Deep Forest: Exploring the Heart of Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica . . .

March 20th, 2013 § 2

Eyelash Viper, Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.comThis Eyelash Viper (Bothriechis schlegelii), is a mostly arboreal/nocturnal resident of Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica. Though its venom is highly toxic, this snake is non-aggressive and its bite is rarely fatal to humans. Still, I observed the colorful beauty from a distance and zoomed in with my camera for a close-up look. Learn more about this gorgeous snake at The Encyclopedia of Life, online here.

Happy Spring! We passed through the Vernal Equinox at precisely 7:02 A.M. (EDT) March 20, 2013 in the Northern Hemisphere today, but I’m celebrating the change of seasons in beautiful Costa Rica (on CST). This week’s adventures included a hike through Cahuita National Park, in the far southeastern corner of this Central American country. Located between 8 and 12 degrees north of the equator, Costa Rica’s climate is tropical. With stable temperatures year round, the seasons here are defined by rainfall. Currently, Costa Rica is in its dry season, however with many microclimates —defined mainly by geographic region and elevation— there are plenty of cool, moist rain forests to explore throughout the year. Having spent time in the northwestern part of Costa Rica last winter —see my previous posts here— this time we focused on the wildlife-rich, Caribbean side of the country.

Costa Rica is well-known throughout the world for its biodiversity and environmental awareness. Twenty-five percent of Costa Rican land is held by the national park system, which is where I’ve been spending most of my days. Although comparatively small, I found Cahuita National Park to be remarkably diverse. Snakes, lizards, frogs, spiders, birds, monkeys, coati, sloth and a wide variety of other animals are easy to spot in the early morning hours, even without the valuable assistance of a guide. Take a peek at just a few of the colorful, curious inhabitants I observed in Cahuita National Park!

Red-Eyed Tree Frog, Rainforest, Costa Rica ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.comThe Red-Eyed Tree Frog (Agalychnis callidryas), perhaps the most famous resident of the Costa Rican rainforest, may look fierce but is non-venomous and completely harmless. Mostly nocturnal, this little fella startles would-be predators by flashing its bright red eyes and exposing its colorful toes. Learn more on National Geographic’s website here.

Golden Silk Spider, Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.comWhen I first spotted the web of the Golden Silk Spider (Nephila clavipes), above my head in Cahuita National Park, I thought the gold color of the silk was merely sunlight playing on the delicate threads. Imagine my surprise when I leaned in for a closer look! Not only is her web gorgeous, the artist is a real stunner as well! Although the spider will bite if threatened, it is completely harmless. I find arachnids fascinating and this one, with a golden web, is especially beautiful. Learn more about the Golden Silk Spider here.

Sara Longwing Butterfly, Rainforest, Costa Rica ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com The Sara Longwing Butterfly (Heliconius sara) has two sides. The moment I happened to snap this photo, the wings opened, appearing blue, black and white. When closed, the wings are red, black and white. For more information, and a photo of the closed wings, click here.

Green-and-Black Poison-Dart Frog, Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Famous for its toxic skin —long used by native Central and South Americans to create lethal arrows— the Green-and-Black Poison-Dart Frog (Dendrobates auratus) is harmless to humans, unless touched. Learn more about this beautiful amphibian on the Michigan Museum of Zoology Website here.

White-Faced Capuchin Monkeys ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden Highly social and undeniably entertaining, White-Faced Capuchin Monkeys (Cebus capucinus), groom one another as they greet park visitors near the beach. Learn more about the White-Faced Monkey here.

White Nosed Coati Nasua narica Costa Rica ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com The White-Nosed Coati (Nasua narica) is a raccoon-like carnivore. Intelligent and opportunistic, these clever mammals are quick to snatch and run off with an inattentive and unsuspecting hiker’s lunch! Learn more about this mischievous resident of Costa Rica, here.

Photography and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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Friend or Foe? A Wise Gardener Knows

August 8th, 2012 § 1

 Black Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) on Wild Carrot (Dacus carota)

Fear can lead people to do foolish things. Human beings have an tendency to fear and strike out at things they do not know. At a certain level, fear is important to our survival. The human fight or flight response was designed to protect us, and it’s a great instinct —until it isn’t. Sometimes, someone who appears to be an enemy, is actually a friend in disguise… And no one wants to hurt a friend, right? Right.

A Slightly Younger Black Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillar is Shown Here, Feeding Upon the Same Queen Anne’s Lace as the One Pictured Above

In the garden —as elsewhere in life— sometimes allies are mistaken for enemies. Take the Black Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio polyxenes), for example. In its larval phase, the colorful caterpillar (pictured above, munching wild carrot foliage), feeds mainly upon the leaves and stems of plants in the Apiacea family; including vegetables and herbs like carrots, dill, parsley and fennel. In its early stage of life, some gardener’s refer to the Black Swallowtail as a “parsley worm”, and consider it a pest. Yet when mature, this voracious eater morphs into a beautiful, nectar-sipping butterfly. Moving from flower to flower —carrying golden dust on their legs, wings and bodies—Black Swallowtail Butterflies become important pollinators as adults; ironically serving the very plants they enjoy consuming in their youth. Instead of killing “parsley worms”, I recommend covering vulnerable crops with Reemay Cloth or —if your garden is small— remove caterpillars by hand and place them on wild alternatives (they emit an unpleasant odor as a form of defense, so wear gloves or just wash your hands!). Some gardeners —including this one— actually plant ornamental carrots and dill for the purpose of attracting beneficial insects. A few minor inconveniences rarely bother organic gardeners and lovers of natural beauty. After all, isn’t the creation of a welcoming, butterfly habitat  a wonderful thing? Learn more about the Black Swallowtail Butterfly at ButterliesandMoths.Org, by clicking here.

Welcome to My Garden! Creating a Pollinator-Friendly Habitat Encourages a Healthy, Diverse Ecosystem. Set a Good Example by Becoming a Friendly Member of  Earth’s Community: Swing Your Gate Open to New Friends! Pollinator Favorites: Queen Anne’s Lace and Goldenrod (Daucus carota and Solidago)

So how do you know if you’ve spotted a friend or an enemy in the garden?  If something seems unfamiliar, it’s always a good idea to do a bit of research before impulsively squashing it. Of course, you can try asking an experienced neighbor, but if all else fails, the internet is always standing by! Some of the best insect identification resources I’ve found are free and readily available online; including Identification.Org and BugGuide.Net. For butterfly identification specifically —including the all-important larval stage— I like ButterfliesandMoths.org.  Basic entomological skills (the study of insects) are important to all gardeners. I recommend the books below —Good Bug Bad Bug  &  Garden Insects of North America—  for ease of use and comprehensive coverage, respectively. For more insect identification and organic pest control resources, visit the Library page by clicking here.

Jessica Walliser’s easy to use, Good Bug Bad Bug

Whitney Cranshaw’s comprehensive guide,  Garden Insects of North America

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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Wild Blue: The Beauty of Baptisia…

June 7th, 2012 § 3

The Beauty of North American Native Plants: Wild Blue Indigo (Baptisia australis) & Goat’s Beard (Aruncus dioicus) in My Garden. This Flowering Combo is Backed Up by “Nativars” (Native Plant Cultivars): Juniperus virginiana ‘Grey Owl’ & Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’

In my work as garden designer, I often find myself doing overtime as PR agent for native plants. Many North American wildflowers make beautiful additions to the garden, and yet the natives continue to struggle with “weedy” and “seedy” reputations. Of course, not all wild things are suitable for domesticated gardens and perennial borders, but some are quite sensational. When I encounter resistance, I like to pull out a few show-stopping design combos —like the one pictured above— to convince my more dubious clients. Baptisia —sometimes called false indigo or wild indigo— is such a beautiful and well-known perennial that I frequently need to remind even experienced gardeners that it is actually a North American native plant.

Wild Blue Indio and Goat’s Beard Together Again, in Another Garden Room, with North American Native, Canadian Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)

There are many beautiful species within the Baptisia genus; including some magnificent natural hybrids. The most familiar of the group, Baptisia australis (Wild Blue Indigo or Blue False Indigo), is a long-standing favorite among perennial gardeners. Hardy in USDA zones 4-9, Wild Indigo is an easy-to-please, long-lived beauty. Baptisia australis and cultivars (B. australis ‘Purple Smoke’ is one of my favorites) all prefer full to partial sun and deep, moist, well-drained soil. However, I’ve used Wild Blue Indigo in semi-shade and drier sites with great success. Although it isn’t a fast-growing plant, in ideal conditions, Baptisia australis will reach 3-4′ in height, with about a 3′ spread within 3 or 4 years. Do plan well and give it plenty of space; due to its deep root system, it resents transplanting (but is easily propagated, and freely self-sows from seed). The violet blue flowers bloom in June here in Vermont, and they combine well with many other garden plants; including perennial classics like herbaceous peonies (Paeonia lactiflora), fellow June-blooming natives like the Goat’s Beard (Aruncus dioicus) pictured above, and woody plants such as dark-maroon-leafed Ninebark, Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’ (a “nativar”, or native plant cultivar). After blooming, the grey-green foliage adds both color and texture to the garden, and later in summer, blackened seed pods add autumn-garden interest.

In the garden, Baptisia australis —and other species within the genus— is an important native plant for pollinators; including butterflies, bumblebees and other native bees. Although I leave most of the flowers standing in my perennial borders, I grow more than enough to enjoy some spiky blue-violet blossoms indoors as well. Wild Blue Indigo is also one of my favorite cut-flowers; a long lasting, mood-beauty for the vase…

Read More About Fresh-Cut Flower Care by Clicking Here

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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In Praise of the Poetic Papillon: Attracting Butterflies, Moths & Other Pollinators to the Garden…

June 4th, 2012 Comments Off

Red-Spotted Purple Butterfly (Limenitis arthemis) in My Wildflower Meadow, Visiting Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota)

Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio glaucus) on Lilac Blossoms (Syringa vulgaris ‘Mme. Lemoine’ ) in My Garden- Read More About This Lovely Butterfly in My Previous Post by Clicking Here.

Fritillary on Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)Read More About This Native Butterfly Magnet by Clicking Here

Is there anything more magical than the first butterfly sighting of the year? Much as I delight in the beauty of horticulture, I must admit that even the most spectacular of flowers pales in comparison to the poetic papillon. And what gardener wouldn’t want to work surrounded by butterflies dancing on the wind? I can’t imagine a more delightful way to spend my days. Of course butterflies are more than just pretty, and while bees are recognized as the most effective pollinators of food crops, butterflies also perform an important role in the pollination of flowers. As this fascinating insect moves within each blossom —gathering nectar with its long, curled proboscis— the butterfly’s entire body —legs, head and wings— acts as magnet for dusty pollen, which is redistributed as it moves from one part of the flower to another; from blossom to blossom and plant to plant.

Watching beautiful butterflies and moths while they work their magic within flowers is easy, but for many gardeners it’s harder to appreciate these insects when they begin their lives as voracious caterpillars. Butterflies and moths undergo a complex life cycle from eggs to caterpillars, followed by metamorphosis to moths and butterflies. As gardeners, it’s important that we become familiar with the changing appearance of moths and butterflies in order to protect these insects in all of their life stages. Butterfly and moth caterpillars all eat plant foliage, and one of the keys to creating a healthy habitat for butterflies, is learning to accept less-than-perfect-looking plants. Avoid the indiscriminate use of all pesticides —including organic solutions like insecticidal soap and Btk— in order to protect young butterflies and moths. Spray only when you absolutely must, and be sure that you can properly identify an insect before pulling out the pesticide…

The Bold Pattern and Bright Colors of the Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar (Danus plexippus) Make it Easy to Recognize as It Feasts on the Leaves of Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa). Learning to Accept and Tolerate Less-than-Perfect-Looking Plants is Key to Creating Healthy Habitat for Pollinators. In Addition to Adopting a More Tolerant Attitude Toward Chew-Marks, Provide Habitat in the Form of Wildflower/Wild Plant Areas. By Studying the Preferences of Butterflies, Soon You Will Come to See “Scrubby” Understory and Meadow Areas as Beautiful…

Later in Summer, the Adult Monarch Butterfly (Danus plexippus) Emerges from It’s Cocoon and Lights on Potted Butterfly Weed (Asclepias curassavica ‘Silky Red’) in My garden.

Pretty Impersonator: The Viceroy Butterfly (Limenitis archippus) Lighting on Straw in My Potager Looks a Great Deal Like the Monarch Above, But It’s Actually a Different, Smaller Butterfly. Even the Viceroy Caterpillar Looks Quite Similar to the Monarch. Read More About and See More Photos of the Viceroy and other Species at the Incredible Butterflies and Moths Website by Clicking Here

As you begin to familiarize yourself with the caterpillars, butterflies and moths visiting your garden, you may notice that while they enjoy many plants and flowers, they are definitely more interested in certain species than others. Providing a continuous supply of food and fresh water —be sure to provide butterflies with a safe “island” such as a stick or other place to light to prevent drowning in water features— from early spring through late fall  —for both caterpillars, butterflies and moths— is the best way to attract and keep these lovely creatures in your garden. But it’s just as essential to consider the “big picture” of your landscape and neighborhood. Instead of viewing natural areas as “unkempt”, try thinking of them from the butterfly’s point of view. Understory shrubs, trees and wild grasses provide essential habitat for caterpillars and migratory butterflies. Wildflower meadows, swamps and emerging forests with tangled stands of birch and poplar trees are prime real estate for egg-laying butterflies. Consider the consequences before you mow in the name of “necessary” maintenance. Before you cut, ask yourself how much manicured space you really need.

Caterpillars rely upon the foliage of many native, deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs, as well as herbaceous plants for sustenance. In addition to protecting natural areas, try planting some caterpillar favorites in your landscape. While each species has its own preferences, some of the most important larval hosts for moths and butterflies include the following native trees and shrubs (this list is by no means complete and is limited to North American plants), many of which also provide beautiful and beneficial flowers and/or fruits: Amelanchier (Serviceberry), Asimina (Paw Paw), Betula (Birch), Carya (Hickory), Carpinus caroliniana (American Hornbeam), Cassiope (Mountain Heather), Castanea (Chestnut), Ceanothus (California Lilac), Celtis (Hackberry), Crataegus (Hawthorn), Fagus grandifolia (American Beech), Fraxinus (Ash), Juglans (Walnut), Juniperus (Juniper), Malus (Crabapple), Pinus (Pine), Populus (Poplar), Prunus (Cherry and Plum), Quercus (Oak), Sassafras albidium (Sassafras), Ulmus (Elm), Arctostaphylos (Bearberry), Lindera benzoin (Spicebush), Myrica (Bayberry), Potentilla fruiticosa (Cinquefoil), Rhus (Sumac), Ribes (Gooseberry/Current), Salix (Willow), Sambucus (Elderberry), Vaccinium (Blueberry) and Viburnum.

The Hummingbird Moth is a Member of the Sphingidae Family, Which Includes Hawk Moths, Sphinx Moths and Hornworms. The Hummingbird Hawk Moth, A Beautiful and Important Pollinator, Begins Life as Large, Green, Very-Hungry Caterpillar; Related to the Tomato Hornworm. If the Hummingbird Moth Appeals to You, Learn to Protect and Provide for Its Curious Caterpillar (Many Feed Upon the Leaves of Shrubs and Trees). The Hummingbird Moth Above (Hemaris thysbe ) was Photographed on Fragrant Abelia (Click Here for More on Abelia mosanensis). This Fantastic Flier Visits Many of the Same Flowers as Butterflies, Bees and True Hummingbirds. Learn More About the Hummingbird Moth by Clicking Here. 

North American, Native Amsonia illustris Attracts Hummingbird Moths, Butterflies and Bees. It’s Also A Beautiful Garden Plant, Offering Clear-Blue Blossoms in May, Fine-Textured Foliage Throughout Summer, and Clear, Golden Autumn Foliage. This Lovely Native —and Other Bluestar Species; Including Amsonia hubrichtii and A. tabernaemontana— are Frequently Featured Here as Fall Foliage Superstars.

Hummingbird Moth (Hemaris thysbe) Gathering Nectar from Amsonia Blossoms. Read More About Hummingbird Moths by Clicking Here.

As adults, butterflies and moths are most attracted to cluster-flowers. In my previous posts on butterflies —including a post on my visit to Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory with tips for attracting butterflies to gardens and an article on the top three plants for butterflies— many of these annual and perennial flowers are included. Mosy butterfly flower lists include Asclepias (Milkweed/Butterflyweed family); one of the most important, cluster-flowered, native butterfly plants. In addition to the non-native species listed in my previous posts, linked above —such as Verbena bonariensis and Butterfly Bush* (Buddleia davidii, *which is considered an invasive plant in some areas of North America, and therefore restricted)— there are many more, beautiful North American wildflowers and native, garden-worthy plants for pollinators.

Some of the best perennial wildflower choices for attracting butterflies and moths include the following: Actaea simplex (Cimicifuga/Fairy Candles/Black Cohash), Agastache (Wild Hyssop), Allium (Wild Onion), Amsonia (Bluestar, pictured above), Aruncus dioicus (Goat’s Beard), Ascelepias (Milkweed/Butterflyweed), Asters, Baptisia (Wild Indigo), Boltonia (False Aster), Campanula (Harebell), Castilleja (Paintbrush), Chelone (Turtle Head), Coreopsis (Tickseed), Dicentra (Bleeding Heart), Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower), Epilobium (North Americn Native Fireweed), Eupatorium (Joe Pye Weed), Filipendula rubra (Queen of the Prairie), Gaillardia (Blanket Flower), Gaura, Geranium (Wild Geranium and cultivars), Helenium autumnal (Sneezeweed), Helianthus (Sunflower), Heliopsis (Oxeye), Hibiscus, Liatris (Blazing Star), Lilium (Lily), Lobelia, Lupinus (Lupine), Monarda (Beebalm/Bergamot), Penstemon (Beard’s Tongue), Phlox, Physostegia virginiana (False Dragonhead), Polemonium (Jacob’s Ladder), Polygonatum (Solomon’s Seal), Rudbeckia (Coneflower/Black-Eyed Susan), Salvia (Sage), Sedum (Stonecrop), Solidago (Goldenrod), Tiarella (Foam Flower), Verbena, Veronia (Ironweed), Viola (Violets), and Yucca (Soapweed).

In addition to providing perennial flowers, plant cluster-flowering annuals in garden beds and containers to maintain a steady supply of nectar for butterflies and moths…

Cluster Flowers are Particularly Attractive to Butterflies. Pictured Here is Asclepias tuberosa, Native, North American  Butterfly Weed. (Read More Here). Try Supplementing Perennial Cluster Flowers with Those of Annual Plants like Verbena bonariensis.

Plants Blooming at the Beginning of the Continuum —Very Early Spring, When Food Supplies are Limited— are of Great Importance to Returning PollinatorsNorth American Native Labrador Violet is a April/May-Blooming, Early Butterfly Favorite. Read More About this Fantastic, Ground-Cover for Shady Places by Clicking Here.

Later On in the Year, Mid-Late Season Flowers Provide and Important Source of Sustenance to Butterflies and Moths as They Emerge from Their Cocoons. Many Gardeners Shop for Plants in Late May and Early June, Purchasing Plants Like Peonies and Roses. Lovely as the May/June Bloomers are, to Attract and Keep Butterflies, the Gardener Must Provide Season-Spanning Bloom. Later-Season Flowers like the Rudbeckia hirta (Black-Eyed Susan) —pictured above in my wildflower walk above— as well as Echinacea, Sedum, Eupatorium, Actaea simplex, Solidago, Helenium and Asters are Key to Providing a Steady Supply of Nectar for Butterflies. Read More About Oli’s (My Dog) Accidental Wildflower Walk, by Clicking Here.

In addition to providing habitat and caterpillar forage, flowering trees and shrubs also provide sustenance to adult pollinators of all kinds. Again, butterflies and moths are particularly attracted to cluster-flowering species, including many fruit and berry producing plants. Some of the best North American natives, “nativars” and hybrids in this group include the following: Aesculus and A. parviflora (Buckeye Trees and Bottlebrush Buckeye shrub), Arctostaphylos (Bearberry), Callicarpa (Beautyberry), Castanea (Chestnut), Clethra (Sweet Pepperbush/Summersweet, pictured below), Cornus (Dogwood trees and shrubs), Crataegus (Hawthorn), Diervilla lonicera (Native Bush Honeysuckle), Diospyros (Persimmon), Gleditsia triacanthos (Honeylocust), Gymnocladus dioicus (Kentucky Coffeetree), Fothergilla (Witch Alder, pictured below), Halesia (Silverbell), Hamamelis (Witch Hazel), Hydrangea (Wild and Cultivated),  Hypericum (St. John’s Wort), Ilex (Holly), Itea virginica (Virginia Sweetspire), Kalmia (Mt. Laurel), Leucothoe, Lindera benzoin (Spicebush), Malus (Apple), Nyssa (Tupelo), Philadelphus (Mock Orange), Physocarpus opulifolius (Eastern Ninebark), Pieris (Andromeda), Potentilla fruiticosa (Cinquefoil), Prunus (Cherry and Plum), Rhododendron (Azalea), Rhus (Sumac), Rubus (Raspberry/Blackberry), Salix (Willow), Sassafras, Sambucus (Elderberry), Sorbus (Mountain Ash), Spirea alba (Meadowsweet), Stewartia, Styrax (Snowbell), Ulmus (Elm), Vaccinium (Blueberry/Cranberry), and my favorite, Viburnum…

Perfect for Early-Season Pollinators (April/May) and Late-Season Color (October/November), North American, Native Fothergilla (Pictured here: Fothergilla major ‘Mt. Airy’) is One of My Favorite Plants. Read More by Clicking Here. For Smaller Gardens, Consider Dwarf Witch Alder (Fothergilla gardenii and the Fabulous Blue-Leaf Cultivar F. g. ‘Blue Shadow’)

Horse Chestnut Blossoms are Popular with Butterflies, Moths, Hummingbirds and Bumblebees. Read More About this Gorgeous Cultivar ‘Ft. McNair’ by Clicking Here

Wonderfully Fragrant, Late-Season Bloom and Gorgeous, Golden Fall Foliage Make Clethra alnifolia (Summersweet/Sweet Pepperbush) a Favorite withBees, Hummingbirds, Moths, Late-Season Butterflies and Knowledgable Gardeners, Alike. Such Beauty in July/August Makes Up for Her Scruffy, Springtime Appearance. She’s a Bit of a Late Sleeper, That’s All! Read More About the Wonderful, Native Clethra alnifolia by Clicking Here

For more information about butterflies and moths, including ID keys, I suggest visiting the Butterflies and Moths website, butterfliesandmoths.org, by clicking here. For more information about wildflowers and other native plants, check out some of the resources in this post. And to learn more about gardening with butterflies in mind, check out some of the books below at your local library, bookstore, or linked online source.

Enjoy the beauty of the poetic papillon and help protect their future!

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Syringa vulgaris ‘Mme. Lemoine’ in My Vermont Garden. Click Here for More Information on the Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly.

Sally Roth’s Attracting Butterflies & Hummingbirds to Your Backyard 

Allan Armitage’s Native Plants for North American Gardens

William Cullina’s Wildflowers

Watch the Complete Life Cycle of a Monarch Butterfly by Clicking the Link Above. A Duncan Scott Film Produced for the Chicago Nature Museum in Chicago, IL (If You Have Trouble Viewing the Video, Click on This Direct YouTube Link). Film Copyright Duncan Scott, All Rights Reserved.

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links (including Amazon book links). A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Moonlight Flight in the Garden: Attracting Lovely Luna Moths…

May 20th, 2012 Comments Off

 Luna Moth (Actias luna) –  iPad Illustration by Michaela

One of the best parts about teaching is having the opportunity to further my own education. And when I am asked a great question that I can not answer, I get especially excited by the chance to do some research and learn something new! Yesterday morning, I presented a seminar, “Designing with Native Plants to Attract Butterflies and Hummingbirds to the Garden”, at Walker Farm in Dummerston, Vermont. The attendees had a number of great, familiar questions about plants and plant care, pollinators and insects in general. But when I was asked how to attract Luna Moths (Actias luna) to the garden, I admit that I was stumped. I’m a horticulturalist, and while I have taken entomology classes —and continue to study and work with insects almost daily in my gardening career— I’m certainly no expert in the field. So, when I returned to my studio, I consulted Whitney Craneshaw’s comprehensive Garden Insects of North America. I was surprised by what I learned, and thought I’d share it here with all of you…

Moonlight Flight of the Luna Moth –  iPad Illustration by Michaela

Luna Moths (Actias luna) are members of the giant silkworm —or in adult phase, royal moth— family (Saturniidae). Approximately ten days after eggs are lain by an adult, the giant, green Luna Moth caterpillars emerge and begin feeding upon foliage of native trees and shrubs; including Black Walnut (Juglans nigra), American Beech (Fagus grandifolia), Red Maple (Acer rubrum), Willow (Salix ssp), Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), Sumac (Rhus), Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), White Oak (Quercus alba), Hickory (Carya), American chestnut (Castanea dentata), as well as the leaves of other nut and fruit bearing shrubs, trees and shade trees. In spite of their voracious appetites, Luna Moth caterpillars pose little threat to trees and shrubs, due to their modest numbers. Predators of the large —2.5″— caterpillars are numerous; including wasps and many other insects, as well as birds and rodents. Once the adult Luna Moth emerges from its chrysalis, it only has about one week to live, and during this time, its sole mission is reproduction. Such a large moth —with a wingspan of 4.5-5″— must dodge many predators, and slow flight makes the Luna Moth easy prey for nocturnal creatures like bats and owls. Of course, the adult Luna Moths still has plenty of free time to find a mate, as it doesn’t need to spend the week seeking food. Luna Moths emerge from their cocoons without mouths, and never need to eat! The females attract males by emitting a chemical into the night air (Luna-fume?), and lay their eggs beneath the leaves of trees; preferably those of Black Walnut (Juglans nigra). Usually, there are two cycles per year with moths taking flight in late spring and again in mid-late summer.

So how to attract Luna Moths? Try planting trees and shrubs preferred by the Luna during it’s larval stage —all listed above— and be mindful about protecting natural habitat for wildlife. Once plentiful, the Luna Moth is now considered endangered in some areas of the United States. Avoid use of insecticides and herbicides (even organic methods such as Btk and insecticidal soap can kill Luna Moth caterpillars if sprayed indiscriminately) and unnecessary clearing of understory trees and shrubs in their environment. They may be rare, but keep your eyes open at night: if you head outside at dusk, or just before dawn during the early summer, you may get lucky and spot a moonlight flight of the Luna Moth!

Illustrations and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photos, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions) are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Seduced by Autumn’s Alluring Scent …

September 25th, 2011 Comments Off

Deep Within the Secret Garden, the Delightful Scent of Fairy Candles (Actaea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ and ‘Brunette’ aka Cimicifuga racemosa) Perfumes the Air, Luring Me Down the Dim, Winding Path. (Other plants here: Acer palmatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’, Daphne x burkwoodii ‘Carol Mackie’, Viburum bodnantense ‘Dawn’, and beside the Actaea simplex: glowing, chartreuse Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’)

There are many things to love about Autumn, not the least of which is her enviable wardrobe of fine perfume. Earthy notes of musk, moss and damp leaves play against heady florals to create a most alluring bouquet. Just outside my studio door, Sweet Autumn Clematis (Clematis paniculata, aka C. terniflora) scents the damp morning breeze with a cloud of fragrant white blossoms. Nearby —along the edge of the stone terrace— swoon-inducing Damask Roses (Hardy Portland Damask cultivar, Rosa ‘De Rescht’) fill the air with their unmistakably rich scent as they come into a second wave of seasonal bloom; mingling with the nearby vanilla of Henry Eilers Sweet Coneflower (Rudbeckia subtomentosa ’Henry Eilers’). Further down the garden path —luring me into the shadows— the slightly-fruity fragrance Fairy Candles (Actaea simplex cvs ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ and ‘Brunette’) swirls about, blending at the edge of the damp walls with base notes of moss and fern to balance the sweetness …

One of the lofty delights of fall, Sweet Autumn Clematis (Clematis paniculata, aka C. terniflora) twines about my studio entry door. Here in my zone 4/5 garden, this old-time favorite produces clouds of fragrant, white blossoms throughout the month of September and often into early October. Sweet Autumn Clematis is hardy in zones 4-8 and can reach a height of 30′ or more (easily contained and kept tidy by vigorous spring pruning, as this clematis blooms on new wood)

The old roses, particularly Damasks, are well known for their exquisite perfume. In early autumn —and often straight through the first frost— this Portland Damask Rose known as Rosa ‘De Rescht’ (the right rose, in German), is particularly sweet. Read more about this hardy cultivar and find a Vintage Rose Cocktail recipe by clicking here.

An unusually fragrant rudbeckia, Henry Eilers Sweet Coneflower (Rudbeckia subtomentosa ‘Henry Eilers’), lightly perfumes the air with the subtle scent of vanilla, when planted en masse

The Fruity Scent of Fairy Candles (Actaea simplex ‘Brunette’) Wafts Up from the Stone Walls Along the Secret Garden Path. Read more about this Autumn blooming beauty by clicking here.

Late-blooming flowers are not only attractive, but vitally important to the support of pollinators as well. As sunlight fades in the September garden, I often find drunken bees and butterflies lingering about the Fairy Candles and other blossoms, long past the sunset. And can you blame them? With all the voluptuous fragrances of fall —and many more yet to come— a stroll through the Autumn garden can be a deliciously intoxicating experience …

Find the recipe for this Vintage Rose Cocktail and read about my favorite Autumn Damask Rose, ‘Rosa De Rescht’ by clicking here

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photos, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions) are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Notes on Nature’s Bold Artistry: Brilliant, Blooming Butterfly Weed & Her Colorfully Patterned, Wild Guests …

July 9th, 2011 § 4

Asclepias tuberosa – Our Beautiful, Native Butterfly Weed Catches the Golden Light of Summertime Along the Wildflower Walk

In search of inspiration for your next creative project; pattern, form or color play? Sometimes, you needn’t look further for fresh ideas than your own backyard! While out admiring the blooming butterfly weed in my Wildflower Walk yesterday, I happened to notice five examples of nature’s bold artistry on one garden plant. Asclepias tuberosa —as our North American, native butterfly weed is known in the botanical world— blooms in beautiful clusters of bright, citrus-punch orange. The tiny, nectar-loaded blossoms are popular with pollinators of all kinds; including bees, butterflies —like the fritillary pictured below— and hummingbirds. But other parts of this plant serve important purposes to wildlife as well. The leaves and stems of both butterfly weed and milkweed  —filled with sticky sap— provide sustenance to butterfly caterpillars; including the boldly striped larvae of the beautiful Monarch Butterfly. Asclepias sap is toxic to many of this caterpillar’s predators, providing the insect with natural defense. Small Milkweed Bugs —colored in bold red and black patterns— also look to Asclepias species for food; feeding upon the seed of this important native plant. Lady luck must have been walking with me yesterday as I strolled through the garden, because I happened upon not only eye-popping, orange blossoms, but wild black & yellow stripes and bold, modernist patterns all on one plant … talk about artistic inspiration!

A Bumble Bee and Fritillary Butterfly Share the Same Dining Table at Their Local Asclepias tuberosa

Last summer, I featured this beautiful, long-blooming summertime flower  —Asclepias tuberosa—  in a plant profile. You can view additonal photos of butterfly weed in flower, and find more about this wonderful garden-worthy member of the milkweed family, by clicking back to that profile post here.

A Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar (Danus plexippus) in my garden, munches on its favorite host-plant:  Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Weed). I am more than happy to plant plenty of flowers for both of us!

Yellow and Black on Orange: Another Beautiful & Colorful Guest, the North American Native Bumble Bee, Visits Asclepias tuberosa in Search of Sustenance 

And on the same plant, a Small Milkweed Bug (Lygaeus kalmii) scurries about beneath the leaves. This brightly colored bug feeds upon the seeds of milkweed and butterfly weed. Because milkweed is considered an agricultural weed, this insect is often regarded as a beneficial

Fritillary Butterflies Flock to the Nectar in Asclepias tuberosa – No Wonder It’s Commonly Called Butterfly Weed!

Asclepias tuberosa makes a great garden plant: pictured here along the Wildflower Walk with Amsonia hubrichitii, Asters, Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ and Clethra Alnifolia ‘Ruby Spice’. Try it in combination with blue and violet flowers for a bold contrast. Or cool things off with a bit of silver, and white!

To read more about Asclepias tuberosa and its cultural preferences click here.

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Strolling Along the Wildflower Walk …

July 6th, 2011 Comments Off

A Stroll Through the Wildflower Walk in Late Afternoon

The Wildflower Walk may have started as an accidental feature in my garden, but —second only to the Secret Garden— it always generates the most oohs and ahhs. And when the sunny drifts of Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) hit their crescendo in July, it’s easy to see what all the commotion is all about. The softening effect of randomly strewn, bold sweeps of wildflowers is truly magical in a landscape, and although my dog Oli is responsible for coming up with this design, I have not only run with the theme in my own garden, but used the idea in other designs as well (minus the method of installation, see previous post for that story). I’m sure that if he only knew how popular one of his ‘bads’ has become, Oli would be begging for bones every day when he passes through his wondrous Wildflower Walk.

Of course —not to take away from my dog’s true genius— but one of the things that makes all of this unplanned wildness work from a design standpoint, is the underlying structure of the garden. The hardscape and bones of the landscape —which includes the stonewalls, loose stone paths, and structural trees and shrubs— give shape to the space; allowing ever-changing elements to take center stage at any given time, while the constant ‘theater’ holds everything together. And though they stand in the background throughout the summer —steady and central— the structural features always take over the show in late autumn and winter…

Rudbeckia and Nepeta tumble in a colorful jumble along the Wildflower Walk. Bees, butterflies and other pollinators love Nepeta and Rudbeckia. And later in the season, finches will stop by to feast upon Rudbeckia seed (I leave many of the stalks standing for my feathered friends). Meanwhile, in the background: the spilling green Juniperus horizontalis provides bright blue berries for wildlife, as well as a pretty green foil for the wildflowers. And though it’s barely visible in high summer, Dan Snow’s retaining wall holds everything together —both figuratively and literally– throughout the year.

The walkway surface is 1″ natural round stone —slightly larger and more grey-blue than pea stone— which allows wildflower seed to germinate just beneath the surface. The walk does require some weeding, but it isn’t as labor intensive as you might think. Rounded, natural stone makes a great surface for seating areas and walkways; in both formal and informal spaces. I particularly love this look in lawn-less, Mediterranean gardens.

The main walkway —to and from my home/studio— is wider than the Secret Garden path and the rest of the Wildflower Walk. And though the Rudbeckia reigns supreme here in early summer, this wave of bloom is preceded by Lupine and succeeded by Adenophora. Other wildflowers and shrubs play supporting and cameo roles along the way… 

In reality, getting wildflowers to succeed in a garden over the long-haul usually requires a bit more planning than Oli put into his work. Many self-sown bi-annual and meadowy perennial flowers —such as Lupine, Poppies, Asters, Black-eyed Susans and the like— prefer fast-draining, thin soil in full-sun. These flowers thrive on natural, seasonal weather conditions. When it comes to sunny-meadow flowers, sites with poor soil often work better than sites with rich soil (take note of those wildflower drifts along the highway: talk about thriving on neglect!), but there are wildflowers adapted to wet, rich soil as well. Recognizing wildflower seedlings (to avoid accidental weeding or over-mulching) throughout the season, and allowing seed heads to remain standing until they mature, is absolutely critical to the maintenance of wildflower drifts (this is particularly important in true meadows, which must be mown after the flower heads have browned and are ready to release seed). All of these things tend to go against the grain of super-tidy gardeners, so in the beginning at least, a leisurely attitude toward maintenance may work to your advantage when it comes to wildflowers. However in long term, lazy Susans would not be successful here. I am the sole gardener on my property, and as ‘wild’ as this walkway may look, I can assure you that it does demand some weeding time; particularly in the early spring, after rainy periods. Clover, grass and other thin-soil-lovers germinate well between the loose stone, and rise up in competition with the wildflowers along the path. I simply keep them in check (often in the early morning hours while talking on the phone with a client or contractor, or late, late in the afternoon with a glass of cold lemonade or chilled wine).

Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky Mixed’ will reach its summertime crescendo this month in the Wildflower Walk

A different perspective: looking down the Secret Garden path from the main walkway. This shot was taken on an overcast morning, when the bright yellow and orange of the just-opening Rudbeckia really stood out.That’s Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ on the right, backed up by Viburnum trilobum ‘Bailey Compact’ (that dynamic duo really lights up in the autumn, see this post for photos).

Looking Through the Wildflower Walk and Into the Secret Garden Beyond (Foreground: Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky Mixed’ and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’).

Tempted to give wildflower drifts a try in your own garden? Want to replace your front lawn with something less water/chemical dependent and more colorful? Would you like to support pollinator and bird populations with a natural food source? Well, you could ask a rambunctious dog like Oli to install a Wildflower Walk for you, or you could consult some inspirational books on the subject of Meadow Gardens. The one I am currently ogling, and constantly praising, is The American Meadow Garden, pictured and linked below. Beyond its obvious beauty, this book is also genuinely useful; offering meadow/wildflower planting suggestions by region, soil type and exposure. Self-sown wildflower drifts are lovely both in meadows and within designed gardens. Isn’t it amazing what your dog can teach you?

The American Meadow Garden (John Greenlee/Saxon Holt) from Timber Press

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Strawberries & Homemade Granola: Fresh Fraises des Bois for Breakfast …

June 9th, 2011 § 1

Fresh Picked Alpine Strawberries or Fraises des Bois (Fragaria vesca) & Homemade Granola

One of the best things about June —besides peonies— is fresh picked strawberries from the garden. I have a small but productive patch of fraises des bois (Fragaria vesca) —better known as alpine strawberries— in my potager (click here for more information about this wonderful berry). And right now, the alpine strawberry plants are producing so many plump, juicy fruits, I hardly miss the few that I know Mr. Catbird is snatching. For the past few days, I’ve been strolling down to the kitchen garden at dawn to fill a basket with these sweet, ruby red beauties for my breakfast. I love them tossed on top of homemade granola in the morning, and later —if it’s hot— they are wonderful mashed up in a strawberry mojito (click here for recipe) or a strawberry flirt (click here for that little number). Alpine strawberries are easy to grow in patio pots or window boxes; making them the perfect fruit for container gardeners.

The still, early morning hours are ideal for pulling a few weeds and watching butterflies. This week I spotted a viceroy (which looks like a miniature monarch), several painted ladies and more tiger swallowtail butterflies. All of the pollinators seem drawn to the chives and sage in particular, but also to the recently planted cosmos, calendula and ageratum. Which reminds me, I need to get back over to Walker Farm. I have a little extra space around the fence line, and I aim to fill it with more fresh flowers for cutting!

Alpine Strawberries (Fragaria vesca) and My New Red Chair

Alpine Strawberries (Fragaria vesca) are the Sweetest of June Treasures

Top Two Photos: Viceroy Butterfly.  Above: Chives for Butterflies, Bees & Me

In winter, I like to add raisins and other dried fruits to my granola. But in summer, I think fresh berries are the way to go. So at this time of year, I prefer a honey-nut granola recipe to complement the tart taste of fresh fruit. The blend below is based on a simple recipe from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking, which I discovered while reading Adam Roberts’ very funny food blog, The Amateur Gourmet. This is a fun recipe to make with kids, because the granola turns out best when you mix it with your hands!

Alpine Strawberry (Fragaria vesca)

Cultivated Alpine Strawberries (Fragaria vesca) are Larger Than Truly Wild Fruit but Smaller Than Standard, Cultivated Varieties

Honey-Nut Granola with Fresh Alpine Strawberries

Ingredients: (makes about 3 1/2 cups, multiply and add twists, as you like)

2          cups rolled oats

1          tsp cinnamon

1          tsp salt

3 1/2   tablespoons vegetable oil

1/4      cup honey, plus extra for drizzling

1/4      cup brown sugar

1         tsp vanilla extract

1         cup (+/-) of lightly chopped nuts (cashews, macadamia, etc)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325° Fahrenheit. Select a large baking sheet (or cookie sheet) and line with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, mix together the vegetable oil, brown sugar, honey, vanilla with a fork or whisk. Set aside.

Mix oats, nuts, cinnamon and salt together in a large bowl.

Pour the liquid mixture over the dry ingredients and combine. The best method for even coverage is to use your hands.

Spread the mixture out over the parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake 10 minutes, remove pan and drizzle with a little more honey. Turn the granola with a spatula. Return to oven for another 5 – 10 minutes. Watch carefully, as it’s easy to burn. Remove from oven and turn the granola again. If the mixture looks less than golden brown, return to oven for another 5 minutes. Remove the granola from oven and allow it to cool completely.

Serve with fresh berries and milk or yogurt, and a drizzle of golden honey on top. Store extra granola in an airtight canister (it keeps well for a couple of weeks, if it lasts that long).

Ever-Bearing Alpine Strawberries/Fraises des Bois (Fragaria vesca) Produce Delicious Fruit All Summer Long

Succession Sowing of Seed and Planting of Vegetable Starts Continues All Summer Long to Insure a Steady Supply of Greens, Root Vegetables and Fall Crops

Looking Past the Garlic Greens, Peppers, Bean Pole and Into the Heart of the Potager

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Late Afternoon Sunlight in the Meadow And a Prelude to Long, Languid Summer

June 1st, 2011 § 7

Camassia quamash and Clethra alnifolia – Two of My Favorite Native Plants in the Meadow Garden

One of my current landscape design projects is for a new home in the middle of a high meadow. I couldn’t be more excited. Meadow gardens are some of my favorite landscapes to design. Many things influence me when I create a new garden, but my greatest muse is always nature herself. Wild meadows —think fields of lupine, poppies, daisies, black eyed susan, sage and tall, tawny grasses— are painted in bold sweeps of color and texture. Meadows are sensual places; catching the caress of wind; glistening in warm, low sunlight.

My own meadow garden —a small, sunny opening in the middle of a forest— is a place filled with wildflowers and native shrubs, offering beauty throughout the seasons. At this moment —with sunlight dancing upon tips of swaying, blue camassia— it’s a little slice of heaven, and a prelude to the long, languid, golden days of summer stretched out before us…

Pay Attention to the Light in Your Garden and Position Plants to Make the Most of Their Beauty. Camassia Glows Like Stained Glass in the Late Afternoon Sunlight. Later on in the Season, Clethra alnifolia’s Golden Autumn Foliage (Sweet Pepperbush in the background) is Illuminated by the Setting Sun.

I Enjoy Camassia’s Translucent Lavender Petals. Bees, Butterflies and Other Pollinators Love This Native Flower as Well: Note the Bright-Red, Solitary Sweat Bee (Sphecodes) on the Camassia in the Photo Above.

For more information about Camassia quamash, please visit my previous post on this native wildflower by clicking here. And to learn more about our North American native Sweet Pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia) —a natural shrub for softening the boundary between field and forest— click back to this post here. Looking for more meadow garden inspiration? I’ll be writing more about the wildflowers and grasses of our native meadows over the coming weeks. But for now I’ll leave you with the name of a gorgeous title to check out on your next rainy day trip to the bookstore. Author and nurseryman John Greenlee and award winning garden photographer Saxon Holt recently teamed up to create The American Meadow Garden for publisher Timber Press. Not only is this book visually stunning, but it’s also filled with wonderfully inspirational design ideas, plant recommendations and reliable cultural information. I reviewed The American Meadow Garden for Barnes & Noble last year, and it’s been migrating from desk to dinner table to night stand all week. I can’t wait to share it with my new clients…

Beautiful Inspiration: The American Meadow Garden by John Greenlee and Photographer Saxon Holt

Garden Design & Installation: Michaela Medina. For design inquiries, see my professional services page at left.

Article and Photographs ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced or reposted without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

The Gardener’s Eden received no compensation for the editorial mention of any products or services mentioned in this post. Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links here (including Amazon.com book links). A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Of Sunshine and Swallowtail Butterflies…

May 30th, 2011 Comments Off

A Perfect Spot for Sampling Lilac Nectar – An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) on Syringa vulgaris ‘Mme. Lemoine’

Sunshine at last! Finally, after weeks of rain and fog, golden light returned to the garden this week. And suddenly, the sultry air is filled with Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies —bright as the sun itself— fluttering about blossoming trees, shrubs and perennials; looking for a place to rest and a sample of sweet nectar. Here in my garden, the voluptuous French white lilacs —Syringa vulgaris ‘Mme. Lemoine’— seem to be the flavor of the week.

Papillon. Poetry in Motion…

Thank you, sweet papillon, for pausing to show off your bright, beautiful colors

***

More Information on the Tiger Swallowtail, and How to Attract this Beauty to Your Garden

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail is commonly found at the edge of North American deciduous forests from early-mid spring through autumn. Adult females lay their eggs on host plants; including Ash (Fraxinius), Basswood (Tilia), Birch (Betula), Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), Lilac (Syringa), Mountain Ash (Sorbus), Poplar (Populus), Sweetbay (Magnolia) and Tulip Trees (Lirodendron). When caterpillars emerge, they hungrily eat their way through foliage, pupate and re-emerge as beautiful butterflies. The entire process takes little more than a month. In springtime, adult swallowtails feed on the nectar of flowers —particularly those forming clusters— such as lilac (Syringa), wild cherry trees (Prunus serotina), phlox, daphne, abelia, and viburnum. Later in the season, they feast upon the nectar of verbena (particularly Verbena bonariensis), butterflyweed and milkweed (Aesclepias), sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia), asters, stonecrop (Sedum), butterflybush (Buddleja species*), Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium), bee balm (Monarda), phlox, heliotrope, pincushion flower (Scabiosa), Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota), gayflower (Liatris), and many other cultivated trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and wildflowers. Provide a continuous supply of flowers and caterpillar host plants throughout the growing season to keep swallowtail butterflies in your neighborhood.

Sadly, a large number of butterflies are inadvertently killed each year —particularly as caterpillars— through the use of pesticides. Even organic methods of pest control can be harmful to beneficial insects, and should only be used in a targeted manner. Although Btk is an organically approved pesticide (made from a bacterium found naturally in soils), commonly and safely used to control harmful worms, it will kill beneficial caterpillars if used indiscriminately. So please, use organic pest controls sparingly, and with great caution. Familiarize yourself with all stages of the swallowtail butterfly lifecycle and pass along the information to your neighbors and friends.

For more information about butterflies and how you can attract them to your garden, visit my previous posts here: “Butterflies on My Mind”, and also here: “On Magic Wings”. More free information about lepidoptera (butterflies) may be found online at the non-profit website,  Butterflies and Moths of North America. In addition to these resources, there are also many excellent books available on gardening with butterflies in mind, as well as books on the butterfly lifecycle and identification for both children and adults. Click here to browse top rated butterfly titles at Amazon.com.

*Caution: Buddleja davidii is considered an invasive plant species in some regions of the United States and Canada. Please see my previous post,  “Butterflies on My Mind”, for more information on butterflybushes, and useful USDA links.

Article and Photographs ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced or reposted without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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A Visual Feast: Beautiful, Edible Flowers

May 23rd, 2011 § 1

Pansies (Viola × wittrockiana) are lovely atop cakes, in salads and especially when floating in cocktails…

Or Cocktails, Like this Sunset Mangotini (click here for recipe)

(Viola × wittrockiana ‘Matrix Purple’)

Candied rose petals, lavender ice cream, hibiscus tea, chocolate cupcakes laced with violets; some flowers are more than a visual feast, they’re actually good enough to eat. It’s fun to decorate food with colorful blossoms, and it always feels a bit naughty too —eating something so pretty— when I pull the tiny flowers off a slice of cake and gobble them down. “Don’t eat the daisies“, they say… But that’s part of the fun, now isn’t it?

I grow flowers in my potager for a wide variety of reasons —to support pollinators, provide fresh bouquets for the table, and add beauty to the vegetable patch— but one of the best reasons to grow flowers in the kitchen garden, is to eat them! I enjoy spicy nasturtium and chive blossoms in salads, scarlet runner bean and rosemary flowers in soup, and many other blooming beauties as both ingredient and garnish to dishes from spring to fall…

Bright Orange Calendula Brightens this Garlic Scape Pesto (click here for recipe)

Nasturtiums Add Bold Color and Spicy Flavor to Salads

Fresh From the Potager: Nasturtium, Lettuce and Radishes Make a Colorful Salad with Zing

Never tried eating a flower? Think again. Broccoli and cauliflower are two of the most popular edible buds! Some other, commonly consumed edible flowers include nasturtium, dandelion, violets and pansies, geranium (Pelargonium spp), daylily, squash blossoms, calendula, chamomile, lavender, chive, mint, sage blossoms and of course rose petals. But many other flowers can be grown and used in a wide variety of dishes. Try citrusy bee balm (Monarda didyma), fruity red bud (Cercis canadensis) and apple blossoms, spicy anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), fresh red clover and scarlet runner beans.

Thinking of adding a row of potager posies to your backyard garden? If you’ve never grown edible flowers before, I’d recommend stopping at an organic nursery or farm stand in your area to shop for plants. Do a bit of research before you collect your six packs and ask a knowledgable staff member at your local garden center for a bit of guidance. Two of my favorite edible flower gardening resources in print —by Cathy Wilkinson Barash and Rosalind Creasy— are listed below. Both books contain great cultural and culinary information; including recipes and tips for storage!

Edible Flowers: Desserts & Drinks by Cathy Wilkinson Barash

The Edible Flower Garden by Rosalind Creasy

And although it should be common sense, I must emphasize that not all blossoms and buds should be consumed. In fact, some flowers —and many berries, leaves, roots and sometimes entire plants— are quite toxic. So, never eat a flower or any plant unless you can positively identify —with 100% certainty— that it’s safe for human consumption. If you have very small children frequenting your garden, or as members of your family or household, never grow anything toxic in your potager. In fact, I recommend  that all gardening adults keep a copy of the Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants in an easy to locate place. If you are growing your own food, it’s always a good idea to become familiar with both edible and inedible plants, and it’s never wise to grow anything poisonous around small children.

The Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants

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Butterflies on My Mind: Top Three Summer Blooming Plants for Attracting Fluttering Beauties to Your Garden…

March 11th, 2011 § 2

Asclepias tubersosa (Butterflyweed) and Asclepias syriaca (Milkweed) are important sources of nectar for bees and butterflies. The leaves of Asclepias are also a source of food for monarch and other butterfly caterpillars.

With my seminar, “Gardening to Attract Birds, Bees and Butterflies” coming up on Monday night —and last week’s visit to Magic Wings Butterfly Conservancy still in my thoughts— you might say I have a fluttering of winged-creatures on my mind. Of course I’m always thinking of how to support honeybees in the garden (follow the Honeybee Conservancy blog here) and what’s good for the bees is often good for the birds and the butterflies. But when it comes to attracting monarchs, swallowtails, painted ladies and other kaleidoscopic, winged-beauties to your garden, there are three key “butterfly magnets” to consider in your planting plan. Butterflies enjoy many cluster-flowered plants, but Asclepias (Milkweed), Verbena —particularly Verbena bonariensis— and Buddleja species (Butterfly bush) are simply irresistible to them. Plant any one of these beauties in your garden and you will always get a landing and never just a fly-by. And as an added bonus, they are among the favorites of bees and hummingbirds as well…

Verbena bonariensis is a tropical plant grown as an annual or semi-annual (sometimes self-sowing) in cold climates. It’s popular with butterflies and bees alike.

Asclepias, more commonly known as milkweed, is a wonderful group of plants; including many natives. Last year I featured the gorgeous Asclepias tuberosa (Butterflyweed) in a post on mid-summer color (click here to read more about this North American native plant). I love bold color combinations in sunny, summertime perennial borders. Why not combine the sweet orange of butterfly weed with drifts of ethereal, lavender-hued Verbena bonariensis? Commonly known as purpletop vervain or tall verbena, Verbena bonariensis is a tropical plant native to Central and South America. In cold climates, Verbena bonariensis is usually grown as an annual or semi-annual plant (blooms the first year from seed and it will sometimes successfully self-sow), and in warmer climates it is grown as a tender perennial (hardy USDA zones 7-11). This is a tall, airy, elegant plant (approx 3-4.5′ tall and wide) with strong, slender stems (I like to grow plenty both in my perennial borders and in the potager for cutting). Purpletop vervain looks best when planted en masse for a hazy, purple cloud-like effect, and it prefers well-drained soil and plenty of moisture (will tolerate hot and dry, midsummer conditions once established).

Buddleja davidii (Orange-eye Butterfly Bush) lives up to its name. It is a favorite of butterflies, hummingbirds and bees.

Butterfly bush, or Buddleja (B. davidii pictured above) is perhaps the most popular plant for butterfly and hummingbird enthusiasts. Native to Chile and China, these flowering shrubs are long-standing, easy-to-grow garden favorites. Butterfly bush species are tolerant of poor, alkaline soil, polluted, urban situations and stress, making them a good choice in some areas. However, gardeners should be aware that one Buddleja species, Buddleja davidii, is listed as a “noxious weed” in certain areas of the United States (Oregon and Washington specifically list B. davidii as a noxious-weed, and it is possibly invasive in southwestern, coastal Canada) because of its free-seeding ways (it’s best to check with the USDA state noxious weed list online —linked here— or your local USDA Extension Service —linked here— before planting Buddleja davidii; particularly along the west coast and possibly in warmer states on the eastern seaboard)*. If you live in Oregon or Washington, or in another area where Buddleja davidii is considered invasive, consider a non-aggressive butterfly bush species, such as Buddleja globosa (USDA zone 7-11, orange ball tree/ball butterfly bush), or in cooler climates, consider planting native Clethra alnifolia (see my previous post & article on this shrub here). Buddleja davidii (synon. Buddleia davidii) is hardy in zones 5-9, and in cold climates (where it is far less likely to freely colonize and become weedy) B. davidii is treated as a perennial plant; cut back to the ground in late fall or early spring. New growth will emerge in spring and flowers will form on fast-growing young wood in the first year. Fountain butterflybush, Buddleja alternifolia, and Buddleja globosa (and other Buddleja species) produce blossoms on old wood, and should be pruned for shape in late spring or early summer after they have flowered. Buddleja alternifolia is considered to be a somewhat hardier species than Buddleia davidii. I have observed B. alternifolia growing in zone 4.

I will be writing more about how to attract butterflies, bees and birds to gardens in the coming months. But, if you are planning your garden now, you may want to add a couple of these sure-fire butterfly magnets to your shopping list!

*Buddleja davidii is not currently on the USDA federal invasive plant list. However, it is currently considered a “noxious weed” in Oregon and Washington (check state noxious weed/invasive plant lists here) Many plants considered “weedy” or “invasive” in one area are non-threatening in other areas. It is the responsibility of the individual gardener to know and respect the laws and environmental guidelines within their respective states and communities.

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Article and photographs are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent.

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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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A Warm Wash of Fragrance: Dreaming Of Lilies and Sultry Summer Evenings…

February 5th, 2011 § 6

Dreaming of Warm Summer Nights and a Garden Filled with Softly Blushing Lilies…

Asiatic, Oriental, Trumpet, Species or Hybrid: I’ve yet to meet a lily without falling in love. And while my weekend may be filled with practical matters —shoveling, clearing hoop-houses of snow, cleaning grow lights and sorting seed packets— there’s sure to be a certain amount of summer fantasy slipping in…

Soaking in Summer Fantasies…

Yes, I confess. Dozens of summer-blooming bulb catalogs drape the rim of my claw-foot tub, where —surrounded by bubbles and steam— I find myself lost for hours; conjuring sultry August evenings and heavy-scented-air, filled with the fragrance of Black Beauties, Brasilias, Casa Blancas and Salmon Stars. Oh, those deliciously intoxicating Oriental lilies… Could there be a more glamorous summer flower? I’ve found great prices on lilies (and other summer flowering bulbs & tubers, like Dahlias) at Dutch Gardens and a fantastic selection at Brent & Becky’s Bulbs online, and I will be ordering them early to get a jump on the crowd! For me, this will be a year of mass perennial and bulb planting. And I plan on adding great waves of lilies —both for cutting and enjoying in the garden— this year.

The Colors of a Summer Sunset (Lilium ‘Pretty in Pink’)

Cultural Notes for Lilies

When planning your springtime lily plantings, keep in mind that these perennial bulbs prefer to be planted deeply –in rich, well-drained soil. Most lilies require full sun, but like their roots cool. Companion planting with other lush, leafy perennials —and mulching with clean, fresh organic material— helps to shield roots from the heat of the sun’s mid-day rays. Lilies are fantastic flowers for attracting pollinators like hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. However, lily leaf beetles (bright red nemesis of this gorgeous plant, and other flowers) can be a problem in some areas (emerging in March-June from debris surrounding lily plantings). I treat lily leaf beetle infestations organically with neem (targeted to lily foliage every 5-7 days when new growth and beetle larvae both emerge in spring).

Article and photos are ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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Fire and Ice: The Flaming Red Foliage of Abelia Mosanensis Sizzles Beside Cool Blue Juniper Horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’…

November 4th, 2010 § 3

Fragrant abelia (Abelia mosanensis) and Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’ (aka ‘The Blue Rug’)

They say opposites attract —think Bogie and Bacall, Hepburn and Tracy, Lady and the Tramp, Bert and Ernie— in passionate relationships.  And it’s certainly true that sparks tend to fly in nature, as well as on the silver screen, when something hot and fiery comes into contact with the cool, calm and steely. In the late autumn garden, such contrasts are particularly spectacular when blue-tinted conifers are played against orange and red-colored deciduous beauties. In October and early November, the magnetic charge between red-orange abelia and blue-green juniper produces some serious, show-stopping drama in my garden; especially on a moody, overcast day.

The Brilliant Autumn Color of Abelia mosanensis Holds Straight Into November

Fragrant, hardy abelia (Abelia mosanensis) possesses some of the most brilliant fall color in my late-season garden. Beginning in mid to late October, her lustrous foliage —medium green and glossy throughout the growing season— slowly shifts from glowing orangey-red to fiery scarlet. The color of her autumn leaves is so brilliant, it literally glows like a campfire on a foggy day. You may recall my affection for Abelia mosanensis from a post in late spring, when this delightful plant produces beautiful pink, intensely fragrant blossoms (beginning in late May here int VT) that rival the sweet scent of lilac and daphne. If you’ve never met Abelia mosanensis, you should know that this is not a beautifully shaped plant —requiring careful positioning and June pruning to maintain an acceptable presence in a more formal garden situation— but her sweet, springtime blossoms and glorious fall color more than make up for her rather scrappy form. Listed by most growers as hardy in zones 5 to 9, here on my windy, exposed hilltop (zone 4/5), she has performed very well for five seasons with no absolutely no effort on my part. When her modest requirements are met, (moist, well-drained, average garden soil) fragrant abelia can reach six feet high and wide in full sun -but she’ll also tolerate partial shade, where a gardener can expect the mature shrub to be of somewhat smaller stature.

Fragrant abelia, draped in May blossoms (Abelia mosanensis) with ‘Blue Rug’ at her feet (Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Rug’)

And the perfect yang to fragrant abelia’s delightfully feminine yin? In both spring and fall, I adore the contrast of steely, blue-tipped conifers with Abelia mosanensis. In the entry garden, sprawling at fragrant abelia’s feet, the ‘Blue Rug’ (Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’) looks particularly lovely to my eye. Tough as nails, this splendid ground-cover is extremely hardy (USDA zones 3-10) and tolerates many soil types as long as it is provided with full sun and excellent drainage. Although it may sprawl to 10 feet or more, like most juniper, the ‘Blue Rug’ is easily contained with regular pruning.

Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Rug’ in November, with a Frosty Coat of Ice Crystals

When I’m pairing plants in my garden, I usually end up thinking about characters in a film.  To bring out the best qualities of one plant, it often helps to place it beside another with opposing charms. There’s nothing like watching the sparks fly between a feisty leading-lady and a cool and classic leading man. Why not follow suit in the garden, and watch your late-show sizzle to life.

Inspiration: Romantic Opposites…

Bogie and Bacall

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Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 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. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Must Be The Season Of The Witch…

October 30th, 2010 § 2

“When I look out my Window, Many sights to see. And when I look out my window, So many different people to be… That it’s strange, so strange.”

“You’ve got to pick up every stitch, You’ve got to pick up every stitch, You’ve got to pick up every stitch… Mm, must be the Season of the Witch, Must be the Season of the Witch, yea…”

“Must be the Season of the Witch…”

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) – Turns Brilliant Gold in Late Autumn

Dwarf Witch Alder (Fothergilla gardenii) – Radiates an Eerie Orange Glow in the Secret Garden

I caught her last night in the garden; blowing around in the wind and casting her spells in the drizzly shadows. She’s a changeling and she’s a wild thing. You never know how she will appear from one minute to the next. Red? Orange? Yellow? Perhaps all three hues will turn up in her autumn brew. Yes, she’s the garden witch, and this is indeed her season…

Witch Alder (Fothergilla major ‘Mt Airy’) is My Answer to Burning Bush in the Garden

Hamamelis (witch hazel) and Fothergilla (witch alder) are two of the most spellbinding woody plants in my garden. The magical blossoms of Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’ light up the gloomy days of March with color and scent, and later her cousins, the Fothergilla, take over with bewitching blossoms in April and May (read more about Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’ by clicking here, and Fothergilla by clicking here). But it’s the witching hour — late October and November in my garden— when these sorceresses truly light up the gathering gloom…

The Wild, Red Witch (Fothergilla ‘Mt Airy’) raging along the walkway in late October

The family of Hamamelidaceae is a large group that includes both spring and autumn blooming Witch Hazels (native Hamamelis vernalis and Hamamelis mollis) and their cousins, the Witch Alders (among other woody plants). Although the spring-blooming Witch Hazels tend to me more dramatic in the early part of the year, the autumn blooming species provides both stunning foliage and fragrant flowers in fall (it is definitely harder to spot the sweetly-scented yellow blossoms on my autumn blooming Hamamelis mollis behind the golden foliage). Some of the most gorgeous autumn color in the garden belongs to the Witch Hazel hybrids; particularly H x intermedia ‘Diane’, ‘Jelena’ and ‘Arnold’s Promise’. Although a separate species, Fothergilla is equally magical, and often more flamboyant in her end-of-season color display. A dwarf Witch Alder (Fothergilla gardenii) is planted in the corner of my Secret Garden, where she is just now turning brilliant orangey-yellow. Elsewhere in the garden, Fothergilla major ‘Mt Airy’ glow red, orange, yellow and every imaginable shade in between…

Witch Hazel ‘Diane’ (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’) – Autumn Color Variation

Witch Hazel ‘Diane’ (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’) – Autumn Color Variation

Witch Alder (Fothergilla major ‘Mt Airy’) Leaf Color Variation

Most members of the Hamamelidaceae family prefer moist, semi-acidic soil and mostly sunny to partially shady conditions (in nature, they are forest edge and understory trees and shrubs). Some Witch Hazels and Witch Alders are quite hardy in northern climates; all of those mentioned here are reliable in USDA zones 4-9. In the garden, they are enchanting in autumn when paired with late-season flowers (including anemone and aster) fall-blooming crocus, ornamental grasses, and conifers (including shade-tolerant Microbiota). Catching a rooted witch is far easier than snagging the airborne variety: no net is necessary, simply stop in your local garden center and poke around the sales aisles…

Can You Catch the Witch?

This Story’s Inspiration Comes from One of My Favorite Songs by Donovan

Donovan – Season of the Witch

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“Season of the Witch” Lyrics are ⓒ Donovan 1967

Black Patent Leather Boots are by Stuart Weitzman at Endless


Article and photographs ⓒ 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. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Fashionably Late & Dressed in Maroon: Sweetly-Scented, Autumn Fairy Candles Light Up the Shadowy, Secret Garden…

September 16th, 2010 § 6

Actaea simplex/Cimicifuga simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty {also known variously as Fairy Candles, Black Snake Root & Black Cohosh}

Actaea simlex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’, here in the Secret Garden with Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’, Lamium maculatum, Helleborus x hybridus ‘Royal Heritage Strain’, Paeonia mouton x lutea ‘High Noon’, Stewartia pseudocamilla, and a background of bronzing Matteuccia pensylvanica {native Ostrich fern}

True, there are those who say it’s rude to be tardy, but it seems to me that the more interesting characters always arrive a wee-bit late to the party. Of course, they are always gorgeous, a bit mysterious, and often wearing something dark and dramatic. Well, such is the case with Actaea simplex {aka Cimicifuga simplex} ‘Hillside Black Beauty’, in my Secret Garden. Clad in exquisitely-cut, deep, velvet-maroon, the Fairy Candles —as I like to call them— saunter into bloom in September; wearing their lilac-tinted, flower plumes the way an old-fashioned bombshell might drape her shoulders with an exotic, perfumed boa. Filling the cool, misty air of the Secret Garden with the most delightfully intoxicating scent, {noticed and adored by hungry bees and other early autumn pollinators} Actaea simplex arrives late on the garden-scene with the kind of laid-back elegance of which modern Hollywood starlets can only dream…

Actaea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ in the Secret Garden {see companion plant listing above}

Known by various intriguing aliases —including Black Snake Root, Black Cohosh and (my favorite) Fairy Candles— Actaea simplex was formerly categorized in taxonomic circles as Cimicifuga simplex (sim-e- sih-few-gah sim-plex); a delightful tongue-twister that, once mastered, I actually came to adore (In fact, I still refer to her by the original botanical name – the Latin just seems to capture her… Je ne sais quoi). Native to the moist, cool woodlands of eastern North America, this statuesque beauty will easily reach 4-6′ tall — spikes in full bloom— when she’s given the conditions she prefers. Hardy in USDA zones 4-8, Actaea simplex ’Hillside Black Beauty’, and the similarly beautiful ‘Brunette’, require a consistently moist and amply shaded location to really strut their stuff. Too much sun will bleach and burn-out her gorgeous foliage , and dry soil will quickly do her in.

It’s a shame the fragrance of Actaea simplex’s blossoms can not be transmitted electronically. I wish you could sample the delicious scent…

A classy beauty like this demands fine company. And with her year-round, velvety, maroon attire, chartreuse and gold foliage make gorgeous music with her in the low-light. I like to combine the dark foliage of  A. simplex ’Hillside Black Beauty’ and ‘Brunette’ with low, spreading, golden Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’ or ‘Aureola’), mound-shaped Hosta ‘August Moon’, and for serious drama, I play her against my favorite chartreuse -stunner, Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Gold’ (European elder). Yes, Actaea simplex ’Hillside Black Beauty’ is a true garden bombshell – but of the dark variety, not the blonde— like Hedy Lamarr. She’s sultry, she’s elegant, and she really knows how to bring down the house in style….

Inspiration: Hedy Lamarr {image: still from ‘The Strange Woman’ United Artists 1946 (public domain)- via improbable research}

Hedy Lamarr {Alfred Eisenstaedt, 1938 – image via zimbio.com}

Hedy Lamarr {image via zimbio.com}

Hedy Lamarr was an Austrian-born actress popular in films of the 1930s and 40s. Read more about Hedy Lamarr on her IMDB page by clicking here.

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Article and photos (excepting portraits of Hedy Lamarr) 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. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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