Nurture, Respect, Learn, Educate, Always Grow!

Friday, May 15, 2015

A Stroll through the Garden {May Garden Blogger's Bloom Day}

I typically start my day strolling through the garden, coffee in hand. I enjoy waking up to the sounds of the birds singing as the sunrise peers over the hilltop. The bright spring blooms also say good morning in a friendly way. And wildlife encounters are certain. This is my quiet time each morning, before the hustle and bustle begins, when I often take photos of the garden.

At the front of the house summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) has erupted into bloom. This silver spotted skipper butterfly made a quick stop for a bit of nectar before flying over to the nearby dwarf black locust 'twisty baby' (Robinia pseudoacacia 'Lace Lady'), a host plant from the legume family.

One morning I was lucky to catch sight of a green lacewing cleverly camouflaged on the leaves of the same black locust tree. These are beneficial insects that are general predators and the hungry larvae will eat a wide variety of slow moving insects such as aphids, scale, mealybugs, spider mites, thrips and white flies.

Nestled amongst the summersweet and black locust is St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum), a wonderful woody shrub that is a bee magnet.

The blanket flowers (Gaillardia) are a long season bloomer growing among a grouping of pots by the driveway where they get full sun all day long. The butterflies love their open face blooms but they are often frequented by bee flies.

The purple passionvine (Passiflora incarnata L.) began to emerge throughout our front beds in early May. They took over the front bed and sidewalk last year and I promised myself I would keep them more contained this year so we could walk to the front door. However, as quickly as they poked their heads out of the ground the variegated fritilliary butterfly found them and rapidly laid eggs.

The leaves are now dotted with various instars of tiny caterpillars. Both variegated and gulf fritillary butterflies host on this vine. Now what to do? Do I move the caterpillars to a few vines that will grow up the trellis? Do I relocate the vines and hope they survive along with the caterpillars? I wanted to dig some of them up to pot as pass-a-long plants for our Garden Walk, maybe attendees will get a bonus caterpillar.

In a timely way, numerous nectar sources are beginning to bloom which will support the adult butterflies. Southern ragwort (Senecio anonymus) grows in sun and part shade conditions around our garden and has been blooming prolifically for the past several weeks. The daisy-like flowers are a favorite of small bees and syrphid and tachinid flies.

We have several varieties of yarrow (Achillea millefolium). A tough perennial that we have grown in several sunny locations throughout the garden but it does best on our hill garden and is spreading happily. Just coming into bloom it is often frequented by butterflies who like the flat top for an easy landing. It is one of several host plants the American Painted Lady butterfly uses for laying eggs.  

Amsonia 'Blue Ice' has been prolific all month and is a star in one of our front beds where it receives full sun. Deer resistant it has been a good choice for this part of our garden plus the mounding habit gives it a shrub like appearance.

The periwinkle blue, star shaped flowers grow in lovely clusters making it very showy.

At the edge of the woodland garden grow a variety of native columbine including this new addition (Aqulegia vulgaris 'William Guineness'). I am very fond of the deep purple and cream blooms and they attract lots of pollinators, including hummingbirds.

Soft pink fuchsia blossoms (Stand Up Peggy) are paired with mouse ear hostas in pots in the woodland garden and are often visited by the hummers.

The red hot poker plants (Kniphofia uvaria) are just now coming into bloom and the hummingbirds immediately find them. It is such a thrill to watch these birds hover in motion as they reach to the back of tubular blooms and then in a dash they are off to another part of the garden.

Indian Pink (spigelia marilandica) is an absolute show stopper. Its unique tubular flowers are a hummingbird favorite (notice a pattern here). It is paired with blackberry lily 'hello yellow' (not yet blooming).

Abbeville Iris (Iris nelsonii) a native to Louisiana grows in our pond garden alongside spiderwort (Tradescantia) and has been putting on a good show this month.

Several other blooms are just beginning their bloom time but I will save those for June.I am joining our hostess Carol at May Dreams Gardens for bloom day. Do stop over to see what is blooming in other gardens.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

A different kind of tulip

Late spring is tulip time. We don't have any of the traditional bulb type tulips planted in our garden but we do have an abundance of another kind of tulip. The tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) known by many common names such as tulip poplar, yellow poplar, or tulip magnolia grows plentifully in our woods.

Reminiscent of the spring blooming bulb, both the blooms and the leaves make the familiar tulip shape. These creamsicle colored  blooms are real charmers and attract bees and ruby-throated hummingbirds when they open.

Looking strictly at the structure of the blooms you can see how this tree is a member of the Magnoliacae family. It is the largest tree in the Eastern forests, growing as tall as 80 feet or more. Daniel Boone used the wood for his 60' dugout canoe. George Washington said it was one of his all time favorite trees and planted them at Mount Vernon some of which are more than 140' tall now.  These trees create a very tall canopy in our woods with the tallest trees void of lower branches making it difficult to see any insect activity on the leaves or blooms.

It is a wonderful tree for wildlife. White-tailed deer and rabbits browse the young trees. A host plant for the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and Spicebush butterfly as well as the Promethea and Tulip Tree moth. Migratory birds such as the Baltimore Orioles and Scarlet Tanagers feed in these trees while finches and hummingbirds seek out the flower's rich nectar. Seeds provide food for a variety of birds including finches, cardinals, and quail.

As the blooms are marooned so high up in the tree they are heavy with nectar, an adaptation developed to attract pollinators that don't normally forage so high up. After all there needs to be a reward for such a high altitude visit and these voluptuous blooms are the prize.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Celebrating Wildflowers

As a child I use to merrily frolic in wildflower meadows. I remember picking flowers to gift to my mom or make headpieces with my friends out of our favorite wildflowers. I loved dandelion blooms. Some of my most treasured memories of those times were sitting in a grassy meadow picking dandelions and making long chains that we would dangle around our necks and then dance around. At the time I didn't give any thought to the actual flowers and their purpose, I was a child after all and I just liked them because they were pretty. But what is a wildflower?

Long ago I defined wildflowers as any flower that grew in the ditches alongside the road or in meadows and fields that hadn't been intentionally planted or seeded but appeared as nature intended.

As I've become more educated in plants I am aware that many of the plants that grow alongside the road and show up in disturbed areas are non-native, invasive plant species that do not fall in my current definition of a wildflower. How times have changed from the carefree days as a child. Now, I feel a responsibility to these plants and my local habitat.

Today we use words such as native, invasive, introduced, or naturalized to more accurately describe the source of plants. It has changed how I define wildflowers. My current definition is a native species that naturally occurs in an area. Should native hybrids be part of this definition? Or naturalized species (introduced species that are considered native)?

In addition to being pretty, wildflowers provide crucial habitat for insects and birds, conserve water, and protect soil from erosion.

Now a days roadsides are often sprayed by county or state agencies or mowed at the wrong time of year making conditions more than challenging for wildflowers to grow and support the local ecosystem. Likewise, fields and meadows are hard to find today. They are gobbled up by strip malls, subdivisions and stores which are surrounded by massive parking lots and typically landscaped with non-native plants.

So this week is National Wildflower Week. An entire week set aside to celebrate our beloved wildflowers and provide learning opportunities on the importance of these plants.

Wildflowers can easily be incorporated into the home landscape. In fact it is become more and more critical that homeowners plant native species to support our pollinators. Every week insects are making the news because they are in danger due to loss of habitat. And yet, it seems to take a lot of convincing to get the public to pay heed to this message.

Plant wildflowers. Stop using pesticides and insecticides. Plant native. Attract pollinators & beneficial insects. Enjoy the natural beauty!

That love of the first dandelion has stayed with me. A member of the Asteraceae family, some of my favorite wildflowers are included in this group such as sunflowers, asters and ageratum. Wildflowers have a way of bringing us closer to nature. This is something that is missing from childhood today.

Take sometime this week to plant some wildflowers in your garden, visit a nature preserve to learn more about your local flora, remove invasive plants or join your local native plant society. Wildflowers and wildlife go together and the rewards are endless.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Ants. Unlikely Pollinators

Some plants and insects go unnoticed most of the time. Often sitting under taller trees and shrubs in a woodland setting minding their own business is Euonymus americanus. Know by it's common name strawberry bush  or in my part of the world hearts a burstin', this bush comes into the spotlight in fall because of its incredible fruit which burst out of deep pink capsules and are eaten by songbirds and wild turkey. (warning: should not be ingested by humans as they are considered poisonous)

fall fruite of Euonymus americanus

In spring a careful observer will spy its little pale blossoms. As you can see they are not very eye catching and would go completely unnoticed if they weren't so abundant.

Look even closer and you will find there are ants sprawling all over the blooms. Red ants, black ants. It's bustling with activity.

And, these ants don't stay at one bloom for long. Scurrying along with a real sense of urgency.

Feeding on the nectar these blooms provide. And inadvertently pollinating? That is the question.

I can almost see some pollen grains sticking to the tiny hairs on the ants abdomen. It's easiest to see on the black ants. While these ants collect the energy rich nectar I see them vibrate their abdomen, possibly collecting and redistributing pollen.

Everything I read says that ants are not effective pollinators. They are more likely to take nectar without cross-pollinating flowers. Plus, some ants secrete a natural substance that protects them from bacterial and fungal infections acting like an antibiotic. Unfortunately for the flowers this secretion can also kill a pollen grain pretty quickly.

So are these social insects pollinators? Well, my Euonymus americanus was full of fruit last fall and as far as I can tell the ants are the only things pollinating these inconspicuous blooms.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Webs of Morning Dew

The fog is thick this morning. The birds are just rising, their song bringing life to the day. Dew lays gently across the fields glistening in the first light. A fleeting glance around the pastures reveal that the orb spiders were busy during the night weaving glorious webs.

In the dense fog it is hard to make out all the silk spun webs but they are everywhere. It is astounding how many there are.  Hanging between the openings of the barbed wire fences, among the blades of tall meadow grass, between the limbs of the trees. All waiting to snag an unsuspecting insect.

The webs hold onto the night's dew droplets mimicking grand crystal chandeliers.

Some droplets so heavy they rip the fine threads as they fall almost like rain.

The bead-like chains are nature's masterpiece and a sweet reward for being an early riser.

As the sun rises higher and begins to evaporate the dew, the webs seem to disappear almost as quickly as they were revealed. Time for some more coffee.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Portrait of a Buckeye

Hands down one of the most captivating shrubs to watch unfurl in spring is the buckeye. From the big fat terminal bud to complete leaf out followed by bloom time, it is fascinating to watch.

In early spring the bud breaks open and slowly the contents begins to emerge.

The leaves gently cradle the bloom as a mother would her newborn.

Then ever so gracefully the leaves release the blossom and stretch themselves out.

As they gradually pull away, they spread far and wide.

The new leaves take in the sun and bring a new energy to the plant.

The blooms of the Red Buckeye stand upright waiting for the arrival of the ruby-throated hummingbirds while the Painted Buckeye calls out to the early bees and butterflies.

We have two varieties of buckeye growing in our garden, Painted Buckeye (Aesculus sylvatica) which is native to our area in the Georgia Piedmont and Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia) which is native to the upper and lower coastal plain. Both varieties feel most at home at the edge of our beech/oak woods and in a clearing where they receive dappled sunlight. Here they grow alongside devil's walking stick, sumac, and elderberry shrubs.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Seasonal Celebrations: Firsts

That. First day that feels like Spring. You know the one. The feeling is in the air. The cool morning turns into a glorious sunny day that warms your face. The first day that you peal your layers off when you are working in the garden. The one were the birds are singing as loud as they can way up high in the canopy announcing their arrival. Yes. That one.

bluebird (male)
Eastern bluebird (male)

Sometimes that day arrives in north Georgia as early as February but typically it's an early March day. I'm embracing that day. The first tingling of spring.

view into our garden

The 'Okame' cherry trees are always anxious to get the spring party started. They typically explode into color around Valentine's Day but all too often Old Man Winter will quash their efforts. And yet, they still try. When they succeed the honey bees and the finches are very happy. You can read more about my experience watching birds eating their blossoms here.This year their opening was pushed back to early March (almost a month later than normal) due to some crazy winter weather. In fact, I'm amazed that they have blooms at all. Most of them must have been tight enough when the ice covered them a few weeks ago.

Okame cherry tree
Okame Cherry tree

I'm going to be rejoicing all the firsts of this spring season because after this long, wet, cold winter it is time to celebrate the new season with verve. I'm joining Donna at Gardens Eye View for Seasonal Celebration. Won't you come along?

One of my favorite things about spring is seeing the new blossoms bud and then burst open on the trees painting the landscape in soft pastels. The orchard trees usually always follow the cherry trees in their bloom time. This year they are blooming in synchronicity giving pollinators a choice of nectar as they emerge from their winter abode.

honey bee on plum bloom
honey bee on plum bloom

If you'd like to see more on the orchard go to my post A Chorus of Pollinators in the Orchard.

A favorite activity is walking through the woods to find all the early emerging spring blossoms that poke up through the leaf litter and shine on the woodland floor. I have tried to recreate this look in our woodland garden by adding many native ephemerals.


Golden ragwort
Golden ragwort

Sometimes nature does all the work on her own. It is a thrill to find native plants in our woods without any help from us.

Catesby's Trillium
Catesby's Trillium

The coral honeysuckle is about to burst into bloom. Just in time for the arrival of the first ruby-throated hummingbirds. We usually see the first hummers in late March. If you live in the Lower 48 or southern Canada you can report your first sighting at

coral honeysuckle
Coral honeysuckle

It's not just the blooms that are fun to watch but who will be the first to leaf out? The elderberry shrubs seem to have beat everyone to it this year.

elderberry leafing out
American elderberry

You can learn to be a plant observer and report your findings at a citizen science project called Project BudBurst. This is a great way to help in their research.

There is something special about celebrating firsts. They stick in your memory and in your heart. How will you celebrate your first spring day? I hope it is out in the garden.