Nature at its best

“I live in the garden; I just sleep in the house.” – Jim Long

Last year we had practically NO RAIN for months on end. Watering our ornamental garden and lawn was prohibited by ordinance. It was a sad situation watching plants suffer with stingy trickles of water saved from rain barrels, from showers, and from our basement de-humidifier. Nothing died but nothing thrived.

We’ve had a delightful change this season. Rain was plentiful in the spring. Plants have rebounded and have skyrocketed. It makes my heart sing to seen healthy plants bursting with blooms all summer. I could hardly tear myself from the garden except to come indoors for the night!

Daisy 'Becky'

Good news: the bees and butterflies are back!  We’ve had weeks of monarchs and a variety of other butterflies flitting around the garden under the summer sun. We plan ahead for wave after wave of blooms on shrubs mainly, followed by summer flowers to sustain the bees and butterflies. Right now the allium and garlic chives are the strongest insect magnets.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Allium.jpg

Male Monarch on allium

White Admiral on Allium

honeybee on garlic chives

We feed the butterflies and bees and we provide hosts for them as much as our small property is able.  Here’s a tiny first Instar black swallowtail caterpillar on parsley.

Black Swallowtail Caterpillar

And after days of feasting, it looks like this in its third instar:

Black..Swallowtail caterpillar

 

With all the turmoil, chaos, and disasters affecting our world, I find gardening and nature to be calming and healing. This small garden of ours gives so much in exchange for so little. It plays an important role giving me great appreciation for the good and beautiful things that still inhabit my life.

 


Creatures great and small

Something has claimed my beach wormwood (Artemisia stelleriana) and I am happy about it. It’s the larva of the American Lady butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis). I see all stages of larva development on the plants but the full-grown caterpillar is a wonder to behold. The one below is almost an inch and a half in length and has rows of bristle-like spines, yellow and black stripes, and red, orange, and white spots on each body segment.

American Lady Caterpillar

The artemisia cultivar I grow is compact, growing about 8″ tall and planted along the edge of a border, a great accent with its downy soft silvery leaves. It looks a lot like dusty miller but unlike dusty miller, this plant is a hardy perennial in the Seacoast of New Hampshire. It’s a perfect little groundcover.

But this season it won’t look so perfect…. especially at the tallest tips, the blooms. The smaller larvae have spun silk around the bloom tips and smaller leaves. They use these safe hideaways as protection from predators during the day.  The larger caterpillars have nests lower on the plants. It’s a bit messy inside there, full of excrement or frass.

larva nest

The plants are pretty much covered with larvae, many at an earlier stage of development. I’ll have to wait to clean up the plants after the larvae have developed into pupae, then emerge as adult butterflies. The artemisia will survive. After the butterfly season ends, I’ll heavily trim the ragged plants and new growth with begin to appear.

larva

Soon we will be rewarded with the beautiful American Lady butterfly, a medium size butterfly of deep oranges and black spots, closely related to and often mistaken for the Painted Lady butterfly. It lives for two to three weeks during which time it mates and reproduces, starting the cycle once again…. and will eventually begin their fall migration, riding the winds southward just like the Monarchs.

American Lady Butterfly

photo by Julia Wilkins via Wikimedia Commons

 

The Great Spangled Fritillary

I learned something new yesterday. I’ve never been that great at identifying butterfly species but the butterfly I always thought was Great Spangled Fritillary may not be.

great-spangled-fritillary

There are three species of greater fritillaries found in New England: Great Spangled, Atlantis, and Aphrodite.  All three are almost identical. I’ve probably seen them all and believed them to be one, the Great Spangled. Vermont naturalist Mary Holland blogged about the difference yesterday on Naturally Curious with Mary Holland.

It’s all in the eyes. If the eyes are amber, it’s a Great Spangled. If the eyes are blue-gray, it’s an Atlantis Fritillary, and if the eyes are yellow-green, it’s an Aphrodite Fritillary.

Armed with this new information, I was curious about the one (above) that visited my zinnias today so I inched as close as I could. Amber eyes!  Definitely a Great Spangled Fritillary!  What fun to learn something new.

img_6705

The Bee’s Knees in my garden

It’s peak pollinator time in New England gardens and I’m a little surprised at what plant in my garden is getting all the action. I do maintain a garden that is constantly in bloom but I’m more of a blooming woody shrub lover than perennial flower lover for two reason. Shrubs need less maintenance than perennials… and there’s something quite magic about the color green… the variety of shapes, colors, and textures of green leaves that shrubs and trees provide in a garden attracts and soothes me like no perennial can.

All that being said, I do provide perennials as accents and splashes of color in the garden.  I especially want to provide nectar for pollinators and host plants for a variety of butterflies. The summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) is just beginning to burst upon the scene but it’s being ignored by insects. The butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), liriope, hostas, daisies, sunflowers, and a few others are being shunned for this small bloom. Mobbed by bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, this small allium seems to be the bee’s knees right now.

AlliumalliumNot in full bloom but those blooms that are open are a’buzzing with activity. Sorry… butterfly bush, daisies, summersweet… I’m sure your time will come.

butterfly bush & daisiesSummersweet (Clethra alnifolnia)

The World of Sulphur Butterflies

One of the most widespread and abundant butterflies in North America is the pretty little sulphur,  We are all familiar with these yellow butterflies of the Pieridae family fluttering low over fields and open areas.The name ‘butterfly‘ is thought to have originated from a member of this family.

They are fast moving insects and I find them frustrating to photograph. The one I finally caught with my camera after many blurry attempts may be the Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice) or it could be the Orange Sulphur (Colias eurytheme). They can be very tricky to tell apart… especially because hybrids between the two can occur. sulphur.butterflyThey perch with wings closed so it is difficult to photograph the upper side, which should have an orange flush if it is an Orange Sulphur. Sometimes black edging can be seen through the upheld wings and can help identify whether male or female.

They seem to be everywhere at this time of year and are one of the last butterflies flying in late autumn. They breed from spring through the fall. On average, they live  for less than a week, however as the cold season approaches, the caterpillars overwinter in either the third or fourth stage or as a chrysalis. We will look forward to seeing them again in the spring as small pats of butter dancing over fields.