Aug 18: lazy day in the butterfly garden

After working in the garden all day in the heat yesterday, today I’ve spent most of the day laying in the hammock or sitting in one of my three garden-viewing perches, admiring the filled-in beds, photographing butterflies (and a hummingbird!), and watching monarchs and swallowtails lay eggs on the milkweed and rue. It’s a pretty awesome way to spend a Sunday.

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Swallowtail laying eggs on rue

 

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Echinacea and sedum are pretty together
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Joe Pye weed, rue, and sedum (and a swallowtail caterpillar on the rue in the bottom left 🙂 )
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Mexican sunflower
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Painted Lady on butterfly bush
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Hummingbird! I heard its wings thrum while I was trying to photograph a monarch on the zinnias (see lower right corner). This is the first time I’ve ever come close to photographing a hummingbird.

I saw a buckeye butterfly yesterday too, but I didn’t have my camera so I wasn’t able to photograph it. Buckeyes are gorgeous. I’m going to go back out again now with my book and see what else comes to the garden.

 

Aug 17: cleaning out spent flowers

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August deadheading

It’s been hot and dry here for weeks. Since I put in mostly natives and drought-tolerant plants, I haven’t watered. That’s been fine for a lot of the flowers out in the garden, but not all of them. The New England asters didn’t make it, and the black-eyed Susans started browning before their time. Now I know.

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Big brown blob of dead asters in front of the switchgrass

I went straight out into the garden this morning to get to work before the sun got too high. It took about four hours to snip the brown flowers off the indigo salvia, black-eyed Susans, white coneflowers, roses, butterfly bush, zinnias, shasta daisies, and echinacea. I stopped a lot to take pictures of butterflies.

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Painted Lady on Miss Ruby butterfly bush
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Monarch on zinnia
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Swallowtail on zinnia
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Blanketflower (Gaillardia)

 

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Back bed before I ripped out the marigolds

I decided I hated the tall marigolds I planted from seed, so I ripped those out. Which meant, of course, that I had to replace them. One of my favorite things to watch in the garden is goldfinches bobbing on Echinacea cones in the fall, so I bought more Echinacea to replace the marigolds. I waited until the sun was low in the evening to put them in the ground to hopefully minimize the stress of planting them. I’ll need to remember to water them a lot over the next few days since there is still no rain in the forecast. The ground was rock and dust when I dug in. There was no moisture anywhere.

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New Echinacea plants (Echinacea p. ‘Magnus’)
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Echinacea and wind dancer grass (Eragrostis elliottii ‘Wind Dancer’)

Now I want to move a bunch of stuff around, but I know I need to wait. I don’t want to kill everything moving it around in this heat. Plus, the caterpillars are on their way, and I don’t want to mess up their ability to eat and pupate.

July 27: flower beds in bloom, big butterflies arrive

I’m not seeing a lot of caterpillars (zero, actually), but the big swallowtails and the monarchs are finally here. I see hummingbirds every day, as well, though I’m never able to photograph them.

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Tiger swallowtail on Miss Ruby butterfly bush
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Tiger swallowtail on zinnia
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Monarch on milkweed

The wildflowers are finally hitting their stride. The blue forget-me-nots, pink cleome, and yellow calendula came up from seeds dropped last year by their predecessors.

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Volunteer cleome (spider plant) and forget-me-nots
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I like the way this little wildflower bed is turning out

I wanted to get some pictures of the full beds rather than just closeups, too, so that in winter and spring when I can’t remember what it all looked like, I’ll have something to remember the garden by.

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Back butterfly / hummingbird bed from top of hill
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Back beds from deck, where I eat lunch or drink cocktails and watch the garden
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The remainder of the back butterfly and hummingbird garden

 

July 6: Garden in Photos

I haven’t seen any caterpillars or big butterflies in a few days (or weeks?). The flowers are pretty though.

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Morning shastas
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Yellow zinnia and forget-me-nots
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Volunteer cleome and echinacea
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New Sombrero Adobe Orange Coneflower
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Butterfly watch from the hammock
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Flight of the bumblebee 🐝
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The Joe Pye weed is blushing
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I love this Mexican feather grass so much
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Echinacea
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My little prairie
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Echinacea is starting to come into bloom
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Lots going on out back; still needs to fill in
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Late afternoon out front
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Out front

June 9: Garden in photos

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.

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First monarch caterpillar! On butterfly weed.
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Great spangled fritillary on scabiosa
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Look how fuzzy!
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Feverfew blossoms
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Cornflower bud
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Hydrangea
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Sunflower bud from a volunteer
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White coneflower, nepeta, and yarrow
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Blanket flowers, blue grama grass, white speedwell, dwarf agastache, yarrow, a butterfly bush that will soon bloom, and a bunch of other stuff
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Agastache (foreground) and liatris about to bloom (behind the agastache)
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Front bed filling in

May 16: Garden in photos

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.

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Yarrow
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Yarrow and (indigo?) salvia
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More yarrow 😀
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I couldn’t resist these little zinnias at the nursery
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My perch under the dogwood tree
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Front flower beds mid-May
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Hope the muhly grass comes back
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Penstemon
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Blue fescue grass in bloom
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Chamomile

Sep 3: end of summer in the garden means lots of caterpillars and chrysalises

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.

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My office (and coworker) today. #butterfly #garden

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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.

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Empty monarch 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.

 

August 11: so many flowers in the garden, especially sunflowers

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.

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This is the first year I’ve planted sunflowers. I love them so much.
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Butterflies love the cleome, zinnias, and butterfly bush; bees love the salvia

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.

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Back left beds: hummingbirds love the tall orange flowers (Mexican Sunflower)

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.

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Lots going on here — needs some work

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.

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Far right beds

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.

 

July 18: sunflower, swallowtails, and monarch caterpillar

I love July in the garden. The flowers still have fresh blooms, and the butterflies start showing up.

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Eastern tiger swallowtail on Miss Ruby butterfly bush
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Eastern Tiger swallowtail

 

The caterpillars start showing up, too.

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Monarch caterpillar

 

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.

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My first sunflower 😍

July 15: summer blooms

The garden is in full bloom, and a monarch came to visit the back garden beds today. My work killing lawn is paying off!

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Monarch on milkweed
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Cleome
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Lamb’s ears
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Shasta daisy
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The back beds are filling in

The front is starting to fill in as well.

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Autumn joy sedum and liatris
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Cleome, Miss Ruby butterfly bush, and bird bath
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Front bed from behind
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Bumblebee on lavender

June 3: front bed do-over. Thanks deer. Also, ornamental grasses 😍.

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.

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New plants in front, including Switchgrass, sunflower,white coneflower, Russian sage, lavender, catmint

I’ve also gone crazy for ornamental grasses this year. Look how pretty!

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Mexican feather grass in late afternoon sun
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Flowers of blue grama grass

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.

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Wind Dancer grass behind lollipop vervain

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.