Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Butterfly Gardening To Renew Your Sense of Wonder

There is something about a butterfly that stirs in adults the sense of wonder that children feel. The colors and fluttering wings excite us and invite a closer look. They seem so ephemeral and free.
But butterflies have a rough time of it. When fields become malls and open spaces become home sites, some habitat is lost. When pesticides are used, they may fall victim. And I can't begin to tell you how many I've washed from my windshield and grill.

Maybe, then, planting a butterfly garden would be the right thing to do. Butterfly gardens help establish new habitats and improve the ecosystem. What is more, they bring these beauties into view so we can experience that lost sense of wonder.
A proper butterfly garden needs the following:
  • Sun. Butterflies enjoy it because the warmth invigorates them. In addition, many of their favorite nectar-producing plants grow best in sunny locations.
  • Flowers. Butterflies need blooms that produce nectar.
  • Host plants. There are two kinds to consider: those that provide a place to lay eggs, and those that provide food for caterpillars. Some plants may serve both purposes. You'll have to tolerate chewing damage on them. Better yet, learn to love it.
  • Water. A very shallow puddle or spot of mud that is consistently wet will be much appreciated.
  • The butterfly garden must also be pesticide-free.
When designing the butterfly garden, remember that it is for them, not just for you. So you may have to abandon some of your aesthetic preferences. You see, some of the best nectar plants are not all that attractive. Many are, in fact, weeds. Butterflies don't care what the garden looks like. A colorful jumble will suit them just fine. And, like most of us, they just can't get enough of a good thing. You'll need to either plant your butterfly garden apart from your vegetable or flower garden, or learn to look at some weeds through different eyes.

Butterflies seem to prefer plants native their local habitat, so consider them first. This means you may want to do a little research to determine which native plants to include. But if you don't have the time or inclination to do so, worry not. Butterflies will adapt just fine to non-native plants.
Here is a list of some native plants that attract butterflies:
  • Asclepias incarnata, A. syriaca, A. tuberosa. These are commonly known as Milkweed or Butterfly Weed.
  • Aster spp. These include the New England Asters, Michaelmas Daisys, and many others.
  • Bidens spp. Commonly known as Tickseed.
  • Clethra alnifolia. This lovely shrub produces long-lasting clusters of sweet-smelling flowers that you'll also enjoy.
  • Echinacea purpurea. Coneflower. Many new varieties of this native beauty are often introduced, but 'Magnus' and 'White Swan' are very reliable.
  • Eupatorium spp. These include Queen-Of-The-Meadow and Joe Pye Weed. Both are stately additions to the perennial garden.
  • Itea virginica. Also known as Virginia Sweetspire. With a lot of ornamental potential, it begs to be included in the landscape.
  • Liatris spp. Blazing Star. It's a favorite for cutting and flower arrangements.
  • Lobelia spp. Cardinal Flower (L. cardinalis) is one of my favorites.
  • Verbena spp. This genus includes natives, non-natives and naturalized species. Brazilian Verbena, Homestead Purple, Homestead Pink, Peruvian Verbena, Ron Deal and others.
  • Vernonia noveboracensis. Also known as New York Ironweed.
Here is a list of some non-native plants that attract butterflies:
  • Asclepias curassavica. Another known as Butterfly Weed.
  • Gomphrena globosa. Globe Amaranth.
  • Lantana spp. Often grown as annuals in colder climates, they survive as perennials in southern states. New Gold is extremely popular, but other good ones include Miss Huff, Trailing Purple, etc.
  • Mentha spp. Mint. Many are available and are as delicious to humans as to butterflies.
  • Pentas lanceolata. These are treated as annuals in northern states, but grow as perennials in warmer climates.
  • Tagetes patula. Marigolds.
  • Tithonia spp. Mexican sunflower.
  • Zinnia. This delightful annual needs no introduction. So easy a child can grow them.
As I mentioned earlier, butterflies need host plants for food and a place to lay their eggs. Here is a short list.
  • Antirrhinum majus. Snapdragon. Buckeye butterflies love them. Plant some for yourself elsewhere.
  • Asclepias spp. Milkweed and Butterfly Weed. These do triple duty. Butterflies enjoy the nectar, they provide cover for eggs, and caterpillars eat them. Monarchs are particularly fond of Asclepias.
  • Parsley, Dill, Fennel. Black Swallowtail caterpillars will do a number on them. Plant some for yourself, too, in another location.
  • Cornus florida. Dogwoods are beneficial for Spring Azures.
  • Humulus lupulus. Hops. These are as useful for Red Admiral butterflies as they are for brewmasters.
  • Lindera benzoin. Spicebush is a lovely native with ornamental possibilities. Makes a good tea, too. Spicebush Swallowtails love 'em.
  • Prunus serotina. Wild Cherry. Painted Lady butterflies prefer them.
  • Salix spp. Willows are attractive to Viceroys.
  • Viola spp. Pansies and Violets entice Great Spangled Fritillarys.
In addition to various plant selections, there are also other ways to be kind to butterflies. Nectar feeders attract them. The added advantage is that you can position them close to your windows so you can get a better look at the little creatures. Children, of course, will be captivated. I can't think of a better way to help them learn and appreciate these wonderful gifts of Nature.
When circumstances don't allow for planting host plants (or even if they do), a butterfly house can provide a sheltered place for butterflies to lay their eggs. Besides being eco-friendly, they also look great as decorative objects in the garden.
For more information, visit the following websites:
If you've planted a butterfly garden before, I'd love for you to share your experiences with the rest of us. To do so is easy; just add your comments to this blog!

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Behind A Garden Wall in Savannah: The Isaiah Davenport House

An unfortunate result of living near a scenic destination is that one may seldom visit it. So it was for me and Savannah's historic Davenport house, until one afternoon I passed that garden wall and realized I had no idea what grew behind it.

The lovely Federal-style home was completed by Isaiah Davenport, a master builder, as his own residence in 1820. Restored with care, the house features original plasterwork, a beautiful cantilever staircase and furnishings authentic to the 1820s. The courtyard garden was originally a Bicentennial project of the Trustees' Garden Club of Savannah. It was later re-designed by well-known horticulturist Penelope Hobhouse. Saved from demolition in 1955, the effort was the first of many for the Historic Savannah Foundation and marked the beginning of the historic preservation movement in Savannah.

Join me now for this photographic tour.

This decorative urn serves as a central focal point. It is planted with season annuals.

The garden is laid out in a style typical of the Federal period. Beds are outlined with boxwood. Small magnolias and crape myrtles provide adequate shade.

Foundational plants include Aspidistra elatior, Ficus pumila, Trachelospermum jasminoides, Pittosporum tobira, and Camellia cultivars. A slate-paved courtyard provides a delightful place to relax.

With advance reservations, the staff at the Davenport House can arrange delightful visits for groups. The hospitality options can include exclusive tours of the site along with refreshments such as coffee, orange juice and muffins, wine and cheese, Madiera, and desserts.

The Isaiah Davenport house is located on the corner of State Street and Habersham in historic Savannah, GA.

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

How To Define and Prepare Landscape Planting Beds

Most homeowners understand the need for foundation plantings around their residence, but landscape planting beds in the lawn are also very desirable. They can improve the appearance and “curb-appeal” of the home and increase the market value of the property. Landscape beds also reduce the turf area, thereby reducing the need for turf irrigation, turf fertilizing and mowing time.

There are many possible procedures that one could use to define and prepare a landscape planting bed. The one I describe here is simple and easy to do.

The contours of the bed should be aesthetically pleasing. What satisfies one person may not satisfy another. But I prefer beds that are curved and flowing.

Beds that incorporate existing trees should include all roots that are exposed in the lawn. This will help to avoid mower damage to the roots. Mower damage will weaken and may kill the roots, thereby causing the trees to be structurally unstable.

Planting beds that are near structures or other planting beds should allow adequate passage between for lawn mowers and foot traffic. If that is not possible, consider incorporating all into one large landscape bed.

Begin by roughly defining the contours with small marking flags. These are available at many hardware and building supply stores. You can then view the proposed area from different angles as you might view a sculpture. Make necessary adjustments by moving the flags.

Next, “connect the dots” by sketching the contours between the flags with red or orange marking paint. Paint is available in aerosol spray. It is easily applied with a hand-held wand. This simple, single-wheel device holds the paint can upside down at ground level. A trigger on the handle controls the flow of spray. Apply the paint while rolling the wand around the contour of the bed. Paint and a wand are sold in many hardware and building supply stores.

This is the point at which you should take more care to produce aesthetically appealing curves, giving attention to proportion and detail. If you make mistakes, don’t worry. You can easily “erase” errors with your foot and make corrections. Marks that are not thoroughly erased will either be covered by mulch or mowed away.

When the shape of the bed is finally determined, grass within the bed can be killed with a spray application of herbicide such as glyphosate. Glyphosate will not remain in the soil to endanger future plantings. Spray on a calm day to avoid drift onto desirable shrubs and turf. Avoid spraying if irrigation or rainfall is possible within the next six hours. Take care not to allow herbicide to be carried on the bottom of shoes to areas outside of the planting bed. Always follow label instructions and wear protective clothing as recommended. Take precautions to protect other people and pets. Allow herbicide to dry thoroughly before re-entering the area.

Bed contours can be established and made more or less permanent by various means. Metal, plastic or concrete edging may be installed. I prefer to establish the bed with a trenching machine. The EZ Trench Bedscaper Bed Edger and Trencher is perfect for this purpose. The machine produces a trench about 4" deep with a straight outer edge and a sloping inside edge. Soil is easily leveled with a hard rake toward the inside of the bed. (I have no profit interest in this machine or the company that manufactures it. Mine is an honest recommendation.)

Unless the soil is severely compacted, I recommend not roto-tilling the planting bed. Tilling brings weed seeds to the surface which will germinate and cause future problems. It is better to carefully prepare each planting hole by digging to the proper size and softening the soil with a garden fork.

Whether the bed is planted or not, an immediate application of mulch will improve the appearance of the bed, retain moisture, and suppress weeds.

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