Saturday, September 10, 2011

Late Summer Gardens

Sometimes at this time of year I pull into the driveway and think: "Ugh." What must the neighbors think? The cupplant are beginning to brown, towering above the rest of the garden beds. Most of the flowers have given up their blooms. Various plants are dying back, setting seeds, and generally not putting on the best show. This is when I have to stop and remind myself that this is one of my favorite times of year in the gardens.
Those dried cupplant heads attract my beloved goldfinches. The finches stop throughout the summer, checking to see if their coveted seeds are ready yet, knowing our yard will provide a smorgasbord when they are. Now we hear the finches from everywhere in the yard, chattering as they feast. There's one little lady in particular that steals my heart. Yes, one. There's no doubt who she is when she arrives. She's cheeky as can be and she prefers some of the seeds that are setting in one of the forest garden beds near the rain barrels. When I water from the barrel, she scolds me until I leave the premises. She gets more daring each week. Today when I decided to try to get a shot of her, she let me within 3 to 4 feet before flying to a further perch and scolding me heartily. Her mate has begun his transition into fall coloring, and is a lovely shade of lime green.

The prairie beds, rain gardens, and spent vegetable beds all buzz with pollinators that find our yard to be an oasis as gardens start to die back. Our asters, butterfly weed, and even traditional garden plants like sunflowers, butterfly bush and russian sage all attract visitors. I watched a female hummingbird at the russian sage and sweet peas for a solid 10 minutes today. In the summer, they only visit for a few seconds at a time. The spiders love the visitors as well. As little love as I have for arachnids, I have to admit their particular stark beauty. The yellow and black arigopes are the most prominent, with their zig zag down the middle of their web to support their bulk. It's always a bit of a shock to come across one in the gardens, so you have to step carefully, knowing they're quite abundant. We have a variety of crawlers, and they decorate the spaces in-between the plants throughout the yard.

It's amazing what you find when you take a few moments to just poke around. We haven't spotted a single monarch caterpillar this year. Usually we have dozens in the gardens, but the butterflies have been few and far between this year. In my quest to find one yesterday, I came across this beautiful imperial moth caterpillar in our sycamores that dot the back prairie bed. He'll be heading underground soon to pupate.

As the garden beds slow down and surrender the last of their fruits, I almost forget to look up and remember that we're just weeks away from the trees' contribution to our harvest. A few tiny apples and some lovely asian pears are shadowed this year by our big pear trees. They had hundreds of buds this year and are boasting impressive fruits now.

It's a busy time of year, and it helps to remember that though our suburban neighbors may shake their heads, we are hosting a whole amazing ecosystem right outside our door. Enjoy these last beautiful days of summer.

For a closer look at any of the pictures, just click. Enjoy!