Slipping Into September

August 29, 2016 Parkway 022

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For an area surrounded by rivers, marshes and creeks, you wouldn’t expect us to need rain so badly.  But we’ve not had even a sprinkle since August 9th, and less than 2″ of rain for the entire month of August.  Forgive me if I’m a little giddy that rain finally fills our weekend forecast, beginning sometime this evening!

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August 29, 2016 Parkway 011

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Never mind that it is a huge tropical system, which will soon cross Northern Florida before slipping up the East Coast, bringing with it all that a tropical system brings.  We watch the Weather Channel, wistfully waiting for those blobs of green on their radar to make their way to our garden.

Hermine is coming, and will bring us the gift of rain….

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The bald Cypress trees are already turning brown and will drop their needles soon. It has been unusually hot this summer, with very little relief from cloudy days or rain.

The bald Cypress trees are already turning brown and will drop their needles soon. It has been unusually hot this summer, with very little relief from cloudy days or afternoon rain.  This is the Chickahominy River at the Southwestern edge of James City County

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Waves of deja vu remind me of all the other Septembers which hold memories of approaching tropical systems.  Just as we’re all celebrating the last long weekend of summer and preparing for school to start the day after Labor Day; we’re also watching the storm clouds gather and making our storm preps.

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August 29, 2016 Parkway 006

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Early September finds us feeling a little anxious and expectant, a little off-balance maybe; as we know that our immediate future remains a bit uncertain.

Only survivors of storms past fully understand this feeling of mixed expectation and dread.  We’ve entered the heart of our Atlantic Hurricane season, school is about to start, and its election year to boot.... There’s enough heartburn for everyone!

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August 29, 2016 Parkway 012

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There were hurricanes and threats of hurricanes many years during the first month of school,  when I was still teaching  school in Tidewater.

Isabel hit on September 18, 2003, when we had been in school for less than 2 weeks.  I was still learning my new students’ names when we had an unplanned ‘vacation’ of more than a week while power was restored, flooding subsided, roads were cleared and repaired, and we slowly returned to our normal routines.

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August 29, 2016 Parkway 014

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It was a tough time on us all, but we managed.  And we grew a little savvier about what to expect from these tropical autumn storms.  Once you’ve experienced the storm and its aftermath once, you take care to stock water and batteries, to keep a little extra food on hand, and to watch the ever-changing forecast.  It’s smart to keep a charge on the cell phone and gas in the car, too!

I still flash back to Isabel whenever I eat a bagel.  I bought 2 dozen bagels early in the day when the storm hit, and we ate bagels and fresh oranges over the next several days while the power was out.

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August 29, 2016 Parkway 004

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But September, like April, brings dramatic and positive change to our garden.  Summer’s heat melts away into cool mornings and comfortable days, when one is happy to stay outside working well into the afternoon.

The sky turns a particular intense shade of blue.  Summer’s haze and humidity blow out to sea in the brisk September winds which bring us the first real hint of autumn.

There is rain.  The trees recover a bit of vitality.  Fall perennials and wildflowers blossom.  Huge pots of Chrysanthemums appear on neighbors’ porches.

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Sweet Autumn Clematis has begun to bloom this week, here near the parking area by the river.

Sweet Autumn Clematis has begun to bloom this week, here near the parking area by the river.

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And the best of summer lingers.  The ginger lilies bloom, filling the garden with their perfume.  More and more butterflies arrive.   We settle into a gentler, milder ‘Indian Summer’ which will linger, and ever so slowly transition into our bright, crisp autumn.

September reinvigorates us, too.  We bring fresh energy to the garden as we plant new shrubs, divide perennials, buy Daffodil bulbs and begin to plan ahead for winter.

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Spider lilies, also called "Hurricane lily" by some, reward my faithful watering with their buds this week.

Spider lilies, also called “Hurricane lily” by some, reward my faithful watering with their buds this week.  These Lycoris radiata come back each year from bulbs in late August and early September.

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Yes, it is September first; and we’re watching a potential hurricane, knowing it might start slipping up the coast, headed towards us and our loved ones within the next couple of days.  We trust that everyone will come through OK, once again.

And we’re also looking past the coming storms towards the rest of September stretching before us, full of beauty and promise.  We’re content to leave summer’s heat behind, and  slip into September once again.

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August 26, 2016 spider 009

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Photos 4, 5 and 6 for Cee’s Oddball Challenge

Woodland Gnome 2016

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August 29, 2016 Spider + Lily 008

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WPC: Rare Beauty

August 20, 2016 Butterflies 010

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Butterflies visit our gardens for just a few weeks of the year.  These delicate, colorful creatures float from flower to flower on warm summer days.  Their presence brings our garden to life. 

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August 20, 2016 Butterflies 005

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Certain butterflies grow more rare, each passing year, in the United States.  The chemical assault on butterflies, at all stages of their life cycle, have decimated their numbers.  Herbicides destroy  their habitat and host plants.  Pesticides, often designed to kill other insects, also kill many adult butterflies and their larvae.

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August 20, 2016 Butterflies 020

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Organic  gardeners can provide an oasis of safety for butterflies to lay their eggs, for their larvae to grow, and for adults to feed along the path of their migration.  We consciously designed a butterfly friendly certified Wildlife Habitat to help support butterflies at all stages of their life cycle.

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August 20, 2016 Butterflies 016

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We plan for the appearance of the first spring butterflies returning from their migration, and have nectar rich flowers blooming to greet them.

We grow  the favored trees, herbs and perennials needed by growing Monarch and swallowtail caterpillars.  And we fill our garden with nectar plants to fuel the adults for their long flight south each autumn.

Lantana, the flowers they are feeding on today, proves their absolute favorite.  Its blooms attract butterflies like no other!  Lantana blooms prolifically until killed by the first heavy frost in early winter.

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August 20, 2016 Butterflies 006

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Swallowtail butterfly beauties, which have grown alarmingly rare in recent years, fill our garden on summer days like today.  I counted at least six individual swallowtails feeding as I worked in the garden this morning.

This makes us happy, to see our garden come alive with butterflies; their flight from flower to flower showing us that all of our gardening efforts have a greater purpose.

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August 20, 2016 Butterflies 021

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As gardeners across the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central and South America each create safe havens for butterflies, and other migrating wildlife, on their own properties; we can hope the butterfly population will recover.

My great dream is that populations of these exquisite creatures will rebound.  Their appearance no longer a sighting of rare beauty…..

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August 20, 2016 Butterflies 014

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Rare

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August 20, 2016 Butterflies 018

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

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August 20, 2016 Butterflies 022

Debut

September 4, 2015 garden 019

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It was at the end of a long, steamy watering and weeding session when I first spotted her.  There she was, vividly bright and different from the other black swallowtail butterflies we’re accustomed to hosting in the garden.

She was feeding on the Lantana, behind me, as I crashed through the shrub border pulling the hose back towards its spot by the house.

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September 4, 2015 garden 018

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At first, I just stopped to watch her; afraid any further movement might startle her away.  But she and her companions kept right on feeding, flower to flower, choosing to ignore my sudden presence.

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September 4, 2015 garden 024

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So I slipped the camera from my pocket, powered it on, and zoomed in for a capture.  She startled, but soon returned, warily continuing her progress from flower to flower in pursuit of warm, sweet nectar.

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September 4, 2015 garden 013~

This is a different species of swallowtail butterfly spotted for the first time today in our garden.  She is the first swallowtail I’ve noticed whose wings carry such vibrant yellow markings and whose body is covered in white polka dots.

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September 4, 2015 garden 016

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I kept following her around the Lantana, trying to capture the perfect photo before she took off again.  My partner thinks there may have been more than one individual of this type after studying the photos.  He may be right.

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September 4, 2015 garden 020

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We’ll continue to try to identify her.  So far the closest I’ve gotten is possibly a Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly.  Many of the photos posted online of the Spicebush Swallowtail show more blue markings, and lack the bright yellow on the wings.  Do you recognize her?  Can you help us identify her?

It is hot here today, and it was time for me to retreat back in to the cool shade of the house.  We’re hoping for rain this afternoon, as the soil is still very dry and many plants look wilted.  Leaves are turning brown and dropping, some ferns disappearing.

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September 4, 2015 garden 021~

As the season marches on towards autumn, we expect to see more butterfly species stop for a while in the garden to feed and rest along their path of migration.  We are watching for the first of the Monarchs to appear one day soon.

But today we enjoyed this beauty, and hope she will perhaps lay a few eggs while she is here.

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September 4, 2015 garden 026~

Woodland Gnome 2015

 

Where Have the Butterflies Gone?

sept. 25, 2013 lanai 003Where have the butterflies gone?  Just in the last few days I’ve noticed their absence.  On Friday I was watching one bigger than a goldfinch feeding on a Zinnia, and suddenly yesterday, I didn’t see any while working in the garden.

And this morning, I read Kim Smith’s beautiful piece on the declining Monarch population.

July 26 butterfly photos 012Our population of Swallowtails has been strong this season.  We’ve had their constant companionship for months.  We often stop to enjoy them as we’re walking past the windows, arriving home in the car, and working in the garden.  They have been a delight- and now are more than missed.

And now this morning, sipping coffee early this morning on the deck, I spy new caterpillars.sept. 25, 2013 lanai 005

What a joy to find them. They are still enjoying the Bronze Fennel I sought so early this spring, hoping for a huge, ferny display all summer.  Well, Andrew Patton ordered it for me when I inquired,  and soon I purchased beautiful healthy plants at Homestead Garden Center.  We planted it in  big pots, alongside Borage, with high hopes.  Somehow, I think that watching generation after generation of these beautiful caterpillars has been even more interesting than a huge Fennel plant might have been; disregarding the fact that they were never able to bloom.

So I’m happy that the Swallowtails found a sanctuary here in our little garden.  We have done our small part here to keep their population healthy and happily growing.

Tiger Swallowtails on Echinacea.

Tiger Swallowtails on Echinacea.

Sadly, the Monarchs are struggling.  The herbicides used by farmers raising GMO crops destroy the host plants Monarchs require to raise their young.  The Milkweed plants are disappearing from the countryside for many reasons- development, spread of the suburbs, and industrial farming.  Each of us can do our small part to assist the Monarchs, along with countless other small wild things, by providing safe habitat and the host plants they require to live.

The stores are full of brightly packaged chemicals to solve every gardening problem, from weeds to mosquitoes.  As more and more of us see past the promise of a quick fix, and understand the implications of using these dangerous chemicals, perhaps we can turn to other,  safer, ways to manage our land and grow our gardens.  The 1960’s promise of “Better Life Through Chemistry” was a hollow promise.  We have poisoned our water, poisoned our land, and now are poisoning ourselves.September 12 Parkway 032

sept. 25, 2013 lanai 002Please keep in mind that we are all interconnected.  All of us are parts of the web of life, sharing this beautiful home hurtling through space.  And we Homo sapiens sapiens, intended to be the wisest of creatures, are the ones who have killed the oceans, filled the aquifers with fracking fluids, cut the forests which purify our air, and are now in process of even destroying our store of seeds for the foods on which we depend through genetic modification to make them immune to herbicides.  As our farmers spray their fields with glyphosate, killing the host plants needed by birds and butterflies; so it also runs off into creeks and ponds, killing insect larvae, frogs, fish, and turtles.

We can not, by ourselves, change industrial farming practices or stop fracking for natural gas.

We can do our own small bit to keep our own garden as a sanctuary free of herbicides, and pesticides; to provide sources of clean water; and grow a few life-giving plants to sustain the creatures who find shelter with us.  As we do to the least among us…. we do to ourselves.

All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

For readers in the Williamsburg, Va area, Homestead Garden Center is committed to organic gardening practices.  All plants they raise in their own greenhouses have been raised with lots of TLC and only organic fertilizers.  If you have visited Homestead, then you know that only organic, environmentally safe fertilizers, fungicides, soil amendments, insect controls,  and other gardening aids are available in their shop for sale.  Everyone in the family is knowledgeable and can help guide you to excellent products to enhance your garden.  They have taught me a thing or three along the way, and I appreciate their expertise in organic gardening methods.  For friends not in Virginia, I hope you can find a garden shop with a staff so knowledgeable and caring.

Tiger Swallowtails on Echinacea, or Purple Coneflower

Tiger Swallowtails on Echinacea, or Purple Coneflower

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