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.
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.
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.
I’ve been simultaneously eager about and dreading the final round of seed-sowing. Seeds are a lot of work, and while I want the seeds to be in the ground and the plants to be grown and flowering, I didn’t want to have to put the seeds — all the many scores of them — in the earth myself.
But I did. What cost us $50 in seeds will give us an enormous number of plants that probably would cost $300-$400 to buy them fully formed at a nursery. The past two days I did a ton of tiny things in the garden that are currently invisible — I sowed seeds directly in the flower beds:
And, because all of those things require tons of waiting, and I want instant gratification, I took a trip to the nursery. Actually, I think I went to the nursery every day — Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I got caught in a spring shower there yesterday, which was fun. The plants look so pretty in the rain.
In addition to the seeds I sowed, and the seedlings I transplanted, I also bought some already flowering plants (and an ornamental grass I’ve been waiting for) and put them in the ground:
Purple Haze Nepeta
Nepeta Junior Walker
Dwarf hummingbird mint (agastache)
As far as everything else going on in the garden, the indigo Salvia is in bloom — the first of the perennials to flower — and our buttery snapdragons look adorable against the blue. The yarrow has fat flower buds now, and the new veronica I bought a few weeks ago is starting flower spikes as well.
All the perennials I moved from the front to the back hill beds seem to be surviving, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they continue to survive and thrive out there. I spend a lot of time now sitting on the table on our back deck so I can watch the garden grow, and watch the birds at the bird feeder. We saw an indigo bunting yesterday! It was a gorgeous deep teal, almost a peacock-blue color, but a little less green.
The hardest work is done now: killing the grass, mulching more than 2000 square feet of flower beds, digging in rocky soil, transplanting dozens of plants, nursing seeds for weeks indoors before moving them outside, prepping the earth to sow seeds, actually sowing seeds in.
I’ve only got a few more things left to do (besides the constant weeding) — a few more transplants, starting some basil seeds. I think my gardening from here on out will primarily consist of maintenance, watching things grow, and enjoying it :-).
Here are some photos from early May. I always like to compare later in the season — it looks so bare now compared to how it’s likely going to look in July.
I’ve been sweating, wondering if the milkweed would survive the transplant to the back hill. For the past two years, we’ve had milkweed in the most prominant focal place in our front yard: right in front of the stairs that lead up to the front door.
It looks great when it’s fresh and green, but once it gets covered in aphids and starts looking super messy and leggy, it’s not really the best plant to have as a “look at me!” plant in front of the house. I redesigned the front bed to hopefully have a less messy look (though every bed I design is for butterflies, birds, and pollinators, which generally means meadowy “natural” plants, which tend towards the messy eventually) and moved the milkweeds out back where it’s fine for them to be covered in all the critters we’re growing them for. The aphids are part of the food chain and will get eaten by something else, and even when a milkweed seems coated in, the monarch caterpillars seem undeterred from munching the leaves.
I was fearful the milkweed wouldn’t survive the transplanting. Everything this year is happening later than it did last year, thanks to the late snows and freezes. The milkweed and Joe Pye were emerging April 15 last year. The dogwood and redbud were already in bloom at that time too.
I’ve been walking the garden every day to check on everything, and I think it’s finally happening. I think the milkweed and Joe Pye are finally sending up shoots. Though last year the milkweed were green and this year they’re red. Maybe I’m just catching them earlier than I did last year. I just hope they survive and I don’t have to replace them. The Joe Pye and the pink milkweed look an awful lot alike. I hope they’re what I think they are and not a weed.
Joe Pye emerging
Pink milkweed emerging
White milkweed emerging
This past week I also noticed the bachelor’s button seeds I planted are sprouting, and I put in a Mexican feather grass and a scabiosa out back since the grasses I want aren’t in yet (a pink muhly and prairie dropseeds).
This time last year I had already sowed wildflower and zinnia seeds. Temperatures are forecast to approach freezing on Sunday night. I think I’ll wait until after that to sow the rest of the seeds: nasturtiums, zinnias, dianthus, sunflowers. And next week, it’s FINALLY supposed to break 80℉. I’m hopeful things will really take off after that. Until then, here’s how things look. Not nearly as far along as last year, especially in the herb bed. I don’t think the thyme survived my divisions very well.