Native Monarda punctata

Monarda punctata in a ceramic vase by local potter Bob Leek.

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If you’re looking for an elegant and unusual native perennial for a sunny spot in your garden, you might enjoy growing Monarda punctata.  Known as horsemint, or spotted bee balm, this very unusual floral display relies on large bracts and tiny, spotted flowers to advertise its nectar.

There are nine different varieties of this very architectural Monarda, having slight variations in color of the bracts and tiny flowers.  Unlike most Monardas, the ‘flowers’ grow in stacks, one group atop the next, surrounded by elegant bracts.  Each long branch, cloaked in narrow, opposite leaves. branches out near the top.  Each branch terminates in its own stack of flower clusters.

Bees of all sorts and hummingbirds are attracted to feed on the plant’s nectar.

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Hardy in Zones 3-8, Monarda punctata is native over most of the Eastern United States from Vermont to Texas.  A member of the mint family, clumps will expand over time.  Start new plants from seed or stem cuttings taken in summer.

I found my plant at the Sassafras Farm booth at the Williamsburg Farmer’s Market, and just planted it out into a permanent spot in the garden a few days ago.  I cut it back a bit this morning , hoping to encourage a new round of fresh flowers.  Who knows, maybe these little cuttings in the vase will throw out some new roots over the week ahead, and I can grow out a few more plants of this beauty.

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I am encouraged to grow more of this Monarda because other Monarda species have done very well for us,  can tolerate some days of dry soil, once established, and they grow in full sun to partial shade.  This is a native herb, and can get along on its own quite nicely without a lot of fuss from a gardener.

I like that, as there are lots of other plants in our garden which need attention, and there are always a few weeds I need to pull as well!

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Monarda’s texture and aroma make it unattractive to deer; another reason I’m happy to grow it!  We cut back our other Monardas after they bloom, and new blooming stems often appear along the main stems to extend the season.  Monarda will die back in autumn, and will disappear entirely over winter.  But it comes back the following spring, larger and with more flowers each passing year.

And we are always happy to welcome Monarda in early summer, knowing we will have a long season of enjoying its fragrance, beauty, and its ability to attract interesting pollinators to our garden.

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Echinacea and Monarda fistulosa prove beautiful native perennials in our area.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Geometry

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What elegant geometry is this,

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that builds itself day by day, cell by cell,

from the common elements of Earth? 

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What innate intelligence puts every leaf,

petal and stem in its proper place? 

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Such perfection bears witness

to the innate beauty of our universe. 

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The Architect knows the structure of every cell,

every atom of existence;

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consciousness permeates all that is or ever will be. 

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As we look ever more closely,

observing the crystallization of energy into matter,

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water into cellulose, thought into form;

we see the Artist’s guiding hand bringing life to all.

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What elegant geometry is this,

growing by the roadside and in the garden;

a joyful expression of aliveness.

 

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Woodland Gnome 2016
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July Remembered…..

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Lantana

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Lantana

Here we are in the second week of February, with another major winter storm sweeping across the United States.  Every weather forecast sounds more dire, with snow projections rising and temperatures dropping.

Our neighbors to the south, across Georgia, and the Carolinas, are bracing for another blow of winter snow and ice, having just dug out from the storm two weeks ago.  Normally temperatures are moderating for us here in the Southeast by mid-February.

But, we still had leftover snow in Williamsburg until today, sulking in shady spots and parking lots.  We have two fresh bags of ice-melt stacked in the garage, ready for what is apparently on its way.

July 5 garden at sunset 009

It is time to remember July.  It is time to dig out photos of summer flowers and butterflies, green, leafy trees and a garden alive with activity.  Spring feels very far away at the moment, and I just need a reminder of what lies ahead.  Perhaps, you do too.

A volunteer sunflower, growing happily in a pot from, feeds a happy bee.

A volunteer sunflower, growing happily in a pot from, feeds a happy bee.

So here are some of my favorite photos from last July.  I hope you enjoy a brief  “summer vacation” as much as I do, even as we shiver through this very frigid February.

Stay warm! 

Hummingbird Moth

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth, Hemaris thysbe.  Notice the curled proboscis which is used to suck nectar from the flower.

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth, Hemaris thysbe. Notice the curled proboscis which is used to suck nectar from the flower.

Have you seen a hummingbird moth this summer?  

This hummingbird moth is enjoying nectar from the flowers of Clerodendrum trichotomum, or Butterfly Tree.  This beautiful tree is covered in butterflies during its period of bloom from July through September each year.

This hummingbird moth is enjoying nectar from the flowers of Clerodendrum trichotomum, or Butterfly Tree. This beautiful tree is covered in butterflies during its period of bloom from July through September each year.

Hummingbird moths dart around from flower to flower exactly like a hummingbird does.  When their movement catches your eye, you think for a moment that you have spotted a tiny hummingbird.  When you look more closely, you notice that the tiny creature hovering over a nectar rich blossom and darting from plant to plant actually has clear wings. 

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This is a good clue that you are observing a moth, not a bird.  Although their profile is similar, the moth is a true insect and has antennae. 

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Hummingbird moths also have a furry covering on their back, much like a bumblebee.  If they stay still long enough for you to see their eyes, you’ll notice the compound eyes of an insect.

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If you’ve ever tried to observe a hummingbird, you know they are very shy.  Although you can eventually begin to work with a hummingbird who visits a feeder,  hummingbirds usually fly away when they sense a human presence.  Hummingbird moths don’t seem to mind having  you close by. 

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They go about their hungry business of visiting flowers without paying much attention to the camera, or the person behind it.

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Hawk moths and sphinx moths  are members of the Sphingidae  family of moths.  These are the fastest flying of all insects.  They have the peculiar ability to hover in flight as they feed.  Hummingbird moths, all of which belong to the genus Hemaris, are considered to be hawk moths.  Since hummingbird moths all have clear wings, they are sometimes called, “clear wing moths”. 

The largest caterpillar I've ever seen is munching my Osmanthus goshiki shrub.  It has been identified by Bostjan Dvorak as Manduca rustica.

The largest caterpillar I’ve ever seen is munching my Osmanthus goshiki shrub. It has been identified by Bostjan Dvorak as Manduca rustica.

The tobacco hornworm caterpillar and tomato hornworm caterpillar will eventually leave their chrysalises  as  the Carolina sphinx moth, and the  five spotted hawk moth, respectively.  Both are able to hover over blossoms as they sip nectar.  Their bodies and wings are mostly brown.

This Snowberry hummingbird moth, Hemeris diffinis, was photographed in my garden this July.

This Snowberry hummingbird moth, Hemeris diffinis, was photographed in my garden this July.

Many of these beautiful members of the Sphingidae family are found in Virginia gardens.  This Hemaris thysbe is the second species of Hemaris I’ve observed in my garden this summer.  I’ve seen them in gardens all over the state.  They especially love perennial gardens full of phlox, butterfly bushes, lilac, and hibiscus.

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Like all moths and butterflies, Hummingbird moths begin life as an egg laid on a leaf.  The egg hatches into a caterpillar, who eats leaves for several weeks before forming a chrysalis.  When you find caterpillars on plants in the garden, please remember the beautiful creatures they will soon become. 

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Tomato hornworm caterpillar, who has cleaned the leaves off of this jalapeno pepper plant. Soon he will be a beautiful sphinx moth.

Although they damage the host plant they’re munching, most plants will soon recover with new growth.   The caterpillar transforms into its beautiful adult form while in the chrysalis, and when it comes out, is ready to fly off in search of nectar.

This hummingbird moth and bumblebee are sharing a Monarda blossom.

This hummingbird moth and bumblebee are sharing a Monarda blossom.

To bring these creatures into your garden, plant the nectar rich flowers they love.     For a list of plants to include in a butterfly garden, click here.  Avoid using insecticides which will poison them.  Avoiding pesticides and herbicides allows wildlife to live in your garden in peace and safety.   Provide areas of trees and dense shrubs where they can rest and lay their eggs.  Your reward will be their presence in your garden for many years to come.

July 5 garden at sunset 008

All photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

Find more on Hummingbird Moths here:

hummingbirdmoth.com

Birds-n-garden

Butterfly Close Ups

More butterfly photos here  and here Butterflies and hummingbird moths need trees and shrubs for shelter.  Most lay their eggs on the upper sides of the leaves of common shade trees.   Although the caterpillars enjoy dill, parsley, Milkweed, Joe Pye Weed, and Butterfly Weed, they most often feed on the leaves of trees.  In … Continue reading

Beautiful Bees and Flutterbys

Bees are always welcome in my garden for their wonderful buzzing and their help in pollination.  We have many different sorts of bees zooming around with the dragonflies, butterflies, and the humming birds.  Here are a few who stayed still long enough for me to get their photos.  The shrub “bones” of this garden are … Continue reading

Creating A Hummingbird and Butterfly Garden

July 2014, an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoys the Echinacea.

July 2014, an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoys the Echinacea.

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Even before buying this home, we were  enchanted by the many butterflies and songbirds darting around from tree to tree  behind the house.  There were trees I couldn’t even name covered in sweet smelling flowers growing in the edge of the ravine, Rose of Sharon bushes behind the house, and a great Mimosa tree covered in silky pink flowers.  Butterflies flew a circuit from one to the next, and bright hummingbirds flew unbelievably close to our windows to get to the huge Rose of Sharon flowers.

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Over that first long winter, I planned for a butterfly and hummingbird garden to bring these bright creatures even closer.  We have been rewarded many times over by the beauty of both the flowers and the birds and insects drawn to them.

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Sages, zinnias, Lantana and roses provide a constant variety of sweet nectar in the butterfly garden.

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By nature, these animals like to stay on the move, and appreciate a variety of different locations where they can feed.  We provide several beds of nectar rich flowers, and also grow pots and baskets of flowers on the deck and patio to attract them close to our windows.  This keeps them well fed and attracts a huge variety of bees, dragonflies, and other insects in addition to the butterflies.

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Buddliea, or Butterfly Bush, attracts lots of attention in the garden and is a generous supplier of nectar.  New compact hybrids are available, but the species can grow quite large and benefits from hard pruning in February.

Buddliea, or Butterfly Bush, attracts lots of attention in the garden and is a generous supplier of nectar. New compact hybrids are available, but the species can grow quite large and benefits from hard pruning in February.

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In addition to food, butterflies and hummingbirds need safe areas to rest and sun themselves and a source of water.  A shallow dish full of sand, gravel, and fresh water serves the butterflies.  Hummingbirds enjoy flying through a gentle spray of water, whether from a fountain or a garden hose.

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Butterfly tree attracts many butterflies and hummingbird moths to the garden.  These grow wild in our neighborhood.

Butterfly tree attracts many butterflies and hummingbird moths to the garden. These grow wild in our neighborhood.

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It is important to use organic products, and avoid poisons, in areas bees, butterflies, and birds frequent. 

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Chives

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There are high quality and affordable products widely available to fertilize and control fungal infections for the plants.  Attracting a wide variety of insects and birds keeps any insect infestations in check.

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Tiger Swallowtail on Joe Pye Weed

Tiger Swallowtail on Joe Pye Weed

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A huge variety of song birds will show up to feast on the many insects attracted to this garden.  Hummingbirds also eat insects.  I frequently find toads, turtles and small lizards in our butterfly gardens feasting on whatever insects crawl or fly past.   Bats visit our garden at dusk, leaving their shelters in the ravine to fly loops over our garden, devouring insects as they fly.  Using poisons of any kind will defeat the purpose of a garden planted to attract wildlife.

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Dill in our garden last July

Dill with Lantana offer an irresistible attraction for butterflies and other small pollinating insects.

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Our butterfly gardens have evolved and grown over our six summers now in this garden.  We have added a greater variety of native perennials like Joe Pye Weed, Milkweed, and hardy native Hibiscus.  We have also planted more herbs and other fragrant plants distasteful to the deer.  We always include herbs which double as host plants, such as fennel, dill and parsley.

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Baskets of Fuschia near the house keep hummingbirds happy.

Baskets of Fuchsia keep hummingbirds happy and frequent visitors.

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We have opened up new gardens in every part of the yard, leaving some natural areas for habitat.  From Crepe Myrtle and Lantana growing at the top of our garden along the street to gardens terraced down the back slope towards the ravine, there are abundant food sources to attract a variety of nectar loving creatures.

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Butterfly bush with native Hibiscus

Butterfly bush with native Hibiscus

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The garden always grows more exciting after the first hummingbird and first butterfly is sighted in the springtime.  It feels very empty when they depart in the autumn.  But for those wonderful months in between, we enjoy exploring the garden each day, watching for these fascinating visitors.

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Red Canna flowers and Hibiscus attract both hummingbirds and pollinating insects, including butterflies.

Red Canna flowers and Hibiscus attract both hummingbirds and pollinating insects, including butterflies.

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Here is a list of some annuals, perennials, herbs, vines, and shrubs I grow to feed and attract hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, dragonflies, and song birds.

Achillea (perennial flower)

A hummingbird moth feeds from our Lantana.

A hummingbird moth feeds from our Lantana.

Basil (annual edible herb)

Buddleia (also, “Butterfly Bush” perennial shrub)

Canna (perennial flower)

Clary Sage (annual herb)

Cleome (annual flower)

Coleus– (annual)

Comfrey (perennial medicinal herb with lavender flowers)

Crepe Myrtle (flowering tree)

This is one of the many Crepe Myrtle trees growing around our garden.

This is one of the many Crepe Myrtle trees growing around our garden.

Echinacea  (perennials flower which attracts butterflies.  The seeds attract goldfinches)

Fuchsias (tender perennial)

Jasmine (flowering vine)

Lavender (perennial edible herb)

Lilac (flowering shrub)

Heliotrope (annual herb)

Hibiscus (perennial or tender perennial shrub, depending on the variety)

Hollyhocks (biennials or perennials)

Coleus

Coleus

Honeysuckle (perennial vine)

Hyacinth Bean (annual vine)

Jasmine (perennial vine, evergreen)

Lantana (annual or tender perennial, depending on the variety, in Zone 7 B)

Marigolds (annual flower)

Mexican Blue Sage (perennial herb)

Milkweed (perennial flower which is also a host plant for Monarch butterflies)

Mimosa (flowering tree)

Monarda (also called Bergamot or Bee Balm.  This is an edible herb)

Moonflower (flowering vine)

Oregano (perennial edible herb)

Parsley (biennial herb, host for caterpillars)

Hardy Hibiscus

Hardy Hibiscus

Pelargonium (any of several types of perennial geraniums)

Pentas (annual flowers)

Petunias (tender perennial flower)

Pineapple Sage (perennial edible herb whose red flowers attract hummingbirds)

Roses (perennial shrub)

Rose of Sharon (flowering shrub)

Rudbeckia (perennial flower)

Salvia (perennial herbs, some are edible)

Yarrow (perennial flower)

Zinnias (annual flower which attracts butterflies.  The seeds attract goldfinches)

Woodland Gnome 2013-2015

 

Mexican Blue Sage and Pineapple sage are the main attraction in the butterfly garden at the end of October.

Mexican Blue Sage and Pineapple sage are the main attraction in the butterfly garden at the end of October.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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