Bucks County Herald

Elizabeth Ludlow Bowman: Tips for the Compleat Gardener

Where are the butterflies?



This butterfly weed shows a hopeful sign, a caterpillar.

It is the first week in August and normally the din of cicadas and early crickets is an expected part of the ambience but today as we lunched in rural New Jersey in the middle of acres and acres of preserved land I noticed how quiet it was, I thought of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring.”

Down by the Delaware last week for another gardener’s lunchtime break, I heard only a couple of things chirping in the trees and at night the volume of katydids is noticeably lower.

That is one of the gifts of being a gardener; the natural music of season’s passing, tree frogs calling out for love, baby birds calling for caterpillars, songs of life all around. I was not aware of these things before I was a gardener; spring always seemed to sneak up on us and jump out from behind the illusion.

As a gardener I am aware of the unfolding of new life, the earliest leaf pushing up, snowdrops in January, the delicious scent of pachysandra flowers in March, to smell it you have to bend down and meet the plant herself.

A reader recently asked me where are the butterflies, the monarchs in particular, telling me he has laid out the banquet of appropriate native plants but the winged guests are few, and since he asked that I have been noticing the dearth.

I was heartened by this caterpillar in this picture climbing on the butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa [ass-KLEE-pias tew-ber-O-sa] at the Living Earth in New Hope, Monarchs love this plant and other milkweeds commonly found in the wild areas of the Delaware Valley.

From my observation as we move from garden to garden I have noticed a large amount of milkweeds but where are the butterflies?

Doug Tallamy impressed upon me that it takes 30,000 caterpillars to feed one nest of baby birds. Most people who perceive throngs of caterpillars on fine landscape specimens would call for pest control because they aren’t thinking of the baby birds, only the perfect leaf.

The native plant is typically a host for one species or another, offering leaves for eating and a safe place to lay eggs or set up for metamorphosis, change into that butterfly you are missing, a true steward of the Earth invites native plants into his/her environment to fill their role in the cycle of life.

When I first lived here in West Amwell, Hunterdon County, almost 50 years ago summer meant a bathroom filled with moths of all kinds, admittedly we are not good with screens but they would have found a way.

Today morning finds one or two moths fluttering around the window sills with hungry spiders dashing in for breakfast, things appear to be unbalanced in a major way and I am not sure people are noticing.

Big chemical companies have worked to make us afraid of the natural world so they can sell more poison. We are headed into election season and now is a perfect time to find out what your representatives stand for.

Many of them are home having a break from Washington so take the time to contact the home office and find out his/her voting record on chemicals in our food, environment, and see if contributions have been accepted. Is your representative beholden to Monsanto or Bayer? Before you cast your ballot take a moment and listen to life around you.

compleatgardener@comcast.net




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