Flashback Friday

This has been a disappointing year for Poppies in the Automatic Garden.  Even after multiple sowing, no Poppies emerged.  Did the seeds rots or did ants steal them?  I just don’t know.  Luckily, I have a great post from the past to remind me of what could have been.

Take a look at A Good Poppy Crop.


Finding a Place for Metamorphosis

I spotted this Monarch caterpillar crawling on a large clay pot.  It was far from the Butterfly Weed, so I thought I would keep an eye on it.

The caterpillar climbed up to the rim and attached itself.  Look closely for the nearly invisible thread.

For some reason that did not seem right, so the caterpillar dropped to the ground.

It crawled around for quite awhile and headed up a stick for a better view.

Finally, it settled for this plastic net that is protecting a plant. And yes, I did spend quite a long time watching this caterpillar crawl around.  It is their habit to leave the plant they feed on and form a chrysalis elsewhere and are usually hard to find.

And in no time the caterpillar was in its chrysalis.  Sadly, I missed the process and when I checked hours later, it was done.

About the time it should have hatched, a beautiful Monarch Butterfly was  hanging on a nearby brick wall drying its wings and the chrysalis was gone.

And the circle of life begins again with a female Monarch depositing her eggs. I like to think it was the same one that hatched, but there is no way to tell.  She checked out all the plants and made sure the eggs were laid only on Butterfly Weed.

Apparently other Monarchs had stopped by and on the same day, I found a tiny caterpillar barely a half of an inch long  starting on its journey.

This year has already started well for the butterfly population in my area and many more have been stopping by than in past few years.


Monarch Caterpillars, Milkweed and WWII

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There has been much concern about the dwindling  numbers of Monarch Butterflies.  An organization called Monarch Watch has been encouraging everyone to plant Milkweed, also know as Butterfly Weed.

I have been planting Butterfly Weed all over the yard.  Unfortunately, a beetle has shown up the last few years and has eaten almost all the plants I grew.  This year I am trying to collect the bugs daily for disposal, as any kind of spraying will also kill the Monarchs.

I was pleased to find many very fat and healthy Monarch Caterpillars on the Butterfly Weed.  This one is eyeing his competition.

 

My main purpose for planting Butterfly Weed is to feed caterpillars.  The plants tend to look pretty bad after awhile.  Interestingly, the plants contain a chemical called cardiac glycoside that cause birds to vomit.  By eating the leaves, the caterpillars are protected from birds.

I find that rabbits and deer also avoid the plant. The most common Butterfly Weed grown here is Asclepias tuberosa, which is tropical/Mexican Butterfly Weed.

The plants produce seed pods filled with seeds attached to fluffy floss that allows them to drift in the wind to a new location.

I recently found out that Milkweed floss had an important role in World War II.  School children from all over the country were sent out to collect the seed pods to make life vests for Navy sailors. Milkweed in the northern U.S. is much larger than the ones that grow in the South and were found growing in fields and along the roads.  The seeds were removed and the floss was used to stuff the vests.

I find it hard to imagine that these vest would stay afloat for long, but I guess that is what they had back then.  While researching, I also found an article with instructions for making a down-like coat using the Milkweed floss for the insulation.  As it turns out, this “weed” is not only necessary for Monarchs, but humans have also found uses for it.


Automatic Renewal

The last time I was away from home, I came back to a killing freeze.  Most of the plants had to be cut back.  In this climate, many plants usually stay green for the winter. The Automatic Garden looked hopeless. I spent many hours cleaning up, reevaluating and moving plants around.  I walked the garden several times a day checking on the plants’ progress and watching them grow inch by inch.

Recently, I had another trip and this time I came back to a much happier reunion.  While I was away, it rained and the days heated up.  The Automatic Garden did its job and not only filled in, but put out blooms.

The faithful perennials of Black and Blue Salvia and Shrimp Plant came back bigger and better.

Butterfly Weed wasted no time and quickly bloomed, allowing a passing Monarch to leave her eggs for the next generation.

I had seeded a few annuals, along side the reliable garden staples, for some early color. Spring is an anticipated a time of renewal and the Automatic Garden did not disappoint.


Hanging On

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My huge Split Leaf Philodendron took a big hit from the freeze and lost nearly all its leaves.  It is the third time in its life that this has happened. The large Philodendron was put there to hide the utility pipes and boxes. But, once the leaves were gone, I noticed something interesting the plant was doing.  Take a look at the two aerial roots that have looped around the pipes, hanging on for more stability.

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The root didn’t stop there.  About four bricks up it continues along the wall and behind the utility equipment.

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Next, the root rounds the corner.

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And into a weep hole.  What next?  Plants always amaze me.


I Shall Have Lettuce

I had to give up my vegetable garden years ago, as the only ones enjoying it were the animals that came into the yard day and night.

I miss fresh lettuce and I’m determined to grow some.

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The first step was to elevate the lettuce to keep the rabbits out.  A tall planter was purchased.

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Next, squirrels had to be thwarted from digging by covering the plants with picnic tents.

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The tents keep lizards out too.

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Finally, the tents had to be tied down so they wouldn’t blow off.

Yes, I shall have lettuce!

 


Spring Clean-up

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A killing freeze descended on this part of the country and for the Automatic Garden, it was a blessing in disguise.  I had been away from the garden quite a bit last year and many chores went undone.  The Automatic Garden did what it was designed to do and kept on growing, propagating and reseeding, resulting in a interwoven tangle of plants.

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The freeze gave clarity to what needed to be pulled, transplanted and cut back.  I have been spending hours everyday getting the garden in shape.

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Other chores included filling in a hole dug over the winter by some animal, which was probably an armadillo.  It was much more work than it looks and the dirt is heavy clay. The extremely strong gingers were able to push their way through the pile of clay and the dirt had to be carefully removed.

Volunteers had to be rounded up and replanted into their places in the garden. There were many, but free plants are a good thing.

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A scant few flowers have begun to bloom in the garden.  Most years have flowers blooming all year around, but the freeze knocked back almost all of the winter flowering plants. This red canna is a welcome sight.

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Drimiopsis maculata unfurled its spotted leaves and sent out flowers in no time.  The plant is a great substitute for hostas in the South.

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The climbing rose is blooming and dripping from a tree.

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Pink Flamingo Celosia  usually stands three feet tall before blooming, but this one couldn’t wait.

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The Shrimp plant came back from its roots and the few blooms were welcomed by the Buff-bellied Hummingbird that has wintered here.

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The Bottlebrush has perfect timing providing food for the arriving Ruby Throated Hummers and the honey bees that are living near by.

Bit by bit I am seeing my hard labor paying off and I have high hopes for a beautiful garden this summer.