Friday, September 28, 2007

Morning Sky

The clouds looked as if they were ablaze this morning. I almost missed capturing this magnificent sight. I saw it when I opened the blinds and before I could get my camera and get outside some of the brilliant colors had already disappeared. I only got a few shots before this color too vanished before my eyes.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Butterfly Emerges

Today one of our black swallowtail butterflies finally emerged from its chrysalis.
I took it up to my craft room to make sure the kitty wouldn't harm it while I played and took a few pictures.
I took some Easter pictures of my friend's children and this was the basket I used. I pulled it out of the closet and placed the verbena and butterfly on the basket. The butterfly was climbing all over the basket so it was about as cooperative as the little children were when they used the basket.

Flat Stanley will have this cool event to share with my nieces class. The butterfly accidentally used the bathroom on his head, oops. (Did you notice the Colts jersey I made for him?)
What a blessing it is to witness this complete metamorphosis up close and then to hold this beautiful creature in my hand.
The butterfly didn't stay long inside the house, she kept flying to the window and I was concerned that she might damage her wings. I let her go outside and she quickly flew away. I was hoping she would stay on my flowers so I could watch her a bit longer, but she didn't.

I have two other chrysalises that I'm waiting on, however, I think one of the butterflies may not emerge. The chrysalis is almost black and just doesn't look like the other two. It was the first one to pupate, so I think something happened to it. Hopefully, the other one will emerge in a day or two.

Friday, September 21, 2007

A Visit From Flat Stanley

I have a visitor this week from Alabama. His name is Stanley, Flat Stanley. My nieces third grade Social Studies class is doing a project. Students are sending Stanley all over the U.S. and I'm one of the lucky recipients ;)

Here are the rules for for the project:
*Take care of Stanley.
*Take Stanley out with you and show him the sights in your city (state if possible).
*Take pictures of him at the different places you visit with him.
*Write about his adventures while he is visiting with you.
*After a week, please mail Stanley and his journal back to C. Elementary to the student who sent him to you. We would also be interested in receiving a postcard/brochure about your area. We are going to locate your city on our map and read about your community and state.

So, what in the world are we going to do to entertain Stanley? My s-i-l said I could take him to the grocery store and church with me. For some reason, my children are horrified to be seen with Stanley. I've thought of a few places we could all go together, but so far there have been no takers. I've even asked a friend if she would mind taking Stanley with her family tomorrow to Conner Prairie, the living history museum, and I could tell she wasn't too thrilled with suggestion, and thought her children would be embarrassed too. I guess Stanley and I will be on our own.

Praying Mantis Rumors Dispelled

Nearly every morning I drink my coffee in front of the window and as a fun challenging game, I try to spot the mantids on the flowers. (Do you see the one on the sunflower above and on the verbena below?) I also do this so I can keep an eye on them during the day in case they catch their prey.

For some reason I have a lot of praying mantids in my flower gardens. I was glad to see them early in the spring because I thought them to be very beneficial insects. I was very pleased when saw them on my shrubs eating smaller bugs and harmful insects.

As they got larger they were no longer content to eat the smaller bugs and began stalking larger prey. I've worked diligently this year to attract butterflies and hummingbirds to my flower gardens, planting specific things to attract them. So I wasn't at all pleased to see the praying mantis stalking the things that were bringing me so much delight and were also beneficial pollinators as well. The mantis that seemed intent on stalking the hummingbirds, that I posted about in the link above, met her untimely demise after being knocked off the hummingbird feeder with a broom five times and seeing her attempt it for the sixth time. It was determined to catch a hummingbird but I was more determined that it did not.

I mentioned the feeder incident to my neighbor and she asked me if I had killed the mantis, I told her that I had. She proceeded to tell me that it is illegal, in the state of Indiana to kill a praying mantis. She said when her children were in school they did a bug collecting project and were not allowed to collect mantids because the teacher said it was illegal to do so. I had not heard this before, so I did a Google and found that this is an urban legend that has been around since the 1950's. It is not illegal, nor has it ever been illegal, to capture or kill a praying mantis.

In my search on the mantis I also ran across another rumor. My picture of the mating mantids above proves this one is not true. The female does not rip the males head off to initiate mating. I do wish I had checked back on these two to see if she ate him afterwards. I have read that this also is a rare occurrence for mantids in the wild, and usually only those females in captivity do this to ensure they have enough nourishment for their young.
This mantis was also promptly relieved of her gardening duties after being caught with a butterfly.
There was so much controversy over my post about feeding hummingbirds, that I have hesitated doing this post on the praying mantis for fear that some will be upset that I actually killed a few. As several people told me in the hummingbird post, this is my yard and I should have in it what I want. I have decided the praying mantis is not welcome here, they are not well behaved guests, instead they are pests.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Cleaning Up

I've been trying to clean up my computer files for the last several days. I have thousands upon thousands of pictures of flowers and nature related things that I have uploaded since I began blogging. I usually take pictures everyday and some days I will take about a hundred or more pictures, sometimes with more than one camera. So many of those are just taking up memory space on my computer. I mean, how many blurry pictures of pink tulips do I need to keep? Really, how many good pictures of pink tulips do I even need to keep? I think I might have a problem. I hope I'm not the only one who does this.
Anyway, I am trying to find a good way of organizing the pictures that I want to keep. I'd like a simple way to organize them so that I can easily refer back to picture records if I need to.

So far my folders just have things like: Front Garden, Back Garden, Zinnias, Ornamental Grass, Birds, Hummingbirds, Insects, Garden Projects, etc... I guess I do need to at least put the year on them so that next year I can start all over. Even those files are getting huge as I go through the dated picture folders and place them in the categories I want them in. Besides I will want to back those up when I finish organizing and there will be too many pictures from one file for the CD backup, especially for the front and back garden folders.

I was wondering how other garden bloggers and photographers organize their digital pictures. I also wonder if other people just delete the pictures once they use them. I wish I could just save the very best and delete those that are just so-so, but I just can't right now, probably because that would be most of them. I need a better system. Ideas anyone?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Fall is Near

This evening when I was outside taking these pictures I saw several little boys, about four or five years old, in my yard. I wondered what they were doing and moved closer to see what they were up to. They were taking handfuls of my mulch and dropping it in the nearby storm drain. I stopped one of the boys as he was about to drop the mulch and asked him to put it back where he got it. He threw it on the ground , I asked him to pick it up and put it back. He refused. Boy did that ever make me mad! Of course they are unsupervised. This is the kind of stuff that makes me hate living by the playground/common area. It's so very frustrating.

Anyway, the maple leaves are beginning to change already. It's been so dry this summer, I'm thinking the leaves will turn and fall early this year.

I can't believe how quickly this burning bush has changed colors.

The moon flowers are full of blooms. They are beautiful, but I don't know if I'll plant them again. They seem to attract the angry looking wasps. I'll work around the bees, I'm not afraid of them and they don't seem to be bothered by me, but wasps are a different story. I'm afraid to go near them to turn on the water. I have a really long hose on the side yard spigot and that's the one I've been using to water. My trellis is also leaning almost to the ground from the weight of the moonflower. It has gotten huge.

Monday, September 17, 2007


The shots of the goldfinches were taken through the window and screen, giving them a smudgy, kind of artistic look. I didn't plant the black-eyed Susan, they were volunteers, probably coming from my neighbors yard. They were beginning to look ugly after blooming and I had planned to cut them back before the seeds dropped, but the goldfinches really like eating them, so I'll leave them for a while. I just hope I don't have them everywhere next year. I don't mind a few, but they aren't all that attractive, unless of course they have a goldfinch attached.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Hummingbird Pictures

Saturday morning I was sitting at the window having a cup of coffee when this hummingbird flew up to the feeder. I began taking pictures through the window, but they weren't turning out that great. She was so still and quiet so I moved closer and actually opened the window without startling her.
There was no competition at the feeder and it was pretty chilly, I'm thinking that may have been why she was still for so long. She stayed in that same spot for about ten to fifteen minutes. Of course the whole time I'm snapping pictures. I've not had one to sit that still for me so it was quite a thrill for me and just made my day.
The hummingbirds like the sunflowers too. It's not a very good picture, but you can see one at this sunflower.
It's hard for me to get a picture of the hummingbirds at the salvia because the tall verbena is in the way.

I saw the hummingbirds again today. It will warm up some this week so hopefully they'll be around a few more days.

Friday, September 14, 2007

September Garden Blogger Bloom Day

Welcome to Robin's Nesting Place for September Garden Blogger Bloom Day hosted by Carol, from May Dreams Gardens.

I don't really have many new blooms for September. I'm really surprised at the repeat bloomers and those that have hung on through the unusual dry and hot summer. The new bloomers for this month are the sunflower and the Wine and Roses weigela that I planted in the spring, I wasn't expecting fall blooms but I checked and they do have a repeat fall bloom.

The hummers just discovered the weigela today.
My gerbera daisies are still blooming. This morning they were wet from the dew or either still wet from my watering last night.

I am really enjoying the zinnias at the birdbath border garden.

I love this combination of Russian sage, lamb's ear, and dusty miller. The Russian sage has been a great performer for me this year. Many of my plants that I thought were about finished blooming have rebounded now that it's a bit cooler.

The miniature carpet rose is still blooming and needs some deadheading attention.

The salvia and verbena are thankfully still in bloom, they have been the key attractors for the hummingbirds and butterflies.

The front flowerbed is really overgrown with coleus, they are crowding the impatiens.

The front flowerbed has impatiens, coleus, spirea and sage that are still in bloom.

The black-eyed Susan is just about finished blooming and today it and the coneflowers were covered with finches.

I hadn't planted sunflowers in many years. I'm not sure why, because I've really enjoyed them this summer. Not only do they look pretty but they are fun to photograph and the butterflies, bees and even the hummingbirds enjoy them.

I have mums that are blooming. Most of them are this color or either a burgundy color.
Here is my list of flowers that are in bloom:
Moonflower Giant White Calonyction
Gerbera Daisies
Purple Wave Petunia
Verbena bonariensis
Carpet Rose
Lantana (some are doing well and others aren't)
Russian Sage
Queen Annes Lace (only because I haven't weeded in a while)
Plants that are still in bloom but barely:

New Guinea Impatiens
Balloon Flower
Anise Hyssop 'Golden Jubilee'
Black-eyed Susans

Thursday, September 13, 2007


In August, I posted several times about the territorial hummingbirds and the fights that were taking place in my yard. After observing a rather nasty and upsetting fight, I declared that I was no longer going to feed the hummingbirds from a feeder because they seemed to fight worse over my feeder than my flowers. I was not expecting this statement to cause controversy. Obviously some people feel rather strongly about feeding hummingbirds because this topic from my blog was discussed on a hummingbird forum and some people even got a little personal and made fun of me for my decision.

Being a very curious person, I wanted to know for sure whether the hummingbirds actually do benefit from the feeders. I wondered if the feeders were more harmful than helpful. I also wanted to learn more about the nature of hummingbirds and if indeed they would fight to kill.

I made a quick trip to my wonderful local library and checked out several books on hummingbirds. It was interesting reading and I learned a lot more about the fascinating creatures I had been observing.

Here are a few interesting Hummingbird facts:

According to Sherri L. Williamson, co-founder of the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory, in A Field Guide to Hummingbirds of North America, hummingbirds are the least social of all birds. "In fact, much of their behavior is acutely anti-social, ranging from strained tolerance of other hummingbirds to violent confrontation." She goes on to say that, "Territorial battles between hummingbirds rarely result in death." However there is a picture in the book of two hummingbirds that fatally impaled each other.

According to the 21st Century Gardening series Brooklyn Garden Hummingbird Garden, hummingbirds are unique to the Americas and only 22 species are found in the US. The ruby-throated hummingbird is the only species found regularly east of the Great Plains. It is the only species to breed east of the Mississippi river.

Hummingbirds are generally better pollinators than bees because they feed continuously from dawn to dusk.

The hummingbirds need a high energy diet to provide fuel for flight speeds of up to 66 mph; normal flight speed is 25-30 mph.

They typically weigh about 4 grams but their body weight can double before migration. They can drink twice their weight in sugar water each day.

Hummingbirds use sticky spider webs for nesting material and they also eat the insects caught in the spider webs.

The general consensus from what I have read is that feeders are good for the hummingbirds and also for the environment. Hummingbirds are excellent pollinators and many plants, from flowers to trees, across their migratory path receive this benefit. Since most communities do not have adequate natural nectar sources the feeders supplement the high metabolism rate of the hummingbirds and have also allowed them to expand their normal range.

Since it is very important for hummingbirds to eat every couple of hours, and knowing they had been relying on my feeders as their food source, and also knowing there are very few feeders or flowers in my neighborhood to sustain them, I decided to reverse my decision and put the feeder back outside. I also followed the advise of Bisbee Border Birder Bloggers and I put another feeder in the front flowerbed. Besides, I missed watching them. It is a fun treat to sit at my window, within inches of these amazing birds, and watch their entertaining antics.

I believe the kind of fight I witnessed was a rare incidence due to the fact that it was not a fair fight, since one hummingbird was already injured or sickly. The attack was more aggressive in nature because the injured hummingbird couldn't fly away or defend itself. I do believe that in this case the fighting would have resulted in death had I not intervened.

I have watched and carefully observed, even getting up early in the morning to sit in my car just to get a good view of the front feeder, and yes, hummingbirds are very aggressive, territorial, mean and anti-social, but usually the fights are harmless tussling and chasing. Although one morning I was stunned at the loud thud from two of them hitting each other.

I'm still seeing a few visitors at my feeders. Now that the evenings are cooler, I wonder each day if it will be my last time to see them. I cleaned my feeder today and put in fresh nectar hoping that tomorrow I'll see them again. I read that they have very good memories and will return each year to their summer home. I hope they do remember and bless me with their entertaining antics again next year. I'll be planting more flowers they like just to make sure.
Here's the list of plants they like, ones I already plant (*) and others I might consider planting:
Bee Balm
Butterfly weed
Butterfly bush*
Cardinal flower
Morning glory (red)
Rose of Sharon
Sage, Salvia*

Edit: Entangled gave a link, in her comment to this post, to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. As she said, "they seem to lean toward the position that feeders are bad, but they apparently tried to write it in a way that wouldn't antagonize those who put up feeders."
I personally have observed that the hummingbirds do not fight over my flowers like they do my feeders, however several people disagreed with that statement and said that hummingbirds fight the same over flowers as they do feeders. Here is a quote from the UMCE site, "Because hummingbirds are very aggressively territorial, experts suspect that competition at feeders may be extreme and very stressful. "
Well, now I'm back to square one; are feeders really beneficial or are they harmful? It would be nice if the "experts" could agree.
Edited again to include comment by Sherri Williamson co-founder of Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory and author of Peterson Field Guides Hummingbirds of North America.
Sheri Williamson said...
A few comments on this post and its comments:* About my field guide, you wrote "However there is a picture in the book of two hummingbirds that fatally impaled each other." Though there were no human witnesses to the incident that led to these birds' death, the full photo caption states that it is believed that they impaled each other when the arcs of their dive displays intersected. This would have been an accident, not the direct result of aggression.* The Brooklyn Botanic Garden book on hummingbird gardens is misleading about the distribution of hummingbirds in the U.S. Ruby-throated is the only species that commonly nests east of the Great Plains, but several other species occur in the eastern states in fall and winter. Many of these birds, which once would have been written off as doomed, have been documented to survive the winter, migrate, and return to the same location up to 9 winters in a row! The fact that most of these wintering hummingbirds visit feeders has allowed us to document this phenomenon but probably also contributes to their survival.* Though the University of Maine Extension Service's hummingbird info page is mostly accurate, the anti-feeding sentiment is misguided and supported by misinformation. The claim that "experts suspect that competition at feeders may be extreme and very stressful" is probably based on the rantings of an anti-feeding activist who commonly uses disinformation to push his agenda. As far as I know, none of the bona fide experts in the hummingbird research community believes that the levels of aggression around feeders are either unnaturally extreme or dangerously stressful. They are far more concerned about poor feeder maintenance, red dyes and other unnatural additives, cats, windows, and pesticides. The statement that "Artificial nectar does not provide the nutrients that are in floral nectar" is also incorrect. Scientific analysis of the nectar of hummingbird-pollinated flowers has shown them to be basically a solution of sugars in water with only in minute traces of other nutrients. Nectar does not have to provide complete nutrition in liquid form because hummingbirds get protein, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals from the insects and other invertebrates they eat. * Though there are no formal studies on the rates and causes of mortality of hummingbirds that do and do not use feeders, it's feeder-using hummingbirds that have set every longevity record so far. We're talking about 8 years for most species and a maximum (so far) of 12 years, far longer than anyone would have guessed such a small bird could live. As I once wrote to a colleague dealing with a similar controversy, if using feeders is killing hummingbirds, it's doing so v-e-r-y, v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y.* As Paula said, it's your garden, and you get to decide what you put in it, but I hate to see people basing their well-intentioned decisions on misinformation and sharing that misinformation with others.

Sheri, your book says that you are, "one of North America's foremost experts on hummingbirds". I am honored that you would take the time to respond to this confusing dilemma. Thank you for making these corrections and "setting the record straight". I don't want to be responsible for sharing misinformation. I'm very glad to know your opinion on hummingbird feeders.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

My First Garden

For the past several days I have been thinking about doing a blog post on my gardening experience, or rather, inexperience. Then today Carol, from May Dreams Gardens, wrote about her first garden and invited others to do the same. So now is a perfect opportunity to do that post.

First, a little background. My mother was not a gardener. The only flowers that I remember being in our yard when I was growing up were daffodils, (that someone else planted), around the base of the three large oak trees in the front yard. They cheerfully announced the approaching spring each year. There were no flowering shrubs or trees in our yard either. As a child, I hated being outdoors and never played any kind of sport. I loved to sit inside playing and reading.

I married one month after my 20th birthday. My mother-in-law and her mother were plant lovers. They began sharing cuttings from their house plants with me and I soon discovered that I had a green thumb. I loved nurturing my indoor plants and soon had quite a large collection.

My husband seemed to be a perpetual student, and we moved around quite a bit in those early years. Finally after ten years of marriage we settled down and bought our first home in Cordova, TN. It was a new house, in a brand new subdivision. I was about eight weeks pregnant with our second child when we moved in October of that year. The front yard had the typical builders special shrubs, one small tree and I had cheerful yellow mums in the front flowerbed. I had high risk pregnancies so I didn't garden during that first year. Being a busy mom with two small children and a husband who traveled often with his job, gardening was not a priority. Somehow, I found the time during that second year to plant something called hostas and caladiums, that I had admired in other people's yards. We also edged the front flowerbeds. Nothing was planted in our backyard, not even one tree or shrub. After living there for two years and four months, we sold our home and moved back to Alabama.

The house in Alabama was an older home and had some wonderful mature trees. We had a huge, beautiful paperbark birch in the front yard and in the very back we had several really large pine trees. That was it. Well, I guess I should mention the ugly shrubs across the front too. Anyway, even though the house was thirty years old, there were no flowers. Nothing that bloomed. I was so disappointed that first spring when I realized that there were no flowering surprises for me.

At this house we had an older in ground, 10 foot deep swimming pool, which we didn't want in the first place. So after the first year we had my uncle, who owns a land developing company, come in and fill it up with dirt. We then poured a huge concrete patio. I had a new lease on outdoor life. I could go out and work in my yard while my three year old son could safely play nearby. We put a swing where the pool pump had been, I made a brick pathway and planted flowers all around it. In the picture below, my children were playing dress up. This was a very hot Saturday in July, (1996). I had left early that morning and my son had dressed himself. He didn't match at all and was wearing a turtleneck, which is why I took the picture. Now I'm even more glad I did since this is one of the few pictures of the swing garden.

One of my neighbors was having their driveway replaced and I asked if I could have the old one dumped in my yard. They were very happy to oblige. Dummy me, I didn't realize how much concrete that actually would be. I would get out there with my sledgehammer and break up the mountain of concrete and use it to build retaining walls. I moved a lot of concrete and also got to know my chiropractor pretty well those first few years.

The very back shady part of the yard had once been a dog pen and was nothing but large weeds. I took down the chicken wire and began a major clean-up. I dug pathways and built retaining walls. Then I filled the wonderful shady garden with hostas, azaleas, tulips and impatiens. It was beautiful in the spring. In the heat of the Alabama summer, this was where I spent my days gardening. I have no shade here in Indiana and really miss my shade garden and the azaleas. I loved having the pine needles to use for mulch, it was a perfect place to grow those acidic loving azaleas.

It was here that I began to learn and appreciate how the things planted attracted certain wildlife. I loved to feed the birds and I kept a list of those that visited my yard; it was quite a list too.

When I started gardening I knew nothing about plants and I made so many errors, (still do). My friendly retired neighbor would lean over the fence and warn me that I was going to have more garden than I could take care of. He was right.

I had fun and enjoyed learning along the way. I even grew many plants from seed one year with a growing system my husband built for me. I propagated roses and they actually lived. It was fun to see what I could grow and I loved multiplying my plants. I was hooked. I loved gardening and working in the yard.

It is so sad for me when we go home and I pass by our former house in Tuscaloosa. My beautiful shade garden is overgrown and the yard is pitifully neglected. There have been times I've wanted to stop and ask if I could dig up some of my plants. I doubt they would be too pleased to see me though. I can just imagine their friendly retired neighbor leaning over the fence and telling the home-owners that he told that crazy woman not to plant all that stuff.

Thanks, Carol, for the invitation to tell about our first garden. It has been fun to reminisce.