August 25: first chrysalis

The monarch caterpillars are getting fat. During the eclipse, I walked around the garden inspecting the undersides of leaves, taking inventory. I counted 11 or 12 monarch caterpillars on the milkweed, along with 3 swallowtail caterpillars on the rue and the parsley. The milkweed looks terrible — it’s gone to seed and is covered with aphids and big orange bugs that are eating the aphids. The echnicea looks terrible too — brown and fried — but in the mornings, goldfinches perch on the dried heads and sway while they eat coneflower seeds.

August echinacea
Dying, drying coneflowers for the goldfinches

The monarch caterpillars are drawn to the rue for making their chrysalises. I have been surprised by how popular the rue is.

caterpillar pre chrysalis
Monarch caterpillar pre-chrysalis

It currently hosts swallowtail caterpillars who are eating it, and monarch caterpillars who are hanging in their chrysalises from it.

pretty chrysalis
Same monarch caterpillar later in the day

And just because I like to check in each year to see what the status of all the plants were in prior years, here are some photos from the garden in late August:

August 6: Butterflies in the garden

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.

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.

Catalog of butterflies from August 5 & 6:

  • Monarchs
  • Black swallowtail
  • Palamedes swallowtail
  • Grey hairstreak
  • Silver-spotted skipper
  • Clouded sulphur
  • Cabbage white
  • Painted lady

August 4: flower boxes are surviving

By August, our flower boxes are usually brown and desicated. Somewhere along the way we had forgotten to water, and in summer sun and heat, it doesn’t take long without hydration for the plants in these tiny boxes to shrivel and die.

This year I lined the coconut liners with plastic and I water them every day. And, what do you know, it worked! I put these plants in the boxes on July 2, and here they are a month later, still alive. It’s amazing what the basic necessities of life will do.

In other news, the rue cuttings I started on May 19, and put in the ground sometime in early July (maybe the same day I planted the flower boxes), have new growth! Only one of the cuttings actually had baby roots when I transplanted them into the earth, but now two of the cuttings have survived, put energy into their roots, and are finally starting to make new leaves as well.

I also planted a phlox — Phlox paniculata ‘Younique Old Pink’ — after the kids and my husband came home from a hike a few weeks ago and my son said, “Mom! Do you have any phlox in the garden? We saw some on our hike and it was _covered_ in butterflies.”

Of course I had to have some.

I’ve been on a hunt ever since. It was in every nursery in the spring, but late July and August are not really gardening season, so none of my regular suppliers had any. I found some at Lowe’s today and grabbed one. I planted it next to my chair, under our bedroom window. It is quite fragrant, and I can’t wait until we can open the windows again and smell it from inside.

Everything is in bloom, and I love it. I spent much of my day off today in the garden, watching butterflies and enjoying the summer abundance. I need to get out my real camera to capture some of this beauty so I can keep it for winter.

August in the garden

All that work laying out flower beds, killing grass, shoveling mulch, and digging 150+ holes to drop plants into has paid off. I’m sitting under the dogwood tree, watching a hummingbird drink from pink salvia flowers not ten feet away while further down the garden a monarch lays eggs on the milkweed. 

It has been weeks since I’ve had a chance to bring my chair under the dogwood to enjoy the flowers, but yesterday, beast though it was for all the chores, I got all of my must-dos done so I could do exactly that: sit under a tree and watch the hustle and bustle of a summer flower garden.

Writing and butterfly-watching

We’ve been getting more butterflies as August marches on, and I usually see them from the car window as I arrive or depart the house, or from the living room window while I type on my laptop for work. Not enough do I come out and sit in the fresh air with the mountain breeze and the insect sounds. 

Yesterday, amidst all the chores and errands, I squeezed in some gardening in the horrid heat. I got to see everything up close again and engage with the flowers, the herbs, the bees, the dirt, the aphids. I waded through waist-high salvia to deadhead, chopped forests of thigh-high basil, cut milkweed so infested with aphids I couldn’t touch it without getting little orange bodies all over me, and pulled tufts of grass and dandelions until my fingernails hurt. 

And in the middle of all that chopping, weeding, and squirting aphids with soapy water, I saw our first monarch caterpillar. That fat, squishy, striped baby butterfly made every bit of the work worth it.

Now, I hear the rat-a-tat of cicadas, the buzz of two fat bumblebees, the honk of a Canada goose flying overhead, and the shh-shh-shh of my husband sanding our canoe in the garage. A cool breeze lifts the pages of my pretty journal, and glassy dragonfly wings shimmer in sunlight over the grass. The butterflies weren’t out when I first came out. The morning was too young. But now they’re coming.

butterfly on joe-pye plant