Summer Flowers Bring Pollinators

The information below was originally posted last weekend.

A lot of flowers are blooming in the garden now and they are looking pretty good because we have not had many thunderstorms to knock them over nor have we had drought. This is the time of year that you can hear the cicadas and crickets, and start seeing more butterflies and bees on the flowers.


Monarch butterfly depositing eggs on swamp milkweed.

IMG_9611Swamp milkweed in bloom. I am watching for the Monarch caterpillar, but am not too hopeful as we have a lot of predators around, such as wasps, that hopefully keep a check on the cabbage moth worms


Agastache ‘blue fortune’ giant hyssop’ in the front, with a visiting bee. The yellow flowers are Heliopsis helianthoides false sunflower ‘summer sun.’


Black-eyed Susans are cheery in front of the ornamental grass Miscanthus ‘Morning Light.’ The Russian sage on the right is flowering a lavender color and the pink hydrangeas are having their best year.


Close up of Black-Eyed Susans


A view of the yard mid-summer. The chinquapin oak tree has tiny acorns on it and it keeps growing each year. The pole beans are climbing the bean structure and starting to produce. Vegetables and flowers are doing their thing around the yard.


The coneflowers seem to have multiplied around the yard and I love it. Liatris spicata blazing star flowers are blooming in the background.


Joe Pye weed and coneflowers in a pink part of the garden.


I have not had time to investigate what insect is sitting on this coneflower. I can see its little claws and it has wings as well.


A question mark butterfly sunning on the laundry rack.


Closed wings on question mark butterfly.


The first and only nasturtium flower in the garden so far this year. I planted two packets full of seeds, but some of the other plants are very small, probably due to lack of rain. I am too lazy to water this time of year….


Pink flowers of the yellow wax bean plants.

IMG_9608Zinnias and dill. Both are great butterfly plants. The dill is a host plant for black swallowtail caterpillars and the zinnias attract butterflies, bees and goldfinches.

I Spy In July

It is full summer now.  After hot dry days we had plenty of rain this past week and all is growing well.


Male downy woodpecker on yucca plant.  Each year I wait to see it the woodpeckers will come to attack the yucca plant seed pods outside my front window.  Moth larvae grow up inside the seed pods.  It did not look like the woodpecker was very successful on this attempt, but wait a few days and they should soften up…


A few weeks ago I just got a glimpse of this cedar waxwing.  It was the end of the mulberries ripening, so I think that was what brought it to our yard.


Black-eyed Susans with miscanthus ‘morning light’ and Russian sage.


This was taken in early morning light and shows what these flowers looks like from the patio where I eat my oatmeal.


Orange butterfly weed


Swamp milkweed, grown from a seed packet labeled ‘red milkweed.’  I am still waiting for monarchs, though there are plenty of red admiral butterflies around.


North flower bed with joe pye weed, liatris and echinacea – purple coneflowers.  The messy meadow is on the left and kale in the foreground.


Laundry usually dries quickly these days.


Zucchini still in its somewhat tidy state.  The marigolds have been cheerful this year.


We have been able to keep up with the zucchini by picking it small.


Cucumber vines grow out in all directions.  We have a lot of cucumbers, though, and my refrigerator is starting to get full!


Invasive viburnum leaf beetles mating.  We removed the raspberry tart viburnum  and the blue muffin viburnum bushes, that were both so beautiful.  It looks like next year we will be getting rid of the Chicago lustre viburnum bushes as well.  We don’t have the energy to fight these beetles year after year, so we will start over with other plants.


Sunday soup.  Sometimes we put a little too much in the pot!

Bees, Bagworms, and Assorted Bugs

Every kind of little critter is making its last effort to feed and reproduce.  Grasshoppers, spiders, goldenrod soldier bugs, and many other unknown creatures are doing their thing now.


Bee on zinnia.  These zinnias have been a favorite this week to a monarch, a black swallowtail butterfly, and goldfinches eating the seeds.


The pink turtlehead flowers are starting to bloom now.  The bees like to crawl all the way into the flowers.


Bagworm crawling up the garage door.  The bagworm inches along bringing its case behind it.  The case is a disguise that makes it look a little like a pine cone.  I understand that these can cause a bad infestation, defoliating trees.  In this case there was just one wandering around the driveway and up the garage door.


Blue damselfly on basil


Goldenrod soldier beetle on black-eyed susan flowers.


America dagger moth caterpillar moving across the compost pile.


I saw quite a few of these planthopper bugs in the yard recently.  This one ended up inside the laundry room door.


Big spider webs are appearing around the yard.


The milkweed seeds have popped out of their pods and this one got stuck in a spider web.


When I looked at this picture on a big screen I can see little purple bugs, that look like ticks, chewing on this eggplant.


I need to enjoy these summer days while the weather is nice!

Summer Birds, Flowers, and Travel

Starlings, robins, house sparrows, and house finches are pretty common in our yard this summer.  It has been fun to see other birds, too.  If I have identified them incorrectly please let me know.


I believe this is an eastern kingbird, because of the white terminal tail band.


At first I thought the eastern kingbird was eating crabapples, but I think it is just the red color in his mouth.  Those crabapples are not very good this time of year, but there may be some good bugs around.  There were two of these birds flying between the viburnum and the crabapple tree.


I took a picture of a brown bird making noise at the kingbirds, and now that I have it on the screen it looks like a female rose-breasted grosbeak.


These are the two birds mentioned in my last blog that I think are Baltimore orioles.  The bird bath has really been fun to watch recently.


Every morning the house wren has been singing up a storm.  I have not been able to zoom and get a good picture, since my zoom can’t get a good picture of this small bird singing way up in a tree.  Here the house wren is looking for a meal in the garden bed.


Here is a shot of the backyard recently, where the birds have been visiting.


The rudbeckia – black-eyed susans – are at their peak this week. In the back is miscanthus morning light and Russian sage.


Agastache hyssop blue fortune is attracting the bees now.


Sunrise through a collard leaf.  I took this last week.  This week many of the leaves have small holes where they have been chewed.  Those worms are good bird food.


We visited Spokane for a wedding this past weekend.  Many places were very brown and dry, but the clouds were really fun during the weekend and the evergreens were everywhere.  It would be fun to visit again when we have more time to explore.  I believe this was Palisades Park.


This wheat field was right next to the wedding venue and we watched a beautiful sunset as the young people danced away the evening.


I read Orphan Train on the plane and just finished it.  I really enjoyed it!

Bird sighting:  I just saw a great egret wading near the shore at Lake Katherine.  I did not have a camera with me, but enjoyed watching it catch its supper.

Build Compost Pile and Spread Horse Manure

It is clean up time in the yard.  We mowed the lawn with a mulching mower that chops and gathers all the leaves along with the grass.  The compost pile was basically flat, so now is the time to build it up before winter.

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It is still sunny and windy enough to put a few clothes on the line, but time to pull in the clothes line soon.  You can see how much the house casts a shadow and we still have 6 weeks to the winter solstice.  In the back you can see the compost pile starting to form, and the dark brown color on the garden from the horse manure.

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I know this is not a beautiful picture, but I am always trying to understand what makes good soil.  I understand that organic matter is a reservoir of nutrients and water in soil.  It aids in reducing compaction, and it increases water infiltration.  Humus is what you get when the compost is completely decomposed so that is not going to decompose much more and has become stable.  That is the black stuff that looks like good dirt that is the end result of the compost pile.  In researching the value of manure I read that it adds nitrogen and helps the soil food web by encouraging microbial activity.  All of this improves soil structure.  I think I will need to study how soil works a lot longer to really understand it.  I went to the local horse stables where they have horse manure and straw in various stages of decomposition.  I shoveled up the most decomposed stuff and stuck it in buckets in the car trunk and brought it home for free.  Maybe I will do it again in the spring.

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The top leaves on the brussel sprout plant.  Really cold weather is projected later this week so I might have to eat or harvest the brussel sprouts more quickly.

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I finally got a shot of a chickadee in the crabapple tree.  I have been hearing the chickadee song all week and seeing them every day in the yard.

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Viburnum dentatum – Chicago Lustre.  The viburnum bushes are just starting to turn color and are currently hosting a flock of sparrows, though other birds fly in and out, too.  We planted two small bushes in the fall of 2009, I think, so it has been 5 years.  They were planted with the centers about 6 feet apart, with the idea that they would grow together to form a large bushy area.  They can grow up to 8 to 10 feet, I understand, which was the goal, but they get kind of leggy, and in the spring I will need to prune them to keep them growing nicely without falling down on the lawn.


I dug back in my old photos and found a picture of the two small viburnum bushes against the back fence in the spring of 2010.   They were a little over 3 feet tall and now are maybe 7 feet tall.  The garden has gotten messy since then, but I have had a lot of fun experimenting!

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Fall color on fothergilla bush.  I don’t know if you can see, but there is a branch in the bottom front with larger leaves.  That branch grew from below the grafting line and is a different cultivar.  The color is redder and the leaves are bigger.  I am not sure whether to cut the branch off and hope that a new branch will fill in from higher up, or just leave it as is.

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Miscanthus ‘ morning light’ seed heads.  I was looking at this grass more closely today and saw that the red seed heads were turning into the fluffy white stuff that the sparrow like so much for their nests.

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Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘little bunny’ fountain grass.  This is the largest the little bunny grass has gotten over quite a few years.

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Here is what little bunny looked like in August with rudbeckia – black-eyed susans.

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Almost all the plants have been cut down in the bed by the patio, except for this huge parsley plant!  Now we will be able to see the yew bushes from the kitchen window throughout the winter.  Under all the leaves is dragon’s blood sedum ground cover.  I need to chop it back some as it starts to cover the patio….

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Hicksii yew bushes.  This is a shot from when they were planted in the yard in September 2011.  You can see how much they have grown since then, in three years.

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I am not that fond of house sparrows, but it is interesting to watch their social behavior.  How many birds can yet get in a bird bath?  I can count at least 6 here.

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Finally, we went for a walk on the newly paved Cal-Sag bike trail this morning and came across this hornet’s nest.  Dan told me a story of when he was a little boy and took a hornet’s nest to school.  Once it got into a warm classroom the hornets started to come out and they had to get it outside quickly!

Butterfly, Beans, and Basil

A monarch butterfly has been visiting my garden many days.  Of course, I don’t know if there are different monarchs or it is the same one.  I only see one at a time.

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I was harvesting in my garden when a monarch landed on the clematis vine right by me and stayed there for a while.  Later the monarch landed on the joe pye weed, though I did not get a good picture.

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Earlier this week I saw a black swallowtail caterpillar on the parsley plant – which is a host plant for them.  Once I saw the photo on the computer it looks like there is possibly a smaller caterpillar behind it – the little black thing near it.

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This morning the clearwing moth – hummingbird moth – was sunning itself on the pole bean leaves.

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I pick beans every afternoon.  Here are pole beans.  The one in front is obvious, but I have to push back the leaves and look around for all the beans hiding in the vine.

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Between pole beans and yellow wax beans I pretty much filled an ice cream bucket.  I also found about a dozen strawberries today.  Besides that I am harvesting zucchini and cucumbers.

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On Friday I harvested the basil and made some pesto, which we ate on crackers or bread.  I still have some left and might throw it in my salads this week.

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Heliopsis helianthoides ‘Venus’ – false sunflower.  This came in the mail this spring.  I think I planted it a little early in the unmowed meadow, and I thought it had died.  But then it came back and is looking very pretty.

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We had company this weekend, so it was fun to share the garden.  Black-eyed susans in the background.

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A closer shot of the black-eyed susans and in the background Miscanthus ‘morning light.’  The Russian sage is also plentiful in the yard now.

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The aphids have arrived on the butterfly weed.  That means I need to keep my eyes open for lady bugs, or something else that feed on these guys.

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One morning this week I watched this mourning dove sit with its wings in the air for a while, presumably drying them out.  Sedum in the background.

Update on last weeks flies:  Remember the pictures of the clusters of flies on the asparagus plant last week?  It turns out that all those flies and many others died.  I found dead flies on leaves here and there around the garden.  I am not sure what caused it.  I know that my neighbor uses quite a bit of herbicides near the mulberry tree, so that may have been a problem.  I hate to think of that poison moving through the food chain in the soil.  There might be some other explanation, too.

On a cheerier note, we visited the Lurie gardens at Millennium Park.

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Rattlesnake-master and coneflowers at the Lurie Gardens.

Standing on Holy Ground

Sometimes stepping into the garden on a summer morning is a little like stepping into something holy, or sacred, or mystical, or magical, or whatever word you would use.  I like being out around 9:00 am once the dew has mostly disappeared and the bees and butterflies are actively feeding on all the sunny flowers.  It’s full of life.

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  Heliopsis helianthoides ‘Summer Sun’, Agastache blue fortune – anise hyssop, and Russian sage.  It might be a metallic green bee on the heliopsis.  The bees and flies are starting to discover the agastache – which will soon be a huge attraction in the garden.  This arrangement is in my “drought garden” right off the patio.

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If you want to see butterflies, moths, and other interesting creatures head to the northeast corner of the garden where coneflower, joe pye weed, and liatris spicata are blooming.  These native flowers are always buzzing with life.

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Joe Pye Weed ‘Gateway.’  Once the bees start working the flowers they look a little frazzled.

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Quite a few times this week I have seen clearwing moths – hummingbird moths – on the liatris spicata.  It is hard to get a good close-up.  They move quickly!

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A small brown moth was carefully working over this purple coneflower – Echinacea purpurea.  Can you see the tiny yellow flowers at the tips of the cone spikes?

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It looks like some kind of skipper butterfly is resting or sunning itself on a bok choy leaf.

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The black-eyed susans are starting to bloom now.  Here a fly is resting.

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Speaking of flies..  In seven or eight spots on the asparagus plant the flies seems to be having some kind of orgy or group experience of some kind.  They have been in this position for the past 24 hours….

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Juvenile robins being territorial or bossy.  I usually post pleasant pictures at the birdbath, but there is a lot of ‘king of the hill”  that happens here.  As I sit in my home office during the week I have a good view of the birdbath, and it is interesting to see who is waiting in line and who is being bossy.

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These zinnias are also easy to see from my office window.  I have both shorter and taller zinnias planted here.  They bring in gold finches and butterflies, but right now they are not nearly as exciting to the wildlife as the native flowers.  Still their beauty across the yard really cheers me up while I am working and they bring beneficial insects near the vegetable garden.

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The vegetables need to be picked and dealt with every day now.  This was probably the fifth huge cauliflower we picked and cooked.  It is purple from the nearby mulberries where the birds had been visiting.  Today I had a big bowl of cauliflower soup with new potatoes, kale, and green beans from the garden, mixed in with some cans of beans and a few other ingredients.

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We still have some everbearing strawberries blossoming, since we have had a lot of cool, wet weather.  The delicate colors caught my eye as I walked by.  Most of the berries are done now, though I have still been trying to forage for mulberries in the easement each morning for my cereal.

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I picked up a cheap white table on sale yesterday to put under my umbrella.  Now I can sit and read in the shade at lunch without balancing things on my lap.  I also repotted some of my house plants yesterday.  It was a good day to play with water from the hose as I cleaned up.  No problem having a green lawn this year.

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Ducks at Lake Katherine, where I take walks several times a week.

If you have made it this far you know that I put in a lot of pictures this week!  This was because I did not blog last week, so I was choosing from 179 photos that were on my camera.  It is a beautiful time of year and impossible to capture and share everything that is going on.