Going Native in Toledo – Update

Just in time for Independence Day, things are starting to explode in the garden, so I thought I’d give you another progress update. (There’s a link to all the posts about my native garden project in the main menu, or here.) Come along and look at some of the floral explosions happening in my little corner of the world.

Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), a pollinator favorite and prolific bloomer

After the spring ephemerals finished, there was a period of time in which nothing much was blooming. Then the golden alexander and wild geranium bloomed and gave me some early season excitement, but then things went quiet again. No flowers, and therefore no insects. Only in the past two weeks have I seen an uptick in things starting to take off. (Note to self: I should probably find some more early bloomers to plant so I don’t have that long boring period with no food for pollinators.)

Starting to bloom for the first time! Common buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)
I hope to see this in my yard soon! Tiger swallowtail nectaring on buttonbush. (Boom!)

As I walked around to check on the progress of the various beds the other day, my breath caught in my throat as I saw a buttonbush with actual tiny “buttons” on it!! I knew I was taking a risk trying to grow these water-loving shrubs in my sunny and mostly-dry yard, but this one is really thriving only a year after I planted it. And I’ve not watered it regularly or done anything special to help it along. Two others that I planted in a different location two years ago are still struggling, and I think it might be because there’s a huge root system leftover from the gigantic burning bush I removed in that spot several years ago (a beautiful but very invasive plant from Asia). I continue to fight the root sprouts of burning bush all around the two buttonbushes, and may just dig them up and move them somewhere else if I can find a good spot.

Blue vervain just beginning to open (Verbena hastata) (Boom!)

Blue vervain has been a favorite plant of mine for years, and every time I see it I think of the thrill I got when I captured a snowberry clearwing moth feeding on it.

Snowberry clearwing moth (Hemaris diffinis) feeding on blue vervain

My center island bed is still very much a work in progress, but it’s coming along. When I bought this property four years ago, this bed was full of irises and hostas, and hosted a half dozen bird feeders where seed had accumulated in a thick layer for years. I made a half-hearted attempt to clean it up before planting in it, but I’ve learned a good lesson from that. I should have done a more thorough preparation of the bed because now I have to fight the invading grass and other weeds while trying not to damage the native plants I’ve already put in there. Here’s how this bed looks today.

This bed doesn’t have a defined edge or any type of border yet, so it looks messier than I’d like. The butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) is the only one that survived from several I planted last year; it’s jumped out of the bed and I’m probably going to allow it to stay there because this is one native that doesn’t like to be moved. When I get around to putting some kind of edging around this bed I’ll just make a little curve out around that butterfly milkweed. I’ve got a small patch of dotted horsemint to the left (some in a pot), and that’s where I enjoy sitting to watch the large digger wasps that come to pollinate it.

Dotted horsemint (Monarda punctata), aka spotted beebalm (Double boom!)

Here’s a great black digger wasp, and the great golden digger wasps also love this plant. Here’s one of them feeding on rattlesnake master, another one of my favorite native plants.

Great golden digger wasp on rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium) (BOOM!)

Last fall I removed a Japanese maple tree beside my sunroom so I could use that space for natives. I added a couple dozen pussytoes along with a few butterfly milkweed, calico aster, and a wild fennel plant. The fennel is here specifically because it’s a host plant for the caterpillars of the black swallowtail butterfly. I hope somebody finds it and lays some eggs there!

The newly-planted sunroom bed

The pussytoes (Antennaria neglecta) are here for the butterflies too, as they host the larvae of the American lady butterfly.

I should probably take this opportunity to point out the difference between a “pollinator garden” and a “butterfly garden.” These two terms get tossed around interchangeably, and it’s great that so many people want to plant for these valuable insects. But a pollinator garden is designed for adult insects to use the pollen and nectar from the plants — bees, wasps, butterflies, and flies primarily.

Spicebush swallowtail nectaring on Monarda fistulosa (not a butterfly host plant)

The purpose of a butterfly garden, on the other hand, is to provide host plants for the butterflies to use as nurseries for their young. Many butterflies require a specific plant or family of plants, because their caterpillars are only adapted to eat those plants. This is why so much effort has been made to educate people about the fact that monarch butterflies must have milkweed or they will go extinct. The caterpillars of the monarch can only feed on milkweed plants — common milkweed, swamp milkweed, Sullivant’s milkweed, and others in that genus (Asclepias). It’s the same principle for other butterflies, so if you know the host plant for a species you want to attract, you can grow it and get to experience their entire life cycle in your own yard.

If you want to know more about this idea and see a list of host plants for various butterflies, I’ve posted that information for you on our Wild Ones Oak Openings website, here.

Shrubby St. John’s wort (Hypericum prolificum)

And speaking of fireworks, take a look at this shrubby St. John’s wort. This is a gorgeous and fast-growing shrub with glossy leaves and fantastic yellow flowers that look like those big fireworks that radiate out in a circle. I hope you enjoyed this fireworks-themed garden update as much as I enjoyed writing it for you. Happy 4th of July, America, and happy gardening.

Finding the Joy

Find the joy on my fridge (591x800)
My colorful drawings also make me very happy.

I have a little dry erase board on my refrigerator door, and I use it to write motivational messages or reminders to myself. About a week ago, I was feeling sort of blah about my life when I realized that I wasn’t doing much other than working and coming home exhausted every day. I didn’t really have anything to look forward to in the near future. Sure, I’m anxiously anticipating my first time to live in northwest Ohio during spring migration. Birds are always amazing. But right now is a slow time for birding, and it’s easy to just hunker down in a holding pattern at home, waiting for spring to arrive.

I decided that I want to be more proactive about being happy, and to remember to focus on the things that bring me joy. So I wrote “Find the Joy” on my fridge door. And, to make sure I notice it, I also hung one of my colorful drawings up there. Making those drawings and coloring them is something else that makes me happy. The process is meditative, and the end result is so pretty.

And I’ve found that seeing that message every day seems to be having an impact. Yesterday I took a big step toward making joy a more consistent presence in my life: I bought my very own guitar! It’s an indication of how much my life has changed recently that if you’d asked me about learning to play an instrument a couple years ago, I would have laughed and dismissed the idea.  But about a month ago my friend Ryan loaned me one of his guitars and encouraged me to give it a try. He’s been giving me some beginner lessons and I’m enjoying it so much that I didn’t want to give his guitar back to him. But I didn’t want to take advantage of his kindness in letting me borrow it, so I insisted he take it back home. But then I found myself missing it. I’d become used to having it there in the living room, ready for me to pick up and play whenever I felt like it (which I sometimes did in the middle of the night). So yesterday we went together to the music store because I felt too intimidated to go there alone. We spent a little time trying out a couple different guitars, and I came home with this lovely Yamaha model:

guitar and monk statue in sunroom (594x800)

It’s a folk-size model, so it’s slightly smaller than the regular dreadnought size that I was having trouble holding comfortably. This one feels good, and it has such a lovely sound too. I was surprised that I could actually hear the difference when I played two different guitars. I have absolutely zero music background — never played any instrument and never learned anything about reading music. (Melody? What’s that? Harmony? No idea.) I’ve always felt really intimidated when friends talk about music, so this represents an enormous step for me. It’s overwhelming, but I’m taking it slowly and not putting pressure on myself. It’s just for fun, and it’s for me.

Despite my lack of musical background, I’ve always loved the sound of guitar music, and I’m sort of surprised that I never even thought of trying this before. I have a CD of Spanish guitar music in my car, and I’m a huge fan of John Denver’s beautiful songs. I’m hoping to eventually be able to play some of them (especially “Annie’s Song” and “Sunshine on My Shoulders”), but for now I’m practicing on simpler things. The first song I’ve learned to play (partially) is Beethoven’s “Fur Elise.” I’m still working on getting the tempo right, but I’m making progress and I get such a thrill from hearing that music coming from my very own fingers. (There’s a link to “Fur Elise” at the end of this post.)

guitar in sunroom v2 (594x800)
Isn’t she lovely?

Here’s another one of my drawings. It’s an odd shape because it’s an insert for my insulated coffee mug that I keep on my desk at work, as a reminder to “Go outside – Breathe – Look Up.”

Zentangle drawing for travel mug insert (800x677)

I’ve accepted that happiness comes and goes–and that’s just part of life–but I’m trying hard to do the things that swing the balance more to the happiness side of the spectrum. I’m incredibly blessed to have friends who are willing to give me a gentle nudge when I start to head for the ditch, reminding me to take control of my thoughts and make my own happiness.

And, if all goes well, I’m going to take a big step toward adding another kind of (furry) joy to my life in the next two weeks. Stay tuned for that. 🙂

Ok,  now give your ears a treat and listen to this lovely guitar rendition of “Fur Elise” by a gentleman named Cesar Amaro: