Inviting Visitors to the Garden
When we plant our gardens at Grace and Gratitude, we are always thinking about who will come to visit, and will they appreciate what we have planted?
It’s like preparing for house guests... are there enough towels in the guest bathroom? Are there pretty flowers on the nightstand? And are the books you placed by the reading chair ones they might like? You want your guests to enjoy their visit because you look forward to them coming again.
But when it comes to guests visiting our gardens, the check list is much different. Our thoughts might be these: Are there enough nectar-rich plants that will bloom at consecutive times? Is there enough color to be enticing? Have I provided some shade? Did I plant some trap plants? Are there sources of clean water and a shallow mud puddle even, and are there plenty of welcoming food sources that will encourage repeat visits to our gardens?
Although we enjoy family and friends who visit, its nature’s pollinators and their extended family of good, as well as bad bugs, we strive to please in our gardens.
Raising honey bees has given us a wealth of knowledge and pleasure. If I’m picking flowers for our market bouquets and I happen to see a honey bee on the flower I am about to pick, I move on and let it bee (pun intended). I picture that honey bee not only heavily laden with pollen on her legs, but also with the weight of our eco-system upon her small-yet-strong back. I want to reach out and help her, but I know she is totally capable of carrying the wealth of the weight upon her. She moves quickly from flower to flower gathering pollen to bring to the hive, all the while pollinating as she goes. Honey bees are a necessity to our food supply.
If you plant it, they will come!
Hummingbirds and butterflies are attracted to bright colors. Tubular flowers are preferred by hummingbirds. Pineapple sage, with its bright red stalks of tubular flowers, are a favorite. In fact all of the sages and salvias are a welcome sign to both butterflies and hummingbirds. From common culinary garden sage or fancier culinary tricolor sage with its variegated leaves and purple-blue flower, to black and blue or Victoria blue salvia. and especially our Gregii salvias all are magnets to hummingbirds.
A butterfly will lay several eggs as it lands with hope and faith that some of those eggs will hatch and begin the second stage of life of the butterfly. Once the egg hatches and the caterpillar, or larva, begins its second part of the butterfly’s life cycle it has one goal...to eat, eat, and eat some more!
This is why the wording on our parsley sign each year reads, “Two for the butterfly one for the cook!” I am always a bit discouraged when someone asks, “How can I kill the caterpillars on my parsley?” What!!?? If you see a caterpillar - or four or five - eating your parsley, I hope you can take a deep breath and sigh. Instead of being upset about your parsley, smile and feel honored that a butterfly chose your garden to lay her eggs. Be proud of yourself for supporting the butterfly population. You can certainly exist without that parsley, but the truth is the caterpillar cannot. We tuck parsley, dill, and fennel in the ground at random in all of our flower beds as food supply for the upcoming generation of magnificent butterfly.
As I sit writing this on the screened in porch I quickly lean to the right as the corner of my left eye catches something I think has flown by me. I stand up to look behind me wondering, “What was that!”, but there is no need to turn around. As quickly as it came in I see it flying back out the screen door... a little lost-it’s-way hummingbird. I’m so pleased this feathered friend quickly realized his, “oops, wrong turn, see ya!” and didn’t become bewildered.
Was this surprising appearance an accident? Or was I being reminded the hummer feeders need to be refilled today? I never underestimate nature’s creatures, both great and small. Sometimes their voice can be heard by simply observing an action.
Back to the butterfly, stage three... when the caterpillar reaches full size and weight, it forms a chrysalis which it will live inside while transforming into a butterfly. Monarchs cannot survive without Asclepias, milkweed, as a food source
A Mother butterfly is particular about what plant she lays her eggs on, as once the caterpillar hatches, it eats immediately. Once the butterfly releases itself from the chrysalis it will immediately search for a mate. Like her mother, a female butterfly will lay her eggs on the milkweed so the life cycle begins anew.
Swallowtail butterflies will do the same, but use parsley or dill or fennel to lay their eggs on. Please plant a milkweed for the monarchs.
It’s always exciting to see a praying mantis hiding out in the garden because of our their unique look. How cute are tiny red ladybugs scooting up a plant stem- even though they are a sure sign you also have some bad pests hanging out too. After all, they need to eat and without food they would move on.
The only down side to a praying mantis is that they do not discriminate between eating bad pests or good insects. Having a voracious appetite they will happily devour beetles, snack on your thrips, catch those moths, consume vast swaths of aphids; but they will also eat a lacewing or a caterpillar or anything in their path. Because of this characteristic a praying mantis is considered a generalist rather than a beneficial insect. We don’t mind though, it’s one if those lessons in life about taking the good with the bad. Praying mantis only produce once a year unlike other insects that produce several times a year. They don’t reproduce quick enough to keep up to population spikes of pests so they are classified as having negligible value for pest control in a garden. On any account, if you have praying mantis living in your garden you have succeeded in reaching a friendly eco/system. Good work!
Lady bugs primarily eat aphids. Unless you spray (which we don’t) aphids will surely find your garden. One single lady bug can eat about 50 aphids per day or 5000 in its lifetime. We introduce ladybugs to our greenhouse once a year in late spring, just about the time aphids get the urge to visit. Besides aphids, ladybugs will eat mites, scale, or any soft shelled insect.
Trap plants are another useful friendly tool in the garden. We love borage for this reason. And aphids love borage! We plant this edible flower with its beautiful star shaped try blue flowers at the edge of a garden row. Because of its juicy tenderness, aphids will heavily congregate there rather than on other vegetable plants. Its big, broad leaves are easy to turn over, and wipe away whole populations of aphids, rather than sleuthing them out all over the garden.
We use nasturtiums not only because we live the look and live to eat the flowers but because of their big leaves and mounding habit they serve as hideouts for good bugs like ladybugs while they wait for their favorite prey.
We have been gardening the property at Grace and Gratitude for six years now. In that amount of time our gardens have begun to finally come into their own so to speak and our visitors... well we welcome them all as diversity makes for a balanced life for all.