hello, butterflies (with a little help from a friend)

spicebush swallowtailI’M SELFISH; it’s true–oh, and lazy, too. I sit back and let a giant stand of tall verbena, Verbena bonariensis, sow itself each year just beyond the window I face as I work indoors. Starting sometime in July and lasting into September, as if they’d been sent hand-engraved invites, the butterflies (and skippers, and moths) start floating in, nectaring on the purple flowers while putting on a show for me each afternoon–and even allowing for photo ops while they fuel up.

Giant SwallowtailSpurred onward by my friend Andy Brand, founder of the nearby Connecticut state butterfly association and manager of Broken Arrow Nursery, I’m trying to get more confident with the names of at least the most usual suspects here: Cabbage white, mourning cloak, spring azure, Eastern tiger swallowtail, spicebush swallowtail (top photo), giant swallowtail (above), monarch, great spangled fritillary (below), and so on.

Great Spangled FritillaryAndy will be my co-leader of a Sept. 17 workshop event in the garden, where our focus includes upping the connection of birds and butterflies and pollinators in your garden; details at this link or in the box down below. At my garden Open Day last weekend, Andy was here, and as usual he urged me onward.

“I saw a red-spotted purple and a common ringlet and a sulphur, plus two monarchs,” he said, despite the fact that he’d been down in the driveway selling plants all day to hundreds of visitors, answering questions and generally hectic. I’m not sure I’d have noticed a black bear if it had come through the gate, we were so busy–but there Andy is, ever vigilant, seeing unknown-to-me butterflies everywhere. Once the last guest had left, he walked me up into my own backyard to see if he could introduce me to those two new Lepidopteran faces. Amazing.

black swallowtail caterpillar closeupAt other moments, I know the black swallowtail visits, too, because I regularly see its caterpillar (above). Two monarchs–including the one below–have spent the last few afternoons enjoying my “garden” of volunteer verbena (you know, the bed I toil ceaselessly over and take full credit for…not).

MOnarch 2And of course there are the Eastern tiger swallowtails, including one raggedy individual I photographed badly yesterday (below). This year I saw the first incoming migrants in April.

Eastern SwallowtailApparently life as a butterfly is rough work and also can involve a lot of travel.

more inspiration from my friend andy

join us sept. 17 for garden workshops

unmown back hillside fall 2014ANDY BRAND of Broken Arrow Nursery and I will do two half-day sessions of what we call “Open Day-Plus,” an alternative to my big self-guided tour events in the garden in Copake Falls, New York. I wish I could walk every visitor around personally at those—and answer every question. But that’s impossible.

Many visitors have asked me to take it to the next level. Now Broken Arrow Nursery—they always do plant sales at my big Open Days—and I are offering smaller, ticketed, workshop-style events and sales on September 17 lasting a half-day each, with lots of individual attention. Our spring version sold out fast; space is very limited. Ticket includes $25 Broken Arrow shopping credit at the plant sale.

Tour with me, Margaret, focusing on how I made a garden for the birds (60-plus species visit yearly); my maybe-too-crazy obsession with gold foliage; my passion for great groundcovers; the “meadow” I’ve cultivated by observing carefully and mowing differently; and most of all, my intimate relationship with the place that goes way beyond aesthetics.

Andy will help us learn to discover the not-so-obvious details in the garden—not just plants!—and he’s also got an eye for improved versions of great natives for gardens, how to up the bird, butterfly and pollinator connection, plus we’ll learn some standout native plants and their features, use, and tips for successful culture….and more.

Categoriesinsects & worms
  1. Wow, time to try Verbena again, although I don’t know if it’s quite hardy enough for me to reseed here in Zone 5a. The great spangled fritillary, both male and female forms (Speyeria cybele and S. leto) are avid about the bull thistle too. Let some weeds reseed, if you possibly can.

    1. margaret says:

      I do encourage some of my important native weeds at the fringe of the property, giving them each a good space to grow happily, like jewelweed, clearweed, and a whole meadow of goldenrods and native grasses and sedges and such, yes. Even poison ivy!

  2. Rita Waage says:

    The swallowtails equally love phlox. We are near Rock Island, Il., in a rural addition with 9 lots of 6 acres or more, our 6.5 acres has an EW creek emptying into Mud Creek and a NS watershed, Mud creek, emptying into the Green River 1/8 mile N, which empties into the Rock River which then empties into the Mississippi very near Blackhawk State Park at south end of Rock Island.

    The lower 1/3 of our property and those on either side, have a drop of 35 ‘ from the higher portion, it includes a rain garden and meadow along the creek bed. Horsetail reed, an assortment of thistles, milkweeds, jewel weed, sedges, hops, wild grapes and wild clematis abound (which is blooming now and smells heavenly), as do the butterflies, bees, birds, bats, turtles, snakes and mammals including fox, fisher, assorted weasels. otters, bank beaver, deer and turkey.

    Trees galore and shrubs planted mainly for the birds as shelter and food (ninebark, hollies, crabs, berries, cherries). Native trees include haws, thorn apples, wild apples, swamp locust, black cherry, willows, boxelders, lots of chokecherry, elderberry and mulberry. Try to keep it wild and enjoy the natural surroundings. The Jerusalem artichokes, cup plant, Maximillion sunflowers, sunflowers all aglow and the solidasters and fall asters starting in. Queen-Ann-Lace and chicory still blooming in the sage, a play of contrasts.

  3. Jan says:

    I grow parsley each year not just for cooking but because the plant is always filled with Black Swallowtail caterpillar. They appeared today.:)

  4. d says:

    Any tips on growing the verbena? Mine took a long time to bloom from volunteer seedlings, it just started this week. Is that normal?

  5. Chris Carlson says:

    I planted six of these verbena plants years ago and have not had to plant another one since. They reseed on the border of being pests! And it can get very cold in the winter in Salt Lake City. Give it a try.

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