Summer’s Beautiful Bounty6
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.
All your careful garden planning from a few years ago is paying off. I wish I lived down the road. I’d stop by with some baked goods every so often in hopes of getting some cut flowers in return…without the bumble bees inside. It must be fun to see them all covered in yellow.
Jean, I am always torn between enjoying the flowers in the garden or cutting them for the house, so I am always happy when they are plentiful enough to do both.
This year has been horrible for animals on my property, (deer, woodchucks, voles, etc.) eating ALL of my plants this year, (my whole in the ground garden is gone). Even my pepper plant and tomato plant in a container was attacked by a woodchuck. Specific to this article, I am in about my 6th year of Milkweed propagation and had a bumper crop until I noticed last week some animal ate all of them too. I figure it was a deer or maybe the woodchuck, but I thought animals didn’t like the toxic milkweed? It is very depressing as I also saw a monarch on Saturday with no common milkweeds left. I do have a butterfly week in another location that’s still intact. Maybe there is a glimmer of hope. I try to be as organic and natural as I can be, but these animals are making me think of giving up gardening. I’m am getting older and it’s a lot of work for no reward. I know I sound like Debbie Downer, but I have to vent to someone.
Thanks Jean for the virtual shoulder to cry on.
Oh, Gary, I can feel your frustration. At the beginning of the season, I was afraid I was going to have a year like yours. My morning strolls through the garden became a litany of losses rather than a pleasing ritual. The morning I found all the flower buds eaten off a peony, I was beside myself with a mixture of grief and rage.
Fortunately, things began to look up after that. My deer damage was being caused by just a couple of animals rather than a whole herd, so I festooned the front garden with white plastic bags on stakes, putting them near vulnerable plants and moving them around periodically. (The bags billow in the wind and make crackly noises, making the deer nervous.) The woodchuck problem was more difficult to deal with, especially because this winter’s resident woodchuck was wise to have-a-heart traps and refused to go near them. I finally overcame the reticence by baiting the traps with some sacrificial seedlings from six-packs of nasturtium and petunias. After the second woodchuck of the season was trapped and removed in late June, I sprinkled animal repellent down the entrance of the den and filled it in. More repellent (in both granular and spray form) around the porch and deck where the woodchucks like to access the den and to discourage feeding on favorite plants kept another one from moving in to fill the vacancy. While I still get some snacking by neighborhood woodchucks, this is the first time in five years I don’t have one living in my garden.
This is my first experience using the animal repellents (not poisons, a mix of strong odors that irritate the animals’ nasal passages), and I will use them again. An ecologist teaching a course at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens recommended switching up brands periodically so that the animals don’t just adjust to them.
The woodchucks in my neighborhood definitely eat common milkweed; in fact, it seems to be a preferred plant. I have watched the little buggers up on their haunches, pulling down the top of the plant to get to the more tender leaves. Like you, I’ve wondered that it doesn’t give them a terrible tummy ache. I’ve never had them touch the butterfly weed, however. Go figure.
I trust that your plants will come back (well, probably not the ones eaten by voles) and pray that you’ll have better luck with the critters next year.
Thank you for those kind words Jean and knowing I’m not alone in this. We all have our horror stories, but this year seems like the worse. For now, I’m taking notes as to defensive plans for next season as this year is almost a complete failure. I guess it reinforces how much we love gardening because if we didn’t, who would put up with such headaches?
I have a smallish pumpkin waiting for me to come up with an idea to cook it.
Pumpkin curry probably. A new variety with edible skin – it says.