Monarch

More Of Them This Year

The population of Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) has been dwindling down to a point of concern that they may be heading toward extinction.  With a small patch of garden, we try our best to help them by letting the Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) grow.  It’s the only plant that Monarch caterpillars eat.

Common Milkweed flowers
A male Monarch soaking up morning sunlight in early July

I didn’t grow the first milkweed.  It came to our garden around three or four years ago.  The seeds are airborne but I had not seen any milkweed around our area then, but I may have overlooked it.  Though it falls in the ‘weed’ category, I let the first one grow anyway.  Then I fell in love with its fragrance.  The first lone milkweed has grown into a large patch now and we try to keep them confined to one spot.  They can be pretty invasive; every spring I have to pull out the ones that sprouted in the middle of the lawn or flower plots.  We also let them grow in the spots that are out of the way so as not to over-crowd the other plants.

Aside from enjoying its fragrant and beautiful flowers, it’s also host to a variety of insects both friend and foe of the garden.  This year we are seeing more Monarchs so we have started to monitor them more closely.  It has taken us a few years to be registered on their homing GPS as one of their destinations.  I guess they decided that our garden is a reliable food source for their caterpillars and young adults so they lay eggs.  We were so happy and excited close to the point of obsession.  We checked on them everyday!

Laying egg under the Milkweed leaf
A fresh laid egg
A day or two old caterpillar, just the same size as a grain of rice
Munching on Milkweed leaf
A little bit older, pale green color bands changed to bright yellow
A full grown caterpillar

Only a few of them survived.  I don’t know who might eat them.  Most likely wasps have taken them for the future youngsters in their burrows.  But a few are better than none.  Hopefully the ones that were born in our garden survive the long flight to Sierra Madre, Mexico, and the winter to tell the next generation where our garden is.

A female Monarch enjoy nectar from Maximilion sunflower

View more Monarch photos at Amazingseasons

Rose Companions

Enhanced Beauty

I want our garden to resemble a natural environment as much as possible but the roses don’t seem to quite fit.  I try to incorporate roses in the garden anyway.  I love roses and I think any garden without roses is not a complete garden.  Any readers who don’t like roses and think that they are a pain to take care of, please do not take offense.  It’s just my personal take on it.

There are periods, before the roses bloom in late spring and in between blooming (for the re-bloomers) when there are nothing to see but green leaves.  I need plants to give some color to the trellises and the area adjacent to the rose bushes.  There are a few plants I found that work well for our garden and make the garden look more natural.

The first choice, as recommended by many professional gardeners, is Clematis.  They intertwine with rose branches and flower here and there between them.  For mid-spring, Clematis ‘Crystal Fountain’ is really lovely.

Clematis ‘Crystal Fountain’ blooming right next to the Rosa Rugosa ‘Foxi’ and Paul’s Himalayan Musk on the trellis, that was still budding
Clematis ‘Betty Corning’ takes the trellis next to the Rose ‘Eden’. It blooms for months if deadhead. It’s also lightly fragrant.
Clematis ‘Belle of Woking’ with Rose ‘Knockout’ and peony
White peony with Rose ‘Knockout’

Peony is another good companion for roses. Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten the name of the white one above.  But the flowers large and quite fragrant.

This peony came with the house so I don’t know the name. I just divided them and tucked them here and there.
Iris is also a good rose companion. This one is right next to the Rose ‘Jewel Topaz’ which is still budding.

A new wave of rose buds have started to emerge now, not as profuse as in late spring.  I’ll keep seeking rose companions and in the meantime, the echinacea and garden phlox are in full bloom.

 

 

Summer

Roses

I didn’t expect to stay away from posting for almost a month, time flies.  With the weather swinging like a pendulum, I find myself spending more time getting the garden in order.  By the end of the day I was too exhausted to do anything else.  But I can’t let summer passes by with out posting about roses.

The rose bushes in our garden are doing well this year.  With rain early on and cooler than normal temperatures, it’s a perfect combination for roses.  The first round of blossoms are just about to fade and just in time for the arrival of the heat and humidity.  Now it’s time to snip off the spent flowers and feed them again.

They present their representatives, below, to vouch for the caretaker that has kept them well fed and healthy.  That is why she has been MIA for a month.

‘Eden’ bloomed profusely this year and the flowers are big enough to weigh the branches down as well.
Rugosa rose ‘Hansa’ is my favorite. It’s a fast grower, produces plenty of flowers, re-blooms and is extremely fragrant. And, the honeybees love it too.
‘New Dawn’ covers the whole trellis, with red ‘Blaze’ and pink ‘Knockout’ peeking in on the sides
‘Heritage’ is also highly fragrant and re-blooms. I may have to move it to a new spot, away from the invasion of the Summersweet
‘Zephirine drouhin’ has a very interesting pink color and re-blooms throughout the season

 

Good Year For Bluebirds

Starting Their Second Brood

I think the Bluebirds are getting more comfortable with our garden now.  They no longer leave us during winter.  We provide roosting boxes, food and water in heated birdbaths when nothing much is around in winter and we help with guarding their nesting box during their breeding season.  Since they have become our resident birds, they have started their nesting early.  Last year they had two broods and this year they have already started a second brood while still feeding their chicks from the first brood.

They started the first brood in April. Once the female lays eggs, we start to monitor the nest box weekly to make sure they are fine.  Four out of five eggs hatched with the 1st brood.

May 7th – not much feathering and eyes still closed
May 14th – They are much bigger and have feathers. This was our last photo because we don’t want them to fledge too early

We stopped checking their nest box when the chicks have full feathers.  If they fledge too early, out of concern for their own safety, they could become other birds food.  So we don’t want to stress them with visits.

May 30th – The female tends to one of the chicks in between building a new nest
A couple taking a break from feeding the chicks and building a new nest
June 4th – The first egg in a new nest-second brood
Two of the babies from the first brood perching on top of new nest box
Male keeps his eyes on his chicks and the new nest too

The second nest is right by our vegetable garden and the green pole is only a couple of feet from the front of the nest box.  Hopefully there will be another three or more chicks from the second brood.

Tree Peony-Nishiki

Getting More Beautiful Every Year

We weren’t able to enjoy our tree peonies in the last two years as it was either too windy or too much rain which brought down the flowers as soon as they opened up.  This year, though we had a lot of rain, there was a brief period without and it coincided with the tree peony blooming. Not just us enjoying the flowers, the bees were also busy collecting pollen from them.

The flowers are so big, they weigh the branches down a little
Each flower is around 7-8″ in diameter

We have only two tree peonies in our garden as they grow very large and don’t like to be moved once established.  The ‘Nishiki’ has been with us for 10 years and is around 3.5 feet tall.  It usually produces around 15 to 20 flowers each spring.  We look forward to seeing how many flowers it will produce each year since it produces more flowers as it gets older.

One on top of the other
Close up
Looks beautiful even when it’s fading

It’s a flower that’s worth growing.  It’s not fussy and doesn’t need much attention, however, it’s a slow grower.  The beauty of the flowers make it worth the wait.

New Hives

Starting Over Again After Six Years

We still can’t figure out what happened to our honeybees.  They were gone, without a trace last winter.  There was plenty of honey still stored in each hive but just a few dead bees in there, most of them were young bees.  There was no foul smell in any of the hives and the frames looked clean.  After six years of tending them, they were gone in one season.  We also haven’t seen very many wild bees lately either.  So far just some Carpenter bees and Mason bees.  Not even a Bumblebee.

We think we might have been hit either by the CCD (Colony-collapse Disorder) or Zombees (Apocephalus borealis) but it could be anything at this point.  As discouraged as we are we won’t give up.  We received three new packages of bees to start over with.  The first two came in mid-April but we had to keep them in their boxes for a few more days after we received them.  The weather wasn’t on our side to hive them, either raining, too cold or to windy.  We sprayed sugar syrup on the screens a few times a day to keep them well fed while they remained confined.  We were finally able to hive them on April 23, freedom at last.

The first two packages, we were so happy to see them
Anxious to get out
Poured them in the super after attaching the queen box. I kept the corrugated sheet under the base to keep them warm since the weather is still on the cold side.
Added a top tray feeder filled with sugar syrup. I adapted this tray feeder by adding fine screen mesh on top of the floating bars to prevent bees drowning. It works very well.
Two new hives. I left the empty packages in front of the hive so the bees that are still in the box can find their way to new home

We did the first inspection of these two new hives ten days later, May 2nd.  Each hive had freed their queens and built comb.  Both top tray feeders were empty.  There was some pollen as well.  We couldn’t see the queens but didn’t want to stress them further by searching for her.  Over all there are good signs that they have settled in to their new homes.  We removed the top tray feeders and changed to bottle feeders instead because they had built comb between the feeder gap and inside one of the feeders.

It’s a beautiful sight to see on the first inspection. Bees are busy building combs and some pollen.
Very busy at the entrance

It’s been raining almost everyday with the temperature hovering a little above 50°F on the days that we are home.  As a result, since the 1st inspection, we haven’t have a chance to check on their feeders again.  I think we will have to continue feeding them until the weather condition is improved.

The third package came in on May 5th and I was able to hive them that evening.  This particular package is much calmer than the first two, maybe because they weren’t in confinement for a long time like the first two packages.

The third hive

Hopefully these three new hives will survive the season.  My fear is not just the CCD now but the commercial elimination of mosquitos and ticks that is encroaching into the neighborhood.  Any sensible person knows that spraying insecticide will not just kill mosquitos and ticks but all insects that come into contact.  But advertisement and convenience seem to trump commonsense.  So we set the new hives further inside our property and will keep our fingers crossed.

Primrose

Beauty With Low Maintenance

When crocuses and daffodils start to fade, primroses take the baton and continue running, coloring our garden.  I’ve been planting different colors of primrose in our garden for the last few years and continue to look for new colors every year.  There are many types of primrose but not many are hardy enough for our USDA zone so my choice is a little limited.

What I like about primrose is that they are pretty and low maintenance.  Once I put one in the garden they tend to thrive being fed only once a year, in spring, and with a little mulching.  The only potentially deadly problem for primrose, at least in our garden, are the slugs.  Since they are low to the ground and tend to like moist soil, it’s easy to reach for the slugs.  They can make a clump of primrose disappear in a few days.

Our previous neighbor gave us a couple of these primroses a few years ago. Now we have a large clump.
Close up
Tiny & bright yellow
These yellow primroses are large and much closer to the ground
Shocking pink with yellow contrast
White
Multi colored

The orange and purple striped ones were devoured by the slugs.  The green one is still budding, not yet open and we’re hoping the slugs miss it too.  For a couple of weeks or so, we have a very welcome primrose color all over our garden.