Monday, August 30, 2010

What's eating you Ms. Petunia?

Oh my poor Wave Petunias. They started off looking so great, but now they have very few blooms and look ratty. I took a closer look at what was going on only to notice a lot of holes in the leaves, insect poop, live caterpillars and what looked like little cocoons. If any of you notice these or have more information to share, please post below. 

 Tobacco Budworm perhaps?

 Sadly, I think these plants are past the point of no return. I ended up cutting them way back and moved the container to another part of the yard. I never seem to have much luck with petunias. Maybe the summers here are just too hot and humid. Anyone else have problems with them?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Moonflower finally makes an appearance!

All summer long I have been waiting for the Moonflower to bloom. They were planted among the Morning Glories which have done really well this summer. But one night this week, I finally noticed a beautiful white bloom smiling down at me:

This is Giant White Moonflower (Ipomoea alba). I love the femininity of this flower. The soft ruffles of the petals and the overall shape of the flower. 

By the time the sun comes up in the morning, the Moonflower is finished. And while it's a shame I don't get to see it more, I know that it really isn't here for my enjoyment alone. It's really for the moth pollinators like the Pink-spotted Hawkmoth or the Luna Moth who are attracted to it's scent and the bright white flower during the night hours. Nevertheless, I was still happy to see it when made an appearance on my porch this week!


Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Sun Shines Through It

The sun was just coming up when I snapped this photo. With the sun behind it, the flowers almost look like little glowing fuzz balls and the spider webs shine like silk. Sometimes a change in the lighting is all that's needed for a fresh perspective on the world around us.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Old Westbury Gardens

I took the kids to Old Westbury Gardens in Westbury, NY. They love walking around all the gardens and following the winding paths and I love to see what is blooming and how the gardens are coming along. 

Old Westbury is the former home of John S. Phipps and was one of the old Gold Coast estates of Long Island. The mansion sits on nearly 200 acres of formal gardens, landscaped grounds, woodlands, ponds and lakes.

The walled garden is my favorite spot. As soon as you enter, you can feel the temperature rise and each of the beds are so beautifully planted. Above, various types of Rubeckia are in bloom.

Pink and white Phlox, blue Salvia and more.

A beautiful mixed bed in August.

I like to imagine what it would be like if this was my garden. To be able to walk around it every day and enjoy it's beauty. But then, I think of all the work that is involved in maintaining a garden this size and I'm just happy to be able to enjoy it.

These wrought iron gates create the entryway into the walled garden.
It's such a magical place!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Fun with Driftwood

I came upon this structure while on one of my walks in Fire Island: 

Can you see it? The various pieces of driftwood are fitted together to look like a giant deer!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

My Favorite Flower

I just love the Daisy. It makes me smile every time I see one. 

Just felt like giving it it's own shout out on the blog today!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Luna Moth Caterpillar

After spending the afternoon at a local park, my children and I were heading back to our car when I spotted something big and green stuck to a tree trunk. I assumed it was some kind of caterpillar, but I had never seen one this size before.

Looks to me like a Luna Moth caterpillar, and given its size probably close to its final stage as a caterpillar before it pupates. 

My 4 year old son was fascinated with this and as he watched it closely, I was amazed to see how big it was. It was nearly the length of his whole hand!

The Luna Moth or "Giant Silkworm Moth" have a wingspan of 3-5 inches. They have a white body and huge pale green wings. The hindwings have tails and eye spots:

William Welch ©a natural selection

According to the Northern Virginia Ecology the adult Luna Moths only fly at night and they actually don't eat - they don't even have a mouth! They only live for about a week, and their only purpose is to mate.

Quite a life cycle for such a beautiful insect!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Dappled Willow

I recently visited my sister in Wisconsin. She lives just north of Milwaukee in a beautiful development where five houses share the view of one pond. Going to her house makes me feel like I am in the country. It is so quiet during the day and at night you can see thousands of stars in the sky. Quite a change for me, coming from a suburb of New York City!

A few years ago, she purchased some Dappled Willow trees (Salix integra) and planted them in her backyard (she lives in Zone 5). Seeing them now, after they have become fully established and matured, they are gorgeous!

Here, they create a beautiful hedge between her property and her neighbor's. I love how the graceful they are, each branch moving with the breeze as if they were dancing to some music only they could hear.

And I love how the sunlight shines through the leaves making them look like they are being lit up from the inside.

The foliage is beautiful all season long, beginning in the spring when the new foliage emerges pink and then matures to a variegated creamy white and green.

The tree in this photo is loving the full sun exposure spot near the pond. Some of the bottom limbs have been pruned away to give some shape to the tree, create a little bit of "air" and also allow some flowers to grow beneath it.

What a beauty!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Mourning Dove Takes a Nap

Yesterday afternoon, I arrived home to find a Mourning Dove nestled in the grass in front of my flower boxes. 

When I moved closer to see if it was injured (it was not), it just looked at me but didn't move one bit. I quickly grabbed my camera, and took some photos. All the while, it never moved. 

As I expected, it was gone the next morning. I still don't know if it had been hurt in anyway or was simply taking a rest on the shady grass. Either way, it was a delight to see up close!

For more on Mourning Doves, check out Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Monday, August 9, 2010

When is a weed not a weed?

When it is something you enjoy in your garden.

The dictionary definition of a weed is: a plant considered undesirable, unattractive, or troublesome, especially one growing where it is not wanted, as in a garden.

So, in essence, a weed is something you don't want. And technically speaking, Queen Anne's Lace is considered among many social circles to be a weed. But look at it! The flower is actually quite beautiful and truly resembles a bit of lace. I've seen it as a companion plant in cottage style gardens or a wildflower setting  where it fits in quite well. The wispy foliage, tall slender stems and white flower heads that sway in the breeze are charming in the right place.

Another common weed is Chicory with its blue flowers on slender stems. You can normally find this along the roadside, in parking lots or any deserted area.

It is actually has a beautiful blue flower and looks quite pretty on its own. In fact, I just happened to drive by a house in the neighborhood that had a Chicory "shrub" growing next to the driveway as if it were an ornamental plant:

And the thistle. Scotland's national flower. Prickly and scary looking, but somehow handsome and strong with the spiky green foliage and purple-pink flower head.

When I took this photo, the owner of the garden was watering it and looked at me sheepishly. "I know this is a weed," he said, "but just look at it! It is so magnificent!"

Indeed it is. A weed is something you don't want. A weed is something that makes you cringe.  But if it makes you smile, well then, its just another flower in your garden.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Morning Glory vines take off!

The Morning Glory vines in my flower boxes have been growing so well, but after they reached the porch banister, they had no where else to go. Since they were still actively growing and actively looking for some place to twine around, I decided to attach some strings to the porch's ceiling to give them a place to extend. And you know what? They LOVE it. Have a look:

I probably should have done this from the beginning. But since this was my first time growing them in this spot, I honestly didn't know what to expect. Now I know for next year!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Hemp, Chastity, Monks = Vitex

As I mentioned in my last post, I was recently on vacation in Fire Island, NY. I noticed nearly every other house had this shrub or small tree bursting with purple spike flowers. I overheard someone call it "Butterfly Bush" but I knew it was not Buddleia davidii as the flowers and leaves were different. I came to learn that this small deciduous tree was none other than Vitex agnus-castus. Some of its common names are Vitex, Hemp tree, Sage tree, Monk's Pepper, Chaste tree, Mexican lavender and Texas Lilac.

It gets the name Sage tree from the aromatic foliage which is typically gray-green to dark green above and lighter underneath. The leaves are palmately compound with 5-7 fingerlike leaflets and so it is often called Hemp Tree because the leaves bear strong resemblance to the leaves of the marijuana or hemp (Cannabis spp.) plant. 

The flowers bloom all summer long and are followed by fleshy fruit that contains four seeds that are sometimes used as seasoning, similar to black pepper, hence the common name Monk's Pepper. But what does a monk have to do with pepper seasoning, you ask? Well, that name refers to the medieval belief that utilizing potions made from the berries helped monks maintain their vows of chastity. And so, since it was believed to quell the male libido, it got the name Chaste Tree.

It is drought and salt resistant and easy to grow in well drained soil. Makes sense why everyone had it on their property near the beach!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Vinca Cocktail?

While it is true that the annual Vinca will tolerate most conditions and still look great, this may be a bit much!

I was vacationing in Fire Island a few weeks ago and on an early morning walk I came upon this lovely flower nestled in a cocktail glass. The way the glass was buried deep into the sandy soil made the arrangement seem somewhat deliberate, however, there isn't enough soil in the glass to make me think this was a real container planting. Regardless, I still thought it was fun to see!

The annual Vinca or Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus), could be found in many of the gardens on Fire Island. It can be identified by the dark, glossy green leaves and the five petaled flat flowers, usually with a darker "eye." It is heat and drought tolerant and also interesting to note, it is poisonous if ingested or smoked.

There is also some interesting history on this plant. According to the Encyclopedia of Life website, Catharanthus roseus is native to Madagascar and for many years was used as a folk treatment for diabetes. In the 1950's, researchers discovered that the plant contained a group of alkaloids that, although toxic, had potential uses in cancer treatment. Two of these alkaloids, vincristine and vinblastine, can be used in purified form to treat common types of leukemia and lymphoma. The discovery of vincristine is credited with raising the survival rate of childhood leukemia from under 10% to over 90%.  Thousands of children's lives have therefore been saved by an extract of this humble garden plant.

Pretty amazing stuff from such a small, unassuming plant!