The Wild Gardener

Last Sunday afternoon, I went down to the garden just to sit awhile and take a few notes on what should be done next — in essence, whether to weed a bit or get more plants. Then I said to myself: “If I weed a bit, there just might be room for more plants.”

But it was one of those hot, sultry afternoons, and I was sitting in the shade of the arbor. The shade was created by the overlapping branches of a ‘Lady Banks’ rose on the left and a silver-lace vine on the right. When I planted them together there, I knew they would have to slug it out, and for four years they’ve met in the center and paused.

Looking around, I began to notice all the company I had in the garden. Birds and insects were flying and flitting about, and it seemed that every flower in view had a visitor — or two. (Keep in mind that I do not use pesticides of any kind.)

High in the oaks, there were cardinals and chickadees. Then a female hummingbird whizzed by, stopping momentarily at the blooming mallows. A catbird mewed while a few tufted titmice flew low on their way to the feeder. In the distance, our local crow family croaked and cawed — talking, presumably, about the lack of peanuts at the feeders.

To my left, a praying mantis slowly walked along a blade of grass, oblivious of my presence.

At the same time, a green darner dragonfly flew in figure eights, finally landing at the grass by my feet. To my right, a violet-tailed damselfly — dainty and thin compared to the dragon — aped his movements. (Damsels, by the way, fold their wings over their bodies, whereas dragons stretch them out like regular airplane wings.)

A goldenrod in full bloom was host to a whole gathering: Two steel-blue cricket hunters (those glorious — and large — flickering wasps), one eastern carpenter bee (probably getting some sugar to lighten up his sawdust intake), a red-tailed bumble bee (our local “animated torrid-zone,” as Emerson called them), three or four (they move fast) augochlora green metallic bees, and for good measure, a couple of local honeybees.

A big, white butterfly bush sits just a few feet away from my shaded perch, and in, over, below and around its white, sweet blossoms were one almost perfect Eastern tiger swallowtail, two cabbage whites, one Baltimore butterfly (named for George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore, because the brilliant orange and black of the wings matches the Calvert family crest), one northern metal mark, one pearl crescent, and one silver-spotted skipper.

Finally, in the lace vine flowers above my head, I heard the wingings of a progressive bee fly (it looks like a stinger but isn’t), a few yellow jackets (probably as mean as they always are), and a solitary thread-waisted wasp. What drama and what life — right here, with the city just a short walk to the north!

Suddenly I became aware of the glittering black eyes of a metaphid jumping spider sizing me up! They have great eyesight, and if I’d taken the time, it would probably have signaled me with its palps.

Walking back to the house, I found the first Japanese beetles of the summer — just two. That told me the moles were doing their jobs, so I left them to it. It was too perfect a day to do harm to any living thing.

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