Marty's Garden, September 7th, 2018
There is a bit of irony going on in my garden. Take my butterfly garden. Lots of flowers with large flowerheads, landing pads for butterflies and bees alike. Bright orange zinnias as well as Mexican sunflowers, with their equally bright orange flowers and soft, fuzzy leaves. Butterfly weed (Asclepias) has bloomed (in bright orange!) and is now going to seed. Everywhere you will see parsley; not for us, but for the swallowtail butterflies to lay their eggs on. Butterfly weed is the host plant for Monarch butterflies, while the parsley serves as the host plant for swallowtails. After all, how are we going to have butterflies in the garden if we don’t offer it a place to lay its eggs and host the ugly duckling stage of its development before it turns into the butterfly?
The caterpillar, basically a mouth with a large stomach and stubby feet, will reduce these plants to sticks as they grow from tiny caterpillar into its final size. Occasionally I will move a caterpillar to another parsley nearby when it has reduced the original plant down to virtually nothing. The monarch caterpillars seem to have a taste for the seedpods of the butterfly weed, of which there are plenty. Somewhere in this flowering display you will find my new roses; four small rose bushes and two medium sized ones, the latter which are called Vavoom! They bloom in (what else?) BRIGHT orange, although they have the (unfortunate) tendency to fade to a salmon-y pink. While every bud and subsequent flower brings a smile to my face, that smile faded when my flowers got munched on. The first culprits where the Japanese beetles, which were dealt with quite easily. I handpick them off the flowers, throw them in soapy water and that is the end of that. But then there was something else eating my roses… not just the flowers, but some of the new leaf growth as well. A closer examination was warranted. Hiding among the flower petals or under some leaves were tiny caterpillars. The smallest ones were yellow, but as they grew bigger they turned bright green. I picked them off the plants and fed them to my fish in the pond. Every few days I go back to the roses and see if I can find more. And there you have the irony in my garden; while I provide an environment for most butterflies and their hungry offspring, I fail to do the same for whichever little butterfly or moth is responsible for the rose eating caterpillars. Happy to provide parsley and butterfly weed for them to eat, I draw the line at my roses!
A few hot and dry days (the fourth heat wave of this summer) were followed by more torrential downpours. With all this heat and rain most plants have put out new growth and my shrubs and smaller trees are bigger than a month or two ago. My Purple-leaf Mimosa tree 'Summer Chocolate' (Albizia julibrissin) has doubled its size. Hopefully next year it will get another growth spurt, up this time, so I can walk upright under it rather than bending down to get past it.
My Chaste trees (Vitex) have provided the bees and butterflies this summer with a cornucopia of flowers and it is still blooming. Again, it has doubled in size and next year I can try to start pruning it into a multi-trunked small tree. Although Chaste trees are not reliable hardy below zone 7 (we are in zone 6B) so far I have been lucky as both plants are still with me, even after last winter’s very cold weather.
The same applies to my crepe myrtles, hardy down further south, marginally hardy here. But all three of them are growing and blooming and, as all gardeners, I have faith they will live and thrive. Then on the other hand, if they curl up their roots and die, I will have an opportunity to try something else. That’s the nature of gardening; nothing remains the same from day to day and each day brings us new surprises, even if it comes in the form of tiny yellow or green caterpillars!