March 8, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Lilac ‘Maiden’s Blush’ (Syringa vulgaris) and the Friendly Red Admiral
Tomorrow night I am presenting one of my garden design lectures in West Newbury. For a complete list of programs that I offer, see the Programs page on my blog. For a list of upcoming lectures and programs, see the Events page on my blog.
Note: Program Rescheduled for June 6th.
The Oyama Magnolia is often planted adjacent to tea gardens in Japan because the blossom of the small tree nods downward, allowing the seated person to look up into the face of the flower. The first time I saw (or should say smelled) Magnolia sieboldii was in a wholesale nursery close to the Rhode Island border, where a single large specimen was tucked in with other more common species of magnolia. The divine fragrance emanating from the tree had drawn me towards it. The tree was unmarked, but since I so strongly value fragrance in plants, I had read about it and knew exactly what it was. Spring had not yet sprung in Gloucester and the honeysuckle sweet and citrus fragrance was intoxicating to my winter weary brain. I tied my tag around to claim it and have adored this tree since the day our Oyama Magnolia arrived to our garden.
May 24, 2012 § Leave a Comment
I am receiving a mountain of emails about the beautiful butterfly with underwings of mottled brown and upper surface banded brilliant fiery orange-red.
The Red Admiral butterfly is having an “irruptive” year and millions are streaming northward through gardens from Texas to Canada. An irruption for a species of butterfly can best be described as a sudden sharp increase in the relative numbers of a population.
This has been an amazing spring for butterflies, not only because they emerged earlier, but because they are present in much greater numbers than is usual. I have also been filming many more Question Mark and Painted Lady butterflies than is typical for this time of year.
The following is excerpted from an article about the Red Admiral that I wrote several years ago. Click here to read the complete text.
Red Admirals are Holarctic, a term used by zoologists to define the ecozone covering much of North America and Eurasia, which share many faunal characteristics. In our region Red Admirals are a migratory species that cannot withstand cold winter temperatures. Their numbers in any given year vary, from uncommon to abundant, and their abundance depends on the nature of that year’s migration and the success of the resulting breeding season. In the first week of May, Red Admirals begin to appear from overwintering populations in North Carolina and southward. Males perch from advantageous lookouts and will dart out to investigate passersby— prospective mates, other insects, and humans. Famously friendly, the Red Admiral readily alights on people, attracted by the salts in perspiration. They are on the wing almost continuously from May to October. The second, and quite possibly third generation, from the initial spring flight, begins the southward migration in late August to October.
Red Admiral Nectaring at Common White Lilac (Syringa vulgaris)
The caterpillar’s primary food source is nettles—in New England these include Stinging, Tall, False, and Wood Nettles, all of which are unsuitable for the garden, particularly a small garden. The caterpillars “sew” the edges of the nettle leaves together with their silk and feed from within the shelter. The adults nectar at a wide variety of plants and are attracted to sap flows, rotting fruit, bird droppings, and wet soil.
Nabokov referred to V. atalanta as the Red Admirable and they appear several times in his novels to foreshadow death. “Its coloring is quite splendid and I liked it very much in my youth. Great numbers of them migrated from Africa to Northern Russia, where it was called ‘The Butterfly of Doom’ because it was especially abundant in 1881, the year Tsar Alexander II was assassinated, and the markings on the underside of its two hind wings seem to read 1881.”
August 24, 2010 § 2 Comments
A BUTTERFLY BONANZA!
Recently I returned from a trip to southwestern Ohio to visit my sister-in-law Amy, who is recovering from hip replacement surgery. She is mending beautifully and determined to get back on her feet —only a few days after returning home from the hospital the visiting nurse said she was doing as well as their typical patient at three weeks out!
While Amy was resting I would grab my camera and head into her garden and the surrounding fields because here was a Butterfly and Hummingbird Bonanza! I encountered dozens of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, typically feeding and frolicking in groups of threes and fours, and many differing species of butterflies. For the most part, the butterflies that I photographed are the same species of butterflies that are found on Cape Ann and throughout New England. Having no expectation of encountering myriad butterflies, in both range of species and in legions of each, I had not planned accordingly and only packed my Panasonic Lumix. I love this camera, but like all cameras it does have certain limitations. Lesson learned—that is to say—always travel prepared for anything to happen!
Amy is a working architect and, as time and her work schedule have permitted, she has (along with her recently deceased dear husband Tim) redesigned and restored her lovely old farmhouse and gardens. There are several cozy porches and a deck under construction in which to sit and observe the wildlife dramas that play out almost daily.
What makes Amy’s garden so inviting to the pollinators? The old farmhouse is approached by traveling down a crushed limestone driveway. On either side of the drive are fields, either overgrown with wildflowers, or maintained as mowed grass. The fields meet the forest edge. There are several neighboring houses along the drive but privacy is afforded because the houses are sited a fair distance apart and because there are naturalized arrangements of native trees and shrubs. Flower borders are planted in close proximity to her home and also further afield. Beyond the flower borders is a large vegetable garden, approximately twenty feet deep by sixty feet long, with a row of sunflowers bordering the back length and a cheerful patch of zinnias running along the fore edge. Beyond the vegetable garden is a vigorous crop of blackberries and beyond that is a clump of wildflowers, including common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), which were covered in Monarch caterpillars, and the tall growing New York Ironweed (Veronia noveboracensis), which was in full bloom. All of these elements provide clues as to why Amy’s garden is a haven for the butterflies and hummingbirds. Additionally, adjacent to the house is an old peach tree, which bears great quantities of fruit. Because Amy has been under the weather from her hip injury she was not able to maintain the peach tree this past season. The peaches were falling to the ground and rotting—not really a bad thing as you will soon see—imagine the not intolerable odor of vinegary peach juice.
The combination of the atypically lengthy stretch of hot, sultry weather, punctuated by soaking rain storms, along with the salt and mineral-rich limestone driveway, flowering plants, wildflowers, surrounding woodlands that provide shelter and larval food for caterpillars, hummingbird feeders, and rotting peaches—all work in tandem to create a paradise for the pollinators—bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.
In the morning I would find Buckeyes, Question Marks, and Red-spotted Purples drinking salts and minerals from moist patches in the driveway. Hungry families of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds were noisily nectaring from the flowers and feeders; one feeder is sited beneath the peach tree and the other about twenty feet away, under the lilacs, a hummingbird superhighway of sorts, with inviting nectar flowers along the route. The male and female hummingbirds are both territorial and, when encountering anything out of the ordinary (my camera and I, for example) will threaten by whizzing and whirling, albeit harmlessly, close to your head.
By mid-day the hummingbird and butterfly scene was full underway. Spicebush Swallowtails at the Rose-of-Sharon, tiger swallowtails, yellow sulphurs, Eastern Tailed-Blues, Monarchs, checkerspots, and angelwings nectaring at the zinnia patch, phlox, and lobelia, and most remarkable of all, were the number of butterflies that were drawn to the pungent lure of rotting peaches. By late afternoon dozens of Hackberry Emperors, Red-spotted Purples, Question Marks, and Red Admirals were to be found intently imbibing from the fermenting peaches, and by day’s end, I believe they were drunken butterflies, making extraordinarily easy subjects to photograph. I would be down on my hands and knees with the lens held so closely it was nearly touching them, and several times that did happen as they fluttered or hopped onto the camera’s lens. In the lingering remnants of late day’s light, the hummingbirds were there again at the feeders and flowers, and all manner of swallowtails in the wildflower meadow were nectaring from the New York Ironweed.
The three different species of butterflies in the above group of photographs have a unique relationship. The Red-spotted Purple and Spicebush Swallowtail (both palatable to predatory birds) are thought to have evolved to mimic the Pipevine Swallowtail (center photograph), which is highly toxic and foul tasting.
I was sad to say goodbye to my sister-in-law but glad to return home to my family. My unexpected yet welcome encounter with the butterflies of Southwest Ohio reminded me once again that butterflies are a symbol of transformation, joy, and beauty throughout cultures the world over. Perhaps Amy’s butterflies mirror the transformative journey to which she has embarked.
May 28, 2010 § Leave a Comment
The Fragrant Garden
Located on the southeast side of our home is the primary pathway, which we walk up and down many times in the course of the day. We built the path using bricks from a pile of discarded chimney bricks. Ordinarily I would not recommend chimney bricks, as they are ﬁred differently from paving bricks and are therefore less sturdy. We laid the brick in a herring bone pattern and luckily they have held without cracking and splitting. The warm red tones of the brick complement the creamy yellow clapboards of the house. A tightly woven brick path is a practical choice for a primary path as it helps keep mud out of the home.
Planted alongside the house walls and on the opposing side of the path, in close proximity to our neighbor’s fence, are the larger plantings of Magnolia virginiana, ‘Dragon Lady hollies,’ Syringa, Philadelphus, and semi-dwarf fruiting trees, Prunus and Malus. Weaving through the background tapestry of foliage and ﬂowers are fragrant ﬂowering vines and rambling roses. These include the most richly scented cultivars of honeysuckle and Bourbon roses. Viburnum carlcephalum, butterﬂy bushes, meadowsweet, New Jersey tea, and Paeonia rockii comprise a collection of mid-size shrubs. They, along with perennials, bulbs, and annuals—narcissus, tulips, iris, herbaceous peonies, lavender, Russian sage, lilies, and chrysanthemums —are perfect examples of fragrant plants growing at mid-level. Closer to the ground is a carpet of scented herbs, full and abundant and spilling onto the brick walkway. The length of our pathway is lined with aromatic alpine strawberries, thyme, and sweet alyssum. This most sunny area in our garden permits us to grow a variety of kitchen herbs. The foliage of the herbs releases their scents when brushed against. Including herbs in the ﬂower borders provides an attractive and practical addition to the fragrant garden.
The fragrances are held within by the house and neighboring fence and the living perfumes of ﬂowers and foliage are noticeable throughout the growing season. All the plants are immediately available to see, touch, and smell. The intimate aspects of the garden are revealed by the close proximity of plantings along a much-used garden path.
When selecting plants for a fragrant garden, it is not wise to assume that just because your Mom had sublimely scented peonies growing in her garden, all peonies will be as such. This simply is not the case. Take the time to investigate nurseries and arboretums during plants’ blooming period and read as much literature as possible. There is an abundance of information to be gleaned and sifted through to ﬁnd the most richly scented version of a plant. When seeking a fragrant cultivar, one may ﬁnd that it is usually an older variety, one that has not had scent replaced for an improbable color, convenient size, or double blossoms by a well-meaning hybridizer. And despite our best effort to ﬁnd the most richly scented version, there will be disappointments along the way, as fragrance is highly mutable. Soil conditions and climate play their role, and some plants simply don’t perform as advertised.
A well-thought-out pathway looks inviting when seen from the street and the fragrance beckons the visitor to enter. The interwoven scents emanating from an array of sequentially blooming ﬂowers and aromatic foliage create a welcoming atmosphere. Have you noticed your garden is more fragrant after a warm summer shower or on a day when the morning fog has lifted? Scented ﬂowers are sweetest when the air is temperate and full of moisture. Plant your garden of fragrance to reﬂect the time of year when you will most often be in the garden to enjoy your hard work.
There are few modern gardens planted purely for fragrance. Maybe this is because there is now a tremendous variety of appealing plant material, offered by growers to eager gardeners ready to purchase what is visually enticing, by color and by size. Perhaps it is so because in the past fragrant plantings served the function of disguising unpleasant odors from outhouses and farmyards, and we no longer have to address these concerns. But the pendulum has begun to swing (albeit slowly) toward planting a garden designed for fragrance. Scent, along with rhythm, scale, harmony in color, and form, should ideally be an equal component in garden design. Plant scented ﬂowering shrubs under windows and close to and around the porch. Plant fragrant vines to climb up the walls near window sashes that will be open in the summertime. Plant scented white ﬂowering plants near to where you might brush against them while dining al fresco or to embower a favorite garden spot designed for rest and rejuvenation.
“True vespertine ﬂowers are those that withhold their sweetness from day and give it freely at night. “(Louise Beebe Wilder). Imagine the dreamlike enchantment of the fragrant path through the night garden. The vibrantly colored ﬂowers have vanished. All that you will see are the white and palest shades of pink, yellow, and lavender ﬂowers reﬂecting the moonlight. Perhaps you will have the breathtaking experience of an encounter with a Lunar moth. Syringa vulgaris ‘Beauty of Moscow,’ Madonna lily, Philadelphus, Japanese honeysuckle, Lilium regale, Nicotianna alata, Oriental lily, tuberose, night phlox, peacock orchid, Stephanotis ﬂoribunda, gardenia, Jasminum sambac, Angel’s trumpet, and moonﬂowers are but a few of the white ﬂowers with exotic night-scents for an entrancing sleeping garden.
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
— J o h n K e a t s ( 1 7 9 5 – 1 8 2 1 )
Excerpt from Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! (David R. Godine, Publisher)