Backyard Entomology

Posted by mrssmythe on August 21, 2018 in Critters, Garden |

It’s been a good week for spotting insects. With so much in bloom, the yard is alive with flying and crawling things. I’m often at a loss to name the insects I see, but I have a Peterson First Guide to Butterflies and Moths and, with that in hand, I’m trying to become more familiar with my guests…

guests like this Cabbage Butterfly – very common, but elegant, don’t you think?

Or this Red-Spotted Purple – a bit ragged, but still lovely. (I rarely see these, so spotting this one was a treat.)

And I won’t even try to identify this butterfly – there are too many tawny-colored butterflies in my guide to even start. But, I do think it’s a jaunty little thing.

This moth is another unidentified visitor. I spotted it one morning while sitting on the front porch. I couldn’t find anything like it in my guide, and CPT A  didn’t have any more luck than I did looking through internet sources. Please enlighten us if you know its name.

You’re likely already familiar with Tiger Swallowtails. This one looks to be a western version, though, which seems strange to me. We’re supposed to get the eastern sort.

And, we have quite a few Monarchs this year. Even more exciting are all of the Monarch caterpillars I’ve seen in the yard.

They cluster in the Milkweed. You can see there are actually two of them on the blossom below – one on either side of the stem (look for the tell-tale stripes).

The Milkweed, unfortunately, is riddled with aphids. Thankfully, the ladybugs have moved in.

One website I visited said that ladybugs can eat up to 50 aphids a day. That sounds wonderful. I wish them happy feasting.

And, one final garden visitor – this Katydid:

Isn’t he dapper? It was so obliging of him to hold still for a photo.

From the dining room table, hoping you’re finding similar things to amuse yourself in your own backyard,

Mrs. Smythe

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Breakfast, Bees, and Wasp Nests

Posted by mrssmythe on August 14, 2018 in Critters, Garden |

We’re starting to get quite a crowd at the feeders in the mornings.

We have one red squirrel, in particular, who is very vocal and quick to chase away anyone he considers to be a threat. The birds and chipmunks tolerate him to some extent, sneaking in whenever they think he isn’t looking. Meanwhile, the squirrel eats his breakfast, staring all the while at CPT A and I who are usually sitting on the front porch ten feet away. I imagine he considers us a threat, too, though this doesn’t seem very logical. He sees me set out seeds for him every morning. Why would I want to take those same seeds away? Squirrels, though, seem to be emotional, rather than logical, creatures.

Meanwhile, we are seeing more and more honeybees in the garden.

This pleases me greatly. They seem especially fond of the Mint which has just started to bloom.

The butterflies, however, prefer the Milkweed.

We have quite a crowd of Monarchs this year as well as a couple of Eastern Tiger Swallowtails.

Nearby, the Morning Glories are energetically climbing every available surface. They’re even coming through the slats on the porch floor. I may have gone overboard a bit in my planting this year.

I didn’t plant any sunflowers this year, but I did see a field of them on a recent drive in Connecticut.  

A field of sunflowers is always an amazing thing to see.

Something else amazing – this wasps’ nest:

I’ve been walking underneath it for weeks and didn’t notice it until today when I happened to look up while Kipper stopped to smell a mailbox. I don’t think there are any wasps in it at present – a good thing. It makes me wonder, though, how many other things I walk by without seeing.

I don’t feel too bad, though. Even the dogs miss things. Manny almost walked over the top of a rabbit today. It had frozen in place on a neighbor’s lawn. Now, if a hound dog like Manny can miss a rabbit right under his feet, I can certainly be excused for missing a wasps’ nest over my head.

From the dining room table, hoping to be more aware of my surroundings in the coming days,

Mrs. Smythe

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Late Summer in the Garden

Posted by mrssmythe on August 6, 2018 in Critters, Garden |

I think late summer is my favorite time in the garden. So many of my favorite flowers really come into their own in late summer. The yard is filled with color and happy pollinators. Finches land on the zinnias. I love to just sit out on the front porch and watch all of the comings and goings.

By far, the most popular plant in the garden right now is the Milkweed.

It draws all sorts of bees and wasps, along with several kinds of butterflies.

Other flowers I’m enjoying right now…

This red Queen Anne’s Lace:

(Did you know Queen Anne’s Lace came in red? I didn’t until I saw it at the nursery this year).

Zinnias are also one of my favorites:

I love how long they last, how enthusiastically they flower, and the fact that they are sturdy enough to support the little Finches who touch down in the yard in search of seeds.

The Black-Eyed Susans are out in force right now.

Someone once described these to me as the “workhorses of the New England garden.” In my yard, that’s certainly the case. They flower in long-lasting abundance and manage to look good for weeks on end.

A final late-season bloomer I love – Joe Pye Weed:

I have this in profusion now – a multitude of plants that came from a single specimen I bought years back. The plants are so tall, I had to stand on tiptoe to get this photo. Joe Pye Weed is another a big draw for the bees.

In fact, I think attracting wildlife – birds, bees, butterflies – is one of the main reasons I garden. However, some wildlife is more welcome than others…Groundhogs for instance. Look at what a single, awful Groundhog did to my pumpkin patch last week:

Isn’t that terrible? The greedy thing sawed off dozens of leaves, stems, and pumpkins, all in the space of a single week. I was so unhappy when I saw this. After working diligently for weeks to give these pumpkins a good start…to have this be the end…it’s heart breaking.

Needless to say, we’re making plans to remove Mr. Groundhog. Don’t be alarmed. We aren’t planning anything cruel. But, really, he needs to go.

From the dining room table, sincerely hoping your garden, at least, is groundhog-free,

Mrs. Smythe


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Relaxing in the Back Garden

Posted by mrssmythe on July 16, 2018 in Garden with Comments closed |

At this point in the growing season, I’ve fallen behind. Things need to be weeded, staked, and dead-headed. I need more mulch. The lawn clamors for attention and the containers on the porch need to be watered. I don’t think I ever end a day with my to-do list completely finished. It can be frustrating.

But the back yard is one place I can relax to some degree. Part of that stems from the fact that no one really sees the backyard, and I don’t feel as much of an urgency to keep it tidy. But also, I have planted things there that are much more easy to care for, and, now that they are coming into their own, they are doubly nice because they look pretty with so little work.

These lilies, for example –

I didn’t even plant these. I have no idea how they got there – smack dab at the base of an enormous Pine – but, there they are, and they’re lovely.

This Milkweed was also a “volunteer”. I almost yanked it earlier in the season, not realizing what it was.

Now, it’s a beacon that draws monarch butterflies to the pumpkin patch.

And speaking of the pumpkin patch…

The Cinderella pumpkins are growing exponentially. They’re already a buttery yellow – much different than the Sugar pumpkins, which remain green until the end of the growing season.

As you can see, I’m starting to see plenty of those, too.

Nearby, the raspberries are beginning to ripen.

These are like a gift. Aside from beating them back (they attempt an annual take-over), I don’t have to do anything, and even with this neglect, they seem to do well and put out plenty of fruit.

Another “volunteer” – this Evening Primrose, as descendant of one given to me years back by my neighbor to the south.

I’d move it to a more visible location, but it popped up through the planks on the back deck, so I can’t get to its roots. Oh, well. It seems to be happy enough for now.

One of the few flowers I’ve actually planted in the back is this yellow herb – a gift from my neighbor to the north.

It’s called Tansy, is pleasingly tall, and is unlike any flower I’ve ever seen – no petals, just little button centers. It makes a nice addition to the wild, pollinator-friendly area surrounding our back deck. Plus, it is said to repel insects, and, being somewhat invasive, should be able to hold its own with the prolific Mint and Wild Thyme growing nearby.

All of these plants are a joy to me at this time of the year when everything else is clamoring for attention. What a relief to have some plants low on maintenance yet high on returns.

From the dining room table, hoping you are blessed with similar, easy-to-care-for plants in your own garden,

Mrs. Smythe




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Some Sensible Choices

Posted by mrssmythe on July 9, 2018 in Baking, Celebrations, Garden, Out & About, Week in Review with Comments closed |

Did you enjoy your Fourth of July? Ours was boiling hot. We opted to be sensible rather than patriotic and went to see a movie instead of a paradeI can only imagine how hot and sweaty all of the parade-goers were that day. It was beastly And, I kept thinking of all of the people who had to be in the parade – the Shriners in their hats and blazers, Mrs. Massachusetts perched on the back of a convertible (all of that hot, reflecting metal!), the musicians in their polyester uniforms, the gymnasts turning cartwheels on the hot asphalt….I felt sorry for all of them.

Later, I put together a nice meal with an angel food cake for dessert. Half of the family likes frosting, the other half does not, so, I made another sensible choice and only frosted half the cake:

If you’re interested, the recipe for the frosting I used can be found HERE. It was light and fluffy and perfect for topping an angel food cake…and easy too. I definitely recommend it.

On Friday, the girls and I drove north to Yankee Candle headquarters. Normally, we go in the fall, but Piper had a hankering for fudge, and I was eager to see what sort of landscaping they’d put together for summer.

The plants were flawless – the mulch abundant – the lawn edged to perfection. “Why doesn’t my garden look like this?” I wailed (via text) to CPT A. He came back with a sensible reply: “Because you don’t have a team of ten gardeners.” Which was just a guess. We don’t really know how many gardeners Yankee Candle employs, but certainly they have someone who can devote his or her full attention to the project. Someone who doesn’t have to stop working to make lunch for people, or delay weeding to walk the dogs, or run to the store for milk when they discover they’ve run out. I also assume they’re using chemicals. Really, though, whoever is responsible has done a lovely job of arranging everything and the gardens are an absolute joy to behold.

In my own garden, the first of the pumpkins are appearing.

These are “Cinderella” pumpkins, a French heirloom variety which, according to the seed packet, were the inspiration for the pumpkin-turned-carriage in the fairytale.

Not far away, the bell peppers are coming along nicely.

I’ve never grown these before, so it has been a treat to watch them develop.

And, in the rock garden, the hens and chicks are…blooming.

Did you know hens and chicks bloomed? I had no idea they could do that. I should have shot the flower in profile as well so you could see how tall the stalk is – a good nine inches!

In the front yard, the hydrangeas are looking lovely –

such a gorgeous shade of blue, and so nice next to the green of their leaves.

And here is an herb that I almost pulled out thinking it was a weed:

It must be a descendant of last year’s borage which grew in the same spot. This plant is enormous, though, so I didn’t think to link the two until it began to bloom. I’m so glad I didn’t yank it out.

Something that did need to be yanked out:

Can you see the wasps’ next in the top right corner of the barn’s upper door? Pepper discovered that Sunday, and CPT America smoked the wasps out early Monday morning and disposed of the empty nest a few hours later. I slept through the whole business…which is probably for the best. I’m so glad he didn’t get stung.

From the dining room table, pleased to report that the coming week’s weather will be much cooler than last week’s was – warm enough for swimming, but mild enough for sleeping (Hooray!),

Mrs Smythe





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