Black Chokeberry and Lilacs

It was a busy week in the garden!  Dan offered to help on Saturday morning and on the spur of the moment dug up two viburnum dentatum “Chicago Lustre” bushes that were chewed up by the viburnum leaf beetle worms.  So then I had to go hunt down something new to plant in their place.  I was looking for a spicebush, but could not find one, or other native shrubs I was interested in, at the garden centers I visited.  I stumbled upon some ‘Viking’ black chokeberry shrubs and decided to get two of them.

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Aronia melanocarpa ‘Viking’ black chokeberry.  From what I read this is a small to medium shrub that suckers.  It has edible fruit and shiny green leaves that turn red in the fall.  So it seems like it will be good for the birds and I might eat a few berries myself.  To the right is the clematis getting ready to bloom soon.

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This shrub had already flowered this spring and is setting fruit.  I am not sure if it needs two plants to have fruit, so I bought one bush that had flowered and one that had not.  We will see what happens next year.

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Here are the two shrubs with the dying daffodil leaves in between.  I will put some annuals in to fill the void this summer.  Maybe some coleus…

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Syringa vulgaris, common lilac.  This flower is on our oldest lilac tree, which almost died, but has branches coming back slowly.  The fragrance was heavenly for a few weeks!

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Charles Joly lilac

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The common lilac on the right is our newest lilac and it is an excellent barrier plant to what is happening in neighbor’s yard.  However, what you can’t really see in this picture is that we have two hornbeam trees on either side of the lilac that are being crowded out and are almost invisible from this vantage point, though our neighbors can enjoy them.  I may have to drastically cut back the lilac or eventually remove it.

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The crabapple blossoms seemed to come and go very quickly this year, so not sure if much fruit will be produced.

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The red, bronze and then green leaves of the crabapple have been looking healthy this spring, so I am really hoping we can keep the disease at bay that has bothered this tree the past two years.  This spring has mostly been a nice balance of sun and rain, which helps.

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We love it when some migrating warbler stops in our crabapple, or any of the other trees, even though we often cannot identify it.

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Little blue bulbs add color to the mostly very green garden.

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The chives by the compost pile are blooming.

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Next to the chives the strawberries are blossoming and berries are starting to grow.

As I was writing this I remembered that there was an asparagus shoot coming up next to the strawberries and I went out and ate it raw!

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This buttercrunch lettuce is looking great!

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Eggplant flower

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The columbine is starting to bloom.

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Little bluestem native grass.  The unmowed “meadow” area did not look so good this spring.  We left the tall grass long in the fall and it seemed to kill a lot of the roots under the dying grass, so things were a bit bare.  I found a couple of these little bluestem grasses, put in some sunflower seeds, planted a small monkshood, and will add a wild bergamot plant soon.

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Wild bergamot and zinnias still to be planted.  As I write this the temperature is 47 degrees F.  I am not very interested in going out to plant in these cold wet conditions, but maybe later in the afternoon it will warm up.

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Yesterday we took a walk in the forest preserve and the mayapples (podophyllum peltatum) were blooming.

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A toad near a stream in the forest.

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Rose-breasted grosbeak.  We came upon a group of birders in the forest who were identifying all the warblers in the trees at McClaughry Springs Wood.  The warblers are hard to get pictures of, especially with the poor light yesterday, but Dan was able to get a picture of this bird.

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Catbird in the forest preserve

Happy Spring!

American Plum Blossoms

We have a native American Plum Tree.  The plums are not great, but the blossoms are so fragrant and beautiful.  That is a perfume I would wear!

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Blossoms on American plum tree.

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Each branch is full of fragrant plum blossoms.  The petals are starting to fall now.

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This was taken when the blossoms were just starting.  I would not recommend this tree if you are really hoping for plums.  It attracts a lot of bugs, so it takes some effort to get plums that are edible, and then they are a bit sour, so I have to peel off the skin to eat them.  But the bugs are what the birds love.  This is one native tree that is recommended as really helpful to the bugs and birds in the neighborhood.  I often have a good number of lady bugs taking advantage of the smaller bugs during the summer.  Also, this tree suckers, but you can mow most of the suckers down quite easily.

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Across the street we enjoyed the magnolia tree and the mighty oak that is starting to leaf out.  I like the dark sky on this picture.

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The EZ straw project worked great and we have a lot of grass coming up now.  It took exactly 7 days before I started seeing the first grass come up.

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I was not so sure how things would turn out when I saw this big raccoon digging in the straw one day!

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Time to plant vegetables!  I started the lettuce and spinach before the last snowfall and just had the ground covered with straw.  Now I have planted a lot of other plants including the swiss chard, lettuce, parsley, basil and kale in this picture.  Next week I will get some bean and zucchini seeds in the ground.

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There have been a lot of migrating birds.  This is a palm warbler and they regularly visit the garden in spring and fall, hopping around to catch bugs.

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Most of the time we miss getting pictures of the birds as they jump and fly out of the picture.

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I think this is the first yellow warbler I have ever seen and I was glad to get a quick shot of it in the spicebush.

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Sometimes I can’t identify the birds, or do not have time to thoroughly investigate what I am seeing.  Can anyone identify this bird?

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Here is another shot of the mystery bird.  Pretty cute, huh?

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On Sunday we did some birding at Lake Katherine and there were a lot of interesting birds there.  This was the best shot Dan could get of the Baltimore Oriole that was singing.

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A black and white warbler was hoping around the tree trunk searching for bugs.

This is a busy time of year for me, so I will stop here.  Hope you are enjoying spring!

Lawn Repair, Daffodils & More Birds

A lawn is part of American life, and is the easiest way to deal with certain parts of the yard.  But I have to say I do not like lawn work, so this year we hired a landscaping crew to come in and repair a bad area on our front lawn.

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We had three low bare spots in front of the house, so on Monday we replaced that area with sod and flagstones for our mailman to walk on.  And, yes, it needs a lot of water to get the sod established and we will need a weed whip to cut the grass around the stones….  As you can see in the bottom left corner of the picture our old lawn currently has violets blooming in it, so I imagine it will infiltrate the new lawn at some point.  We could use weed killer, but so far we have avoided herbicides and pesticides on our lawn.  I don’t like lawns in general, but I think this new sod looks nice!

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Then Friday I got a hair brained idea to fix a patch of the lawn in the back yard on the north side of the house.  I pulled up all the sod, because it was mixed with some weird kind of grass that was not attractive.  It was a big mass of thatch.  I put down some EZ straw that is mixed with seeds, I guess.  So now I am watering on the front AND back side of the house twice a day or more.  As you can see part of the straw/seeds is in the sun most of the day, so that will need more water than the part in the shade.  I will give you a report in a few weeks on whether it germinated.  The sparrow are interested in the seeds and the robins in the worms in this area.

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Speaking of lawns, I have to throw in a picture of a beautiful dandelion.  I am digging them up and out wherever I see them, but they are pretty!  I noticed a small bee on a dandelion this afternoon.

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My favorite daffodils are the large yellow trumpet ones.  I think a bought these and a few other varieties from Breck’s a while ago.  We have about 10 bunches of daffodils in the back yard.

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Under the crabapple tree, and next to the daffodils, the irises are getting ready to bloom in about a month or so.  The hicksii yew shrubs are in the center back, and I think a pair of northern cardinals have a nest in there.

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New red leaves on ‘Profusion’ crabapple tree.

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The white daffodil is usually the first to bloom, though it was delayed with the snow this year.

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I like this white trumpet daffodil with a yellow center.

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Double white daffodil.  They look best when the bloom first opens.

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I am not sure if these double yellow daffodils have a name.  They are a little heavy for their stems.

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Also currently blooming is the spicebush – Lindera benzoin.  I have not figured out how to get my camera to take a good close up of a small flower yet.  This shrub is now maybe 10 -12 feet tall.  I think if there were another spicebush in the neighborhood I might get berries.

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It snowed within the last two weeks and I still had dark-eyed juncos feeding on the last of the coneflower seeds.

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I spotted a little brown creeper on the oak tree one cold day.

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I thought this might be a fox sparrow, but I really don’t know my sparrows…

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I managed to get a shot of a ruby-crowned kinglet where you can see the little red spot on the head.

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I think this is a yellow-rumped warbler.

Yesterday Dan and I visited Orland grasslands – south and did some birding.

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Greater yellowlegs shorebird at Orland grasslands – south.  Dan was shooting pictures of this shorebird when we saw a birder with binoculars come up and tell us he was looking for the yellowlegs that was seen in the area.  We told him we had just seen it, so we chatted a bit.  Always fun to talk to an expert birder.

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We noticed a killdeer along the path.

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It was a little chilly and the killdeer was resting in the grass.  I think there are a lot of different birds in these grasslands that I have never seen before, so hope to get back here sometime.

Lettuce update:  In my last post I planted lettuce and spinach seeds, covered with straw, and then it snowed.  I am glad to report that my seeds germinated and I have spinach and leaf lettuce getting going!  I can’t wait for the garden salad!

Yellow and Red

Daffodils are a transition between winter and spring.

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The first mini daffodils are making an appearance!

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These mini daffodils will be a welcome place for the first tiny bugs and pollinators.

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The yellow crocuses are fully opened and the purple crocuses will appear soon.

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Male northern cardinal at the frozen birdbath.  For mating season males show their brightest colors and sing beautiful songs.

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We noticed a male house finch singing in the oak and moving back into the neighborhood with some bright red feathers…

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The rhubarb plant is popping out of the earth!  It is almost April!

Snow Crocus and Vernal Witch Hazel

I can’t resist taking pictures of the first signs of spring.

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Yellow snow crocus opens on a sunny afternoon.

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I love the lines and design on the outside of the snow crocus.  These flowers get a lot of afternoon sun.  I don’t think it will be too long before the other crocuses start to form flowers.

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The vernal witch hazel flowers have been blooming for a while.  I had a lot of trouble getting a picture that focused on the flowers and not the background, but I think that just shows that I need to learn more about my camera.

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What crazy looking flowers.  I really like the leaves on this shrub, but looking back through my pictures it does not look like I took many pictures of the leaves.  My witch hazel shrub is often hidden behind the lilac or the ornamental grass.  I will have to make a point to take pictures of the leaves this year.

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We pruned the American plum tree to get rid of branches that hung down when trying to mow the lawn.  I think we did the final pruning to get  rid of lower branches on the chinquapin oak tree.  We try to prune when the temperature is above freezing, but it freezes at night.

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I bought six different kinds of sedum plants a few years ago and the dragon’s bloom sedum is mixing with this other variety now.

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Among the dead Alchemilla mollis lady’s mantle leaves a new fan-shaped green leaf appeared.

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I thought the curly parsley finally died at the end of January, but it does not look quite dead yet.  During the fall and winter I tried to chew a little piece of parsley whenever I went into the garden, just because the green seemed like winter vitamins.

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Hardy strawberries look like they need some thinning and straw around them in order to have good fruit this spring and summer.  It is not quite time to do that yet.

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Dan went out and completely turned the compost leaf pile.  There were some wet spots from kitchen scraps and quite a few dry spots where it had burned to ash, and it really needed a good mix to speed it up again.

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The mini daffodils have a sunny spot and we should have tiny, yellow flowers blooming before long.

Autumn Wanderings

When I get a chance I get out in the forest preserves to enjoy the autumn days.  Even with the snow on Friday the oak leaves are still hanging on.  Here are a few shots from the past two weeks.

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Reflections in the pond at the Little Red Schoolhouse.

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Turning to face the other way I could see an oak savanna with a stately, magnificent oak.  I love it when I see that young oak trees have been planted to replace many of the ancient oaks around us.

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I stopped to read an old sign by the trail about hibernation.

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My walk eventually lead me by the original little red schoolhouse.  It has now been replaced by a beautiful new building that better meets the needs of nature field trips.  In the background you can see several doomed roofs of cages that house birds.  Maybe these are birds that have been rehabilitated or cannot survive in the wild for some reason.

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There were a lot of little kids out enjoying the day.  This little girl climbed the fence to get a glimpse of the hawk in the cage.

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Red-tailed hawk, the most common hawk in our area.

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The orange serviceberry leaves were so pretty!

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The big surprise was the working phone booth.  The sign inside says that the phone actually works and to dial 911 if needed.

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I flushed out a lot of little birds when I walked down this prairie trail.

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Everywhere the oaks were turning orange, yellow and red.

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A late dragonfly was enjoying a warm rock.  I slowly brought my finder under the dragonfly’s head.  It sat on my finger for a while, but flew away before I got a picture.

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Two weeks ago Dan and I walked in the Willow Springs forest preserve for the first time.  We keep finding trails that are new for us.

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This looks like a den that would provide shelter for some animal….

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On November 1st I parked by Arrowhead Lake in the forest perverse south of us. It was a gray day, but the walk turned out to be beautiful anyway.

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I crossed Harlem Avenue to explore a new path I had not tried before.

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The woods were very quite except for the woodpeckers.

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Downy woodpecker

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The colors caught my attention as I walked out.  Maybe you had to be there….

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Back in our yard the aphids, or something, completely covered the kale plants.  I did see a few lady bugs around.  Sometimes the kale makes it through the winter and sometimes it doesn’t.  In any case I look forward to a swarm of lady bugs and other predators in the spring.

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On a more cheery note, the pineapple sage was blooming on November 1st.  I never saw any hummingbirds on it this year, as it did not start blooming until October.  We had a hard frost this week, though, and it’s days are over…

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It snowed some on Friday, for the first time this year, and stuck for a few hours. The chinquapin oak is just changing color this week and still has its leaves.  The crab apple lost most of its leaves back in June with some disease, so I need to try to get rid of those diseased leaves from under the tree.

Compost leaf pile:  We dug out some of the compost from the bottom of the pile, and started a new leaf pile yesterday.  We used the mower to mulch the leaves on the lawn and captured them in the mower bag that we carried to the leaf pile.  Dan even went out in the easement and mowed up those leaves, too, to make the leaf pile about three and a half feet high.  When the leaves are mixed with grass clippings they get hot pretty quickly.  We will do this the next few weekends and try to get the pile as large as possible before winter.  Then I can put my kitchen scraps in the pile until it is too frozen to get them in!

Zucchini, Tomatoes, Collards and Praying Mantis

With an inch of rain recently we have had a break in the drought.  It is a beautiful October day and here is what I saw when I looked around the garden today.

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Male zucchini flower

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Female zucchini flower.  We have had quite a few zucchini flowers over the past months, but without rain few of them developed into zucchini that I bothered to pick.  Now we might get a few if the weather stays warm.  I enjoy these magnificent but short-lived flowers.

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I have been eating these yellow pear heirloom cherry tomatoes for a few months now.  The leaves of the plant are diseased, but I just keep getting enough cherry tomatoes to have a bunch in my salad each day.

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These are tomato plants that my Arab lady friend left on the patio in my watering can, so I don’t know what kind they are, but they are finally producing the first red tomatoes.  On Thursday I made some delicious ratatouille…

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We try to throw in 2 to 10 leaves of collards into recipes when we get a chance.  This plant near the lilac bush is looking healthy.

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In the vegetable garden the inner portion of the collard plants have been eaten by cabbage moths.  We have more collards than we can eat, so I don’t worry too much about it.

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Here come the brussel sprouts.  They have been pretty small, but I think the rain will help them get a bit bigger.

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Backing up, here is what the brussel sprout plant looks like.

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The pole beans are drying on the vines and will be shelled when I pull down the bean structure.

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I looked for bugs on the bean leaves and found a grasshopper.

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Parsley is one of the plants that look beautiful all the way into December.  I have not cooked much with it this year, but it makes a great ornamental plant.  It is an essential ingredient in my fabulous spaghetti sauce recipe.

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I finally saw my first black swallowtail caterpillar for the year on one of the parsley plants.  For me, parsley is a much better host plant than dill for these caterpillars.

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All the native and ornamental grasses have seed heads now.  This is miscanthus ‘morning light.’  I have been searching them the past months to see if I could see the first praying mantis.

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This morning I found a female praying mantis in a clump of miscanthus.  Her abdomen is very  large and I wondered if she was getting ready to deposit her egg sack or if she just ate a very large grass hopper that she is digesting.  I was trying to get a better shot and she moved further into the grass, so I am no longer able to find her.  I find paying mantis egg sacks in the grasses every spring when I am doing clean up and try to put the egg sacs in a place where the ants will not get at them.

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These little zinnias are finally blooming now.  They are called ‘summer solstice’ but seem to be best in the fall.  I plant them from seeds each year, and they are cute in the garden and attractive to pollinators.

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Just to the right in the alyssum I found a little skipper resting.  I almost pulled up all the alyssum during the drought because it just looked like seed heads, but the flowers have returned after the rain and it is buzzing with small pollinators.

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The coral mums are starting to bloom…

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Some migrating warblers have been passing through.  I think this is a palm warbler, as they seem to visit every year, but not sure I can tell from this picture.

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Then there is the usual bird bath ruckus to see how many starlings or sparrows can get in the bird bath at once!

Have a beautiful autumn day!