Just Being Nature’s Friend

Posted by on Sep 25, 2015 in Garden Thoughts | 3 comments

Just Being Nature’s Friend

gj_date25sep2015I am not your atypical gardener. My garden is not neat nor tidy and has many flaws. These are not the hypercritical flaws that only a perfectionist could point out but more of the “I let weeds grow in certain areas” type of flaws. I grow clover everywhere and pray it will replace my grass one day. Dandelions have a spot as do certain thistles. A “weed” has to become much of a nuisance (pigweed for example) before I will pull it. Some things just get too invasive if left to their own devices. It can be argued that dandelions are very invasive to let stay. In the defense of dandelions, I consider it a crop as the leaves are extremely nutritious.

Interlude
Dandelion leaves are perhaps the most nutritious green you can eat. They are packed with antioxidants and the health benefits are proven. More on that in another post.

dandelion_bowl

To add to all my idiosyncrasies, I grow certain plants for the sole purpose of being eaten – typically by caterpillars. When living in Tucson, I grew a passion flower vine native to the desert southwest of Arizona just to have it eaten by gulf frit larvae. The vines expected this however and once they were defoliated, they grew more leaves and along came more gulf frits and so the cycle went. I would never consider spraying butterfly caterpillars nor remove their larvae, etc. My garden is a reclaimed habitat for those that have been displaced.

This year I grew many host plants and the bounty of insects that arrived was a sort of homecoming I will forever cherish. First it was the ladybugs that swarmed to the yarrow and the Queen Anne’s lace. Every gardener wants ladybugs to visit their garden and yet few realize it is a simple process of including plants they love for food and raising young. My next visitor I am happy to say was the black swallowtail who by all sheer joys proceeded to lay eggs on my dill.

Interlude
For reasons that elude me, I have had difficulty in the past growing dill. I don’t know why but this year, many varieties came up including the mammoth dill. It is on this dill that the female black swallowtail decided this would be a great place to lay her eggs. I was excited to harvest the dill for myself but once I realized this was a host plant for this magnificent butterfly, I let them enjoy it instead.

dill

During a casual morning of routine watering, I looked down and there were the caterpillars in various stages of growth. Most were in their first and second instar stages. In a flash, I had full grown caterpillars decimating my dill plant to bare stems. I loved every moment of it. Here are some photographs:

black_swallowtail_3rd_instar

black_swallowtail_full_grown

black_swallowtail_third_instar

black_swallowtail_2nd_instar

As quickly as they arrived, they were gone. I would really love to know where they wandered to pupate. I never saw a single chrysalis. I was told by a fellow gardener that they are camouflaged so well that I could be staring right at one and not even realize. I just pray they all emerged and are on their way to somewhere warm.

My friends, the garden is our solace and of course we want it to look its best. Saying that, our gardens are more than just the beds, the shrubs and the décor. They are home to many critters and with habitats disappearing at an alarming rate, wouldn’t it be great to give back to nature by being a friend to all. I am not saying to welcome the aphids or sawfly larvae with open arms but perhaps those creatures that benefit us in one way or another should be welcomed.

Perhaps next year, you can grow some dill or parsley (plants from the carrot family) so to attract the black swallowtail, some Queen Anne’s Lace for the ladybugs, milkweed for the monarchs and the list goes on and on. It is easy to be nature’s friend.

I thank you kindly for reading. I apologize for the lack of entries. If I can offer any defense, it is because I have been too busy gardening. Saying that, the season is winding down and I hope to post many articles highlighting all the miracles I witnessed. Blessings to you and yours and happy gardening!

3 Comments

  1. Benjy – you have a singularly philosophical attitude to the critters that gobble up your plants!! I admire you for it, but i’m afraid I can’t share it. I have some creature of the night that comes up and ravishes various plants big time – not like a caterpillar, but more like a huge rabbit or gopher or squirrel. Whatever it is, it either flies or climbs very well, as some of the eaten plants are way off the ground. Its appetite is voracious and quite varied – this morning I found whole bits of my jasmine bush grazed off! This is the first year this has happened, and, as I imagine the local fauna has not changed, I wonder what has changed, so that it – they – have suddenly discovered dining at Eve’s Diner!

  2. Hi there Eve,

    First, I thank you most kindly for reading my blog AND for leaving a comment. I believe I must add some clarification here regarding my philosophical approach to gardening. I am actually selective as to what I allow to be eaten. It is hard to describe or perhaps even justify my thought process but certain plants are meant to be eaten and others are not. Milkweeds, dill, parsley and other herbs know how to rebound quickly from caterpillar feedings. Plants destroyed by voles, moles, rabbit and deer, not so much. As such, rabbits, squirrels, moles, voles, mice, rats, magpies (they kill baby birds), grackles, starlings, etc. are not welcome. I do not have to worry about deer thank God.

    There is a great book and I really must dig it out again but the beginning pages describes a gardener’s plan to ‘save’ his garden by attempting to eradicate a gopher. In his attempt to save it, he about destroys it. I –touch wood– have been lucky in that I do not have destructive pests treating my garden like a salad buffet and I empathize with anyone who has that problem. I wish I could help you identify your pest.

    Finally, I realize I am talking out of both sides of my mouth in that for many people out there, the site of a caterpillar munching away at any plant would be horrifying as it would disrupt the cosmetic beauty of everything. The answer most have is to kill everything whether said creature is beneficial or not. That’s fine I guess if you want a sterile garden. So, what about my not welcoming every critter. Well… moles, voles, mice, rats, rabbits, gophers, etc. are not in danger of disappearing due to loss of habitat. Most of these critters are well adapted to urban life and they will forever be prolific. Our pollinators and other various insects however need our help so in that regard, they are welcome to come along and eat all my dill, parsley or whatever.

    Long winded answer I know. 🙂

  3. Well I love your philosophical attitude, but my love of animals extends well beyond caterpillars!! However, I ma have caught my robbers – this morning there were two pack rats in the live cage, and they are about to be relocated to a pack rat city way out on the ranch, where we always put the ones we catch here. I think it is far enough away and attractive enough for them not to return… Now it just remains to see if the desecration of my flower gardens lessens or not. The latest victims were newly planted hollyhocks!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.