Monday, July 30, 2012

A Little Love and Respect for Moths

It's been a big flap forward for Moths everywhere this past week, as the first ever National Moth Week took place!  Mothing events were held around the country, where people got together to learn more about these weird looking fascinating creatures and to see what moths they could find. 

This Imperial Moth (Eacles imperialis) showed up at the Red House Garden awhile back.  The picture doesn't do it justice - this thing was enormous!
Mothing is pretty easy - just turn on your porch light at night and see what shows up.  Moth enthusiasts also use special lights and baits to attract more moths.  I did the porch light thing the other night and went outside to see what I could find.  I honestly thought it would be a little unpleasant and, well, buggy with bugs flying all around, but it was actually pretty fascinating to see what was attracted to the porch light (and thankfully nothing bit me).

A moth that was attracted to my porch light
Moths and butterflies are from the same order of insects (Lepidoptera).  I was surprised to learn that there are actually many, many more species of moths than butterflies.  (All these things that you never knew were out there in the night.) Most moths are nocturnal, but there are a few that fly during the day.

Here are two examples of moths that fly during the day:
TOP:  Snowberry Clearwing moth (often called the Bumblebee moth)
BOTTOM:  Hummingbird Clearwing moth 
So what's the difference between a butterfly and a moth? 
Like previously mentioned, most moths are nocturnal.  And, unlike butterflies, most moths have thick and fuzzy bodies.  They also don't have little knobs at the end of their antennae like butterflies.

moth attracted to my porch light
Another difference is that butterflies usually rest with their wings held up above them, while moths rest with their wings spread out flat.

a resting moth
There are several other less noticeable differences.  An interesting one is that moths are the ones who make cocoons of silk - butterfly pupae have a hard, smooth skin called a chrysalis.

Are moths pests?
Moths are actually very beneficial.  They are important as pollinators, and they are a large part of the food chain.  Also it is the silk moth (Bombyx mori) that produces silk.  These creatures that are so rarely noticed do deserve a little love and respect!

Now moth caterpillarson the other hand, are a very different story as we gardeners know...

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Cardinal Flower

A red wildflower to go with a red house:

Cardinal flower
This year I've planted several Cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) in the Red House Garden, and they are thriving in a very wet low spot that I have.

These native wildflowers grow naturally near ponds and stream beds - they like moisture.  Down here in the South, they also appreciate some shade, though they can take more sun farther north.

This flower grows from 2 to 4 feet tall, and the blooms last quite a long time, slowly unfurling their plume of many scarlet-colored, tubular flowers.

They usually just have one long terminal spike at the end, but I seem to also have an odd branching one.

Another beautiful thing about Cardinal flowers  - they are pollinated by and attract hummingbirds.

peering through my window at a Hummingbird and Cardinal Flower
I honestly haven't seen very many hummingbirds near my Cardinal flowers, though, and it took me a few days to figure out why.  I finally realized that all the hummingbirds were swarming around one of the previous wildflowers I have blogged about (and thought was a weed at first) - my wild Monarda.  I guess we now know which one is wins the hummingbird taste-test!

Hummingbird and Monarda
I do think that the Cardinal flower wins in the looks department, though!

To learn more about our native wildflowers from other garden bloggers, visit Wildflower Wednesday over at the site Clay and Limestone!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Gardening with Native Plants of the South

Gardening with Native Plants of the South by Sally Wasowski has just become my new go-to gardening book.

Live in the South?  Getting frustrated with all those fussy non-native plants that need so much babying in our hot, humid weather?  This is the book for you.

Fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus) is a beautiful native tree that flowers in late Spring.   It is said to be resistant to urban air pollution.
Tailored for gardeners that live in the Southeastern U.S., this book first talks about the importance of native plants for habitats for our native animals.  There have been staggering declines in many songbird populations, and other wildlife such as butterflies are in trouble.  Planting non-native plants may help some, but native plants are more tailored to suit the needs of native animals.

Our native Dogwood Tree, Cornus florida, supports 117 species of moths and butterflies, according to entomologist Doug Tallamy.   The Asian Kousa Dogwood, on the other hand, does not support any.
Wasowski talks about several different habitats that are found in the South and what types of plants naturally grow there.  According to the author, a native garden is much less work, especially if you want a more natural landscape.  In fact, if you want to convert to a native landscape, she recommends that one stop watering and taking care of the garden and see what plants survive as a first step!

WARNING:  Wasowski might possibly be anarchist here - she seems awfully okay with getting rid of the sacred Lawn.  I'm not sure if she's aware of how taboo that is here!  (For further information regarding the author's radical views, I refer you to another book by her and her husband entitled The Landscape Revolution.)

Eastern red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) is depended on by hummingbirds as a source of early-season nectar.
The author then gives several garden landscaping plans, using all native plants.  I love this, since all the plants in the various plans work together, according to light conditions or blooming time.  She also gives you alternative plants that might work better for different soil or light conditions.

Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) is a more commonly used native vine, beloved for its fragrant early spring blooms and its ability to cover up chain-link fence.  It is always a thrill to see some flowering in the very tops of high trees.
The last part of this book is comprised of plant profiles for the best Southern natives, divided up by type of plant.

Cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) is a native fern that a lot of people really like.  I honestly think it looks a little strange.
I love this book because it gives me so many more suggestions for plants that can be planted in the more difficult areas of my garden.  Given that one puts the plant in the appropriate site (this won't work if you put a shade plant in the sun or a bog plant in a rock garden), these native plants should be able to tolerate our weather and soil and even thrive!

Hearts-a-burstin' / American Strawberry Bush (Euonymus americanus) was blooming wild in the wooded lot next to us.
The one improvement I did think this book needed was some more inspirational photos.  Next edition, I would love to see more examples of native gardens professionally photographed.  Either way, this book is still a great tool to find suitable plants for the Southern garden.

p.s. For those of you in the Southwest, Sally Wasowski also authors several books on native Southwestern plants!

Um, so I read the book - where do we find these native plants for our garden?  
Thankfully native plants are becoming more popular and easier to find.  Not too long ago, I was having a lot of trouble finding Mountain laurel shrubs.  Last week I just purchased some from the clearance section of a local home and garden store!  You just need to know what you are looking for.

There are also mail-order nurseries that specialize in native plants if you can't find what you want in local nurseries.  Niche Gardens is a fabulous nursery not too far away here in North Carolina.  I have also been very pleased with Nearly Native Nursery in Georgia.  If you have any questions or need to find a plant for a particular site, just call them up!

For some other great gardening books, check out this month's garden book reviews over at the site Roses and Other Gardening Joys!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Just Singin' in the Birdbath

Wait for it...



Ah, what a glorious feeling..

A nice cool bath!

Just what a bird needs on a hot summer's day!

A big thank you to all those of you who leave out a little water in a shady spot for us wildlife during this summer heat.  We appreciate it!

Onto other happenings at the Red House Garden, I want to thank the wonderful and singular Jane over at Tidy Gardens by Jane for awarding my blog with the One Lovely Blog Award!  I appreciate it!

In accepting this award, I am required to share 7 facts about myself with everyone:

1.  As a kid, I always thought that working for National Geographic would be the best job in the world, as I love to see new places.

2.  I get very motion sick very easily.

3.  Since motion sickness pretty much rules out a job where I travel (and National Geographic would probably not like an employee that was drugged half the time), I decided to go with my second, only slightly less glamorous career choice, that of a math teacher.

4.  Actually math teacher was my third choice, as genius girl detective didn't really work out for me, either.

5. But I do collect old girl detective novels..

6.  and I enjoy taking pictures of wildlife (if you couldn't tell).  I think this gardening blog is in danger of turning into a wildlife and nature blog!

7.  And I do still love to go new places.  I am fortunate to have had opportunities to visit several different countries, including Singapore and India, thanks to relatives that have lived there. 

Also, as part of this award I am supposed to pass it on by naming several other blogs deserving of this award.  Well, I have the list of my favorite blogs over on my sidebar - all of them are very worthy blogs.  I do believe in promoting new deserving bloggers as well - when I find the time, I plan to have a post on just this topic!  Happy Gardening!

UPDATE:  What a twice as nice feeling - Nadeszda from Nadezda's Northern Garden also nominated me for this award!  Thank you, Nadeszda!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

MI: Squirrel Division does Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

Sigh... I'm so bored.
It's been so hot that I haven't even had enough energy to make it past the baffle
on the bird feeder!  And there's been no new missions in days..

Hey!  A mission just came in from Headquarters!  

What?!  Finally!  It's about time we had some action around here.  What's the mission?

Well, this one's rather odd..  
Apparently we are supposed to find some blooms here at the 
Red House Garden for something called 

Some blooms?!  Don't they know that we've had record high heat here, 
and that the garden has besieged by the serial killer Vole and his family?  

Hey, at least Headquarters didn't ask us to tackle those guys!

Come on, there's got to be something blooming around here, right?  
We'll find some blooms if they're out there - they don't call us
Mission Impossible: Squirrel Division for nothing, do they?

Aha!  Found some!

Wild Potato Vine
Um.. You found some weeds.  Surrounded by more weeds.

But they're BLOOMING weeds aren't they?  
Maybe if Mrs. Red House hadn't weeded the other parts of the garden, 
she'd have more blooms! 

I'm still pretty sure that that wasn't what Headquarters had in mind.. 
Let's keep looking!

White flowering Sedum
Aw, here's some cute tiny little flowers!  Just my size, too! 
That would make a great bouquet for a squirrel..

We're not here to pick the flowers!  
See if you can find some larger blooms, ones that the humans will actually notice!

Fine!  I will!

Cosmos sulphureus
Coreopsis tinctoria
Dahlia 'Kelvin Floodlight'
Jackpot!  Look at all these flowers in the front yard!
And you thought we wouldn't be able to find any!

Me?!  I distinctly remember that it was you who had the doubts!

I don't know what you are talking about.  
Look, there's some more!

Rudbeckia hirta 'Irish Eyes'
Abelia x grandiflora 'Little Richard'
Clematis 'Gazelle'
Wow, there are even some new flowers that I don't remember seeing here at the Red House Garden before!

Butterfly Weed, grown from seed this year
Cardinal Flower - we've seen more hummingbirds in the area since these started flowering
Mission accomplished!  Blooms have been found!
Now on to a little snack...

But doesn't anything bother you about this mission?

Mmmphhh?  (mouth full)

It's just that this seemed to be a mission to help Mrs. Red House.
But she's the enemy - the lady who uses the baffles on the 
bird feeders against us!

What, like she's some sort of secret agent?  And she's 
infiltrated our message system and is using it to make us help her?
Naaa... that doesn't sound like Mrs. Red House...

I don't know...  Looks can be deceiving.
We might have to keep an eye on this Mrs. Red House..

Monday, July 9, 2012

The R.O.U.S.

[after Westley rescues her from the lightning quicksand] 
Buttercup: We'll never succeed. We may as well die here. 

Westley: No, no. We have already succeeded. I mean, what are the three terrors of the Fire Swamp? One, the flame spurt - no problem. There's a popping sound preceding each; we can avoid that. Two, the lightning sand, which you were clever enough to discover what that looks like, so in the future we can avoid that too. 

Buttercup: Westley, what about the R.O.U.S.'s? 

Westley: Rodents Of Unusual Size? I don't think they exist. 
[Immediately, an R.O.U.S. attacks him]

"Holy cow, it's a R.O.U.S.!" said Mr. Red House, looking out the window.

The R.O.U.S.
We were in Massachusetts, a way-stop on our trek to Canada.  Now, dear readers, I have lived in eight different states across the country and seen everything from moose in the back yard to tarantulas bigger than my hand inside the house, but I have never before seen quite a sight as this giant THING out in the yard.  It was indeed a R.O.U.S.!

R.O.U.S stands for Rodent Of Unusual Size, for those of you who have never seen the classic and singularly fabulous movie The Princess Bride. Our Massachusetts Rodent Of Unusual Size was quickly waddling throughout the yard, gobbling up all the vegetation it could get it's little teeth on.

After a moment of stunned silence, my brain finally came up with the name 'Groundhog'.  A quick Google check confirmed it - it was indeed a big, fat groundhog!

Believe it or not, this waddling groundhog is going to put on even more weight before its winter hibernation.

Nearby were a couple sizeable burrow holes. (I am sure glad we don't have those in our Red House Garden lawn!)

The groundhog was surprisingly fast for a such a portly fellow - you should have seen him run when I got a little closer!

Groundhog running for cover
Apparently groundhogs are also called 'woodchucks' or 'whistle-pigs'.  (Aha!  That's what a woodchuck is!)

Whatever it is called, it actually IS a rodent..

...of unusual size.

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