Along the Pathway

This Is my backyard border, a little collapsed at the center where daffodil leaves used to be, keeping me from planting densely there in the spring. The bamboo stakes are deer-discouragers. The mulched path on the right, I filled in with free wood chips and twigs that form naturally at the bottom of my brush heap. Windfalls from my trees are the edging. Mature logs taken from the heap can be light as paper, reduced to a crumbly texture by the fungi that feed on them. As edging, logs and sticks look nice; they also create microclimates and mini-habitats. So far, I have never seen a reptile or amphibian in my yard, but I’ve added water, stones, and rotting wood, all of which are are important to toads and turtles, etc.

Stands of mint-family plants can make great summer hedges. They tend to grow in a medium-tall upright clump; they flower generously, and are loved by pollinators. The lemon balm pictured defines the path edge, and is easily trimmed backed if it encroaches.

The Alaska nasturtiums blooming, with all their color range. 

This annual phlox is not only lovely, but seems strongly deer resistant. In this patch of garden, I have coneflower and black-eyed Susan, of which the deer have bitten off the flowerheads. But the phlox blooming next to them has been left alone.

An achillea bloom in terra cotta. Also, a tiny wasp, and several of what look like little beetles.

A second Paw Paw seedling. The first gift Paw Paw is about three feet tall now. I read up on them to learn when I might see it bloom, and found out it’s just as well I have another. Paw Paws, apparently, besides being fly-pollinated, are shy to make fruit, and need to have genetic input from another individual. Somewhere in the woods nearby, though, there is a fruiting Paw Paw, making these deposits in my yard possible.

Likewise for the parent mountain laurel. I found a new one, potted it up, and will think about where to plant it. I just ordered a buttonbush, and a steeplebush, and I want to put in a highbush cranberry. The Black Cherry is a superfood for native northeastern and midwestern wildlife, and I always get seedlings sprouting in my yard, since they are not rare in southeastern Ohio. But whole trees are hard to accommodate. 

This one, that I thought was a birch, and then thought was a beech, I’m beginning to think is a hornbeam. Its characteristics don’t really fit either of the others. It’s a great favorite with everything that feeds on leaves. The skeletonization is caused by Japanese beetles. The larvae of Japanese beetles thrive in sunny expanses of lawn, while their best predator, fellow foreigner the European Starling, like most warm-blooded creatures, likes to forage (grub) in the shade. Starlings have done good work for me in keeping this particular pest under control, so I don’t worry about them…even though they are awfully noisy birds. 

Joe Pye weed is a North American native, and its flowers are loved by butterflies. This leaf damage is a good sign that some insects, aside from Japanese beetles, are being fed. The Joe Pye is not a noted host for butterfly larvae, but feeds the adults and attracts them, so that if you have Paw Paw, a host for the Zebra swallowtail, or milkweed, for Monarchs, or pipevines, which have a swallowtail of their own, etc., your yard can help keep butterflies from disappearing—a genuine possibility these days.

By the way, I’ve walked in the woods many times in my life, and I’ve never actually seen a pipevine growing anywhere. The only one I could find to order was a Brazilian species. Of volunteer vines, I get Chinese bittersweet and Japanese honeysuckle, invasives that need pulling (the bittersweet has thorns, so wear gloves). I get poison ivy, which isn’t civilized, though in the forest it’s good for wildlife. I get lots of Virginia Creeper, which is just too abundant to have in the yard (and capable of damaging masonry), English ivy and wintergreen euonymus, nonnatives, also worth pulling, and lots of campsis radicans, the trumpet vine, which is native, and hosts a sphinx moth caterpillar.

Campsis is also tricky, like other vines, because it grows heavy and woody in time, and crawls all over things, shading them out. It probably wants a pergola, and I don’t have enough sunny parts in my yard for that.

A robber fly. I didn’t even know there were such things, but I photographed this one and looked up types of flies. It’s not really a friend or an enemy, because it’s a hunting insect that carries off grasshoppers and bumblebees alike. I just saw the first hummingbird moth I’ve ever seen in my yard, so I hope it can keep safe from the robber flies. 

 

 

A cute-as-can-be little spider on my Brandywine tomato. It looks like he’s trying to pass himself off as a tiny tomato hornworm. Maybe this spider preys on the braconid wasps that prey on the hornworm.

Pests and Volunteers

Photo of skeletonized hollyhock leaf

Hollyhocks are typically attacked by the tiny larva of some kind of insect, which skeletonizes the lower leaves, as in this fairly elegant achievement above. Wherever I’ve grown hollyhock, I’ve always seen this pest develop. My gardening practice is radical organic, meaning that in almost every case I don’t interfere at all with bugs and diseases. I let plants employ their own defenses, or otherwise replace them with ones more suited to the immediate challenges. I use only products that are truly harmless—and not all labeled organic are, such as Bacillus thuringiensis. This bacteria may occur naturally in the environment, but never in the quantities used to “organically” control pests. It stands to reason we can’t ramp up one factor in the equation of the biome, without having an altering effect on other factors.

So I allow these creatures to eat my hollyhock leaves, and the hollyhocks (being at the best of times not the tidiest-looking plants) always come back and flower.

 

Photo of columbine leaf miner damage

And here is the work of the columbine leaf miner, a bug I have never tried to get rid of. Individual columbines don’t live for many years. Their garden value is in their ready self-sowing. The leaf miner tends to attack after the ones that are mature enough to bloom have flowered and set seed.

 

Photo of oak leaf gall

Since I always include a gall, if I find one to photograph, here is a forming oak apple gall, a type caused by various tiny wasps. The heat bubble we’re under in southeastern Ohio is, I suspect, the cause of a healthy branch popping off one of my trees…

 

Photo of tiny acorns

From the same branch, here are tiny acorns getting started. They cluster on the twigs just below the new leaves, and if the weather is hot and dry, several may drop off before the crop matures in the fall.

 

Photo of clematis vine

My clematis this year was suffering fungus, that disease called clematis wilt. You can see some malformed leaves that look like a willow tree’s, in the lower left corner, and some of the dried and shriveled ones. I put bone meal in the dirt around the roots, and have been watering steadily. So far, the clematis seems to be recovering. My theory is that bone meal changes the soil pH, and stops the fungus spreading.

 

Photo of hickory tree

I like to inventory those plants that appear voluntarily in my yard. It’s a way of measuring environmental health, and diversity of local plant populations. This seedling looks to be a mockernut hickory, which has a small nut and may have been brought by the deer who like also to browse its new leaves.

Photo of laurel bush

This one looks to be a mountain laurel.

 

Photo of hazelnut

This is a bladdernut, an understory tree/shrub that is one of the few, in fact, with only three leaflets on its compound leaf. The bladdernut’s Latin name is Staphylea trifolia.

 

Photo of pretty coleus

An especially nice coleus grown from seed, with its yellow freckles and almost red heart. So far it hasn’t sent up a flower shoot, so maybe I’ll only get to propagate it if I can get cuttings to survive the winter.

 

Photo of tithonia and blue centaurea

Finally, a couple of nice combos in annuals that should give color through most of the summer. Orange tithonia and bright blue centaurea, above.

 

Photo of dark-leaved sweet potato vine and dusty miller

A shady group with dark-leaved sweet potato vine and silver dusty miller. (Also morning glory, larkspur, and variegated nasturtium.)