Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Seems Chicago is not the only place experiencing the current Red Admiral largess.

Wisconsin butterflies

Red Admiral western New York

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) do not survive northern harsh winters so only fly once a season in the north then migrate south where they can have two or three broods a year then over winter in larval stage.

The larval hosts are in the Nettle family, Urticaceae, Stinging Nettles (Urtica holosericea and U. urens) Baby's Tears (Helxine or Soleirolia) and Pellitory (Parietaria).

The larva is solitary, in a host plant rolled-leaf shelter. I saw a picture of the rolled leaf that the larva live and eat inside of on some butterfly site but can not now find it. I will be watching stinging nettles in my garden and on hikes to see if I can find a feeding larva of the Red admiral.

Google images of host plant...

stinging nettle

Baby's tears


Monday, July 23, 2007

The most nectar and pollen rich plants in our wildlife garden.

For the last couple of weeks the Red Admiral has been abundant in the Chicago region. Every time I step outside into the garden Red Admirals are flying. There are so many that any child that comes near our garden is lured into chasing these lovely creatures. Now the Monarchs are beginning to appear. It has been a good flying insect summer.
Unless you count mosquitoes. Apparently cooler weather, dry spells in between rains and the eradication spray programs instituted by local governments since West Nile reared its ugly head have had quite an effect. We have had no problem with mosquitoes in the gardens and very little on local hikes.

On a warm sunny afternoon the air over spotted Joe-pye weed is like an air traffic control nightmare.Butterflies, bees, tiny wasp and golden flies zoom about from flower to flower. It is the most active place in the garden. Maybe of all the plants in our garden.
We grow Spotted Joe-Pye Weed Eupatorium maculatum (above picture in our garden- never watered). Many gardeners prefer the darker flowers and purple stems of Sweet Joe-Pye-weed Eupatorium purpureum. Either will do well in average moist gardens. Living in the great lakes area no summer has been hot enough or dry enough, long enough to do damage to this plant. The six foot wooden fence is almost hidden behind this large specimen.

Another favorite of bees and butterflies in our garden is Echinacea purpurea / purple coneflower and Echinacea pallida.There are three areas in the gardens where Echinacea grows in big clumps/sweeps. Any passing pollinator will see that a stop is well worth while and may contemplate staying to raise a family in a spot with such abundant food and housing.

Over at Garden Rant Amy has posted about gardening for bees. She didn't ask but commentors are naming their best bee plants. The Joe-pye weed is currently the winner in this garden. But many other plants feed the bees.

Annual sunflowers, all the coreopsis, yellow coneflower,gallardia,helenium, liatris, milkweed, hyssop, blooming dill, fennel and several other herbs, even the last of the shasta daisies are drawing many bees this summer. Early the veronica was covered with many pollinators and late summer/fall the asters, sedums, and other eupatoriums do their share. I do not have goldenrod as I can not seem to pick one and to my surprise, none have volunteered
The yellow faced bees sighted last summer are back and I have seen cutter bees making circles in the leaf edges of the redbud tree. Also seen are bumble bees , carpenter bees and several unidentified tiny little sweat bee sized. I need a better camera and some patience to record all these creatures.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Here I am joining the party at May Dreams Garden a bit late. There seem to be ever more flowers to check out in gardens from around the world this mid-summer month. Here is a Chicago Illinois zone 5 perspective. I'll be mingling.

Tiger lily
Berries still green but soon to ripen to a deep blue on the Virginia creeper

A white phlox 'David'

Fragrant species tall phlox

This is a clump of purple coneflower(echinacea purpurea) in a bit more shade. Still blooms well but does not reseed as much as the ones in full sun.

A short liatris cultivar.
A tall species liatris.

Daylily 1

Daylily 2

Daylily 3

Butterfly weed (asclepias tuberosa)

An annual coreopsis grown from seed has been flowering in many variations from full red to almost all yellow and all mixes in between. I expect blooms all summer and will start to collect a lot of seed soon.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Next year, in the fall,when I have time...a perfect garden.

Colleen, at In The Garden Online started this round of contemplation of our gardens lack of perfection. In our own heads we are sure it could be better and know that we will get to it someday. But in the mean time we would prefer no one else notices.Colleen believes this should change to encourage newbies daunted by lack of time, experience or funds.

There are many versions of the bad and the ugly and there have been several brave souls joining Colleen in outing the myth that a garden must be perfect everywhere all the time to be enjoyed. Gardens are like everything else in life, blemishes can impart character. We are not accepting less we are embracing more.

A wildlife garden has many moments of imperfection amid what can also be, on occasion, glorious. One area looks very good while another suffers from over feeding by one creature or other. It is something you learn to live with, enjoying the process of building and evolving as much as often fleeting results. Wildlife gardeners learn to live in the moment, enjoying the berries until the birds strip them bare and the host plants until the caterpillars start munching. Ephemeral beauty to be savored along with gossamer wings of butterfly.

I can not take pictures today but the ones on yesterdays post about buggy coneflowers
illustrate the point well. Further evidence exits on the bare ground of a recently installed rain garden .

Decay is part of the process,death is inevitable, possibility exists in dreams.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Patience and time = balance as pest control?

This is a healthy stand of yellow cone flower (ratibida pinnata) growing in our garden. Yellow coneflower also grows in another area that is hidden from the public by a fence between buildings. This year the other stand was not so healthy.

Black aphids are fast to reproduce and can suck the life out of new growth on plants they attack. Growth slows, foliage yellows, blooms are few.
Since this is a habitat garden where no pesticides are used ever, a situation like this can be a learning experience. Instead of using a hose to try and dislodge the aphids we decided to wait,watch, and see what happens when left to achieve that natural balance between predator insects and plant eaters.

It was not long before hover flies,lady bugs and parasitic wasps were on the job. It took a couple of weeks before the black aphids disappeared but they are gone now. Predators had a food source and reason to lay eggs and hang around. No other plants in the area were affected.

This last picture is of the yellow cone flower in recovery. The yellowish leaves are regaining health and new blooms are forming. It is much shorter and less full than last years plants in this spot. I will take weekly pictures to record what happens now...

Cutting the plants back to the ground and letting start over was an option if the damage had been more severe. Yellow cone flower is a hardy native that recovers well from drought and the few pests that do it harm. We decided to let it be. Today a good rain fell to aid a quick recovery.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007


Sunday, July 01, 2007


Front Lines

The edge of the cancer
Swells against the hill-we feel
a foul breeze-And it sinks back down.
The deer winter here
A chainsaw growls in the gorge.

Ten wet days and the log trucks stop,
The trees breathe.
Sunday the 4-wheel jeep of the
Realty Company brings in
Landseekers, lookers, they say
To the land,
Spread your legs.

The jets crack sound overhead, it's OK
Every pulse of the rot at the heart
In the sick fat veins of Amerika
Pushes the edge up closer--

A bulldozer grinding and slobbering
Sideslipping and belching on top of
The skinned-up bodies of still-live bushes
In the pay of a man
From town.

Behind is a forest that goes to the Arctic
And a desert that still belongs to the
And here we must draw
Our line.

From 'Turtle Island' published in 1974 by Gary Snyder... A poet from the beat generation hanging out with the likes of Jack Kerouac.
Today an advocate for the land.
This poem speaks to how I feel about the misuse of land and the ever expanding sub-division...
places along our national parks and forests being invaded and degraded to the detriment of ever more wildlife.


Sweet Home Chicago Garden