Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Monday, August 26, 2019

August in our Front Garden

We are in the midst of our typical summer sauna. The heat and humidity are thick and the sweat flows freely. No garden work is required to be drowning in perspiration. This doesn't stop me from wandering out of the comfortable air conditioning and into the steam bath. Pollinators are everywhere and I so enjoy watching this community of insects work so hard in my garden.

I only have to walk a few steps out our front door to see the liatris microcephala (dwarf blazingstar) covered in a huge number of butterflies. Everyone from skippers to swallowtails. These late summer blooming perennials are great for pollinators and bold color in the landscape. Liatris blooms from the top down on the flower stalk and has a long bloom time.

silver spotted skippers
silvery spotted skipper and black swallowtail 
cloudless sulphur
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
Dwarf liatris was planted along the stairs that connect the front path to the side garden, keeping low plants in the front of the bed. Somehow liatris aspera (rough blazingstar) appeared here and is bobbing over the stairs hosting a variety of bees. Big bumble bees to small leafcutter bees are fans of the frilly blooms; crawling around the flowers collecting pollen while they slurp up the sweet nectar.

native bumble bee

leafcutter bees
Another amazing perennial that spreads happily in our garden is the rudbeckia. It makes a strong statement at our front entrance come late summer. These big and bold flowers hang over the walkway making the walk to the front door a bit like traipsing through a jungle.

Looking closer at the rudbeckia, there are more native bees and butterflies.

leafcutter bee

pearl crescent butterfly

common buckeye butterfly
Once the flowers set seed, we often see goldfinches feeding on the rudbeckia, coreopsis and gaillardia flowers. The pollinator garden takes on another life supporting the birds.

Another bombshell is Kosteletzkya virginica (seashore mallow). As the common name indicates, this native plant grows naturally along the coast in tidal waters, making it a great plant for areas that tend to have standing water. We have just an area in our front garden that we have made into a rain garden.

Seashore mallow blooms open in the morning. Come late afternoon the flowers close for business. One of the great things about this plant is that sawflies don't attack it, like they do its hibiscus relative. This native mallow begins blooming in July and will continue well into October, supporting lots of swallowtails and a diversity of native bees.

Check out the pollen on this Tiger Swallowtail! As she hits the stamen she collects pollen on her hairy body and wings and transfers it to the pistil pollenating the flowers. 

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
An exciting discovery this month was finding black swallowtail caterpillars on the Zizia aurea (golden alexander), its native host plant. Most years we find them on the bronze fennel or parsley in the kitchen garden but this is the first year to see them munching on golden alexander. Thrilling!

black swallowtail caterpillar
We counted 12 caterpillars in various instars on just one golden alexander. 

Coreopsis are still going strong. Blooms abound. While participating in the Great Georgia Pollinator Census this weekend I observed this katydid feasting on the flowers alongside loads of tiny, native bees.

Nearby the coreopsis is the reseeding annual, Monarda punctata (spotted beebalm, dotted horsemint). I love this plant! Wasps often visit the blooms. They pollinate the plant while feeding themselves. Usually wasps aren't the most effective pollinators; however, because they have to stick their heads into the flower to get nectar, the pollen falls on their thorax. Look at all the pollen just below its head.

Sphex pensylvanicus on Monarda punctata
This great black wasp (Sphex pensylvanicus) is a pollen and nectar eater visiting plants in the hottest part of the summer. These beneficial wasps are members of the digger family which burrow in the soil and lay eggs. They feed their larva insects such as katydids, crickets and grasshoppers. 

Another visitor, I believe to be golden-reined wasp (Sphex habenus). 

Sphex habenus
And of course this time of year the spiders are skulking in the flowers stalking prey. This green lynx spider (Peucetia viridans) just caught a bumblebee, still covered in pollen. 

Peucetia viridan
August is a hard month in the garden. After a summer of blazing sunshine and very little rain the garden can look worn and crispy. To make conditions even more challenging, temperatures tend to sore into the 90's. Our plants don't receive supplemental water, so why does our garden look happy? We plant perennials that thrive in the soil and light conditions where they are planted and mulch really, really well. We choose perennials that are tough and include plants that provide color and interest while supporting wildlife through the seasons. The garden is continuously evolving through the year. Soon the fall flowers will begin to bloom.