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IMG_1243 - Version 2The sweet scent of milkweed was calling me as I wandered around at dawn, tea cup in hand, wearing a sweatshirt against the unseasonal chill in the air. I could see a few deer in the weeds, nursing their young in the lot next door and there was a conversation between two cardinals I overheard as I strolled out front toward nature’s incense.

I had been checking the milkweed each day, looking for eggs, hoping. I had noticed several holes in the leaves; a sign that something was eating the leaves, then I saw it!

I rushed back in for my camera;  monarchical paparazzi that I am.

DSCN8952There on a leaf was a Monarch caterpillar, munching and inching its way along a milkweed plant. I must have gone back to check on it five or six times yesterday, and repeatedly today. Under a leaf, up and down the stem, even half hidden in between the flowers of the plant, there was this very hungry caterpillar, marching his way on the host plant.

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A lone Monarch caterpillar sharing the gifts of a milkweed plant with bumblebees and ants is not going to alter the precarious plight of the Monarch butterfly, but, to me, this black and yellow striped insect brings the tiniest bit of hope that perhaps, just perhaps,  there will be a few more Monarchs this summer and that they will go forth and multiply.

Be sure to click on the photos for a better look.

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She emerged from the lush greens on our Saturday stroll in the Rotary Gardens.

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On Tuesday, Yeats appeared on my daily feed from The Writer’s Almanac . . .

Down By the Salley Gardens
by William Butler Yeats

Down by the salley gardens
my love and I did meet;
She passed the salley gardens
with little snow-white feet.
She bid me take love easy,
as the leaves grow on the tree;
But I, being young and foolish,
with her would not agree.

In a field by the river
my love and I did stand,
And on my leaning shoulder
she laid her snow-white hand.
She bid me take life easy,
as the grass grows on the weirs;
But I was young and foolish,
and now am full of tears.

Then Maura O’Connell showed up today.

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Ever since reading Frances Hodgson Burnett’s “A Secret Garden” as a child, I have been intrigued by garden doors, imagining myself as Mary Lennox, wondering what is beyond a locked door.

So it was upon entering the Rotary Gardens in Janesville, Wisconsin that my imagination grew like Jack’s beanstalk and I squealed in girlish glee “oh, this is wonderful“. There I was, hopping around, opening and closing garden doors, peering into windows and otherwise embarrassing Tom who, after all these years, is used to my childish ways about these bookish gardening “things”.

There were doors opening on doors as groomsmen in gray – and senior citizens in greige -averted their eyes to the gleeful granny and her indulgent companion.

Isn’t it grand to discover something creative and open your imagination for a bit? Maybe it was because we had just spent several days with our darling grandchildren who love to pretend that images of Alice in Wonderland and Dorothy and Toto following a yellow brick road came to mind.

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Well, dear reader, when one door closes another opens, and so it did as something else caught my eye.

Can you see it? Click on the photo for a better look.

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Scattered about the gardens were many of these boxes. They reminded me of the Little Free Libraries and were painted in all manner of whimsy and creativity.

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A volunteer in the gardens told us that the boxes were made by a group of men. They were sold at a nominal cost to be painted and appointed however the artist saw fit. They will be raffled off (or was it auctioned?) and I, of course, imagine them filled with gardening books and secret doors.

What would you fill them with?

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DSCN8774One of the many scenic visitors’ centers in Wisconsin is just outside of Black River Falls. In a rolling area of forests and outcroppings, this stop is clean and welcoming, with picnic tables, places to walk dogs, and well-maintained facilities. It also has a pleasant forested walk on a nicely paved trail with a gentle incline.

After motoring through a line of strong storms, followed by several hundred miles of strong, gusty winds, we needed a “pit stop” as we came upon the Black River Falls turnoff. Walking back to the car, we decided to take the walk in the woods; about a mile’s worth of steps.

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The forest floor, once a large stand of white birch, now a haven of burr oaks, was carpeted with ferns in their new green cloaks. I couldn’t help but think of the children’s book, “Where the Red Fern Grows”, as we stepped higher and higher up, much of the way along a wooden bridge,

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with an impressive view.

We walked back to our car and headed back to the interstate, our heads in the clouds, dreaming of family at the end of the road.

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. . . it is National Pollinator Week.

Information and source of image is here.

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IMG_0953Slogging about the mire and mud which has captured our lawn, I caught a bit of sunshine illuminating the lemon grass.

The lemon grass was one of several plants we brought home one fine day almost two years ago. They were from the Herb Garden which needed to be excavated for pipes and such when the conservatory was refurbished.

Last summer, the lemon grass struggled a bit to claim the soil, wilting and tilting, but, hanging on. This year, it has a good grasp and is established, waving among the other grasses and, in this photo, next to an indigo (baptista), which is trying to bloom in spite of the wind and rain. The indigo was one of few purchases for this area, our wildlife habitat/grassy knoll/prairie garden. Most of the plants beyond the arbor were divisions from friends, Herb Garden transplants, from my garden club’s member plant sale, or gifts.

This was two years ago. A mound of what has become known as the Thor Hill. Our friend Thor gave us day lilies which were planted on the hill.  I had just added some lemon balm here, escapees from the front island. grass-areamayThis is the same area, right after the first big planting from the Herb Garden and some grasses from our neighbor, dscn2682 My friend Jan has given us many divisions of grasses that are seen here, but also populate other areas of the yard. Friend Phyllis has also shared grasses and several clematis, which are currently twisting their way up both sides of the arbor.

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Donna gifted us with a plant called Bear’s Breaches two summers ago. It is the white flowering plant and it stands seven feet tall with the most heavenly scented blooms, just beyond the thalictrum, which is approaching eight feet in height.

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This garden has been a continuing delight. Native ageratum were divisions from Jane and have multiplied ten-fold, as has the oat grass in the center, descendants of one plant that was a Father’s Day for Tom. Several varieties of Joe Pye Weed are just starting to show blooms.

Forgive me for rambling on. It is just that I love this garden so. It has been so rewarding, in part for how fast it has grown, and more so because it is alive with the orphans and rambunctious plants of gardening friends. We have attempted to put as many natives in the garden and have among the native Joe Pye Weed a Big Blue Stem, spiderwort and further back a compass plant, which is just starting to show buds.

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DSCN8676I sometimes wonder if my fascination with bees started with Romper Room and Mr. Do-Bee. I was a serious child, my head often between the covers of  books  – or playing school – which never quite worked out as planned. I was usually the teacher with everyone else declaring recess within minutes of me writing on a pretend blackboard.

First paragraph in and I already digress.

I always wanted to be a “do bee”; make the right choices, behave, be polite, etc. Words still slip out of my mouth when a young child needs a little guidance, buzzing phrases like “is that what a do bee does?”.

Growing up, there were always lots of bees buzzing about Yia Yia’s zinnias and zucchini plants. I knew to be respectful of the bees from an early age, mostly to avoid a sting.

It wasn’t until my late-blooming years of the past decade or so that the plight of the bumble bee has caught my attention, especially the last several years of news of colony collapse and the overall lack of pollinators. The past several years it has been evident in my own garden that the bees are in trouble. Where blooms used to bow under the weight of bees, few came, so, it has been my utter delight to find three bees enjoying happy hour on the perennial Salvia, which have been ravishing this year.

Upon reading Dawn’s delightful post at Petals. Paper. Simple Thymes., I found a shallow bowl and a few rocks to place inside a small bowl, and headed out to my bee-friendly island of flowers and herbs with a bee bath.

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Then, there was this charming post about tickle bees. I already knew that some bees burrow underground, for one autumn day some year’s past, I unwittingly dug up a hive – and paid the price in a series of stings. Tickle bees, however, are quite docile, at least in spring after a long winter’s nap.

As we become increasingly concerned over the very real loss of bees and how this threatens our food supply, we are encouraged to invite them into our gardens with bee-friendly plants. Organizations, such as the National Garden Clubs, partner with various bee-keepers to erect bee boxes, and while we all can’t be bee-keepers, we can put out simple houses to attract Mason bees, which are great pollinators, though they do not produce honey.

I’ve been thinking about setting a bee box out, maybe even putting a bug in my Antler Man’s ear to construct something similar to what a boy scout troop did with this bee-dominium, just steps away from the Herb Garden in Wilder Park.

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If you are interested, you can see a short video here on tickle bees.

 

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