Attracting, Supporting & Observing Wildlife in the Late Autumn Landscape

November 19th, 2012 § 1

Wild Turkey Wander in My Country Neighbor’s Meadow, Beyond the Roadside Saplings. Wild Turkey are Omnivores, Feeding on Fern Fronds, Buds, Seed, Fruit, Berries, Insects, Grubs and Amphibians. Turkey are Often Spotted in Open Fields, Pastures, Wetlands and Orchards by Day. By Night, Turkey Seek the Cover of Mixed Forest, Where They Roost in Trees. Find More Information About Wild Turkey on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Website, Here. 

One of the benefits of rising early  —and commuting to and from various landscaping projects in and around the backroads of southern Vermont— is the opportunity to spot wildlife in fields, rivers, and forests at the break of day. Deer, fox, turkey, squirrels and songbirds all tend to be on the move around sunrise and sunset. I enjoy watching wildlife in my garden, so I make an effort to attract birds and squirrels by providing feeders filled with supplemental food and shallow dishes of fresh water, in addition to naturally occurring berries and seeds provided by native species of trees and shrubs planted in my landscape.

In addition to his horticultural pursuits, my father is a lifelong, avid outdoorsman, and my interest in the northern forest and its wildlife was both inspired and encouraged by him. Although I now take for granted the ability to identify birds by both sight and sound, this information was slowly taught to me by my father, when I was very young. By placing a small bird feeder or two and source of water (such as a shallow, frost-proof birdbath), near the kitchen window, a child’s natural curiosity will be sparked by observing a source of wild activity. Once introduced to bird watching, learning to identify different species and recognize other wild creatures becomes an exciting challenge. Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology website, All About Birds is a free, and excellent source of accurate information for budding birders. In addition to feeders, planting even the smallest of backyard gardens will almost immediately attract a wide variety of creatures (some more welcome than others, no doubt), providing endless opportunities for kids to encounter and observe wildlife. Tips for creating bird habitat are available on the Cornell website, linked above. You may also want to check out the Audubon website and publications like Birds & Blooms Magazine (online and in print), for more backyard garden ideas.

Ozzy, My Resident Red Squirrel, and His Friends Gather Each Morning to Forage Nuts and Seeds, Scattered About the Terrace. Red Squirrels are Most Commonly Spotted In and Around Native Conifer Forests (Particularly in Stands of Hemlock, Spruce and Fir). Read More About the Red Squirrel in My Previous Post, Here.

Black-Capped Chickadees Seek Shelter in the Hedge of Physocarpus opulifolius, while Taking Turns at the Feeding Stations Below. Chickadees are Omnivores. The Natural, Late-Autumn & Winter Diet of a Black-Capped Chickadee Includes Foraged Seeds, Berries, Insects and Spiders. Chickadees Cache Food in Hidden Spots for Later Use. Learn More About This Curious, Social Bird on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Website Here. 

New gardeners are often more focused on flowering plants, and pay less attention to the overall landscape. Yet, from a songbird or chipmunk’s perspective, the woody plants in your yard are of far greater significance. By planting deciduous trees, shrubs, conifers and ornamental grasses, gardeners can create vital shelter for birds and small animals in the landscape. When planning and planting new gardens, consider nut and fruit producing shrubs or small trees and seed producing ornamental grasses —particularly native species— as a backdrop to flowering perennials. If you enjoy seeing wildlife in your garden, leave seed producing perennial plants standing over the winter, to provide both food and cover for small creatures on the move. Resist the urge to cut or mow the wild, natural areas, for these are the spots to enjoy wildlife over the winter months. Visit the Audubon website for more ideas on how to create, protect and preserve natural, wildlife friendly areas in your community.

Native Winterberry Branches (Ilex verticillata) Provide Sustenance for Hungry Birds, Squirrels and Other Creatures. Find More Garden-Worthy, Fruit and Seed Producing Plants in My Previous Post, Here.

Native, Broadleaf Cattail Provides Excellent Habitat for Wildlife (Typha latifolia). There is Much Debate Surrounding the Native Status of Narrow-Leaf Cattail (T. angustifolia) and the resulting hybrid between it an T. latifolia, T. x glauca. Although Some Consider Cattails “Invasive”, In Addition to Providing Food and Habitat for Wildlife, They Also Help Stabilize Wetlands and Filter Pollutants from Moving Water. When Choosing Cattails for the Landscape, The NWFS Suggests Planting the Confirmed, Native Broadleaf Species (T. latifolia).

Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) Is An Important Source of Food for Wildlife; Including Crow and Other Over-Wintering and Migratory Birds. Read More Here.

Nuthatch Foraging on Tree Bark. Photo ⓒ Tim Geiss

Sapsucker Visiting a Suet Feeder. Photo ⓒ Tim Geiss

Titmouse Lighting on the Branch of a Backyard Tree ⓒ Tim Geiss

Some Additional, Excellent Resources for Gardeners and Wildlife Enthusiasts …

The Audubon Backyard Birdwatcher: Birdfeeders and Bird Gardens

The Backyard Bird Feeder's BibleThe Backyard Bird Feeder’s Bible: The A-to-Z Guide To Feeders, Seed Mixes, Projects, And Treats (Rodale Organic Gardening Book)

projectsforbirdersgarden200Projects for the Birder’s Garden: Over 100 Easy Things That You can Make to Turn Your Yard and Garden into a Bird-Friendly Haven

 Special Bird Photographs Taken for This Post Are, As Noted, ⓒ Tim Geiss. All Other 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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The Sublime Beauty of Spring Twilight & Melancholy Song of the Hermit Thrush…

April 16th, 2012 § 3

Swollen Buds of Viburnum x burkwoodii ‘Mohawk’ in Silhouette Against the Sublime Beauty of Spring Twilight

The melancholy song of the hermit thrush —rising and falling; a flute amongst the hemlock boughs of moody twilight— is a sound I eagerly anticipate each spring. As soon as winter’s ice begins to recede and the scent of warm earth bubbles up from melting snow, I begin to long for the thrush’s familiar trill in the forest.

If you know the sweet sadness expressed by this shy, cinnamon-colored bird, you will likely agree that it’s near impossible to describe. And yet, to me, the song of the hermit thrush captures the fleeting beauty of time better than words could ever express. Summer is coming, and every year the seasons seem to pass quicker; racing forward like a fast moving stream, strewn with springtime petals and chased by musky autumn leaves.

The Sound of April Twilight: Click Here to Listen to the Hermit Thrush’s Song & Explore Other Birdsong at Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Interactive Website

Travel back to a previous post on woodland wildflowers, songbirds and the ephemeral beauty of springtime, by clicking here.

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina for 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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Springtime Awakenings …

April 14th, 2012 § 5

North American Black Bear (Ursus americanus), Emerging from the Compost Trail in My Garden (photo taken from inside the house!)

I had a surprise guest in my garden this morning: Ursus americanus, the North American black bear. Long time readers will recall a similar encounter last summer (see photos here). Coincidentally, while sipping my cup of coffee and browsing the morning paper, I was entertained by a story about the Vermont Governor, a bare-naked Peter Shumlin, chasing four black bear from the bird feeders on his backyard porch. I happen to know Governor Shumlin pretty well, and got a bit of a chuckle out of the story (and if you happen to read this Pete, I apologize, but the mental image of your bare butt being chased by bears was quite amusing).

On a more serious note though, the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife does issue public warnings each spring, advising residents to remove bird feeders. Hungry bears emerge from hibernation at this time of year and begin to forage for food, and backyard bird feeders are simply too tempting for them to resist. It’s also worth mentioning however, that although bears-at-birdfeeders make headlines, bears and myriad forms of wildlife —including raccoons, possum, coyote and other creatures— are attracted not only to bird seed, but also to compost bins, trash cans, and any other potential food supplies as well; including fresh produce in gardens. The good news is that as Mother Nature’s springtime supply of food increases, bears and other animals will usually retreat back to the forest. Still, at this time of year it’s important to reduce the “free meal” temptation by bringing bird feeders inside and securing trash cans behind closed doors. But what about compost bins? Well the truth is, a hungry bear can destroy most anything in its quest for food. So I’ll likely halt my compost production for at least a short while.

I do enjoy wildlife and although it’s true that a threatened black bear can be dangerous, when viewed from the safety of the house, my passing visitor made for a fascinating and beautiful morning surprise!

Read more about the North American black bear on the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife’s website, here.

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina for 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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Autumn’s Kaleidoscopic Color Wheel: Glorious Patterns & Back-Lit Beauty …

October 27th, 2011 Comments Off

 Purple Beautyberry, Smokebush and Maiden Grass Make a Brilliant Grouping (Callicarpa dichotoma, Cotinus coggygria and Miscanthus)

Though it Often Spreads Aggressively, North American Native, Hay Scented Fern (Densntaedtia punctilobula) is a Gorgeous and Durable Ground Cover for Tough, Shady Spaces. Taking My Cue from Mother Nature, I Like to Position this Autumnal Favorite Where it will Catch the Long, Low Light

For Intense, Late-Autumn Foliage Color, One of My Favorite Woody Plants is North American native Fothergilla (Here: Fothergilla major ‘Mt Airy’). The “Witches” —As I Often Refer to Members of the Hamamelidaceae family— in My Garden Include Fothergilla, Hamamelis, Parrotia, and a Few, Lesser-Known Apprentices. Due to Her Chameleon-Like Costume Drama, Fothergilla Plays Well with Physocarpus, Cotinus, Ornamental Grass, Conifers, and Most Other Autumn Beauties. Read More About these Spellbinders in my Past Post, “Must Be the Season of the Witch”.

Late October. Cold winds are kicking up now, lifting leaves high into topaz skies where they twirl about as if riding on a Ferris Wheel. And on rainy days —when the air is damp and still— moody fog swirls about the high walls and along the pathways, softening the hard edges of stone and the skeletal remains of flowers. The second half of autumn can be a dramatic time for late season garden color; with Witch Hazel, Smokebush, Dogwood and Japanese Maple foliage coloring up in fine, fiery hues. The sensual ornamental grasses and colorful Viburnum — so many shrubs, loaded with plump, brilliant fruit— continue to perform beautifully, while the Beautyberry, Cotoneaster and Winterberry are just beginning to put on their seasonal show. Here’s a quick tour of what’s going on in my garden, with notes on some favorite ways to use valuable, late-season plants; making the most of their theatrical talents …

Japanese Maple Leaves (Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’) Offer Stunning Autumn Color and Sculptural Form Throughout the Seasons. Many Japanese Maple Trees are Smaller in Stature (A Number Reach 15′ or Less at Maturity), and Most Prefer a bit of Shade, Making them a Perfect Choice for Shadowy Urban Courtyards and Gardens with Limited Space

Reliable as the Change of Season Itself, The Blue-Green Dragon (Acer palmatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’) Always Hits It Out of the Park. This Small Tree (approximately 14′ high at maturity) is a Rare, Upright, Cut-Leaf Form of Japanese Maple. Beautiful When Backlit and Combined with Autumn Golds, the Color of This Specimen Shifts from the Color of Ocean Waves to Fire to Smoldering Embers 

Mossy Stone Walls Offer a Subtly Beautiful Contrast for These Fiery Leaves (Acer palmatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’)

Some Trees are Natural Show-Offs in Autumn Sunlight, and for Spectacular, Stained-Glass-Like Fall Foliage, it’s Hard to Compete with Japanese Maples (Dancing in the Sunlight Here: Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’). For Best Effect, Position Japanese Maples and Similar Trees in Places Where the Foliage will Filter the Rays of Light in Morning and Late Afternoon

Ever-Beautiful, North American native Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum) is Particularly Stunning When Positioned to Capture Light. When I Work Delicate Grasses Like This One into a Garden Desing, I Like to Place Them Where They Can be Seen, Touched and Enjoyed Throughout the Autumn and Early Winter. This Mature Specimen. Located at the Edge of a Pathway Junction in My Garden, Captures Light at Sunrise and Again at Sunset (The Textural, Dried Flower at the Bottom of the Photo is Solidago)

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ Changes Hue from Pale Ivory with a Hint of Lime to Rose-Kissed Ivory to Rust. To Make the Most of Her Color Changes, I’ve Positioned Her Beside the Dark Foliage of Fagus sylvatica ‘Riversii’, and Surrounded Her Feet with Colorful Ground Covers (Hakonechloa macra ‘Beni Kaze’ and Pulmonaria ‘Raspberry Splash’). I Love the Relaxed Mood Created When Blossoms Spill Upon an Autumn Walkway

Somehow Escaping Jack’s Icy Fingers, these Morning Glories (Ipomoea tricolor ‘Heavenly Blue’ ) Look Just Stunning Against a Backdrop of Scarlet Sumac (North American native Rhus typhina)

Surrounded by the Confetti Hued Leaves of the Burkwood Viburnum (V. x burkwoodii ‘Anne Russell), Doctor Woo Looks Like Part of a Seasonal Display as She Surveys Her Vole Hunting Domain (Also in this frame: Frost-Kissed, Yellow Hosta Leaves, Rudbeckia & Adenophora Seed Pods and North American native Hydrangea quercifolia in Back of the Border)

The Border Pictured Above Contains Two North American Native Favorites,:Oakleaf Hydrangea and Arkansas Blue Star (Hydrangea quercifolia with Amsonia hubrichtii); Work Together to Create Drama with Their Contrasting, Autumn Foliage Colors and Textures

Hinting at Large-Scale, Design Possibilities, the Scarlet and Chartreuse Patterns on This Japanese Maple Leaf (A. palmatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’) Command Attention in the Shadows, Especially on a Drizzly Day!

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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Oh, What a Fashionable Dresser! Meet Widget the Walking Stick …

September 30th, 2011 § 2

Hello Widget! What a Snappy Outfit You Have There …

Meet Widget the Walking Stick. And isn’t he the most fashionable fella? While installing a new garden for a client last week —design post forthcoming— I happened to notice what appeared to be a colorful stick, stuck to my boot. As I bent down to get a closer look, I met the curious gaze of a rather large and beautiful Walking Stick (I later learned this friendly guy is a well-known, local resident; dubbed ‘Widget’ by his human friends). Luckily my camera was nearby, and when I sat down to snap a photo, the dapper little gentleman decided to march up my leg to have his portrait taken. How thoughtful! Turns out he was as interested in me and my moving camera lens as I was in him and his colorful costume …

Look at the length of his bright orange antennae! 

According to Whitney Cranshaw’s Garden Insects of North America (a great book for gardeners and backyard entomologists, by the way), Walkingsticks or Stickbugs (Diapheromera femorata) can be found throughout North America —more frequently east of the Great Plains— and are most common in the northern and mid-Atlantic regions of the continent; particularly surrounding the Great Lakes. Although they rarely cause significant damage, all walkingsticks are leaf chewers. The diet of these curious insects includes the leaves of black locust, black cherry, oak, basswood elm, birch and hickory trees. Females lay eggs in soil throughout the latter part of the summer and fall, which will generally hatch in spring. However in colder climates, eggs can remain dormant for up to two years.*

During my brief encounter with Widget the Walking Stick, I observed a naturally curious —dare I say “intelligent looking”?— and very friendly insect. Amazing what you can find in the garden, when you slow down and open your eyes! One of the greatest rewards of organic gardening is the opportunity to meet such fantastic creatures. To help protect fascinating insects like Widget, remember to limit or altogether eliminate the use of pesticides and herbicides in your garden. Keep in mind that even organic insect controls should be applied in a carefully considered and targeted manner, and only when absolutely necessary. Widget thanks you, and so do I!

*Entomological Information Source: Garden Insects of North America by Whitney Cranshaw, is available by clicking here, from amazon.com

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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Reining in the Tumbling Floral Chaos: Mid-Summer Garden Maintenance …

July 29th, 2011 § 6

Summer’s Wild, Tumbling Jumble (Juniperus squamata ‘Holger’, Hydrangea quercifolia, Amsonia hubrichtii, Adenophora confusa, Rudbeckia hirta, Sedum, Hosta and Adiantum pedatum)

While out enjoying a morning stroll around the garden, taking in a blissfully cool and misty start to my day, a few flower stalks and juniper branches caught my attention by snapping at my ankles and tickling my knees. Ah, the tumbling jumble of summertime garden chaos! I do love a lush and laid-back garden, but every year at about this time, I embark upon a bit of disciplinary activity in my flower beds and shrub borders. After all, there’s a fine line between beauty and beast in the garden!

I begin my annual, mid-season grooming by pulling out a pair of hand-shears and bypass pruners —giving them a quick once-over with a whetstone and oiled rag— and heading out to the garden with my mobile beauty-salon (a basket filled with rags, oil, rubbing alcohol, natural twine and a few bamboo stakes). Like many seasoned hairstylists, after years of experience, most of the tasks I perform are so instinctive to me, that I fall into a state of gardening-zen while giving late July haircuts. But now that I’m doing more teaching and garden coaching, I’ve started to actually think more about the how and why of this horticultural beauty routine, in order to communicate the process to others…

Agastache, a bird, bee and butterfly favorite, always benefits from a mid-summer haircut. Shearing the spent flower heads from this plant now encourages a second wave of bloom later in the summer. Because this is an aromatic plant, it’s quite a pleasant job. But try to do this very early in the day, in order to avoid disrupting foraging bees.

Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky Mixed’ is still in full bloom on the Wildflower Walk. As the flowers fade, I will leave most of the seed heads standing for finches and other small birds, as well to enhance the winter-garden. But if flower stalks fall into the path, tripping or whacking passers by, I will cut them for vases to keep the walkway clear.

The ever-narrowing Secret Garden stairs! Time for some haircuts! Heuchera and Adenophora self sow, and cutting them back early will prevent their spread. Spent blossoms spilling into the stairs are snipped off at the base. However, I happen to like the excess, so I allow those flower heads to the sides of the steps to multiply as nature intended. Prickly new juniper growth is cut all the way back to the main branch. Remember to clean pruners with rubbing alcohol between specimens

If you are relatively new to gardening, probably the most important thing to remember is that getting to know the plants you care for —their identities, growth habits and blooming routines— is key to making them look their best in your garden. Think like Edward Scissorhands for a moment and imagine vegetative growth as hair. Ironing curly hair straight may be fun once in awhile, but when it comes to day to day style, the best looks work with nature. What’s true for people is also true for plants. If you need help identifying the plants in your care, a good encyclopedia —like this one from the American Horticultural Society— is a great garden-library investment.

Once you are familiar with your plants, it’s much easier to decide how and when to spruce them up. Some plants need very little tending. In fact, many perennials are best left to do their own thing until they finish blooming, or until they are cut back to the ground in early spring. For example, after Hosta finish blooming, I remove the spent flower stalks to keep the plants looking tidy. However, I leave the seed heads of most Echinacea and Rudbeckia standing, in order to provide food for birds. Actaea simplex is left to do her own thing in the garden, while Asters are Chrysanthemums are pinched back until mid-July in order to encourage fuller, more floriferous plants (but never later, in order to avoid nip by early autumn frost). Nepeta, Veronica, Agastache and Geranium are sheared back after blooming to encourage a second wave of blossoms, while Aruncus dioicus and Valerian are cut back simply to make the plants look tidier. Many annual flowers, particularly those in window boxes and hanging baskets, also look best when given a mid-season haircut (and remember to keep fertilizing weekly for best bloom). Miss any opportunities this season? Remember to make a note of it in your garden journal for next year…

Veronica spicata –a pollinator favorite– is a long-blooming perennial. Because of its front-and-center location in this border (backing up Rudbeckia hirta and dancing with the slender blades of Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’) this plant is a very good candidate for mid-season maintenance. Shearing the top blooms off this cultivar, V. spicata ‘Sunny Border Blue’, will help keep the plant tidy, and encourage another full wave of bloom in a couple of weeks.

I try to leave flower heads standing as long as possible in the garden, even if they seem a bit faded. Flower nectar and pollen still provides sustenance to garden guests —like this bumble bee— even though blooms may be past their prime. Later, seeds of this Echinacea, and many other flowers, provide late season food for finches and other small birds.

When cut back after flowering, Geranium ‘Brookside’ will look tidier and often produce a second, if slightly less lush, wave of bloom in autumn.

Learning to work with plants and maintain an attractive garden is a life-long process for all gardeners. Most experienced green thumbs are happy to share their knowledge, and many local garden clubs, botanical gardens, greenhouses and nurseries offer free or low-cost workshops and seminars on garden maintenance. When working with perennial gardeners at all experience levels, I often recommend two excellent books for further study and reference. First, The Well-Tended Perennial Garden by Tracy DiSabato-Aust (pictured and linked below) is a classic how-to and when-to manual for every gardener’s bookshelf. And last year, while reviewing gardening titles for Barnes & Noble, I discovered Nancy Ondra’s The Perennial Care Manual (also pictured and linked below) which I now consider the definitive plant-by-plant guide (includes an encyclopedia with many of the more popular perennials) to perennial maintenance. The macro-photos in this book include pruning details, pest ID shots and clear pictorial guides to division, propagation and more. This book would make a great gift for new gardeners, mid-level perennial enthusiasts and experienced horticulturalists alike!

Garden looking a bit loose, shabby, blowzy? Pull out the shears and pruners, a tarp or wheelbarrow and channel your inner Edward Scissorhands! Have a quick question? Feel free to drop me a line in comments and I’ll pass along what I’ve learned. Have fun out there…

My top recommended how-to with great pictures: Nancy Ondra’s The Perennial Care Manual

A classic for every gardener’s bookshelf: Tracy DiSabato-Aust The Well-Tended Perennial Garden

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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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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An Unexpected Garden Guest …

June 26th, 2011 § 9

North American Black Bear (Ursus americanus) in a Marshy Area at the Edge of the Forest

The young black bear seemed content; bathing in the pool, while sampling wild berries and greens

We kept a watchful eye on one another throughout the visit

On my way out to the car yesterday afternoon, I caught a bit of motion just beyond the driveway where my forest meets a marshy area. It took me a moment to realize that I was looking straight into the eyes of a black bear. I froze in my tracks and for a tense few minutes, we sized each other up. Closer to my car than the house, I tentatively moved forward and slipped inside the passenger side door. The bear seemed unfazed. Slowly, the shiny, black animal made its way to the water line for a bath. I watched from the safety of my car as my guest splashed about the pool of rainwater and sampled some wild berries. I took these photos from my car window.

Living such a remote area, I see many wild animals here. But, it’s been quite some time since I’ve had such a close encounter with a bear. North American black bear —the only species of bear living in Vermont— are rarely aggressive, but it’s always best to play it safe and keep your distance. Read more about this amazing animal from the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Website 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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