Monday, September 26, 2016

Lessons Learned From the Back Porch

The autumnal equinox arrived this past Thursday without much fanfare.  The weatherman on the local TV station talked about it, of course, but then apologized for the continuing heat in the forecast.  I did go out and buy some pansies and a few other fall annuals to replace the awful-looking dead petunias next to my front door, but  I didn't get carried away.  It's hard to think of pumpkins and mums when it's 90 degrees outside.

The asters and goldenrod apparently got the notice that it is autumn.
By the time I get this posted, however, the weather is supposed to change, with more reasonable temperatures in the 70's this week, and I won't have anything to complain about anymore--ha!  While I wait for those welcome cooler days, it's a good time to sit down and reflect on the past season for Beth's seasonal meme "Lessons Learned in the Garden."

While I'm sure I learned many new things this past season, my mind is drawing a blank.  The problem is that by mid-July, I lost all my motivation for serious gardening.  By that time I was tired of constantly pulling weeds: the consistent rain this season was a blessing, but at the same time it meant the weeds flourished, too.  After an hour or two of weeding or trimming or picking green beans, the sweat was rolling into my eyes, and I gave up.  I guess that means I've learned that I am a fair-weather gardener--if it's hot and buggy, I'm staying indoors.

Instead of doing much actual garden work for the past two months, I have spent a lot of time on my front porch noting all that has to be done and making plans for those perfect "somedays" when the temps are are in the 70's, the bugs have stopped biting, and I'm full of energy.

From my shady perch on the porch swing, I can easily see the coneflowers when they're in full bloom and get a partial view of the lily bed and even the arbor bed beyond that.

If I stand up and crane my neck a little, I can even see parts of the shade garden as well.  The best part about this viewing at a distance is that I don't really see the weeds or the deadheading that needs to be done, and I can just relax and procrastinate to my heart's content.

With several planters on or near the front porch, I have much to enjoy close-up as well, such as this hibiscus.  Fortunately, the only upkeep these planters require is frequent watering, which I do pretty faithfully since it doesn't mean working up a sweat.

Besides looking at what is blooming, my place on the porch gives me a great vantage point for watching all the visitors to my garden.  When the coneflowers bloom, the nearby sidewalk garden is alive with butterflies.  And with only a few short steps, I can get up close to observe and photograph them.

Once the coneflowers have faded, the butterflies are replaced by the goldfinches who are constantly feeding on their seedheads.  From the porch's front step I can zoom out with the camera to get a photo if I'm lucky.

The porch gives me a great vantage point, too, for observing all kinds of bird activity throughout the seasons besides the goldfinches, from hawks swooping through the air looking for prey to cardinals feasting on the tiny crabapples.  But my favorite bird activity is only a few feet away as the hummingbirds visit the feeder just beyond the swing.

I love watching them hover in the air and then battle each other for rights to the feeder.  And if I happen to have my camera and am very, very quick, I might just get lucky enough to get one decent photo of them all summer feeding at one of their favorites, the 'Black and Blue' Salvia.

Sometimes I don't even have to look very far as bees visit the planters on the porch or even more fascinating creatures come for a short while.  Yes, you never know who will come to visit!

Tiny syrphid flies are just one of the many pollinating insects to be found in the garden.
Looking through all these photos, I am reminded that I have learned another lesson this summer--I have learned much more about pollinators.  I took a few hours' training to become a "Pollinator Pocket" presenter, a program developed by our local Extension Office.  I learned so much about different insects and other pollinators and their life cycles.

I also learned more about the needs of these different pollinators, including plants that will help to feed them.  I already knew that asters and other late-blooming plants provide a valuable food source in the fall.  But a local beekeeper at the workshop reminded everyone that bees need food in the early spring as well, and he encouraged us all to plant more crocuses because they are one of the few sources of food very early in the spring.  You can be sure when I placed my bulb orders this past week that I ordered plenty of crocuses!

Not sure what type of bumble this big guy is.

Earlier in the summer I also attended a talk by Dr. Sydney Cameron, an entomologist specializing in bumblebees, on the rare Rusty-patched Bumblebee Bombus affinis.  We watched a short but fascinating documentary on this bee called "A Ghost in the Making," which you can find here on YouTube.  The rusty-patched bumblebee was once very common in parts of the U.S., but for reasons unknown its numbers have dwindled, and it is now being considered as an endangered species.

This talk inspired me to look more closely at the bumblebees in my own garden, and while I can't identify them by type, I know that my visitors are the much more common species normally seen throughout this area.  Still, I am searching for that elusive rusty-patched bumblebee!

Linda of Each Little World and Lisa of Greenbow enjoy chatting with Susan.
One of the places where this rare bumblebee has been spotted in recent years is at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum.  On a visit to Madison earlier this month to meet up with a few fellow bloggers,  Beth introduced us to Susan Carpenter, Native Plant Gardener at the Arboretum.  As she was talking about her work here, she happened to bring up the rusty-patched bumblebee and mentioned that part of the film I had seen was filmed at the Arboretum.  Talk about coincidence!

We didn't find any rusty-patched bumblebees on this day, but we did see many other species, and Susan mentioned that one of their favorite plants this time of year is the native thistle.

Looking back, I realize that maybe I did learn more this summer than I realized.  I know I'm going to be more conscious of pollinators and do what I can to increase their numbers in my garden.  And while I've enjoyed the past two months on the porch, this morning is much cooler and pleasant, so it's time to get off that swing and get to work!

For more reflections on lessons learned in the garden this past season, be sure to stop by Beth's at Plant Postings.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

GBBD: Summer's End

Summer is winding down, and I, for one, will be happy to have an end to the relentless heat of this past season.  The days are getting shorter, and on some days you can feel a crispness in the air, the first hints of autumn approaching.

While I will miss the explosion of color that was summer in my garden, there is still much to enjoy about the garden.  A few coneflowers still bloom here and there, but most are now dried seedheads, a tasty treat for all the goldfinches.

Blackberry lilies are no longer blooming, but their seedheads are every bit as delightful to look at.

Walking around the garden, one can see that not everything has finished blooming, however.  The 'Limelight' Hydrangea is in all its fall glory, reaching up to the rooftop once again, despite a pretty good pruning this spring.

I just love these big blooms!

Nearby, the Turtleheads are also blooming.

Also in the shade garden, the hardy begonia (name forgotten) is also blooming.  I bought this plant for its foliage and was so happy it survived the winter here, so the tiny blooms are a bonus surprise.

It pays to looks closely or you will miss some other surprises as well.  Apparently, this little gnome thought I needed some help weeding (and yes, I do).  I have no idea where this little rake came from--garden fairies, perhaps??

In the sidewalk garden, 'Senorita Rosalita' Cleome is flourishing.  I've planted this annual in pots the past two years, and it's never done well.  Obviously, it likes being planted in the ground much better--and all the rain this summer no doubt helped as well.

Lavender is beginning to bloom again.  This is the first year I've had success with lavender surviving the winter, and I hope it continues to do well.

In the Arbor Bed, the berries on the Beautyberry are beginning to turn.

Fall is the time for grasses to really shine, and 'Morning Light' Miscanthus is putting on quite a show.

Goldenrod is also popping up everywhere.  I usually pull most of it from the Arbor Bed, but I missed this one, and I think it complements the zinnias nicely.  More on those zinnias later...

In the little Butterfly Garden, the sneezeweed Helenium 'Autumnale' has been blooming
 for several weeks.

And, of course, the Obedient Plant is making its annual appearance.  A few asters are just beginning to bloom, and soon the butterfly garden will be full of asters and goldenrod as well.

So many of my container plantings are looking pretty sad these days.  Coleus and begonias are still looking great, but the petunias are pretty pathetic--time to hit the local nursery for some new cool-weather annuals.  However, there are other annuals planted in the garden that are doing very well, including one of my all-time favorites 'Victoria Blue' Salvia.

The Lantana are also doing well and finally spreading out.  The only problem this year is that they are often hidden by some taller volunteers, like the Rudbeckia Triloba.

A few Cosmos are also finally blooming, though not nearly as many as I had hoped.

A new annual I planted this year is finally blooming as well--Tithonia, or Mexican Sunflower.  I've admired these bright orange blooms on Jason's blog for several years, so I finally started some seeds this spring.  The only problem is that I didn't realize how tall they would get!  Next year I'll find a better spot for these 4-6' pollinator magnets.

Also in the Arbor Bed, Nicotania is still blooming here and there.  These are all volunteers--from seeds planted over five years ago!  I started to pull most of these out one day, until I noticed a hummingbird moth sipping nectar from them.  Of course, I didn't have my camera handy, but I was mesmerized by this creature and its long proboscis.  I haven't seen it in a couple of weeks, but I'm leaving the Nicotania for now, just in case it returns.

Of all the late annuals, though, the most colorful and most abundant in my garden are the zinnias. These old-fashioned favorites have to be one of the easiest annuals to grow.  I direct sowed seeds from Renee's Garden and Botanical Interests (though which ones are which, I don't remember),  and some of them have grown to 4 1/2 feet tall.  Though only pink ones are shown here, there are blooms in orange, reds, and purples as well.

When it comes to attracting butterflies, you can't beat zinnias.  And although they aren't particular, the pollinators do seem to love my 'Zowie Yellow Flame' zinnias in particular.

On a recent afternoon, the 'Zowie's' were covered with all kinds of butterflies.

The colors of the 'Zowie's' are almost a perfect match for Monarchs, 
but Swallowtails make a nice contrast, too.

It's a good thing I planted lots of these zinnias this year, enough for a crowd!

Thanks to Carol of May Dreams Gardens for hosting this monthly meeting of Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day and giving me the incentive to keep a monthly record of what is blooming in my garden.