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I'm a woman entering "the third chapter" and fascinated by the journey.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Ladies and Lepidoptera

Yesterday I had the good fortune to be in Montgomery County with my stepson's family as part of the extended celebration of a 95-year-old aunt's birthday. A remarkably cool July afternoon allowed us to spend some time at Cox Arboretum Metropark, where one of the highlights is an extensive butterfly garden with a butterfly house as a centerpiece. While some of our group relaxed near the pond, the three teenage granddaughters took me on a tour of the lepidoptera showcase.

It turns out the the butterfly garden attracts more than just butterflies, as these box elder bugs were not at all shy about engaging in the exchange of genetic material right along a public path.

The (possibly) most adventurous of the three granddaughters discovered this cute little spider lurking on the echinacea.

There were not a lot of adult butterflies out at the time of our visit, but they had obviously been in the area. A pipevine arbor was inhabited by a number of these fierce-looking (and toxic) pipevine swallowtail caterpillars. According to the volunteer staffing the butterfly house, sometimes the pipevine hosts so many cats that it is possible to hear them chewing. (Are these little guys the reason why black and orange are the Halloween colors?)

 Possibly my favorite butterfly house juveniles, though, were the enormous caterpillars of the cecropia moth. I have never seen one of the adults, not being prone to wandering around outdoors at night, but the cecropia is our largest native moth, with a wingspan roughly the size of a dollar bill. The cats were a good four inches long and as big around as my index finger.

Given the enthusiasm with which these adolescent invertebrates were demolishing maple leaves, I kept my fingers well away from their chewing parts, so you get no size comparison from me.

But aren't they cute? The human teenagers thought so.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A new favorite place

Where did July go? I last posted on the 4th, and here it is almost three weeks later. I'm not even sure what exactly kept me so busy--but there were house projects, and yard projects, and an absolutely magical week at Oberlin College for the Unitarian Universalist Ohio Meadville District Summer Institute: lots of learning, laughing, good music, and good people.

Oberlin the town and Oberlin the college are both pretty amazing places. The town was founded by a couple of idealistic Presbyterians who took their not getting eaten by a bear as a sign that they had found the right place for their new intentional community, and the college was multiracial at its founding in 1830-something and was the first college to admit women a decade or so later. The place manages to be quaint and historic and progressive and funky all at the same time, with some utterly gorgeous architecture (for those of us who like Collegiate Gothic)

and fascinating plantings. The ultramodern Oberlin Conservatory is hedged with carefully pruned staghorn sumac, a feature that would never have occurred to me.

This traditional-looking colonnade, part of an Italianate building

actually is home to a surprise: each column, and each face of each column, is different. Some of the carvings are totally medieval in feel

while others probably represent someone important in the history of the college. I particularly like this guy.

Oberlin is also home to a 90-acre arboretum that includes two lakes surrounded by raised gravel paths. My walking partner and I got there at what must have been the right time of day.

As if the sheer physical beauty of the place weren't enough to cap off a perfect afternoon, a cedar waxwing decided to hang out in a tree next to the trail for several minutes.

This first visit will not be my last.

Friday, July 4, 2014

A little piece of paradise

We all need a place where perfect relaxation is possible. My  place is in the chair on the right in this photo, tucked behind ridiculously red "Jacob Cline" monarda and "White Swan" echinacea.
 To my right, not visible in the picture above, is a streetside hedge of mixed physocarpus (and assorted other things), giving privacy without isolation in the unlikely event that I should ever need to summon help from the neighbors. (I read too many mysteries in the summer.)

Sometimes, hummingbirds decide to visit,

but even when they don't, one of my favorite things to do in the
yard these days is nothing.

With all the daisies and grasses in bloom right now, there is never
 a dull moment.

For instance, sitting with a cup of coffee this morning, I got to enjoy a pair of goldfinches nibbling the rudbeckia. The presence of darting golden birds is worth the sacrifice of a few petals. Before dinner, a pair of mourning doves was courting on the ground under the birdfeeder, while adolescent finches (still at the adorable fuzzy-eyebrows stage) sat on various perches and poles demanding food from their parents (despite the presence of food all around them).

This has not been a good butterfly year so far, but we do have our share of whites and sulfurs, not to mention LOTS of fireflies.

 But the honest truth is, my favorite summer non-activity 
is watching the feather grass wave in the breeze.
Who needs to visit the Low Country salt marshes when there's paradise in Parkersburg?

Saturday, June 28, 2014

One of the best things about Parkersburg

I love public amenities. Admittedly, public gardens and other green spaces are not (and probably cannot be) as individual as the private spaces featured on last week's garden tour, but--they are public. Open to everyone and, in many cases, free.

Such is the case with the Blomberg Arboretum adjacent to the main Parkersburg library. This is a small public greenspace, one that can be walked in just a few minutes if one is not ogling the plants and animals, but the variety and liveliness packed into this small area make it deserving of attention, particularly because most of the plantings are West Virginia native species. In spring the arboretum overwhelms with flowering trees and in late summer with prairie flowers and grasses in full bloom, but something interesting is happening all the time.

Right now, the water lilies in the entrance pond are putting on quite a show

while a past-peak oakleaf hydrangea still commands attention.

Some of the beds have a formal layout, demonstrating that native plant gardens need not be messy,

although some plants, like this silphium, do want to get a tad out of control.

Nearly everything in the arboretum is labeled, making this a teaching space. There is even a (more or less) formal space for lectures, shaded by several large native wisteria (not to be confused with the Asian wisteria currently devouring the South).

This wisteria attracts bees and other beneficial insects, though I wasn't able to get a decent picture of any of the little pollinators happily working this plant this morning.

All of this beauty and information are freely available to anyone who wanders over from the library parking lot, and it is nestled in what for us is a busy area. The upper-floor balconies of a senior citizens' apartment building overlook some of the arboretum's trees, the space backs onto back yards, and the gap in the fence leads to an unused alley that allows quick pedestrian access to the businesses on Emerson Avenue. The city arboretum demonstrates the relative ease of making room for nature in even small spaces in our human communities.

It has also made me change my opinion that most monarda is boring. The developing blossom of monarda fistulosa is a new favorite thing.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Another new favorite

I have never been wild about monarda. The washed-out purple of the wild form is a perfectly good color mixed in with other things, and all monardas are good for pollinators. (There's a reason the plant is called "bee balm.") But the penchant for powdery mildew, need for water, and tendency to wander if happy has made the plant one on my "meh" list.

Until now. The summer before last, a gardening buddy gave me a start of "Jacob Cline," and this year it is perhaps the most glorious thing in the yard. Its bud is exquisite,

and while the flowers are in the process of opening, the plant hardly looks real.

Now that the blossoms are fully open, Jacob is attracting even more hummingbirds than lonicera sempervirens, the previous best hummingbird magnet. Even better, it pairs well with other flowers, like this echinacea "White Swan."

And its color may be the reddest red I've ever seen.

It's always good to make new friends.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The red and the gray

Taking one of my frequent looking-out-the-window breaks this afternoon, I was delighted to see that our resident fairydiddle had returned for more sunflower seed.

I was in my forties before ever seeing one of these mysterious creatures, and now one has taken up residence in the neighborhood.

By the time my husband arrived for a look at the return visitor, it had been joined by a standard gray squirrel. (For anyone unfamiliar with the fairydiddle, it is the rodent on the right.)

Had there been a third feeder hanging nearby, these two might have been joined by a Black Squirrel of North Parkersburg, as quite a few of them have been visiting lately. If fox squirrels would just migrate into the Mid-Ohio Valley, my squirrel-watching delight would be complete.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A happy day

Today started out well and got even better. When a friend dropped by this morning, the pileated woodpecker decided to visit the sweet gum across the street and then wing its noisy way into another neighbor's yard. I will probably never get tired of that particular bird.

Then, today was the day of the Marietta Garden Tour, and it was a big hit. Workers at the four gardens reported that they were packed, those of us working the plant sale sold lots of plants, including lots of native plants good for birds and butterflies, and the musicians in the courtyard kept us all entertained. The final tally isn't in yet, but I suspect that the tour made quite a bit of money for the building maintenance fund.

2014 is proving to be a good year for fireflies. Being too tired to grade papers this evening, I took a glass of wine into the front yard and spent some quality time in the Adirondack chair, watching the fireflies that were putting on quite a show. It had been a long time since I had sat among the little bugs that blink off and on, speaking a signal language that I can't read.

I need to get out more.