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The Magic of Metamorphosis

September 9, 2019

nectaring monarchOne of the things I love about gardening is that it connects me to the wonders and beauty of the natural world. This summer, I have had a front-row seat for one of nature’s magical processes, metamorphosis.

Metamorphosis is a process of development in which an organism takes on dramatically different forms over the course of its life. Metamorphosis is quite common in the insect world, where many types of insects undergo a four-stage process in which an egg (stage 1) is deposited by an adult; a larva (stage 2) hatches out from the egg; after a period of growth, the larva encloses itself in a pupa (stage 3), and eventually emerges as an adult (stage 4).

We can see this process in such insect groups as flies, beetles and bees, but we are most aware of it in butterflies and moths. Butterfly and moth eggs are deposited on host plants, and caterpillars (larval stage) that hatch from the eggs feed on these plants. Caterpillars go through a process of growth through successive instars, where they shed their old skin and grow a new larger one. When they reach the largest instar, they form a pupa (chrysalis or cocoon). Inside that chrysalis or cocoon, the molecules of the caterpillar are rearranged to form the adult winged butterfly or moth that emerges at the end of the pupal stage.

My front-row view of the process this summer was provided by monarch butterflies. Monarch populations have declined dramatically in recent decades, and just seeing one in my garden has become a rare treat. Last year, after not seeing any for at least six years, I saw two in my garden. At least one of these deposited eggs on milkweed plants, where I saw as many as five monarch caterpillars feeding. I was thrilled.

But that turned out to be the merest preview to this year’s monarch show. Although Monarch Watch has reported that monarch populations are down in the United States Northeast region this summer, that report does not match the observations of gardeners on the ground in Maine. Throughout the state, gardeners have been reporting larger numbers of monarchs than they have seen in many years, with abundant eggs, caterpillars, chrysalises and adult butterflies. I have seen as many as three dozen caterpillars feeding on a single morning, and I have seen more than two dozen chrysalises in my garden.

By the second half of July, I was seeing adult butterflies depositing eggs and caterpillars feeding on the butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) in my front garden. In late July, a few days after I saw my first-ever jade-green monarch chrysalis in the butterfly house at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, I spotted two hanging on low-growing foliage by my driveway.

 

fresh butterfly on butterfly weed butterfly weed caterpillars

In the weeks that followed, I got better at seeing the chrysalises hiding in plain sight on the foliage of plants. It got easier when monarch caterpillars feeding on the milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) by my back door began to pupate on the side of the house, leaving the house looking bejeweled.

pupating monarch house siding chrysalis

Since early August, I have seen a dozen and a half monarch butterflies emerge from their chrysalises, including four newborn butterflies yesterday and ten in the past eight days. And there are still six more chrysalises that I am watching. I never get tired of the wonderful process by which a fat striped caterpillar curls itself up and wraps itself in a case that seems too small to hold that much caterpillar and then transforms itself into a butterfly that unfurls from that same too-small case ten to fourteen days later.

Transparent chrysalisFor most of its life, the chrysalis is jade green. Then, a day or two before the butterfly will emerge, the chrysalis darkens, turning black and then becoming translucent so that you can see the butterfly wings folded up inside. When the butterfly emerges, it hangs onto the outside of the empty chrysalis case while it unfolds and dries its wings. Then it will open and close the wings to pump fluid into them and prepare to fly. Often, the new butterflies fly first to some nearby foliage where they continue to hang, alternately drying and pumping their wings. Eventually, they will flutter somewhat unsteadily off to more distant plants.

monarch emerging

The butterflies that emerged in my garden in the early weeks of August were short-lived insects focused on mating and depositing eggs. The ones emerging now, however, are the long-lived super-generation that will fly to Mexico, overwinter there, and then mate and lay eggs in the spring. Their offspring and their offspring’s offspring will make the trip north next year.

These butterflies are intent on finding nectar and ingesting calories to fuel their long migration. The flowers of fall sedum, with their nice big, flat “landing pad” blossoms are popular nectaring plants. I have also seen them nectaring on flowers of Liatris, Echinacea and Monarda. I’ve noticed, however, that the butterflies seem to disappear from my garden a day or two after they emerge. This may mean that there are not enough nectar sources for them and that they are flying off to better nectaring opportunities elsewhere in my neighborhood.

nectaring monarchs

I don’t know whether this year’s monarch abundance is a fluke or a sign of recovery for this species. I hope we will see a repeat performance next year. For now, I am enjoying the wonder and magic of metamorphosis.

Ten Years in Jean’s Garden

August 22, 2019

imageTen year’s ago today, I clicked “publish” and sent the first post of Jean’s Garden out into cyberspace. At the time, I had no idea how these ten years of garden blogging would enrich my life.

The first unexpected source of enrichment was the community of gardeners and garden bloggers that I was suddenly connected to. imageIn my early years of blogging, that experience of community was mediated by the now-defunct social media garden blogging site, Blotanical.com. Like most members of Blotanical, I signed up hoping to find readers for my blog. But the site was designed to encourage members to read one another’s blogs and engage in supportive interactions, and I jumped in with both feet. Blotanical connected me to an international network of knowledgeable gardeners and garden bloggers. A few of these I eventually met in person. There are others whom I have not actually met, but think of as old friends after years of reading and exchanging comments on one another’s blogs. Regular readers of my blog who are not themselves bloggers have also become part of my gardening community. For example, I now belong to a local garden club that I was recruited to by a friend whom I met through her comments on my blog.

bringing nature homeAs I interacted with other gardeners through blogging, I became a better, more knowledgeable gardener. Writing about my garden and gardening pushed me to become much more aware of what I was doing and why I was doing it. Garden blogs introduced me to ideas and debates in gardening that I hadn’t been aware of before and to books exploring those ideas. My garden reading shifted from garden narratives and essays to books on garden design to books of garden science. The book that influenced me most was Doug Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home (Timber Press, 2007), which I reviewed in 2011. This book completely changed the way I thought about insects in my garden and introduced me to the case for growing native plants. It also pushed me in the direction of thinking about the garden as an ecological community in process rather than as a work of art.

The learning and thinking I was doing as a garden blogger further influenced the course of my life. As I did research and wrote about horticultural science, my confidence in my understanding and my desire to learn more grew. Without garden blogging, I doubt I ever would have used my time in retirement to become a Maine Master Gardener Volunteer or to earn my Certificate in Native Plants and Ecological Horticulture from the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens (where one of the required courses for the certificate was taught by Doug Tallamy).

back garden entrance - JulyJust as I have been changing as a gardener in the course of these ten years, so has my garden been changing. When I began blogging, I had three small flower beds at the front of my house and was focusing on developing a garden around the deck at the back of the house. The third of these back garden flower beds, the Fence Border, was in the process of becoming as I published that first post, and the Serenity Garden was just a germ of an idea.

Morning on the patioI was also just beginning to think about putting an addition on the front of my house when I retired and using that addition as an opportunity to completely rethink the landscaping at the front of my house. Today, that addition is five years old, and most of the new front garden is in place. This area at the front of my house is now my primary focus in garden work and in garden enjoyment.

It’s not just the size of my garden that has changed. My garden today is less controlled and more exuberant. My design process is as much concerned with creating habitat for pollinators as with creating beauty, and my new garden areas are more likely to include native plants. I’m also much more committed to choosing “the right plant for the right place,” rather than trying to change my garden conditions to accommodate plants that will never really be comfortable there.

Ten year’s on, I’m looking forward to more learning, more gardening, and more garden blogging.

After the Peak: GBBD, August 2019

August 15, 2019

front slope mid-AugustIn mid-July, I was counting flower buds on daylily (Hemerocallis) plants and waiting eagerly for the daylily bloom to begin. A month later, the daylily bloom is past peak and I am more likely to be counting how few unopened buds are left. There are still many daylily varieties flowering, and even a few late bloomers who have not yet opened their first buds, but other varieties have now finished blooming.

Among the daylilies I am continuing to enjoy are the reds and oranges added last year when I planted the front slope.

Blue Blood mid-August SV Velvet mid-August Crown Fire

There are also yellow flowers like ‘Yellow Pinwheel’ and “Late Summer Breeze.’ ‘Late Summer Breeze’ has been hiding its flowers among the foliage of Amsonia tabernaemontana on the side slope, but its wonderful fragrance is not at all retiring.

 

Yellow Pinwheel 2019 Late summer Breeze hiding
The way that the delicate flowers of daylily ‘Autumn Minaret’ float high above the foliage on their thin stems always reminds me of butterflies. Autumn Minaret floating

Other plants come into their own in late summer. I have three species of Monarda in bloom. Of these, my favorite is Monarda punctata (spotted beebalm), a northeastern native that thrives in my dry, sandy soil. I love its pink bracts and the tiered flowers reminiscent of pineapple.

Monarda punctata clump Monarda punctata flowers

Liatris has just begun to bloom. Liatris spicata is blooming in both its violet and white varieties, with several more species to follow.

Liatris spicata violet Liatris spicata white

Another plant in the Asteraceae family that is going strong in the late summer garden is purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). And this is also the time of year when Rudbeckia ‘Herbstsonne’ lights up the back of the blue and yellow border.

echinacea mid-August Herbstsonne mid-August

August is the season of summer phlox (Phlox paniculata). ‘Blue Paradise’ has been blooming for weeks, as has this old-fashioned pink variety. ‘Robert Poore’ and ‘Miss Pepper’ have just opened their first flowers this week, and ‘Bright Eyes’ and ‘David’ will probably follow in the next few days.

August phlox

Our exceptionally rainy weather in May and June has been followed by dry weather in July and August, and the garden is looking a bit tired and drought-stressed. Under these conditions, I find it more rewarding to focus up close rather than on wide views.

The gentle pastels of early summer have given way to the stronger colors and contrasts of the late-summer garden, and I have been especially enjoying those contrasts. In the blue and yellow border, phlox ‘Blue Paradise’ contrasts with a native goldenrod, and the yellow flowers of daylily ‘His Pastures Green’ bloom against a backdrop of blue balloon flowers (Platycodon grandiflorus).

Blue paradise & goldenrod His Pastures & Platycodon

On the side slope, I’m enjoying the contrast between Liatris spicata ‘Floristan Violet’ and daylily ‘Olin Criswell.’ And in the front slope garden, I like the way the sprawling flowers of poppy mallows (Callirhoe involucrata) and Coreopsis lanceolata sprawl together.

Olin Criswell & Liatris Poppy mallows & coreopsis

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is another plant that is happy to grow in my dry, well-drained soil, and I love it’s bright orange flowers. There aren’t as many flowers as there might be because this plant has been doing its job of feeding monarch caterpillars, which are abundant in Maine this summer.

butterfly weed flowers butterfly weed caterpillars

house siding chrysalisI have never seen a monarch chrysalis in my garden before this year, but this is one of six now hanging from the siding on my house near a clump of common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) that grows by my back door; and I counted more than a dozen caterpillars still feeding on those milkweed plants today. I wonder how many of these will also hang their jewel-like chrysalis on the side of the house?

And, with luck, new butterflies will soon emerge from those chrysalises.

nectaring monarch

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted on the 15th of each month by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her blog to see what’s blooming in other August gardens.

The Daylily Show

August 8, 2019

daylily season entrance gardenDaylilies have been putting on an amazing show in much of New England this summer. Our rainy weather in May and June seems to have provided Hemerocallis plants with just the right amount of extra moisture during a critical stage of their growth, and they responded with a profusion of flower buds.

I was especially thrilled that this has been such a great year for daylilies because I included more than fifty daylily plants, including at least thirty varieties new to my garden, in my big front slope planting last fall. Almost all of these bloomed the first year in my garden.

The daylilies peaked last week and are now starting to decline. I still have a few varieties that have not yet begun to bloom, but some of my early bloomers are now finished with their flowering. This seems like a good time to share the daylily show I have been enjoying. Because the array of daylilies blooming in my garden is dizzying, I have focused on those in the front garden.

We’ll start along the walkway that runs from the front house entrance to the patio (shown above). Here the daylilies grow in shades of pink and lavender. (If you hold the cursor over the image, you’ll see a list of the daylily varieties pictured.)

entrance garden daylilies

The side slope, which runs down the hillside from the walkway planting to the driveway, has a palette of soft peaches and yellows.

side slope daylilies

The sunny front slope is where I have indulged a love of hot colors. It is planted primarily in reds, oranges, strong yellows, purples and hot pinks. I’ve divided these daylilies into three groups, the first representing the left side of the slope, the second focusing on the center of the slope, and the third representing the right side of the slope.

front slope daylilies1

front slope daylilies2

front slope daylilies3

Finally, let me leave you with an image of how all those hot color daylilies combine with the other plants around them. I’m imagining how this will look in a year or two, when the plants grow into larger clumps, filling in the spaces between them. I’m looking forward to more big daylily shows in the years to come.

Front slope hot colors

Plants Behaving Badly: Aggressive vs. Invasive

July 28, 2019

tradescantia in bloomAs terrestrial invasive plants have become a more prominent issue, I’ve noticed that many gardeners are confused about what makes a plant “invasive.” Part of the confusion is that gardeners have long used the word “invasive” to refer to plants that behave badly in their gardens. Gardeners also call them “garden thugs,” these plants who don’t play well with others. Whether you invited them into your garden or they showed up uninvited, they quickly shouldered others aside and hogged more than their fair share of garden real estate. But this is not what scientists mean when they call a plant “invasive.” So, to help clear up the confusion lets refer to these plants that behave badly in the garden as aggressive.

Invasive refers to how a plant behaves when it escapes from your garden. To be defined as invasive, a plant has to meet three criteria:

  1. An invasive plant is a non-native plant. Native plants have coevolved with other species (plants, animals, insects, fungi) in our native ecosystems and have long-standing relationships of interdependence with those other species that provide a system of checks and balances. This means that, although a native plant like spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana) may behave aggressively in the garden, self-sowing rampantly and spreading itself around where it is not wanted, it will not create a problem in the wild.
  2. An invasive plant has naturalized in the wild. This means that the plant is growing where no human being planted it and that the plants are reproducing on their own and spreading in wild places.
  3. A plant is invasive when the naturalized populations of the plant in the wild are causing harm. This usually means harm to native ecosystems because the plant is out-competing native plants for light, water, nutrients and space, creating ripple effects through all the species in the ecosystem that were dependent on the native plants that have been crowded out.

Some plants that behave badly in the wild also behave badly in your garden (they are both invasive and aggressive). A good example is goutweed or bishop’s weed (Aegopodium podagraria). But many plants that seem perfectly well behaved in your garden (not aggressive) create havoc in the wild when they escape from gardens. This is why it is so important to understand the difference between an aggressive plant and an invasive plant. I’ve often heard gardeners arguing that a plant is not invasive by saying, “I’ve had it in my garden for years and it has never spread,” or “If you just keep it pruned, you can keep it under control.” But these assertions focus on how the plant behaves in your garden, not on the chance that it will escape and behave badly in the wild.

Most documented invasive plants in Maine have escaped from ornamental plantings, usually through having their seeds dispersed far from the parent plant by wind or by animals. It’s not just coincidence that many of our most problematic invasive plants have bright berries that are attractive to birds. The birds eat the berries, the seeds are roughed up and prepared for germination as they pass through the bird’s digestive system, and the seeds are then pooped out far from the parent plant, enclosed in a nice little packet of fertilizer to give them a good start in life. The gardener growing the parent plant usually has no idea that the plant has escaped from their garden.shrub honeysuckle berries

There’s a good reason why states adopt lists of invasive plants; landscapers, homeowners, and gardeners are usually not good judges of how likely it is that a plant will escape from an ornamental planting and behave badly in the wild. (To see the Maine list of invasive plants, click here.)

Bottom line: Aggressive (how a plant behaves in your garden) and invasive (how a plant behaves when it escapes from gardens) are not the same thing, and we can’t predict the likelihood that a plant will escape from our gardens and behave badly in the wild from how it behaves in the garden.

Gathering Energy: GBBD, July 2019

July 16, 2019

daylily budsIn mid-July, my Maine garden is in transition. The big flush of early summer blooms – Siberian irises, peonies, Amsonia, Baptisia, and the first flush of rose blooms – have faded, but the big high-summer show of blooms has not quite begun. It is as though the plants are gathering their energy, and all the buds about to burst into bloom are the evidence of that energy.

The daylily bloom that is the highlight of my garden in high summer has been slow to get started this year; most plants are about a week behind last year’s bloom times. But the same cool, wet spring that has delayed daylily flowering seems to have produced an abundance of buds. A few varieties have already begun to bloom, and others look as though they will bloom very soon.

buds about to open1 buds about to open2

While I’m waiting for the daylily show to begin in earnest, there are plenty of other blooms to enjoy.

 

This is the time of year when the flowers of Spirea japonica ‘Magic Carpet,’ goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus) and astilbe spill over the retaining wall in the back garden. retaining wall spillover
entrance garden spirea In the entrance garden by the front door, the flowers of Spirea ‘Magic Carpet’ are fading, to be replaced by the hot pink flowers of Spirea bumalda ‘Neon Flash.’

front slope planting 2019On the front slope, which was planted in September, the plants still look miles apart. This was designed as a hot-color planting. Right now, it is dominated by the yellows of three species of coreopsis (C. verticillata, C. grandiflora, and C. lanceolata) and false sunflowers (Heliopsis helianthoides), with hot contrasts being provided by the red flowers of beebalm (Monarda didyma) ‘Jacob Cline,’ the eye-popping magenta of poppy mallows (Callirhoe involucrata), and the first blooms of purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea).

Front slope plants July 2019

Asclepias tuberosa buds Oranges will soon be joining this mix as orange daylilies and the flowers of butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) open.

There are some cool spots in my garden at this time of year.

The Blues Border beside the front door features cool blue shades of Tradescantia virginiana (spiderwort). blues border tradescantia
lavender walk 2019 Blue spikes of Lavandula augustifolia ‘Hidcote’ and ‘Munstead Strain’ are blooming along the Lavender Walk.
And a few beautiful spires of delphinium ‘Cobalt Dreams’ are gracing the back of the Blue and Yellow Border Cobalt Dreams

As July continues, these cool blues will yield to the vibrant colors of daylilies. I leave you with the advance guard of the daylily parade, the five varieties that were blooming when I took photos yesterday. (By this morning, four more varieties had joined these, and I expect a few more each day for the next week or two.)

early season dayliliesGarden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted on the 15th of each month by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her blog to see the dizzying variety of flowers blooming at this time of year.

Early Summer in Maine

June 24, 2019

Pink patio bloomsLate June may be my favorite time of the year in Maine. Today was a perfect late June day, with clear blue skies, temperatures in the seventies (F), soft breezes, and long hours of light.

Side slope June blooms 2019By this time in June, we have made the transition from late spring to early summer. In my garden, plants that got off to a late start this year are making up for lost time. The garden looks lush and fresh, and it is full of beautiful flowers and of possibility. (Peak bloom here won’t happen for another month.)

back slope irises 2019Siberian irises, which are now at their peak, have been exceptionally prolific this year; all that spring rain made them happy. Most, like these that have self-sown down the back slope, bloom in various shades of blue. The side slope display also includes some white ones (‘White Swirl’), and this lovely wine color flower of ‘Carrie Lee’ is blooming in the deck border.

side slope irises Carrie Lee 2019

circular bed pastelsAt this time of year, the garden blooms primarily in shades of blue and pink, with the low contrast giving a feeling of lovely calm. The circular bed at the turn into my driveway is a study in pastels.  The blue and yellow border is in its blue phase, with contrasting yellows still to come.

blue and yellow blues

Biokovo with bumblebeeWith such a bounty of late June blooms, pollinators are plentiful and busy. As I walk through the garden, I see several types of native bees, bee-like flies, hummingbirds, and several species of butterflies. The bumblebee queens have been exceptionally numerous and large this year; they look a bit like flying school buses!  Among the early summer butterflies, the tiger swallowtails are the showiest. I love the way a pair of them will circle round one another in a spiral ascent up into the trees. They have been visiting many different flowers, including Siberian irises and allium. I managed to capture this pair nectaring together at a clump of Allium ‘Globemaster.’

 

Iris with swallowtail 2019 Globemaster balls with swallowtails

In late June, I feel as though I’m living in a lovely dream.

June patio blooms