Sunday, July 17, 2016

Sneaking Out for Nature

Do you ever just need a nature break? Those of us that work indoors for most the day sure do. Air conditioning is lovely and lack of mosquitoes divine, but at least once a day I just have to take the plunge. These are pictures from this week's sneaks.

Buckeye butterfly on Monarda fistulosa
I work from home so you’d think it would be easy, but there are busy days with little chance for “me” time, let alone nature time. Then a butterfly will float past my window as if to remind me that the great outdoors is waiting. Or rather, it is not waiting!

Gulf Fritillary butterfly on Joe Pye Weed
Silver skipper on Joe Pye












Once outside, I explore the blooming plants.  Sometimes a bloom has come and gone since the last time I checked – how I hate that I missed it! On the ones still open, I check for insects. Who is visiting, how many different bees on the mountain mint (Pycnanthemum), how many different butterflies on the Joe pye weed (Eutrochium fistulosum)?

Dark form tiger swallowtail on Asclepias tuberosa
Bee on mountain mint


















Baby toads hop by and Carolina anoles scamper along the fence rail. Checking for fruit, I spy a baby rat snake coiled around a paw paw branch (Asimina triloba). I run back inside to get my camera, but he’s too high to get a good picture. Another butterfly goes by and I’m off in another direction, glad that I have the camera already in hand.

Light form tiger swallowtail on Aralia spinosa

Skipper on unopened Stokesia laevis

As I return inside, hot and itching the mosquito bites, my senses are alive with what I’ve seen and the most excellent reminder of how much else is out there besides me.

Nature breaks are so much better than coffee breaks! Be sure to take some for yourself.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Saying Goodbye

Plants come and go in our gardens. They might thrive for many years: giving us much joy, treating the ecosystem around them with their gifts of nectar, pollen and foliage. We treasure their gifts and their place in our gardens.


Then something happens. It might be a change in their conditions, an accident (or critter) might injure them … or they just finish their lifespan and don’t return come spring. 

We miss them and stare solemnly at the place they used to occupy, a hole in the garden.


If we’re lucky, a piece of them will remain. Perhaps there are seeds left behind or a cutting or division that we made from this special one.

Though diminished somewhat by the loss of the original, the joy echoes back to us in the vibrant blooms of what we saved, evoking memories.

This year I lost a beautiful one but the echoes of her are in my garden still and I treasure those echoes, all the more special in the memory of the one lost. 

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Visiting Some Western Relatives

As vast as this country is, it is amazing to discover that plants related to Georgia plants can be found all over the place. I know they’ve had thousands of years to move around - sometimes only inches at a time - but still I am amazed. I recently took a trip out west and here are some of the beautiful relatives that I found. I have not identified all to species but the genus name is given.

Serviceberry (Amelanchier)
Ninebark (Physocarpus)



Cherry (Prunus)



Elderberry (Sambucus)

My trip took me to Montana and Wyoming while visiting 3 national parks: Glacier National Park in Montana and two Wyoming parks: Yellowstone and Grand Teton. The parks were beautiful and spacious with an abundance of mid-June wildflowers. The snow had receded from the roads and could mostly be found in patches at high-elevation. Only a few of the earliest flowers had already finished but there was plenty to see.

Pussytoes (Antennaria rosea)
Columbine (Aquilegia)






Clintonia uniflora













Phlox




















I saw only a few non-native flowers, far fewer than I see on the roadsides here. The most common was perhaps the dandelion. It could be found in abundance in some roadsides but was absent from others. In some areas, it had clearly been browsed by animals (deer, bison, elk?) but not always. Thistle, salsify (Tragopogon) and yellow sweet clover (Melilotus) were around as well, but it was great fun to see mostly lupines lining the roads in eleven different shades of blue! Now that's a roadside plant I could get used to.

Camassia
Lupine (Lupinus)


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Bluebells (Mertensia)

Beardtongue (Penstemon)

Phacelia sericea

Shooting star (Dodecatheon)






















































These are no means all the relatives that I saw. Not included here are blueberry (huckleberry), dogwood, hyssop, blackberry, juniper, ceanothus,buckwheat, baneberry, ladies tresses, Indian blanket, beargrass (what we call turkeybeard), geum and so many more! Plants, without feet, have moved around quite a lot in the thousands of years that they’ve been here.

Geranium 
Fragrant Rosa


Paintbrush in Glacier (Castilleja )

Paintbrush in Yellowstone (Castilleja )



Sunday, June 26, 2016

Field Guide to the Wildflowers of Georgia (the book)

Officially titled “Field Guide to the Wildflowers of Georgia and Surrounding States,” this new book by Linda Chafin with photographers Hugh and Carol Nourse puts Georgia on the map with its own official field guide. At over 500 pages, covering 750+ plants in detail and another 530 by comparison, this hefty but handy book is no lightweight either.

What makes this field guide different than others, you say? With an emphasis on the state of Georgia, this book is more useful than a book that might cover the whole country or even the eastern US. Included is good background information on the natural communities in which these plants are found. Thorough descriptions of plant characteristics such as leaves, flowers (heads and clusters and even the bracts) are included. This book is meant to be a field guide, after all. Of course, the photographs are outstanding.

I particularly like the occasional information sections like the one on page 119 entitled “Where Have All the Asters Gone?” This one describes the name changes affecting what plants are in the genus Aster. The North American asters are now spread among 7 different genera. Check out how to tell blueberries (Vaccinium) from huckleberries (Gaylussacia) on page 173. Good stuff!

Another really useful feature is the “Similar to” section in the plant characteristics text.  For example, one azalea might be compared to another similar one but the “Similar to” description will help you understand how it’s different.

Scutellaria incana
I’ve already used this to identify annual blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium rosulatum), compare Scutellaria blooms and read more about a new plant blooming in my garden, downy wood mint (Blephilia ciliata).

The book is organized into two sections: dicots and monocots.  For those more inclined to look for things by flower color, a thumbnail picture guide is included. 

Rounded corners and a semi-glossy covering ensures that this book is perfect for use in the field.  If you’re serious about identifying more Georgia native plants, this is a book you’ll want to check out.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

My Healthy Bug Obsession

I love taking pictures of native flowers. Appreciating their beauty by capturing them at peak flowering time is one of my favorite hobbies. I like to capture them in bud, in flower, with raindrops and sometimes in fruit. But I have a new angle these last few years. I like to document bug-flower interaction.

Bee on Styrax americanus
Even before I became interested in butterflies, I realized how satisfying it was to see a native insect enjoying and taking nourishment from native flowers. I might have noticed bees first, especially the medium-sized bumblebees. Smaller than the chunky carpenter bee but larger than the small metallic bees, those fuzzy bumbles are a delight to watch as they efficiently visit each flower for pollen and nectar.

Small bee on Eupatorium



I do really like the small bees too, of course. The different species have interesting colors and range in size from very tiny to just small. I can recognize they are bees (instead of flying ants) because they have pollen packed onto their little legs. They specialize on small flowers and I’ve learned which bees to expect on which flowers.

Coral hairstreak on Asclepias tuberosa

Skippers, butterflies and moths are beautiful floral visitors but you have to be quick. They are shy of the camera (and the large person behind it) so I have to move up slowly, taking pictures as I approach. Each year I try to improve on the previous year’s pictures of these beautiful creatures.

After a while, I began to appreciate the beetles too. There are so many patterns and sizes once you start noticing them. Here too I have learned which flowers are most attractive to beetles. For example, flat flower clusters like viburnums and smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) are reliable flowers for soldier beetle photography.

Longhorn beetles having a really good time

Carnivorous bugs hang out around flowers too – it’s a great place to capture prey. I’ve found assassin bugs, ambush bugs, robber flies, praying mantis and spiders hiding out in the plants.

Sulphur caterpillar on Chamaecrista fasciculata
Another type of bug that is not necessarily interested in flowers is the larvae of the butterflies and moths – caterpillars! Thanks to attracting those adults with flowers, I can also find caterpillars of all kinds eating the leaves of plants (and sometimes the flowers too).

Seeing bugs of all kinds tells me that the garden is not just a garden for me, it’s a healthy habitat.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Visit the Farm for Native Plants

I had heard from several friends that a great small nursery could be found in Gainesville, GA. The Kinsey Family Farm on Jot-Em-Down Road seemed like an odd name for a place on an oddly named road.

In April, I finally had a chance to visit the Farm for myself and was delighted with what I found.


The Kinsey Family Farm has been around since 1981 and has been evolving ever since. Originally a Christmas tree farm, they branched out (literally) after a while to include other trees, shrubs and even perennials and a few annuals now. More than just a place to buy plants, this bucolic location hosts special family-friendly fall activities with a pumpkin patch and year-round farm animals. The Belted Galloway cows and their calves were romping around in an adjacent field the day I was there.


I asked Andy Kinsey how the nursery came to be and he told the story about how they just kept adding categories of plants to what they sell. Native plants are a part of what they sell, but it seems to be an increasing part of the mix. I well understand the challenges of providing the plants that customers want as well as identifying what they might want to buy if only they knew about it.

Trees are grown on the farm
Good signage!











The nursery is well organized for customers to stroll through rows of beautiful, healthy plants. Clear and informative signs provide information on the plants and what conditions they like. Native status is well presented. The prices are great – much cheaper than what I had seen just the day before at another nursery near me.

I was fortunate enough to be able to walk through some of the growing areas with Andy. The care behind the selections for what to grow and the enthusiasm for the success of their plants was evident. New blueberry selections were in their first pots while budding oakleaf hydrangea cultivars were well on their way to being ready for sale. 

Andy shows off a favorite
Hydrangeas growing













It was wonderful to see such passion for growing healthy plants that customers would want. As we strolled the grounds, he pointed out red buckeyes (Aesculus pavia) that came from seeds in his own yard and bur oaks (Quercus macrocarpa) with flexible branches. An avid birder, he also pointed out several birds nesting in the living plants and we were able to see their eggs.


A sparrow's nest
A robin's nest












And the plants are absolutely healthy! Well-rooted plants in full pots were the norm. Foliage was clean and the plants were well groomed for attractive shape and fullness. It’s a place where you can feel confident in what you buy. Why, I almost felt I had gone back in time … to a family farm!

So if you’re looking for some good plants, visit their website, give them a call or stop by. I think you’ll be happy with the experience all around. It’s well worth the trip.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Gardening for Butterflies (the book)

The Xerces Society recently released a new book entitled “Gardening for Butterflies.” I was excited to see them cover the topic because their earlier book “Attracting Native Pollinators” is a wonderful resource and I expected this new book to be similarly helpful for the very current topic of how average folks can garden for butterflies. I was not disappointed!


The book is organized into the following sections to help gardeners have the deepest understanding of the subject:

-          Knowing butterflies and what they need is a section that gives you an excellent understanding of butterflies as insects, what makes them different from moths (there is a separate section later on gardening for moths), the different groups of butterflies, the butterfly life cycle, the concept of host plants vs. nectar plants and non-food considerations for supporting butterflies.

-          Design considerations for a butterfly garden section includes basic design principles, regional plant suggestions, and beautiful sample design layouts for a variety of conditions (including a rain garden, for example).

-          The section on butterfly garden plants of North America includes over 200 suggestions across all regions with information such as bloom times, color, height, nectar value, larval host information and native range as well as a color picture.

-          Tips about finding native plants for your butterfly garden, evaluating your choices, installation of the garden and maintenance are covered in the fourth section. I particularly appreciated the information about finding insecticide-free plants but I knew that The Xerces Society would be the first to include that type of information.

In addition to the main practical sections, the Preface included inspirational words about how gardeners can make a difference and Chapter 1 was a thorough treatment on why butterflies matter and why they are in trouble. While monarch butterflies might have sounded the alarm for the average gardener, experts know that they are not the only ones in need of our help.


Giant swallowtail laying an egg
Beyond butterflies and gardening, two of the remaining chapters covers gardening for moths and points about helping butterflies beyond gardens such as in parks, business and road landscaping as well as on farms. Anywhere that a plant grows, it can help butterflies if properly chosen.

Finally, the last chapter covers tips for observing and enjoying butterflies. You can get even more involved by participating in citizen science projects and they list some of the ones in place at the time the book was published.

So if you’re interested in gardening for butterflies and would like some expert information, pick up a copy of this book and you’ll be all set to learn what you need to do it right.