Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day June 2014

Last year I was able to convince my parent's to let me take over some lawn and start a native plant garden for wildlife. This is only the second and first season for many of these plants, but they've filled in nicely already.

These first pictures were taken earlier in the spring. Wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) has such unusual leaves, flowers and seed pods. They have a tendency to seed all over the place, but are good early season color, often lasting for months. If you have a difficult spot in your garden, most likely columbine will grow there. Columbines flower just in time for migrating ruby throated hummingbirds to make their return to North America, and are one of their top ten favorite native plants.

Blue flag iris (Iris versicolor) is another adaptive plant. It prefers full sun and moisture, but tolerates considerable variation in conditions. It serves as the larval host for 17 lepidopterous species (butterflies, moths and skippers) and is one of the best native plants for for filtering out pollutants from soils.

The garden in it's second season. It's already beefed up considerably. This spring, the dense foliage served as cover for a mother rabbit to give birth to a baby bunny. Deep inside, there are tons of insects and arthropods living small, private lives.

I really like back-lit foliage, okay?

Later in the spring; this shows the seed heads of the wild columbine.

Non-native hybrid tea rose. I think it's "Peace"...It's been here for over a decade.

It already has black spot though. I'd get rid of the hybrid teas if I could. They don't add much to wildlife value and they always look so moldy and sketch by the end of our mid-Atlantic summers.

Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) is without a doubt THE best pollinator plant I've ever seen. Plants in the mint family are usually good for attracting pollinators but the sheer quantity and variation in insects it draws in is incredible, many of which I had never seen before.

The leaves are sort of evergreen and smell like Vicks VapoRub.

This was taken today, June 15. Already things have shot up. It always amazes me how fast plants grow and how full of life everything is once the summer begins. The seed heads of river oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) have started to form. They creak and rattle when the wind blows. It also seeds super aggressively and has tough roots, which makes it a great plant for shoreline stabilization.

The ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis) in the back is as tall as the light post. It can be cut back shorter, but I wanted to see how tall it can get on it's own. It hosts 19 lepidopterous species, which are the main food source of most songbirds. This is especially important at this time of the year when so many songbirds are nesting and raising young. Later in the year, arthropods will burrow into the stems to overwinter.

My favorite color is yellow, so I wanted lots of Black-eyed susans (Rudbeckia hirta). These plants are present throughout most of North America, which goes to show how adaptable they are. They host 17 lepidopterous species and produce tons of pollen and nectar. Later in the year, Goldfinches eat the seeds. I should mention that these plants are all ahead of schedule because I grew them from seed in a greenhouse over the winter. They would normally be blooming later in the summer. Growing plants from seed ensures maximum genetic variation, which is always beneficial to the continued survival and adaptability of a species.

I planted them with anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), another plant in the mint family. The leaves smell like licorice which deters mammalian herbivores and the flowers produce tons of nectar. Goldfinches go  crazy for the seeds of these guys too. The rudbeckias tend to attract a number of smaller flies and bees, while the hyssop brings in larger bumblebees and skippers.

I could watch pollinators for hours.

The mailbox bed has more of the same.

A Skipper of some sort.

Small pollinators on a mutant rudbeckia.

The adage is "If you build it, they will come" and this is certainly true with native plants.  Their presence is the difference between life and death, for they serve as the foundation for all food webs. I am only one very small person, but I have the power to change my environment for the better of other organisms around me. Collectively, if we all included native plants in our landscapes, we could repair so much of the destruction our species has wrought on this planet.

“Compassion hurts. When you feel connected to everything, you also feel responsible for everything. And you cannot turn away. Your destiny is bound with the destinies of others. You must either learn to carry the Universe or be crushed by it. You must grow strong enough to love the world, yet empty enough to sit down at the same table with its worst horrors.”
 —Andrew Boyd

 Empathy isn’t a word I usually see associated with Poison Ivy, but i believe it to be vital to her character. Ivy has such an intense, symbiotic connection to The Green, the life force of the planet, that it is hard to tell where one begins and the other ends. I think most people search for a deeper meaning to their lives, but few people are willing to be inconvenienced by their beliefs. Few people are so dedicated to a cause that they are literally willing to give up everything for it, but that is exactly what she has done. Any chance of an ordinary human life has been discarded in favor of a deeper, more meaningful connection to something infinitely greater than the self. I wonder what that must be like, to constantly hear and feel the living planet around you, especially in the times that we live in. The joy of new growth and beginnings in the spring. The vitality of summer. The innumerable lives and deaths. And the continuous, insatiable destruction of mankind. Is it overwhelming?

 How terrifying it must be, then, to lose that connection. To lose that greater part of your own self. To have everything that you have lived for, everything that you love, constantly threatened. Poison Ivy serves as an important inspiration in my life to look beyond personal issues and focus on what really matters; that all things are connected and all actions have consequences, sometimes unintended. To work towards and protect a better future for those that cannot do it themselves. This image shows the cost of empathy, but that same connection is what makes us stronger in the first place.
“Stagno thinks the more involved one gets in fighting for animals, the farther away one feels from the rest of society. “When you travel the aisles of the supermarket, you don’t see ‘food,’ you see the end product of factory farming and slaughterhouses. When everyone else is cooing over a box of kittens that a co-worker brings to work, you see the millions dying on the streets or receiving lethal injections of sodium pentobarbital in the shelters.” She says it’s as if you’ve acquired a kind of “x-ray vision.””

"...The most shocking part of it all for Stagno is "how massive numbers of people could desensitize themselves to extreme human suffering. Because that is the real lesson of the Holocaust, isn't it? That people could do everything and anything to those that they deemed 'sub-human.' Which is, of course, what we do to animals."

Charles Patterson. Eternal Treblinka, 2002
   It was as though a blue shadow had fallen across a pool. Their eyes became deeper, and their voices more cordial. Instead of joining them as they began to pace the deck, Rachel was indignant with the prosperous matrons, who made her feel outside their world and motherless, and turning back, she left them abruptly. She slammed the door of her room, and pulled out her music. It was all old music--Bach and Beethoven, Mozart and Purcell-- the pages yellow, the engraving rough to the finger. In three minutes she was deep in a very difficult, very classical fugue in A, and over her face came a queer remote impersonal expression of complete absorption and anxious satisfaction. Now she stumbled; now she faltered and had to play the same bar twice over; but an invisible line seemed to string the notes together, from which rose a shape, a building. She was so far absorbed in this work, for it was really difficult to find how all these sounds should stand together, and drew upon the whole of her faculties, that she never heard a knock at the door. It was burst impulsively open, and Mrs. Dalloway stood in the room leaving the door open, so that a strip of the white deck and of the blue sea appeared through the opening. The shape of the Bach fugue crashed to the ground.

Virginia Woolf. The Voyage Out, 1915
I’ve lived so little that I tend to imagine I’m not going to die; it seems improbable that human existence can be reduced to so little; one imagines, in spite of oneself, that sooner or later something is bound to happen. A big mistake. A life can just as well be both empty and short. The days slip by indifferently, leaving neither trace nor memory; and then all of a sudden they stop.

--Michel Houellebecq

There is a direct parallel between the demise of milkweeds — killed by the herbicide glyphosate, which is sprayed by the millions of gallons on fields where genetically modified crops are growing — and the steady drop in monarch numbers.

 To anyone who has grown up in the Midwest, the result seems very strange. After decades of trying to eradicate milkweed, gardeners are being encouraged to plant it in their gardens, and townships and counties are being asked to let it thrive in the roadside ditches. What looks like agricultural success, purging bean and corn fields of milkweed (among other weeds), turns out to be butterfly disaster. This is the great puzzle of species conservation — it has to be effective at nearly every stage of a species’ life cycle. And this, too, is the dilemma of human behavior. We live in a world of unintended consequences of our own making, which can never be easily undone. 

 By Verlyn Klinkenborg. Taken from:

“The real damage is done by those millions who want to 'survive.' The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”

“Stand up for what you believe in even if you are standing alone”

“Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don't dare express themselves as we did.”

“How can we expect fate to let a righteous cause prevail when there is hardly anyone who will give himself up undividedly to a righteous cause?”

“And I could weep at how mean people are and how they betray their fellow creatures, perhaps for the sake of personal advantage. It is enough to make a person lose heart sometimes. I often wish I lived on a Robinson Crusoe island.”

“When I turn my head, my cheek grazes the rough trunk of the apple tree next to me. How protectively it spreads its good branches over me. Without ceasing the sap rises from its roots, nurturing even the smallest of leaves. Do I hear, perhaps, a secret heartbeat? I press my face against its dark, warm bark and think to myself: homeland, and am so indescribably happy in this instant.”

“I can't be overwhelmingly happy. I'm never free for a moment day and night from the uncertainty in which we live these days, which excludes any carefree plans for tomorrow and casts a shadow over all the days to come.”

-Sophie Scholl

Watch this, you fucking idiots. Turn the volume up nice and loud. This is the hell you selfish talking monkeys condone every time you buy the eggs/dairy/meat that you can't possibly live without.

Ellen, somewhere in her childhood, has split her life into two opposing camps: On the one hand there is the "tomb world," which includes her physical and social existence. Her body, with its low needs, distracts her from her purposes. It gets older every day. Her society is bourgeois and corrupt. The people around her seem oblivious to all the evil and all the suffering. In the tomb world, everything is degenerate and degenerating, everything is being pulled down, into the grave, into a hole. 

On the other hand there is the "ethereal world," the world of the soul, pure and clean, a world where what needs to be done is done, where acts are effortless because unencumbered by the weight of matter. In the ethereal world, we can be free and fly.

Taken from:

Ellen West

...About five years ago, I was in a restaurant,  
eating alone
                   with a book. I was
not married, and often did that ...

—I’d turn down
dinner invitations, so I could eat alone;

I’d allow myself two pieces of bread, with  
butter, at the beginning, and three scoops of  
vanilla ice cream, at the end,—

                                                sitting there alone  
with a book, both in the book
and out of it, waited on, idly
watching people,—

                           when an attractive young man  
and woman, both elegantly dressed,
sat next to me.
                        She was beautiful—;

with sharp, clear features, a good
bone structure—;
                         if she took her make-up off  
in front of you, rubbing cold cream
again and again across her skin, she still would be  
               more beautiful.

And he,—
            I couldn’t remember when I had seen a man  
so attractive. I didn’t know why. He was almost

a male version
                      of her,—

I had the sudden, mad notion that I  
wanted to be his lover ...

—Were they married?
                              were they lovers?

They didn’t wear wedding rings.

Their behavior was circumspect. They discussed  
politics. They didn’t touch ...

—How could I discover?

                                  Then, when the first course  
arrived, I noticed the way

each held his fork out for the other  

to taste what he had ordered ...

                                                 They did this
again and again, with pleased looks, indulgent  
smiles, for each course,
                                     more than once for each dish—;  
much too much for just friends ...

—Their behavior somehow sickened me;

the way each gladly
put the food the other had offered into his mouth—;

I knew what they were. I knew they slept together.  

An immense depression came over me ...

—I knew I could never
with such ease allow another to put food into my mouth:

happily myself put food into another’s mouth—;

I knew that to become a wife I would have to give up my ideal.

.            .            .

...Callas is my favorite singer, but I’ve only  
seen her once—;

I’ve never forgotten that night ...

—It was in Tosca, she had long before
lost weight, her voice
had been, for years,
                               deteriorating, half itself ...

When her career began, of course, she was fat,

enormous—; in the early photographs,  
sometimes I almost don’t recognize her ...

The voice too then was enormous—
healthy; robust; subtle; but capable of  
crude effects, even vulgar,
                                          almost out of  
high spirits, too much health ...

But soon she felt that she must lose weight,—
that all she was trying to express

was obliterated by her body,
buried in flesh—;
                           abruptly, within
four months, she lost at least sixty pounds ...

—The gossip in Milan was that Callas  
had swallowed a tapeworm.

But of course she hadn’t.

                                       The tapeworm
was her soul ...

—How her soul, uncompromising,  
                  must have loved eating the flesh from her bones,

revealing this extraordinarily
mercurial; fragile; masterly creature ...

—But irresistibly, nothing  
stopped there; the huge voice

also began to change: at first, it simply diminished  
in volume, in size,
                              then the top notes became  
shrill, unreliable—at last,
usually not there at all ...

—No one knows why. Perhaps her mind,  
ravenous, still insatiable, sensed

that to struggle with the shreds of a voice

must make her artistry subtler, more refined,  
more capable of expressing humiliation,  
rage, betrayal ...

—Perhaps the opposite. Perhaps her spirit  
loathed the unending struggle

to embody itself, to manifest itself, on a stage whose

mechanics, and suffocating customs,
seemed expressly designed to annihilate spirit ...

—I know that in Tosca, in the second act,  
when, humiliated, hounded by Scarpia,  
she sang Vissi d’arte
                               —“I lived for art”—  

and in torment, bewilderment, at the end she asks,  
with a voice reaching
                                 harrowingly for the notes,

“Art has repaid me LIKE THIS?”

                                              I felt I was watching  
                     an art; skill;

miles distant from the usual soprano’s  
                   the usual musician’s dream  
of virtuosity without content ...
—I wonder what she feels, now,  
listening to her recordings.

For they have already, within a few years,  
begun to date ...

Whatever they express
they express through the style of a decade  
and a half—;
                   a style she helped create ...

—She must know that now
she probably would not do a trill in  
exactly that way,—  
                           that the whole sound, atmosphere,  
dramaturgy of her recordings

have just slightly become those of the past ...

—Is it bitter? Does her soul  
tell her

that she was an idiot ever to think  
             material wholly could satisfy? ...

—Perhaps it says: The only way  
to escape
the History of Styles

is not to have a body.

.            .            .

...Dearest.—I remember how
at eighteen,
                   on hikes with friends, when  
they rested, sitting down to joke or talk,

I circled
around them, afraid to hike ahead alone,

yet afraid to rest
when I was not yet truly thin.

You and, yes, my husband,—
you and he

have by degrees drawn me within the circle;  
forced me to sit down at last on the ground.

I am grateful.

But something in me refuses it.

—How eager I have been
to compromise, to kill this refuser,

but each compromise, each attempt  
to poison an ideal
which often seemed to me sterile and unreal,

heightens my hunger.

I am crippled. I disappoint you.

Will you greet with anger, or  

the news which might well reach you  
before this letter?

                              Your Ellen.

Frank Bidart. Excerpts from Ellen West, 1990


While I stood here, in the open, lost in myself,
I must have looked a long time
Down the corn rows, beyond grass,
The small house,
White walls, animals lumbering toward the barn.
I look down now. It is all changed.
Whatever it was I lost, whatever I wept for
Was a wild, gentle thing, the small dark eyes
Loving me in secret.
It is here. At a touch of my hand,
The air fills with delicate creatures
From the other world.

 James Wright. The Branch Will Not Break, 1963

... In central Mexico come fall, the monarch arrives at the end of a 3,000-mile migration from as far as southern Canada on the Day of the Dead, which marks the return of a deceased loved one’s soul. No one knows how these monarchs, several generations removed from their northward-bound ancestors, find their way back to their winter home.

 The Mariposa Monarch Biosphere Reserve (138,000 acres) lies in the central Mexican states of Michoacan and Mexico. While Angangueo is considered the unofficial monarch headquarters, the most prominent overwintering site is in El Rosario, where as many as four million butterflies—of an estimated 200 million—roost per acre in the fir and pine trees of the oyamel forests on only 12 mountaintops. The trees provide shelter from cold rains, which can freeze the monarchs, while they also hold in warmth rising from the forest floor. The conditions are precariously perfect, delicate microclimates, and only since 1975—as a result of ads taken out in Mexican newspapers—have scientists known the home location of the world’s only migrating butterfly.

 The summer breeding range of monarchs east of the Rockies is over 247 million square acres, but here the insects cluster in only a few colonies that range in size from one to 10 acres. Like massive dreadlocks, they hang from trunks and branches in suspended reproduction or diapause. These monarchs were born in September, and unlike the summer generations that live for only two to four weeks, they will last seven months until the February and March migration back north to Texas and the Gulf states, where they will lay eggs and quickly die.

 How can an insect with the mass of a paperclip make such journeys and endure? As I watch the July monarchs perform aerial courting—the male dive-bombing and grabbing at the female, hoping to get her on the ground for copulation—I find it amazing that their four thin wings don’t shred. In the heat, the wind, the miles of interstate, they dodge death. And then there are blue jays and orioles, who have learned to only eat the thoracic muscles to avoid the poisonous wings that contain cardenolides, which induce vomiting and heart attacks in predators. Tachnid flies lay eggs in caterpillars—maggots emerge weeks later from a newly formed chrysalis. An estimated 90 percent of monarch larvae never develop into butterflies, and the milkweed they depend upon in North America is quickly vanishing as 6,000 acres per day of habitat is destroyed by human development.

 Patches of milkweed are few and far between. Counties mow vital highway edges and destroy stands of it and nectar plants. Farmers plant genetically modified corn and soybeans that are herbicide resistant, so chemicals like Roundup are liberally applied, easily killing any nearby milkweed. In Mexico between 1986 and 2006, one-fifth of the Monarch Biosphere—where only some of the winter roosts are located—was illegally logged, resulting in nearly 26,000 acres of deforestation. How does the monarch persist?

 In the winter of 2009–2010, massive rain and hailstorms washed away local villages and monarch roosts in Mexico, resulting in an estimated 50–80 percent loss of the record low 4.7 acres of monarchs, down from the average of 18 acres. In 1996, a record high winter population was set at 44 acres, but in 1997, the population was just 15 acres. Again, from 1999–2000, the population went from 22 acres to seven acres, then in 2004 dropped to five acres.

 The Commission for Environmental Cooperation does not list the monarch as endangered but does list the migration as such. Scientists agree that with shifting weather patterns due to global warming, the overwintering sites in Mexico will be uninhabitable by 2055 as the Mexican mountains experience more rain. But with the fragmented and vanishing stands of milkweed in North America, it maybe won’t matter. In the spring of 2009, a dry Texas winter meant fewer milkweed for arriving monarchs, and a cold and wet Midwestern spring and summer slowed migration and inhibited milkweed growth.

 But perhaps the monarch is just a butterfly, just one organism, just one phenomenon among thousands on the planet. Or maybe the potential disappearance of one species would diminish human culture itself—the Native American Pima tribe cite the creator as having taken the form of a butterfly, for example. The monarch has spread to Australia, Indonesia, the Azores, the Bahamas and Spain through introduction, and the western population is relatively stable (and much smaller) as it migrates from British Columbia to southern California each year, so the monarch won’t vanish entirely. But the metaphor their lives represent is obvious.

 In Christianity the caterpillar’s two weeks of life represents our earthly self, the chrysalis our tomb, the emergence (10–14 days later for a monarch) is a casting off of our body and spiritual rebirth. The monarch is more than a reminder of ourselves, it is the center of our moral and ethical beliefs as another species sharing and taking care of the Earth, and in turn ourselves. Organizations like Monarch Watch, MonarchLab and the Commission for Environmental Cooperation are trying to make preservation and ecotourism a physically benign yet economically viable option for Mexicans who harvest the forest to heat homes, cook food and just barely survive. These same organizations work in North America on a seemingly different level—to appeal to our humanity, our compassion, our sense of wonder and aesthetic joy.

 Somewhere in the middle is the monarch butterfly. Somewhere in my garden now a female, slightly smaller than a male and missing two pheromone-producing androconium spots on two of its wings, may be laying eggs underneath milkweed leaves. She is tattered and faded, her short summer lifespan nearing an end, but a few of her 400 eggs will emerge as an echo of herself in four weeks, a rebirth noticed by our own ancestors long ago—a symbol of defiance and hope in a new world more reminiscent of small, carefully tended gardens than of one vast nature.

Written by Benjamin Vogt. Taken from: