Six on Saturday: Elegance

Peruvian daffodil, Hymenocallis festalis

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A gift of bulbs this spring from a gardening friend finally unfolded yesterday into unexpected elegance.

A catalog photograph simply doesn’t convey the intricate beauty of these members of the Amaryllis family called ‘Peruvian daffodils.’  Native in South America and hardy only to Zone 8, their large bulbs quickly sent up Amaryllis style robust leaves and an Amaryllis style bloom stalk, topped with multiple tight buds.  I am enjoying the show as bud after bud unfolds to reveal its beauty.

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Dry summer heat has finally given way to cooling rains.  I watched newly planted starts wilting under the unrelenting sun earlier in the week, and I’m relieved to see them reinvigorated and growing again after a series of thunderstorms and a welcome cold front brought us relief from the heat.  We nearly broke the record set in 2018 for hottest May since weather data has been recorded.  We only missed it here by a hair.

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Zantedeschia ‘White Giant’ with buds of Daucus carota and Nepeta

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And so I wasn’t surprise to notice the first white buds opening on crape myrtle trees planted along the road yesterday morning.  I noted that this is the earliest I’ve seen crape myrtles bloom, as they normally wait until at least mid-June to appear.  And then I noticed one of our new hybrid crapes last evening, the first pink fluffy flowers open in its crown.

Crape myrtles are beautiful trees in our region, one of the pleasures of summer that blooms for a hundred days or more until early fall.  They love heat, tolerate drought once established, and grow into tidy, elegant trees with interesting bark and form.  I love our crapes as much in winter for their form as I do in summer for their flowers.

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Butterflies love crape myrtles for their nectar, but not as much as butterflies love Verbena.

We’ve had a strong population of Zebra Swallowtail butterflies this month and they are found most often sipping from the Verbena bonariensis, both in our own forest garden and at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.  I’ve photographed them sipping nectar in both gardens this week.

Yes, we’re also seeing Tiger Swallowtails, Spicebush Swallowtails and Painted Ladies, along with other smaller butterflies.  We are delighted with how many individuals we are spotting around the area this year.  The efforts of so many area gardeners to provide host as well as nectar plants, and to create safe spaces for them to grow, is showing beautiful results.

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Our garden continues filling up with newly blooming flowers as summer’s heat builds and the days grow longer.  We are only a few weeks away from Summer Soltice now.

Each plant in the garden unfolds and grows with its own unique elegance, filling its niche; offering up its botanical gifts with nature’s boundless generosity.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator.

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Wild Life Wednesday: A Feast for Butterflies

A Silver Spotted Skipper enjoys Verbena bonariensis in our garden.

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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.

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A Zebra Swallowtail takes flight as the female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoys her Agastache nectar at the Heath’s Bulb Shop garden in Gloucester today.

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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.

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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.

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A hummingbird moth shares the nectar with the Zebra Swallowtail butterflies.

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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?

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An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoys Agastache ‘Rosey Posey’ at the Heath family gardens at their Bulb Shop.

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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.’ 

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A water feature at Brent and Becky’s Bulb Shop in Gloucester, VA.

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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.

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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?

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This female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail feeds on Buddleia in our garden.

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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.

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The female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly is dimorphic.  It can be either yellow or black. Watch when the sun shines through the wings of the black form. She can be identified because the tiger stripes are still visible with the wing illuminated from behind.  Females always have blue on their hindwings, and the males are solidly yellow with black markings.  This female feeds on Lantana in our garden.

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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! 

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A female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail feeds on V. bonariensis in our garden.  Do you see the darker stripes on her upper wings?

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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.

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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.

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Chives

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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.

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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.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

*  *

“To Taoism that which is absolutely still or absolutely perfect is absolutely dead,
for without the possibility of growth and change
there can be no Tao.
In reality there is nothing in the universe
which is completely perfect or completely still;
it is only in the minds of men
that such concepts exist.”
.
Alan W. Watts

Sunday Dinner: Generosity

Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly on Lantana ‘Chapel Hill Gold’

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“We need to spread more seeds
and fill this Planet with love
to be surrounded by flowers just everywhere!
It starts by simply opening up
our hearts and hands to one another.
It’s in simple things
where true Happiness may flourish.”
.
Ana Claudia Antunes
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“Generosity is the most natural outward expression
of an inner attitude of compassion and loving-kindness.”
.
Dalai Lama XIV
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Pearl Crescent butterfly on Zinnia

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“You give but little when you give of your possessions.
It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”
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Kahlil Gibran
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Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on butterfly bush

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“The wise man does not lay up his own treasures.
The more he gives to others,
the more he has for his own.”
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Lao Tzu
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“In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying
to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives.
In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender
before the miraculous scope of human generosity
and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely,
for as long as we have voices.”
.
Elizabeth Gilbert
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Photos by Woodland Gnome
at The Williamsburg Botanical Garden

Enjoy the 4th Annual Butterfly Festival and Plant Sale 

August 4 & 5  free admission
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“Silence the angry man with love.
Silence the ill-natured man with kindness.
Silence the miser with generosity.
Silence the liar with truth.”
.
Gautama Buddha
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Zebra Swallowtail butterfly on Lantana

First of June

Bumbly on Verbena bonariensis

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The first Crepe Myrtle blossoms have opened on median strip trees near our home.  It surprised me to see their pink fluffiness in the upper reaches of these trees which so recently sported only bare branches.

It still feels like witnessing a miracle to watch the annual progression of leaf and blossom, a miracle which still thrills me.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea, showing the first tint of pink in its blossoms.

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I was chasing two does out of our garden this afternoon, when I noticed a new soft blueness from the corner of my eye.  Looking more closely, freshly opened mop-head Hydrangea flowers came into focus in the depths of our shrub border.  These were well hidden, out of reach of hungry mouths scavenging for any greenery not lately coated in Repels-All.

The nearby buds of a  R. ‘John Paul II’ were gone.  We’ve had days of rain lately, so no use worrying too much over what’s been nabbed.  We’ve done our best.

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Our flowering carrots have proven very satisfying.

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But my day’s ‘to-do’ list is still not done.  I’ll head back out to the garden at dusk to spread what’s left of our bag of MilorganiteMaybe that will discourage further trespass.

It’s impossible to remain grumpy for long, when in the garden.  For every hoof print or buzzing bitey, there are a dozen newly opened flowers to enjoy.

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We stopped to enjoy this Zebra Swallowtail feeding on milkweed while in Gloucester yesterday.

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It is fabulous to watch our summer garden finally unfold.  The first Canna flowers opened today, too, and the first vibrant spikes of Liatris are showing color.  Everywhere I look, there is something new to discover and to enjoy.

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First Liatris flower from the bulbs we planted this spring.  Pollinators enjoy these, too.  The feast is spread; where are our butterflies?

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We celebrated this turning towards summer yesterday with a day trip to  Gloucester.  It is a beautiful drive, first of all, along the Colonial Parkway and over the Coleman Bridge.  The York River was alive with small craft.  There’s an active Osprey nest nestled into the bridge’s structure above the control booth, and I always watch for a glimpse of mother or chicks.

We visited at the Bulb Shop and spent a while meditating on the new season’s growth in the Heath’s display gardens.  I’m always studying how they assemble groupings of plants, looking for fresh ideas.

But I was distracted at the Heron Pond, photographing their newly opened water lily blossoms.  There is so much to see, so much to learn, and so much to enjoy.

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Now that their summer stock is marked down by half, I took advantage of the opportunity to try a few new perennials.  I’ll be planting our first ever Kniphofia.  I don’t know how to pronounce it, so we’ll just call them ‘Red Hot Pokers’ and you’ll know what I mean.  This is another perennial I admire growing in huge clumps near the Pacific beaches in Oregon.  Pollinators and butterflies love them , and so I plan to plant a clump in our front garden to see how we like them.

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Daucus carota

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Other than moving the remaining Caladiums out to the garden, our spring planting is about finished.  Now comes the joy of it all, as we sit back and enjoy watching everything grow; and enjoy, even more, sharing it with friends who stop by for a leisurely summer-time visit.

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Calla lily, or Zantedeschia, with Black eyed Susans nearly ready to bloom and starts of Obedient plant given to us by a friend. 

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Woodland Gnome 2017
.
“Bees do have a smell, you know,
and if they don’t they should,
for their feet are dusted
with spices from a million flowers.”

.
Ray Bradbury
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Allium

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

Wordless Wednesday: Pollinators

June 17, 2015 pollinators 013

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“Not a single bee has ever sent you an invoice.

And that is part of the problem –

because most of what comes to us from nature is free,

because it is not invoiced, because it is not priced,

because it is not traded in markets,

we tend to ignore it.”

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Pavan Sukhdev, United Nations report, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity. 

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June 17, 2015 bees 034

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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June 17, 2015 bees 033~

Pollinator Week June 15-21, 2015  http://www.pollinator.org

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June 17, 2015 pollinators 002

Remembering Summer

Purple sage with onion.  This experiment in repelling deer from this bed was a total success.

Purple sage with geranium and  onion. This experiment in repelling deer from this bed was a total success.

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The last day of January came clear, bright, windy and cold in our garden today.  The sun rose earlier than it has in months, heralded by birds calling to each other before its first rays poured in through the windows.

Today was the sort of day when I found myself standing near the sunniest of the windows looking out into the garden with longing, and pondering the tiniest bits of vibrant new growth on our many potted plants indoors.

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Rose of SHaron in its first blush of blooms last summer.

Rose of Sharon in its first blush of blooms last summer.

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Spring is definitely on its way.  I found two sprouted flower bulbs in a small sack on the kitchen counter.  They’ve been there for at least two months, waiting for action to break through procrastination to get them into a bit of soil.  Today was the day as I tucked them both into a 6″ pot and left it nestled among the hanging baskets growing through this very cold winter in the garage.

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Canna

Canna

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The stack of gardening catalogs grows on the living room table.  Our first order of seeds arrived in yesterday’s mail; a dozen packets of promise and hope.

I ventured out into the garden today, for the first time since gathering flowers on Monday, to walk the site where I’m dreaming of building a new raised bed.  This has been a bizarre cough syrup fueled week of recovery from a nasty bug picked up in early January.  Our efforts to stay warm, hydrated and medicated may or may not be paying off.

So I distract myself in those rare bursts of energy with reading gardening books and catalogs.  Today I sketched a first draft of a raised bed featuring herbs, flowers and a few perennial vegetables for our table.

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June 30, 2014 butterfly 009

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I was a little put-off by Amazon’s only listing for Egyptian Walking Onions.  Their one offering was listed at over $3000.00.  A misprint, I hope?  Let’s Not find out…. I found another site offering about eight varieties of Alium X Proliferum, the formal name for these self-replicating beauties, and a much better price.  Too bad all but one variety have already sold out for the season.  To order, or not?  That is tonight’s question.

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Calla

Calla

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And that is all given as a weak excuse for tonight’s post.  The best I’ve been able to muster today is a retrospective of photos taken in the garden at the end of last June, six months ago, today.  I hope you take as much pleasure in this brief remembrance of early summer as I have.

It reminds me that January is always balanced by June, and that our garden is already bursting with beauty whether that new dreamed of bed finds its way into back garden reality this spring, or not.

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Hibiscus

Hibiscus

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And the intense sunshine bathing our home in light today made us both a bit more energetic and optimistic.  It reminds us that although we still have a few months of winter ahead, we have definitely turned the corner towards spring and the promise of renewal and growth.

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June 30, 2014 butterfly 015

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Have You Met Lantana?

A Zebra Swallowtail enjoying Lantana, right outside our front door.  This Lantana is from the "Carolina" series, and tops 6' tall by September.

A Zebra Swallowtail enjoying Lantana, right outside our front door. This Lantana is from the “Bandana” series, and tops 6′ tall by September.

 

Have you met Lantana?

This is a tough, beautiful plant you will want to grow if you enjoy watching hummingbirds and butterflies.

Once it comes into bloom, generally in late May for us, it remains absolutely covered in flowers until it is killed by a heavy frost.

And each of those flowers is made up of dozens of little nectar filled cups.

 

july 25, 2014 beach 069

Beloved by hummingbirds and every species of butterfly which visits our garden, our clumps of Lantana offer us hours of entertainment, as we watch the traffic come and go from sunrise until dusk.

Even better, each little flower develops a little round fruit.  And songbirds love these little fruits.

Nothing is wasted!

july 25, 2014 beach 058

I gave my parents a potted yellow Lantana several weeks ago, which they placed on a patio table visible from their kitchen window.

I watched a beautiful green hummingbird ecstatically feed from their plant today, totally ignoring their “feeder” hanging 10 feet away.  Hummingbirds know the difference between birdie “Kool Aid” and the real deal.

Given the choice, would you have your lunch at Red Lobster or Dairy Queen?

 

july 25, 2014 beach 065

Here is a detailed post about growing Lantana, written about this time last year.  Please take a look if you haven’t had the fun of growing this amazing plant yet.

Lantana is drought tolerant, easy to establish, colorful, healthy, and has been reliably hardy for us.  They come in a fairly wide range of colors.

If you live in Zone 6 or further north, you can keep it indoors in a pot overwinter, or simply treat it like an annual.

These are not expensive plants.  I generally pay about $4.oo for a 4″ Lantana plant during spring annual season at the garden center.  A very small investment, for five to six months of color and entertainment, and the promise of many more years to come.

If you have not yet met Lantana, I invite you to get acquainted sometime soon.

Lantana wrapped with a Morning Glory vine.

Lantana wrapped with a Morning Glory vine.

 Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Establishing your own butterfly and hummingbird garden; Forest Garden 2013

The Butterfly Ballet

Zebra Swallowtail on Lantana

Zebra Swallowtail on Lantana

The stage is set.  A symphony of birds and frogs fills the garden with song.

Now we watch for the flying ballet of butterflies and hummingbirds to begin their annual performance.

June 30, 2014 butterfly 009

This lone Zebra Swallowtail visited the Lantana yesterday morning as I watered the garden.

We’ve spotted her a few times over the last few days, and I was happy to find her close enough to share photos with you.

June 30, 2014 butterfly 004

Our butterflies frequently visit Lantana, Hibiscus,  and the Butterfly Tree ready to bloom near the ravine.

Tree Hibiscus, Rose of Sharon

Tree Hibiscus, Rose of Sharon, a favorite of our swallowtails.

 

Our Joe Pye Weed opened its first blossom yesterday, and we have several patches of Salvia in bloom.

 

Hibiscus, "Kopper King" opening its first bloom this season.

Hibiscus, “Kopper King” opening its first bloom this season.

July and August find our garden full of butterflies.

We hope these luscious Canna blossoms will entice the hummingbirds.

We hope these luscious Canna blossoms will entice the hummingbirds.

Let the show begin!  The audience is filled with anticipation. . .

 

June 30, 2014 butterfly 002

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

June 30, 2014 butterfly 006

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