Wednesday, August 20, 2008

From the Mighty to the Tiny

The awards have been presented, and . . . drum roll, please . . . the Gold Medal goes to Mighty Oak! Yes, the Gardening Olympics are over, and to my surprise, Mighty Oak received one of the three gold medals handed out. It's truly an overwhelming feeling to stand on the podium with that medal and hear all the cheering from the commenters. Thank you to all of you who supported us. It just shows that you can achieve your dreams if you work hard enough and wait long enough . . . like 100 years. I didn't want to appear too greedy, but I had hoped this might lead to some endorsement contracts. But Mighty Oak is the strong, silent type and feels being paid would diminish the integrity of the Olympics.

I must admit to feeling a bit sheepish after getting this award. Unlike the other competitors who worked hard to grow the perfect tomato or who demonstrated superior form in deadheading or hoeing, I cannot take any credit for this entry. I did not plant him--I may feel rather old some mornings, but I'm not that old. Nor does he ask for any special care; I merely see that his home is free of clutter and add a few bright posies at his feet during the summer. So all the credit goes to him.

Thanks to Idahogardener for sponsoring the Gardening Olympiad. She received many favorable comments and requests to make this a yearly event; if she does, I suspect there will be many more entries next year with the increased publicity. Sadly, Mighty Oak has no plans to compete again; one medal is enough reward, he says. He plans to retire to a farm (no, he's not going to Disneyland!) where he will spend his days peacefully watching the clouds go by and providing shelter for his flocks of birds.

When I finally came down from the clouds and returned to reality after cyber-hopping to Idaho and to the UK to visit VP (more on that below), I discovered that many small creatures have begun to invade my garden--most of them good, but a few I'm not so sure about. The weather here the last week and a half has been beautiful, with comfortable temperatures and no rain. But one morning last week I woke to a heavy fog and spotted this spiderweb hanging from the redbud tree.

The spider must have been off hunting, but his prey was safely imprisoned in gossamer chains. The heavy dew made it possible to see this web from 20 feet away.

After seeing the spiderweb, I thought it would be a good idea to look beyond and underneath the blooms to see what else had come to spend some time in my garden. This green bug was quite attractive, but I wasn't sure whether he was friend or foe.

Upon closer inspection, I discovered some of the leaves of the bleeding heart that he was resting on had been stripped. No doubt he was the culprit; I wasn't going to take any chances, so I promptly dispatched him to bug heaven.

The more I thought about this green insect, I became worried that he might actually be an emerald ash borer. The emerald ash borer is no laughing matter: it has attacked thousands of ash trees throughout the country. There is nothing that can be done to rid the tree of an infestation, so ultimately the tree is destroyed. Arborists and entomologists in Illinois are checking ashes diligently and closely monitoring their migration. If they would come to our area it could mean a huge loss of trees, as the ash has been a popular planting here for some years.

I checked out websites and found that, thankfully, this is not an emerald ash borer. I also checked on "What's That" and scrolled through pages and pages of beetles, but could not identify this insect. Any ideas? Perhaps it's not even a beetle.
Another mystery bug was resting on a sweet potato vine. I thought this might be another assassin bug, like the one I pictured in July, but when I compared the two pictures, they looked quite different. I'm not sure what an assassin bug eats--I keep looking for a tiny violin case with a concealed machine gun, but I haven't found one yet:)

Now this guy I can identify...

The cicadas have been out in full force for the last few weeks. I've been keeping the windows open during these cooler nights, and the cicadas have been serenading me to sleep every night.
And, of course, the bees are still busy here. This bumblebee had to be the hugest bumble I've ever seen! They do love that purple salvia. Perhaps one of our resident bee experts, like Cheryl, can tell me if this is a different variety of bumblebee.

On Sunday I noticed a small praying mantis in my zinnias--it looked like a baby, but it had turned brown. I took some close-ups, but unfortunately, I didn't have my glasses on, so they all turned out blurry. But I was much more successful in capturing this larger green one...

You can't tell from the photo, but he was at least two inches long. He's still green, so I am wondering if he is still an adolescent. Again, can you experts help me out here? Praying mantises have to be one of the easiest insects to photograph--they don't move very fast! And they are always welcome in my garden: like the toads and the dragonflies, they eat other insects, so I am always happy to see them. What was amazing, though, as I was positioning my camera for the best shot, I noticed not only this mantis, but others as well in the same plant. I counted 5 in all on this one Russian Sage! Never have I seen more than one praying mantis at a time.

And then in the same plant, there were the "usual suspects" hiding out. I wonder if this grasshopper is responsible for the holes in the leaves in many of my plants.

It's definitely butterfly season here. I have been trying very hard to capture some of them in photos, but it's not easy as I thought, despite Beckie's tips. I'm afraid I don't know the names of many butterflies, including this white one. These are in abundance around the garden here, but very difficult to photograph because they flutter about and stop for only a second on each flower.

The most common colorful butterfly here is this one, whose name I thought I knew but have now forgotten. They will land on the globe of a coneflower and drink and drink--making it much easier to photograph!

I have seen a few Monarchs and a lovely blue and black butterfly, but so far neither of them stay to visit very long. I hope to get pictures of them before the summer is over. But I did manage to capture two beauties, which someone can surely identify for me.

Isn't he a beauty? Not much of a close-up, but I liked the effect of the lavendar flowers of the Russian sage as a backdrop.

And this is some type of swallowtail, isn't it? I almost entered him in the Gardening Olympics--his balancing act on the nepeta has to rate him a 10! I really need to buy a butterfly book so I can identify all these.

Someone recently asked in their post what each of us had learned from the garden this year. I have definitely learned to take the time to notice the small details, including appreciating the insect world. And I've also learned that certain plants are the most popular attractions for the bees and the butterflies. The purple coneflower has always been billed as a butterfly and bee magnet, which has been confirmed this year. But Russian Sage and the perennial salvias are just as popular. What other plants would you recommend?

Note: I want to encourage everyone to visit Vegplotting sometime during the next few weeks. VP has opened her gardens for a virtual tour as a fundraiser for Water Aid, which provides clean water for impoverished areas around the world. The tour is free, though, and certainly worth your time: VP has to be one of the busiest and most knowledgable gardeners I "know," and she has put in a lot of time preparing for this tour. This is a rare chance to see a beautiful English garden and to donate to a worthwhile cause, if you wish. You won't want to miss it!


  1. Congratulations to Mighty Oak! A deserving Medal winner if ever there was one. Your pictures of the mystery bugs are great. Now we just need someone to identify them. What's That Bug is interesting, but a little hard to find what you want. We(the girls and I) tried several times to get butterfly pictures. But most all turned out blurry-they do move fast. We saw several little Praying Mantis and I am wondering if they aren't another type. Maybe that's what the brown one is. I think I have learned to see the small and know I have learned to appreciate nature more.

    Girls Day Out sounds great! Maybe a garden center or two and of course the Idea Garden-and how about the trails at that park you visited? Do we notice a pattern here? :) My how we have changed. A few years ago it would have been the malls and any store with a sale!

  2. Well firstly congrats to the might Oak.....wonderful majestic trees, supporting insects and birds and keeping our air clean.....well done.....

    Although your bees are different from ours, to me that looks as though it may be a carder bee.....

    Here in the UK we have a lot of threats to our trees......we have bugs and viruses that are being brought in from abroad and causing many problems......I try to keep my trees as healthy as I can but at the end of the day it is all down to luck.....
    Your bugs are different to ours......grasshoppers eat insects, I have never seen any damage to plants here caused by the little creatures....

    The green bug that is now sitting on a cloud somewhere in bug heaven.......looks like our common shield bug, if that is the case (and I would be interested to know, if you identify it) they do little damage to foliage.....

    Where bugs are concerned encouraging birds into the garden (especially starlings) will help reduce the problem......they will eat the bugs.....also certain beetles are great for disposing of some of the bugs.....creating balance in a garden makes a world of difference.....

    I love the praying mantis.....I would just love to see them in my garden....I really would...

    Great post and lovely spiders web.....

  3. Congrats to the mighty oak! Loved all the insects. I like verbena bonarienisis to attract butterflies and others. I plan to take that virtual tour soon.

  4. A hearty congratulations to the Mighty Oak! A very deserving prize for such a grand tree.
    I love your picture of the Russian Sage and butterfly. That is just gorgeous.

  5. Congratulations to Mighty Oak! He has just the perfect place to stand doesn't he?
    I think the last two butterflies are called Tiger Swallowtail and Black Swallowtail. We used to get them a lot when I had zinnias. I'll have to plant them again so I can enjoy those butterflies!

  6. You do deserve the award for the Mighty Oak: you didn't cut it down, you didn't top it, you didn't bury it in mulch, you didn't nail anything to the trunk and you didn't hang anything from its branches. You have been an excellent steward to this grand old tree, and that, in my book deserves an award. I think your common butterfly is a Painted Lady.

  7. Dear Rose,
    Mighty Oak is a giant among trees! Yours is beautiful!
    Let's see...the Beetle is called a Fig Beetle. I also have them and I do not ever see damage...they are ground nesters. They like the orange slices I put out for the orioles and the butterflies.
    I think they are beautiful.
    There are lots of different mantids, my bug book has seven different ones.
    Your beautiful yellow Tiger Swallowtail does look beautiful on the sage.
    Lots of fun bugs!

  8. I just knew your Oak was mighty and would bring home the gold! Your care and loving stewardship has shown!

    Aren't the creatures that live in our gardens wonderfully fascinating...even awesome! Yesterday the first caterpillar of the Black Swallowtail showed up on the parsley! I grow it for them! It's very exciting. Frances, of Faire Garden, who has been visiting pointed out a Gulf Fritillary, so I am going to try to photograph a few. A butterfly book would be a good present for loved ones to give gardeners! Does your dear husband read your comments section;> Too funny aren't I?


  9. Beckie, Sherry says below that there are different types of mantises; that makes sense. One of these days I'm going to check out a butterfly and insect ident. book.
    Your ideas sound good--we've gotten wiser (but not older) through the years:)

    Cheryl, We probably do have different species of insects. Sherry said the green beetle might be a fig beetle, which eats different fruits. He seemed to like my bleeding heart, though. The grasshoppers here do eat leaves, and a large amount of them can cause damage to the soybeans grown around here.
    My 5-year-old granddaughter was so fascinated with the praying mantises yesterday--she even identified it without me telling her what it was!

  10. That is really interesting Rose about the grasshoppers eating the foliage...I love to learn from other people....tku.....

  11. Tina, I've seen the verbena mentioned on several blogs; I'll have to check it out.

    Cindy, Thanks from the oak & on the butterfly photo. I liked that one, too!

    Joyce, He is like the sentinel at the front of our yard. I thought they were swallowtails,but wasn't sure.

    MMD, Thanks--I hadn't thought of it that way. Sometime I'll have to write about a TV show I saw recently where a professional house "flipper" proceeded to cut down a big, beautiful tree so that potential buyers could "see" the house. Horrible!

    Sherry, Perhaps I was too hasty in dispatching the beetle--he really was quite pretty. Thanks for all the i.d.'s; I knew I could count on you:) Interesting about the mantises--I want to learn more about them.

    Gail, A butterfly book would make an excellent gift. My husband doesn't read my blog, let alone the comments:) How fun that Frances is visiting!

    Cheryl, You're welcome. I've certainly learned a lot from you!

  12. You have caught some great bug shots there, Small Sprog will be plaeased!!
    We don't have Swallow Tails here (thank goodness because I'm not keen on fluttery things, especially when they're big)but I like to look at them in pictures!!
    Your camera takes good shots , or rather you do with it:)
    Hope your time away is good. 'See' you next week
    Suburbia x

  13. Congratulations to you and the mighty oak. Quite deserving medal winners!

    I also love the sound of the singing cicadas on warm summer nights.

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

  14. It is pretty great you and Beckie are lifelong friends and both blog. That is so awesome!

  15. I'm scratchin' myself lookin' at the bugs since your photos look so real! Great photos, Rose, and though not as lovely as the singing cicadas, I'm still singing in praise of your award!

  16. Hi Rose....just popped over to say have a great weekend, hope the weather stays fine....

    Mr P and our son are flying out to Valencia this weekend to see the Spanish Grand Prix....we have friends there so they will stay with them......I shall spend endless hours in the garden.....lovely.....

  17. Good morning Rose. Love your butterflies. I think you have a painted lady, a tiger swallowtail and a black swallowtail.

    My phlox are attracting lots of swallowtails now. They are so beautiful.

  18. Congratultions, That was an incredible write up. I enjoyed every minute of it. : )

    Oh the pic of the purple flowers with the butteryfly. It is breathtaking. And that is one georgeous spiderweb.

    I didn't know there was a website that identifies bugs! That is great. Maybe now I can figure out my little green thing.

  19. Beautiful pictures as usual. Love the bugs and the spiders web.
    Congratulations on Mighty Oak.

  20. Rose, I just remembered that years ago I read that pioneers used to plant "Mr. and Mrs." oak trees in their front yards, so that the two oaks stood there as representatives of the married couple that built the house. Isn't that a neat thought? Did your property ever have a second white oak? If it did, maybe it was the mate of this one.

  21. I love oaks too even though I'm a bit allergic to the pollen. I enjoyed the contrasting scale of this post. It is fun to look up and down in the garden.

  22. I'm so glad Mr. Oak won! I was really rooting for him. Your bugs are pretty, even though some of them can be a menace. I hope I can convince my husband to go with me to a bug program tomorrow in Pope County. It's sponsored by the Shawnee Audubon Society. I would like to learn more about the creepy-crawlies and how to coexist peacefully with them in the garden, if that's at all possible. Forget about it in the house, though! I have to draw the line somewhere.

  23. Just having enough appreciation for the tree to enter it should count for something, Rose!

    Maybe your green insect could be something in the same group with this Green June Beetle?

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  24. Hi Rose, Congrats to the Mighty Oak for his Gold Medal winning. You have been blessed by this big guy. All that shade and he is quite the handsome dude too.

    You have quite the plethora of bugs. I think the big green bug is a June bug. The other is some kind of assassin bug. There are hundreds of them. Not a bad bug to have in the garden. It eats garden pests.

  25. Well done! I've really enjoyed reading this post. From the mighty to the tiny it truly is!

    I wanted to thank you for taking the time to visit me last Wednesday and leave such kind words. It helped.

  26. Thanks to everyone for your comments. I haven't been around much the last few days to read or comment, so I've got some catching up to do! The green "bug" does seem to be some kind of fig beetle. It's easy to see we all appreciate the old majestic trees.

  27. Hi Rose, Congratulations on the medal! The mighty oak is certainly deserving. They're such majestic trees, and yours is gorgeous.

    What a wonderful spiderweb! It looks like lace.

  28. Hi Rose, many hearty hear hears! for your gold medal. The oak is my favorite tree, I love acorns and am in awe of this magnicficent specimen. It looks like your butterflies and insects have been ID'd, but I agree the first is a painted lady and everyone knew the swallowtails. I keep my butterfly guide by the computer at all times for that quick ID, and it shows the caterpillars too.

  29. Congrats to Mighty Oak! I knew it would win!!!


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