Eyes in the night

A few minutes ago, I went outside to take some trash to the garbage bin.  I was wearing a headlamp, so the leaf litter under the trees appeared to be liberally sprinkled with tiny jewels.  I often notice these beautiful little sparkles of light when I am out after dark.  They are the eyes of insects and spiders reflecting the light of my headlamp, and they’re not visible if I use a handheld flashlight.  I suppose that the light from the flashlight isn’t reflected back at the correct angle.

A few of the sparkles are moths, but the vast majority are wolf spiders, with an occasional fishing spider in the mix.  During the day, they hide away in the leaf litter or down in burrows, but at night they sit motionless on the surface, waiting for prey to wander past.

There are many of them. Very many.  Some of them are big.  And hairy.

Dolomedes
Dolomedes tenebrosus (dark fishing spider), a fairly common species in the garden.

 

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Six on Saturday #13: Montrose Garden

Montrose Garden is a beautiful private garden, the life’s work of Nancy Goodwin, in Hillsborough North Carolina (see also this old New York Times story).  Once or twice a year, Nancy opens the garden and has a plant sale.  The open house was today, so the kids and I were there just after the gate opened at 10:00.

Our first stop was, of course, the sales area.  The children helped to pick out plants, and we came away with Calanthe discolor, Kniphophia ‘Lola’, Orostachys erubescens, Orostachys japonica, and a couple of white-flowered Cyclamen hederifolium. Then, we went to see the gardens.

Last year at the open house, the flowerbeds were filled with colchicum flowers.  We didn’t see many today, and I wonder if the lack of rain over the past six weeks has delayed their flowering.  The soil seemed very hard and dry in the flowerbeds, but there was still plenty of color from drought tolerant plants.

1. In the Metasequoia Garden

Metasequoia garden

During the 1980s, Nancy Goodwin ran a mail-order nursery out of Montrose.  The Montrose Nursery was known for its garden propagated hardy cyclamens at a time when many nurseries were still selling wild-collected tubers, and Nancy has planted huge drifts of Cyclamen hederifolium and other species on the wooded slopes leading down to the Eno River.  Sadly, the woods were closed today, but there were still plenty of cyclamens to be seen elsewhere in the garden.  Here, they are flowering with Sterbergia lutea (autumn daffodil) under two large Metasequoia glyptostroboides (dawn redwoods).

2. Looking towards the lath house

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On the right, Eldest Offspring is trying to photograph a monarch butterfly.

3.  Monarch butterfly on red Dahlia (photo by Eldest Offspring)

monarch

4.  Incarvillea arguta (Himalayan gloxinia)

Incarvillea

5.  Cuphea llavea (Bat-faced cuphea)

cuphea

I suspect this one is moved into the greenhouse in cold weather.  I don’t think it would survive our winter in the ground.

6. Magnolia macrophylla (big leaf magnolia)

Magnolia

With its perfectly domed shape, this is one of the best M. macrophylla I have ever seen

While I go outside and try to decide where this morning’s purchases should be planted (and whether I’ll need a pickaxe to get through the desiccated clay), why don’t you visit some other garden blogs participating in “Six on Saturday.”  Check out The Propagator for his six and for links to other blogs.

(Hoping for rain this week)

Dinner with a friend

turtle-grape 1

I ran across (i.e. almost stepped on) this box turtle near the garden shed two evenings in a row.  Yesterday, I offered him some Sun Gold tomatoes, which he ignored.  This evening, I gave him some muscadine grapes, and he seemed to enjoy them very much.

turtle-grape 3

 

Muscadines are also one of my favorite fruits, so we have that in common.

turtle-grape 4

I think this is our old friend Percy Shelley, but I can’t be sure.  It wasn’t until after he ambled off into the woods and I went inside to download the photos that I discovered all my other pictures of Percy were taken from his right side.  What I can see of the scutes along his back seems to match, though.

turtle-grape 2

Six on Saturday #6

After missing several weeks due to traveling, I’m back with Six on Saturday.  As always, check The Propagator’s blog for links to other garden bloggers who are also posting their six.

1. Lycoris radiata var. pumila (hurricane lily, red spider lily)

Lycoris radiata
Lycoris radiata var. pumila

Hurricane lilies (really amaryllids, not true lilies) are so named because because they bloom in late summer–hurricane season in the southeastern United States.  The classic heirloom bulb of southern gardens is Lycoris radiata var. radiata, a sterile triploid introduced from Japan in the mid 1800s.  It blooms in late August, and my bulbs are still slumbering underground.  L. radiata var. pumila is a fertile diploid, presumably the original wild type form native to China.  For some reason, these plants consistently bloom a few weeks earlier than the triploids.

L. radiata is one of the winter-foliage Lycoris.  Shortly after blooming it produces a rosette of leaves that persist all winter, dying back in late spring.  Since the plant grows in winter, it is less hardy than the spring-foliage types like those I discussed in a previous Six on Saturday, and I’m not sure it would do well much further north than North Carolina.

2.  Zephyranthes candida (white rain lily)

Zephyranthes candida
Zephyranthes candida (white rain lily)

After dry weather for most of July, August has been quite wet, and the rain has induced several rain lily species to bloom.  This is Zephyranthes candida, originally from southern South America but now more widely naturalized.  Superficially, it resembles a smaller version of the piedmont native Z. atamasco, but while Z. atamasco blooms in spring, Z. candida–like many tropical Zephyranthes–blooms in summer a few days after rain.

3.  Lobelia cardinalis (cardinal flower)

Lobelia cardinalis
Lobelia cardinalis

Lobelia cardinalis is native to the piedmont and can sometimes be found growing in sun or part shade along creeks or beside ponds.  Hummingbirds absolutely love the flowers.  These are volunteer plants originating from very tiny seed that drifted from a plant that I put in a flowerbed about twenty feet away.  After several years, I now have about a dozen blooming plants.  The best ones have taken root in wet soil at the point where the foundation and gutter drains empty, down-slope from the house.  I have been thinking about building a pond or bog garden there, but for now it is just a wilderness of Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium viminium), interspersed with these shocking red spikes.

Last week, while we were on holiday in eastern Maine, I saw some wild plants blooming along a stream close to the Canadian border, about 600 miles (965 km) north of my garden in North Carolina.  I find it interesting that the plants in both locations bloom at exactly the same time, despite the longer growing season and warmer temperatures here in the south.

4. Hedychium coronarium (white butterfly ginger)

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Hedychium coronarium

This ginger from the foothills of the himalayas is probably the hardiest and most vigorous ornamental ginger for cultivation in the NC piedmont.  The stems grow about 6′ (1.8 m) tall, and the fragrance of the flowers is amazing.  Unlike my cannas, which look pretty ratty after being chewed on all summer long by Japanese beetles and canna leaf roller caterpillars, the foliage of this H. coronarium is always pristine.

5.  Fuchsia ‘Sanihanf’

Fuchsia 'Sanihanf'
Fuchsia ‘Sanihanf’

After my paternal grandfather retired, he grew fuchsias in his garden and greenhouse in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  I wanted to remember grandpa by growing them in my garden too, but most fuchsias expire from the heat before spring is half over in North Carolina.  This Japanese hybrid, which was advertised as heat tolerant, seems to be the real deal.  I bought it in April 2016, so it has now survived two NC summers and continues to bloom even when the days are in the 90s (32-37 C) and nights don’t drop below 70 (21 C).  It might survive the winter outside in a sheltered spot, but not wanting to risk it, I grow it in a hanging pot and keep it in the greenhouse in cold weather.

6. Lilium formosanum (Formosa lily)

Lilium formosanum

Most L. formosanum bulbs produce a single stem topped with four or five flowers, but this plant has branched and re-branched to produce a large cluster of flowers.  The stems are slightly flattened and wider than usual, so I think it may be abnormal fasciation (cresting).

I started with two bulbs about eight years ago, but every year I scatter seed around, and now there are flowering plants throughout the garden.

6b.  flower crab spider (Thomisidae)

IMG_7559 crop
Crab spider, perhaps Misumenoides formosipes,  in ambush

While trying to decide which photo of L. formosanum to use, I realized that I had inadvertently photographed a little white crab spider that was hiding inside one of the lily flowers.  Some species can change color to match the flower they are sitting on and are capable of capturing quite large prey.  I’m not sure if she would be strong enough to tackle one of the big sphinx moths that pollinate L. formosanum, but I have seen similar spiders ambush and consume swallowtail butterflies

 

Spiders of autumn

Argiope aurantia
Argiope aurantia

A sign that we are definitely in late summer, inching inexorably towards autumn:  yellow garden spiders (Argiope aurantia) have started to spin their webs among the flower beds.  Every year, they seem to appear suddenly out of nowhere, but I suppose they have been present all spring and summer and have finally become large enough for me to notice.  They are still not full size and will grow noticeably bigger and fatter in the next month.

They seem to love to spin their webs in the lantana bushes, where they capture many butterflies.

Sometimes they catch bigger prey.

One morning last September, I noticed that the cats were intent on something squeaking pathetically in a large Lantana ‘Miss Huff’.  It was a hummingbird trapped in the web of a very large garden spider.   In this somewhat blurry photo, the spider is at the top of the frame, slowly descending her web towards the trapped bird.

hummingbird-web1
Where is Bilbo Baggins wielding Sting when you need him?

At first I thought that I was too late and the bird had already been bitten, because when I pulled it from the web, it just lay quivering in the palm of my hand.

hummingbird-web2

I was trying to decide if I needed to administer the coup de grâce, when I realized that the bird was immobilized by a few strands of almost invisible spider silk.  After I carefully removed the threads from its wings and tail, it sat up in my hand and then zoomed away into the trees.

If you have a strong stomach, a web search will turn up photos of less fortunate hummers, so if you have a hummingbird feeder or plants that attract them, it might be a good idea to relocate garden spiders that build their webs to close to the flight paths.