Fall gardening: Sept 30

I still haven’t cut the milkweed back, and I’m so glad I haven’t. I just counted 10 monarch chrysalises in the garden — 3 on the rue, 6 on the stairs, 1 on the rosemary — and there’s still at least one fat caterpillar on the plants. The monarch on the stool in the garage emerged today while I was out running errands. My husband sent a video:

There’s a chrysalis under the stairs that looks like it will emerge any minute, and two of the ones on the rue look close as well.

Caterpillar party: swallowtails on rue

Monarch chrysalis on rosemary
I also counted 13 swallowtail caterpillars on the established rue. Two of my cuttings have begun growing and thriving in the herb garden, so I’m excited to have them establish fully next year.

I moved a bunch of stuff today and planted some asters as well:

  • Moved three black eyed Susans  to the herb garden; ripped out the catnip.
  • Moved some of the zinnias to where the black eyed Susans had been. The zinnias were to tall and were getting leggy.
  • Where the zinnias had been, Planted 3 New England Asters and 2 cornflower blue asters that look like mums: Peter III Blue asters from YoderMums.
  • Moved the white pentas behind the asters, and the firecracker flowers behind those.
  • This opened up space by my chair, and I moved the guara next to my chair because it was hidden in the milkweed and I could never see it.
  • Planted cabbages and pansies in the flower boxes.

Fall flower box
Now I can see the rest of the garden from my chair again. The zinnias were gorgeous in their prime but they got way bigger than I expected and started blocking my view. I couldn’t see the birdbath, the lantana, the Shasta daisies, the gomphrena, or the bee balm.

Garden at end of September, with new purple asters

Garden after moving the zinnias and planting asters
It took me all day to plant everything and now it’s too late to sit in my chair and enjoy it. I hope the butterflies will still come. And I don’t know if the hummingbirds are still around, but I hope so. They’ll really like the guara.

September 30 garden

Caterpillar catalog (and the plants that make it possible)

When I returned home after a weeklong trip to Whistler, I was giddy to walk around the garden and find not one monarch butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, but two.

Newly emerged monarch on rue

After finding those, I of course crawled around in the mulch and dirt to inspect the undersides of leaves. I found three more monarch chrysalises plus a bunch of fat swallowtail caterpillars who will soon be crawling off to metamorphasize as well.

This is SO EXCITING Y’ALL. Here’s a full caterpillar catalog of what I’ve found so far:

Some friends at work are also interested in butterfly gardening, and are looking for host plant ideas. Since we work for a company that makes, ahem, blogging software, my friend naturally asked “Did you do a blog post on what all you planted?” Nudge nudge.

Shockingly, I have not. So here it is! Kris and Liz, this is for you.

The plants

For Mother’s Day, our son gave me Christopher Kline’s book, Butterfly Gardening with Native Plants: How to Attract and Identify Butterflies. Combined with a bunch of online research, experimentation with a butterfly garden in Florida, and talking to bunches of people who garden for butterflies and caterpillars, this book helped me plan a garden that includes both host plants (that caterpillars eat) and nectar plants (that adult butterflies drink from). The most successful plants in our garden are the following:

Host plants

Milkweed (Asclepias): We planted both common milkweed and swamp milkweed. These are by far the most insect-loved plants in the garden. They are constantly covered in various species, including aphids, beetles, and, late in the summer, monarch caterpillars. Milkweed is both a nectar plant and a host plant. We’ve seen adult giant swallowtails and monarchs drinking from its flowers, and have found at least a dozen monarch caterpillars on it. Word of warning: milkweed will get covered in aphids. The caterpillars will still come even when every surface is crawling with aphids, so we kept our milkweed intact even though it’s not very attractive once it has stopped flowering and it’s coated in tiny orange insects.

Rue (Ruta graveolens): This is possibly my favorite addition to the garden. The leaves are a silvery blue-green, the plant stays neat and tidy (it doesn’t get leggy or messy), it can take the heat (and drought) and still look healthy, and the swallowtail caterpillars adore it. As an unexpected bonus, the monarch caterpillars love it for building chrysalises. We’ve found at least 3 chrysalises in the small, shin-high plants.

Butterfly host and nectar plants

Nectar plants

Milkweed: all the butterflies big and small love milkweed.

Indigo salvia: Aside from the milkweed, these purple flower spikes are the most popular in the garden for butterflies to drink from. Bees also love these flowers.

Pink salvia: Okay, maybe these are tied with the indigo salvia for nectar popularity, at least for hummingbirds. I see hummingbirds drinking from these almost every time I sit in the garden.

Bee balm (Monarda): Butterflies and hummingbirds love this as well. Hummingbirds dart between the pink salvia and the bee balm.

Thai basil: I’ve seen some small butterflies and moths (and caterpillars) on these flowers.


Butterfly host and nectar plants

Cone flowers: Butterflies always visit these.

Joe Pye weed: Butterflies love to drink from Joe Pye flowers. Joe Pye weed gets really tall and floppy unless you get the dwarf varieties.

Monarch on Joe Pye weed

We planted some other things that weren’t as awesome as we expected:

Parsley: parsley is a host plant for swallowtails, but the swallowtail caterpillars definitely opted for the rue over the parsley, at least this year. I didn’t find any caterpillars on the parsley, and found at least a dozen on the rue.

I guess the parsley is the only one :-). We have lots of other nectar flowers — brown-eyed Susans, Mexican blanket flowers, some other stuff I can’t remember the names of — but the ones I listed above were definitely the most successful.

If you can identify any of the caterpillars in the catalog, please let me know! I think most of them are probably moths, but I don’t have a good ID book.

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 :-).

September gardening

cabbages and pansies for boxes
Cabbages and pansies for garden boxes
We thought we were going to wait till spring to start any gardening, but none of us could stand waiting.

I’ve been poring over gardening books, planning the spring beds. Our house looked sad and bare, though, after we ripped out the previous owner’s shrubbery. So we decided, we can at least put in some evergreens for winter, right?

Hick's yew with berry
Hick’s Yew (Taxus x media “Hicksii”)
holly in the garden
Japanese Holly (Ilex crenata “Helleri”)
With our freshly painted porch and door, we thought it might be nice to add some garden boxes too.

window boxes on porch rail
Fresh paint and garden boxes
We’ve never had garden boxes before. They are my new favorite thing about our house. Besides the turquoise front door. And the oak floors. And the kittens.

flowering kale cabbage
Pansies and flowering kale
We wanted something alive at our house when winter comes, and the man at the garden shop said pansies and cabbages would be great for garden boxes. The only real gardening I’ve done was in Florida, and I know nothing about winter plants. I am trusting blindly. Even if they don’t last through winter, though, they look awfully pretty now :-).

porch rail garden box
Garden box on the front porch rail

Hahn Horticulture Garden: a Microadventure

My coworker Jeremey DuVall wrote recently about adventuring. Specifically, he wrote about taking more microadventures: little adventures taken at little cost, that take you out of your normal routine, and can be done in your own back yard or your own small town.

I took his advice today. For my birthday, my son gave me a book on butterfly gardening with native plants, and now I’ve been bitten hard by the gardening bug. With a naked lawn — a blank slate — I decided I wanted to go find some ideas. So in the early morning, before the tailgaters were out for the big game tomorrow, I packed a water bottle, my real camera, and a Luna bar; slathered on sunscreen and donned a baseball cap; strapped on my day-pack; and I walked across town, across the Virginia Tech campus, to the University’s horticulture garden.

And boy did I find ideas. Now I want a butterfly garden, an herb garden, a woodland garden, a meadow garden, a waterfall, a pond with lily pads, and much, much more.

I would also like to identify the plant in the images below. Its fragrance drew me across the entire garden, and I want one. If you know what this is, please let me know!

I think my next microadventure might be a trip to the nursery.