had hoped the Milkweed plants I had seen growing by the pond would be open in beautiful orange blossoms this evening.

But when we arrived, I realized the Asclepias was A. syriaca, not A. tuberosa as I had hoped.

June 3, 2014 Parkway 004

That means these lovely flowers were pink, not orange.

The Monarchs are happy with either plant.

And so the search continued up and down the Colonial Parkway, and finally into the village at Yorktown.

These lovely lilies grow in someone's yard in the historic area of Yorktown.  I hope they don't mind that I took photos with out first explaining our quest for orange....

These lovely lilies grow in someone’s yard in the historic area of Yorktown. I hope they don’t mind that I took photos with out first explaining our quest for orange….

He spotted the orange Oriental lilies growing in someone’s yard.  I realized that was the closest we would get, and quickly snapped the photo.

Still, it felt a bit like cheating…

On the way back we stopped by Indian Field Creek, where there is a safe place to park beside the York River.

June 3, 2014 Parkway 053

We had noticed Egrets there on the drive to Yorktown. 

June 3, 2014 Parkway 054

The Egrets have returned to Williamsburg, and we were delighted to spot several this evening, both flying and wading.

As I turned to leave, finally driven away from the beach by biting flies, there it was.

The perfect photo for Jennifer’s “Orange”  challenge.

June 3, 2014 Parkway 070

We had been spotting orange highway signs all evening.  And I had refused to photograph them because they aren’t anything to do with gardens or wildlife.

But somehow, this one seemed OK, rising majestically from a sea of lovely Alliums and native grasses, here beside the York River.

June 3, 2014 Parkway 037


All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues

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