Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Golden Apple

This morning while I was walking my dog,
a golden apple fell from the tree we were walking past.
For a second, I thought we were going to have a Newtonian moment--
but the apple missed us and plopped on the ground.
A squirrel with a remarkably sparse and short tail turned out to be the culprit.
I assume we disturbed his snack since he jumped to a higher branch 
and looked down at us with a vexed expression on his face. image by mensatic

 I drove by the same tree later in the day and a very fat rabbit
was supping on the apples laying in the grass.
In the old fairy tales and folk tales, golden apples symbolized great value.
That signification is lost to current generations,
but the squirrels and rabbits still believe.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Attracting Hummingbirds

This morning, a hummingbird flew near some deep violet impatiens on the deck,
but passed them up in favor of several pale hosta blossoms.
This was the first hummingbird I've seen this year.

We plant impatiens because they grow well in the shade 
but also because hummingbirds love them.
I didn't know they liked hosta blossoms, however.
The little hummingbird that showed up today really did.


Just a couple of days ago, I looked out my kitchen window
and wondered out loud, "where are the hummingbirds this year?"
And then this morning one showed up.
This has happened to me several times over the years:
I ask where they are, one shows up.
Telepathy? Magic? 
Maybe a little of both.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Where do the Caterpillars Go?

My recent blog posts have described the arrival and departure 
of the Eastern black swallowtail butterfly caterpillars
that appeared on my parsley plant right after the baby wrens fledged.
I watched the worms grow fat and green,
watched one get picked off by a hungry robin,
and then yesterday discovered two of them in a parsley-induced torpor,
curled under daisy leaves.

Today, the robin flew in and sat on the back of a lawn chair
next to the empty parsley pot.
That bird looked and looked and then departed without any breakfast.
I guess the caterpillars really are gone, but all day I've wondered where they went.

I found a website called "Life Cycle of the Black Swallowtail" by Bob Moul.
Moul describes the life cycle of the swallowtail butterfly
and has some good photos of its stages.

So where did the caterpillars go? 
According to Moul, they didn't go far.
Probably within forty feet of my parsley plant they now slumber,
 attached to woody stems or under leaves.
I did go look around. I did not find anything.
I guess they are safe from me--and the robins who would eat them.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterflies

If you've been following the Virginia Shire blog,
you know that we have been "farming" Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterflies
here for the last week or so.

A photo of an Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterfly 
that I took at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens last summer:

Yesterday the plump green caterpillars vacated the parsley stems
and disappeared as quickly as they arrived.
We never see them come, and we never see them go.
But they went--at least some of them did.

Late this morning I cleaned up this mess the caterpillars left behind:

It was really hot, so I was working fast so I could get back indoors,
but I moved on to the planter of gerbera daisies on the deck railing above the parsley pot. 
I raised one of the large daisy leaves to snip the stem of a spent blossom
and that's when I saw them: 
 three curled swallowtail caterpillars resting in the shade of the big leaves.
A big meal, a warm summer day, a quiet place to nap in the shade.
I'm pretty sure we can all relate.

Sunday, July 27, 2014


The Early Bird Gets the Worm

When caterpillars destined to become butterflies
stuff themselves with parsley leaves, anything can happen.
This morning the parsley was still covered with bright green caterpillars:

We were standing at the kitchen window,
looking out at the caterpillars, some of which
had begun to move onto the violets, impatiens, and ivy on the same table.
We surmised they were moving away 
because there were only a few nibbles of parsley left.

Suddenly a robin flew in, 
plucked one of the caterpillars from a parsley stem,
and flew off in an instant.
We were surprised, but probably not as surprised as that fat green caterpillar was
when he found himself airborne.
Becoming a butterfly must be harder than it looks.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Lantana Topiary

One flowering perennial that will never let you down is the lantana. 
Lantana come in a variety of colors: lavender, yellow, orange, 
and an appealing orange-pink-yellow tri-color.
My favorite is the tri-color.
They love heat and dry conditions and will grow easily into a small shrub.
Despite all their good qualities, they've never been my first choice for planting.

Posted by Leslie Landers, Image:

 But this week I was in the garden center and saw a lantana
that had had been trained into a small topiary tree.
Pretty and unusual. 
I may have to give it a try next summer.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Heavenly Bamboo

Heavenly Bamboo or Nandina is very popular here in the Shire 
because of its red fall foliage and colorful red-orange winter berries.
I've seen it growing as a foundation or specimen plant around many houses.
 However, I was never a fan of it 
since a lot of people prune it into an unattractive lump.

But one of my neighbors gave me one that was growing in a pot,
so I planted it in the flower bed this spring.
I'm surprised at how much I like it.
Its leaves are green and feathery and it has filled out nicely.
It certainly looks heavenly,
but whether or not it really is remains to be seen.
Heavenly Bamboo: Angel or devil? 
another garden adventure is on the horizon.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Flowers for Cutting

My neighbor's cat rolled around in my "sun bed"
and broke off one of my zinnia plants.
So I cut the zinnias, a pentas flower head, some marigolds
and liriope flowers and made an arrangement for my kitchen.

When life gives you lemons ... 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

To the Daisy

If you look at poems and texts that have survived the centuries,
you can see that there is a kind of blessed continuity.
For generations, people have loved starlight and moonlight,
the passing of seasons and flowers in bloom.

Daisies are one of the flowers that have caught the fancy of 
writers and poets through the ages.
In the 15th century, Chaucer wrote that the daisy 
was his favorite flower in the meadow.

And in the 18th-century poem  "To the Daisy," Wordsworth wrote:
Yet like a star, with glittering crest,
Self-poised in air thou seem'st to rest ...

The love of daisies is timeless.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Impatiens and Persistence

This spring I divided my great grandmother's springeri fern,
yielding two ferns instead of one.
Very nice.

Then I noticed this week that impatiens are growing in the two pots.
One of the flowers has already bloomed.
Since the impatiens I planted this spring haven't reached the seed pod stage,
the impatiens seeds must have nestled into the roots of the fern last summer.
They persisted through winter and spring, only to emerge in the last week.

The places impatiens pop up always surprise me.
I've found them growing out of the siding on the house;
one sprang up in the murkiness of an unused fountain:

I wonder if that is persistence, tenacity, or resurrection.
Probably all three.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Butterfly Farm

After the baby wrens fledged last week,
I was having "nature" withdrawal.
But it turns out, I get to witness a new story unfolding:
butterflies in the making.

Our lush parsley plant is hosting tiny butterfly caterpillars.
The first day I noticed them, they were very tiny,
only about a half inch long, black with a pale yellow band around their middles:

And the next day, they had already munched their way to a larger size
and were looking much more caterpillar-ish:

Good thing I planted the parsley  
because soon the caterpillar "butterflies" will grow fat and green
and eat the parsley all the way down to the soil. 
So next year, I may plant two pots of parsley
either to farm more butterflies, 
or to have a little parsley of my own to freeze for the winter.
One thing's for sure, the caterpillars aren't going to leave me any parsley this year.
But butterflies ... that's a fair trade.

Sunday, July 20, 2014


Today, July 20th, is the 45th anniversary of the first moon landing
with astronauts on board.
I remember how excited everyone was back then--
and that was watching it on a black and white television
with an antenna on the roof and a massive "picture tube" inside the cabinet.
A different world, it was.

So I'm commemorating the day by writing about moonflowers.

Photo Credit: Andrew Butitta, 
via creative commons @

Moonflowers have white trumpet-shaped flowers that open at twilight.
Their sweet perfume can easily fill the night air.

Photo Credit: Michele Schaffer,
via creative commons @

The moonflower also grows exceedingly tall, sometimes as much as 8 feet.
Maybe it's reaching for the moon.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Lime Green Hosta

Since most of the gardening areas
we have around our house are in deep shade,
I've planted different types of shade-loving hostas.
This year I found a lime green hosta at the garden center.
It's perfect with the impatiens in one of our side beds.
I love that the bright chartreuse green pops out from the shade
and adds some dimension to the impatiens leaves.

Next year, I plan to add a couple more lime green hostas.
They seem to say summer.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Flowers for Summer

I usually have lots of  impatiens growing in planters on our back deck.
They are the decoration for what I consider my outdoor room.
This year, I planted fewer impatiens in favor of gerbera daisies.
I took a photo, but it was out of focus, so I'll have to show you later.

 But I didn't forsake impatiens all together.
I put a couple of impatiens plants in with the begonias,
and I really like the way they complement each other and fill in the planter.

You can see from the rain gauge 
that our most recent rainy days brought about 3 inches of rain.
I guess we could say that July showers bring July flowers. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Summer Flowers

The flowers we planted this spring
have really enjoyed all the rain and cooler temperatures.
I went out this evening and took a few photos to share.

This is the "sun bed" I reclaimed from the non-blooming iris.
I planted Indian Blanket Flowers, white coneflower, rosemary,
penta, zinnias, and moss rose. I like it so much,
I'm going to put a similar bed on the other side of the driveway next spring.

This is a single red gerber daisy I planted in a pot of ivy 
at my garage. I love the bright red color against the green.

And marigolds along the driveway really take the heat.

I also have impatiens planted in front of the house
but those photos didn't turn out very well. 
Tomorrow, I'll share some images from the side and back of the house--
those are my favorites.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Yorktown Onions

More than thirty-five years ago, I "landed" in Virginia from the Midwest.
My husband and I would go out and explore our new state.
One day while driving along the York River in the county of the same name,
I was mesmerized by a purple flowering plant that grew wild.
A huge globe of purple flowers sat at the top of a long stem.

Photo credit: Richard_b via

I was so enchanted, I picked one 
and brought it home to our tiny apartment.
Years later, I learned that these plants, called Yorktown Onion
(allium ampeloprasum, also called wild leek) are protected by county law.
 Not sure why since they aren't a native plant,
but since the seeds supposedly came over during the Revolutionary War,
there must be some connection to the Yorktown Battlefield.

Copy and paste this link into your browser:
you'll see the Yorktown Onions growing wild. 
You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Empty Nest

Early this morning I checked the wren nest outside my kitchen window.
The baby wrens were in and out of the nest but still being fed by their parents.
 Around ten o'clock, I heard a great commotion of wren song.
I was painting in the garage with the door open,
and I resisted the impulse to drop my paint brush and see what was going on.
Around 2:30 I checked the nest: empty.
Our little wren fledglings were gone.
And then ...

File:Carolina Wren (4463577775).jpg
By Mike's Birds (Carolina Wren  Uploaded by Magnus Manske) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 
(], via Wikimedia Commons

A tremendous storm with thunder, strong wind, and rain arrived about 3:30 today.
I wondered about the little wrens and hoped they were safe.
I've read that even song birds are built to weather strong storms,
and I reassured myself that they at least had a few hours head start.
But one never knows.
And then ...

This evening I heard a wren singing its little heart out from the trees behind the house.
I'm going to take that as a sign that all is well.

Monday, July 14, 2014

July by any other Name

Most of us know the month of July in the Gregorian calendar
is named for Julius Caesar,
but I found a web site (source information below)
that describes the different names for July over the ages.
When the Julian calendar was in use,
July was the fifth month, not the seventh.
In that time, it was called Quintilius. by Seemann 

But I like the Anglo-Saxon names for the month better.
In Old English, "month" was "monað,"
 so July was called "hég monað" (for hay month) in some dialects
and "mæd monað" (meadow month) in others.

Probably a good thing language changes;
otherwise we'd be wishing each other 
Happy Fourth of Quintilius or Happy Fourth of Hég Monað every summer.

Source Information: the information about the name of July is from the web site devoted to quotes about the seasons and gardening. The quotes 
are compiled by Karen and Mike Garofalo, however, they don't include a source for this quote. The Garofalos described the Anglo-Saxon names as heymonath 
and mædmonath, but the more accurate forms from the Oxford English Dictionary are shown above.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Wrens Feeding

Since the baby wrens hatched,
the mother and father wrens have worked from dawn to dusk
feeding their little ones.
Sometimes a worm, a spider, a small grasshopper.
The wrens are so quickly in and out of the violets covering the nest,
 it's hard to tell just what morsels they have.

Photo Credit: Ken Thomas via

Today I noticed the baby wrens now have their wren-like feathers.
One of them emerged about two-thirds of the way
in an attempt to grab the food first.
I'm sure they will take their first flight soon--
probably in a couple of days.
Here's a short video of today's feeding:


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Sweet William

Years ago, I bought a packet of Sweet William seeds
and planted them in front of my bay window.
I was excited to see the green leaves coming up from the soil,
and then the most beautiful pink and red and white flowers 
eventually bloomed on long stalks.
The perfume was subtle and sweet, hence the "sweet" part of their name, I guess.

Photo credit: Marilylle Soveran,

I thought of Sweet Williams after finding them listed in 
Old-Fashioned Garden Flowers, published on the Internet Archive. 
The article mentioned old English herbals 
describing the Sweet William as 
"worthy the respect of the Greatest Ladies who are Lovers of Flowers."

Photo credit: Duncan,

The book also solved the puzzle of why these flowers are called "William."
That part of the name was formed by analogy from the French oeillet,
which was heard as "Willie" to English speakers.
Then Willie was glammed up to the more staid term Sweet William.
I guess it wouldn't do to have a formal garden where you could get the willies.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Wallflower the Plant

As we all know, the meaning of words often change over time.
This process--called 'semantic shift' by linguists--
is responsible for the change in meaning of the word "wallflower."
For centuries, the name referred to a fragrant flower
that, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, 
grew wild on walls, stones, and quarries.

Photo credit: Rosier via

The old-fashioned wallflower, cheiranthus cheiri, 
was said to smell like violets
and bloomed in colors that included deep yellow, orange, and brown.

Photo Credit: Lazaregagnidze via

The 1936 publication Old-Fashioned Garden Flowers,
had this to say about the color of wallflower:
Its petals are either a rich sunset yellow veined with brown,
or a soft glowing Rembrandt brown, darker veined.
A happy brown is a rare shade in gardens 
and was rightly prized by our grandmothers.

A beautiful old-fashioned flower colored "happy brown"--
that's an unexpected pleasure.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Summer Rain

It's been raining and raining.
The sky is gray.
All the leaves are bending under the weight of the rain.
I haven't yet mastered the art of enjoying a rainy summer day.
But at least the flowers like it.

"Rainy Day Fuschia"
Photo Credit: John Haslam 2007
creative commmons, 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Recycled Garden Edging

While looking at cottage gardens and border gardens online,
I came across some images for creative garden edging materials.
See what you think about these:

A series of bottles and other glass containers give this garden an unusual edge. 
I would like this better if the wine bottles were all the same color and height:

Even so, you won't see bottles lining my flower beds, but this china border I like:

Also from The Lovely Plants web site, steel pipes planted with succulents:
DIY Garden Border with Steel Pipes

And of course, there is always scrap wood:

Or, you could really go all the way with a border of scrap metal
as shown here on the blog "Ewa in the Garden":

In the hands of a talented gardener, 
these alternative edging materials could look pretty good.
For the rest of us, better to stick with bricks and stone.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Border Gardens

Flowers on the Side

I once read that any walkway should have flowers planted on both sides
to give the feeling that you are walking through, not next to, a garden.
Yet, there's something to be said for walking beside beautiful flowers.

For example, this border garden full of purple allium and red and white tulips
might overwhelm the walkway if planted on both sides:

This is my dream backyard: a grassy lawn surrounded by a neat border of flowers:

Here's another beautiful border garden, this one with hydrangeas:

I love this one too:

Master gardeners make these borders look like 
they just sprang naturally from the earth.
For the rest of us, a garden like this is probably less likely on earth 
and a little closer to heaven.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Cottage Gardens

One summer when I was a young girl,
 I read all twelve of Scottish poet and novelist Andrew Lang's
"colours" fairy tale collection: the Blue Fairy Book, the Yellow Fairy Book, etc.
It seems in many stories, there was  a cottage sequestered in the deep woods
or more often, a cottage garden full of old fashioned herbs and flowers.
If there is a cottage garden season, July must be its peak. 
So to celebrate the magic of summer, here are a few:


Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Flower for July

I came across one of those web sites
that gives the flower and gemstone for each month.
The modern interpretation for the flower for July is,
depending on your preference, either the water lily, larkspur, or delphinium.

Water lilies are beautiful and fitting symbols of spirituality,
but despite their place on the list, 
I find it difficult to associate them with July.
Probably because I don't see that many of them.

Larkspur is an old-fashioned garden flower.
With its deep blue spikes it's more suitable for July, in my opinion.
I love this photo from the blog "Gardening with Nature";
it just says summer to me:
 .Page by Dorothy Borders via

Larkspur and delphinium are often confused 
because of the similarity of their blue flower spikes.
Even nurseries sell them as delphinium/larkspur, 
but many master gardeners suggest there is a marked difference in both leaf and flower.

This photo from is labeled as delphinium:

Which do you think symbolizes July better?
Water lilies or delphinium/larkspur?

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Carolina Wren Nests

Just outside my kitchen window, 
in a window box full of violets, wrens built two nests.
One is angled toward the window, 
so I'm about a foot from the opening of nest, behind the glass window pane.
I can often see the wren on her nest;
her beak is open when it's hot outside, and her eyes blink open and closed.

Carolina wrens will build a nest just about anywhere:

A couple of days ago, the five eggs hatched 
into a mass of squirming baby birds.
The wren we call the mother
flies in and out with bugs, grubs, and spiders.
Soon we will have little fledglings
emerging for their first flight.
I can't wait.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Fourth of July Desserts

Happy Independence Day!

Fourth of July celebrations usually include the four F's: 
flowers, flags, food, and fireworks.
I try to experience a little of all of those, 
but I'd have to say my favorite is seeing how people
get creative with red, white, and blue food.

Cupcakes are a fun and easy way to show your patriotic colors:

And cookies refuse to be outdone in this patriot game:

Here's a new "twist" on the theme:

Yum! Fruit pizza:

These fruit kebabs arranged to form a flag are so creative:

From  candy to cheesecake, there's no shortage of ideas 
for making the food at your Fourth of July celebration all-American.

It's a good way to say Happy Birthday to the best country in the world.