I had planned to join Plant Postings' seasonal meme on lessons learned in the garden this past autumn. Since I didn't make the December 20 deadline, I'm going to look back at the year overall and focus on one special aspect of the garden that has become more and more appealing to me.
I've learned that a garden isn't just for me--it supports a host of wildlife who enjoy it--and need it--just as much as I do. The creatures who inhabit or visit the garden have taught me as many valuable lessons as planting and weeding have.
Lesson #1: Even the seemingly ordinary can contain small miracles. I was pruning the Knockout roses this spring when I noticed this strange growth on one of the branches. A quick photo was taken and compared to internet images; sure enough, this is a mantis egg case, the first I'd ever seen. Unfortunately, I didn't notice an abundance of praying mantises this year, compared to past years, but I'm sure they were around, had I continued to pay more careful attention.
Another small miracle that I did pay more careful attention to was this dove nesting in the old lilac. My husband first noticed her while mowing, and pointed out her nest to me as well as to the grandkids when they visited.
She seemed unperturbed by our attention, and since her nest was just a foot above eye level, it was easy to see. We watched the amazing miracle over the next few weeks as she cared for the babies who emerged until they became fledglings who eventually left the nest.
Lesson #2: Sometimes we're too busy focusing on the task at hand to notice what is right in front of our faces. I know I'm not the only one who has photographed a flower only to discover when I downloaded my pictures a little winged creature I hadn't even noticed at the time.
I enjoy watching the bees busily flying about in my garden, but they're not the easiest creatures to photograph, especially honeybees and the smaller bees. I always think it's serendipity when one pauses at just the right second as the camera shutter clicks.
Lesson #3: Just as with the garden, there is always something new to be learned when it comes to wildlife. While I know we have had foxes around our farm before, this summer was the first time one ventured close enough for me to see it on a regular basis. For a month or two, she/he (and oftentimes with its mate) would stroll across the front yard every evening before disappearing into the cornfield.
Despite the fox's often unsavory reputation in fables and fairy tales, I think they're beautiful creatures. I spent many a summer evening watching her as she watched me, each keeping our distance.
Lesson #4: Even the smallest of creatures often knows more about Nature than I do. The woolly worm is a weather prognosticator for many of us. When I saw several of these this fall, I decided I'd better be prepared for a bad winter--the black head and tail, according to folklore, means a cold beginning and end to winter with a lot of snow in between. So far, his forecast has been accurate.
Lesson #5: There is a reason I leave most of the garden standing over the winter instead of cutting back everything in the fall.
Fall is always such a busy time that I never complete all my projects anyway, but I often consider doing some cutting back just to make things look a little tidier through the cold months. The goldfinches, however, confirmed my decision--dried seedheads have their own usefulness and beauty.
Lesson #6: Patience. Although this lesson is taught over and over again in the garden, there is nothing quite like trying to photograph a hummingbird to teach you patience. I've tried for years to get a decent photo of a hummingbird in flight and finally managed to get a couple this year. The pictures weren't that great, but I was happy.
These little birds just fascinate me. It was a great year for hummingbirds, and I spent many hours watching them dance in the air and holding one-sided conversations with them. We had a warm fall, and they stayed longer than usual--into late September. I hope they arrived safely at their winter homes, and I hope they remembered the chatty lady on the porch who will have the feeders ready for them again this summer.
Lesson #7: Optimism. While it was a great year for hummingbirds, it wasn't such a great year for butterflies.
So few appeared this summer that I was beginning to worry what had happened to them all. Finally, as summer turned into fall, Painted Ladies, Red Admirals, and Buckeyes came to visit the garden, reminding me to never give up hope.
Fall also brought visits from my favorite butterfly and my favorite photo from 2013. What is it about the majestic Monarch that fascinates us so? The scientific research about its life cycle and yearly migration is certainly interesting, but even without that, I am in awe of its beauty. Nothing makes me stop to really live in the moment as does the appearance of a Monarch.
The wildlife that visited my garden this past season taught me many lessons, but most of all they taught me to appreciate all the little miracles of Nature and to really live in the moment. I look forward to their return this spring, but in the meantime there are the winter birds to watch . . .
. . . and, of course, the "wildlife" that live here year-round.
Wishing you all a year filled with new experiences in your garden and the joy and peace that Nature can bring.