Monarch butterflies are emerging left and right in the garden. A couple of weeks ago on a rainy day, I started a new compost pile for my garden clippings. As I cleared out a space to put up wire fencing to contain the pile, I noticed what looked like an injured monarch on the ground. It was moving slowly and it’s wings didn’t look quite right.
A few minutes later I saw another slow-moving monarch on the ground. It’s wings were kind of shriveled and it looked like it was trying to dry them out. In the rain.
And then I realized: these two butterflies had just emerged from their chrysalises and were getting used to their new bodies before taking off for flight.
Since then, the monarch butterfly population has been on a steady increase. I see them soaring through the garden every day, sometimes only one butterfly at a time, sometimes multiple. I’ve been seeing tiger swallowtails as well, and eastern swallowtails, though not as many as monarchs.
When I was out in the garden on Labor Day, I went to get the wheelbarrow to collect weeds in, and right before I flipped it over to roll it up the hill, I saw a chrysalis on it. Then I started looking around for chrysalises and I found several more.
Chrysalis on the veg patch fence
Chrysalis under deck
Chrysalis on extra bunny fencing under deck
Chrysalis on overturned wheelbarrow
Monarch caterpillar in the process of making a chrysalis
The milkweed is looking pretty gnarly. This is the time of year I start getting antsy to tidy the garden, so I wanted to chop it down. Before cutting anything, I inspected for caterpillars, and the milkweed is crawling with them. So for now it stays. I need to think about where to move the plants next year so that when they get unsightly like this, I don’t have to look at them but the caterpillars can still enjoy them.
A goldfinch perched this morning on a purple coneflower head. This is one of my favorite things to see in the garden: these tiny bright golden birds swaying on the long stems of summer’s Echinacea.
The only problem with this scene is that, combined with the kids starting school next week, it reminds me that fall is coming soon. Which means winter will follow.
I don’t feel like I’ve recovered yet from last winter. I’m not ready for the garden to go to seed. I’m not ready for endless months of desiccated plants, without green and flowers. The Shasta daisies and Rudbeckia flowers are already starting to brown on the edges.
The good news is that the garden is full of butterflies and hummingbirds. I worked from my dogwood chair yesterday, with monarchs and swallowtails drifting all around me. When I approached the flowers where they drank, I was close enough to the many small moths and butterflies that I could hear their wings whir.
Other good news is that the garden is pretty much filled in as much as it’s going to this year, so I can get a good look at how to move things around and fill in next year.
That big one was supposed to be a dwarf
Sunflower bed 😍
I’m pretty happy with how the front beds turned out. They still need some help, but the area with the cleome, zinnias, and butterfly bush are a hot spot for all the fluttering insects I like to watch. I haven’t seen as many hummingbirds in the bed as I did last year, when I had bee balm out there, but they do sometimes visit the cleome and the zinnias.
Out back is a different story. I rarely look out back in the afternoon or evening without seeing a hummingbird. They particularly love the Mexican sunflower, but I’ve seen them at the cleome, zinnias, and even the nasturtiums as well.
It’s hard to believe that last year that was all grass. I still have a lot I want to do with these beds — I want the far left bed to be mostly pinks and greens, with a little bit of soft purple. I’ll ditch the yellows and oranges. The Joe Pye weed, cleome, milkweed, rue, sedums, and ornamental grasses will stay, and I want to add some of the Northern Lights zinnias I have out front. I love their pink and purples, and zinnias are unanimously the favorite flower of our household. Everyone loves them.
The middle beds out back definitely need some help. The lower bed on the left is currently a mix of silvery blue foliage and yellow-green pepper plants. We’re thinking about doing a raised bed for peppers next year, and then I can fill in that lower area with a small moon garden of silvery plants. Higher up the hill are the Mexican sunflowers, which I adore, but I don’t like where they are. I have other ideas for that bed to put some neater looking plants there, but I’m not sure where I’ll put the Mexican sunflowers next year if I do that.
I’m meh about the bed with the Shasta daisies. I need to move some stuff around in there. The far right beds are pretty okay. Next year I’ll probably put in another Mexican sunflower on the far right, and I’m thinking about replacing the nasturtiums with a Persian Carpet blend of zinnia seeds, since we all love zinnias (as do the hummingbirds and butterflies), and when I asked our daughter which new type of zinnias she liked, she picked this one.
I’m going to keep soaking up the garden as much as I can before winter comes. August is the worst month for gardening, but it’s the best month for enjoying the butterflies and birds who come to harvest the abundant nectar and seeds.
Deer munched all my New England asters and the blue wheat I was growing in the bed in front of our house. It’s the most important bed, being the one that leads up to our front door.
This weekend I bought a bunch of stuff to re-do it. I moved the asters into the middle of the bed, behind a barrier of lavender and nepeta (catmint), which I hear deer don’t like the smell of. I’m sure they’ll just step all over everything and eat the asters anyway, so I took some photos in case this is the one day it looks okay. Although, if it survives our neighborhood herd of deer, it will look much better when everything fills in.
Newly planted front bed
Sunflower with yarrow in foreground
Waiting for flowers
I’ve also gone crazy for ornamental grasses this year. Look how pretty!
On Saturday, while our daughter was at swim practice, I went to Lowe’s to find the Eragrostis elliotti ‘Wind Dancer Lovegrass’ that I had seen last weekend, before my June garden budget was funded. At the time it was still May, and I saw these gorgeous, graceful grasses shoved on the bottom shelf of a rolling rack. They looked like they were waiting to be put out on the ornamental grasses display. I had never seen them or heard of them before, and a quick search told me not only are they not invasive, they’re native. I took pictures of the tags so I could come back for them on June 1.
When I went to Lowe’s on Saturday, the rack was gone, and the grasses were not on display. My heart fell because these grasses were exactly what I wanted. They’d go in a windy spot, and they’d dance in the breeze that is constantly blowing. I walked every aisle three times before I gave up.
Since I had nothing to purchase, I checked the discount rack — all the plants they forgot to water or that look too imperfect to get full price for. And on the $5 rack, there were my grasses! At full price I would have only been able to buy two.
I bought four.
I sit on the back deck now and watch them wave in the wind. Hopefully I can save them from the near death they were experiencing at Lowes in their too-small pots.
I’m really happy with how the back hill is coming along.
Before we sailed yesterday, I spent several hours in the garden, sitting under the dogwood tree, reading butterfly books, and photographing all the butterflies that came to visit the zinnia patch six feet from my chair. There were moments when the zinnias hosted monarchs, swallowtails, painted ladies, skippers and a hummingbird all at the same time.
The day was dry, the sky cerulean, a breeze blew the butterflies and flower heads, and the temperature was a comfortable 77° F. The zinnias were most hopping at about 2pm.
View from under my dogwood tree
Sulphur — clouded?
Monarch and swallowtail
Flower box and blue sky
I went out at the same time today. The sky is cloudier, it’s warmer, and I mowed the grass. The large butterflies are just not here today. I wonder why.
My coworker Jeremey DuVall wrote recently about adventuring. Specifically, he wrote about taking more microadventures: little adventures taken at little cost, that take you out of your normal routine, and can be done in your own back yard or your own small town.
I took his advice today. For my birthday, my son gave me a book on butterfly gardening with native plants, and now I’ve been bitten hard by the gardening bug. With a naked lawn — a blank slate — I decided I wanted to go find some ideas. So in the early morning, before the tailgaters were out for the big game tomorrow, I packed a water bottle, my real camera, and a Luna bar; slathered on sunscreen and donned a baseball cap; strapped on my day-pack; and I walked across town, across the Virginia Tech campus, to the University’s horticulture garden.
And boy did I find ideas. Now I want a butterfly garden, an herb garden, a woodland garden, a meadow garden, a waterfall, a pond with lily pads, and much, much more.
I would also like to identify the plant in the images below. Its fragrance drew me across the entire garden, and I want one. If you know what this is, please let me know!
I think my next microadventure might be a trip to the nursery.
We spent the past week moving: we are homeowners again. We’ve gotten the unpacking to a point where we can lounge in the living room, find clothes in our closets, cook in the kitchen, and eat at the table.
We’ve also gotten to the point where I feel like I can take a breather from unpacking boxes, washing walls, lining cabinets with shelf paper, and organizing all our stuff: I can stop and enjoy our new home.
I opened the blinds as soon as I woke this morning and saw fog nestled between houses and trees. I am a sucker for fog. And when there are warm yellow flowers popping around our new mailbox against a cool foggy backdrop? It’s time to get the camera out and start shooting again. In our new home.
We moved locally, about five minutes from our previous home. After 12 moves in 20 years, this time we hope to stick around a while.