Fabulous Friday: Our Garden Is Full

Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta

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It was just a little goldfinch.  Yet I was so delighted to notice it gracefully balanced on a yellow black-eyed Susan flower near the drive, when we returned from our morning errands.  He concentrated his full attention on pecking at the flower’s center.  Though the seeds aren’t yet ripe, he was clearly hoping for a morsel to eat.

Once I took a step too close, he lifted into the air on outstretched wings, disappearing behind a stand of goldenrod.

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‘Green Envy’ Echinacea mixes with basil and more Rudbeckia, a feast for goldfinches and butterflies.

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Goldfinches and cardinals catch our eye with their bright feathers, but there are all of the other grey and brown and occasionally blue birds flitting from grass to shrub and flowering mass from before dawn until their final songs long past dusk.  And then we listen for the owls’ conversations through the night.

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I heard a wonderful speaker yesterday morning, who pulled back the curtain a bit on the world of insects in our gardens.  He is a former student of Dr. Douglas Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home , and is now an assistant professor of Biology at nearby Hampton University.  Dr. Shawn Dash is a gifted teacher, keeping us all laughing and learning as he shared his insights into the importance of the insects of the planet in maintaining the web of life.

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Joe Pye Weed attracts more insects than any other flower in the garden this month.

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I am a total novice in this mysterious world of insects.  But I will say that I am learning to look at them with admiration and respect… so long as they remain out of doors in the garden!

Joe Pye Weed is the best wildlife attractor blooming in our garden at the moment.  It is simply covered with every sort of wasp and bee and butterfly and moth and sci-fi ready insect you can imagine.  The ‘buzz’ around it mesmerizes.

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Our garden hums and buzzes and clicks with life as July finally melts into August.  Dr. Dash talked about the musical chorus of insects as one of the wonderful benefits of a full garden; a diverse garden that includes some percentage of native plants to support them.

Creating a layered garden with an abundance of plant life from the hardwood canopy all the way down through smaller trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants, vines and ground cover offers many niches to harbor a huge array of insects.  All of those juicy insects attract song birds and small mammals, turtles, frogs, lizards and yes, maybe also a snake or two.

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A fairly sterile suburban lawn may be transformed into a wild life oasis, a rich ecosystem filled with color, movement and song.  And the whole process begins with planting more native trees and shrubs to offer food and shelter to scores of species.

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But even more fundamentally, the process begins when we value the entire web of life in our particular ecosystem and allow it to unfold.

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Hardy blue mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum, grows wild in our garden.  I stopped weeding it out after a few plants survived deep enough into the summer to bloom with these gorgeous blue flowers.

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I quickly learned that I don’t really need to go out and buy a lot of native plants.  I only have to allow them to grow when they sprout from the seeds already in our soil.  I have to allow the seeds that wildlife drop in our garden to have a bit of real-estate to take hold.  And nature magically fills the space.

We guide, nurture, and yes edit.  But as soon as we allow it and offer the least encouragement, nature becomes our partner and our guide.

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The goldenrod want to claim this entire area as their own… time to give some to friends!

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If you’ve already read Bringing Nature Home, let me invite you to also read, The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden, co-authored by Dr. Tallamy and landscape designer and photographer, Rick Darke.

The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden by [Darke, Rick, Tallamy, Douglas W.]

This translates the science into the practical planning of an ecologically balanced home landscape, and is richly illustrated and laced with wonderful stories.  It inspires one to go plant something and make one’s garden even more diverse.

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Our little Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillar is growing fast, happily munching on the Daucus carota.

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Our garden is filled to overflowing, this Fabulous Friday.  It is filled with flowers and foliage, birds, squirrels, butterflies and scampering lizards.  Our garden is filled with tweets and twitters of the natural kind, the sounds of wind blowing through the trees and rain dripping on the pavement.

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fennel

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Our world is wet this week, as storm after storm trains up the East Coast.  I’m grateful for the rain even as I’m swatting at the mosquitoes biting any exposed bit of skin, while I focus my camera on the butterflies.

I hope that your summer is unfolding rich in happiness and beautiful experiences.  I hope you are getting enough rain, but not too much; that your garden is doing well and that you are, too.

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Fabulous Friday: 

Happiness is Contagious; Let’s Infect One Another!

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Joe Pye: No Weed To Me….

July 24, 2014 hummingbird 005

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

July 6, before the tiny blossoms began to open

July 6, before the tiny blossoms began to open

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clumps can be divided as they grow.

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

 

July 24, 2014 hummingbird 015

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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

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

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