Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Friday, June 28, 2013

A Wren's Song

Remember this handsome guy? I included a photo of him in my Seasonal Celebrations post earlier this month. He sings to me each morning near the kitchen window. Well, he isn't really singing to me. He is crooning to his lady love. This little bird can belt out an amazing number of decibels for his size. His loud teakettle-teakettle song is unmistakable.

All his serenading seems to have worked because the lady has been busy building a nest. But not in one of the many nesting boxes around the garden. No, she thought one of the pots along the walkway would be a much better spot. And when I peaked in there yesterday I found....

three eggs! And, today there were four! But, I didn't dare take a photo and over extend my viewing welcome. Plus the nest is tucked in amongst the sweet potato vine and has a very small opening and I didn't want disturb it. While she is sitting on the eggs, Mr. Wren is constantly singing. Defending his territory. Its a guy thing. No really, the male sings 3-11 times per minute! And here is a cool fact, a captive Carolina Wren reportedly sang 3,000 times in one day. Now, that requires some strong vocal cords and endurance!

This candelabra is one of his favorite places to perch and sing. Unfortunately, the only way for me to photograph him is through the kitchen door so the quality of the shots aren't terrific. I tried keeping the door open but he flew into the house a few times so now it must stay closed.

Carolina Wren's are found year-round in the Southeast but have been expanding their range, especially during warmer winters. They are dwellers of dense vegetation and my experience is that during nesting season they prefer human made spots such as boots & shoes, bins in the garage, pots, windowsills and mailboxes. A nesting pair can produce several broods a year and are monogamous and will stay together for year.

Good luck Mr. & Mrs. Wren. We look forward to meeting your expanding family!

Friday, June 21, 2013

An Artist's Garden

This week I was invited to tour a friend's garden. Not only is Miss Becky a fellow Master Gardener she is also a very talented and award winning artist. Her artistic flair is woven into all aspects of her garden from plant combinations to sculptures and the artistic elements which are found throughout her garden.

She gardens on a 1.5 acre sloped lot with equal parts shade and sun. The front of her home welcomes you with this stunning combination of giant pitcher plants and blue sage.

On the shaded slope facing the street Becky has a mass of shade loving plants including hydrangea, ferns, Solomon's seal and trillium. This is a challenging area because the deer forage here.

To deter the deer Becky created these coyote statues by painting some canvas which she stuffed and mounted on a rebar frame. She says it works! Later on the tour you will be in for a treat with another project made from rebar.

At the back of her house is a stunning tiered garden welcoming all types of pollinators.

Her hydrangea are very impressive. In Georgia we typically see blue hydrangea because of our acidic soil. Becky has amended her soil to neutralize it and now has blooms in several shades of purple.

And they are stunning!

She has several blue hydrangea including mopheads and lacecaps through out her garden. In the shade garden it is very calming and just makes you want to take a seat and stay a long while.

Recently, Becky began square foot gardening and won 2nd place for her family garden. To keep the deer, rabbits and other critters out of her vegetable garden she built this rebar house.

I love this! Not only is it a functional structure it also adds an airy, industrial element and fabulous focal point to this corner of her garden. Here is a closer look...

The rebar frame holds the netted walls that still allow pollinators, rain and sunshine to enter.
The  photo below was taken inside the structure and gives you an idea of the massive size.

Walking back toward the house is this view. In the foreground is a lovely pomegranate shrub in full bloom. In the background you can see the artist studio.

The garden is such a nice composition of color and texture.

The insects abound from all types of bees, beetles, beneficial insects and butterflies.

There is even room for faeries to dance here.

Becky painted several gourd kitties which her grandkids placed throughout the garden.

This is one of the real life inspirations. The kitties romp around the garden and love laying in the pine straw.

Here are a few more wide shots of the tiered garden from different angles.

One of the whimsical elements that really caught my eye were these hypertufa mushrooms.

I will end the tour with a few closer shots of the beautiful blooms.

Thank you Becky for sharing your gorgeous garden with us as well as your knowledge of design, color combinations and foliage colors and textures. I feel inspired to take my garden to the next level!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Seasonal Celebrations: Summer 2013

Officially summer begins on June 21st in the Northern Hemisphere. And everyone loves summer right?

Summer is time for outdoor fun, lazy days, family time, and trips to the beach or the cool mountains. All things I love about summer. One of the things I enjoy most is not adhering to a strict schedule; getting rid of the dreaded alarm clock, and being woken up by the birds singing.

this wren serenades me every morning! He has a big voice for such a little creature
I am joining Gardens Eye View for a look at our summer garden and the great outdoors.

Celebrating Pollinators

In my last post (Lessons Learned~Spring) I mentioned that we saw fewer butterflies and caterpillars this spring and it seems that the cooler weather has played a part. As we are in June now and the weather and humidity are picking up so are the butterfly sightings.

Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele)
Summer is the peak of butterfly season and one of the purposes of our gardens is to provide habitat for these amazing insects. This includes nectar sources for adults, larval host plants, puddling sites, shelter, water and most importantly avoiding pesticides.

Black swallowtail larvae on fennel
The most recent reports show that wintering Monarch butterfly populations in Mexico have declined. Add to that our colder and wetter spring and the outlook looks austere for these butterflies.  We have several species of milkweed growing in our garden, to help sustain the monarchs on their spring/fall migrations as part of the Monarch Waystation project. These plants are thriving with the significant rainfall we've had this spring but for this gardener, the unoccupied milkweed is a sad state and I am hoping that later this summer we will be able to celebrate the monarchs when they find their way to Southern Meadows.

Asclepias tuberosa

Sightings of all species of  butterflies have been down this season so I delight even more in those that I do see. Makes celebrating them even more meaningful.

High Heat Survivors

This Spring's bountiful rainfall has spared gardeners the effort and expense of supplemental watering typical at this time of year. Normally, Summer is harsh here. I celebrate plants that can stand up to the high heat and drought. These plants not only provide lots of vivid color in the garden but they also provide nectar and shelter sources for the bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and a multitude of other pollinators. Here are some of my favorites:

Rudbeckia maxima

This giant coneflower is hard to overlook with its powder blue leaves and tall stalks that grow up to 6' tall! The extra large cone in the center is a pollinator treat.

Echinacea pupurea
Not only are butterflies and bees (especially native bees) all over Eastern purple coneflower all summer long but hummingbirds will visit them too. Echinacea is the Greek word for hedgehog, referring to the prickly looking dome shaped flowers which, according to my children, makes the "cool" factor of this plant even greater.

Kniphofia uvaria 'Echo Mango'

This hot poker plant provides continuous blooms during the summer months while attracting butterflies and hummingbirds. The blooms are like torches that glow at dusk.

bumblebee on hot lips sage

Pollinator Week is June 17-23. These critical insects play such an important role not only in our gardens but are necessary for a balanced environment in nature.  Take a look at the Pollinator Partnership site here to see what is happening in your area and how you can participate.

Fruit is Fast Food
Summer is berry time....blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries...we love them all! Most of the time we pick them right off the plant and eat them in the garden.

my niece stuffing her mouth with raspberries

When we are good and full we start collecting them in our basket for freezing. I've never been able to collect enough at one time in our garden to make jams so a visit to our local U-pick farm is a must this summer. I am also registered for a Jams & Jellies class at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia to learn the fine art of capturing summer's best flavors from fig preserves to blueberry syrup.

How do you celebrate summer in your garden? Do share your traditions by going to Gardens Eye View: Seasonal Celebrations for meme details here. Best wishes for a successful growing season this summer and hope that you see lots of interesting pollinators visiting your garden!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Lessons Learned: Spring 2013

We've had a nice long SPRING here at Southern Meadows! On average temperatures have been 10+ degrees below average and we've experienced record spring rainfall. This has been fabulous for the plants and this gardener. So what did I learn this spring? I am joining Plant Postings for "Lessons Learned" and sharing some of my new discoveries in the garden.

raindrop on plum blossom

The Downside of Cool & Wet

One of the casualties of this cooler, wetter weather are the butterflies. We have had significantly fewer butterflies fluttering around the garden. You may remember a photo I posted last year of 22 black swallowtail caterpillars on just one bronze fennel plant. This year we've had just one.

Fascinating Fasciated Plants

I've learned that nature makes "mistakes" too. These mistakes are called mutations and have a genetic basis that are sometimes passed on to future generations. Those mutations that provide favorable adaptation can be incorporated over time into most of the species and non-adaptive mutations are typically eliminated from the population. One of these interesting "mistakes" is known as fasciated. It is usually the result of a growing point changing from a round dome of cells into a crescent shape. This results in a growth with a flat stem. It is known to happen in over 100 vascular plant species. Woody plants, annuals and even cacti are affected.

fasciated foxglove

This fasciated foxglove is growing at the educational garden where I teach. You can see the leaves and flowers look like a fan. Scientists aren't really sure what causes fasciation but they think hormones play a part. Gee, you mean plants suffer from hormonal issues too!

Apparently, fasciation is pretty common in foxgloves. And, interestingly, perennials that exhibit this mutation one year will be normal the next.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Lady Beetles

Every organic gardener knows that lady beetles are a gardener's best friend and they do their best to attract them to his/her garden to help control other insects that can be destructive to plants in large populations. Lady beetles help keep aphid and spider mite populations in check.

lady beetle eating aphid
 In 1916 Asian lady beetles were introduced as a natural pest control in greenhouses. Of course they escaped and spread uncontrollably across the U.S. Until recently scientists didn't really know why the non-native lady beetle was such a successful conqueror.  A new study published in Science found that the Asian lady beetle is very aggressive attacking the larvae and eggs of butterflies and native lady beetles. The study also discovered that the Asian beetles contain high concentrations of a fungal parasite called microsporidia. If a native lady beetle eats the larvae or eggs of an Asian beetle this parasite, which lays dormant in the non-native bug, is activated. It begins to penetrate the new host's cells and continues to replicate until the parasite has killed the host. Very bad news!

So how does one control the Asian lady beetles in their garden? For starters, I am learning to identify the various types of lady beetles. I have found this site very helpful: Natural History Museum of LA-Identifying Ladybugs. Another helpful guide is here where you can enter characteristics and it will search results. But what is the next step?

Please do join Plant Postings and share any lessons you learned in your garden this spring. Next, I will be joining Gardens Eye View for a look forward to summer in Seasonal Celebrations.