Monday, September 28, 2015

Creatures of the Garden

As we transition to fall, I find myself reflecting back on the summer. The garden is always full of life in the summer. Insects, birds, and the neighbor’s cats, plus some evening visitors like bats, possums and raccoons. I managed to capture a few on candid camera.

Some of my favorite summertime garden visitors are the hummingbirds. I had at least one male and one female that I would see constantly in the garden, flying from flower to flower. They especially loved the red Cardinal Climber and red Texas Sage this year. They never seemed to visit the hummingbird feeder that was in the flower garden, so I decided to move it close to the back porch where there are less flowers and where I could see them better if they decided to visit. It worked! They would visit several times a day. It took them a little while to get used to me and my two cats on the back porch, but they warmed up to us. I spent a lot of time sitting out there with my zoom lens on my camera and finally got an ok shot of the male hummingbird.

Butterflies are a constant presence in the garden during summer days. Usually it’s Cabbage Whites and Tiger Swallowtails. I sometimes get others, such as Skippers, Eastern Black Swallowtails, Monarchs, and recently a Fritillary. I found myself wishing this particular Tiger Swallowtail could tell me his story. He looked like he had been through the ringer with frayed wing edges and that big missing piece.

The past couple of years I have found Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillars on my Parsley. Parsley is a host plant for these swallowtails. The butterflies lay their eggs on the plants, then the caterpillars eat and eat until they are ready to make chrysalises and become butterflies themselves. I had at least two of the caterpillars this year. It has gotten to the point that I don’t cut parsley to use it until I look under the leaves for eggs first! I have definitely found them.

Bees are my friends. I found myself going out into the garden every day just to check on my bees. I get a lot of native bumble bees. This year I actually saw some honey bees, which is not as common.

Another buzzing visitor this year was Digger Wasps. I don’t recall having seen them before. I think it might mean I have grubs, which I actually already knew. Females burrow into the ground looking for white grubs, stings them, and lays eggs on the them. The larvae pupates and overwinters in a cocoon within the host’s body. Gross, huh?

I see praying mantises every year, however, this year they have been particularly plentiful. I often see them near the back door, so I think they must live in the mint or other herb beds that I have there.

They are so alien-like. Such fascinating creatures.

I get many different birds in the garden. My favorite birds are the goldfinches. They are happiest when the purple coneflowers are loosing their petals. That is when the finches get the seeds. This year I tried hanging a finch sock near the back porch to see if I could watch the finches like I get to watch the hummingbirds. It worked! I get to see lots of finches up close now, as long as I sit still and as long as the cats behave and don’t try to jump at the screen. I get lots of females, but have only seen two males this year.

If you look carefully, you will spot a bluejay in the next photo. There were more bluejays than usual this summer. For awhile each morning I would witness two bluejay parents teaching their fledglings to fly. They would go from tree to shrub to tree, following each other. They were a noisy bunch.

Hard to see in this shot, but there is the bluejay on the left by the bird feeder and one of the neighbor’s cats, Tiger, on the right. My neighbor has at least four cats that visit the garden, three of them more regularly. It is rare for me to be out there and NOT see a cat. The three regular visitors are all orange and white.

Here Tiger has spotted one of the Tiger Swallowtails. Hmmmm, maybe that is how the one lost part of his wing.

Puss loves to nap in the garden. I have to be careful because there have been times when I have almost stepped on her or almost weeded her! Somehow she finds the gravel path comfortable. Not sure what that is all about.

There are many other creatures of the garden, these are just the ones that I happened to have gotten close enough to take pictures of! I love that my garden is welcoming to other creatures. After all, it is just as much for them as it is for me.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

2015 Philadelphia Honey Festival

The Philadelphia Beekeepers Guild held the first Philadelphia Honey Festival in 2010. It was to celebrate the placing of a historic marker honoring Lorenzo L. Langstroth, who was born in Philadelphia. Langstroth is famous for inventing the first movable frame bee hive based on the principle of “bee space.” According to their website, the mission of the Philadelphia Honey Festival is “to raise awareness about the importance of honey bees to our environment, our food supply and our economy, and to promote urban beekeeping and gardening.” I had never been to the honey fest before, so decided to check it out this year and see what it was all about.

The honey festival runs for three days at three different locations: Wagner Free Institute of Science, Wyck Historic House/Garden/Farm, and historic Bartram’s Garden. I attended the events at Bartram’s Garden. Here are some fun highlights.

The events included a fall native plant sale, honey related vendors, children’s costume making and bee parade, free Schuylkill River kayak paddling, a honey cooking contest, a bee-bearding demo, open hive talks, and a demonstration of honey extraction.

The open hive demo was in the meadow at Bartram’s Garden, where they have community bee hives. These hives are attended to by various people who live in the area. This is an example of a Langstroth bee hive. This is the most widely used hive design today. (These aren’t the greatest photos because they were taken zoomed in using my phone.)

Another type of bee hive is a top-bar hive. Some members of the Philadelphia Beekeepers Guild showed us what this style of hive looks like. Unfortunately, this particular hive had not been properly taken care of and was falling apart when they tried to pull out the frames.

There is a really great view of center city Philadelphia from the meadow at Bartram’s Garden.

I always wondered how you get honey out of bee hive frames. Now I know after attending the honey extraction demo! The frame is removed from the bee hive and the outer layer of wax that the bees made is scraped off the honeycombs with a knife.

After the wax is removed, you see glorious, liquid honey.

The frames are then placed in a honey extractor, which is basically a stainless steel tank with a spigot valve at the bottom and a crank at the top.

You crank the handle as fast as you can and it rotates the bee hive frames so that the honey comes out of the honeycombs.

When you turn the valve open, out pours magical, golden honey.

Next time you get honey, think about what an amazing thing it is and the many bees that worked hard to make it.

The Philadelphia Honey Festival happens in September every year. Check it out next year!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Guest Blog Post for Morris Arboretum – Eye Spy: 6 Birds to Spot at the Arboretum Now

My most recent guest blog post for Morris Arboretum is about birds that you can see there at this time of the year. It’s called “Eye Spy: 6 Birds to Spot at the Arboretum Now.” I had fun “researching” for this one. I am not an expert birder by any means, but I am an enthusiastic amateur. I watch the birds in my own yard all the time. This year I moved both my hummingbird feeder and finch sock close to the back porch so that I could get a better look at my visiting feathered friends. It’s been fun watching. Take a peak of what I saw over the last month or so...

Here are several female goldfinches and one lonely (or not so lonely!) male at my finch sock.

I had regular visits from both a male and female hummingbird. This is a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird at my feeder.

This small video shows the hummingbird and goldfinches having a picnic together.

So be sure to check out my blog post for the Morris Arboretum about birds: “Eye Spy: 6 Birds to Spot at the Arboretum Now.”

Thursday, September 17, 2015

My 4th Guest Blog Post for Morris Arboretum – 10 Tips Every Visitor Should Know

My latest contribution to Morris Arboretum’s blog, “10 Tips Every Visitor Should Know Before You Go,” is a list of things to bring when you are setting out for a visit to the arboretum. I like to plan ahead when I visit since I tend to be there for 2 1/2 - 3 hours walking around!

Below are some photos that I took when I visited the arboretum last weekend.

Morris Arboretum has some really interesting self-guided tours that you can download from their website. I was recently reading the Sculpture Tour. This is American Bull, which has always been one of my favorites. 

A recent addition to the sculptures is A Waltz In The Woods, a group of 30 feet high stick creations. I love these because they look like they are being blown by the wind and could topple over at any moment. 

I can’t seem to resist a visit to the Rose Garden every time I go. There’s more than just roses here.

Love this Nicotiana (flowering tobacco) in the Rose Garden. I couldn’t find a marker to identify this particular one, however, I do believe this is called Only The Lonely. It is one I have been wanting to plant in my own garden.

Fall is on its way – you can tell from the grasses and sedum that are in bloom here.

So check out my post on “10 Tips Every Visitor Should Know” and consider a visit to the arboretum!

Friday, September 11, 2015

My 3rd Guest Blog Post for Morris Arboretum – Beneficial Bees

If you follow me on Instagram, you know what a huge bee fan I am. I actually go into my garden specifically to visit my bees. I participate in a citizen science project called Bumble Bee Watch. My garden is an official Pollinator Garden (as well as a Monarch Waystation). I love pollinators and bees are the most important pollinators that we have. Our pollinators are in decline and it is vitally important that we do what we can to help them or else many of the foods we enjoy today won’t exist. My 3rd guest blog post for the Morris Arboretum is called “Beneficial Bees: How to Help Our Essential Pollinators.”

I was a bit disappointed that they didn’t post the photos that I sent along for the article, so I’m posting them here. These are photos that I took in the Rose Garden at the Morris Arboretum just a few weeks ago.

This is my favorite photo of the bunch I took that day. This bumble bee is literally COVERED in pollen from this purple thistle. Look at him, head to toe in pollen!

Here is a happy honey bee on verbena.

And wow, look at the size of this carpenter bee. They are seriously big bees and may appear scary, but they are actually very gentle and rarely sting. They do nest in wood and can even chew their own tunnels, so they are one that most people would consider a nuisance, especially if you find they made a nest out of part of your house. Keeping wood or tree stumps in your yard may help them find an alternative home. Remember, they are pollinators, too!

I love a show called Growing a Greener World that I watch online all the time. They have some great episodes on bees. Episode 610: Bringing Bees Back is an excellent show on the importance of pollinators, especially bees. Definitely check that one out to fully understand and appreciate the role that bees play in our agricultural industry. Episode 601: Beginning Backyard Beekeeper follows the host, Joe Lamp’l, on his first year of beekeeping and provides a realistic view of what it takes to keep bees.

I hope you will read my post on bees on the Morris Arboretum’s blog, as well as the other ones I have written. There are at least two more that haven’t been posted yet and two more I am still working on. It has been tons of fun to be part of the arboretum’s blog. I would love to see some comments on there. And hopefully my posts will help encourage people to visit the arboretum. It truly is a beautiful place and is a lot more than just trees. They offer some really good classes, too. They were one of my first sources for learning more about gardening when I first started out, and continue to be a source to this day.

P.S. The Philadelphia Honey Festival is this weekend! Lots of great bee and honey related activities going on at three different locations. Check out the website for more info.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

My 2nd Guest Blog Post for Morris Arboretum – The Perfect Solo Outing

My second guest blog post for Morris Arboretum was posted today. It is called “Treat Yourself: The Perfect Solo Outing at Morris Arboretum.” I had a blast researching for this one – went on my own solo outing, which I actually do fairly often at the arboretum. I took all of the photos for the article, as well.

Japanese Overlook at Morris Arboretum

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

My 1st Guest Blog Post For Morris Arboretum – Autumn Colors

I am really excited to be doing some guest blogging for Morris Arboretum. I have written four or five posts so far and the first one was put on their blog today. It is called “Autumn Colors: More Than Just Leaves.” Please check it out and feel free to add a comment. I mention some specific flowering plants that can be seen at the arboretum in the fall. Included are Ironweed and Sedum. Below are some photos from my own garden of these plants.

I have a few different varieties of Sedum. Don’t ask me to remember what they are all called! The one below was supposed to have dark, maroon leaves. It did the first year, but has had green leaves ever since. It is a favorite of the bees this time of the year, so I can’t complain.

I planted Ironweed this spring. It is a tall, native plant that attracts pollinators.

Read more about these plants and other fall-blooming perennials and shrubs on Morris Arboretum’s blog!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Flower Garden in July

Be forewarned, this is kind of long post. July has become my favorite time of year in the flower garden, so I have a few more photos than usual.

White David Phlox and pink Rosalind Phlox, along with Purple Coneflowers and a few roses make for a pretty view in July from the screened-in back porch.

The Purple Coneflowers have spread through the years to form this very large patch. I’m ok with that because they look lovely in summer and the goldfinches eat the seeds later in the season.

I added this annual Colorblaze Kingswood Torch Coleus in front of the Coneflowers this year and I really like the combination.

Here is the same section of the garden, but a little different view and before the Phlox were in full bloom.

The white David Phlox is a proven reliable performer every year and rarely shows any signs of powdery mildew. The Rosalind Phlox really took off this year and was a nice contrast to the white. Butterflies seem to like the Phlox, especially the white David.

Again, that same section of the garden, but seen from the other side. Here you can see the white daisies that are behind the roses. Unfortunately, the roses often grow so tall now that they hide the daisies unless you take a walk to this side. You also see a yellow annual and a bright, lime green coleus.

The yellow annual is Million Gold Melampodium and the bright, lime green coleus is Colorblaze Lime Time. I have really enjoyed this combination all summer long. I plant Melampodiums every year, but this is the first time I have paired it with this coleus.

A closer view of the Shasta Daisies.

The other half of the flower garden is partially obscured from view when sitting on the back porch due to the dense climbing Hydrangea on the arbor, but you get a sneak peak of some white Hydrangeas and Black Eyed Susans.

The two white Hydrangeas have really grown the past couple of years.

The Black Eyed Susans have been plagued by something the past couple of years which makes the leaves look pretty bad, but they still flower beautifully.

I wish I knew what variety of Hydrangea this was. I inherited this from the previous owner. I really love it.

Here you see a bit of the Raspberry Wine Monarda and more white David Phlox.

A closer view of the white David Phlox in this part of the flower garden, along with the Purple Coneflowers, Raspberry Wine Monarda, and a blue-flowered ground cover called Plumbago (Ceratostigma Plumbaginoides).

The Raspberry Wine Monarda with the Purple Coneflowers in the background.

I took some photos from the back of the garden this year. It is a perspective that very few people see other than myself and my statue, Winnie.

I am starting to think that I might need a chair or bench back here because I find the view quite lovely.

The gravel path that leads to Winnie goes off to one side and changes to a mulched path with stepping stones that have bees on them. I finished this path just a year or two ago and the stepping stones were a happy find at a local nursery.

The flower garden as seen from the kitchen garden in the back of the yard. This is a favorite spot of mine and there is a garden bench near here that I often sit on while taking a break from weeding.

Another perspective as seen from the kitchen garden, but of the other side of the yard. This side was on overgrown mess just a few years ago.

The shade-loving plants that I planted under the tree have done well, but are mostly spring bloomers. The hostas had actually been buried under the overgrown mess and now are happy to be uncovered.

Back towards the other end of the flower garden, the Cascade Hops were taking over the shed. We ran several lines of string from garden staples in the ground to the top of the shed and they took off like crazy.

The area that I call the secret garden, which is by the greenhouse, has always been a difficult gardening area. There is a Hydrangea here that is finally blooming, after many, many years of waiting. My favorite thing about this section is the moss that grows on the ground. It gets very little sun here and moisture sits without drying out after rains, which makes for great moss conditions.

Speaking of moist conditions, just on the other side of the garden gate from the secret garden is a path where I had several mushrooms growing this July. It is the first time I have seen this many.

The flower garden is a bee haven in July, between the Raspberry Wine Monarda and the Purple Coneflowers. The Monarda is also a hummingbird magnet, but I can’t seem to get a photo of those fast little birds.

I tend to get quite a few Tiger Swallowtail butterflies every year and this year was no exception. Parsley is a host plant for these butterflies and I always plant parsley, so that could be part of the reason.

It has taken about 10 years to get the flower garden to where it is today. It took a lot of hard work, but it is still always a work in progress. My two cats, Molly and Izzy, seem to appreciate the garden just as much as I do. They love looking for birds, butterflies, and the neighbor’s cats.