Quite a few years ago now, the city decided our street needed a walking trail, not just a mere sidewalk, along the roadside. As a consequence, residences lost 10-20 feet of their front yards, and some embellishments like granite boulders or brick walls were added to separate hillsides from walking trails. Somehow this spurred a roadside gardening movement, and the result is a long boulevard of very attractive gardens which have become a mecca for bees and butterflies.
Mid-summer, it’s the time when fruits are ripening, profusions of flowers light up backyards and prairies, and we see lots of birds, butterflies, and bees everywhere. It might be hot and sticky, but this is the time we’ve been thinking about on those cold winter days.
Lake water warms up, and mats of water lilies and duck weed clog the shorelines.
It’s that time of the year again, when the bugs and the deer discover all the tasty plants in my garden. While the Japanese beetles ravage the leaves of the apple trees and raspberries, the deer fawns chow down on the wildflowers. I don’t mind them, though, they are pretty cute, and very shy.
I count it as a good omen that the first animal I saw on this trip to Peru was a Monarch butterfly.
Walking among the high rise buildings and city industry of the Miraflores area of Lima, the only living things to be seen were people and plants. So when we stumbled across a park dedicated to the fallen defenders of the city during the War of the Pacific between Peru and Chile in 1881, I was delighted to find a few birds in the trees and a few Monarchs nectaring on the Lantana blossoms.
The number of bees in the backyard has quadrupled (or more) since New England Asters and Yellow Oxeye Daisy have begun blooming. On warm days the bumblebees and honeybees swarm over the flowers, probing quickly and moving on.
But on closer inspection, I saw a number of smaller bees that were sharing the pollen and nectar resources as well.
With the help of my trusty macro lens, I tried to zoom in on what these tiny bees were doing.
Small Carpenter Bees, like their larger cousins, are good at chewing their way into plant stems, constructing nesting chambers in the central pith for their larvae.
Sweat Bees were supposedly named for their attraction to moist, salty sweat on exposed skin of humans. Species in this very large bee family are typically small, often less than an inch in length, may be eusocial (with a queen and worker castes), and are one of the most important pollinators of commercial crops, like squash, legumes, sunflowers, watermelons, apples, cranberries, blueberries, strawberries, tomatoes and peppers, as well as native flora appearing in all seasons in in woodlands and fields.
They are a challenge to photograph because their head is usually buried in the flower, and they pause only very briefly on a flower, dipping deeply into it, before moving on.
Signs of fall are beginning to appear as a few maple trees show some red and gold color in their leaves, the squirrels are busy collecting nuts off the trees, Canada Geese fly in V-formation overhead, and a few of the wildlife start growing their winter coats. I first noticed the latter when the fawns suddenly appeared in the backyard without their spots.
What this tells me is that there have been at least two sets of twin fawns that have been eating up the backyard garden — and I thought it was just one hungry pair that had been doing all the damage.
What a surprise to find a lush wildflower garden growing in the damp soil at the edge of the St. Croix river at the Arcola Bluffs trail. A trail along the river’s edge led me through dense clumps of Cardinal flower, Blue Lobelia, Obedient plant, and Prairie Ironweed.
With this many attractive red flowers, you would expect to see hummingbirds, and sure enough they showed up right as I began noticing the dense flower patch.
White mutants of brightly colored animals or plants are usually genetic recessives, and are rare in the population. I imagine hummingbirds might skip over the nectar resources in this plant (wrong color to attract them), so it might not set much seed, which further contributes to its rarity.
Has this lovely wildflower garden always been here? Did I just happen to hit it during its peak flowering? Other wildflower enthusiasts have reported lush blooms of cardinal flower along the backwaters of the Mississippi and St. Croix recently (late July-early August), so maybe I have just never discovered these little patches of colorful diversity along the rivers.
On a walk around the San Jose neighborhood, I encountered a single absolutely giant sunflower in a sidewalk garden.
I admired the size of the flower head, which was about 16 inches across and probably weighed 10 pounds, wondering how many seeds must be packed in so very tightly and mathematically precisely (see an earlier post on “how many seeds in a sunflower seed head?”).
But then I got to thinking about what it takes to produce that giant flower head and develop all those seeds. Supported by enhanced woody fibers in the stalk and fed by photosynthetic machinery in huge, oversized leaves and an elongated, deep taproot reaching deep into the soil for water and nutrients, the enormous reproductive output of this plant has the potential to be record-breaking.
But alas, a quick google search confirmed that Hans-Peter Schaffer holds the Guinness record for sunflower height (30 feet, 1 inch), mine was probably just over 8 feet. The giant Mongolian sunflowers routinely grow to 16-18 feet and sport 18-24 inch flower disks, so my giant wasn’t really record breaking at all. Still impressive for an herbaceous plant, though!
The deer really like my backyard: they eat my plants, they bed down in the wildflower garden leaving big depressions in the vegetation, they rest right under the bird feeder, and believe it or not, the half-grown fawns chase the foxes right out of the yard. But I enjoy watching them parade through, so I just keep replanting the garden.
And where do these two learn where the best places to forage are?
More than 44,000 islands make up the archipelago off Sweden’s east coast, and they are a popular destination, especially during Midsommer festivities. A ferry trip to one of the most distant islands, Üto — site of one of Sweden’s oldest iron mines — was a great way to end our European tour. Some of the sights included: