The Pollinator Garden

Brooke here. Let’s talk about the butterfly garden.

Once upon a time, I kept marine reef aquariums. I loved them. I sunk a ton of resources into them, and enjoyed every minute of the labor. They were a garden in my living room; fresh, growing, a million colors.

They died. Tank crash. Everything was perfect, and then it wasn’t, and a whole lot of fish and coral and other critters died on my watch.

These days, I don’t keep aquariums. I keep large dogs and plants, which may not be easier to keep alive exactly, but the dogs are hard to ignore and the plants typically bounce back when you water them. I miss the fish, the coral, the little scampery cleaner shrimp…

So I put in a pollinator garden.

This has been one of my solo projects. Brown has helped with the larger digouts, but establishment and maintenance have been my chores.

reef1
Garden, front view, August 2016

This is my first large landscaping project. There are parts that I’d have done differently, I suppose, but there aren’t too many glaring errors.

reef2
Garden, rear view, August 2016

With some exceptions, all of the plants are perennials that are attractive to pollinators, and are low to medium height (no more than 24″). This is to allow space between them for cleaning and replanting and shouting at those darned squirrels which dig up everything in reach. There are some dwarf butterfly bushes and taller coreopsis for height, and along the fenceline are evergreen camellia Japonica.

The garden is still a baby. It’ll take several years for the plants to fill the open spaces. Some of them, like the dwarf bee balm, are already fighting for dominance. I’ll be yanking this stuff out by the armfulls next season.

beebalm
Bee balm, second year.

My buddy Ursula keeps detailed records of the wildlife that passes through her garden. I’m not as diligent about the various affairs of bugs and birds and whatnots. I’ll usually pause and take a photograph if an especially charismatic critter pops in. These are the ones I’ve caught and IDed for Summer 2016.

blue1
Red-spotted purple admiral
swallow1
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
swallowblack
Either a black swallowtail or a dark variation on the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
zebra
Zebra swallowtail! Probably my favorite rare find of the year.
gold
Great Spotted Fritillary
spots
Some variant of pearly-eyed or satyr

These make me happy; I needed to be happy today. Maybe they’ll make you happy, too.

I’ll write up the post on the butterfly weed and the monarchs next.

Blog Be Rollin’ Again

Brooke here.  North Carolina took a long time to shake off the dickishness of winter–as of two weeks ago, we were still losing power to ice storms on a fairly regular basis–but it’s finally spring! So, time to dust off the home blog and start posting again.

…where were we? Let me reread some of these older entries…

Ah yes, we were complaining about how this place is a wreck and is  emotionally and financially ruining us. Let’s just put a pin in those complaints and save them for the next post, shall we?

Right. Positive things. Almost two years ago, I scrounged through the trash heaps at a stone yard and ended up buying several tons of granite. This granite was reclaimed from a project down in Georgia; someone mentioned a church but I forget the whole story. (I’ve been reading a lot of Harry Dresden lately so let’s just pretend these stones are sanctified and can keep vampires away.) We’re planning to use this granite in a few retaining walls throughout the property. Since neither Brown nor myself has ever built a real stone wall before, I decided to build a small one to test the difficulty level. I picked a site at the front of the house which was basically nothing but a leftover mulch pile.

Landscape with rotting mulch and 2003 Honda Civic.
Landscape with rotting mulch and 2003 Honda Civic.

First things first: I spent a full day yanking the thicket creeper and the climbing dogbane that had snuck into the mulch pile. Those buggers were tough, but hey. Ivy. It was so cute how the the dogbane thought it was an invasive species! Then I shoveled old mulch until I hit dirt. When I found the live stump of a holly bush, I tapped out so Brown could dig in. The stump was an iceberg, tiny at the top and massive beneath. Getting that thing out of the ground took him two hours of aggressive swear-shoveling.

I was on a Gatorade run when he finally got it out. I like to think he threw the stump on the driveway and dropped the mattock like a mike.
I was on a Gatorade run when he finally got it out, but I imagine he threw the stump on the driveway and dropped the mattock like a mike.

Once the stump was out, I leveled the ground and we plotted out the line of the stone wall. Then we started placing stones.

Back view of stone wall, lined with heavy-duty landscape fabric to prevent soil erosion due to runoff.
Back view of stone wall, lined with heavy-duty landscape fabric to prevent soil erosion due to runoff.

Since I love the look of these mixed-stone drystack walls, I’ve been scrounging scraps from different stone yards to mix into the granite. I was aiming for a 5:1 ratio of brown stones to granite, to make the granite stand out.

Stone wall, mostly finished.
Stone wall, mostly finished, with bright green house.

There are tons of interesting details in these stones. Tool marks, cut surfaces, rough surfaces, even a round hole or two. It turns out I’m fairly bad-ass with a hammer and chisel, as I was able to cut stones to fit. I used heavy-duty masonry epoxy to bind the smaller stones to the larger ones, and by the end of yesterday, we had a This:

New wall, with new dirt. Ready for planting... and... and... Oh God our house is SO GREEN.
New wall, with new dirt. Ready for planting… and… and… Oh God our house is SO GREEN.

I threw some fresh mulch over the new dirt to keep the weed seeds off, and called it done. Next? Flowers. Actual gardening. Guys, you have no idea how happy this makes me, to finally have a part of the property that can be turned into a flowerbed.

I am glad that we built a test wall, though. Turns out that it takes a lot more stone to complete a wall than anticipated. And I banged the absolute crap out of my finger, so Brown’s probably right about wearing “shoes” with “toes” on projects like this. Go figure.

 

Butterfly Weed

Brooke here.

There is no more ivy on the house.

(This is actually not entirely true; there’s a small patch of ivy just off of the front stairs that I keep carefully trimmed.  It is there as a warning to the rest of the ivy, saying, Once, I was many. Now, I am one. Stay away and save yourselves, bitches.)

There is also a front yard and about a quarter of a back yard because there are only so many hours in the day and we aren’t paid to pull ivy and the back yard isn’t going to shame us in front of the neighbors so it can darned well sit there and wait while it thinks about what it did.  And, along the edges of the house or sneaking into the thinner sections of the mulch beds, is the start of some actual landscaping.

I love plants but haven’t been able to start a garden because of the ivy. The previous owners left some sort of bare earth patch in the back yard that might have been a vegetable garden, I don’t know, but it was located directly under a crop of oak trees and the pH of the soil was brutally acidic. So, lime, lime, lime, more lime, and ivy removal instead of gardening.  Last fall, we finally dug a hole for the first plant we chose to grow, a flowering plum tree.

With the exception of the privacy shrubs (more on those in a later post; they are pretty neat), all perennials used in the landscaping have been/will be chosen because they are highly attractive to pollinators.  Three cheers for bees and all that.  Early this summer, I bought a few butterfly weed plants and planned to put them in one of the new beds. Then the trees started coming down and recreational gardening was sidelined. The only thing I’ve done with the butterfly weed has been to transplant them to larger pots.  They did not seem to mind, and have been gleefully tossing seeds.

DON'T FORGET FLUFFY!
YOU FORGOT FLUFFY!

I’ve been collecting these seeds. Not entirely sure what to do with them, except this. I’ll probably put them in some dry peat in the freezer for a few weeks, then start them in flats when it’s closer to spring.

The fun part is when you knock off the fluff by closing the lid and shake the container while you DANCE LIKE NO ONE IS WATCHING. Except the dog is. And judging.
The fun part is when you knock off the fluff by closing the lid and shaking the container while you DANCE LIKE NO ONE IS WATCHING. Except the dog is. And he’s judging you.

And I hear from reliable sources that this fluff is delicious and should be dropped on the floor immediately.

Listen, I'm not saying I'd eat it. I'm just saying it should be eaten, so if you're not up for it...
Listen, I’m not saying I’d eat it, I’m just saying it should be eaten. So if you’re not hungry…

 

Glass is Half-Full, Really

Brooke here.

We’re… oh, I think “exhausted” about covers it.  We got a break from the non-stop rain for exactly eight days. A full week-plus of not having to bail out the basement, woo! We made the most of it by catching up on some yard projects we’ve been slacking on due to Bailing, and by last Sunday I was feeling pretty good about our progress.  Then Brown comes inside and says a large tree branch has come down and flattened the same part of the back fence we repaired last spring. Woo.

As it was so late in the day when he found the damage, we decided to postpone the repairs until next weekend. This turned out to be a really good decision, as a massive storm rolled through Greensboro last night. The storm took down an enormous tree, and the tree flattened approx. 40 feet of that same back fence. So now we have a This, and by This, I mean a morning spent on the phone with the insurance company, because not only is the tree down, but it hit the ground 10 feet from the pool and now the pool seems to be leaking.

woo.

In the meantime, check out the sort-of-not-really-progress-maybe-I-guess-it-looks-better? to the front lawn.

45 days ago, before grading.
45 days ago, before grading.
45 days ago, after grading.
45 days ago, after grading.  Grading was done by a Hired Dude to make sure it was done correctly, not our usual DIY-clusterpoopery.
45 days ago, after seeding and straw.  The old slate flagstones are down to serve as a temporary path.
45 days ago, after seeding and straw. The old slate flagstones are down to serve as a temporary path.
Today.  grr.
Today.  grr.

The grass should be nicely thick and full across the lawn, but that’s what three weeks of thunderstorms and flooding will do to grass seedlings.  It’s easy to tell where the grading runs; that bare patch down the center line flows straight into the back yard.  And by flows… Well.  I’ve got more grass seed on its way to fill in the bare spots, but ugh.  Seriously, just ugh.  I love having to do the same work twice.

There’s all sorts of nifty features to the new lawn, like a marsh garden under the fig tree.  I will write up those posts as soon as I find the time, but it will not be today, as I am off to do battle with Insurance.

And if anybody says (Hello Internet I am looking at you!) that we should just use a low-maintenance ground cover, like, oh, say… ivy…  I will never come out of the Weeping Closet.