Home For Some Swallowtails

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We are a lot like little kids when we head out to the garden.  We get such a kick out of watching the butterflies, and their beautiful psychedelic ‘teenaged’ caterpillar families.

The family portrait here shows you a female Black Swallowtail butterfly feeding on fennel flowers.  I believe the caterpillars are also Black Swallowtail larvae.

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While the adult butterflies float around from flower to flower, the caterpillars largely stay put as they slowly move along the branches of our fennel, eating as they go.  Not to worry… the fennel grows back very quickly, shooting out lots of new stems, leaves and flowers.

I was fortunate to find four beautiful pots of bronze fennel on a clearance sale today at The Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond.  I’ll be adding these new fennel plants to the garden in the morning, knowing they will come back even bigger and stronger in the spring.

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These caterpillars may seem a little brazen in their conspicuous gnoshing.  They love fennel, carrots, parsley and parsnips.  Whatever substances they ingest from these leaves, it leaves them tasting foul.  The birds show little interest in them.

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Black eyed Susans, Rudbeckia hirta, attract many different butterflies.  Goldenrod, Solidago, (top right corner) will soon bloom, attracting many hungry pollinators.

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There are plenty of wildly safe places in our garden for them to withdraw when ready to form their chrysalis.  We rarely notice one, anyway.  But oh, the gorgeous butterflies which fill our garden in late summer!

“Feed them, and they will come.”  No need to run to Pet Smart for a big expensive bag of something.  No, just plant nectar rich flowers.  If you fill your garden with the flowers they love, and have a few herbs around to receive their eggs and feed their larvae, then you, too can create a haven and home for the swallowtails.

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Garlic chives and Rudbeckia have both naturalized in our garden. These clumps seeded themselves as neighbors, forming a little  ‘food court’ for pollinators.

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But if you choose to attract and support pollinators, please do so consciously and responsibly.  What do I mean?

Find a way to garden without using herbicides or insecticides which will poison these fragile, and often endangered creatures.  Yes, you will have some leaves chewed by insects.  Yes, you will have to weed by hand.

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Why is the Columbine blooming in August??? We are grateful for the blessing. The nibbled leaves hardly detract from the lovely flowers.

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Yes, you may have some unsightly foliage here and there. 

But it is well worth it to enjoy a garden filled with life.  Not only do we enjoy the spectacle of summer butterflies, but we also have many pairs of nesting birds, sustained by the rich insect life in our garden.

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Basil is a one of my favorite annuals in our garden. Not only is it beautiful and up to our muggy climate, it also attracts many pollinators. Goldfinches love its seeds. It works beautifully in flower arrangements, and can still be harvested for summer cooking.

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Every garden has a purpose.  Every gardener has to have a purpose in mind when building her garden.

Ultimately, we expect the garden to bring us pleasure as it entertains us, gives us purpose each day, helps us stay fit, and gives us another reason to go shopping.

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Echinacea and Basil have proven a stunning combination this summer.  The Echinacea’s seeds will feed lots of happy birds this autumn.

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We decided early on that this garden would do all of those things, but also provide a home for pollinators and birds.

Home means safety and food; a place to rest; a place to lay eggs and raise young; clean water to drink.  A puddle, birdbath, or even a wet dish of sand will suffice.

Little did we know that the birds would help us plant.  We never expected the lizards, turtles and birds to help control the insects.  We have bees to pollinate the fruit, and butterflies to watch on summer afternoons.

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Tiger swallowtail feasting on Aralia spinosa, a tree brought to us by the birds.  This is its first season of bloom in our garden; but oh, what a show!

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And little did we realize how much happiness flows from creating a home for some swallowtails.

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Crape myrtle

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Woodland Gnome 2017

 

 

 

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Blossom XXVIII: Fennel

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Fennel produces beautiful golden flowers.  Many different pollinators feast from these tiny blossoms.  Abundant flowers and fine foliage make this a special plant in our garden over many weeks.

Bronze fennel is particularly beautiful, and may be grown in pots with other herbs and flowers for a spectacular container garden.

Considered an herb, it in an edible hardy perennial in our garden.  Use the leaves fresh as needed, or dry for winter.

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Fennel feeds both pollinators and butterfly larvae.   Finding caterpillars devouring the plant cheers us that the next generation of swallowtail butterflies are on their way.

Plant fennel in full sun for best flowers.   It will grow quite large in good sun and soil, and may need staking after its first year.  These flowers are good enough to cut for arrangements; though we prefer to leave them sparkling in the sun, offering their nectar to whatever hungry mouth might buzz buy.  Their seeds are tasty, and may be gathered to dry for cooking through the season.

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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“Conquer the angry one by not getting angry;
conquer the wicked by goodness;
conquer the stingy by generosity,
and the liar by speaking the truth.”
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Gautama Buddha

Fabulous Friday: Pollinators

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We love hearing the low hum of bees, feeling their subtle movements, as we move about our garden.  We admire the focused attention they give to each blossom in their relentless search for nectar and honey.

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Butterflies skim above the shrubs, silently landing on one flower, and then another, as they uncurl their straw-like tongues to sip sunwarmed nectar.  They drink intently, their bright wings opening and closing lazily, ready to instantly lift off if startled.

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Our garden hosts hundreds of species.  Some we see, others we never notice.  I’ll always remember the late summer evening we returned home well after dark.  As we pulled into our drive, we were curious about the tiny, glowing animals flying around from flower to flower among our stand of ginger lilies.  They looked like tiny fairies.  We stopped and watched them flit and hover, sip and rest in a beautifully choreographed nocturnal dance.

Finally, I got out of the car and crept closer to see if I could identify these night time pollinators.  They were hummingbirds, enjoying the cool darkness as they gorged on sweet ginger lily nectar.

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Butterfly Ginger Lily

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Gardeners curate their gardens in many ways, for many different purposes.  Depending on where we live, we work within the constraints of our space, our climate, our free time, our environment and maybe even our community’s covenants.  Most of us remain aware of our neighbors, and what they expect to see when they look across the street at our home.

Which may be why so many homeowners maintain large, well kept lawns and neat foundation plantings.  Neighborhoods across the United States strive to ‘keep up appearances’ with neatly clipped front yards.  It seems easiest to plant slow growing evergreen shrubs, a few trees, and then hire a lawn care service to take care of it for us.

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But these neatly maintained lawns and low maintenance shrubs do little to support our pollinators and other wildlife.  They are sterile, and often toxic.  The same chemicals which maintain our lawns pollute the nearby waterways and kill beneficial insects, as well as those we might want to target.  Without insects, birds lose their main source of protein and calcium.

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We curate our garden to attract as many species of birds and pollinators as we can.  We also welcome turtles, lizards, toads, frogs and the occasional snake.  We host rabbits and squirrels, and I know that other mammals, like fox, raccoon and possums roam our community by night.  We listen to owls calling to one another across the ravines.  Sometimes we’ll see a hawk swoop down to catch a vole or mouse.

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We are surrounded by wildlife.  We live in a forest bordering wetlands.  And we make a conscious decision to integrate our lives and our garden into this teeming web of life.  Bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, dragonflies, song birds, and brightly colored wasps bring movement, life and sometimes living poetry to our garden.

We enjoy feeling their presence around us.  We enjoy watching them going about their lives.

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Wherever you live, you can make a decision to do your part to support pollinators and other wildlife, too.  The  more of us engaged in this effort, the more seamless our efforts become.  In other words, our little oasis of safe haven and food for pollinators grows larger as more and more of us wake up, and create habitat in their outdoor spaces, too.

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Here are the main principles to follow.  Each of us will interpret these individually in ways appropriate to our own circumstances:

  1.  Abstain from using toxic chemicals outdoors.  Especially, don’t use any insecticides on individual plants, in the air, or on our lawns.
  2. Allow some area to provide shelter to birds and insects.  This might be a thicket of shrubs, a brush pile, native trees, a bee hive, or even a Mason bee box.
  3. Incorporate native trees, shrubs, herbs, grasses and perennials into your planting to directly provide for the needs of wildlife in your area.  Many birds and insects have symbiotic relationships with native plants of a particular area.  Growing natives attracts and supports more of these species.
  4. Select and allow flowering plants which will produce nectar over the entire season.  If your climate is warm enough, provide nectar year round through your plant selections.  Keep in mind that some of the most beneficial ‘nectar plants,’ like clover and many wildflowers,  might appear as ‘weeds’ to humans.
  5. Provide a dependable source of fresh, clean water.

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Did you notice the repeated use of the word, ‘allow’ in these guidelines?  ‘Allowing’ is an important guiding principle for wildlife gardeners.  We relax a little, and put the needs of the native wildlife ahead of our own preoccupation with neatness and control.

We might allow a few native tree seedlings, self sown, to grow where they appear.  We might allow clover and dandelions to colonize patches of our lawn.  We might allow a stand of native goldenrod to grow in our perennial border among our carefully chosen hybrids.  We might allow vines to sprawl in some part of our landscape, offering food and shelter to many small creatures.

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The more we allow the natural web of life to re-emerge in our curated landscapes, the more diversity we will enjoy.  Insects attract birds.  Birds drop seeds.  Seeds sprout into new plants we hadn’t planned on.  New plants attract more pollinators.  It is a fascinating process to watch unfold.

How to begin?  First, make a commitment to nurture life instead of spreading death.  Stop using poisons and pesticides.

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Once your outdoor space is no longer toxic, plant a few of the most important food source plants for the pollinators you hope to attract. Find suggestions for your region at the Xerces Society For Invertebrate Conservation.

If  you have the space, begin by planting trees and shrubs.  These will give the most ‘bang for your buck’ because they are long lived and produce many, many flowers on each plant.  Remember, too, that many herbs, even if they aren’t native to your region, provide copious nectar all summer long.

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If you live in an apartment or condo, you might have room for a hanging basket or a few large containers on your porch or balcony.  Include a few nectar rich plants, like Lantana and herbs, in your planting.  Any outdoor space, even roofs, walls and balconies, may be enriched and enlivened with careful plant choices.

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As much as I respect those gardeners who champion native plants, I will never advice another gardener to plant only natives.  I believe a plant’s function, and how well it meets the gardener’s needs, outweighs its provenance.  If we can include some percentage of carefully selected native plants, then we can also choose wisely from the enormous variety of interesting plants on the market today.

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There are many non-native plants available which also provide shelter for birds and insects; nectar rich flowers; and fruit, seeds or berries enjoyed by birds.

Some, like Mahonia aquifolium are native on the West Coast of North America, but not here in Virginia.  They still naturalize here and grow easily, providing winter flowers for pollinators and spring berries for our birds.  Others, like Lantana cultivars, have a species form native in American tropics; but also many interesting hybrids which  grow well  in cooler regions.

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Many Mediterranean herbs provide rich sources of nectar, as do common Asian shrubs, like Pyracantha and Camellia.

And there are wildlife friendly native plants, like poison ivy, that most of us would never allow to naturalize in our own garden.  However environmentally conscious we may want to be, our garden remains our personal space and must bring us comfort and joy.  Gardens are human spaces first; enjoyed, curated and tended by people.

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It adds to our enjoyment of our garden when we invite beauty, in the form of pollinators, into our personal space.  We are like stage managers, tending a safe environment, ready for the music and drama these beautiful creatures always bring to it.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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“He that plants trees loves others besides himself.”

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Thomas Fuller

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Happiness is contagious!  Let’s infect one another!

Delicious Attraction

August 23, 2016 pots 020

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There is nothing like Lantana camara to attract butterflies.  And if we didn’t know that already, we would have  noticed it yesterday while we were visiting at the Homestead Garden Center near Toano.  Homestead still has a large stock of Lantana in several sizes.  Owner Joel Patton always carries a wide selection of varieties, but he concentrates on L. ‘Miss Huff’ and the new ‘Chapel Hill’ introductions known to survive our Williamsburg winters.  These new varieties are hardy to at least Zone 7A.

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And so Joel was cutting back and potting up Lantana to gallon sized pots yesterday while we visited and watched the many butterflies feeding.  I loaded up  a tray with several L. ‘Chapel Hill Gold’ and L. ‘Evita Orange,’ and a couple of Pentas, also known as butterfly favorites, to fill in some holes in our front garden beds.  I’ve got to tell you, a butterfly flew into the trunk to follow one of those Lantanas and we had to shoo it out before we could leave.

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We had another gorgeous, cool morning today, and I determined to get the new plants in the ground before the heat returns towards the weekend.  Well, once settling the tray near the bed, I made a second trip to bring up the bag of compost.  And before I could return, our butterflies had found the new little Lantana plants.  They were that eager!

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Lantana Chapel Hill Gold will grow to several feed across and 1'-2' high. It has proven winter hardy to zone 7A.

Lantana Chapel Hill Gold will grow to several feet across and 1′-2′ high. It has proven winter hardy to zone 7A.

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And they didn’t mind me a bit.  I suppose ‘the gardener’ has special privileges….  But they just kept right on feeding with me just a foot or two away.  We had mostly Tiger Swallowtails this morning.  There were five or six individuals, including an elusive Zebra Swallowtail which kept a safer distance away.  He watched us from afar as he fed from the nearby Black Eyed Susans.

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Once the Lantana and Penta were planted, a bit of weeding done and  beds dressed in fresh compost; I returned to watering.  I can’t remember when last it rained for more than a few minutes.  The garden is dry now, and my morning ritual goes straight to watering each day before I even think of making coffee.  Hours later, we come in as the mercury climbs to pull together a little brunch.

That said, the butterflies appreciate the water, too.  A lovely Zebra Swallowtail played in the fine spray yesterday morning.  Today a hummingbird showed up nearly as soon as began watering in the new plantings.

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This Lantana 'Chapel Hill Yellow' was planted in late April or early May. It loves our heat, remains drought tolerant, and weaves nicely with other plants. Behind and to the left are our Afghan Fig trees, enjoyed by the hummer this morning.

This Lantana ‘Chapel Hill Yellow’ was planted in late April or early May. It loves our heat, remains drought tolerant, and weaves nicely with other plants. Behind and to the left are our Afghan Fig trees, enjoyed by the hummer this morning.

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There is a mid-sized Afghan fig tree growing in the middle of the bed, and the hummingbird came, as soon as its leaves were wet, to drink from the water now gathered in the cup of the leaf.  The little one actually landed and sat in the leaf for a moment or two, before flying into the edge of the spray.  Well, that must have felt just grand.  He flitted back and forth, pausing now and again, until he was completely refreshed.

If your garden is as dry as mine, and you are looking for ways to help the wildlife there, water a few patches of bare ground until they are well soaked.  You may notice butterflies landing on damp earth and around puddles.  They can drink the water right out of the ground if they need moisture badly.  Birds will come to wet earth, too, finding it easier to dig for insects and worms.

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This is the first Lantana 'Evita' I've purchased. It may be a newly available series of cultivars, and I'm not sure quite what to expect. The butterflies loved it! I've left the tag so I'll know during clean up next spring which Lantana was planted here.

This is the first Lantana ‘Evita’ I’ve purchased. It may be a newly available series of cultivars, and I’m not sure quite what to expect. The butterflies loved it! I’ve left the tag so I’ll know during clean up next spring which Lantana was planted here.

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Gardening to support wildlife is all about creating a delicious attraction.  When we provide steady sources of food, water and  shelter in a safe, poison free environment; they will come.  Bees, birds, butterflies, turtles lizards and toads scout out those special places to live.  They can smell when a place is right.  They can see the seeds and flowers waiting for their feasting.

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This Verbena 'Lollipop' is another nectar plant new to us this season. I bought smalll plugs in late spring from the Heath's in Gloucester. These are perennial and may need a season or two to really show their full potential. But I love the color and see butterflies visit them. These make nice cut flowers, too.

This Verbena ‘Lollipop’ is another nectar plant new to us this season. I bought smalll plugs in late spring from the Heath’s in Gloucester. These are perennial and may need a season or two to really show their full potential. But I love the color and see butterflies visit them. These make nice cut flowers, too.

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Just plant those special plants, like Lantana, Penta, Salvias, Basil and other herbs, Rudbeckia, Verbena, Echinacea,  Hibiscus, Canna, Pelargonium, Petunia, Zingiger  and Fuchsia.  They will attract any butterfly or hummingbird for a long way around.  And then you, too, can enjoy the beauty of these special creatures fluttering through your garden.

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Most of the new Lantana went into this bed, full of bulbs and Iris. A scented Pelargonium makes lovely foliage but has not yet bloomed. The true perennial Geraniums we planted have struggled because they are continually nibbled down. Rabbits maybe?

Most of the new Lantana went into this bed, full of bulbs and Iris. A scented Pelargonium makes lovely foliage but has not yet bloomed. The true perennial Geraniums we planted have struggled because they are continually nibbled down. Rabbits maybe?  Today I added a few parsley plants with next year’s Swallowtail caterpillars in mind….

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Woodland Gnome 2016
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August 23, 2016 pots 026

 

WPC: Rare Beauty

August 20, 2016 Butterflies 010

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Butterflies visit our gardens for just a few weeks of the year.  These delicate, colorful creatures float from flower to flower on warm summer days.  Their presence brings our garden to life. 

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Certain butterflies grow more rare, each passing year, in the United States.  The chemical assault on butterflies, at all stages of their life cycle, have decimated their numbers.  Herbicides destroy  their habitat and host plants.  Pesticides, often designed to kill other insects, also kill many adult butterflies and their larvae.

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Organic  gardeners can provide an oasis of safety for butterflies to lay their eggs, for their larvae to grow, and for adults to feed along the path of their migration.  We consciously designed a butterfly friendly certified Wildlife Habitat to help support butterflies at all stages of their life cycle.

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We plan for the appearance of the first spring butterflies returning from their migration, and have nectar rich flowers blooming to greet them.

We grow  the favored trees, herbs and perennials needed by growing Monarch and swallowtail caterpillars.  And we fill our garden with nectar plants to fuel the adults for their long flight south each autumn.

Lantana, the flowers they are feeding on today, proves their absolute favorite.  Its blooms attract butterflies like no other!  Lantana blooms prolifically until killed by the first heavy frost in early winter.

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Swallowtail butterfly beauties, which have grown alarmingly rare in recent years, fill our garden on summer days like today.  I counted at least six individual swallowtails feeding as I worked in the garden this morning.

This makes us happy, to see our garden come alive with butterflies; their flight from flower to flower showing us that all of our gardening efforts have a greater purpose.

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As gardeners across the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central and South America each create safe havens for butterflies, and other migrating wildlife, on their own properties; we can hope the butterfly population will recover.

My great dream is that populations of these exquisite creatures will rebound.  Their appearance no longer a sighting of rare beauty…..

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Rare

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

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Debut

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It was at the end of a long, steamy watering and weeding session when I first spotted her.  There she was, vividly bright and different from the other black swallowtail butterflies we’re accustomed to hosting in the garden.

She was feeding on the Lantana, behind me, as I crashed through the shrub border pulling the hose back towards its spot by the house.

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At first, I just stopped to watch her; afraid any further movement might startle her away.  But she and her companions kept right on feeding, flower to flower, choosing to ignore my sudden presence.

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So I slipped the camera from my pocket, powered it on, and zoomed in for a capture.  She startled, but soon returned, warily continuing her progress from flower to flower in pursuit of warm, sweet nectar.

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This is a different species of swallowtail butterfly spotted for the first time today in our garden.  She is the first swallowtail I’ve noticed whose wings carry such vibrant yellow markings and whose body is covered in white polka dots.

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I kept following her around the Lantana, trying to capture the perfect photo before she took off again.  My partner thinks there may have been more than one individual of this type after studying the photos.  He may be right.

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We’ll continue to try to identify her.  So far the closest I’ve gotten is possibly a Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly.  Many of the photos posted online of the Spicebush Swallowtail show more blue markings, and lack the bright yellow on the wings.  Do you recognize her?  Can you help us identify her?

It is hot here today, and it was time for me to retreat back in to the cool shade of the house.  We’re hoping for rain this afternoon, as the soil is still very dry and many plants look wilted.  Leaves are turning brown and dropping, some ferns disappearing.

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As the season marches on towards autumn, we expect to see more butterfly species stop for a while in the garden to feed and rest along their path of migration.  We are watching for the first of the Monarchs to appear one day soon.

But today we enjoyed this beauty, and hope she will perhaps lay a few eggs while she is here.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

 

Garden Blogger’s Foliage Day; But I’m Away….

A stray Moonflower vine snakes across the Begonias.

A stray Moonflower vine snakes across the Begonias.

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It is Garden Blogger’s Foliage Day, but since I’m away I’ll post tomorrow.  Until then, I’ll leave you with a few quick photos captured this morning.

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Canna, still alive, with Heron's Pirouette hardy Begonia

Calla, still alive, with ‘Heron’s Pirouette’ hardy Begonia

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I’m exceptionally happy to show you this photo of the first leaf of our new hardy Calla, ordered a couple of months ago from Plant Delights Nursery, which died back and completely disappeared in less than two weeks from planting.  A mystery…. 

But I dug the bulb and moved it into a large pot in the nursery with good potting soil.  A new leaf emerged last week, and I planted it up yesterday with the beautiful gift of ‘Heron’s Pirouette’ hardy Begonia we received last Saturday from a generous gardener.  The pot sits here in the shade of the house all day after a little morning sun.  I don’t expect the Calla to bloom  this fall, but it will give its beautiful spotted leaves.  It lives!

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Caladium is another survivor. Last summer's plant hibernated in the garage all winter. Finally a leaf... in August?

Caladium is another survivor. Last summer’s plant hibernated in the garage all winter. Finally a leaf… in August?

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On the subject of gardeners and sharing: next week, I plan on sharing some of the baby Colocasia multiplying in our garden .  I’m also committed to sharing some Iris with friends far and near, and also some of the perennial Blue Mist Flower. 

If you live nearby, please send me a note if you’d like to try some of the Colocasia “China Pink.”

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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Moving On

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Summer is moving on towards its climax in our garden.  I found the garden filled with butterflies this morning when I came out to water.

The butterflies we’ve watched for since April are in residence now, and flutter constantly from flower to flower, shrub to shrub; as they drink their fill of warm, sweet nectar.

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I counted five individuals on a single Lantana this morning.  When I turned around, more fluttered behind me in another flower bed.  They surrounded me as I moved around the garden, watering.

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No longer timid, they continued feeding as I approached.  They no longer fly away when my camera beeps.

I can watch them from the window above my kitchen sink.  In fact, I would say that every window opens out onto views of butterflies moving on from one flower to another.  One may get lost in simply watching them; a voyeur of sorts, hypnotized by butterfly wings.

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Perhaps they are the ones entranced.  There is a rich buffet of flowers beckoning them to feed:  Lantana and Butterfly Bush, Rose of Sharon, mints and Sage, Echinacea, Zinnia, Monarda, Rudbeckia, Hibiscus.

The litany of sweet flowers goes on and on in the August garden.  Butterflies float from flower to flower almost like devotees fingering prayer beads.

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Lycoris radiata

Lycoris radiata

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Two new flowers have come into bloom this week, which signal our shift towards autumn. The Lycoris radiata never appear before mid-August; timed with the onset of our hurricane season.

The ginger lilies also begin their bloom towards the end of August, just as Labor Day draws close each year.

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White Butterfly Ginger Lily coming into bloom

White Butterfly Ginger Lily coming into bloom

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We have a crescendo of growth now, in this third week of August.  Cannas and ginger lily tower over our heads.  Colocasia leaves reach gigantic proportions in the shade.  Ferns grow tall and Begonia flowers emerge thick and vivid from their canes.

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This is the season where wishes materialize, beautifully fulfilled.  The garden crawls with life, never silent and never still.

Newborn blue tailed lizards skitter up the wall above the hose.  Cicadas whir and bump in the border.  Birds call to one another as wind rustles through the tall stems of lily and Canna.

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And butterflies float by silently, above it all, moving on in search of the next nectar filled flower in their never ending quest for summer’s sweetness.

Woodland Gnome 2015

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Morning Glory

Morning Glory

Feed Them, But Will They Come?

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As I wander around our garden, watching for pollinators to photograph, I notice the quiet.  Where is the hum and buzz I’ve grown accustomed to in other summers?

The feast is laid, but there are very few guests today.

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We began work on our “Butterfly Garden” during our first spring in this new garden.  We constructed a huge raised bed and populated it with butterfly bushes, roses, Zinnias, and various herbs.

We delighted in watching the constant activity of butterflies, hummingbird moths, hummingbirds, and varies sorts of bees, wasps, and flies.   This is great entertainment for the newly retired!

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And every year since, we have expanded the offering of nectar rich flowers.  Our “Butterfly Garden” now extends from the street to the ravine.  We’ve developed areas to attract and sustain these flying creatures throughout our property.

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Thyme

Thyme

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We garden organically, without harmful pesticides; we provide habitat, sources of water, and host plants.

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Asclepias, a host plant for Monarchs which also provides a long season of nectar, grows in our new bog garden.

Asclepias, a host plant for Monarchs which also provides a long season of nectar, grows in our new bog garden.

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We plant a variety of nectar rich herbs to sustain the pollinators in all parts of our garden.  We also choose flowers, like Fuchsia, Zinnia, Lantana and Canna, to appeal to nectar loving insects and hummingbirds.  We allow nectar rich shrubs and trees, like the Mimosa, to grow on the edges of the garden.

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Still, we are thrilled to spot a single butterfly visiting our garden.

I realize it is yet early in the season.  I understand that there will be more activity as summer progresses.  Yet, we spotted our first butterfly in April this year.  Why are there still so few?  And where are the bees?

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This is a disturbing mystery for us.

We follow the news closely, and know it has been a difficult time for wildlife across the planet.  Rogue weather systems have disrupted normal migration patterns and habitat.  Chemical leaks, oil tankers bursting into fiery infernos, radiation in the Pacific, eruptions and climate change all make it that much harder for wild things to sustain themselves generation to generation.

This is a global challenge.  What can one family, gardening on a little suburban lot, do to make a positive difference?

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Tiny new dragonflies hover around the Comphrey.

Tiny new dragonflies hover around the Comphrey.

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I wrestle with this question a lot, actually.  Maybe this issue helps fuel my passion for photographing and writing about our garden.  I know it drives our decisions about how to manage the garden.

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We leave these tree Hibiscus, 'Rose of Sharon' because so many pollinators visit them to feed.

We leave these tree Hibiscus, ‘Rose of Sharon’ because so many pollinators visit them to feed.  They self-seed prolifically.  A fairly weedy plant, their flowers are beautiful each summer.

~

I know the butterflies are free, and freely fly from our garden to another.  In the next yard, they may meet up with deadly chemicals sprayed by the lawn company our neighbors hire.

No matter how organically we manage our garden, the environment remains full of pesticides used by others, and barren of many of the native plants they seek to raise their young.  We don’t plan to string up netting and keep our beauties safely here.

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July 2014, an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoys the Echinacea.

July 2014, an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoys the Echinacea.

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At some point, most of us wise up and live with ‘The Serenity Prayer’ in mind.

And in accepting those things we can not change, we think carefully and courageously about the change we can instigate… both in ourselves, and in others.

And so here are the simple things we can do, and we have committed to do:

1.  Refrain from the use of pesticides and herbicides.  Find organic controls for problems of infestation.

Tiger Swallowtail on Joe Pye Weed, July 2014

Tiger Swallowtail on Joe Pye Weed, July 2014

2.  Leave parts of our property ‘wild’ to provide shelter and habitat for a variety of animals.

3. Allow many ‘native’ plants, which provide food and habitat for pollinators and birds, to grow on our property.

4.  Select most ‘new’ plants we bring to the garden for their value to feed and sustain wildlife.

5.  Provide sources of water.

A butterfly shares the Joe Pye Weed blossoms with the bee.  August 2014

A butterfly shares the Joe Pye Weed blossoms with the bee. August 2014

6. Leave end of season clean-up until spring, so wildlife may continue to use available resources through the winter.

7. Learn as much as we can about the wildlife who visit our garden in order to better care for them.

 

“Everything takes time.

Bees have to move very fast to stay still.”

David Foster Wallace

We hope that by offering a safe and supportive environment, pollinators and other wildlife will find safe haven in our garden.

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Parsley offers nectar when it blooms, but many butterflies lay their eggs on parsley, also.  It is a good host plant to sustain caterpillars.

Parsley offers nectar when it blooms, but many butterflies lay their eggs on parsley, also. It is a good host plant to sustain caterpillars.

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For every generation of butterfly and bird, bee, lizard, turtle and dragonfly that we can allow to grow here, we will contribute in some small way to their continued survival.

This is a tiny effort, but many of us all making this tiny effort can partner to preserve these beautiful and ecologically important creatures for another year; another generation.

~

These catmint plants attract many pollinators when they bloom.  By cutting them back, they can be kept blooming for several months.  Our cat believes we plant them just for him....

These catmint plants attract many pollinators when they bloom. By cutting them back, they can be kept blooming for several months. Our cat believes we plant them just for him….

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We look forward to each spring and summer when our garden is filled with the buzzing of bees and the ballet of feeding butterflies once again.

And until then, we will continue to celebrate and appreciate each individual who finds their way to our Forest Garden.

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June 18, 2015 bees 022

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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June 27, 2014 garden 005

For more information, please explore:

Pollinator Week June 15-21, 2015

‘June Gap’ in butterflies explained, by Butterfly Conservation

Our Pals, the Pollinators, by Tina Huckabee

Where Have the Butterflies Gone?

sept. 25, 2013 lanai 003Where have the butterflies gone?  Just in the last few days I’ve noticed their absence.  On Friday I was watching one bigger than a goldfinch feeding on a Zinnia, and suddenly yesterday, I didn’t see any while working in the garden.

And this morning, I read Kim Smith’s beautiful piece on the declining Monarch population.

July 26 butterfly photos 012Our population of Swallowtails has been strong this season.  We’ve had their constant companionship for months.  We often stop to enjoy them as we’re walking past the windows, arriving home in the car, and working in the garden.  They have been a delight- and now are more than missed.

And now this morning, sipping coffee early this morning on the deck, I spy new caterpillars.sept. 25, 2013 lanai 005

What a joy to find them. They are still enjoying the Bronze Fennel I sought so early this spring, hoping for a huge, ferny display all summer.  Well, Andrew Patton ordered it for me when I inquired,  and soon I purchased beautiful healthy plants at Homestead Garden Center.  We planted it in  big pots, alongside Borage, with high hopes.  Somehow, I think that watching generation after generation of these beautiful caterpillars has been even more interesting than a huge Fennel plant might have been; disregarding the fact that they were never able to bloom.

So I’m happy that the Swallowtails found a sanctuary here in our little garden.  We have done our small part here to keep their population healthy and happily growing.

Tiger Swallowtails on Echinacea.

Tiger Swallowtails on Echinacea.

Sadly, the Monarchs are struggling.  The herbicides used by farmers raising GMO crops destroy the host plants Monarchs require to raise their young.  The Milkweed plants are disappearing from the countryside for many reasons- development, spread of the suburbs, and industrial farming.  Each of us can do our small part to assist the Monarchs, along with countless other small wild things, by providing safe habitat and the host plants they require to live.

The stores are full of brightly packaged chemicals to solve every gardening problem, from weeds to mosquitoes.  As more and more of us see past the promise of a quick fix, and understand the implications of using these dangerous chemicals, perhaps we can turn to other,  safer, ways to manage our land and grow our gardens.  The 1960’s promise of “Better Life Through Chemistry” was a hollow promise.  We have poisoned our water, poisoned our land, and now are poisoning ourselves.September 12 Parkway 032

sept. 25, 2013 lanai 002Please keep in mind that we are all interconnected.  All of us are parts of the web of life, sharing this beautiful home hurtling through space.  And we Homo sapiens sapiens, intended to be the wisest of creatures, are the ones who have killed the oceans, filled the aquifers with fracking fluids, cut the forests which purify our air, and are now in process of even destroying our store of seeds for the foods on which we depend through genetic modification to make them immune to herbicides.  As our farmers spray their fields with glyphosate, killing the host plants needed by birds and butterflies; so it also runs off into creeks and ponds, killing insect larvae, frogs, fish, and turtles.

We can not, by ourselves, change industrial farming practices or stop fracking for natural gas.

We can do our own small bit to keep our own garden as a sanctuary free of herbicides, and pesticides; to provide sources of clean water; and grow a few life-giving plants to sustain the creatures who find shelter with us.  As we do to the least among us…. we do to ourselves.

All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

For readers in the Williamsburg, Va area, Homestead Garden Center is committed to organic gardening practices.  All plants they raise in their own greenhouses have been raised with lots of TLC and only organic fertilizers.  If you have visited Homestead, then you know that only organic, environmentally safe fertilizers, fungicides, soil amendments, insect controls,  and other gardening aids are available in their shop for sale.  Everyone in the family is knowledgeable and can help guide you to excellent products to enhance your garden.  They have taught me a thing or three along the way, and I appreciate their expertise in organic gardening methods.  For friends not in Virginia, I hope you can find a garden shop with a staff so knowledgeable and caring.

Tiger Swallowtails on Echinacea, or Purple Coneflower

Tiger Swallowtails on Echinacea, or Purple Coneflower

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