I saw a hummingbird in the garden today, the first of the season. It’s been raining for days. We got 2.5 inches Friday, then another half inch yesterday. During a break in the rain today, I saw a great spangled fritillary flitting around and drinking from all the purple flowers: the dwarf agastache, scabiosa, and lollipop vervain. It was my first chance in a few days to get out in the garden, so I took my camera with me.
The roses, penstemon, perennial salvias, and yarrows are in bloom. Zinnia seeds are in the ground, echinacea buds are forming, and the summer bloomers are starting to get full in their foliage.
I always love photographing the yarrow and salvia in May when they’re fresh and peaking. This time of year makes me want to fill the garden with them, though by summer’s end, I’m always glad I haven’t. It’s nice to have the bright zinnias and black-eyed Susans to fill in the space at their peak when the indigo salvia and yarrow are past their prime.
But for now, they sure are pretty.
Everything hurts. My hands are blistered and cramped, as are my feet. My forearms could use a massage, and my whole body feels like it’s vibrating after two 8-hour days of shoveling, carting, dumping, and spreading mulch. But the front and back beds are done! All that’s left are a couple of small beds on the side of the house. I’m too pooped to do them today. Tomorrow.
Out of curiosity yesterday, I wondered if it were possible that I had moved a ton of mulch. I googled “how much does a cubic yard of mulch weigh” and got an estimate of 400-800 pounds depending on whether the mulch is wet. We bought 12 cubic yards in two dumptruck loads, and I’ve probably moved 10 yards in the past two days, so 4000 lbs. The mulch got drenched by heavy rain after it was delivered, so it was wet and on the heavier side, but I never know how much to trust the googles, so I’m just going to go really conservative and say it’s safe to say that yes, I moved a ton of mulch per day.
Everything looks so pretty 😍.
And nearly as exciting as the mulch? After three years of searching for a spicebush, I saw one at Crow’s Nest, my local nursery this week. By Monday, I had already been to the nursery nearly every day since I returned from my trip to Belgrade. When I plopped my plants on the counter at the cash register, the woman who always rings me up saw me, laughed, and said, “Maybe you should get a job here!” I told her I’d probably see her tomorrow, thinking “I won’t see her tomorrow, I’ve gotten everything I need.”
The shortest path to my car was through the shrub section, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw the tiny yellow flowers of Lindera benzoin, the spicebush: host plant of the spicebush swallowtail and native shrub to our region. I didn’t buy it Monday but did go back on Tuesday, and was embarrassed to be there again for the fourth time in five days.
But now I have a spicebush! I’ve never seen one at the nursery before, and even asked about them the first year I was planning the garden. I thought I’d just not be able to get one and I gave up. And now I’ve got one! I’m so happy 🙂
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.
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.
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.
I love July in the garden. The flowers still have fresh blooms, and the butterflies start showing up.
The caterpillars start showing up, too.
This is the first year I’ve planted sunflower seeds. Most of the seedlings were decapitated by critters, probably bunnies. But I’ve got one that made it to bloom.
I need to get out my real camera, but in case I don’t get a chance to do that before the flowers pass, I wanted to capture where the blooms are right now. I’m enjoying watching everything fill in. I’ve got my fingers crossed that next year, when everything is a bit more established, it will begin to fill in more.
The bees, small butterflies, and hummingbirds were out in full force yesterday. Still not seeing many of the larger butterflies yet, though — the monarchs and swallowtails. I remember having to wait a long time for them last year as well.
We’ve got two bird feeders out back, which we love to watch. Birds are super active in the newly planted back hill, including ground birds like doves and robins. With the higher bird population, I fear for the poor caterpillars out there. Rue is generally covered in swallowtail caterpillars, and I’ve only seen one so far this year. I’m hoping with the variety and number of plants out there, they’ll be able to find some shelter and at least grow up to become butterflies.
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.
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.
After two years of unsuccessfully growing cleome from seed, I found some cleome annuals at the nursery! I also planted:
- 1 superbena Royale Chambray verbena (back hill)
- 1 white guara ‘Whirling butterflies’ (back hill)
- 2 lemonade lantana (back hill)
- 2 dwarf agastache (back hill)
- 2 Jr. Walker cat mints (rose bed)
- 4 jalepeños
- 1 Giant Thai pepper
- 1 Habañero pepper
- 1 Mariachi pepper