Sunday, August 23, 2015

Some For You and Some For Me

I like to think of myself as a “habitat gardener.”  I cultivate a garden to be a habitat for as much wildlife as possible. While I don’t pretend to support larger forms of wildlife (bear, deer, fox), I hope that insects, birds and assorted small creatures might find this area to be a place of shelter and nourishment. An important realization of being a habitat gardener is that things will eat your plants.

Cardinal flower - one plant eaten, others forming flowers

In fact, that is a key component of how I judge the success of my garden. In addition to the sounds of birds, frogs and insects, I look for visual clues:

-          A butterfly floating among the flowers, sipping nectar from their colorful blooms
-          A bee busily gathering nectar and pollen, pollen dusting her body or packed onto her legs
-          A caterpillar munching a leaf, growing long and fat on its way to becoming a butterfly or moth

That’s right, an insect eating my plant is a sign of success for me. Each one I find earns a little “Woo hoo!” from me. I know that we can’t have beautiful butterflies and moths without losing a little foliage along the way. When I’m growing plants, I consciously plant some for the insects and some for me.
Sometimes it's just one

Sometimes it's a lot

And it usually works out just fine. The insects eat some of what I grow – often not all the leaves on one plant and certainly they don’t eat all the plants. Frankly the deer are more of a challenge, but that’s another story.

Let’s not forget the birds – they are benefiting too and not necessarily in the way you might think. I do have some plants with berries, but that’s not what they want the most. They want the insects! By attracting insects, especially insects that eat foliage, I am also feeding the birds.

Wren with a caterpillar found on the Lobelia

"Grow caterpillars for us!"
There are a lot of birds that are insectivores and even those that aren’t insectivores will gather insects to feed their young chicks. 96% of birds feed insects to their babies, including hummingbirds (did you wonder what purpose mosquitos serve?).

Therefore, some of the caterpillars eating my leaves are destined to be food for someone else.

So the next time you’re planting, think of the insects (and the birds) and consider planting “some for you and some for me.” I guarantee you’ll enjoy the outcome a little bit more.


  1. While enjoying all the insects buzzing around my salt & pepper plant, I spotted two northern parulas (nest in Spanish moss) hopping around the branches looking for bugs to eat. Made my day. So get what you say!