Friday 5: Starting an Insect Garden

I adore gardens and plants!  That doesn’t mean that I’m a competent gardener because that’s not the case at all.  Still, every now and again I will very successfully grow something, just enough that I’m not completely discouraged and really enjoy mucking about in the dirt planting and harvesting.  I’ve been especially taken by the native plant garden at work.  It’s a demonstration garden and I want to implement several new ideas I’ve learned from my coworkers and the garden they’ve built in my yard.  I finally have a yard that’s big enough to plant both a good-sized vegetable garden (this always comes before flowers for me!) and several ornamental flowering plants and I’ve been happily plotting and planning so I’m ready to go in the spring.  I’ve got my native plants picked out already, based mostly on their height and their (wait for it…) attractiveness to insects.  I want to have the same pretty bees, butterflies, flies, and beetles visiting my yard that I see at work!  Here are the plants I’ve chosen to start with.

Tickseed, Coreopsis major

tickseed lowers with butterfly

Tickseed, Coreopsis major, with sleepy orange butterfly nectaring

This is a very common native plant at work as it’s found out in the prairie and it is planted in both the roof garden and the native plant demonstration garden.  It’s a beautiful yellow color and doesn’t get very tall.  Plus, butterflies and other nectar feeders, like the sleepy orange butterfly you see in the image, love it!  I got some of these from work when our garden volunteers thinned the plants for the fall, so they’re already in the ground next to my house.  They’ll bloom in May or so and remain in flower for a few months if all goes well.  Exciting!

Cardinal Flower, Lobelia cardinalis

cardinal flower

Cardinal Flower, Lobelia cardinalis

I got some of these plants from work too and I love them!  Mine were recently planted, so I won’t get flowers until late next summer, but the plants are a gorgeous, vibrant green that are quite pretty even without flowers.  These are, as you might imagine from the color and shape, hummingbird flowers and I’m excited by the possibility of their bringing ruby-throated hummingbirds into my yard.  They’re also attractive to several bee species.  They require moist soils, but I happen to have the perfect place right in my backyard!  The drain from my air conditioner releases a small stream of water into a low point in my yard, so I planted my cardinal flowers there.  I suspect they’ll have a fighting chance of surviving as I won’t have to remember to water them and my new flowers will be a nice little side effect of cooling my house in the summer.

Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis

buttonbush flower with butterfly

Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis, with a zabulon skipper

I was shocked to see how many different species came to the flowers of this shrub last summer!  Butterflies, bees, flies, beetles…  Seems that if there was a pollinator out and about, it would eventually find its way to the buttonbush.  It’s a beautiful tall plant with fantastic flowers, so I’m hoping I can find a good place in my yard to grow one.  It does well in moist soils, so I might plant one near my cardinal flowers.

Frost Aster, Symphyotrichum pilosum

Frost aster

Frost aster, Symphyotrichum pilosum

Frost asters are often considered weeds and they can become weedy.  However, if you don’t let them spread all over everywhere they are lovely fall-blooming plants!  Plus, fall insects LOVE these.  Frost asters are all over the prairie at work and when they bloomed there were so many they looked like snow!  I saw dozens of different pollinator species lurking among the flowers and you could hear hundreds and hundreds of bees and flies happily buzzing away out there.  The migrating monarchs loved them too!  I don’t see any real downside to planting some of these in my yard, so long as I keep and eye on them and start pulling up the recruits.  They’re nice little bushy plants, the flowers are adorable, and I can get them from work for free.  What’s not to love?

Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca

common milkweed with bumblebee

Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, with an unidentified bumblebee

This is far and away the least handsome of the plants I’ve chosen, but after spending a summer looking for monarch larvae for the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, I’m very excited about the idea of having some of these in my yard.  I’ve already collected seeds, so I just need to choose a place in my backyard to grow them in the spring.  These will go in the backyard for sure, so the neighbors can’t see them.  The plants are nice enough while they’re green and lush and the flowers are rather pretty, but then all the leaves fall off and leave the ugly pods out in the open.  Then the pod and the stem both turn brown and crispy and stay that way for a very long time.  They really are ugly plants and I can only imagine the nasty notes we’d get from our homeowners association if I planted these in front of the house.  But, there’s nothing stopping me from planting some in the backyard!   Calling all monarchs: I’ll have dinner waiting for you in a few months!

There are a few other plants I’m considering as well, including aromatic aster (gorgeous purple flowers in the fall) and purple coneflower, that are insect magnets in North Carolina.  I think there just might be enough water to grow some pitcher plants in that wet area of the yard too!  It’s really exciting to think of all the possibilities and learn about all these unfamiliar plants, so I hope I can get a great garden going come spring.  If I do, expect a lot of photos of my bugs!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Friday 5: From the Garden

I am in love with the native plant garden at work.  It’s full of beautiful flowers, and those flowers attract a lot of insects, so it’s a fantastic place!  I haul my camera out there and photograph insects sometimes when I have a little downtime and I’ve been surprised by the diversity of insects I’ve come across.  Here are a few of my favorite insects I’ve found out there so far:

Thick Headed Fly

Wasp Mimic

Wasp mimic fly. Family Conopidae, genus Physocephala

This fly is an amazing wasp mimic!  I honestly thought I was photographing a wasp and it wasn’t until I looked at the photo later and noticed that it didn’t have hind wings and had those little knobby structures (the halteres) instead, that I realized it was a fly.  What a beautiful insect!

Bumblebee

Bumblebee on Milkweed

Bumblebee on milkweed

Most people probably don’t get as excited about bumblebees as I do, but I have always loved them.  In fact, when I started grad school I wanted to work with one of two insects: dragonflies or bumblebees.  I didn’t end up working on either, but that didn’t diminish my love for bumblebees one bit.  It’s so nice to be back in a place where I can see them regularly!  There are tons of bumblebees flying around the garden and if I didn’t have a million other things to do at work I could spend hours and hours watching them buzz about the flowers.

Tumbling Flower Beetle

Tumbling Flower Beetle

Tumbling flower beetle

I’d never seen one of these beetles before I came across this one!  I love the little torpedo shape.  They strike me as particularly cute for some reason.  I know hardly anything about these beetles, but I intend to fix that sorry state of affairs as soon as I have a few spare minutes to delve into some literature.

Pipevine Swallowtail Butterflies

Pipevine swallowtail caterpillars

Pipevine swallowtail caterpillars

We had these in Arizona and I even knew exactly where I could find them on my campus, but I never quite seemed to make it over there to look for them.  Luckily, we have a woolly pipevine in the garden at work and the swallowtails have been going to town on it.  There are quite a few larvae happily munching away out there, and lots of adults flying about too.  As many of you know, I’m not all that fond of butterflies in general, but there’s something about a beautiful black butterfly that’s irresistible and the velvety texture of the larvae is wonderful.

Delta Flower Beetle

Delta Flower Beetle

Delta flower beetle

I was beyond excited when I saw this beetle!  Those colors make this one of the most beautiful beetles I’ve ever seen and, unfortunately, this is the one and only shot I got of this beetle before it flew away.  I was so happy it was even halfway in focus considering I had about 5 seconds to pull my camera out and get the shot before it flew off.  I really hope I get to see more of these.  What a stunning insect!

Clearly I’m still loving my new job and my new city.  Hope you’re all enjoying exploring my new area with me!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth