While driving down our lane, I noticed a large, dark insect scuttling across the dusty gravel. It proved to be a mole cricket. As a child, I used to catch mole crickets in our garden in southwestern Iran, but I haven’t seen one in decades. This was like meeting an old friend.
There are several mole cricket species in the southeastern U.S., including some introduced species that are agricultural pests. I think this may be the native Neocurtilla hexadactyla (northern mole cricket), but I let it go instead of collecting it for definitive identification.
This week has been a mixed bag in the garden–some things were good, some not so good. Let’s start with the not-so-good.
1. Fallen sourwood tree (Oxydendrum arboreum)
A storm on Tuesday brought down a fairly large sourwood tree. It skimmed a bluebird feeder but landed across our row of thornless blackberries. The blackberries were supported by two strands of wire strung between to 4×4″ posts. The wire held. One of the posts snapped. This afternoon, I’ll haul out the chain saw and cut up the trunk for firewood, but it’s going to be a pain in the neck digging out the snapped post to replace it.
Update: the tree fell, because the center of its trunk was rotten and inhabited by an enormous nest of enormous carpenter ants who were not thrilled to have a chainsaw bisecting their home. Run away! Run Away!
2. Japanese beetles (Popillia japonica) on pink banana (Musa velutina)
The Japanese beetles have started their annual rampage through the soft-leaved plants in the garden. Spraying with insecticides is contraindicated when the beetles are eating flowers that attract other insects or are on plants that we want to eat, so we wander around the garden knocking them off into a bucket of soapy water. I’m not sure if it does much to control their population, but it satisfies the need for revenge.
3. Tigridia pavonia
Finally, I have a Tigridia pavonia that blooms red. Tigridia corms are readily available in the spring, but only in packs of mixed colors. For the last couple of years, my plants have all bloomed in shades of yellow, but this year, I got a batch that contained at least one red-flowering plant. I had expected to treat Tigridias as annuals, but it turns out that they are fully hardy in my garden, despite cold, wet winter and heavy clay soil.
4. Fasciated Lilium formosanum
Fasciation, or cresting, is a rare developmental abnormality resulting from overgrowth of meristem tissue. In this Lilium formosanum, the normally cylindrical stem has turned into a flattened plate with many more (though smaller) leaves than usual.
Most sources say that fasciation in lilies is usually a one-time event, with the bulb producing normal growth the next year. This bulb was also fasciated last year, although the effect was less extreme. It will be interesting to see if this is a permanent, stable condition.
Also, note the stems of the ubiquitous, weedy creeping cucumber (Melothria pendula).
5. Lilium ‘African Queen’
First bloom for a bulb that I planted last autumn. Flowers are nice, but the stem is floppy. Hopefully the plant is still getting established and will improve in future years.
6. African baobab (Adansonia digitata) seedlings
I ran across some baobab seeds that I had forgotten about on a high shelf for the past fifteen years. I guess they’re still viable.
I’m not sure what I’ll do with tropical trees that have the potential to grow to the diameter of a small house and live for thousands of years, but the internet suggests they are reasonable candidates for tropical bonsai.
That’s all for this Saturday. For more Six on Saturday contributions from garden bloggers around the world, head on over to the Propagator.
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
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
On the right, Eldest Offspring is trying to photograph a monarch butterfly.
3. Monarch butterfly on red Dahlia (photo by Eldest Offspring)
4. Incarvillea arguta (Himalayan gloxinia)
5. Cuphea llavea (Bat-faced 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)
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.
It has been hot and muggy this week, with highs in the mid 90s (~35 C). Because of the high humidity, there was heavy dew at night, and the moisture brought out Percy Shelley, one of the garden’s resident box turtles, early on Wednesday morning. A high point of my week was watching him stalk and eat an enormous leopard slug (although turtle vs. slug didn’t make for a very exciting pursuit). I also fed him a tomato before he disappeared back into the undergrowth–everyone needs protein and veggies for a balanced diet.
Anyway, another week has come and gone, so it is time for “Six on Saturday.” Lots of insects this week. Also, check out The Propagator for links to other garden bloggers who are participating.
1. Canna ‘Flaming Kabobs’
The color of these flowers is incredibly intense and saturated, and I love the way that they stand up on tall spikes. This canna came from the Yucca Do nursery in Texas, just before they went out of business, but the same clone is now being offered by Plant Delights.
When my son was just a little guy, he came running into the house one evening and breathlessly informed me that there were two-headed bugs on the butterfly weed. His first lesson on the birds and the bees (and the bugs) followed.
These two are on a seed follicle of Asclepias tuberosa. They feed on the immature seeds. Nymphs of the same species can be seen here.
4. Labidomera clivicollis (milkweed leaf beetle)
I’m fascinated by the way that both the milkweed bug and the milkweed leaf beetle have evolved virtually the same color scheme to warn predators that it’s not a good idea to eat insects which feed on toxic milkweed. Most people are familiar with Batesian mimicry, in which a harmless species gains protection from predators by mimicking a venomous or toxic species (e.g. scarlet king snake mimicking the venomous coral snake). The similarity of milkweed bugs and beetles is an example of Müllerian mimicry in which two toxic species that have common predators use the same warning signals. A predator that encounters one species will learn to avoid the other as well.
5. Passiflora incarnata (maypop) with Popillia japonica (Japanese beetle) and very tiny ants
The native Passiflora incarnata is basically a weed in my garden, but such a beautiful one. It spreads by underground stolons and has a tendency to completely cover small shrubs. However, the vines are very easy to pull up, so I just yank them when they get out of control and leave a few to get big so that I can enjoy the flowers. The fruit is theoretically edible, but it is insipid compared to the cultivated tropical passionfruit.
Unfortunately, Japanese beetles are eating most of the flowers right now. It will be a couple more weeks before the adult beetles lay their eggs and die, and we are free of this pest until next June.
6. Hemerocallis ‘August Flame’ with Battus philenor (pipevine swallowtail butterfly)
The butterfly is sure there is still a bit of nectar left down there…somewhere…if it can just reach…
Last Monday was Memorial Day, the traditional start of the summer holiday season in the U.S. In my garden, summer begins when the fireflies appear, and the baby hummingbirds fledge. We spotted the first fireflies a couple of weeks ago, but this week the population increased dramatically. When the sun goes down, the garden is filled with slowly flashing yellow lights as the little beetles fly up from the grass and flowerbeds.
During the day, the action is a lot more frenetic. Since early April, a few adult hummingbirds have been visiting our two feeders, which I refilled once a week or so. But suddenly there are dozens of hummers jockeying for position, and we go through a liter of sugar solution a day. Their harsh chattering and the sound of buzzing wings fills the air as they dogfight over the lawn and chase each other away from the feeder or favorite flowers. Occasionally several will settle down to drink peacefully at the same feeder (four on the small, six on the large), but it never lasts long. Another soon shows up and starts a chain reaction fight in which the tiny birds orbit the feeder like fighter ships in a Star Wars movie. I have counted ten or more at a single feeder, and the other is just as busy.
On dry, sunny roadside banks and meadows, patches of bright orange show that the blooming season of native butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) has started, and as Spigelia marilandicafinishes flowering, A. tuberosa takes over as my favorite flower in the garden.
This is one of the best insect plants that you can grow in North Carolina. Like all milkweeds, it is a food plant for the caterpillars of the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus). Monarchs are becoming very scarce, sadly, and in ten years gardening at this location, we have only had caterpillars one year. But A. tuberosa flowers provide food for bees and other butterfly species, and those are not in short supply:
When the plants are finished flowering, they attract beautifully colored milkweed bugs (Oncopeltus fasciatus) that feed on the developing seeds. But no matter; enough seed survives to float away on tufts of fluff, so that more plants appear every year.
Once planted, A. tuberosa can be tricky to transplant, because its tuberous roots grow deep and break easily. If you plant a couple of potted seedlings, they’ll cross-pollinate and give you plenty of seed that you can spread around. It seems to take about two years for seedlings to reach blooming size, and a couple more to grow a really nice clump.
Much less colorful but still elegantly beautiful, Yucca filamentosa is also blooming now. I planted it on the dry mound around our wellhead, along with the prickly pears and a few other xerophytic plants.
It was supposed to be the variegated clone, ‘Color Guard,’ but it seems to be some sort of unstable mutant. New growths come out variegated, but over the course of the year, they darken until they are indistinguishable from a wild type plant.
On the other side of the house, Hydrangea quercifolia, oakleaf hydrangea is also blooming white.
This is a southern species, with a native range centered on Alabama. It is a much more reliable bloomer than the Japanese Hydrangea macrophylla, because the new growth is less susceptible to damage by late freezes.
Some cultivated clones have inflorescences made up entirely of large sterile flowers, equivalent to mophead forms of the more familiar H. macrophylla. However, I prefer the look of wild type plants, equivalent to a lacecap H. macrophylla, with a few sterile flowers surrounding clusters of tiny fertile flowers that attract many bees.
The H. quercifolia flowers are looking their best this week, and they’ll continue to look good until the Japanese beetles, the scourge of summer, arrive to devour them. That could happen any day. I saw a few beetles this week, munching on banana leaves, but most will emerge over the next couple of weeks. If I can keep the beetles from doing too much damage to the hydrangea, its inflorescences will slowly turn pink and will be attractive until well into autumn. Eventually they’ll dry out and turn brown, but they’ll remain on the plant and, together with the peeling bark, provide winter interest.