A garden is the best alternative therapy.

Archive for the ‘Butterfly Garden’ Category

The Only Color I See Outside Is In My Own Backyard.

The butterfly garden is doing well, with my help.  I water it a couple of times a week and that seems to help the plants keep flowering.  The rudbeckia have been covered with blooms for the past couple of months now, while the homestead verbena continues to really branch out into a nice ground cover.  The lantana is fine with the heat and is a big attraction to butterflies.  On the left below, the Spanish lavender is getting ready for a second show of blooms this year.

While the milkweed I planted almost all died, spontaneous plants from last year’s seeds have popped up everywhere around the yard.   They, too, have attracted quite a few Queen butterflies and fritillaries.  Below is the stone path with pillars of milkweed growing between as well as sweet alyssum, which, to my surprise, continues to live and flower despite the heat.  I planted them in March, I believe, and I expect them to last through to the frost.

The chives are putting on quite a show of flowers and a buffet for the honeybees, wasps and gray hairstreaks.

I keep the feathered guests happy with daily offerings of seed and fresh water.  The finches and cardinals really love coming by, as well as doves and blackbirds.  And the anoles have their run of the place since the birds are well fed.  They, too, love the sun.

I have started the fall garden in hopes that the weather doesn’t kill off everything.  I have several tomato and pepper plants, as well as a couple rows of bush beans sowed.  I’ll be starting the carrots, spinach and broccoli in the coming month and then lettuce for the winter garden.  I can’t wait for cooler weather…

Building a Retreat Web

At just a few millimeters wide, this little striped jumping spider (Salticidae) would have been missed except he was busy scurrying back and forth constructing his retreat web on the very top of the sunflower plant just as the morning rays poked through the leaves of a nearby tree.   It was incredibly difficult getting a picture of him because the wind was blowing so hard and would take him back and forth out of the frame of my camera.  I literally had to wait, holding my breath for a lull between wind gusts so I could snap a shot.   At one point, a carpenter ant that was at least twice its size meandered onto the leaf with the spider’s retreat web.  The spider jumped out so quickly I thought it might be gone for good, but it had tethered itself to the leaf and was resting on the underside.  When the ant left, it scurried back onto the leaf and started checking out its construction.  With a bit of rearranging, it settled down into its newly created funnel.  You really have to look at these full-size to see them (click on the photos).


Feathered Friends

I spotted a small mockingbird and a male cardinal in the garden today.  The cardinal was rooting around in the lantana, dill and parsley.  Was he hunting my caterpillars?  The small mockingbird watched me carefully for some time before flying off to another nearby fence to holler for mom and dad.

A Good Buzz

Continuing the “Thinking Small” theme this week, here are a few shots taken yesterday evening and this morning in the garden.  Although it may be a little boring for my readers seeing the same thing over and over, I really can’t get enough of taking bee photos.  I keep up my attempts at the closest/sharpest photo I can get.  This is a real challenge.  As windy as it has been lately, and as quickly as the bees move from flower to flower, I really have to be patient and seek out the best shot.  Because it’s so windy, using a tripod is absolutely useless.  I have to take all of these hand-held.   Another challenge is the depth of field when working with subjects this small.  Any slight movement throws the bee out of focus – or partially out of focus.

the bee's tongue is sticking out

Macro Monday 5.9.11

Here are a few selections for this week’s Macro Monday meme.  For more Macro Monday photos, click on the link at the bottom of the page:

Argiope trifasciata a.k.a. banded garden spider

lady beetle on gaura stem

bumble bee on Indigo Spires

Fall aster in spring

crab spider inside zucchini flower

The Butterfly Garden and The Reason for My Missing Butterflies

The perennials in the garden have rebounded wonderfully.  The abundant sunshine and warm weather has been good to them, although the lack of rain necessitates a frequent watering with the garden hose.  We are thankful, however, for the recent rain.  It wasn’t nearly enough, but it did manage to saturate the first couple inches of soil.  I know the plants appreciate the rain water more than the city water, so I won’t complain.  Can I ask for more, though?

The perennial hibiscus is really bushing out and I suspect that, some time in May, it will begin flowering.  This variety has fluorescent fuschia blooms, which will bring additional color to the side of the house and is sure to captivate the attention of beneficial insects.  This is between our deep red-colored knockout rose bush, which is starting another wave of blooms, and the herb garden.

perennial hibiscus

The fall aster looks as if it is going to grace us with a pre-fall show this spring.  It is growing some flower buds as we speak, which will add a nice lavender splash between the orange and yellow lantana blooms.  It will continue to grow throughout the summer and put on its big finale in the fall.  It promises to be a good show.

fall aster preparing to bloom ... in spring!

In this photo, fennel flanks three dill plants at the very left side of the bed against the fence.  Surprisingly, the black swallowtails have been quiet the last few weeks after an early start of laying eggs and hatching baby caterpillars.  I don’t currently have a single egg or caterpillar on the hosts plants.  I’m hoping the rain will bring them back.  I mean, I have a total of twelve host plants for them!  Ding-ding goes the dinner bell!!

The three mounds of leaves on the right are black-eyed susans, which still have a little time before they’re in bloom.  At the back of the bed are my thyme plants that are finishing up their blooming stage.  I’ll shear them back when they’re done and encourage them to send up some new growth.

Texas lantana blooms

As a last minute decision, I sowed more Russian Mammoth sunflower seeds (I had four growing last year).  I had twelve come up, but some little creature ate two of them completely to the soil.  I still have nine going strong and another struggling a bit.   The six plants in the foreground below were planted at the same time as the others, but are already much larger than the other four.

Russian Mammoth sunflowers

The sedum wilts slightly in the heat of the day and rebounds by morning.  It seems to catch a lot of falling moisture as seen by these big balls of water.  I think I may need to shade them a little better.  They’re in the same bed as the Turk’s Cap, which enjoys partial shade.  The corner WAS in the shade when I planted them last fall, but the neighbors severely pruned the Texas Lilac tree that used to shade them.

water droplets on sedum leaves

Turk's Cap budding

It’s a challenge to photograph the honeybees on the gauras.   They move quickly from flower to flower, and the entire flower stalk sways so easily in the breeze.  These two photos came out fairly sharp, however.

Indigo Spires salvia barely lets on that it died back to the ground over winter.  These foot-long spires of flowers are everywhere and more are on their way.  In the second photo, the white Autumn Sage can be seen in the background, as well as the yellow blooms of Zexmenia.

The scissor-tailed flycatcher is Oklahoma’s state bird, but still calls the neighbor’s Mulberry tree its home.   Also known as the Texas Bird of Paradise, it is common in our area.   It is a beautiful bird, but I suspect it is the reason why I haven’t seen many butterflies and why the black swallowtail caterpillars disappeared.    It eats berries, grasshoppers, crickets, butterflies, moths and caterpillars.  I sure hope it got the squash borer bug, too.  Here it sits in the top of another neighbor’s tree at sunset.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher ... and butterfly eater!

Insect Life in the Garden

We are thankful for the bit of rain we received!  I must admit, however, that the prediction of large hail and super strong winds had me just a tad bit worried.  I was awakened at 4:15 Monday morning by thunder and wind.  As I lay in bed, I thought about my poor plants  and imagined them being shredded by hail.  Luckily, we didn’t get any hail.  I still kept myself awake for about forty-five minutes worrying about them, though!  The plants will just be stronger for all the wind, I concluded.  In the morning, I did a quick check of the garden plants and everything looked alright.  I was relieved.

Now let me go back a few days.

My milkweed cuttings arrived last Thursday and I put them in the ground Saturday morning.  I was so busy working in the garden that I entirely forgot an appointment I had scheduled at 9AM.  Oh well, it was more important to get those cuttings in some dirt, right?  Besides, I was able to reschedule the appointment, so no harm done.  🙂   Back to the milkweed.  I have ten plants (of thirty-two) that made it through the winter.   With these new cuttings, I have thirty plants that are well on their way.  In addition to these plants, I have eighteen of nineteen milkweed seeds that germinated, so I have almost fifty milkweed plants this year for the monarchs in my butterfly garden.  Most of the seedlings I germinated have at least two true leaves right now, but I’ll let them mature another couple of weeks before putting them into the ground.  I doubt anyone can say that I’m not doing my part to help the monarch population back from their severe loss in 2002!  (80% of the monarchs overwintering in Mexico died that year due to freezing temperatures.)

Milkweed cuttings awaiting transplant

While I haven’t seen any monarchs yet, I did see quite a few pearl crescent, cloudless sulphur, skipper and buckeye butterflies over the weekend.  The pearl crescent butterflies seemed to enjoy the yellow flowers of wild oxalis that I dodged with my mower.  I’m glad that I left them.  (As an aside, yellow oxalis is an edible, herbaceous plant that is very high in Vitamin C and has tangy flavor.)  The sulphur and skipper butterflies danced through the yard, landing on the Four Nerve Daisies and verbena.   The buckeye was content just to warm itself on the rocks.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t quick enough with the camera to get any good photos.  It was also VERY windy, so the few that I did take just didn’t come out sharp enough for my liking.   In addition to these guests, an unseen visitor left her traces for me on the dill plants.  I found a couple of first or second instar Black Swallowtail caterpillars feasting away, as well as a couple of unhatched eggs.

I was successful taking photos of honey bees, flies, bumble bees and even a lady beetle.  The honey bees were really loving the thyme flowers, while the bumble bees seemed to dine exclusively on the salvia greggii.  I chased a honey bee to the gaura bushes before it flew off.  At that precise moment, however, lady beetle flew by and landed on the gaura bush.  She kept me distracted for awhile.  I watched her feed on the nectar of the gaura flowers.  Then she hunted down and devoured several aphids before she suddenly became aware of me and darted down into the dense leaves at the base of the plant.  Here are some of those photos.

Click on the photos to view them in a larger size (1500×1000 pixels):

fly on Four-Nerve daisy

baby Black Swallowtail caterpillar

Black Swallowtail butterfly egg on dill plant

European honey bee on thyme

bumble bee on salvia greggii - love his eyes!!

Lady Beetle on faded bloom of Whirling Butterfly gaura

suckin' down some aphid

holding an aphid corpse in her legs

death comes swiftly to these little aphids

a second after the previous shot - walking over the aphids lifeless body

It was a beautiful weekend – even despite the high winds – and I not only got a lot of work done in the garden, I actually had time to sit down and enjoy it for awhile, too.  That’s something I don’t do often enough.  I’m too busy working and running around with a camera!  🙂   My wife, daughter and dog joined me and we sat out there until the sun went down.  It was very relaxing.

my dog soaking up the last rays of Saturday

sunset through the fence