Indigo Bunting, Skunk, and Garden Update

Indigo Bunting, Skunk, and Garden Update

We enjoy the garden this time of year, but also like to venture out in the many natural areas near where we live.

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Dan got a picture of a male indigo bunting singing in a tree at Lake Katherine last Saturday morning.

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The dragonflies are active this time of year.  This might be a blue darner.  I am seeing fireflies at night in the garden now, too.

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This monarch was at Lake Katherine on the thistle plants last week.  I may have seen one Monarch in our yard this year, but that is about all.  My zinnias are just about to start blooming, so that will attract them.

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I am going to sneak in this very blurry picture of an eastern bluebird that we saw in the Palos forest preserve yesterday.  The mosquitoes were after us when I was trying to take this picture, so that is my excuse for the poor picture!

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On our walk yesterday we passed this stump with interesting fungi.  I don’t know if you can see the hole in the log just below the top fungi, which looks like a nice home for some critter.

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Back in our yard, the monarda, bee balm, that I planted two or three years ago finally bloomed for the first time.  We have it growing in our tall grass area.

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One day this week I was working at my desk and looked out of the window to see something black and white that caught my eye.  We had left the back gate open and the skunk must have come in, snooped around for a minute, but then went back out the gate, which we then closed.

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Here is a closer look at one of the marigolds that was behind the skunk in the picture.

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A peek into my garden where things are getting going.  The cucumber is just starting to take off on the right.  Behind that I just planted two little tomato plants that my Arab neighbor lady gave me.  I don’t really need more tomatoes, but I am curious to see how they will do and I seem to have room right now for them.

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I took this picture of the zucchini plant about a week ago.  Since then it rained a little and there were a few flowers and the first small zucchini is coming along. Get ready for zucchini!

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We have been picking and eating a lot of raspberries in the garden this week.  Dan and I have each had a couple of good handfuls a day.  I throw in some mulberries and service berries into my morning oatmeal, too.

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There were quite a few blueberries on the Duke blueberry bush, but it seems to take forever for them to turn blue.  I think this bush is dying.  Our soil is not acidic and this bush does not really get enough sun.  But it has made a great effort to produce this year.

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Pink hydrangea.

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This morning we went to the McGinnis slough in the forest preserve in Palos Park.  As we were looking at the great blue herons and egrets we noticed a deer walking in the slough.  It seemed to be eating lily pads.

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Its ears were perked up and it looked our way a long time as we looked at it.

Rain:  As I was writing this post we just had a nice rain shower.  It was just over a tenth of an inch, so not a lot, but even that should help everything in the garden, as it has been a bit dry recently.  It cooled the temperature down, too.

Backyard blooms, berries and beyond

Backyard blooms, berries and beyond

Following on in the “B” theme, look in this blog post for a bull frog, blue damselfly and Indiana dunes beach….

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The butterfly weed is in bloom.  We are waiting for the monarch butterflies to visit…

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Veronica spicata Spike speedwell ‘Royal Candles’ a little bit past its prime.  Red hot poker flowers in the background.

IMG_8523Kniphofia red hot pokers in front of miscanthus ‘morning light’ ornamental grass.

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The view from the patio.

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Aruncus goat’s beard does well on the north side of the house.

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The first gaillardia blooms.

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Bright yellow yarrow, and in the background salvia ‘blue hill.’

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The alyssum re-seeds itself each year and is starting to bloom now.

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Does cauliflower count as a flower?  I cooked this up in a soup today!

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The collards are looking nice and we are trying to keep up with eating them before the cabbage worms do their munching.  This plant does not look too chewed on.

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We haven’t had to buy lettuce for a few weeks.  This leaf lettuce is nice, but the romaine is starting to bolt with the hot weather.

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In a bowl this morning from our yard – serviceberries, strawberries, mulberries and raspberries.  I enjoyed them with my oatmeal.

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Ripening serviceberry.  I am competing with the birds for these now.  The robins are often in the serviceberry tree.

IMG_8530Unfortunately this berry loving cedar waxwing died after crashing into our kitchen window!  I saw a big serviceberry in its mouth before it died.

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A downy woodpecker has been visiting the birdbath.

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There seem to be a lot of wasps in the yard this year.

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Blue damselfly on miscanthus ornamental grass.

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We visited Indiana Dunes State Park last weekend.  We hiked for a couple of hours in the dunes before enjoying our lunch with the crowd on the beach.

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A little cactus along the prairie trail.  This state park has quite a few endangered species.

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Tomahawk Slough in the Palos Forest Preserve, where we hiked last Sunday.

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One of many bullfrogs at Tomahawk Slough.

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There were also a ton of little toads or frogs hoping around near the water and on the trail.  I guess it is time for them to head out on their own and see if they survive.

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Great blue heron at Tomahawk Slough.

Birding:  I signed up for a birding blitz in the Palos Forest Preserve for June 17th.  I am just an amateur birder, so I was looking forward to going out with someone who could identify a ton of birds.  I showed up in the parking lot at 5:30 am and then remembered to check my email on my phone.  The blitz had been canceled for weather reasons, as thunderstorms were predicted.  I could hear all the birds around me, but the expert birders were not there.  We did not get any rain on Saturday as I guess the rain fell somewhere else.  But it was probably a good thing that I was not involved, as my foot has been giving me some trouble after all that hiking last weekend.  So it is a good weekend to just rest and recover and get this blog post done!

 

June Garden and Illinois Waterways

June Garden and Illinois Waterways

Everything is growing and green now!  The trees have leafed out, the flowers are taking their turns blooming, the vegetables are getting going and the weeds are doing what weeds do…  The birds and the bees are active!

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The chinquapin oak tree is on the left and the crabapple tree on the right.  The crabapple is having another bad year, with the leaves turning brown and falling.  Last year we did not have any crabapples and that might happen again this year.  But we are enjoying the irises blooming this week.

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Red iris

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The male northern flicker was hanging out looking for an ant meal.

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The yarrow flowers have finally turned yellow.  In the back you can see the first pink foxglove flower.

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Foxglove in foreground, on the left the lady’s mantle is blooming, and in the back penstemon – beardtongue – is getting ready to bloom.

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The grasses in the unmowed “meadow” catch the morning sunlight.  The grasshoppers and damselflies love this area.  The robins are starting to visit the serviceberry bush for a berry snack.  The raspberries on the fence are forming and will ripen in a few weeks.

Road Trip

10 days ago we headed out for a four-day vacation in central Illinois.  The day we took off was rainy, so we spent time driving down to Alton, IL.

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The fields were just getting started.  We enjoyed being out in the country.

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Thursday morning we visited the Audubon Center at Riverlands in Alton, where we spotted this Eastern Kingbird.

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The male indigo bunting kept its distance, but the color is wonderful!

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Many areas along the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers were flooded.  We went hiking at Pere Marquette State Park.  Climbing the hills got us away from the flooding and provided wonderful views of the Illinois River.  Can you see the little brown ribbon of a trail we took to get us up to this hilltop where a few benches provided a rest area?

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Dan on the Pere Marquette State Park trail.

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The next morning we visited the Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area and enjoyed a walk around this little pond.

We did not stay long as our goal was to visit Emiquon, run by the Nature Conservancy.

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Emiquon is a Nature Conservancy project in a flood plain along the Illinois River, and a lot of migrating birds stop over here.  However, migration season is mostly over and this time of year is when the flooding is the highest.

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We tried, without much luck, to zoom in on birds across the water that looked like pelicans.

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We drove by a snapping turtle, but did not get too close.

Then we crossed the Illinois River and went over to take a look at Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge, where the flood waters were high as well.

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A lot of drift wood came to rest on the shore at Chautauqua Lake.

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Red-headed woodpecker at Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge.

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On Saturday we visited Matthiessen State Park on the Vermillion River.  Since it was Memorial Day weekend the crowds were large and the trails had turned into muddy pits, that took a lot of skill to navigate!

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Cedar waxwings were in the tree above the river.  I have seen them in our yard this week, too, looking for serviceberries or other ripe berries.

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Sunrise view from the hotel in Yorkville, where we stayed Saturday night.

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We visited Silver Springs State Fish and Wildlife Area on Sunday morning.  There were several lakes as well as a trail along the Fox River.

We enjoyed all the places we saw and now will get back to hiking in our wonderful neck of the woods.

Daily Wonders

Daily Wonders

When you wake up you never know what you might see.  I am often surprised when I take time to look around.

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Double-crested cormorants rest between diving for a meal at the Saganashkee Slough last Sunday morning.

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Double-crested cormorant

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This was our first time hiking on the south side of the slough in the Palos forest preserve, and we walked under this flock of cormorants who had found a dead tree branch to rest on and dry their wing on this sunny morning.  It took a while to find a place to photograph the birds that was not blocked by trees and had the right angle for the light.

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View from the west side of Saganashkee Slough.  The great blue heron flew across the lake as a fisherman sits with a few bobbers in the water.  The cormorants were in a tree somewhere on the right side of this picture further down the lake.

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A sandpiper was hopping along on the shore.

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Back in our yard the white-crowned sparrows visited for a few days in their migration.  This one was in the Chinquapin oak tree among the fresh catkins.

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The white-crowned sparrow visits the birdbath.

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Raspberry getting ready to flower.  All the berries are in progress now, just needing rain and sun.

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The chive flowers were spilling over the strawberries.

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Red romaine lettuce.  We have been eating lettuce from the garden each day.  The little bean and zinnia seeds have sprouted, but I see the bunny has arrived, so I am not sure that they will survive.

 IMG_7803 Wax bean sprouts.  Will they survive the bunny?

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No more need to buy expensive kale at the supermarket until December….

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I planted a few coleus to fill the space of the viburnum we cut down, due to the invasive viburnum beetles we had last year.  Maybe next year I will have more time to find a shrub replacement.

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Ajuga reptans.  So much blue in the garden now.  The hostas are growing up in the shade.

IMG_7812Clematis jackmanii.  I love seeing these big flowers across the yard from the kitchen window.

Fall Insect Life

The coral mums are attracting a lot of insect action.  Some visitors may be looking for nectar and some may be attracted to the deteriorating plants.

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Ailanthus webworm moth

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The mums are beautiful from a distance, but many flowers are past their prime.

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A honey bee of some sort coming for nectar.

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Spotted cucumber beetle

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This hover fly appeared to be mostly dead and the fly was checking out both the flower and the insect.

Below are other creatures I saw on the mums yesterday.

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Above are various flies and moths that I captured in pictures on the mums.  Some were too small or fast moving to catch.  There was one giant bumble bee near the geraniums that moved to quickly to catch in a photo.

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I noticed that there were tiny insects on the nasturtium flowers, too.  The nasturtiums have really been beautiful this fall.

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 I took a little time yesterday to use twisty ties to attach the raspberry vines to the fence.  Earlier in the summer I cut off this years vines when they had finished producing fruit.  Now the vines that grew this year will have raspberries next year.

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 In early October I noticed a lot of aphids on the swamp milkweed plants.  I wondered what predator would come to feast on them.

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Yesterday I saw a half dozen lady bugs running up and down the branches of the milkweed, without an aphid in sight.  I love it when these beneficial insects take care of the problem with no cost to me or harm to the environment.

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I will throw in a picture from a walk at the Little Red Schoolhouse path in the forest preserve last week.

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The yellow and orange leaves of this sassafras tree caught my attention.  There was a little stand of sassafras trees, which is not that common in this neck of the woods.

Back to another week of work, but I really enjoyed getting out in the autumn colors this weekend!

Berries and Goat’s Beard

Berries and Goat’s Beard

After a poor start on the strawberries, I got ahead of the birds and bugs by picking strawberries once or twice a day.  We ate out first raspberry on Friday.  We are working through the cool weather vegetables now, eating a lot of lettuce and kale, starting on the collards, and enjoying a few peas.

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I picked this small bowl of berries yesterday and ate them with a little vanilla ice cream.  Yummy!  It includes strawberries, raspberries, mulberries and service berries, also called June berries.

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We tied the raspberries canes to the fence and they are just getting started bearing fruit.  Once the raspberries are eaten we will cut back those canes and tie up this year’s new canes that will have raspberries next year.

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Aruncus dioicus Goat’s Beard.  Since we have moved the goat’s beard to this location it keeps getting bigger each year and I can enjoy it from my office window.

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Close up of the goat’s beard flowers which have been attracting a lot of pollinators, especially some really big bees.

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So far it looks like we have one red hot poker flower coming.  A month ago in Washington state I saw a lot of these blooming, so maybe that climate is better for them.  You can see one small blue petunia on the ground.  The rabbit nibbled down all the petunias when we first planted them.  We finally got rid of the rabbit, for now, so the flowers are getting going again.  Also in the picture are gaillardia, spike speedwell, ‘little bunny’ pennisetum fountain grass and Russian sage.

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Spike Speedwell Veronica spicata ‘Royal Candles.’   These plants are on the decline in my garden, but I enjoy them for a little while each year.

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We have a little bit of leaf lettuce in the yard, but we are mostly eating romaine lettuce these days.  I love eating fresh lettuce in my daily salad.

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Curly kale.  We just made some bean and vegetable soup.

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Wild kale.  I bought the seeds for the wild kale from Seed Savers Exchange.  I don’t like the flavor of all the types of kale so I weeded out those and was left with the mild kale I like.  It is blooming now, since I planted it last fall, but I just keep taking off the flowers.

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Pea flower.  I think these are sugar peas.

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The pole beans are just starting to climb.  We should have flowers on those before long.  The compost pile in the back has shrunk way down.  It is probably soon ready to spread around the garden.

Cauliflower, Broccoli, and Strawberries

We have been eating lettuce for a while, but yesterday we cooked up some soup with our first head of cauliflower, and we need to harvest the first head of broccoli today.  We have been eating a lot of strawberries this week.  Actually Dan reached his limit of strawberries, but I still have room for more!

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This cauliflower was a lot smaller than the ones last year, but probably about 7 inches across, so big enough.  The soup we made also had asparagus and mushrooms from the farmer’s market.

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It looks like I need to pick this broccoli head for super.

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Potato flowers.  I planted red potatoes this year, but these potatoes came up from whatever we missed getting out of the ground last year.

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Backing up you can see the same potato plants on the left, next to some flowers  – Penstemon digitalis (foxglove beard tongue), a native plant.  In front are wax beans that are getting crowded out by the potatoes.  I can always plant some more wax beans, if I get around to it.

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Tomato flower.  These are “Amish paste” tomatoes, that were so good last year.

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I have been picking one to two pints of strawberries a day.  Rain and heat help.

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Strawberry rhubarb sauce.  I have made three batches this year.  I realize how much rhubarb I threw in the compost pile the past years…  Of course, it requires a lot of sugar, but other than that there is no cost to me.  I have been enjoying it with some yummy ice cream.

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Our neighbors cut down some weed trees, and with them the raspberry canes.  Raspberries come on second year canes, I believe, so they are growing back for raspberries next year.  And now we have some growing on our side of the fence, the right side, too!

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I think this is oakleaf lettuce.  We pick leaves off and more grow back.  We have romaine lettuce and some baby kale for salads and smoothies, too.

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A few flower pictures, too…  Blue hill salvia, max frei geraniums, and penstemon digitalis.

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The alchemilla lady’s mantle plants have been big this year.  Behind them the catmint is blooming.  On the right in front is the caryopteris and the baptisia australis is in back.  I could get rid of some of these plants, but I don’t have to pick weeds here, or at least I don’t see them, when the plants are big like this.

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Straight through the opening in the last picture – the spike speedwell royal candles are blooming and the gaillardia are getting going, too.

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Geranium ‘rozanne’ with lady’s mantle in the background.

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The joe pye weed on the right is starting to get tall.  Last year I pinched them back.  I think I will not pinch them back and leave them with some supports this year and see how tall they get.  In front are white foxgloves, liatris getting ready to bloom, and foliage of the turtlehead flowers.

Sightings:  A chipmunk that seems to be under the hostas or the irises.  The rabbit persists.  We are learning to live with it, but give it chase now and then.