I’m Often Asked What I Have . . .

Butterflyweed Wildflowers at Raccoon Creek State Park

Here we are in the middle of Spring 2016, and I’ve been asked over and over again, what I’ve planted and will plant in My Own home garden in Pittsburgh. Established 4 years ago, this once wasteland of a space was renewed, with 3 truckloads of good grade topsoil and 1.5 truckloads of mushroom manure (available here in southwestern Pennsylvania). Distributed, graded and contoured, this was given time to settle in, and then we planted the foundation beds. The front bed is approximately 45 feet by 10 feet, sits behind an iron fence, and on a good sunny weekend day, sees no less than several hundred adults and children pass to and from Frick Park, our next door neighbor. The Park offers the nearby and locally famous ‘Blue Slide Playground’ as well as ball fields, meadows, forest and extraordinary Off Leash Area for dogs. This 900+ acre park is in the city of Pittsburgh. Well maintained, it is heavily used.

Imagine that. Hundreds of people may walk by my front garden on a sunny Saturday or Sunday. I engage some of them in conversation, and I enjoy that alot. Questions are appreciated, and responses are rationed, depending on how much the questioner wants to hear.

So the front garden and the rear side garden share my time and energy.

I’ve gone Native, with much thanks for that to Kathy McGregor of Sylvania Natives and her suggestion, read Doug Tallamy’s book. I did and things changed. I went native, for good reason.

Just a few days ago I was asked to share a photograph of the front garden. I tumbled this over in my mind, and concluded that sharing photographs of gardens somehow seems to not do them justice. Rare the image that produced the beauty of an entire garden.

The front garden, along appropriately named Beechwood Boulevard, features American plum (3), Pagoda dogwood (2), Ice hydrangea (3), False dragonhead (a pleasant surprise), irises (dutch), Milkweed (A. syriaca – Thank you Monarch Watch), Cardinal Flower (Native), Asters (2 different cultivars), Crocosmia (To buck up my Ruby throated visitors), Daffodils, Hyacinths,  Salvia (2-3 types), Giant Zinnia (obtained locally from the greenhouse in Clayton (the Frick mansion)) and Tulips. This year I’ve added: Dense Liatris (Gayfeather ), additional Native Cardinal flower, New Jersey Tea, a Striped Maple (for fun). I have too, 3 painted rocks, created for me by a very talented artist.

The rear side garden is a Big challenge, as I add new plants by day, and Frick Park’s groundhogs, deer and perhaps opossums always remember to leave me a Thank you Note the next morning. Persist I do though, and the garden features 3 Dogwood trees (Cherokee pink), 2 American Hornbeam trees, 2 Chokecherry trees, a Tulip Poplar tree, 2 Hazelnut bushes and 8 bedraggled Pussy Willow bushes (feasted on daily? by deer). In this rear side garden there is the ‘Peanut garden’ with belgian block (AKA cobblestones in native Brooklyn) with Cutleaf Coneflower, Monkeyflower, Milkweed (A. syriaca), Dwarf Balloonflower, Daffodils, Pipevine (Thanks Curt), Tithonia (Mexican sunflower), Liatris, Dill, Mint (Chocolate?) and . . . Anise Hyssop, which No One told me is terribly invasive!! The seeds of anise hyssop have what seems to be 110% success. I also have a side small bed with Senna (Native). This year I’ve added: Shrubby St. John’s Wort, Buttonbush and Native Butterfly Weed ( Asclepias tuberosa, acquired at the Adkins Arboretum in Maryland’s Shore area). I hope my new Butterfly weed grows to be as lush and healthy as the one shown in this image, seen in Raccoon Creek State Park.

Yesterday I watched a very buff looking garter snake (3 feet) happily moving through the front garden. A pleasing sight to anyone who loves their garden and welcomes any and all visitors. So there it is, the sign is out for Butterflies, Bees, Wasps, Moths, Hummingbirds, Birds, Snakes, Earthworms, Fox and yes, Groundhogs, Deer, Opossum, Raccoons and whomever else shows up. Ain’t the Pittsburgh your Grandma remembers.

Jeff

Anxious Monarch Watchers

Monarch butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park

Monarch butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park

She was the only butterfly that did that. As I approached her, on that spent wildflower head, I slowly raised my macro-lens toward her. She did it. She turned her head to the right, and looked at me. It never happened before and it hasn’t happened since. What do you make of a butterfly that did what 314,295 haven’t done? I was surprised, very surprised.

I haven’t seen a Monarch yet, this year, in 2016. When I travel to Maryland next week, will I see my first? Will that happen in Frick Park, my neighborhood park here in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania? Must I wait for the first week in June, when I will be in Chapman State Park and Allegheny National Forest and then, when I’m doing a field walk at the Jamestown Audubon Center on June 3rd?

Danaus plexxipus, has given us fits in recent years. Americans are concerned about our economy, our role in the world, jobs, job security, and the education our children are getting in our beloved public schools. We added to that long list, a legitimate concern that we could lose the inspirational arrival and departures of Monarch butterflies like this one. Social share a photo of a 4th grade class delicately handling monarch caterpillars, and hear a multitude of inspired sighs from millions who love this American butterfly.

I’ve seen celebrities in person: Lloyd Bridges, Mike Tyson, Diana Ross and Kirk Douglas come to mind. Meeting a Monarch excites me as much or more. Honest.

Jeff

Monarchs, Come Home!

Monarch caterpillar photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park
What made me stop here? Well, awaiting my 67 new images, shot in Israel in March of this year, I just reviewed my Media library of images. Had to stop at this one. Why?

Like tens of thousands of you, I have, right this very moment, a spectacular stand of common milkweed (Asclepius Syriaca) in my front garden. It has a very good pedigree, having been nurtured by Monarch Watch.  The plants are 5-footers, and the flower heads are just a day or two away from opening. Lush is the operative word.

Every morning, afternoon and evening I take Petra for her exercise time. We stop, I lean over the fence and examine, looking here and there, just as they taught us to at Fort Dix, New Jersey: Scan, scan, scan.

Not a monarch have I seen here. I saw one much farther north, at the Jamestown Audubon Center in New York some weeks ago, and I saw a couple at the Briar Patch Habitat in beautiful Eatonton, Georgia, last week. But none yet in my native US plants garden or in the adjoining Frick  Park (900 acres+).

Yes I am anxious to see them and watch them nectaring on my milkweed. Would seeing their caterpillars excite me? Yuuup!

Monarchs, come home. We need you. Need you to reaffirm that all is good, or almost good.

Jeff

Adios Orange Sulphurs?

Orange sulfur Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow a Raccoon Creek State Park, PA. Jeff blogs about the art and science of butterflies at http://www.wingedbeauty.com

Orange sulfur Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow a Raccoon Creek State Park, PA. Jeff blogs about the art and science of butterflies at http://www.wingedbeauty.com

He shot across the expansive fields at Frick Park, here in Pittsburgh. My thought? An Orange Sulphur desperately seeking nectar, on November 11th? Petra didn’t see him. Petra looks for dogs, bikes, people, squirrels and deer, just about in that order. But I . . . oops! there go . . . two other Orange Sulphurs, again males. It was an extraordinary day, a November day, shortly after noon time, with a balmy temperature of 71 degrees F.

So? So the forecast for today promises a high temperature of 46 degrees, and weather.com predicts similar, or lower high temps for the next 9 days.

Orange Sulphurs are sturdily built butterflies, but at the same time, they are wisps of the wind, when their weight and girth are considered. Do they vacate their blood and replace it with anti-freeze like compounds, all done in less than 24 hours? Are they now safely ensconced in tree crevices? I will keep my eyes pealed for Orange Sulphur carcasses when Petra and I walk the park this morning. I don’t expect to find any.

What a fantastic plan, bring teeny, tiny butterflies through harsh winters, for thousands of years, safely taken care of, and . . . ready to fly new generations year after year, with no Help from Washington. What a plan!

Adios Orange Sulphurs!. That’s a fine example of why you and I follow butterflies. The whole thing is Amazing!

Jeff