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

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The little late ones

It has been way too long since I last found my way to this blog. Much has been happening that may or may not get written about someday, but it is worth noting that many things are generally happening in any given ecosystem, in this case, the planting bed along our driveway.

Our New England aster and "Fireworks" goldenrod started blooming well before fall flowers are supposed to bloom, and the cold snap we had did in most of the blossoms, including all the "Autumn Joy" sedum. But a few have hung on, and a few plants that had gone dormant seem to have been revived by the cold. We have rudbeckia flowering again and will have a few obedient plant spikes in bloom if the frost waits a while.

More interesting than the late plants are the insects that are hanging on into the fall. Bumblebees are still active, and I get a little sad each time I see one of the fuzzy girls going about her business. Worker bumbles live only a single season, so the bees buzzing around right now have only a few more weeks to live. They probably don't know this fact of insect life, so they keep doing what they do up until the end. There is probably a message there.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

No pictures, but...

my short sit in the garden last evening was most satisfying, so much so that I didn't bother to go inside for the camera. (My phone is not one of the fancy varieties with internet access, and I probably didn't have it, either.)

The New England aster behind my head was starting to bloom, giving off its faint sweet scent, and the caryopteris divided and transplanted just this spring has put out the almost-unbelievably-blue flowers that only appear when the temperatures get a little warm for human comfort. (The blossoms are one of the best things about August, IMHO.) The Indian grass, big bluestem, and purple lovegrass in the savanna garden were in full, glorious bloom. (Okay, a couple of pictures, even if these were taken a few days ago. Have I mentioned that I love our native grasses?)


The tall grasses are still being joined by the pink puffs of Joe Pye weed (next to the house), which was attracting butterflies in what count for hordes this summer, 2014 being a better year than 2013 but still not great.


We finally got around to putting out sunflower seed, so the chickadees and sparrows were having a fine old time flitting from the rhododendron to the feeder, even though I broke down and had someone take out the twelve-foot pokeweed they loved so well. (I was deliberately away from home the week the removal occurred; I don't think I could have watched, having a perhaps unreasonable fondness for our giant purple-stemmed thug.) The occasional cardinal flew in for a seed and then hid in the crabapple.

To perfect the interlude, a male goldfinch decided to dismember an echinacea while I watched the show. I do love August.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

If you feed them, they will come

I don't know if other people pay attention to such things, but plants go to a lot of trouble to attract pollinators and seed dispersers. Yes, the situation is a win-win for both the critter and the plant, but I cannot think of plants as inanimate, even if they are generally quiet.(Mine may sometimes whisper, "Water! Water!")

Some plants put out the herbaceous equivalent of neon signs. Look at this pair of jewelweed blossoms.


Those dots are markers, leading pollinating insects and hummingbirds into the center of the blossom, where the nectar and pollen are found. "Eat here" is the likely message. Successfully pollinated jewelweeds celebrate by turning each blossom into a seedpod that can explode its contents across a wide area for something so small (hence the other common name, "touch-me-not").

Other plants produce flowers in abundance. What we call the flowers of daisies (and their relatives, the asters, coreopsis, zinnias, sunflowers, and whatever I'm leaving out) are in fact not flowers; they're modified leaves. The little yellow things in the center of this "Wild Romance" blossom are the individual flowers.


That's a lot of baby asters waiting to happen.

An unsprayed planting attracts lots of pollinators. This patch of obedient plant frequently hosts so many bees that their buzzing can be heard several feet away.


A not-particularly-outdoorsy relative noted with some surprise that the bees express absolutely no interest in nearby humans--and why would they, with all those tubes of nectar and pollen attracting their attention?

The feathery tubes of liatris have been one of this year's more popular eateries, with the same stem often hosting multiple pollinators. There seems to be plenty for everyone.


And it's not only flowers that feed animal visitors. Once all that pollinating has resulted in seed formation, seed-eating creatures come in for the harvest. I've never been able to photograph a goldfinch in action, but this semi-denuded echinacea seedhead is the remnant of a goldfinch snack.


I sometimes wonder why we bother with bird feeders.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Wild things

This afternoon my spouse mentioned a video he'd seen on Facebook, of a man in Arizona who had the bright idea of putting a heating pad under his hummingbird feeder during a hard freeze and who eventually had hummingbirds perching on his hand and getting warm by letting him turn a blow-dryer on them. Our hummingbirds are not that tame.

True confession: as much as I enjoy watching hummingbirds, we do not have a hummingbird feeder. Instead, our hummingbirds make do with wild food, and we grow lots of the (more or less) wild food they like. One favorite this year was red monarda,


and even though it has finished for the year, the hummingbirds are finding plenty to keep them fed. This evening, a single glance revealed five outside the dining room window: two fighting over the liatris (which had more than enough stems to feed two quarter-ounce birds), two chasing each other off the red honeysuckle, and one tiny singlet who managed to duck under the dueling duos and sip daintily from the agastache. Nearly any day during gladiolus season finds hummers working their way up and down the blossoms. Today brought the first jewelweed bloom, and if last year is any indication, the jewelweed patch will be hummingbird heaven.

Some days, the hummingbirds buzz the humans as a warning to stay away from their favorite plants, although most days they ignore us. This evening, I was able to sit in my favorite outdoor chair and observe hummers resting on the rhododendrons and the eastern wahoo. (Even the most hyperactive of birds have to perch sometimes.)

Hand-feeding hummers would make an interesting retirement project, but I think I prefer them wild.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Finally!

This has been a lousy year for lepidoptera on Chipmunk Ridge--more cabbage whites than anything else, and that is probably the one butterfly we don't want, given the propensity of its caterpillars for devouring our baby broccoli leaves. (Yes, I kill the little green munchers.) But at last, butterflies are showing up, though not in their usual numbers.

Yesterday we saw the first (and so far only) monarch of 2014, although something ate the leaves of the side-yard milkweed last month. Today brought black and tiger swallowtails, and the liatris are attracting their fair share of skippers. We are hoping that more of everyone's favorite pollinators show up before the season is over.

At least our clethra are doing their thing. (And if you don't know what clethra is, here is last year's blog post praising my favorite summer-blooming shrub.) Today the "Ruby Spice" outside the dining room had bees and wasps quarreling over who got which luscious stem of blooms. (There were plenty for everyone. I even got to cut some to bring in the house.)

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.