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“Often a butterfly stopped to rest there.

Then Laura watched the velvety wings…”

On the Banks of Plum Creek – Laura Ingalls Wilder

 

Like the young Laura Ingalls of the Little House books, I watch the “velvety wings” of butterflies. I squeal with girlish glee when a Monarch flits by, dipping around as if by the mere breath of the breeze, partaking of the abundance of native flowers flourishing in our prairie garden.

The plight of the Monarch butterfly has been well documented and its migratory flight has been monitored for more than a decade. I have often shared photos and thoughts about the Monarchs and bees in the journey of this little blog, from travels afar to what is right under my nose here along the Cutoff.

Last summer was alarming, especially here when I saw but one Monarch. One. This year, I have spotted at least a dozen and have found Monarch eggs and caterpillar on the milkweed – enough times to have perfected my happy dance. Butterflies have been flitting about and stopping to sip on the Joe Pye Weed, the Monarda (bee balm), and Echinacea (cone flowers) which are all a bloom in these dog days of summer. There are bees and moths and other pollinators that also show up on sunshiny days, sipping sweet nectar from the cups of flowers. It is a regular insects’ tea party, if ever there was one, here among the native plants and some of their distant relatives.

This increased activity is encouraging for those of us who have worried about the changes in nature that have occurred in these past decades; we counters of bees, planters of pollinators and taggers of “velvety wings” who have become a small army of citizen scientists. I am cautiously optimistic.

As I brandished my watering wand, I reflected on how much is yet to be done and how much has already been accomplished on our little acreage . I watered some newly introduced cone flowers and pulled that rascal, Creeping Charlie, who was cavorting  among the feverfew and indigo, and I imagined Laura’s life along Plum Creek.

How our little prairie has grown! Established in August, 2013, it is now a crowded confusion of exuberance and joy that will need dividing and some expansion of plots come Autumn. For now, I’m enjoying watching those velvety wings of nature as the plants reach for the sun and spread their arms in a blowzy embrace of prairie life.

I remain appreciative of all the green thumbs who shared their plants in our little adventure, and I am optimistic with this glimmer of hope for the Monarchs and the bees.

Here are a few photos of the prairie garden being developed in 2013

and recent photos of the garden today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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After the misty morning fogs, the recent rains, and the August heat, the weeds have been advancing aggressively  into the flower beds, chasing me around the garden like a snake slinking in search of supper.  My nails are split and my ankles are ringed in mosquito bites. A sense of accomplishment reigns, however, each time I bring order to the jungle of overgrowth here.

I found refuge in the tall  grasses, camouflaged.  Can you find me hiding? I top 5’3″. These tall grasses, divisions from my friend Jan, are twice as tall as me – and they have not as yet showed their plumes!

It has been a most pleasant summer here on the  Cutoff.  We have had more nights than not with the windows opened., breezes wafting in; the tree toads and crickets crooning and strumming in late night chorus along with it.  The daisies have been resplendent, showing off from before the Fourth of DSCN5409July, just now starting to fade. The Echinacea and Rudbeckia have been proudly wearing their seasonal crowns of glory and the finch are finding their seeds; a sign of summer’s long farewell at hand.

Just a few feet away from the grasses, Joe Pye Weed,  divisions from the Wilder herb garden last year, have been prolific, with a host of flitting and buzzing visitors enjoying their sweet, sweet nectar.

I am encouraged by the emergence of more bees this summer, and the return of monarchs. While their numbers are low, there is marked resurgence in our winged friends, and I choose to take hope from their presence, especially since I only saw one Monarch on our property last summer.  I was not quick enough, nor was my camera, at capturing the Monarchs on the Joe Pye Weed, but, did catch in the lens a few other butterflies, just before I posed again for Sports Illustrated. DSCN5484

 

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IDSCN2404 have a challenge for you. It is something I know you can do, wherever your roots are planted, no matter what hemisphere, continent, country, nor whether you dwell on acreage or urban plot, apartment or condominium.

I want you to contemplate establishing a wildlife habitat.

I know, I know; it sounds daunting. Believe me, it isn’t. All you need is to provide some basic elements for wildlife to exist, which isn’t all that much different from what you do in your home.

You need water, building material, a place to shop for food, and shelter.

I’ve seen some of your gardens and your balconies. You already have these elements. Don’t look at me that way. I see you rolling your eyes, ready to hit the delete button. Just hear me out.

A pond or waterfall is certainly a water source, but, so is a bird bath, or, even a bowl of fresh water. Show me a puddle on pavement, and I’ll show you a robin blissfully taking a bath.

Is there a tree hanging over your balcony? Consider hanging a bird house. We had a family of wrens nesting in a gourd, made to look like a penguin, earlier this summer. They flitted to and fro, as wrens are bound to do, nipping little insects from everywhere. One morning, we saw Mama Wren chasing our neighborhood cat, Midnight, clear around the house until her babies were safe from harm.

All those twigs you gather after a storm provide sturdy nesting material. The bigger the pile, the better the hiding place for small animals. The compost pile not only works overtime replenishing soil, it also nurtures nature in other ways. For example, one day I threw some lemon peels atop of the heap. A little while later, walking about, what to my wondering eyes should appear but a Baltimore oriole, feasting on the peel.

Here in the States, we have the National Wildlife Federation. Their website is chock full of information, as well as an application to become a certified Wildlife Habitat. I’m sure that wherever you rest your head come nightfall, there is some sort of effort to make your area friendly to nature. If not, you can still follow the guidelines of the NWF. Go on. Make a bird, a squirrel, or a fox feel at home.

Wildlife Habitat Sign:Close UpWe became certified a year or so after we moved here, received a nice little certificate in the mail, and purchased a weatherproof sign to display. It wasn’t until this spring, however, that we finally displayed the sign in an area of our property we are slowly developing into a grassland/semi-prairie/wildflower/let’s hide the compost and woodpile locale.

Would you like a look-see?

This part of our garden ended where the yuccas, on the left,  sit when we first moved here. Over the years, mostly through the generous nature of friends, we have added a few things; the daisies are from Marilyn, some grasses from Phyllis, the Pampas grass from Jan, and bear’s britches, brand new, were a gift from Donna. We’ve added bee balm (no bees, sorry to say) and I have a splendid source for natives; a charming couple who live a few miles away and sell plants right out of their garden. I’ve managed to transplant Joe Pye weed, an Illinois native, as well as hyssop, among other varieties of plants.

I talk too much, don’t I? Here’s the grassy knoll, as I’ve come to call it, in May,

Grass area:May

starting to fill in come June,

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and on the Fourth of July, with the yuccas in full dress!

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Joe Pye weed, in bloom.

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Bee Balm.

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DSCN2278How about it? Up to the challenge? I know you are; just do one little thing to encourage nature, or tell us what you already do.

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