Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The Sunflower Muncher

The sunflowers I had started indoors from seed in late January grew as high as an elephant's eye.
So high, in fact, that it's been hard to get them inside the photo's frame.

Something has been chomping on them for some time, and I mean I'd go outside and a six footer would be reduced to a two-inch stub. So I started regularly spraying them with Dr. Bronner's, and I put out slug traps (bottles of beer), which kept about three of the sunflowers intact to where I could harvest one of them so far.

I soaked the seeds in brine and roasted them, and they're not half bad at all, though this particular flowerhead may have been harvested a wee early. I just wanted to get to them before the birds did.

Anyway, tonight a June thunderstorm really whipped up some drama. I was outside securing things and just checking the garden, and I saw on the birdbath a sight that nearly made me jump from fright...a caterpillar--black, hairy, and no lie, as long as this post is wide. More like three of these guys.

He was HUGE. So I became acquainted with the culprit who was munching down my sunflowers.

So I looked him up: big black hairy caterpillar who likes sunflowers, and I discovered that I'm feeding no other than Hypercomp scribona, the giant leopard moth.
Absolutely stunning!

I'm so thrilled that I'm tempted to stop spraying and let him have the whole garden.

I also saw yet another frog today, which is always a welcome sight.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Coral Bean - Erythrina herbacea

My mom and I were biking around the Lake and noticed this plant beside a construction site. It was clear that it would not remain for long at its current location, so we moved some of it to our yard. This was around ten years ago, and here is the result:

Coral bean is a native plant that can add interest to the landscape from spring until fall. Looks like Cape Fear is its most northern reach. It's definitely a coastal plant. While it's not fussy, there are two things important to know about this plant: it's prickly and toxic.

The good news: red tubular flowers grow on tall stalks in the spring, drawing hummingbirds and butterflies.

In the fall, as the rest of the summer garden starts to fade, coral bean's seed pods begin to mature and the show begins. What once looked a bit like English pea pods turn dark, almost black, and split open to reveal shiny, scarlet red seeds nestled inside. They're very pretty—and (here's the bad news) very poisonous, so be sure to keep them away from kids and pets.

Although its use in gardens is not particularly common, it is popular among those who do grow it as a source of early season color, for its hardiness (USDA Zones 7-10), and because it attracts hummingbirds.

Native American people had many medicinal uses for this plant, varying between nations and localities. Creek women used an infusion of the root for bowel pain; the Choctaw used a decoction of the leaves as a general tonic; the Seminole used an extract of the roots for digestive problems, and extracts of the seeds, or of the inner bark, as an external rub for rheumatic disorders.

In Mexico, the seeds are used as a rat poison, while a fish poison is made from the bark and leaves.

In some Central American countries the flowers are used in traditional cuisine. Mostly added to bean soup or meat patties, it is known for its mild narcotic properties.

We managed to plant it in just the right conditions: an out-of-the-way place that gets shade in the summer. Not the easiest plant to grow because of the thorns and toxicity, but a lovely treat to the eyes in June when it seems to pop up from nowhere with these gorgeous red tubular flowers that look custom-made for hummingbirds.

Here's more about coral bean from Dave's Garden: Is a Coral Bean Right for Your Garden?

Mammoth Sunflowers

First of all, I've got to share a picture of this magnificent fellow.
Snack Seed Sunflowers
Heirloom Mammoth Greystripe

He's giant! And so are his cousins.

They were started from seed in February and are now high as an elephant's eye.

Something was chowing down on them, so I sprayed them with Dr. Bronner's, diluted, and that slowed the carnage.

Then I put my secret slug killer out.

Every night they party it up and every morning they're too dead to regret it.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Memorial Day

If it weren't for the heat, the lines of cars on the highway, the lines of people at every store, and most things closed, Memorial Day at the beach would be hella-enjoyable. Be that as it may, in the garden at least things are in full swing.

Blue Clematis
Blue Clematis and Eddie

Elderberry Tree, revived after my eldest brother freed it of vines

Lacecap Hydrangea

Peaches ripening beautifully

Sweet Potato!
 Time to weed and mulch, which took up most of the day. Now that the blackberries are pretty well spent, out they go. Easier said than done, as they're quite prickly and tenacious.

The garden is filling out nicely with zinnias, sunflowers, tomato plants, the sweet potato, plus a new fig tree and a paw paw tree, which I've always wanted. Also, the catnip seems to be holding in there under the onslaught of cats.
Wait a minute...

Maybe not.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Glorious May

It's great to garden in the month of May. Plenty of spring showers keep everything green, and all sorts of surprises can sprout from the soil. You can start to see the fruits of your labor in winter, starting plants indoors, hardening them off, and watering and mulching them. The weeds haven't completely taken hold of the garden, and allergies are slowly but surely subsiding (fruit tree pollen is the bane of my existence).

Primroses (Oenothera)

The Old Salem primroses (above) have been blooming since the first of April. The ones in the pot are finally starting to show signs of flagging. They've produced many, many seed heads which promise to keep the show going next spring.


The herbs have also been a joy this spring. In a long railing herb pot are oregano and lemon balm, both surviving the winter and coming back beautifully. In addition, I planted some basil in there and, rather foolishly, two tomatoes. I say foolishly because if the tomatoes do well they'll easily crowd everything else out.

The rosemary also wintered over and is nice and green and bushy. I used the herbs, including garlic chives, to make a the veggie bake below.

In addition, what's a Southern garden without a sprig of mint? We have had it growing by the deck for many years. I'll need to ask my mom who planted it and when. Along with my mother and myself, my grandmother loved to garden, and so did my grandfather, so it could have been any of us. I believe this mint is spearmint, but I couldn't say for sure. I just know that my daughter makes exquisite mint tea with it.

For the Cats

Below is Icy taking an interest in the catnip that I started from seed this winter and then repotted. (Bad wound on back is finally healing nicely after a vet visit and shot of antibiotic!)
 After Icy nibbled, along came Eddie (below), who finished the destruction.
So I bought a catmint plant and put that in the garden. Nepeta × faassenii 'Walker's Low' isn't going to reseed, which I think is a bummer, but it looked like a sturdy enough plant to survive the neighborhood cats. Below is Eddie testing this theory.


I have a bunch of experiments going on, so many that in fact I've lost track of what I planted where, which makes for nice serendipity.

I've planted:

Muntingia calabura seeds
Paw paw seeds
A brown turkey fig
A sweet potato started from a water glass
Seeds from naturalized phlox on Hwy 421
Evening scented stock, Matthiola longipetala
Heirloom chocolate tomato

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Post-Easter Planting

Early this spring we hoed the garden and covered it with cardboard given to us by Costco.

While the garden plot lay dormant, we planted seeds in various little containers inside and set them in window sills. Containers included:
  • peanut jars, 
  • grapefruit jars, 
  • pickle jars, 
  • ice cube trays, 
  • Chinese takeout containers, 
  • bought tin planters, 
  • soup cans, 
  • and tea boxes. 

Surprisingly, the container that boosted growth the most was the stout pickle jar. Its glass walls acted like a mini-cloche so that the sunflower seeds in it germinated quickly and soon looked ready to bust out of there. They are by far the healthiest-looking seedlings, off to a great start. Of course, I had to be careful to shelter the pickle jar from rain once I set it outside to harden off. With many of the containers, I didn't bother to poke holes in the bottom and simply took care not to over-water. I think I won't try ice cube containers again. They're too shallow and it's not that easy to get the seedlings out, so they were a dud.

That said, perhaps the niftiest way to grow seedlings is in Chinese takeout containers. The seedlings below are, I believe, Gypsophila, or baby's breath.
Starting them in Chinese takeout containers has a few advantages. They look neat, they can fit neatly on a window sill, they are easy to carry around, and as you will see in the photos below, the container when opened provides a nice little tray on which to separate the little plants once you are ready to put them in the ground. 
Bend the wire off one side. 

Gently spread the sides down around the plants and divide.

Since they're made of paper, I set the containers on little white plastic trays just in case water did seep through. A drawback to using Chinese takeout containers, however, is that the inside is treated with a water repellent that I don't believe the plants appreciated. They were healthy but not overly robust like the sunflowers that had been sown inside a pickle jar. 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Fall butterflies, host blooms, and the odd sighting

There are two seasons during which it does not pay to travel anywhere because it's just so gosh-awfully wonderful here: spring and fall. Feel free to depart in the hot and crowded summer or cold and solitary winter, but come spring or fall, you're going to want to stick around Cape Fear. I say this with one huge caveat: the hurricane or spring storm that can turn an idyllic week into a nightmare.

Last week, the waves were perfect, peeling exquisitely at the Cove and down at Kure, the water clean and smooth, pretty as you please. Hard to believe that the weather system that gave us such gorgeous surf caused all that devastation in the islands. It's impossible to be too happy about dodging the bad stuff this busy season when keeping in mind all the destruction that has happened to the south and west of us. My heart goes out to all those who suffered loss because of Harvey, Maria, and every storm in between.

Today in Cape Fear, the sun shines and the sea breeze blows as if there weren't a care in the world or any bane worse than the biting flies and mosquitoes. Just before sunset, the bluefish coming through made a blue blitz, the water roiling with their feeding frenzy. I'm guessing they were feeding on menhaden or some other bait fish. The pelicans and gulls followed the crowd, diving and plunging beaks below the surface...quite a sight. The deer have been out grazing at dusk, fattening up for the winter. I didn't get a photo of the little, panic-stricken clapper rail that was dodging among the cars by Kure Pier earlier this week. She was clearly lost. You very rarely see them but can hear them often in the marsh. This one wasn't in her preferred habitat at all. Perhaps she'd been blown off-course by all the wind. 

The butterflies are dancing about every flower on the roadsides and in the garden.

Thoughout September, the sulphur butterflies hit the Mexican petunias en-mass.

Now, the Gulf Fritillaries are reveling in the ageratum.

In addition, last night I saw a massive hummingbird moth on the last of the white gingers.

Fascinating how different flowers will attract different pollinators.

Along the roadsides, all sorts of fall-blooming wildflowers are showing their stuff. One of my favorites is the dotted horsemint.

It won't look like much from the car as you're driving down the road, but once you get up close, you won't be disappointed. Its structure is so interesting, and the color is such an intriguing and subtle mauve. 

Cut some and stick it in a vase of water changed regularly, and it will reward you with its unusual beauty and lovely herbal scent, like bergamot. Just be aware, it will snow tiny seeds like that of the poppy, so you may want to keep paper under the vase in order to catch the mess and perhaps save those seeds to cast into an out-of-the-way place in your garden. Dotted horsemint attracts several pollinators, including bees. Indeed, it is one of the beebalms, its scientific name: Monarda punctata.