“Butterflies can’t see their wings.
They can’t see how truly beautiful they are,
but everyone else can.
People are like that as well.”
Tips, tricks, and tools for gardening in a forest community
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.’
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Woodland Gnome 2018
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Posted in animals, Bees, Hummingbirds, Butterflies, and Dragonflies, butterflies, butterfly photos, Garden Tapestry, Gardening in Williamsburg, Nature art, Nature Photography, Perennials, Photography, Plant photos, Plants which attract butterflies, Plants which attract pollinating insects, Summer Garden, Wildlife gardening
Tags: Agastache, Brent and Becky Heath's display gardens, Buddleia davidii, Butterfly garden, Butterfly photos, butterfly plants, Easter Tiger Swallowtail butterfly, Encouragement, Forest Garden, Herbs, Lantana, monarch butterfly, Pollinator Portraits, Silver Spotted Skipper butterfly, wabi sabi, Wild Life Wednesday, wildlife gardening, Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly
Posted in butterflies, butterfly photos, Garden Tapestry, Gardening addiction, Gardening in Williamsburg, Nature Photography, Perennials, Perma-culture, Photography, Plant photos, Silent Sunday, Sunday Dinner, Use of Native Plants, Wildlife gardening
Tags: Autumn Garden, Butterfly garden, Butterfly photos, Flower photographs, Forest Garden, Garden photography, Gardening addiction, Gardening in Williamsburg, Lantana, monarch butterfly, Nature Photography, Pineapple Sage, Silent Sunday, Solidago, Sunday Dinner: Brightness, wildlife gardening
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.
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.
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.
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.
Posted in animals, Bees, Hummingbirds, Butterflies, and Dragonflies, Blossom, butterfly photos, Encouragement, Environmental Preservation, Flower Gardening, flower photos, Garden Tapestry, Gardening in Williamsburg, Lantana, Monarch butterfly, Nature Photography, Perma Culture, Perma-culture, Photography, Wildlife gardening, Zone 7B Cultural Information
Tags: Blossom, Butterfly garden, Butterfly photos, butterfly plants, Flower photographs, Gardening in Williamsburg, Lantana, monarch butterfly, Nature Photography, Perma-culture, Photography, Summer garden, wildlife gardening
We have been watching for a Monarch butterfly to visit our garden for the last several weeks.
We still have Yellow Sulphurs and Painted Ladies. But most of the Swallowtails took off before our storms. We miss them. The garden has felt quite lonely and empty without them flying around.
But we started spotting Monarch butterflies on our errands this morning. We saw them hovering over flowering shrubs at the shopping center. We saw them flying about near the Colonial Parkway. When would one turn up at home, we wondered?
And then at dusk, as I was bringing a pumpkin around to set on the front porch, I spotted our first Monarch butterfly of October, feeding on the Lantana in our front garden. What a thrill! After the joy of simply watching it for a while, I quietly retreated back inside to tell my partner about our visitor, and to grab my camera.
Wondering whether our Monarch would still be around when I returned, I powered up the camera and quietly approached the Lantana again. And yes, our visitor was enjoying the feast too much to mind my presence. I was happily snapping photos as my partner approached, watching from a distance.
Maybe it was the socks…. Today I chose a pair of Monarch butterfly socks my partner had given me in late August. All stages of a Monarch’s life from egg to adult are woven into these wonderful socks, which we found in the shop at Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester. I pulled them on this morning hoping to soon finding Monarchs visiting us on their fall migration.
Now that the storms have passed, and clear cool days have brought a new freshness and vitality to our garden, we observe renewed activity from birds devouring ripening berries and bees enjoying Goldenrod and autumn Salvias.
And now our garden has finally hosted the long awaited royal visitor: a lone Monarch butterfly feeding in our garden as it travels to warmer destinations further south. We hope this is the first Monarch of many who find our garden this month. We hope to find it alive again with the flutter of brilliant wings, as they taste each blossom filled with sweet autumn nectar.
Posted in Autumn Garden, butterflies, butterfly photos, Color, Environmental Preservation, Gardening addiction, Lantana, Monarch butterfly, Nature Photography, Perennials, Perma Culture, Zone 7B Cultural Information
Orange does liven things up a bit. Its warmth and energy feel like the perfect foil for the icy garden outside our windows.
Just as orange juice brightens up a wintery morning, so a collection of orange photos might make us all feel a bit warmer as we close out this first full week of March.
When I think of orange, I think of October.
Today’s collection of photos, all from October of 2014, take us back to butterflies and roses; leaves changing color on the trees and warm autumn sunsets.
I hope you will soak up a little of their warmth as you enjoy this photographic retrospective.
Posted in animals, Autumn Garden, butterfly photos, Color, Gardening addiction, Gardening in Williamsburg, Lantana, Monarch butterfly, Nature art, Nature Photography, Orbs of light in the garden, Painted Lady Butterfly, Photo Challenge, Plant photos, Plants which attract butterflies, Plants which attract hummingbirds, Plants which feed birds, Roses, Sunset, Trees, Weekly Photo Challenge, Wildlife gardening
Tags: Autumn color, Autumn gardening, autumn roses, Butterfly photos, Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge: Orange, Forest Garden, monarch butterfly, Nature Photography, Painted Lady Butterfly, postaday, Trees in autumn, wildlife gardening
After a summer spent watching for butterflies, we celebrate each one which crosses our path this October.
I say, “Crossing our path” intentionally. We cringed each time a Monarch came fluttering towards the windshield as we drove along the Colonial Parkway this weekend.
We believe they all survived, carried in the wind over the roof of our car and safely on their journey.
Often, as I stopped to take photos, familiar orange and black wings lit somewhere nearby.
Monarchs and Painted Ladies delight us as they flutter around our garden on these warm, late October afternoons.
Paging through the new “Winter” issue of Arts and Crafts Homes, I was a little surprised to see a photo of Monarch butterflies crowded on an evergreen branch. Since the butterfly is a common motif in “Arts and Crafts” decor, the decline in our butterfly population rated an article even here.
Artist Amy Miller is raising Monarch butterflies in her kitchen!
The article explains how Amy set up a “mating tent” made of mosquito netting in her home, stocked with nectar flowers and fresh milkweed. Amy brings pairs of butterflies to the tent, releasing the males back into the wild after mating. Females are kept until they lay their eggs on the milkweed.
Amy carefully raises the caterpillars until mature butterflies emerge. Thus far, Amy has released more than 500 adult monarchs back into the wild. Her 27 acre property along Wisconsin’s Trimbelle River, is a natural habitat for Monarchs.
Also mentioned was fellow blogger Kim Smith, who initiated the Cape Ann Milkweed Project in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Kim distributes milkweed seeds and encourages homeowners to create more habitat for Monarch butterflies.
Kim often blogs about Monarchs and her efforts to support gardeners around the country willing to grow their host plant. Milkweed is the only plant on which Monarch butterflies will lay their eggs. Monarch larvae eat only milkweed as they grow. Often considered a weed, few homeowners include it in their landscape.
As natural areas, and the native plants they support, disappear; and roads, neighborhoods and shopping centers proliferate across the landscape; we see the direct consequences in our dwindling butterfly populations.
Many of us in the blogging community have written about our search for Monarchs and other native butterflies this season.
Many of us share the concern that they haven’t visited our gardens in their usual numbers this summer.
Eliza Waters, another Massachusetts based blogging friend, also documents her efforts to support the Monarch population in her gardens.
Much like Rachel Carson raised the alarm about our native birds in her 1962 Silent Spring, so our generation documents our concerns for the butterflies. Carson’s book launched the environmental movement in the United States, bringing about sweeping changes in our laws; eventually banning DDT and other harmful insecticides and pesticides.
And now, more than 50 years later, we witness a resurgence of the environmental movement inspired, in part, by the loss of our beloved butterflies.
We know that herbicides used in commercial farming, along with over development, play in a major role in the loss of both milkweeds and the nectar flowers Monarchs, and other butterflies, depend upon for their life cycle.
And although this problem appears very large, each of us can do our own small part to make a positive difference.
We can each have our own tiny “Butterfly Effect.” Do you know the term?
Edward Lorenz coined the term in 1961 to describe how one tiny change in the initial conditions of a system may dramatically effect the outcome. It is an axiom of Chaos Theory.
And while we might feel helpless to have much effect against multinational corporations spraying herbicides on their GMO crops, or the energy giants building thousands of miles of new gas pipelines across our communities; we can create a safe and supportive habitat on our own properties for butterflies, frogs, songbirds, and the other beautiful little creatures whose presence indicates a rich web of life in our garden.
We can plant milkweed for the Monarchs. And we can plant fennel, parsley, dill, black cherry trees, and other native trees to host the other butterflies we love.
Even those of us gardening on a condo balcony or patio can grow these simple host and nectar plants in pots.
Every tiny effort makes a positive difference.
We can stop using pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers in our gardens, thus keeping them out of the water supply and out of the food chain.
We can include berry and seed producing shrubs and trees in our garden, and leave some untended “wild” places for creatures to nest and shelter.
And we can support our neighbors in their efforts to create wildlife habitat in their own gardens.
Let us all keep “The Butterfly Effect” in mind. In our seemingly chaotic world, every small act of kindness and goodwill has the potential to make an enormous difference as our story unfolds here on Earth.
Every milkweed seed we nurture may host hundreds of Monarch butterflies.
Every bit of garden we cultivate may feed thousands of creatures.
Posted in animals, Asclepias, Autumn Garden, butterflies, butterfly photos, College Creek, Colonial Parkway, Environmental Preservation, Garden planning, Garden Resources, Gardening addiction, Gardening How-To, Gardening in Williamsburg, Insects, James City Co. VA, Joe Pye Weed, Lantana, Milkweed, Monarch butterfly, Nature art, Painted Lady Butterfly, Perma Culture, Plant photos, Plants which attract butterflies, Plants which attract pollinating insects, Use of Native Plants, Virginia Creeper, Wildflowers, Wildlife gardening, Zone 7B Cultural Information
Monarchs have returned to our garden. In the past three days I’ve seen Monarch butterflies feeding on several different occasions.
The first time wasn’t in our garden at all. It was Sunday afternoon in far western Chesterfield County.
I was driving out towards Amelia, and made a “U” turn to return to a little roadside nursery. There was a small stand of goldenrod growing in the median, and to our delight, a beautiful Monarch was hovering over the goldenrod. I was thrilled to finally see one again after watching for them all summer.
And then this morning, a Monarch flew past our porch, and lit in the upper branches of our pear tree. We watched it until it took off again. We took it as a very good omen.
Especially since my partner had found, and shared with me, an article about cooperative preservation efforts involving Canada, The United States and Mexico in the current Scientific American magazine yesterday morning.
It is always good when our nations cooperate.
To find a high level of dedication and coordination in an effort to save the Monarch butterfly is astounding.
One idea mentioned in the article, which shows a lot of promise, is to establish corridors of native plants, especially milkweed species, along certain north-south interstate highways.
Monarchs need habitat and food all along the way of their annual migration.
This is such a good idea, it begs the question: Why not establish native plant habitat along ALL of our interstate highways?
I know that many states have planted wildflowers and allowed native plants to grow along their highways. To me, this is not only common sense, but also a beautiful approach to highway maintenance.
It certainly makes a trip more interesting for the traveler to have wide swaths of beautiful flowers and trees to enjoy along the roadside.
It helps travelers get a better “sense of place,” too, to see how native vegetation varies form region to region.
But it also would save each Department of Transportation money that in currently spent mowing the roadsides and medians every few weeks.
Our butterfly and songbird populations both would benefit from corridors of native plants all along our major highways.
I hope that efforts to preserve habitat in Mexico, and efforts to curtail the use of insecticides and herbicides in all three nations prove successful.
Efforts to plant more milkweed should be encouraged and supported by individuals and institutions, in addition to government agencies planting milkweed along the roadsides.
We can all make a small effort towards providing a supportive habitat for wildlife and the specific plants our butterflies need to reproduce.
The third Monarch butterfly was feeding on our Lantana when I came out to work in the garden this morning. I was thrilled to find it there, and even happier that it was still blissed out on Lantana nectar when I returned with the camera. It kept peacefully feeding as I joyfully photographed its progress.
When it finally fluttered off, it was to another patch of Lantana a few yards away.
Although Lantana won’t support Monarch larvae, it offers a good food source to fuel the mature Monarchs’ migration this month.
I hope you have recently spotted Monarchs feeding in your community.
October is the time when they gather together for the long trip back to Mexico, where they will spend the winter.
We also hope this winter is gentler to them than last, and that this beautiful species will not only survive, but will respond to our conservation efforts (as many eagles have) and become a common sight in our summer gardens once more.
(All of the links today will take you to interesting and current information on Monarchs and efforts to preserve them.)
Posted in animals, Autumn Garden, butterfly photos, Environmental Preservation, Garden planning, Garden Resources, Gardening addiction, James City Co. VA, Lantana, Monarch butterfly, Native Plants, Nature art, Plant photos, Roses, Use of Native Plants, Wildlife gardening, Zone 7B Cultural Information
We returned to the pond, nestled along the Colonial Parkway between Williamsburg and Yorktown, hoping to find evidence of Monarch caterpillars and eggs.
As soon as we arrived it was evident that summer has not been kind to this spot.
Flowering plants along the edge of the road had been mown. I hope it was just mowing at least, and not herbicides, which turned this once beautiful area brown and grey.
The Alliums, Daisies, Queen Anne’s Lace, Purple Milk Vetch and Milkweed, so vivid in memory, were gone.
In their place we found various grasses, a patch of orange flowers, and Milkweed, now going to seed.
Milkweed plants nearest to the parking area have obviously hosted caterpillars, many of their leaves methodically stripped away.
In fact, we found quite a few caterpillars at their dinner.
We also found a few spots of eggs.
And while we were happy to find eggs and larvae, these are not the eggs and larvae of Monarchs.
I haven’t yet been able to identify this caterpillar, and certainly appreciate anyone who is able to name it for us in the comments.
These caterpillars are drawn to this Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, whether the plant lives or not.
We found perhaps a dozen individual caterpillars while walking around the perimeter of the planting, staying on the mown grassy areas.
The Milkweed plants further away on the slope didn’t show any obvious signs of chewing, although they continue to set seed for next year’s crop.
And we also didn’t spot any adult butterflies around the pond this evening.
My partner spotted a turtle, swimming in the pond, as I hunted for caterpillars. And I enjoyed the company of dragonflies and grasshoppers.
But that was all, late on a late July evening, as shadows grew deeper, and the golden rays of sunset touched the treetops one last time before slipping below the horizon.
Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014
Posted in animals, Asclepias, butterflies, Colonial Parkway, Environmental Preservation, Garden Resources, Gardening addiction, Insects, Native Plants, Nature art, Perma Culture, Perma-culture, Plant photos, Plants which attract butterflies, Plants which attract pollinating insects, Plants which feed birds, Summer Garden, Use of Native Plants, Wildflowers, Wildlife gardening, Yorktown, Zone 7B Cultural Information
We have been corresponding this spring about the plight of the Monarch. She has been involved in creating habitat for them. And she responded to the post with photos of a Monarch we found near Yorktown, Virginia, in late May.
Eliza asked, earlier today, whether we had found any eggs or signs of Monarch larvae on the Milkweed by the pond where we have been watching for butterflies.
So my partner and I returned this evening, to see what we might see.
We found the Milkweed plants just covered in bumblebees, feasting on their tiny flowers just as the flowers were opening. And the bumblebees were so blissed out on the wonderful nectar, they were totally oblivious to my presence.
Just inches away, they continued to feed while I took photos.
But in the entire time we explored, there was only one small butterfly or moth. I don’t know its name, but suspect it is a moth.
Not a single Monarch to be found. And at Eliza’s suggestion, I searched for signs of eggs or larvae on the Milkweed plants.
I”m so sorry to say that I couldn’t locate either. The Milkweed leaves look pristine- no larval munching. I checked the closest Milkweed plants and found no eggs, either.
Perhaps the Monarch did lay her eggs on one of these plants closer to the pond; one I didn’t climb down the bank to inspect. Let us hope that is the case.
And we’ll continue to check back from time to time to see what evidence we may find as the summer unfolds.
Today we were happy to find a brilliant blue dragonfly.
He was quite happy to sit still while I snapped off several portraits of him.
He was watching me, but didn’t even flinch until I moved away. He was a great sport, and I appreciate his patience.
The swans have moved on, too. But we found Egrets wading further down the road.
Early summer brings such a pageant of life to our community.
We enjoy the staccato music of the frogs and the basso continuo buzzing of bees under the melody of birds calling to one another.
So much life, and such beauty.
All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014
Posted in animals, Asclepias, bees, butterflies, Colonial Parkway, Dragonflies, Egret, Environmental Preservation, Gardening addiction, James City Co. VA, Milkweed, Monarch butterfly, Nature art, Perma Culture, Plant photos, Plants which attract butterflies, Plants which attract pollinating insects, Purple Milk Vetch, Use of Native Plants, Wildflowers, Zone 7B Cultural Information