Every year, self-sown plants from varieties deliberately seeded in previous seasons, as well as new plants, spontaneously appear in the garden. Among expected and welcomed self-seeders in my garden are poppies, dill, cilantro, blue borage, violets, feverfew, crimson clover, and camas. New arrivals this year include yarrow and moth mullein. The unexpected spontaneous arrival of pollinators is most thrilling.
A few monarch butterflies flew in for a taste of the swamp milkweed in the second week of July, enlivening the air as they chased each other. Skippers were spotted, too. Great Spangled Fritillaries most consistently mob the swamp milkweed blossoms, spilling out, fluttering away and back in again. Catch your breath, feather-light fliers abound and are on the wing!
Will the monarchs return? Did they leave eggs on the milkweed? The individual in the photograph above is a male, known by an accented line on the bottom of its wings. Monarch butterflies have a symbiotic relationship with milkweed: their larvae eat the leaves, giving them lifelong toxicity to predators, and, in turn, the adult butterflies pollinate the milkweed. Though milkweed is the only recognized host plant of monarch caterpillars, adult monarchs enjoy nectaring from a variety of different flowers.
The star of the garden this season is Swamp Milkweed (Aesclepius incarnata). Not only a wetland plant, swamp milkweed flourishes in garden soil rich in organic matter. There is an urgency to plant more natives. Just two days ago the monarch butterfly was added to the list of endangered species. Consider replanting an area of lawn to native flowering plants. An excellent resource is The Native Plant Trust.
Delicata squash and cucumber vines are beginning to climb the trellis, succession crops to the peas.
Black current bushes are easy to grow in niches that are shady part of the day. The location of my “berry room” receives morning sun.
Two years ago, I introduced readers to my experience with black currants: see “Nature’s Turn” for July 27, 2020. This year, when I looked at the mash left over after juicing, it occurred to me that there was still a lot of fleshy fruit being thrown out with the skins and seeds. Covered with water and simmered, a delicious juice emerged, a virtual second “pressing.” One of our most nutritious fruits, this plant and this step are worth the effort.
A riot of Hungarian Breadbox Poppies, self-sown from last summer’s plants, were left to grow as a border to this bed. A variety of native bees and a neighbor’s honey bees crowd the centers of poppy flowers, feeding on nectar and collecting pollen. Elegant seed heads produce edible poppy seeds to eat out of hand and add to baked goods.
The far end of the bed is dedicated to perennial onions. Beyond the onions, a mist of yellow dill umbels floats above the vegetation. Dill also self-sows and is harvested young for use as a culinary herb. When space—or neglect—allows, it matures to flower and seed. Flowers nourish the insect world, and the seeds are collected for planting the following year.
This bed, it turns out, is a powerhouse for pollinators. The buckwheat, sown as a spring and summer cover crop, is also a mecca for bees. I will cut the plants after they flower and before they go to seed, in preparation for sowing garlic in October. Learn more about buckwheat by clicking here. There is still time to plant buckwheat.