Flying things

Yesterday I saw this perched on a plant, either the datura or the day lilies in the sunny side garden.eastern pondhawk  There’s no pond nearby, but everything else I found about this dragonfly matches up with what I saw.  Based on some Googling, I’d call this a female eastern pondhawk.  Gorgeous!

Thanks,  bugguide, and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, for the information and the photo. (The remaining photos are mine.)

Other flying creatures include a hummingbird, which apparently avoids its own special feeder but loves the little red zinnias that have self-sowed in the vegetable bed, and also likes the bronze fennel although its flower is yellow.DSC04092

 
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The butterfly hunt has resulted in yet another Silver-spotted Skipper.  I had hoped it was something more exotic, but it’s still pretty and kindly stayed in one place so I could take its picture.DSC04049  Like everyone else, it seems to love the verbena bonariensis, which has self-sowed everywhere.

The Goldilocks tree

For the last couple of years, I’ve planned to take out the butterfly bush that anchors the northern end of the sunny border and replace it with the perfect small tree or shrub.  It can be tall but can’t be too wide lest it impinge on the neighbors’ driveway, which they are very proud of and guard jealously. Ideally, it would be a native that supports lots of wildlife AND has at least two-season interest.

Well, perfect is the enemy of the good, as we all know, and I’ve been paralyzed.  Here are just a few of the possibilities.

The first is probably too big:

yaupon_hollyIlex vomitoria commonly known as Yaupon is native to a variety of areas including sandy woods, dunes, open fields, forest edges and wet swamps, often along the coastal plain and maritime forests, from Virginia to Florida, Arkansas and Texas. This is a thicket-forming, broadleaf evergreen shrub or small tree that typically grows in an upright, irregularly branched form to 10-20’ tall and to 10’ wide, but may grow taller in optimum conditions. Elliptic to ovate-oblong, leathery, glossy, evergreen, dark green leaves (to 1.5” long) have toothed margins. Small greenish-white flowers appear on male and female plants in spring (April). Flowers are fragrant but generally inconspicuous. Pollinated flowers on female plants give way to berry-like red (infrequently yellow) fruits 1/4” diameter) which ripen in fall and persist into winter. Birds are attracted to the fruit.  -Missouri Botanical Garden

The second is one that Anne Little had recommended for the back garden:

sweetbay_magnolia

Magnolia virginiana, commonly called sweet bay magnolia, is native to the southeastern United States north along the Atlantic coast to New York. In the northern part of its cultivated growing range, it typically grows as either a 15-20′ tall tree with a spreading, rounded crown or as a shorter, suckering, open, multi-stemmed shrub. In the deep South, it is apt to be more tree-like, sometimes growing to 60′ tall. Features cup-shaped, sweetly fragrant (lemony), 9-12 petaled, creamy white, waxy flowers (2-3″ diameter) which appear in mid-spring and sometimes continue sporadically throughout the summer. Oblong-lanceolate shiny green foliage is silvery beneath. Foliage is evergreen to semi-evergreen in the South, but generally deciduous in the St. Louis area. Cone-like fruits with bright red seeds mature in fall and can be showy. See also Magnolia virginiana var. australis which primarily differs from the species by being somewhat taller, having more fragrant flowers and being more likely to be evergreen. -Missouri Botanical Garden

It’s said to prefer moist soils but everyone claims that once it’s established it would be fine through a Virginia summer.  But does it have more than spring interest?  And, 60 feet tall??  Though I’ve also read that it’s easily pruned.

Doug Tallamy recommends the native black cherry because it is a host plant for so much “vertebrate and invertebrate wildlife.”  However, a Dave’s Garden poster says:

In the garden or small property, I give this thumbs-down. It does not make an ornamental specimen, even in full bloom. The flowers are tiny and I don’t find them at all showy. I also find them mildly malodorous. The foliage is consistently troubled by tent caterpillars and webworms, and the twigs are commonly disfigured by black knot.

Like most cherries, it has thirsty, competitive roots. It self-sows weedily and aggressively. The wood is brittle and presents a hazard when it breaks. And the cherries stain everything black when they fall, those that the birds leave. Read more: http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/2519/#ixzz38gH65R00

Too bad…

Tallamy also recommends a river  birch,  but they suck up all the water and get too big for my space.

Now, I do love crabapples, and he says that the non-native species seem to attract just as many creatures as the natives do, so maybe that’s the way to go.  Maybe Michael Dirr can recommend a small variety.

At least I have a silver (?) maple and a white oak, which both host myriad species.  I have yet to see a moth on the oak tree, but on the other hand I’ve only just started looking.

 

 

 

Capturing wildlife

Actually, just trying to photograph insects in hopes of identifying them later.  It’s much harder than it seems when you see a bee sitting tight and gorging itself on pollen (or is it gorging on nectar?  see, I really need a book), ready for its close-up.  First you have to get it in focus, then you have to take several pictures in rapid succession (I used the burst feature on my camera), then you look at them on the computer and realize that most of them are either sans bee or out of focus.

I got to the bees through this book, Butterflies_through_binocularswhich I’m enjoying despite its 1999 copyright and outdated info on taking photos.  Glassberg is an expert and an enthusiast, and it shows.  The introductory material on how and where to see butterflies and how to pay attention to them is quite illuminating.  Since butterflies come to life in sunshine, it’s mid-morning here before they are active in the front garden.  I think I’ll need to make note of the most common ones and start there.  Lots of skippers, in other words.

The butterfly book inevitably led me to need a similar book on moths and one on bees.  There’s a new bee book that I have my eye on, and here’s why. DSC03791

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I can tell that these is bees, but that’s all I know.  Hence the need for this book:bumble bees of north america

 

 

 

 

 

It is even now winging its way to me.  As it were.  As for moths, there’s a newish Peterson guide, but it covers northeastern America – not sure if that matters here in the southeast or not.  In the meantime, I’ve place the Covell guide on hold from the library.

All of this led me back to Douglas Tallamy’s inspiring book, Bringing Nature Home, which I now own in the revised edition.  As I was noticing the bees on the hostas, achillea, hyssop, and echinops, I also realized that I never see them on the daylilies (native to Eurasia), or the spirea (though Wikipedia tells me this is a food source for many larvae).  What I really want to do is to match my plants with the insects that feed on them, in hopes of identifying more insects.  A project for another day.

Not your average garden book

The-Bad-Tempered-Gardener-by-Anne-WarehamAnn Wareham may be a contrarian, but it’s not just for the sake of it.  She is genuinely puzzled by gardeners who put together a collection of plants rather than design a garden.  Her garden, Veddw, in the Welsh borders, is two acres of carefully designed garden (plus two acres of managed woods) that include some startling juxtapositions of colors and shapes.  She’s a big believer in pattern and repetition – not for her the wispy gardens of mixed perennials that are “pretty.”  Take a look at the glorious pattern of her hedges, echoing the Monmouthshire hills:

veddw_hedgesveddw_hedges2

Another look at the power of pattern and repetition:veddw_symmetryAnd she’s hardly afraid of color:veddw_house_gardens_originalveddwgardens

She has a melancholy streak, too.

 Gardens confront us with the relentless passage of time, as the flowers come and go in a parade that gains in speed as year passes year.  Gardens are in endless, remorseless change and are always confronting us with our race towards death.  Historic gardens remind us that garden-makers like ourselves made a garden and then had to let go, die, and that the garden continued cheerfully without them.  Is this what is beneath the insistent upbeat jolliness of the garden world?  Is this what we conspire to avoid contemplating?

Refreshing, no?

She lives in the world of English gardeners in a country that may not do it right, according to her lights, but certainly pays a lot of attention to gardeners.  They are all over in newspapers, magazines and television, in ways that US gardeners can only envy.  It’s a small world, and Anne Wareham, with her thinkingardens, has carved out a very particular niche.

Oh, and it must be time to return to Wales and see the marvelous Veddw in person.

Private Edens

cn_image_1.size.private-edens-01What if you had scads of money and came upon a derelict thirty-five-acre estate in (choose one) the Brandywine Valley, northwest Connecticut, northern Virginia or even Bethlehem, Pennsylvania?  Well, if you were lucky and chose your landscape architect well, you could create one of the Private Edens beautifully pictured here.

The author is very coy about the owners, describing them vividly but never naming them.  “Renowned as both an artist and philanthropist, he is equally famous for his mischievous, carousing youth, his powerful antecedents, his immense generosity, his skill at driving a four-in-hand (which has made him an intimate of no less than the Queen of England), and the pair of Civil-War-era crutches that aid him in his perambulations after too many years of brutal horsemanship and seem to invariably end up in someone’s way,” he writes of a gardener in Chadds Ford.  Certainly those in the know will recognize him immediately from this gushing description, but not the likes of me, alas.

Nevertheless, I immediately recognized an unnamed garden in Orange, Virginia, as Mt. Sharon, a gorgeous spread that opened just for the day a few years ago.  Ann and I visited, and I wrote about it here.  It is just as beautiful as described, and I will admit that the photos in the book are just a tad more arresting than the ones I took.

This is in no way a helpful gardening guide, since a few pages of glowing description are followed by Rob Cardillo’s gorgeous photos, with minimal captions.  Either you know what those plants are, or you don’t.  Though there is mention of enormous excavation projects to create the rock gardens and three-acre ponds, there are no garden plans.  (There’s no mention of garden help, either, though it must be a huge expense.) Leaf through this for inspiration and to envy those rich enough to build the gardens of their dreams.

Slash and burn

Well, I don’t have to be that drastic, but there is certainly good reason to divide and move these perennials come fall.

DSC03638The hellebores are so happy in my garden that they’ve gotten too big for their britches and are overpowering the space.  I think they are easy to divide and probably take it in stride.  They have also self-sown like crazy, and it’s time to transplant the babies.  I think the walkway garden could use a few.  Maybe just pot up the rest and offer them to anyone who’s interested.

DSC03634I have struggled with this shrub border, and here is a photo showing it at its worst.  The ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea is thriving, but the autumn ferns in front of it have gotten way too big.  I did plant a few in front of the trellis but they seem to have been overtaken by the daffodil foliage and are looking a bit weak.  Not quite sure where to place them.  And that iris should move, too – I like its leaves contrasting with the shrubs but it’s gotten too big.

Then there are the shrubs in front.  The baptisia and the amsonia are way too big for the front garden, so it’s time to move them, too.  But where?  Well, if they can take part sun, even less than they have now, maybe this vast wasteland?DSC03671

This is taken from the least flattering angle possible – the trellis hides the compost pile from view and I’m rarely standing right here to see the mess.  But the weeds in the middle of this photo, between the compost pile and the wood pile, could perhaps be replaced by some amsonia, which is beautiful in spring, then dull all summer and then glows with yellow foliage in the fall.  A good filler.

This is why people grow astilbe

DSC03664I have astilbe ‘Deutschland’ in the front garden and in the erstwhile white garden.  My mother grew astilbes, they are the backbone of the garden, a classic perennial, and so on.  Not in Virginia!  The summer droughts tend to parch it so much that it barely hangs on.  I’ve dismissed it but never gotten rid of it either.

This year, it’s perfect:  airy white wands wave in the breeze, lighting up the dark green corners of the garden.  I’m sure Henry Mitchell had something pointed to say about it.  Adrian Higgins just says to give it a pass in Virginia.  But here are two more reasons to grow it.DSC03663 DSC03662