Wild Life Wednesday: A Feast for Butterflies

A Silver Spotted Skipper enjoys Verbena bonariensis in our garden.

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This time of year I spend a lot of time hanging out with butterflies.  Once I spot one, I want to get as close as I dare, camera in hand, and just watch what it does and where it goes.  It’s funny how they are clearly aware of me, too.  Some are camera shy and fly up and off as soon as I begin to focus my lens on them.

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A Zebra Swallowtail takes flight as the female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoys her Agastache nectar at the Heath’s Bulb Shop garden in Gloucester today.

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I have more than a few empty frames where a butterfly has flown away right as I click the photo.  Other butterflies appear to enjoy their modeling session, or at least tolerate my presence with the clicking, chiming camera.

I get almost giddy in a garden where a cloud of butterflies is busily feeding.  These lovely creatures seem quite content to share their nectar wealth, and light near one another companionably.

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My partner and I were visiting the display gardens at the Heath family’s Bulb Shop in Gloucester this morning.  We went outside and had just begun to look around when my partner called me over to the butterflies.  Perhaps six individuals were all feeding around the clear blue flowering spires of one large Agastache ‘Blue Fortune.’  We were spellbound.

We counted three different types of swallowtails, a Monarch and a sweet little hummingbird moth.

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A hummingbird moth shares the nectar with the Zebra Swallowtail butterflies.

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Now, in a place as nectar rich as a multi-acre display garden filled with perennials and flowering bulbs, wouldn’t you expect that the butterflies would be all spread out across the garden?  Would you really expect to see six individuals on a single plant, with lots of other flowering plants neglected?

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An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoys Agastache ‘Rosey Posey’ at the Heath family gardens at their Bulb Shop.

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Eventually, we wandered a bit further into the garden to see what we could see on this sunshiny August morning.  The next butterfly activity was around the water feature which just happened to be ringed on one side with pots brimming with more Agastache.  This time I believe it was A. ‘Rosey Posey.’ 

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A water feature at Brent and Becky’s Bulb Shop in Gloucester, VA.

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And yes, I spotted another little hummingbird moth and an assortment of swallowtails. The many beds and pots and meadows and borders nearby didn’t have nearly the winged traffic as these pots of anise hyssop.  If you’ve grown it yourself, you know this is a tough perennial mint relative with fragrant leaves and non-stop flowers.  The nice thing about this perennial herb is its polite manners.  Even though it clumps and grows larger each year, it doesn’t run like most mints will do.

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We had a lovely clump, started from a plug, that perished sometime between November and April.  I was so disappointed that it didn’t return this summer and we have missed it.  I likely cut it back too early in the spring and it got zapped by a cold spell.  I waited too long this spring, giving it a chance to return, and didn’t admit until May that it was a goner.  And we have missed it!

If you are a butterfly enthusiast, you likely spend a good bit of time watching to see which plants the butterflies prefer.  Given a garden filled with flowers, where do they prefer to feed?

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This female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail feeds on Buddleia in our garden.

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What will attract the most butterflies?  If you are hoping to attract a good variety of butterflies, as we do, you likely want to plant lots of butterfly magnet plants to feed them over the longest season possible.

Another clear butterfly favorite is Lantana.  A friend and I were plant shopping together last month and headed for the gallon pots of Lantana.  We needed a number of them for a special event, and were astounded to see the entire display covered in beautiful butterflies.  We actually had to chase the bumblebees and butterflies off of the plants, once they were loaded into her car, so that we could close the back hatch.

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The female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly is dimorphic.  It can be either yellow or black. Watch when the sun shines through the wings of the black form. She can be identified because the tiger stripes are still visible with the wing illuminated from behind.  Females always have blue on their hindwings, and the males are solidly yellow with black markings.  This female feeds on Lantana in our garden.

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Buddleia, known as butterfly bush, earns its name, too.  Its panicles of richly colored sweet flowers are irresistible.  A bit rangy in its growth, it more than makes up for its habit with its spectacular flowers that keep blooming until frost.

The surprise butterfly magnet is perennial Verbena.  You likely have lots of butterflies on your annual Verbena in pots and baskets.  But the V. bonariensis in our garden attracts them even more than the Buddleia! 

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A female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail feeds on V. bonariensis in our garden.  Do you see the darker stripes on her upper wings?

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It is great fun to watch huge swallowtails land on these fragile looking little flowers seemingly floating in space, bobbing in the wind as they feed.  I expect the V. hastata that I planted last month will attract many butterflies, too, as it establishes and produces more blooms.

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It is a given that butterflies love herbs.  Beyond the Agastache, they seem to enjoy other mints, Monardas, basils, fennel, dill,  Salvias, and even chives!  I am delighted to see how happy the butterflies are to feed on the chives, blooming now, because they make for beautiful photos.  There are many, many plants where butterflies will feed:  Hibiscus and Echinacea, Aralia and crape myrtles, petunias and zinnias, cosmos and Rudbeckia.

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Chives

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We never tire of watching them.  We make a point to have pots and baskets of their favorites around the house where we can observe them from inside, and often pause near the windows to enjoy them for a few moments.  Butterflies speak to wild beauty and the inevitable cycles of nature.

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It is one of those koans of nature to realize both their fragility and their enormous strength.  They travel on incredibly long annual migrations and  survive in the face of perilous odds.

I appreciate them as a manifestation of living wabi-sabi– a fragile, fleeting beauty that we must appreciate in the eternal now, knowing full well that in an instant, they will fly away.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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“To Taoism that which is absolutely still or absolutely perfect is absolutely dead,
for without the possibility of growth and change
there can be no Tao.
In reality there is nothing in the universe
which is completely perfect or completely still;
it is only in the minds of men
that such concepts exist.”
.
Alan W. Watts
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Blossom XXXI: Lantana

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“For it is in giving that we receive.”
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Francis of Assisi

Lantana proves a most generous flower.  It’s prolific blooms, full of sweet nectar, nourish butterflies from May until November.

As each flower fades, a small berry forms in its place.  These delight our hungry birds.

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“Generosity does not come from wealth.
Wealth comes from the flowers of kindness and love.”
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Debasish Mridha

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Lantana asks little for itself.  It thrives in poor soil.  It tolerates weeks of drought as its deep, sturdy roots seek out water to fuel its prolific blossoms.

It covers itself in flowers continually, growing ever larger, week by week, until it is touched by frost.

Its sturdy, green leaves soak in every ray of summer sun without wilt or burn.

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“When a person becomes aware of their genius
and they live it and they give generously from it,
they change the world, they affect the world.
And when they depart
everyone knows something is missing.”
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Michael Meade

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Many of the Lantana that we planted five or more years ago have firmly established themselves in our garden.  Their woody bones burst into life in late spring, and they quickly grow back to enormous proportions.  We leave their skeletons in place through the winter, where they offer shelter and food to the birds who hang back in our garden.

Their drying berries provide a long lasting source of food.  Their dense branches and soft, fallen leaves give shelter from wind and snow.  Small birds play in their structure,  flying in an out of openings in the canopy as they search for insects.

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We wait to cut the Lantana back until the Crocus are blooming.  Once we see these signs of spring, we cut them hard, nearly back to the ground.  Their beds are opened once again to the warming sun.

Bulbs bloom, roses bloom, grass greens, spring settles; and finally, the Lantana re-awaken;  their first blossoms opening in time to greet a new generation of visitors to our garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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“The Universe blesses a generous heart.”
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Eileen Anglin
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Blossom XXV: Elegance
Blossom XXVI: Angel Wing Begonia
Blossom XXVII: Life 
Blossom XXVIII: Fennel 
Blossom XXIV:  Buddleia 
Blossom XXX:  Garlic Chives

WPC: Connected

September 4, 2015 garden 008

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What are the connections between our garden and the creatures who visit it? 

And how can we increase the rich diversity of life in our gardens by the way we manage it, and by which plants we choose to nurture?

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August 30, 2015 garden 020

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I suppose one can spend a lifetime exploring these ideas.  Perhaps the answers continue to  change as we, the gardeners, evolve; as we find ourselves more connected to the rhythms of our gardens.

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August 29, 2015 turtle 025~

And perhaps the answers continue to change as our gardens evolve and grow into the fullness of their possibilities.

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August 30, 2015 garden 025~

Our understanding grows as we experiment and observe.

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August 29, 2015 garden at dusk 020

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Maybe our invitation to life expands as we understand the rich connections between fungi and plant, insect and bird, seed and soil, leaf and larvae, flower and butterfly.  We see how we are all connected to the sun, and the same water fills all of our living cells.

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There comes a point, for some of us, where we focus more on which species we hope to include, than on those we try to exclude.

Insects no longer appear as the enemy, and what was once weed finds its place in our tapestry as a valued perennial.

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August 30, 2015 garden 032~

If you’ve studied yoga, perhaps you remember that more than exercise, it is about joining things together:  body and breath, mind and body, breath and thought.

Could there be a yoga of gardening?

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A spiritual science of understanding the subtle connections between the elements we once believed to be separate and discrete?

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Inspired by the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge: Connected

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August 29, 2015 turtle 007~

Woodland Gnome 2015

 

Deer Resistant Plants Which Grow Well In Our Neighborhood- Revised and Improved

July 20 garden photos 008

This Lady Fern has grown on the bank for years, never bothered by the deer. It is deciduous, but returns each spring larger than the year before.

The plants in the following list are mostly ignored  by our herd of deer.  They are well suited to our Williamsburg, Virginia Zone 7B climate and our soil.  Some  gardening friends and I have been compiling this list over the last few years.

We have observed that plants which grow extremely well in some of our gardens, such as Camellias and Hydrangea macrophylla, also called mophead Hydrangea; get eaten in others.  Our mature Camellia shrubs are left alone, but I’ve had tremendous damage done to some, but not all, newly planted Camellias.   Even newly planted oakleaf Hydrangeas have been stripped of their leaves during the last few weeks.

In fact,  newly planted trees and shrubs are the most vulnerable because they are rich in the nitrogen based fertilizers growers lavish on them.  They taste salty and delicious to deer, like salted French fries for us.  Plants which have been in the garden a while tend to have less nitrogen in their leaves and so aren’t as tasty.  When considering how much extra fertilizer to spread around your shrubs and trees, if any, this is an important consideration.  Growing your garden on the lean side might offer additional protection from grazing.

Echinacea, or Purple Coneflower, is a favorite of nectar loving insects. A perennial, it is rarely touched by deer and grows more vigorous each year.

Echinacea, or Purple Coneflower, is a favorite of nectar loving insects. A perennial, it is rarely touched by deer and grows more vigorous each year.

Key to symbols:

a native plant in our area

# attracts birds with berries, fruit, nuts, or seeds

a nectar producing plant which attracts butterflies and other pollinating insects

+ a nectar producing plant which attracts hummingbirds

Flowering Trees and Shrubs

Bamboo provides cover for nesting birds, shelter from the weather, and a steady supply of insects to eat. Deer never touch it.

Bamboo provides cover for nesting birds, shelter from the weather, and a steady supply of insects to eat. Deer never touch it.

# * + Althea, Rose of Sharon Hibiscus syriacus

! #   Bayberry, or Wax Myrtle Myrica cerifera

! # * Beautyberry Bush Callicarpa americana

# *   Boxwood Buxus sempervirens

! # * + Butterfly Bush Buddleia (various species)

# * + Butterfly Tree or Glory Tree  Clerodendrum trichotomum

Camellia C. japonica and C. sasanqua

# * +Crepe Myrtle Lagerstroemia

! # * Dogwood Cornus florida

# * English Laurel Prunus laurocerasus

Mountain Laurel blooms in early May in our neighborhood.

Mountain Laurel blooms in early May in our neighborhood.

# Fig  Ficus carica

* Forsythia

! # * Fringe Tree Chionanthus virginicus

! * Hydrangea arborescens

Japanese Maple Acer palmatum

* +Lilac Syringa vulgaris

# * Mahonia Mahonia aquifolium

"Josee" re-blooming lilac, in its second flush of bloom in late June, is appreciated by all the nectar lovers in the garden.

“Josee” re-blooming Lilac, in its second flush of bloom in late June, is appreciated by all the nectar lovers in the garden.

! Mountain Laurel Kalmia latifolia (all parts of this plant are highly poisonous)

! # *Magnolia virginiana and other species

Fall blooming Camellia extends the months of bloom well into early winter. Deer don’t graze established shrubs.

# *Heavenly Bamboo Nandina domestica (all parts of this plant are highly poisonous)

! * Native Holly Ilex opaca

! # Oakleaf Hydrangea Hydrangea quercifolia

# * Fire Thorn Pyracantha (various species)

! # * +Red Bud Cercis canadensis

# * +  Silk Tree or Mimosa Albizia julibrissin

# * St. John’s Wort Hypericum

! # Southern Wax Myrtle  Myrica cerifera

! # + Red Buckeye Aesculus pavia

! #* Adam’s Needle Yucca filamentosa and other species

Perennials and Bulbs

Alocosia ( various species)

! # * + Butterfly Weed Asclepias species

* Caladium

July 17 hibiscus 007

Rose Mallow, Lavender, Artemesia and Dusty Miller hold no attraction for hungry deer.

* + Canna Lily Canna

*  Centaurea ( various species)

! # * Coreopsis ( various species)

 * + Crocosmia ( various species) 

* Daffodil Narcissus ( various species)

! # * Daisy Asteraceae ( various species)

# * Dianthus ( various species)

! # * Purple Coneflower Echinacea purpurea

* Euphorbia ( various species)

# * Fall Anemones A. hupehensis

Fern   (click for detailed information)

Autumn Brilliance fern produces coppery colored new leaves throughout the season. Here, trying to protect a little Hosta.

Autumn Brilliance fern produces coppery colored new leaves throughout the season. Here, trying to protect a little Hosta.

# * + Gaillardia ( various species)

The Passion Fruit vine can grow up to 50' a year and produces edible fruit. Grown throughout warm climates, this perennial vine is beautiful and productive.

The Passionflower vine can grow up to 50′ a year and produces edible fruit. Grown throughout warm climates, this perennial vine is beautiful and productive.

* Geranium ( various species)

St. John's Wort

St. John’s Wort

* + Ginger Lily Hedychium ( various species)

! * Goatsbeard Aruncus dioicus

* Goldenrod Solidago rugosa

* Lenten Rose Hellebore ( various species) (note, this plant is highly poisonous)

* Dutch Hyacinth Hyacinthus orientalis

 * #  Iris (Bearded, Dutch, Louisiana, Siberian, etc.)

Re-blooming irises will bloom again in late summer, and then continue throwing out blooms through December. They need to grow in an area of full sun to continue blooming.

Re-blooming Irises will bloom again in late summer, and then continue throwing out blooms through December. They need to grow in an area of full sun to continue blooming.

# Ivy

! # * + Rose Mallow Hibiscus moscheutos

! * +Joe Pye Weed  Eutrochium ( various species)

# * Lambs Ears Stychys Byzantina

* + Mexican (Bush) Sage (Salvia leucantha) or Salvia Mexicana

* Muscari ( various species)

* Pelargonium ( various species)

* Peony Paeonia ( various species)

* + Red Hot Poker Kniphofia ( various species)

! # * Black Eyed Susans  Rudbeckia ( various species)

 

Butterflies enjoy Echinacea growing here with Gaillardia, Comfrey, Pentas, and other herbs.

Butterflies enjoy Echinacea growing here with Gaillardia, Comfrey, Pentas, and other herbs.

Gaillardia, gift from a friend's garden, growing here with Comfrey.

Gaillardia, gift from a friend’s garden, growing here with Comfrey.

Purple ruffles basil is one of he most beautiful.

Purple Ruffles Basil is one of he most beautiful.

Herbs

* Artemisia

# * Basil

* Comfrey

* Curry

# * Dill

* Fennel

* Germander

* + Lavender

* Mint

Pineapple sage blooming in late October is a favorite food source for butterflies still in the garden

Pineapple Sage blooming in late October is a favorite food source for butterflies still in the garden

Pineapple Mint with Lavender

Pineapple Mint with Lavender

!# *+ Monarda

* Oregano

# * Parsley

* + Pineapple Sage Salvia elegans

Rosemary

* Sage Salvia species

Annuals and Biennials

* Angelonia

Castor Bean (all parts of this plant are highly poisonous)

Ginger Lily, hardy in Zone 7

Ginger Lily, hardy in Zone 7

# *+Spider Flower Cleome hassleriana

Spiderflower, or Cleome, is beautiful in the garden and attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.

Spider Flower, or Cleome, is beautiful in the garden and attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.  Seen here with Lamb’s Ears and Coneflowers

* Dusty Miller Centaurea cineraria

Star Jasmine, also known as Confederate Jasmine, is evergreen, fragrant, and a magnet for butterflies. Very hardy, it grows enthusiastically.

Star Jasmine, also known as Confederate Jasmine, is evergreen, fragrant, and a magnet for butterflies. Very hardy, it grows enthusiastically.

Yucca in bloom

Yucca filamentosa  in bloom in partial shade.

# * + Foxglove Digitalis purpurea

# * + Lantana or Shrub Verbena Lantana camara

* + Mandevilla sanderi

* Mexican Heather Cuphea hyssopifolia

* New Guinea Impatiens Impatiens hawkeri

Persian Shield Strobilanthes dyerianus

Persian Shield

Persian Shield

* + Pentas ( various species)

* Plectranthus ( various species)

* Purple Heart Tradescantia pallida

# * + Zinnia elegans

Vines

! * + Trumpet Creeper Campsis radicans

! * + Honeysuckle Lonicera sempervirens

Purple Heart, Sage, and purple Pentas are safe from deer grazing.

Purple Heart, Sage, and purple Pentas are safe from deer grazing.

! # * + Passionflower Passiflora incarnata

*  Periwinkle Vinca major & V. minor

# * Star Jasmine Trachelospermum jasminoides

! # * + Virginia Creeper Parthenocissus quinquefolia

Grasses

Bamboo (various species)

Miscanthus

Plants that will need extraordinary measures to protect in a forest garden include: 

Azaleas, Hostas, daylilies, lilies, roses, impatiens, some Sedums, Tomatoes, squashes, sweet potato vines, cucumbers, beans, and mophead Hydrangeas.

All photos by Woodland Gnome.

Virginia Creeper is growing up this dead Black Locust tree, delighting all hummingbirds and butterflies in the garden with its huge orange blossoms.

Virginia Creeper is growing up this dead Black Locust tree, delighting all hummingbirds and butterflies in the garden with its huge orange blossoms.

 

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