On Magic Wings: A Visit to the Beautiful Butterfly Conservatory & Attracting Butterflies to Your Garden…

March 4th, 2011 § 6

Postman (Heliconius melpomene) – Native to Central and South America

Spring may be fast approaching, but yesterday’s cold and wintry temperatures left me craving a bit of warmth, moisture and color. I love visiting conservatories at this time of year, and fortunately, I live near several, wonderful gardens-beneath-glass. One of my favorite wintertime ‘vacation’ spots is the nearby Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory & Gardens in Deerfield, Massachusetts. The 8,000 foot greenhouse contains hundreds of blooming, tropical plants, a koi pond, birds, reptiles and of course, beautiful and exotic butterflies from all over the world.

Gardeners often ask me what they can do to attract beneficial insects —especially butterflies— to their gardens. Providing a constant source of nectar from cluster-blooming flowers —particularly Buddleia (butterfly bush), Asclepias (both native and tropical milkweed and butterfly weed), Verbena bonariensis, Monarda (bee balm), Phlox, Heliotrope, Aster, Scabiosa, Daucus carota (Queen Anne’s Lace), Clethra alnifolia (sweet pepperbush), Viburnum, Eupatorium (Joe Pye Weed), Liatris (gayflower) and Sedum (stonecrop)is one of the keys to drawing butterflies into your garden. And although the plants mentioned here are favorites, remember that most flowering plants will attract butterflies. Try to fill your garden with blossoms from spring through fall (when migrating butterflies need to gather strength for their journey south), supplementing flowering perennials and shrubs with free-blooming annuals. And remember, many plants attractive to butterflies are also fantastic sources of food for other pollinators; including bees and hummingbirds. Native plants and grasses supply not only food for local caterpillar and butterfly populations, but also create and provide habitat for butterflies throughout their lifecycle and metamorphosis. Butterflies prefer protected spots —enclosed by nearby fences, shrubs/hedges, trees or other tall plants— where they may light on flowers without being blown away by wind. Creating a still oasis will help you to spot these beautiful creatures on calm-wind days.

Beyond design and planting, there is another critical thing to consider when gardening with butterflies in mind. Most gardeners reading this blog have adopted organic practices, but it’s important to note that even the use of organic pesticides can be harmful to butterflies and other beneficial insects. Butterflies of course begin their lives in tiny, vulnerable egg-clusters. As their life cycle progresses —and they become voracious caterpillars— many butterflies are inadvertently killed when they consume pesticide-laden foliage on host-plants; including leaves treated with organic substances like insecticidal soap and Btk (Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki). Use organic pesticides sparingly —only when absolutely necessary— and in a targeted manner. To avoid unintentionally killing butterfly caterpillars and other beneficial larvae, become familiar with garden insects, and their various stages of development. Learning about butterflies —and watching their metamorphosis from egg to caterpillar to mature butterfly— is a great activity to share with children. If you live in New England, I highly recommend a visit to Magic Wings Conservatory & Garden at any time of the year.

Cattleheart (Parides iphidamus) – Native to Central and South America

Glasswing (Greta oto) – Native to Central and South America

Yet-to-be Identified.

Female Cairns Birdwing (Ornithoptera priamus) – Native to Asia (see male below)

Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonia) – Native to Central and South America

Rice Paper (Idea leuconoe) – Native to Asia

Male Cairns Birdwing (Ornithoptera priamus) – Native to Asia

Owl Butterfly (Caligo eurilochus) – Native to Central and South America

Blue Morpho (Morpho peleides) – Native to Central and South America

All of the butterflies pictured here —from Central/South America and Asia— were taken at Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory. I will be writing more about North American butterflies in spring and summer. My favorite butterflies from my visit to the conservatory were the Glasswing and Blue Morpho, and in my own yard, I am partial to Monarch butterflies. What are your favorites? Do you try to draw butterflies to your garden oasis?

Special Thanks to Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory & Gardens in Deerfield Massachusetts for Information, Resources and a Lovely Afternoon!

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Article and Butterfly/Botanical Photos are ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent.

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The Wonderful Wizard of Winter: Native, Snow-Draped Canadian Hemlock

February 10th, 2011 Comments Off

Tsuga canadensis – Native Canadian Hemlock

I try very hard not to play favorites with the plants growing in and around my garden. In fact, you may have noticed that I’ll refer to a preferred species as ‘one of my favorites’, as opposed to ‘my favorite’. After all, I truly love each and every one of them, and I wouldn’t want to hurt any of their feelings. Still, there are a few stand-out, four-season beauties that I can not imagine living without. And in the great world of conifers, I must admit that I am quite partial to our native Tsuga canadensis, commonly known as the Canadian or Eastern hemlock. Though graceful and verdant year-round, Canadian hemlock is a true stunner in the winter garden. After a snow storm —when Tsuga canadensis is cloaked in a fresh coat of powder or ice— it’s impossible not to think of the enchanted forests of fairy tales. I absolutely adore this feathery, magical evergreen.

A few years ago —when I was planting an informal hedge of Canadian hemlock at a private residence— one of my garden clients told me that the shape of the hemlock tree reminded her of a wizard’s hat. Well I already liked this woman, but as soon as she said that, I knew I was going to love working with her. For long as I can remember, I’ve always thought of the Canadian hemlock as a Winter Wizard or even a Warlock (a masculine witch). And as a child, I loved playing beneath the tent-like boughs of hemlock stands; draped in heavy, sparkling white robes after a snow storm. Hemlock is a magnificent native tree; one I never grow tired of praising.

The pliant boughs of Tsuga canadensis are less likely to break when covered in heavy snow and ice

The outer branches of hemlock trees, as well as the tip or leader, are narrow and flexible. The pliant boughs give hemlock the distinctly cascading, somewhat melancholy appearance I find so enchanting. But more importantly, the springy quality of the outer wood gives this native tree an ability to shed snow and ice, avoiding winter breakage –a common problem for other conifers, such as white pine. Hemlock needles are softly rounded; blue-green on the top and silvery on the reverse (the shiny-whitish color is created by tiny openings along the backside of the needles called stomata, which —for lack of a better word— allow the tree to ‘breathe’). When breezes blow through a hemlock’s bows, the pale undersides of its needles are exposed to light; creating a subtle, shimmering effect. Growers have worked with this trees beautiful cascading habit and needle coloration, developing cultivars with mint-tinged branch tips and weeping forms. And because it responds well to pruning, eastern hemlock offers four-season privacy screening when grown as a soft, ever-green hedge in semi-shaded, moist sites. The feathery, deep green needles provide a lovely contrast and sensual backdrop in many of my garden designs.

The Tops of Canadian hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) boughs are covered with dark, blue-green needles

On the reverse side, Tsuga canadensis needles have a light, almost silvery-green color. And when wind blows through the branches, lifting and exposing the undersides of needles to flashes of light, the Canadian hemlock takes on a subtle, gorgeous, two-tone appearance.

With a North American range spanning from Nova Scotia southward to the mountains of Alabama and westward to Minnesota (USDA zones 3 – 8/9) Tsuga canadensis is commonly found in moist, shady woodlands; often along forest streams or cool, north-facing ridge lines. Because of their wide-spread but shallow-root tendency, hemlock are vulnerable to drought, but are less likely to be knocked down in high winds. Here at the northeastern crest of my ledgy site, substantial stands of native hemlock provide a safe haven and nesting habitat for local birds as well as food (seeds, twigs, bark and needles) and shelter for various mammals (including squirrels, porcupines and deer). Although hemlock can grow over 100 feet in ideal conditions, they typically reach 40-70 feet within their native range. When grown as a specimen tree in the open —or planted in small groups—hemlock will develop a soft, full, conical shape (yes, shaped quite like a wizard’s hat).

Because hemlock trees produce acidic tannins, they are quite disease and insect-resistant. However, there exists one recent and notable exception: the wooly adelgid (Adelges tsugae). Closely related to common aphids, this invasive insect pest —introduced from Asia— has the potential to wipe out native, eastern hemlock populations (read more about this pest and how infestations are treated at the UMass Extension Service website here). Although I have not seen the wooly adelgid in my immediate area, I am constantly on the lookout for this destructive insect when pruning hemlock hedges for my clients in early spring. Currently, the only effective, organic treatment for wooly adelgid is thorough, repeat applications of horticultural oil. Entomologists continue to search for natural, biological adelgid controls, and I have high hopes for the tree’s survival. I simply can not imagine the northeastern landscape without my beloved Winter Wizards…

This Canadian hemlock trio forms a soft, four-season screen at the northeastern edge of my garden

Here in late November, the Tsuga canadensis trio provides color and textural contrast and backdrop to the red-twig dogwood, birch and ornamental grasses in the foreground of the entry garden

This beautiful, weeping hemlock (Tsuga candensis ‘Pendula’) —pictured here at The Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts— is one of the finest examples, and uses of the pendulous form, that I have ever seen. See more photos, and read a bit about The Bridge of Flowers by revisiting this post (click here).

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Article and photos are ⓒ Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent.

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A Tough Broad for all Seasons: This Sulfur-Tipped, Ice-Blue Chameleon Really Knows How to Wear the Pants…

January 14th, 2011 § 7

Juniperus squamata ‘Holger’ atop the Secret Garden Steps in January

It’s easy to get gardeners excited when I talk about big stars like hydrangea, azalea and viburnum. And most everyone swoons over those voluptuous and intoxicating bombshells: the roses, French lilacs and tree peonies. But junipers? Why they’re a lonely and oft-neglected group of garden workhorses who’s only claim to fame seems to be gin. It’s sad really, because once you get to know them, they’re such a great bunch of broads to hang around with in the garden…

Juniperus squamata ‘Holger’ atop the Secret Garden Steps the Morning After a January Snow Storm

Take single-seed juniper ‘Holger’ for example. What a stunner. Like all great broads, she’s tough as nails, a bit cool-looking and often prickly when you try to push her around. You’d best put your gloves on if you want to mess with her. But she has a soft side of course, and in this case it comes in a gorgeous shade of mellow, sulpur-yellow; which she shows off against her icy needles in the springtime sun…

Sulphur-Tipped New Growth Glows Atop Ice-Blue Needles – Juniperus squamata ‘Holger’ and a Carpet of Thymus

All the year round, Holger juniper offers stunning blue-green color; a gorgeous, cool and soothing contrast to almost anything planted nearby. A medium-sized, moderately spreading conifer (3-5′ high and wide), Juniperus squamata ‘Holger’ is easy to care for and drought resistant once established. All this tough shrub (USDA zones 4-8) requires is full sun, well drained soil, and good air circulation. Useful as a ground cover, wind break, slope stabilizer and outdoor room divider, the design possibilities of Holger juniper are limited only by a gardener’s imagination. Looking for a way to enhance blue or violet hued flowers in springtime? The sulphur-yellow tips of this conifer are the perfect contrast. Want to show-off bold autumn colors in the landscape? Plant Holger juniper near deciduous shrubs and the icy-blue needles will bring out the electric orange and red of fall. Need a reliable, deer-resistant screen for a less-than-attractive air conditioning unit or other household utility? This year-round beauty could be the answer…

Holger juniper not only stabilizes this slope, but it also gives structure and soft definition to the lines of this hillside planting surrounding the Secret Garden Steps

The Ice-Blue Tips of Holger Juniper Stand Out in the Landscape, and Contrast with Other Warm-Toned Plantings Throughout the Seasons

In Autumn, Holger Juniper’s Blue-Green Needles are a Gorgeous Contrast to Red, Gold and Rust (Here with Hydrangea quercifolia and Solidago)

Sunny, cloudy, rainy or dry; Holger juniper looks clean, fresh and pulled together. Like all members of the juniper clan, Holger can be occasionally troubled by insects or disease —spider mites, scale or aphids, or perhaps cedar-apple rust, twig blight or wood rot— but such problems can usually be avoided when her humble requirements (listed above) are met. She’s got great style and requires only the occasional bit of pruning from artfully handled secateurs to maintain her shape here at the edge of the path. A great conifer like Holger juniper helps to give a garden year-round structure. Consider a grouping of juniper as an evergreen wall or low, living fence; a way to define the garden in addition to hard-scaping…

And later, during the quiet season, when most other garden plants have shed their leaves and withered to the ground, juniper carries on the show; shrugging off the ice, the snow and the cold. I have many juniper species and cultivars in my garden, but for season-spanning beauty, ‘Holger’ truly tops the list. She’s tall enough to rise above a drifting white blanket in winter, and interesting enough to hold her own beside the most vibrant of garden companions. Never underestimate the tough broads –they’ll never let you down…

Holger Juniper Holds Her Own, Draped in a New White Cloak on a Cold Winter’s Night

Holger Juniper Atop the Stairs with a Light Dusting of Snow in December

And Like Most of Her Cousins, This Tough Lady Can Carry a Heavy Load

A True-Blue Beauty Throughout the Seasons – Juniperus Squamata ‘Holger’

Come to think of it… If she were human, I think Holger juniper would be Katherine Hepburn. She’s a tough, bristly beauty and she really knows how to wear the pants. Photograph Alfred Eisenstaedt/Time & Life Pictures via Lifetsyle.MSN.com

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Article and Photographs are copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, with noted exceptions, is the property of The Gardener’s Eden Online Journal, and my not be used or reproduced without express written permission.

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