Butterfly Musings

Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly feeding on Lantana

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I took a break from watering the garden Sunday morning to spend some time with the butterflies happily feeding in the late September sunshine.  Their movement enlivens the space as they drift and swoop from flower to flower.

I’m always a bit surprised when one takes off and floats up into the surrounding trees, or across the roof and out of sight.  For all of their apparent fragility, they are surprisingly resilient and tough.

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Judith tells me that the 30 odd Eastern Black Swallowtail cats she adopted from our fennel plants a few weeks ago have all gone into chrysalis now.  She has been feeding them organic parsley as she fattened them up and prepared them for their magnificent metamorphosis.

What a wonderful process to observe.  I can’t wait until they begin to emerge, and at least a few of them ‘come home’ to our garden once again.

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I wonder whether this beautiful swallowtail I photographed Sunday might have been one of the little cats I found on some of our parsley in August.  I just left them be, hoping they would survive to one day fly.

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Living in such close relationship with these beautiful butterflies has transformed my idea of tending a garden.  Now, if I could plant only a single type of flowering plant in summer, I would plant Lantana.  I would plant Lantana because it is such a magnet for butterflies.  They love it, and growing it almost guarantees there will be winged visitors all summer long.

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But beyond planting the best of the nectar plants:  Lantana, Agastache, Buddleia, Hibiscus, Verbena, Zinnia. One also needs to have a selection of host plants.  Yes, butterflies want to eat.  But they really want a home where they can shelter, lay their eggs, and raise their generations.

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Planting host plants implies accepting that the butterfly larvae will eat their leaves.  They may be unsightly for a while.  But that is a reasonable trade-off when one considers that all of those cats have the opportunity to become butterflies.

Please understand that wildlife gardening requires a complete re-thinking of what traditional gardeners assume and expect.  Rather than trying to eliminate insects and their ‘damage,’ we invite and welcome them.  We look after their needs as faithfully as we put out food and water for our cat or dog.

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Black Swallowtail cats enjoy the parsley. Find end of season parsley on sale now. A biennial, it will return next spring.

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Many native trees and shrubs serve as host plants for native butterflies.  If you want to know more about what to plant to host and feed butterflies commonly seen in coastal Virginia, please see the list compiled by the Butterfly Society of Virginia.  Even if you only have space for a flower pot or two, you can enjoy the magic of caterpillars by growing host herbs like parsley, fennel and dill for swallowtails; some milkweed for Monarchs, or even a few native violets.

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Monarch cats on potted Asclepias

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Once we better understand insects, and the crucial role they play in our environment, we come to understand their interrelationships with one another, and with the plants in our garden.  We welcome the many sorts of bees and wasps, feed the butterflies, admire the beetles and listen for the music of the crickets and katydids.

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I’ve found the secret is to plant a tremendous diversity of plants, and plant abundantly, so that what damage there  may be to certain leaves can be overlooked or at least put into context and accepted.

Once one decides to welcome and nurture butterflies, bees, and the many other insects who show up for dinner, it is crucial to abstain from using insecticides and avoid herbicides.  The more one observes, the more one realizes that insects are an intricate part of the web of life.  Birds will turn up to feast on some of them, and their own food webs will develop to keep everything in balance.  Diversity leads to sustainability.

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Wildlife seek shelter, food, water, places to rest and safe places to raise their young.  The more of these our gardens provide, the more we can assist in helping diminished and endangered populations rebound.

Each of us with a bit of land to garden can help restore the web of life so often broken by over development and encroachment on wild spaces.  As if by magic, we find turtles and toads, lizards, many sorts of birds, squirrels, and butterflies sharing our garden with us.

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When the butterflies come home to our garden spaces, we know we have been blessed with their beauty.

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Woodland Gnome 2019
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“I love nature dearly and all creatures
that contribute to make it what it is.
I see the beauty in all expressions of life,
and I see how blind so many of us still are.
Our planet is remarkably abundant
and there’s more than enough for us all.
It is greed and shortsightedness that create the illusion
of scarcity.”
.
Yossi Ghinsberg
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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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Sunday Dinner: Uncertainty

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“Embrace relational uncertainty. It’s called romance.
Embrace spiritual uncertainty. It’s called mystery.
Embrace occupational uncertainty. It’s called destiny.
Embrace emotional uncertainty. It’s called joy.
Embrace intellectual uncertainty. It’s called revelation.”
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Mark Batterson
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“Let go of certainty.
The opposite isn’t uncertainty. It’s openness,
curiosity and a willingness to embrace paradox,
rather than choose up sides.
The ultimate challenge is to accept
ourselves exactly as we are,
but never stop trying to learn and grow.”
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Tony Schwartz
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“As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality,
they are not certain;
and as far as they are certain,
they do not refer to reality.”
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Albert Einstein
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“Have patience with everything
that remains unsolved in your heart.
…live in the question.”
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Rainer Maria Rilke
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“You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”
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Max Ehrmann
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018
*  *  *
“Everything you’ve learned in school as “obvious”
becomes less and less obvious
as you begin to study the universe.
For example, there are no solids in the universe.
There’s not even a suggestion of a solid.
There are no absolute continuums.
There are no surfaces.
There are no straight lines.”
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R. Buckminster Fuller

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“There are souls in this world
which have the gift of finding joy everywhere
and of leaving it behind them when they go.”
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Frederick William Faber
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How many insects can you count on the Joe Pye Weed today?

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“So what do we do? Anything. Something.
So long as we just don’t sit there.
If we screw it up, start over.
Try something else.
If we wait until we’ve satisfied all the uncertainties,
it may be too late.”
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Lee Iacocca
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WPC: Creepy

August 15, 2015 Garden visit 006~

Inspired by The Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge: Creepy

Photo by Woodland Gnome 2015

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