Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Pollen Britches?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Fringe Benefits of Spicebush

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) isn't a knock-your-socks off shrub.  The flowers are inconspicuous, the leaves unremarkable. Small fruits follow the flowers. However, just like milkweed, this shrub has the power to protect the caterpillars that consume it. Eastern black swallowtails, Promethea Silkmoths and, or course, Spicebush swallowtails. Which is why you need one of these shrubs. So you can torment yourself chasing caterpillars across the yard just like we do!
I first thought I spotted a Spicebush swallowtail in the yard back in April. But I wasn't sure. Then I thought I'd spotted some eggs on the underside of leaves, but saw nothing further developing, so decided that I was mistaken. And then this happened. The leaves started folding up their edges. Very strange. This calls for further investigation. 
A HA!  This little guy tried to pretend he was bird poo, but we were not fooled.  
We found several of these little dudes hiding out under their leaf edges. Never saw one get to a larger size, though. Had dreadful thoughts about how successful the birds have been.... 
So then Saturday, we made this shocking discovery. I know. There are so many things wrong with this picture, I was beside myself. I mean really. She can't possibly be considering pupating on a fungicide bottle. Really? This Will Not Do.

We relocated our new caterpillar friend to the nearby, non-toxic, cucumber box. And being as how Saturday happened to be the day we were entertaining guests for dinner, we could only glance in her direction sporadically. She carefully examined the entire inner frame of the side (framed in 2"x4"s, inner boards are old fence) and then stopped at the top. (Click to see this one larger!)

When our friends got to the house, she had already tied herself down. I didn't take a picture then, as the steaks would not wait, but got this shot the next morning. I abjectly apologize for the fuzziness. 
And here she is tonight, well along in the process. Back at work tomorrow, but I'll do my best to get progress pictures! As usual, you can click on the images for a larger view. 

*Two different cameras in use on this post. The last image made use of off-camera flash and a diffusing hood. Wanted accurate color rendition. Just in case you were curious. :)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Color Blind Garden Design

Therapeutic Landscapes Network pointed me to an EXCELLENT post on general landscape design. While specifically addressing the challenges of creating lively garden design for a color-blind client, this is an exceptionally well-written post on design. Probably because it must describe techniques without a reliance on color, which is usually a designer's shortcut to a "wow" design, a number of clear directions are provided that illustrate other tools in the pallet--like texture and contrast. Ready to check it out? Go Here!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Why Bother With Cake...

... when you can have PIE?  I mean, seriously. Pie is so easy! There are fewer dishes to wash! And you can have it for breakfast! Or at least you can have this one for breakfast. Totally healthy. :)

So here we go. One of our absolute favorites at Native Backyard. Swiped and then modified very slightly from one of the local papers. Whoever developed it, email me--I'd be happy to give you credit!

Apple Raspberry Pie

Here at Native Backyard, we don't have time for crusts. Crusts are for people who really cook/bake. We are not great cooks. We are gardeners! So we cheat on crusts and use Pillsbury. Has yet to fail us. Also, we prefer a stoneware pie plate, like you can get at those Pampered Chef parties. There's an excuse if you need one. Stoneware keeps your crust all flakey as if you were a real cook. 

So anyway, you need a box of Pillsbury pie crusts. Read the box and follow the instructions about "softening."

The rest of the pie:

5 cups sliced & peeled baking apples. [3 LG or 4 MED-sized. Try a tart apple like Granny Smith.]
3/4 cup granulated sugar [We usually use 1/4 cup sugar & 1/2 cup of Stevia. Experiment. This is an excuse to eat more pie.]
1/4 cup cornstarch
1tsp grated orange peel
1 6 oz. container fresh raspberries (=1 cup)
1 Tbsp cold butter (don't you dare use margarine), cut into small pieces (as in picture above)

Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Prepare pie crusts as directed on box.
  • In a large bowl, place apples, sugar, cornstarch and orange peel; toss to coat the apples. Spoon 1/2 of apple mixture into crust-lined pie plate. Sprinkle evenly with raspberries. Top with remaining apples. Dot with butter. Top with second crust; seal edges & flute. [You can pinch the crust shut all the way around for a rippled effect.]
  • Lightly brush the crust with water & sprinkle with 1 tsp Turbinado sugar (or regular granulated). Cut slits in the top crust. [ESSENTIAL!!]
  • Place pie on middle rack in oven; place a sheet of foil on the rack below to catch any spillover. It could happen. Bake 45 to 55 minutes until deep golden brown. Cool at least 1 hour unless you prefer to have the roof of your mouth scorched off. 
That's it! Go make PIE! 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Why Your Yard Shouldn't Go Disney

Beth Almeras is nicely incensed and has every right to be. Go give her a moment of your time over at The Grass Stain Guru. This woman will stop at nothing to protect her kids--even dis Disney! :)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sacred Places

I do not 
Want to step so quickly
Over a beautiful line on God's palm
As I move 
Through the earth's marketplace

I do not want to touch any object in this world
Without my eyes testifying to the truth
That everything is
My Beloved.

Something has happened
To my understanding of existence
That now makes my heart always full of wonder
And kindness.

I do not want to step so quickly
Over this sacred place on God's body
That is right beneath your
Own foot

As I Dance
Precious life

poem by Hafiz, translated by Daniel Ladinsky

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Pollinators and Rain Gardens

Yesterday was my "walk & talk" on Urban Plantscapes for kids and adults and we had a very good time. With populations of some species of native pollinators having dropped by up to 96%, it's always great to have a receptive audience that is just as shocked as you are by the data. National Pollinator Week is coming up June 20th, so I'm trying to spread the gospel as quickly as possible. :)

More than 80% of all flowering plants need help moving pollen from one flower to the next for fertilization. But when we have things that need pollinating, and pollinators don't show up, it's not always so easy to figure out why they aren't magically there.  What can the average homeowner do to help alleviate the problem?

Kids check out the inkberry holly in the rain garden.
The first stop on yesterday's tour was the parking lot of the local library, where people with vision worked to see that rain gardens were installed.  These gardens were thoughtfully planned--they filter storm water before it enters the surface water of our cleanest-water-in-the-state-county and they provide food for pollinators at more than one time during the year.

This is a crucial need. It's easy to remember the pollinators when you need your tomatoes dealt with, but not so easy in, say, February. Or March. Or maybe April. Or September. And maybe even October, before overwintering. These rain gardens featured fothergilla, iris, Virginia Sweetspire, arrowwood viburnum, clethra, winterberry holly, chokeberry, inkberry, false indigo, rudbeckia and a few other gems just for fun. At the time of our tour, the winterberry holly was covered in bees. It was obvious by the forming berries that the bees had already done their job on the viburnum. Spent blooms on the fothergilla and clethra were more evidence of the smorgasbord previously enjoyed. It was a garden full of life--sitting in a parking lot. What city could NOT do this?

In some areas of the country (and world), property owners work diligently not to just "deal" with storm water, but actively look for ways to retain it. Rain gardens are a great way of doing this, since the whole purpose of a rain garden is to slow down storm water and make it stay where you want it for longer. Water absorbed by a rain garden becomes part of your ground water and is greedily sucked up by trees and shrubs outside the rain garden, as well.

Classic inflorescence on Mountain Laurel cultivar
But if there's anything better than a rain garden, it's a dual-purpose rain garden that rolls out the buffet for pollinators, too. One of the commonalities among the vast majority of selected plants in the library rain gardens is that each plant tends to present clusters of small flowers within a larger structure. The technical term for this is inflorescence, and you can read some awesome stuff about it if you want all that detail HERE. The benefit for pollinators is that each cluster provides lots of opportunities for pollen, instead of just a single, more vivid flower. And maybe this is part of the problem.

These complex clusters of flowers tend to appear on larger plants or shrubs--not on plants like daylilies or pansies that you might call "bedding plants." So the casual gardener, shopping for something pretty, is unlikely to select the viburnum or chokeberry (both pollinator favorites) because the flower just isn't very showy. And lots of homeowners might not know how trouble-free these larger species can be.

So another dozen people in my community now know that masses of tiny blooms are Good Things. And some of these folks are going to be coming over for some free yarrow, lamb's ear, goldenrod and coneflower. (All complex flowers that support multiple pollinators.) Maybe you have plants like these you can share with your friend and/or neighbors. Or maybe you'll just take the initiative to plant some more in your own space for National Pollinator Week. If so, it's time to get your fabulous, pollinator-supporting plant guide tailored to your zip code-- Here!

Thanks for sharing--

Friday, June 3, 2011

Getting Thrashed

Where'd they go? Mom? Dad?

Really, we're little and need lots more bugs!

Seconds? Please?


ACK! Mom, the water is cold!

Sun is so nice...

Now, where were they?

Should  have known.... *sigh*

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