The zinnia and milkweed patch has been attracting a magical assemblage of butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, hover flies, and other insects throughout the summer. Stay tuned for part two coming soon – Monarchs and Friends in Marsh and Meadow!
Plant and they will come!
Monarchs and friends in the mid-summer garden. A host of pollinators finds sustenance in our zinnia and milkweed patch.
Various bees and skippers
Eyeing landscapes that are usually lushly verdant at this time of year, every where we look, wild places and yardscapes are prematurely shriveling and turning brown. This does not bode well for pollinators, especially the butterflies we look forward to seeing in August and September, including Monarchs, Painted and American Ladies, Buckeyes. and Sulphurs. These beauties depend upon wildflowers for daily sustenance and to build their lipid reserves for journeys south.
Six tips to help your garden survive the drought
1. In our garden, we prioritize what needs water most. Pollinator favorite annuals and perennials such as Zinnias, Phlox, Monarda, Joe-pye, and milkweeds provide nectar for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies that are on the wing at this time of year, and they are watered consistently. Perennial wildflowers that Monarchs, the Vanessa butterflies, and Sulphurs rely on in late summer include asters and goldenrods and we give them plentiful water, too. Fruit trees, native flowering dogwoods and shrubs are also given plenty of attention because they take the longest to become established, give shade, and provide sustenance to myriad species of pollinators. Assess your own garden with an eye to prioritizing what you think pollinators are most reliant upon now and over the coming two months.
Plants such as daylilies, iris, lily-of-the-valley, grass, and hosta support nothing, or very few species. They are typically well-rooted and can afford temporary neglect.
2. Water by hand, selectively (see above). Hold the hose nozzle at the base of the plant to soak the soil, not the foliage.
3. Water deeply, and therefore less frequently. Fruiting and flowering trees and shrubs especially appreciate deep watering.
4. Watering after dark saves a tremendous amount of water as a large percentage of water (anywhere from 20 to 30 percent) is lost to evaporation when watering during daylight hours. The best time of day to water is after sunset and before sunrise.
5. Do not fertilize with chemical fertilizers, which promotes an over abundance of growth, which in turn requires more water. Instead, use organic fertilizers and amendments, which will improve the soil’s ability to store and hold water. Fertilize with one of Neptune Harvest’s excellent fish fertilizers, and cover the soil beneath the plants with a two inch layer of Black Earth compost. The soil will be healthier and able to retain moisture more readily.
6. Remove weeds regularly. Weeds suck up valuable moisture. To be clear, by weeds, I don’t mean plants that are misnamed with the suffix weed. So many of our native wildflowers were unfortunately given names that end in weed by the early colonists. For example, Butterfly Weed (Milkweed), Ironweed (Veronia), and Joe-pye Weed (Eupatorium), to name but a few. These native wildflowers are some of our very best plants to support native species of Lepidoptera.Canadian Tiger swallowtail drinking nectar – keeping the Zinnias well-watered to help the pollinators
“There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of the birds, the ebb and flow of the tides, the folded bud ready for the spring. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter.” –Rachel Carson
It’s glorious outdoors today and I hope you have a chance to get outside. See below for photos from my morning Earth Day walk, although I can’t bear to sit at my computer all day when it’s so gorgeous out and will head back out this afternoon to see what we see.
For Earth Day this past week I gave several screenings of Beauty on the Wing (thank you once again most generous community for all your help funding BotWing!) along with presenting “The Hummingbird Habitat Garden” to the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. For over twenty years I have been giving programs on how to create pollinator habitats. People are hungry for real information on how to connect to wildlife and wild habitats and each year the interest grows and grows. It’s truly a joy to witness!
Last night it was especially rewarding to bring Beauty on the Wing to Connecticut’s Sherman Conservation Commission attendees. We had a lively Q and A following the screening with many thoughtful questions and comments. My gratitude and thanks to Michelle MacKinnon for creating the event. She saw the film on PBS and wanted to bring it to her conservation organization. Please let me know if you are interested in hosting a Beauty on the Wing screening.
Monarchs are on the move! The leading edge in the central part of the country is at 39 degrees latitude in Illinois and Kansas: the leading edge along the Atlantic Coast is also at 39 degrees latitude; Monarchs have been spotted in both Maryland and New Jersey. Cape Ann is located at 43 degrees — it won’t be long!
Monarchs are heading north! Female Monarch depositing egg on Common Milkweed
Hummingbirds have been seen in Mashpee this past week (41 degrees latitude). Don’t forget to put out your hummingbird feeders. Dust them off and give a good cleaning with vinegar and water. Fill with sugar water and clean regularly once installed. The sugar water recipe is one part sugar to four parts water; never replace the sugar with honey, and never use red food coloring.
Happy Glorious Earth Day!
Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Super surprised to see this mystery duck asleep on a rock. I was so curious and kept hoping he would wake up so as to identify. He at last lifted his head for all of ten seconds and then promptly tucked back in and went back to sleep. I’ve only ever seen Surf Scoters bobbing around far off shore in the distance. Skunk bird- what a cutie!
American Kestrel, male, too far away to get a good photo but a joy to see!
Beautiful, beautiful Great Egret preening its luxurious spray of feathers. An egret’s spray of feathers is also referred to as aigrette.
No Earth Day post would be complete without our dear PiPls – Mom and Dad foraging at the wrack line this am, finding lots of insects for breakfast.
SOOOO many Monarch eggs!Female Monarch depositing eggs on Common Milkweed buds
My goodness, I don’t recall a July like this in forever. The females are depositing eggs on leaves, buds, and for the first time that I have ever observed, today depositing eggs on seedpods! Not sure if I captured that but will post if so.
Female Monarch depositing egg, left, drinking nectar, right
Please join me, along with the youngest members of your family. I have created a short film for Cape Ann young people for the Sawyer Free Library titled TheMarvelous Magnificent Migrating Monarch – here is the link and more information: August 3rd – August 6th, Tuesday through Friday, 10:00 to 10:30. Children’s Services Summer Reading Program “Tails and Tales” presents Monarch Butterflies with Kim Smith! Kim created a short film and virtual presentation to share these beautiful creatures with children and families, and see how Gloucester is a part of their amazing migration journey! Register here and we will send you the link to enjoy this presentation throughout the week starting Tuesday August 3rd.
While sitting in my garden watching the female Monarchs bump into each other in their eagerness to deposit eggs, our resident Mama Ruby-throated Hummingbird stopped by for her (at least) three times daily sips of nectar from the native honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens ‘John Clayton.’ At this time of year she’s also drinking nectar from the Rose of Sharon, Mexican Sunflowers, Zinnias, Cardinal Climber, and several other species of honeysuckle.
Plant and they will come.
I would love locate her nest, but it’s such a jungle of pollinator plants in my garden I know I’ll never find it. Ruby-throated hummingbirds nest are about the size of a walnut half and the egg, only as big as 8mm pearls.
Please join John Nelson, Martin Ray, and myself for an hour of talk about the many birds and habitats found on Cape Ann. The event is hosted by Literary Cape Ann and will be moderated by Eric Hutchins, Gulf of Maine Habitat Restoration Coordinator for NOAA.
From Literary Cape Ann’s newsletter-
TRY BIRDING IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD!
Singing the praises of Cape Ann’s winged aerialists
Families are invited to join some of our favorite local naturalists and authors — John Nelson, Kim Smith and Martin Ray — for a fun hour talking about the many birds and natural habitats found on Cape Ann. Wildlife biologist Eric Hutchins will moderate this-one hour conversation.
Zoom in this coming Friday, June 19, at 6:30 p.m. for an hour of fun as you celebrate the long-awaited summer solstice. See and hear birds, ask questions, learn some birdwatching tips and discover ways to document your bird sightings using your camera, notebook, blog or sketch pad.
This event is brought to you by Literary Cape Ann, a nonprofit group that provides information and events that support and reinforce the value and importance of the literary arts. LCA commemorates Toad Hall bookstore’s 45 years of service on Cape Ann. LCA’s generous sponsors include: SUN Engineering in Danvers, Bach Builders in Gloucester and The Institution for Savings.
Order books by our guest authors at The Bookstore of Gloucester. For those interested, bird books make great Father’s Day gifts. Further down in this newsletter, you’ll find lots of great information about books and birdwatching organizations.
Thank you, Kim Smith and Martin Ray, for providing us with some of your beautiful photography to help promote this event. And thank you, John Nelson, for the annotated lists of books and birding organizations. Meet our panel!
Meet our panel!
Artist, author/blogger, and naturalist Martin Ray will talk about maintaining his fine blog, “Notes from Halibut Point,” and share stories discovered in that magical place.
Filmmaker, naturalist, and activist Kim Smith will share her own adventures chronicling Cape Ann’s vibrant bird life including the work she does advocating for the endangered piping plovers that nest at Good Harbor Beach.
Author-naturalist John Nelson will start things off with some birdwatching basics before getting into a few stories about local birds, their habits and habitats from his new book, “Flight Calls: Exploring Massachusetts through Birds.”
Our moderator, Eric Hutchins, is the Gulf of Maine Habitat Restoration Coordinator for the NOAA Restoration Center located in Gloucester. He has worked as both a commercial fisherman and government biologist on domestic and foreign fishing vessels throughout the Northeast and Alaska.
“Cape Ann Narratives of Art in Life” — A collection of interviews and images tracing the creative lives of 28 contemporary artists.
“Quarry Scrolls” (2018)— 24 photographs of Halibut Point natural life and scenes with accompanying Haiku poems
“Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!” — Written and illustrated by Kim Smith.
“Flight Calls: Exploring Massachusetts through Birds”
More books, recommended by John Nelson:
Sibley, David. The Sibley Guide to Birds
Kroodsma, Donald. The Singing Life of Birds. 2005. On the science and art of listening to birds, by a professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts and a foremost authority on bird vocalizations.
Leahy, Christopher, John Hanson Mitchell, and Thomas Conuel. The Nature of Massachusetts. 1996. An excellent introduction to the natural history of Massachusetts by three prominent Mass Audubon Society naturalist-authors.
Sibley, David. What It’s Like to Be a Bird. 2020. Just published, a study of what birds are doing and why, by a longtime Massachusetts resident and renowned author/illustrator of a series of bird and nature guides.
Weidensaul, Scott. Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds. 2000. A Pulitzer Prize finalist study of bird migration by the naturalist and author of Return to Wild America, the subject of his memorable 2020 BBC lecture.
Zickefoose, Julie. Baby Birds: An Artist Looks into the Nest. 2016. Where art meets natural history, by a talented author/artist, former student of biological anthropology at Harvard, and keynote speaker at the 2014 Massachusetts Birders Meeting.
If you’d like to learn more or get involved in the birding life, here are some recommendations from John Nelson:
An excellent overall resource is the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, especially the “All About Birds” sections, which includes free access to the MaCauley Library (the country’s best collection of vocalizations of birds and other animals), the free Merlin bird identification app, live bird cams, and other resources for beginners and intermediates. Some programs, like their “Joy of Birdwatching” course, require an enrollment fee, but many of their resources are free to anyone.
For bird conservation, the most active national organizations are the American Bird Conservancy and National Audubon. For state bird conservation, Mass Audubon (not affiliated with National Audubon) is most active and the best source of information, but many other organizations are involved in preservation of habitats, often with a local focus.
For birding field trips,Mass Audubon and the Brookline Bird Club both offer frequent trips at different seasons to Cape Ann, sometimes for just a morning, sometimes for a whole day. Both organizations welcome novices, and both have trip leaders who make an effort to be particularly helpful to beginners. Mass Audubon trips, generally sponsored by MAS Ipswich River or MAS Joppa Flats, require advance registration and some payment.
Brookline Bird Club trips are free, without any registration, but regular participants are encouraged to join the club with $15 as the annual dues. The name of the BBC is misleading; the club originated in Brookline in 1913 but is now one of the largest, most active clubs in the country and offers field trips across and beyond Massachusetts.
John Nelson is on the BBC Board of Directors and leads a few Cape Ann trips in both winter and spring. John reminds us that this is a strange time for beginners, since Mass Audubon has cancelled many field trips and the BBC has cancelled all trips through June, but eventually field trips will open up again, especially in places where social distancing is most possible.
The very active Facebook page, Birding Eastern Mass, has over 2,000 subscribers, from novice birders to experts. It’s a great site for sharing bird photos.
About Birding in Our Backyard
This Zoom event is for friends and families who are looking for safe, fun things to do close to home. Cape Ann’s abundance of natural wonders are here for us to enjoy and protect. Try chronicling your experiences in a new blog or a photo journal.
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Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.
— John Muir, from “Our National Parks”
A surprise meeting with a beautiful female Ruby-throated Hummingbird.
She is drinking nectar from the wildflower Saponaria officinalis. The plant’s many common names include Soapwort, Bouncing-bet, and Wild Sweet William. The name Soapwort stems from its old fashioned use in soap making. The leaves contain saponin, which was used to make a mild liquid soap, gentle enough for washing fine textiles.
Saponaria blooms during the summertime. Although introduced from Eurasia, you can find this wildflower growing in every state of the continental US.
The hummingbird in the clip is a female. She lacks the brilliant red-feathered throat patch, or gorget, of the male. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are all around us, you just have to know what to plant to bring them to your garden. Mostly they eat tiny insects but if you plant their favorite nectar-providing plants, they will come!
If I could only grow one plant to attract the Ruby-throats, it would be honeysuckle. Not the wonderfully fragrant, but highly invasive, Japanese honeysuckle, but our beautiful native trumpet honeysuckle that flowers in an array of warm-hued shades of Spanish orange (‘John Clayton’), deep ruby red (‘Major Wheeler’), and my very favorite, the two-toned orange and red ‘Dropmore Scarlet.’
Lonicera sempervirens’ Dropmore Scarlet’
Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird drinking nectar from zinnia florets.
With the unseasonably low temperatures, the hummingbird exodus from the north will soon follow. Keep your feeders full of sugar water to help sustain the southward migrants on their long journey to winter destinations.
Our resident female Ruby-throated Hummingbird was spotted yesterday, making her rounds nectaring at the Rose-of-Sharon, native honeysuckle, hibiscus, and jewelweed.
Hummingbird Feeder Recipe: 1 Cup water to 1/4 Cup pure granulated sugar. Do not add red food coloring or substitute honey for sugar. Replenish frequently, especially during warm weather.
Located in Essex, conveniently only a few scenic miles off Route 128, every Saturday from 10am to 2pm the farmstand at Apple Street Farm is open for business. Stopping for fabulous and fresh organically fed free-range eggs, heirloom veggies, fruits, and herbs has become a favorite Saturday morning ritual.
Frank McClelland is the owner of Apple Street Farm. Not only that, he is also the proprietor and chef of one of Boston’s most beloved and famous restaurants, L’Espalier. Apple Street Farm is the primary source of produce, poultry, pork and eggs for L’Espalier.
Each month throughout the summer and fall Apple Street Farm celebrates seasonal harvests with special dinners held on the farm’s spacious lawn. The five-course dinner is prepared by the L’Espalier chefs and includes cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and wine pairings. September 5th and 6th is the Fire Pit Fiesta and October 3rd and 4th is the Essex Harvest Feast. Call L’Espalier to make a reservation at 617-262-3023.
Pick You Own Flowers
Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird in the Zinnia Patch
American Goldfinch Eating Cosmos Seeds-A Great Reason NOT to Deadhead!
Farm and poultry shares are available from June through September. For more information about Apple Street Farm’s CSA program, visit their website here.
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Photographing the Nubian goats was a delight. The little ones are very playful and affectionate and, when first let out of their pen in the morning, are super rambunctious. Apple Street Farm’s manger Phoebe explains that Nubian goats are great milking goats and wiki informs that Nubians are known for the high butterfat content of their milk.
Apples for Breakfast
The Nubians climbed upon each other to reach the fruit and seeds.
Snapshots from a recent trip to Brooklyn and NYC to visit my darling daughter Liv.
We had a wonderful time walking everywhere and dining out. Liv always takes me to the most fun restaurants with fabulously yummy food, and they are never too pricey; the prices are comparable to our favorite Gloucester restaurants.
Native Honeysuckle for the Hummingbirds at the HighLine
For our HarborWalk Gardens, I had wanted to to see what’s in bloom at the HighLine gardens during the late summer and early fall, as well as what was blooming at Piet Oudolf’s designs for the Battery Gardens of Remembrance and The Bosque.
At the HighLine, we paused for some length at the stunning grove of Japanese Clerodendrum (Clerodendrum trichotomum); whose one of several common names befits it’s great beauty–Harlequin Glorybower Tree. The stop-dead-in-your-tracks-deliciously-fragrant blossoms float atop a canopy of fluttering leaves. The blooms are similar looking to jasmine flowers, but are even more sweetly scented. A magnet for butterflies and hummingbirds, the tree blooms at a time of year when much of the rest of the garden is winding down. The glorious glorybower is on my wish list for next year and, as it is just barely hardy through zone 6, I’ll find a sheltered and protected spot in which to experiment.
The Spiral Fountain at The Bosque (Spanish for a “grove of trees”), with the Statue of Liberty in the background, Battery Park Park, New York City.
Hummingbirds can easily distinguish red contrasted against green.
Trumpeting the Trumpet
Early blooms are an important feature for the vine planted to lure hummingbirds. You want to provide tubular-shaped flowers in shades of red and orange and have your hummingbird feeders hung and ready for the earliest of the northward-migrating scouts. If nothing is available, they will pass by your garden and none will take residence. Hummingbirds can easily distinguish red contrasted against green. We go so far as to plant vivid Red Riding Hood tulips beneath our hummingbird feeders, which hang from the bows of the flowering fruit trees. Although hummingbirds do not nectar from the tulips, the color red draws them into the garden and the flowering fruit trees and sugar water provide sustenance for travel-weary migrants.
Lonicera sempervirens, also called Trumpet and Coral Honeysuckle, is a twining or trailing woody vine native to New England. Trumpet Honeysuckle is not at all fussy about soil and is drought tolerant. Plant in full sun to part shade. If Trumpet Honeysuckle becomes large and ungainly, prune hard to the ground—it grows rapidly and a vigorous pruning will only encourage more flowers.
Lonicera sempervirens John Clayton
‘Major Wheeler’ flowers in a deeper red than that of the carmine of ‘Dropmore Scarlet.’ ‘John Clayton’ is a cheery, cadmium yellow, a naturally occurring variant of Lonicera sempervirens, and was originally discovered growing wild in Virginia. The blossoms of ‘Mandarin’ are a lovely shade of Spanish orange.
Trumpet Honeysuckle has myriad uses in the landscape. Cultivate to create vertical layers, in a small garden especially. Plant Lonicera sempervirens to cover an arbor, alongside a porch pillar or to weave through trelliage. Allow it clamber over an eyesore or down an embankment. Plant at least one near the primary paths of the garden so that you can enjoy the hummingbirds that are drawn to the nectar-rich blossoms. I practically bump into the hummingbirds as they are making their daily rounds through the garden flora. Did you know they make a funny squeaky sound? I began to take notice of their presence in our garden, when at my office desk one afternoon in late summer, with windows open wide, I heard very faint, mouse-like squeaks. I glanced up from my work, fully expecting to see a mouse, and was instead delighted to discover a female Ruby-throat outside my office window, nectaring at the vines. Trumpet Honeysuckle not only provides nectar for the hummingbirds, it also offers shelter and succulent berries for a host of birds.
While planting the summer gardens at Willowdale this past week we observed dozens of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds nectaring at the Trumpet Honeysuckle embowering the courtyard doors.
Lonicera sempervirens is a caterpillar food plant for the Snowberry Clearwing moth.
Many thanks to Caroline Haines, the director of Pathways for Children, for forwarding the photos of the rare albino Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris). The photos were shot by Kevin Shank and four of his sons over a several day period in late August. Caroline has a love for butterflies and birds, and nature in general, and brings her passion to the programing provided for the children at Pathways.
The above photos were taken in Virginia at the beginning of the hummingbird’s annual southward migration; it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that we may see an albino hummingbird visiting our Cape Ann feeders and flowers as we are in the same migratory corridor.
A true albino hummingbird, as is the above bird, has snowy white plumage and it’s eyes, legs, and bill are pink. True albinos are extraordinarily rare. Leucistic hummingbirds are still rare but are seen more often than true albions. Like the common Ruby-throated Hummingbird, leucistic forms have black, feet, bills, and eyes, but their feathers are some version of white, gray, buffy, and tan; not the typical shades of green.
Leucistic form and common Ruby-throated Hummingbirds
Another great hummingbird question from my friend Kate:
Where do you place the feeders? Are they okay out in the open and, if so, do the hummingbirds become too nervous to feed if they can be seen by birds of prey?
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds prefer feeding at a station where they perch and observe the landscape, and then zoom in. Typically, I recommend hanging the feeders on the lower limbs of trees and on shepherd’s hooks close to shrubs and above perennial wildflowers, about four to five feet off the ground. I haven’t read or heard too much about birds of prey in regard to hummingbirds; they move too fast, however, bluejays are said to attack nestlings. House cats and praying mantis pose a more serious threat to hummingbirds.
Native Honeysuckle Lonicera ‘Dropmore Scarlet’
The greatest threat to hummingbirds is development resulting in loss of habitat and nectar-rich wetland plants. By placing hummingbird feeders in the garden during the months when little nectar is available (April, May, and October), creating habitats in our backyards, and planting their preferred nectar-rich wildflowers help mitigate the loss of hummingbird habitat, and greatly increases their chance of survival.
Come join me this Sunday at 1:00 at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Worcester for the perfect May Day event–How to Create a Butterfly Garden. Pre-registration is required:
Monarch Butterflies Nectaring at Smooth Aster
I will be presenting the necessary elements to help you create a beautiful and welcoming haven for butterflies. Once you begin to think about your garden as food source and shelter, it will influence all your horticultural decisions. Native and well-behaved non-native plants, along with examples of architectural features, will be discussed based on their value to attracting specific butterflies. This lecture and slide presentation will help you gain a deeper understanding of the interconnected world that we human beings share with plants and butterflies and how to translate that information to your own garden. Butterfly gardening plant list included with workshop.
From wiki: The Floralia, also known as the Florifertum, was an ancient Roman Festival dedicated to Flora the goddess of flowers and vegetation. It was held on the IV Calends of May, April 27 to May 3, and symbolized the renewal of the cycle of life, marked with dancing, drinking, and flowers. While flowers decked the temples, Roman citizens wore colorful clothing instead of the usual white, and offerings were made of milk and honey to Flora.
Maurice Prendergast May Day Celebration Central Park 1901
May Day is synonymous with International Worker’s Day and Labour Day. Read Howard Fast’s May Day – 1947, well-worth revisiting with the continued and increasing efforts to destroy organized labor.
From my friend Kate in Tiverton, Rhode Island–I cant bear plastic but this seem to do the trick. Ive seen hummingbirds hover angrily here and gesture “Where’s the Feeder!!!!!!??????” I’ll have to get one this year! What do you recommend? XO
Hi Kate, My two favorite hummingbird feeders, both purchased from the Duncraft website, are the Four Flower Frolic Feeder (see previous post) and the Humm Zinger. My sister-in-law, whose old farmhouse property is approximately the same size and shares many similar characteristics to yours (including an inviting front porch), also has both these feeders. Hers are placed about twenty feet apart, adjacent to the porch. When sitting on the porch at nearly anytime throughout the day, whether having morning coffee or dinner and drinks in the evening, the “hummingbird alley” provides enchanting entertainment. And both feeders are super easy to clean.
Humm Zinger Feeder
Stay tuned for more about what to plant to attract and sustain the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. This snapshot of our patio garden was taken in late summer and all in bloom pictured are wonderful hummingbird attractants. It is a delight to see the hummers make their thrice daily rounds from one flowering plant to the next, hovering and nectaring simultaneously.
Dipladenia, Bougainvillea, Fuschia Gartenmeister Bonstedt, Hibiscus moschetos, and Phlox ‘David’
Dear Gardening Friends, Happy Easter! In a future post I plan to bring you more about the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, today however I will be brief as I have more holiday preparations to tend. This is a reminder to set your hummingbird feeders out as soon as possible. This past week, sightings of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird have been reported as far north as Maine–the northward hummingbird migration is full underway!
A hummingbird’s diet is comprised of nectar and insects. We can lure them to our gardens by providing nectar-rich tubular-shaped flora in shades of red and orange, along with flowers comprised of small florets that attract small insects. At this time of year there isn’t much to offer in the way of flowering sustenance for the hummingbirds. Several weeks ago I took our feeders out of storage, gave them a good wash with vinegar, soap, and water, filled them with a sugar and water mixture, and hung them throughout the garden.
Red Riding Hood (Tulip gregii)
The eye-cathing Red Riding Hood tulips (although not a particularly good source of nectar, will attract by the sheer brilliance of their color) are a wonderful species tulip that reliably returns year after year, and multiplies. The tulips are planted beneath the boughs of flowering and fruiting trees and shrubs, in hopes, that they too will lure the hummingbirds to our garden during their northward migration. And then, again with high hopes, that the hummingbirds will nest in our garden. For the past five years or so, it has been our great good fortune to host throughout the nesting season female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and offspring.
Four Flower Frolic Feeder
Hummingbirds, along with bats and certain species of moths, have an unusual method of drinking nectar called swing-hovering, which allows them to nectar while in mid-air. Ruby-throated hummingbirds expend vast amounts of energy during their migration–averaging approximately 52 wingbeats per minute. For this reason, I find the best hummingbird feeders are those that also offer a a place to perch while feeding (see photo and videoclip).
Sugar water recipe: 4 parts water to 1 part sugar. Stir to dissolve thoroughly. Never add red dye or replace the sugar with honey. Provide fresh sugar/water every 4 – 5 days.
Warmest wishes, for spring and for chocolate in your Easter basket!
My deepest thanks and appreciation to Pat Leuchtman for her wonderful review. Pat has been writing a weekly garden column for The Recorder in Greenfield since 1980. She has been blogging for the past several years and has posted and archived all her columns on her blog Commonweeder. Read more of Pat’s review and spend time perusing her blog, which is brimming with useful information, book reviews, insights, and missives– all beautifully organized.
Pat’s Review: Fresh Possibilities are just what I am looking for at this time of the year, so it is no surprise that I have been spending happy evenings with Kim Smith’s beautiful book that includes so many of her own delicate paintings of flowers, birds and butterflies.
Kim Smith gardens, and paints, in Gloucester. Over the years her garden has grown, as has her concern about conservation and her delight in the roads to literature and art that her garden has opened to her. Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities: Notes from a Gloucester Garden (David R. Godine Publisher) combines all these aspects of her life in the garden in the most beautiful way.
With its delicate paintings of individual flowers, and butterflies, the book does not look like a how-to book, yet it includes plant lists to attract butterflies, of fragrant flowers and plants through the seasons, seasonal blooms and useful annuals. I can hardly decide which I enjoy more, the charming prose of chapters titled The Narrative of the Garden, Flowers of the Air and The Memorable Garden, the exquisite paintings, or the poetry that ranges from our own Emily Dickinson and Dorothy Parker to Li Bai (701-762 CE), a famous Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty. I enjoy knowing that Kim has found the same delight in the connections to history and the arts that I find in the garden.
One of the two chapters I particularly found useful as well as beautiful right now is Flowers of the Air which includes information about a variety of butterflies, and the plants that they need for their life cycle. We have to remember that butterflies are not only lovely, they are important pollinators.
It is no surprise that I also enjoy Roses for the Intimate Garden. Kim’s climate is a bit more gentle than mine and she can grow more tender roses that I can, but we are both devoted to the fragrance that roses bring to our gardens and to the uncorseted exuberance of old fashioned roses.
If you want information, but also want the kind of delicious prose you find in evocative essays, an aesthetic sensibility, and beautiful illustrations, this is the book for you. Kim is an inspired gardener and writer, but she isn’t stopping there. Watch for more news about Kim and her latest project soon.
The Pollinator Garden has been rescheduled for Monday morning, Apriil 18th. Updated information to follow.
Dear Gardening Friends,
Come join me Monday morning, February 28th, from 10:00 to 12:00 at the Espousal Center in Waltham, where I will be giving a talk and photo presentation about creating The Pollinator Garden for the Garden Club Federation of Massachusetts. Although this is a state Garden Club Federation event, everyone is welcome. Cost is free for members and $5. for non-members. My extensive pollinator planting list is provided with lecture.
Scroll down to see a short video tour of the Limonaia, along with much good information about growing citrus in colder climes, excerpted from Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!
Keep warm and cozy and–take heart–the vernal equinox and the first day of spring are officially less than one month away!
In anticipation of spring and your spring planting plans (and as I am sorting through mountains of photos, film footage, and text for the butterfly gardening show), I am planning a little series here on the blog. The focus is all about sharing information and photos about individual plant species that provide sustenance and shelter for the pollinators that grace our gardens.
Trumpet Creeper (Campsis radicans)
Two of our very favorite native plant species for attracting Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are the blossoms of the northern catalpa tree (Catalpa speciosa) and trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans), both of which belong to the Bignonia family. Catalpa trees bear white flowers with violet nectar guides and, despite their color differences, Catalpa blossoms and the red-orange flowers of trumpet creeper reveal several similarities, The reproductive structures are positioned inside at the top lip of the opening, surrounded by five asymmetrically shaped petals fused together. As the hummingbird pokes its head deep inside the trumpet-shaped blossom to extract nectar, the pollen-bearing sticky stamens and pistils attach to its forehead and transfer pollen from one blossom to the next.
Nectar volume influences the blossoms’ attractiveness to the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. The small florets of plants such as those of butterfly bushes and zinnias offer nectar, though they require many visits to make it worthwhile. Our native Campsis radicans produces one of the highest known volumes of floral nectar per flower. Hummingbird fledglings quickly learn from their mothers the blossoms that contain the most nectar.
Campsis radicans is found growing throughout much of the eastern half of the country. Unable to support itself vertically, it trails along the ground until it reaches a tree. Tiny aerial rootlets are formed to adhere itself to the surface of the tree to then allow it to climb skyward towards the sunlight. Unlike vines such as Chinese wisteria and bittersweet, which gird and then strangle a tree, trumpet creeper clings tightly. Campsisradicans is a very fast growing and top-heavy vine. It is unsuitable for anything but the strongest structure. As it blooms on the current year’s growth, it can be grown along a solid fence and cut back very vigorously in early spring.
For the intimate garden or garden room, where a less rampant (but no less hardy) grower is a more suitable choice, there are several hybrids of C. radicans with flowers that are as equally attractive to the hummingbirds. ‘Madame Galen’ (Campsis radicans x tagliabuana) flowers in lovely shades of apricot-orange. The newer cultivar ‘Indian Summer’ is described with the less persistent and dense growth characteristics similar to that of ‘Madame Galen’ and beautiful blossoms of apricot-orange with a deeper red eye.
The extended period of florescence of C. radicans corresponds to the span of time in which ruby-throated hummingbirds are living in their northern range. Like Chinese wisteria, trumpet creeper can take six years or more to flower from seed. Plant the largest specimen one’s budget will allow.
From Jan in Palm City, Florida: You may know all about this site. I am going to a banding in Florida on Friday morning. Someone near here has a yard full and I have been invited to the banding. I haven’t seen a hummer for at least two months. Vagrant and Winter Hummingbird Banding Love your Emails. Thank you.
Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly. Follow your heart.
From Jan in Dunedin, Florida: Love your site. Normally tucked into Rockport but we escaped to Florida for a few months this year – Dunedin – north of Clearwater, West coast. Rather than beautiful land birds we are surrounded with osprey, eagles, wading birds. You probably are aware of this little factoid, but just in case… Juncos do a better job of predicting a snow fall than the weather forecasters. The more of them hopping about under/in/around bushes and eating seed, the worse the snowfall. Check it out.
From Judith in Gloucester: Thanks Kim, for keeping me on the circut. These early mornings I am in my studio working on a commission and so enjoy watching Smith Cove come alive with birds of many feathers . Your words today warm the heart! You are truly tuned in . With gratitude, Judith or ‘ Snowed In ‘
From Sue in Newton: Thanks for sending your last about pine siskins – I did see one at my feeder in the last few weeks and tried to identify it, and now I know what it is thanks to you! Happily at home today – back to work tomorrow, then Florida next week to visit the “snowbirds”, I mean “in-laws.” David is away in Costa Rica this week – good timing! Hope all is well with you and family –
From Sally in Hamilton: Lots of junkos in Hamilton too this weekend. Such fun to watch the birds this time of the year, when everything else is so still and quiet. Still looking for a mini Slinky to hang on my feeder this June on Cape Cod!
Recently I returned from a trip to southwestern Ohio to visit my sister-in-law Amy, who is recovering from hip replacement surgery. She is mending beautifully and determined to get back on her feet —only a few days after returning home from the hospital the visiting nurse said she was doing as well as their typical patient at three weeks out!
While Amy was resting I would grab my camera and head into her garden and the surrounding fields because here was a Butterfly and Hummingbird Bonanza! I encountered dozens of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, typically feeding and frolicking in groups of threes and fours, and many differing species of butterflies. For the most part, the butterflies that I photographed are the same species of butterflies that are found on Cape Ann and throughout New England. Having no expectation of encountering myriad butterflies, in both range of species and in legions of each, I had not planned accordingly and only packed my Panasonic Lumix. I love this camera, but like all cameras it does have certain limitations. Lesson learned—that is to say—always travel prepared for anything to happen!
Male Spicebush Swallowtail Dusted with Pollen
Amy is a working architect and, as time and her work schedule have permitted, she has (along with her recently deceased dear husband Tim) redesigned and restored her lovely old farmhouse and gardens. There are several cozy porches and a deck under construction in which to sit and observe the wildlife dramas that play out almost daily.
What makes Amy’s garden so inviting to the pollinators? The old farmhouse is approached by traveling down a crushed limestone driveway. On either side of the drive are fields, either overgrown with wildflowers, or maintained as mowed grass. The fields meet the forest edge. There are several neighboring houses along the drive but privacy is afforded because the houses are sited a fair distance apart and because there are naturalized arrangements of native trees and shrubs. Flower borders are planted in close proximity to her home and also further afield. Beyond the flower borders is a large vegetable garden, approximately twenty feet deep by sixty feet long, with a row of sunflowers bordering the back length and a cheerful patch of zinnias running along the fore edge. Beyond the vegetable garden is a vigorous crop of blackberries and beyond that is a clump of wildflowers, including common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), which were covered in Monarch caterpillars, and the tall growing New York Ironweed (Veronia noveboracensis), which was in full bloom. All of these elements provide clues as to why Amy’s garden is a haven for the butterflies and hummingbirds. Additionally, adjacent to the house is an old peach tree, which bears great quantities of fruit. Because Amy has been under the weather from her hip injury she was not able to maintain the peach tree this past season. The peaches were falling to the ground and rotting—not really a bad thing as you will soon see—imagine the not intolerable odor of vinegary peach juice.
The combination of the atypically lengthy stretch of hot, sultry weather, punctuated by soaking rain storms, along with the salt and mineral-rich limestone driveway, flowering plants, wildflowers, surrounding woodlands that provide shelter and larval food for caterpillars, hummingbird feeders, and rotting peaches—all work in tandem to create a paradise for the pollinators—bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.
Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird
In the morning I would find Buckeyes, Question Marks, and Red-spotted Purples drinking salts and minerals from moist patches in the driveway. Hungry families of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds were noisily nectaring from the flowers and feeders; one feeder is sited beneath the peach tree and the other about twenty feet away, under the lilacs, a hummingbird superhighway of sorts, with inviting nectar flowers along the route. The male and female hummingbirds are both territorial and, when encountering anything out of the ordinary (my camera and I, for example) will threaten by whizzing and whirling, albeit harmlessly, close to your head.
By mid-day the hummingbird and butterfly scene was full underway. Spicebush Swallowtails at the Rose-of-Sharon, tiger swallowtails, yellow sulphurs, Eastern Tailed-Blues, Monarchs, checkerspots, and angelwings nectaring at the zinnia patch, phlox, and lobelia, and most remarkable of all, were the number of butterflies that were drawn to the pungent lure of rotting peaches. By late afternoon dozens of Hackberry Emperors, Red-spotted Purples, Question Marks, and Red Admirals were to be found intently imbibing from the fermenting peaches, and by day’s end, I believe they were drunken butterflies, making extraordinarily easy subjects to photograph. I would be down on my hands and knees with the lens held so closely it was nearly touching them, and several times that did happen as they fluttered or hopped onto the camera’s lens. In the lingering remnants of late day’s light, the hummingbirds were there again at the feeders and flowers, and all manner of swallowtails in the wildflower meadow were nectaring from the New York Ironweed.
Spicebush Swallowtail Nectaring at Rose of Sharon
Pipevine Swallowtail Nectaring at Phlox
The three different species of butterflies in the above group of photographs have a unique relationship. The Red-spotted Purple and Spicebush Swallowtail (both palatable to predatory birds) are thought to have evolved to mimic the Pipevine Swallowtail (center photograph), which is highly toxic and foul tasting.
I was sad to say goodbye to my sister-in-law but glad to return home to my family. My unexpected yet welcome encounter with the butterflies of Southwest Ohio reminded me once again that butterflies are a symbol of transformation, joy, and beauty throughout cultures the world over. Perhaps Amy’s butterflies mirror the transformative journey to which she has embarked.
Butterfly Days are Here! This gorgeous stretch of warm weather has allowed myriad species of butterflies to thrive. Yesterday in our garden I filmed a Red-spotted Purple, Black Swallowtail, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, two male Monarchs, a Question Mark, Pearly Crescentspot, Red Admirals, Painted Ladies, many clearwing moths, and, at dusk, a female hummingbird. This is highly unusual to have so many and I will be posting photos to help you identify what you may be seeing in your gardens.
Our daughter Olivia was home from Tanglewood for the day last Sunday. We celebrated her 22nd birthday with fabulous lobsters fresh from Captain Joe’s. She was here with her friend and accompanist, Michael Sherman. While they were rehearsing for the beautiful concert they gave later that evening, I was videotaping a male Monarch in the garden. You can hear Michael in the background playing Maurice Ravel’s Jeux d’eau. I peaked in and captured Liv and Michael rehearsing Mozart’s Exultate jubilate.
Lastly, I am creating a new show for Cape Ann TV, about butterflies, gardening, gardening for the pollinators—I haven’t decided what to call it. Any and all suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Gardening for People and Pollinators, something like that. Donna Gacek, the director at Cape Ann TV suggested the series and I think it is a great idea. The beauty that surrounds here on Cape Ann has provided me with a million ideas. I will be writing, editing, filming, photographing, interviewing. What I need help with is finding one or two people, who on a regular basis, can help video tape the parts that I am in—the introduction to each segment as well as interviews on location. Please pass the word around if you know of someone who has this skill, or who would be interested in learning. More information will be forthcoming and we will be talking about it with Heidi Dallin on the Cape Ann Report, which airs August 4th at 6:00pm.
It was my joy to give the lecture, held at the Wenham Museum’s North Shore Design Show, on gardening for fragrance. Thank you to Lindsay, Yvonne, Leon, Pauline, Elizabeth, Julie, Lisa, Sandra, Polly, Eliza, and everyone else whose name I did not get, for your interest and great questions.
No garden planted for fragrance would be complete without growing moon vine. Plant moonflowers and cypress vines in late May and early June for September blossoms. Moon vine will give you dreamily-scented late summer nights and cardinal climber will provide nectar for southward migrating Ruby-throated hummingbirds
Our moon vine-embowered porch in September
“You can tell in the afternoon which buds will open that night. In the South, where I used to live, it was the custom to keep an eye on the moon vine, and when sixty or so buds showed they would open that night, to ask people over to watch them. Unfortunately, people in the country talk so much that I cannot recall seeing the buds open very often. They tremble and vibrate when they open. Usually someonewould say “the ﬂowers are out,” and everyone would run over to admire them, then back to jabbering.
Equally festive is the night-blooming cereus. In our neighborhood there lived an old cereus in a tub. It was ninety-seven years old, the last time I saw it, and produced 120 ﬂowers open at once. When it bloomed (and you can tell by afternoon which buds will open) its proud owner would phone round the neighbors and there would be punch or champagne (rather dangerous in hot weather) and cucumber sandwiches for reﬁned persons, and ham and potato salad for mere mortals. These parties, once such a feature of the American summer, were always spontaneous, since you only had a few hours to plan them and invite people. It was always astonishing to see how many people could come at the last minute.”
— Henry Mitchell ~ The Essential Earthman
Perhaps this is the summer we will have our first moon vine party–and I will provide tea sandwiches for my refined friends and ham and potato salad for we mere mortals. What fun to imagine. Grow cardinal climber and moon vine together for a delightful combination of delicately toothed and bold heart-shaped leaves–day flowering red trumpets for the hummingbirds and night blooming sweetly scented blossoms for you.