First monarch, July 13

I was sitting by the window yesterday, drinking my afternoon coffee and working, when I saw a non-yellow, non-white flutter of wings down by the milkweed in the garden. We’ve had scores of white and pale yellow butterflies so far this year, but any others have been rare.

I kept watching until I saw it again, then there it was: the first monarch of the seasons. I’m in the garden now, drinking my morning smoothie, and then I’m going to inspect the undersides of milkweed leaves for monarch eggs. Maybe we’ll have caterpillars soon. 🐛 

July 9: caterpillar, goldenrod, and new chair

Our son asked yesterday, “Are there any caterpillars in the garden yet?”


swallowtail caterpillar on rue july
Swallowtail caterpillar on rue

I’m only aware of one (other than a small crop of swallowtail caterpillars earlier in the spring on the rue), and I remember they were quite late last year as well. I want to keep better records this year of when I do things in the garden, and when caterpillars appear.

We were supposed to camp this weekend, but our car broke down and we stayed home instead. I’m relieved, honestly, because it’s been weeks since I’ve been home on a weekend and had a chance to enjoy the garden. I’ve spent the past couple of days cleaning things up and moving stuff around out there:

Butterfly/caterpillar/bird watch

  • One swallowtail caterpillar on rue.
  • No caterpillars (or aphids) on milkweed yet.
  • No monarch sightings.
  • Saw a swallowtail butterfly on the milkweed yesterday.
  • Saw a hummingbird drinking from the bee balm, despite the ragged state of the plants and flowers.
  • Saw a bird splash briefly in the bird bath in the evening.

Gardening update

  • My husband moved one of the adirondak chairs he made under the dogwood, and it’s amazing! I moved some phlox around to make room for the foot stool, and I brought the table over as well. I also moved some of the purple salvia from under the echinacea to over by my new perch.
  • Moved three goldenrods from under the tree out back to 1/ a sunnier spot in the back bed; 2/ the herb garden, next to the catnip; 3/ behind bee balm in hilltop bed
  • Planted two perennial tickseeds (Coreopsis “moonbeam”) in herb garden to add some yellow (there was too much lavender/purple without anything to pop it)
  • Applied rabbit repellant (cow’s blood, $21 for a spray bottle for which the sprayer broke after applying repellant to four plants) to the milkweed out back in the evening
  • Cut seed heads from rue
  • Deadheaded indigo salvia and yarrow
  • Weeded
  • Dug up a passionflower volunteer and moved it to the trellis. It seemed to still be attached to the mother root, from which no new passionflower grew where it needed to grow. Not sure if the volunteer will make it after I ripped it away from the main root.
  • Trimmed bee balm to keep it out of the bird bath.
adirondak chair under dogwood
My new perch

Status of the garden: July

We’ve been away or I’ve been working the past few weekends, so I haven’t had a chance to spend much time in the garden. It’s a beautiful morning, though, and I took a few photos before starting work today.

The current status of the garden is: in bloom. In bloom and being eaten by bunnies.

  • Echinacea, zinnias, milkweed, blanketflower, lavender, blazing star, black eyed Susans, bee balm, hydrangea by the stairs are all in bloom, and the yarrow is in its second round of blossoms.
  • Bee balm is past it’s peak and is looking pretty bad. We need something low and bushy in front of it to hide it’s legginess.
  • Joe Pye and Shasta daisies should bloom soon. I don’t see flower buds on the hilltop hydrangea.
  • Mailbox wildflowers are doing great. Cosmos, candytuft, calendula, and a blue flower — maybe stock? — all blooming.
  • Bunnies ate the yellow milkweed in the back garden and also many of the wildflowers. The remaining wildflowers are slower going than out front. Calendula seems to be doing well.
From the hill: black eyed Susans, blazing star, and zinnias
Zinnias we grew from seed
Milkweed before the aphids come; no caterpillars yet
Echinacea looking good in July


Herb garden needs to fill in
Wildflowers from seed mixed with established indigo salvia
I replinished the flower boxes last week; they had browned pretty badly

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.

Filling vases

The baby basils have become bushes. I cut 10-15 stems, tucked them in a glass vase, and the emerald green plants don’t look like I touched them. I could fill five vases before the removal of any leaves would be noticeable.

Tonight the vase of basil scented the dinner table while we ate homemade pasta and pesto with bright red tomato slices.

I forgot how fun it is to cut fowers and herbs from the garden, put them in water in clear glass, and decorate tabletops and dressers with them.

The lemon balm is a mounding bush now — ample stems for trimming — and the Rosemary has spires long enough for cutting, too. Those would smell lovely in mason jars in our bedrooms. I’ll go snip some before the sun goes down.

Reading under a tree

This morning was a lovely one: breezy with sun and fresh Appalachian air, cool enough to pull weeds and plant annuals without breaking a sweat. Leaves rustled, bees buzzed happily from flower to flower.

When I watered in the new bright yellow zinnias, scraping dirt from beneath my fingernails while I held the hose and thought about what I’d eat for lunch, a pair of small brown-orange butterflies flitted round each other in that twirling butterfly dance they do.

I looked over at the shade beneath the dogwood tree and thought, I want to sit there and read my book.

So here I am. Flowers bloom all around me, a soft yellow butterfly drinks from a purple salvia, grasshoppers chirp and birds trill, leaves quiver and shake, the sound of a far off lawn mower drifts over the hills, and the breeze makes a low whooooo sound across my ears. 

It’s going to be a good night for sailing.

I am enjoying blogging from my phone — it’s so immediate! I can publish from anywhere, including the shade of the dogwood tree in our front yard.

Die aphids!

I think I may be deriving too much pleasure from finding aphid corpses all over my milkweed plants. But it is so satisfying to squirt them with soapy water, then come back the next day to find desiccated aphid bodies where plump, orange life-suckers once were.

Killing aphids may be the highlight of my mornings now. Today I went out in quite a getup: purple workout clothes, green rubber boots, a flowery coffee cup in one hand, and a plastic spray bottle filled with sudsy water in the other. I giggled as I  squirted aphids, thinking of my friend J when she played out a similar attack on hornets. She used RAID and screamed a battle cry, “Die MoFos!* ” as she lunged in with the killing spray. (*cleaned up for public reading). She’s my hero.

The milkweed is for the caterpillars. Aphids beware.

Morning in the garden

When I left for WordCamp Europe, our garden was pregnant with plump flower buds: echinacea, milkweed, hydrangea. While I walked the streets of Vienna, admiring the red geraniums that spilled from window boxes, I wondered how my flowers at home were doing. We can never get our flower boxes looking as good as the ones I saw in Vienna, but that’s ok. I have my whole life to keep tinkering.

It was dark when I arrived home after 24 hours in trains, airplanes, airports, and cabs, but not so dark I couldn’t see the outline of a new purple coneflower when I dragged my suitcase into the garage.

Every morning since I’ve gotten home, I make a smoothie*, walk downstairs to the garage, slip my feet into green rubber boots, and walk out into the dewy grass. I inspect the milkweed, parsley, rue, and passionflower for caterpillars (none yet) and check out the progress of all the flower buds. I deadhead a few withered blossoms. Sip my smoothie. Listen to birds trill. Nobody in the neighborhood is outside. I have it all to myself.

I keep trying to get a good photo for y’all but I’ve had zero luck. Despite digging close to 200 holes and putting a plant in each one, there are still large open spaces in the beds. I know they’ll eventually fill in, but for now the garden is young and I just have to accept that. My husband said we can take our daughter to pick out some annuals this weekend to plunk them in the open spaces. She will be very excited.

Morning in the garden is my favorite way to start the day: beautiful, serene, full of life.

*For the smoothie-lovers, my smoothie usually has kale, banana, walnuts, flax seeds, frozen pineapple, frozen strawberries (or peaches or mangos), and pineapple juice.