Lawn to garden: success!

Earlier in the year, I wrote multiple times about our different strategies for killing grass to build a flower bed. Since then I’ve blogged pictures from the garden, from reading, writing, butterfly-watching, and blogging under our dogwood tree, and photographs of the butterflies and caterpillars who live in the small ecosystem we helped create.

I realized though, that since my April post about building a flower bed, when we were still in the process of killing grass, laying out cardboard, and shoveling mulch, I never brought it back around to show the garden in its full summer glory, with before and after pictures. So here goes (I don’t have before and afters from the same angle, but hopefully you’ll be able to see the difference):


mulch on newspaper 19
Building the bed



Morning flower bed

I wanted an herb garden and a butterfly garden, now we have both butterflies and herbs. We’ve made endless batches of pesto and basil gin smashes.

The kids and I check for caterpillars and chrysalises every day. At last count we have about 8 monarch caterpillars and 10 swallowtail caterpillars, and we think we found a monarch chrysalis in progress yesterday in the rue bush. All the work has paid off :-).

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

Butterfly watch

It’s Sunday morning and I’m under my tree again. These past days have been hot ones, but under the dogwood, I’m able to stay cool. This is my favorite place to be on weekends — in a camp chair, in the shade of my favorite tree, observing the garden.

A few minutes ago, from the chaise lounge inside,  I watched a swallowtail drink from the milkweed for a good five or ten minutes. Its big wings beat furiously as it flitted from flower head to flower head and drank deeply. When it finally flew away, it staggered like a drunken sailor.

“Maybe it was a female and now it’s going to lay eggs on the parsley!” I said. “Or the rue.” I tried to peer farther out the window to see the parsley plants.

Then it occurred to me that the resident bird population might eat any caterpillars we get. “They’ve eaten all the blueberries, too,” said our son.

Oh well. This is the way of things.

I moved outside for a better view of the host plants, to watch for any signs of egg-laying. The swallowtail hasn’t come to the parsley, but a hummingbird is drinking from the bee balm about 15 feet away. It’s tiny body shimmers emerald in the sun, and its wings hum as it beats them fast enough to hover while it drinks from red trumpets.

Ooh ooh! Here comes the swallowtail! Towards the parsley, close to the parsley, will it see the parsley?

Nope, flew by without stopping. Dang.

It’s okay. Butterflies have been rare so far this summer. Now they’re finally coming. They’ve found the little oasis we tried to create, filled with host plants for caterpillars and nectar for adults. I see five flitting through the garden right now as I type. 

I’ll keep watching.