July 24, 2022 by Jean
It is high summer in Maine and a most bountiful time of the year. Each Sunday’s visit to the farmers’ market brings a greater variety of available produce. Two weeks ago, there were new potatoes and raspberries. Last week, I brought home my first green peppers and first tomato of the season. Today, cucumbers and sweet corn were added to the mix. Soon, I will be able to bring home the ingredients to make a big pan of roasted vegetables each week to use in pasta sauce, as pizza topping, or as filling for quesadillas.
In my garden, it is peak bloom time, with a dizzying array of colorful flowers, including about sixty different varieties of daylilies. Each morning’s stroll through the garden now takes more than an hour as I pause to deadhead, to drink in the beauty around me, and to greet old flower friends who have just reappeared after a year’s absence.
The bounty of life in the garden at this time of year includes animals as well as plants. The place is abuzz with pollinators. Dozens of small bumble bees are at work in the lavender. Enormous bumble bees have been visiting the hosta flowers, where they disappear inside each trumpet-shaped bloom and re-emerge covered in pollen. They are often joined at the hostas by a hummingbird who also enjoys the nectar of these flowers.
Normally, I only see one hummingbird in my garden, but this morning there were two. Ruby-throated hummingbirds are not known for playing well with others, and while one hummingbird drank nectar from the flowers, the other repeatedly dive-bombed it, trying to drive it away. Later, however, I saw two hummingbirds (the same two?) peacefully coexisting as they fed from daylilies about 8 feet apart.
Another species that does not always play well with others are the great spangled fritillaries, butterflies that zip around the garden at warp speed, occasionally pausing to nectar on purple coneflowers. Sometimes, I will see two sharing the same coneflower bloom; but other times, one will drive the other off. I don’t know how they distinguish between friend and foe. I sometimes see them flying spirals around one another, which I assume is some kind of mating dance. This morning, as one butterfly nectared with its wings spread on top of a purple coneflower, another lighted on top of it and covered it with its own spread wings. They rested like this for a few seconds before flying off. Was this fritillary sex?
For the past several days, a female monarch butterfly who has already mated has been fluttering around the garden, depositing eggs on the underside of milkweed leaves. Yesterday, I noticed the first monarch caterpillars I have seen this season on the stem of a milkweed plant by the back door. This morning, there were three more tiny new caterpillars on the same plant. Three years ago, I had so many monarch caterpillars feeding in my garden that they almost completely defoliated the butterfly weed (a type of milkweed). That year, the beautiful jade green chrysalises of the monarchs were hung like jewels on plants throughout the garden, and I saw more than thirty adult butterflies emerge. It would be wonderful to see a similar level of activity this year, especially after the monarch butterfly was listed as an endangered species this week by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
At this time of year, it is all too easy to spend hours out in the garden, on the porch, or looking out my big bedroom window — just enjoying the bounty of beauty and life all around me.