November 29, 2014

Lessons Learned Under the Cathedral of the Oaks

Every autumn, after the Locusts, Maples, Ashes, and other deciduous trees have faded, the Oaks seem to form a "stained glass" canopy overhead when the autumn light shines through at magical angles. While those Oak leaves are now long-gone in my neighborhood, the "cathedral of the Oaks" effect seemed appropriate for this introspective post.

Welcome to the 15th installment of the "Garden Lessons Learned" meme. I introduced this quarterly meme in June 2011, and looking back on all the entries amazes and humbles me.


Each season is unique. Sometimes, my own garden lessons are very practical--things I want to try to remember for "next time." Other "lessons" posts include facts I've learned during the past three months. Still others focus on internal reflections.


This post is the latter--a bit more introspective and personal (which tends to be more common for me in the fall and winter). This is in part because I was apprehensive about taking a break from blogging (my last post was more than two weeks ago). Turns out, the break was a healthy thing for me to do. It gave me a new perspective and a fresh focus for the blog going forward.


I'll share some plans in future posts, but for now, here are personal lessons learned during the past three months:
  • It's fine to take a break from blogging. If you're like me, and you've settled into a routine of blogging once a week or more often, the idea of leaving that blank space of no posts for an extended period of time can be unsettling. I could say so much more about why I took the break and my reactions to it, but I'll simplify: I was busy, I needed an attitude-readjustment, and I'm refreshed and ready to begin again.
  • You don't have to rush out with your camera every time you see a beautiful scene, an item of interest, or a personal life event. Social media--and blogging in particular--has the power to both enrich and taint our lives. Enrichment comes through meeting new friends, staying in touch with old ones, and sharing more experiences than was possible in the past. But social media also introduces the risk only seeing the world through the prism of what would be a good tweet, share, or blog post.
For example, the other day after a fresh snowfall, I saw a spectacular scene of a Maple tree with clinging autumn leaves, framed by a powdered-sugar landscape all around it. I was driving home, and once I arrived I had a choice: I could run back out with my camera to try to capture that scene, or I could spend those extra minutes with my daughter who's home for the Thanksgiving holiday. I chose the latter and I don't regret it. I don't mean to preach, because I fail on this lesson repeatedly and frequently. Life is a series of choices, isn't it? All I'm saying is that I, personally, must remind myself to live life fully and not always try to write, photograph, and post about it.
  • Two weeks without blogging goes by very fast! Enough said.
  • Blogging about gardening, plants, and nature is one of my favorite "things" to do. I guess I already knew this, but the break confirmed my feelings. Blogging has truly become a passion. If, when I was a young person, there had been an Internet, digital photography, and the concept of "blogging," I might have chosen this as a career. Alas, these options weren't in existence. No regrets; I'm simply joyful in continuing to share in this amazing community of garden and nature bloggers going forward!


Oh, and I did learn a few "practical" lessons:
  • The fruit of Fuchsia plants is edible. In fact, depending on the variety, the plump, oval-shaped "berries" are quite tasty. I learned this lesson from Helene at Graphicality-UK. She commented about it on my blog (and discusses it a bit at the linked post in the previous sentence), so I decided to try Fuchsia berries. My cultivars tasted sweet and refreshing, with a hint of pepper at the end. My only warning is that some potting plants are treated with systemic pesticides at garden centers, so know your supplier before you consume Fuchsia berries.
  • I found an eagle hangout near my home. I'll share photos soon, although I'll have to go back and hope the eagles will be there for better captures. The fishman and I saw two eagles through the mist in the distance when we were hiking, but they flew away before we got close enough. We believe they were Bald Eagles, but it was too foggy and we were too far away to tell for sure.
  • The top of our heated fishpond makes a great cold frame. The fishman created an acrylic winter cover over the pond that lets the sun in but partially protects the plants from the elements. (Don't worry, there are vents on the sides of the pond as air exchange for the fish. They survived last winter's polar vortex in there!) The internal temperature under the cover hovers around 32F during the coldest of days when the heater is on, and rises to the 50sF and warmer on mild, sunny days. The lettuce plants are still alive, and the scallions are just about ready to pick!


What lessons did you learn during the past quarter? If you're in the Northern Hemisphere how was your autumn? For those in the Southern Hemisphere, how did your garden grow? Please share your lessons!

I'm switching things up again with this meme (I do hope you'll forgive me). As always, please write a post or share one you've already written about your "Lessons Learned" during the past season. Share your links in the comments to this post. I'll keep it up for a few days, and it will be available always under the "Lessons Learned" tab at the top of this blog.

One change: I'll forgo the "wrap-up" this time. Autumn and spring are long-gone for many of us already, and will seem like distant memories by the solstice.

At that point, we'll be deep in the celebrations of year-end holidays--the perfect hand-off to Donna's Seasonal Celebrations at Gardens Eye View! Feel free to join in with a post that fits both memes, or separate posts for one or both of them.

Bye for now!














November 15, 2014

A garden full of butterflies

mourning cloak

Can you imagine a garden without butterflies? Or a neighborhood, or a world without butterflies? Lately, I've been thinking how sad it would be if my grandchildren (or great-nieces or great-nephews or later generations) couldn't experience the beauty of a simple butterfly.

(Don't worry, this post won't be overly melancholic. There is reason to worry about butterflies' survival in our world, but I'll save that for another post.)

It's not difficult, currently, for me to imagine that kind of world because my garden has gone to sleep for the winter. I won't see butterflies for a few months now. Then again, I have the hope that I'll see many again when the weather warms.

Today, I'm simply thankful for what I've experienced. And hopeful that future generations will be able to experience these graceful insects, too.

In this part of the world, the past growing season has blessed us with plentiful butterflies of many species. For me, it started in early April, with the first one being a Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa), shown in the first photo of this post. It gracefully floated by my window on a warm breeze and landed in a sunny spot to bask. Mourning Cloaks are often the first and last butterflies we see here each season.

american copper

Next came the plentiful American Coppers (Lycaena phlaeas)--too numerous to count--up at our cottage in Marquette County. An open field there is thick with Sheep's Sorrel (Rumex acetosella), which likely explains their abundance as it's a larval host plant for the species.

red admiral 2

Then, one late afternoon in early summer, as I was gazing outside, I noticed several bright, orange-red butterflies darting and swooping and then returning to the same spot. When I went outside to investigate, I discovered they were Red Admirals (Vanessa atalanta). Apparently, this flight pattern is common for this species.

red admiral 1

It seemed to be a good year for Red Admirals. I saw them in numerous spots throughout the state and throughout the season. This one even landed on my pant leg as I was photographing plants.

tawny 2

Just as I was about to stop posting oranges for the Orioles, this little fellow showed up. I learned it was a Tawny Emperor (Asterocampa clyton), which often feeds on rotting fruit.

tawny 1

This Tawny Emperor (or a friend) made repeated visits, and for a few days in a row it rested on and consumed the oranges for several hours straight.


Near the same spot at our cottage where I saw the American Coppers and the Red Admirals, this Red-Spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis astyanax) paid a visit. At one point, it landed on the fishman's hand, and then basked in the sun in the upper branches of this Ash tree.


On various hikes throughout the summer, we saw Viceroys (Limenitis archippus), which mimic Monarchs; and

pearl crescent

Pearl Crescents (Phyciodes tharos), a very common butterfly in the Eastern U.S.

giant 2

And then there were the surprises, like this Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes), which is less common in my state. I don't ever recall seeing one before. It was huge--I'd estimate a wingspan of five to six inches! It was difficult to photograph, because its wings flapped so fast. (The above photo is a stop-action clip from a video.)

giant 1

In this photo, you can see the beautiful, bright underside of its wings. I learned that, along with Monarchs, the Giant Swallowtail is attracted to Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), and that its larval host plants include members of the Citrus family.

giant cat 1

Another host plant is Prickly Ash (Zanthoxylum americanum), which is more common in my northern locale than Citrus. I nearly missed this Giant Swallowtail (and its friend below) when I walked by it during a hike one day. It's hard to believe a squishy caterpillar can survive those sharp thorns, but I guess it knows what it's doing.

giant cat 2

Its camouflage makes it look like bird droppings. Fascinating.

black swallowtail 1

I also had the pleasure of seeing many Black Swallowtails (Papilio polyxenes) and Eastern Tiger Swallowtails (Papilio glaucus). (I didn't get any decent photos of the latter this year and I didn't want to cheat by using an old photo from last year. Tiger Swallowtails didn't seem quite as numerous this year as last--at least not in my garden and surroundings.)

black swallowtail 2

There was something mystical about this scene. This battered butterfly was somewhat difficult to identify and was probably at the end of its life. But it had just enough markings on its wings and body to identify it as another Black Swallowtail.

monarch 1

Believe it or not, the most plentiful butterfly in my garden this year was the Monarch (Danaus plexippus). By now, I suppose, just about everyone is aware that their numbers (at least the migrating Monarchs in the central and Eastern U.S.) were at a record low in North America in 2013.

But starting in mid-June this year, their numbers began exploding in this part of the state. And once the Swamp Milkweed began to bloom in my garden, I saw at least one (and sometimes many more) each day. I felt truly blessed.

monarch cat 1

During a trip to the cottage, I found this Monarch caterpillar. The property is thick with Milkweed plants of various species. I believe this is Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). Later in the summer, when I transplanted some A. syriaca to my home garden, I found a tiny instar cat, which I supplied with fresh Milkweed in a very sheltered area of the garden. I didn't bring it inside to raise it (which I regret), but it was a very healthy fifth instar before it crawled away to form a chrysalis.

monarch 2

We also saw many Monarchs during our hikes, like this healthy one enjoying nectar from a Thistle.

monarch 3

I never did find the chrysalis from that Monarch cat in my garden, but about 10-12 days later, two fresh and healthy, nearly perfect Monarchs were mating and then resting on the Yew shrubs. One seemed to linger a bit before it floated away on a breeze. Silly me for thinking it was the one I'd fed and nurtured.

monarch 4

There were still many more Monarchs to see--nearly every time I hiked.

monarch 5

One autumn day at the cottage, we saw numerous Monarchs migrating gracefully along the lakeshore, resting briefly on leaves and on flowering plants in the bright sunlight.

I thought, perhaps, those would be among the last Monarchs I would see. But they kept coming.

monarch 6

The last butterflies I saw this season were these Monarchs and their 10 or so friends. We'd already had a light frost, and I didn't expect to see anymore. But a fortuitous trip to the northeast corner of Lake Mendota to photograph fall foliage revealed this gift. It was an unexpected moment of grace.

I thought it would be fun to try out Google's Auto Awesome feature with some of my butterfly photos and videos. All you have to do is create a folder in Google Photos and add your photos and videos. The Google people automatically add music and transitions, and then notify you when your Auto Awesome video is ready. I should have labeled the photos so perhaps they would have added text, too. But as simple as it is, the resulting video is light and rather hopeful. I like the way it ends with the fifth instar Monarch caterpillar.

What a beautiful world it is when the butterflies (and caterpillars) are with us!

Thanks to and Butterflies and Moths of North America, for help identifying these and other species of butterflies.

(I'm taking a short break. My next planned post will be at the end of the month for the "Garden Lessons Learned" meme. To all those who celebrate Thanksgiving, I do hope you'll have a safe, healthy, and happy holiday. And thanks, to everyone who reads this, for your friendship!)

November 10, 2014

In a Vase on Monday: We're Not Dead Yet

snapdragons 2

Are you familiar with the movie, "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" or the play, "Spamalot"? If so, you're aware of the scenes that include "Not Dead Fred." This is definitely black humor: A supposed plague victim in England during the Middle Ages is carried out to be carted away for burial, but declares, "I'm not dead," and later--as the scene continues--"I'm getting better."

snapdragons 1

I kept imagining that scene on Sunday as I put the potager garden to bed for the winter. Most of the plants were indeed "dormant" or, in the case of the annuals, "dead." But the Snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus 'Rocket Mix') seemed to be screaming at me, "We're not dead yet!" I could have clipped them off and thrown them into the compost pile or left them standing. Instead I clipped off the very healthy flowerless stems, thinking I could use them for an arrangement.

That's what I started with when I contemplated an arrangement for today's "In a Vase on Monday" meme. It's hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden.

Next, I searched the bleak landscape for other elements for my arrangement. I have to tell you I'm happier with the idea for this one than the eventual result--mainly because I ran out of time at the end of the day to perfect it. But the elements--in greater quantities--could have made a lovely bouquet.

They included:


Foliage from the Highbush Cranberry (Virburnum trilobum);


Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) fruit and stems;

sea oats

Seed heads and stems from Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium);


A nearly dried Hydrangea (H. macrophylla) flower head; and

fern spore frond

Spore fronds from Fiddlehead Ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris).

In the end, those Snapdragon stems were screaming to stay together, alone, in their own vase. They just didn't fit with the dried, autumn arrangement.


So I kept them in the vase and plopped them on the front porch with the pumpkins. Who knows how long they'll last with the deep freeze on the way, but this way they have the display they deserve.

dried bouquet

The dried arrangement would have looked decent by the fireplace, but I had to put it on the back porch so the cat wouldn't eat it. I need to shorten the outer stems a bit, but this is close.


I didn't include these Cosmos (C. bipinnatus 'Versailles Mix') in the dried arrangement either. I cut them on Oct. 30, and they're still blooming. Impressive vase life!

Head on over to Cathy's blog for other inspirational bouquets and arrangements.