Cats on Monday

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It was a foodie weekend for many celebrating Father’s Day with cookouts, picnics and fine dining.

It’s been a ‘foodie weekend’ for many creatures in our garden, too.  From deer munching a favorite blooming Hydrangea and goldfinches grabbing a few ripening Basil seeds, to finding rabbits had eaten some vines out of pots at the Botanical Garden; I’ve been coming across many signs of hungry animals picnicking in the garden.

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I found several very well-fed rabbits picnicking in the Williamsburg Botanical Garden yesterday.

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Our fennel is hosting these beautiful black swallowtail cats this week.  It won’t be long before they retire to their chrysalides, only to emerge later in July as beautiful butterflies.  We can hope to host three generations of swallowtails a year here in coastal Virginia.

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I think of the butterflies, birds, and other creatures as our garden ‘guests,’ and plant the garden with a thought to their comfort and feeding.  I’m so delighted to spot a hummingbird on a blossom, hear the bees in the shrubs, watch a dragonfly sparkling in the sunshine, or hear the birds call to one another in the trees.

Ours is a wildlife garden, which is what it needs to be here in our wooded neighborhood.

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One of our cats noshing the fennel on Friday evening.  He certainly has grown over the weekend!

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We are glad to provide host plants, nectar plants, water and shelter for the many creatures that share the garden with us.  The fennel and parsley will soon grow new leaves to replace those grazed by the cats.

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Our butterfly species are dwindling. We can all lend a hand to help protect them and increase their chances of survival, so that our children and grandchildren will still enjoy the magic of watching them in their own future gardens, too.

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There are many butterflies and moths native to Virginia and all of them are currently in decline. We have a network of dedicated butterfly enthusiasts in our area who rescue and raise cats, releasing the butterflies into the wild as they emerge. By protecting the butterfly larvae, they help insure that more individuals make it to the adult butterfly stage, mate, and increase the population.  This black swallowtail was released in our garden by a friend in mid-April. We hope to host many, many generations of its young.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Wildlife Wednesday: Eastern Black Swallowtail Cats

Eastern Black Swallowtail larvae feast on our bronze fennel.

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Hummingbirds are much smarter than we want to consider.  They would have to be.  How else would they know to buzz in for a sip of nectar when my camera is out of reach?

The first of the morning zoomed by to visit a basket Verbena and Lantana flowers warmed by early morning sunshine on our deck.  I’d gone out with the cat to water first thing, before the day’s heat had a chance to build.

Even had I brought the camera out with me, the little guys would have likely buzzed away again before I could even turn it on.  They are independent minded like that!

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I heard their comings and goings a bit later in the garden.  My attention was focused on some late season planting and mixing up snacks of fish emulsion for the pots, and I was too busy to fumble off my gloves and pull the camera from my pocket.

The hummers could care less; they were systematically sampling the morning’s offerings of nectar.

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It was early afternoon when I realized they weren’t as innocent as I’d assumed.  My partner and I were headed out on errands.  Two hummers lingered at the top of the drive, as though to wave us ‘Good-bye.’

One lit on a branch to watch the car pull away while the other made a dash for the Lantana patch that grows by the street.  Their message was clear: they would watch over the place while we were away.

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A female Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly enjoyed nectar from Lantana last Sunday afternoon.

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A new friend asked me over the weekend whether I photograph many birds.  Questions like this leave me a bit on the defensive.  I’m not much good with birds, especially with hummingbirds.

I’ve taken maybe five good photos of hummingbirds over the past several years.  They always seem to take off before I can get my camera out and on and focused on them.  They seem to have a sixth sense about when I’m paying attention to them, and quickly lift up and away.

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A tiny blue dragonfly paused long enough for a capture

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Maybe I should set an intention to capture more bird photos in the weeks ahead.  The big ones, like eagles and herons are slow and patient enough for me.  I’m always happy to snap their portraits.  It’s the fast little ones that I’ve not yet learned to charm into posing.

So now you know the real reason why I’m thinking and writing about hummingbirds, while sharing photographs today of caterpillars.

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Caterpillars make easy targets for a novice wildlife photographer.  They are so entirely focused on stripping the vegetation from the fennel that they pay me and my curious camera no mind.

These beauties are Eastern Black Swallowtail larvae, and they enjoy a variety of host plants related to herbs in the carrot family.  They love parsley and dill, fennel, Queen Anne’s lace, and wild parsnip.  I counted four individuals on a single fennel plant this afternoon, after finding only a single cat munching away yesterday.

Eastern Black Swallowtails may produce three generations over our long summer.  Depending on the weather and the host plants, an individual may develop from egg to adult in 40-60 days.  The final generation of the summer may overwinter here as a pupae.  This beautiful butterfly may be found in Eastern and Central North America from Southern Canada south to Northern Mexico.

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We don’t mind them munching the herbs.  We plant the herbs in hopes of attracting them and keeping them returning to our garden.  Besides, the herbs are tough, and will send out new growth so long as we keep them hydrated.

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How many cats can you spot on the fennel?  They blend in very well.

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That may sound like a strange thing for a gardener to say.  But as much as I admire the beautiful plants in our garden, it feels very lonely and empty without the hum and buzz and movement of the many animals who share it with us.   The garden is like a living stage; and it’s the animals, even the insects, who bring the drama to life.

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“The future of wildlife and the habitat
that they depend on is being destroyed.
It is time to make nature and all the beauty living within it
our priority
.
Paul Oxton

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Our hummers love this Salvia ‘Black and Blue.’  Goldfinches love the black eyed Susans.

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We’re willing to sacrifice the herbs in hopes of enjoying the butterfly adults!  We plant lots of nectar plants to occupy the butterflies (and hummingbirds) while we enjoy them.

That said, I couldn’t find a single butterfly when I was out with the camera in late afternoon.  My partner said he saw a big yellow Tiger Swallowtail, that I missed.

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A male Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoying the Joe Pye Weed last week.

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The best I could capture on this Wild Life Wednesday was a tiny dragonfly, a large bumblebee, some unknown bugs on an Iris seedpod, and this family of swallowtail cats.

That’s OK.  I know they’re out there, and that means the garden is a refuge and delight for many amazing species.

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Native Hibiscus will open to welcome all hungry pollinators tomorrow morning!

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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“If you are not filled with overflowing love,
compassion and goodwill for all creatures living wild in nature,
You will never know true happiness.”
 .
Paul Oxton

Doing Little Bits

VAriegated Lemon Thyme will hold part of the bank with its dense foliage and roots.

Variegated Lemon Thyme will hold part of the bank with its dense foliage and roots.

Today has been another day of weeding, spreading compost, planting, and delighting in bits of perennial poking up through the warming soil.

Each newly emerging Echinacea, Monarda, and Comfrey merits a quiet celebration that winter is behind us now, and spring unfolding.

Comfrey leaves emerge from an herb bed.  Their leaves are medicinal, and their flowers area great favorite with both bees and butterflies.  Several of these will be transplanted soon.  Comfrey spreads with underground stems.

Comfrey leaves emerge from an herb bed. Their leaves are medicinal, and their flowers area great favorite with both bees and butterflies. Several of these will be transplanted soon. Comfrey spreads with underground stems.

Finding a dead looking stick poking out of the Earth, with a small cluster of dark green leaves emerging at its base, brings quiet satisfaction that another hardy plant has survived to grow for another summer.

Once these little bits of green emerge, they grow so very quickly.  The change is apparent from day to day, as they grow, branch, and set buds for another season.

I worked today on some informal herb and perennial beds terraced on the slope behind our butterfly and hummingbird garden.  Several large Lilac shrubs, just opening their flowers, anchor these long narrow beds.

Our Josee lilacs rebloom several times during the summer.  This potted one will move out to the garden after it blooms.  Several others just like it anchor the beds on our hillside.

Our Josee lilacs rebloom several times during the summer.   This potted one will move out to the garden after it blooms. Several others just like it anchor the beds on our hillside.

I’ve been digging them into the hillside bit by bit over the last few years, planting sturdy shrubs, iris, and herbs whose roots will hold this hillside in place and whose blooms will attract every butterfly in the county.

Now I’m hoping to find some milkweed plants to work into this area as hosts for Monarch butterflies.  There is already bronze fennel growing.

Bronze fennel is an important host plant for swallowtail butterflies.  This newly emerged herb will grow to 4' or more tall by lae summer.

Bronze fennel is an important host plant for swallowtail butterflies. This newly emerged herb will grow to 4′ or more tall by late summer.

I’ve planted additional parsley this year, and I broadcast dill seeds last year.  Although many butterflies lay their eggs on hardwood trees, like the Tulip Poplar, parsley, dill,and fennel host the swallowtail butterflies which animate our garden for months each summer.

Parsley for the butterflies.

Parsley for the butterflies.

Host plants are a very important part of any butterfly garden and help insure that our butterfly populations are maintained or increased year to year.

Now, as we are adding plants for the new season, is an important time to consider how our  choice of plants can  contribute to the health of our environment.

This catmint can be divided into several clumps and replanted on the hillside.  A hardy perennial, like any mint, it will spread to cover large areas.  Bees love its blue flowers.

This catmint can be divided into several clumps and replanted on the hillside. A hardy perennial, like any mint, it will spread to cover large areas. Bees love its blue flowers.

My partner and I have been keenly interested in the data on climate change released by the UN over this past weekend.  The amount of carbon dioxide in the air we breathe is higher now than it has ever been in the last 800,000 years.

Carbon in the atmosphere contributes to our planet’s rising surface temperature.  An increase of only two degrees Celsius will re-shape our landmasses as coastal areas flood.

Another culinary sage, or Salvial officinalis.  This purple cultivar is especially hardy and easy to grow.

Another culinary sage, or Salvial officinalis. This purple cultivar is especially hardy and easy to grow.

Although the problem is vast, and will take planet wide cooperation to fully address, each of us can do a little bit to help.  If all of us will do a little bit, then all of us together can make a tremendous positive difference.

All plant life, from algae growing in a pond to the beautiful Cedars of Lebanon, continuously draw carbon out of the air.

I found this patch of Monarda emerging today.  Its flowers will be covered in bees and butterflies for several months this summer.

I found this patch of Monarda emerging today. Its flowers will be covered in bees and butterflies for several months this summer.

The basic process of creating food from sunlight requires carbon dioxide and water.  Plants convert these compounds into sugar, storing the sugar in each and every cell.  The  products of this process are pure oxygen and water vapor.

This means that everything we plant, whether a tree  or a marigold flower, will help scrub carbon dioxide out of the air;while producing pure oxygen for us to breathe.  Isn’t this an elegant plan?

Lanbs Ears, another hardy perennial, brightens the garden from late winter through autumn.  When it blooms, its purple flowers will be alive with hungry bees.

Lambs Ears, another hardy perennial, brightens the garden from late winter through autumn.  I love its silvery foliage throughout the season.  When it blooms, its purple flowers will be alive with hungry bees.

We lose so many large trees each year.  Some are lost to logging or to clearing land for new shopping centers, roads, neighborhoods, and agriculture.

A male cardinal surveys his garden.

A male cardinal surveys his garden.

Other trees are lost to storms or disease.  If each of us can counterbalance this by planting even one tree each year, it can make a tremendous difference or our environment.

Not only do trees scrub huge amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but they offer cool shade.  Their roots hold the soil against erosion.

April 9 2014 buds 015

Those of us fortunate enough to have land where we can plant trees can certainly add a tree to our yards.  Those without space to plant can contribute to organizations dedicated to rebuilding forests around the world.

Every little action from each of us adds up to a mighty effort towards healing our planet. 

The trees have finally begun to open their leaves in our garden.

The trees have finally begun to open their leaves in our garden.

There are many organizations involved in reforestation.  One particularly interesting one is the  Eden Reforestation Projects.

But today, I wasn’t doing anything so grand as planting a tree.  Rather, I was pulling weeds, building the soil with compost, and planting herbs.

Artemesia is another silvery perennial important in the garden.  Another drought tolerant herb, it shines at twilight.

Artemesia is another silvery perennial important in the garden. Another drought tolerant herb, it shines at twilight.

I planted parsley, sage  and thyme today, and some marigolds.  Every little bit we do makes a difference.

The garden is still looking rather unimpressive.

The little lemon thyme now grows at the base of a fig tree, partnered with a culinary sage,  Salvia officinalis"Berggarten."  The sage will grow to

The little lemon thyme now grows at the base of a fig tree, partnered with a culinary sage, Salvia officinalis”Berggarten.” The sage will grow to about 2′ by late summer.

There are still leaves lying about, and the little wild strawberries would gladly re-take our hillside given the chance.  Their dense mats hold the soil.

The little strawberries they produce feed our birds.  And yes, even the little weedy wild strawberries filter carbon out of the air, and do their little bit to make our planet a better place to live.

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

This hypertufa stepping stone made its debut in the garden today.

This hypertufa stepping stone made its debut in the garden today.

 

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