Queen Butterfly

Are butterflies like sergeants? the more stripes they have the higher their rank? From the top, to me this Queen butterfly looks like a Monarch stripped of its black veining. Both were all over the white mistflower, Eupatorium wrightii, with a score of other smaller butterflies and many bees.

Queen butterfly

Sorrow for my enemy

I rounded the corner of the failed garden house and was stopped cold in my tracks by this sight.

dead raccoon

I held very still, thinking I’d just come upon him unawares but then I realized he was lying on the ground and flies were hovering. I knew he must be dead.

He cannot have been dead very long because I didn’t notice him at noon when I took the compost out to the pile. Nor have the ants found him yet.

But how did he die? There isn’t a mark on him. And no, for all my railing against the raccoons, I didn’t kill him by poison or any other means. There is nothing in my own back yard to have poisoned him accidentally either.

dead raccoon

I don’t rejoice in his death. I didn’t wish him harm. I just wished him life elsewhere.


Hobbes is not my cat. Since he was a kitten he has frequently visited my garden and I enjoy his company. I can’t keep a cat of my own because of AJM’s asthma and allergies. Hobbes does a good job pet subbing–and I don’t have to feed him, clean his litter box, or worry about vet bills. A perfect relationship! All he demands of me is a lot of hugging and scritching.

Hobbes likes to help me transplant my wildflowers. He is also quite fond of hiding in the tall ornamental grasses and pretending to be a grown up tiger. Before sunrise, I often see him lying in wait near the pond, hoping for prey to come to the watering hole.

Typically I don’t post photos of cats. Nor do I follow memes, pass along awards, vote in blog competitions, paint my blog pink, run ads, have dancing flower gifs, or open the page with music box music. But also typically, I don’t follow the rules, not even my own. So, when The Inelegant Gardener decreed October 12, 2008 LAPCPADPOUB (Lets all post cat photos and dire poetry on our blogs) day–I decided I could finally, shamelessly, post an incredibly cute photograph of a cat.

I suspect that such a momentary lapse into cuteness will be interpreted as a sign of the endtimes.

Ode to Toad (or rather Requiem for a Frog)

AJM came in upset from his morning ritual of greeting the goldfish. “There’s a toad or something caught in the bird-netting and I think it’s dead.” I went to check and so it was. The poor thing had gotten its nose stuck in the netting and its own weight held just its nose under water and it drowned.


Last night a second maker of ribbets joined the bullfrog. And then there was a distinctively different croak. Was it this frog? A Rio Grande leopard frog, Rana berlandieri perhaps. This one was large, (although I don’t know how frogs are measured), at least 4 inches from nose to anus not counting the legs.


This is not the first time the bird-netting has caught something unintended. Durn raccoons. If it weren’t for the raccoons, I wouldn’t put the netting over the pond. If I take it off, then I chance waking to dead goldfish tomorrow. Is what differentiates humans from other animals the fact that all our interventions are fraught with anxiety? Or is that just a phenomenon of us city-bred moderns, we squeamish ones, who are out of touch with death?

Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

Still lots of butterflies in the garden. I’ve seen a couple of Monarchs, though not on the milkweed but on the orange cosmos which seem to be the favorite plant of all types of butterflies.

When Margaret and I visited the butterfly garden at the Natural Gardener last week, the blue mistflower was by far the most popular butterfly plant. A hundred butterflies must have been hovering about. Neither of us had ever seen so many butterflies in one spot before. It looked more like an anime than real life; a sad commentary on how little life we are used to seeing in our modern world.

I rarely see a yellow Tiger Swallowtail in my garden. Usually I see females in their dark black and blue phase (unless those are black swallowtails–I’m not very good at butterfly identification; my eyes just can’t focus quickly enough). So this was a special treat. It was huge, by far the largest butterfly I’ve seen around here.
Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

Rascally Raccoons

If my neighbors were up at 5 this morning they might have wondered what I was doing bellowing sky-clad in my back yard while brandishing a broom. No, I’m not a practitioner of the craft. Nor was I cavorting with demons (hmmm, let me think on that). I had awakened from a strange dream, looked out my window, and saw two raccoons rolling on the lawn. For the last week something has been getting into the pond. I figured it was raccoons and here was conclusive proof. So out of the house I sprang to chase them off.

Unfortunately they ran straight for the pond, jumped in, and hid under the deck. I stood still and they came out, not the least bit afraid of me. I treed one and threw a stick at the other one which ran off.

I’ve long expected them to go after the gold fish but they’ve also shredded all the oxygenating plants and knocked over the plants in pots and dragged them under the deck. Not only have they been ravaging my pond they’ve been grubbing in the paths and lawns. Last night they decided all the freshly dug beds were irresistible.

The raccoons also dug up the bearded irises that I finally got around to replanting this week.
raccoon damage

And tore up the aloe vera in the front bed.
raccoon damage

And dug up all my newly seeded beds, including this bunch of swiss chard that was just starting to take hold.
raccoon damage

Amazingly, I saw four fish still alive in the pond today. So we put some barricades around the perimeter. It looks more like the trenches in a war zone than a garden pond. If camo can be a fashionable fabric, will barbed wire catch on in the garden?

Has anyone been successful deterring raccoons? If so, how? I see that there are all sorts of products out there but what really works?

Bored Squash

I was so excited when the weather cooled down below 60 at night a couple of weeks ago and the summer squash began flowering. Every day I’d check to see if any squash were forming. I’d chosen an heirloom squash (Early Prolific Straightneck) from Botanical Interest which is supposed to be tasty both quite small as baby vegetables and larger. AJM makes a great ratatouille and we also like summer squash lightly steamed.

Then the other day, I noticed that some of the plants look like they had “wilted” on the upper leaves.

squash borer damage

Since the entire plant hadn’t wilted, I suspected some nasty critter. I noticed one squash was all squishy. When I picked another to examine it, I saw some telltale holes.
squash borer damage

Dissecting the deceased revealed the extent of the problem.
squash borer damage

Plants are falling right and left. Every squash I’ve picked is infested. Squash vine borers have burrowed into the stem, the leaves, and the fruit. Not only are the plants infested with the typical white bodied, brown headed squash vine borers, but this bright green caterpillar is also horning in at the party.
squash borer damage

My attempts to eat fresh from the garden is stymied once again.

Life and Death Struggle [Updated]

Dateline: October 9, 2007

I was distracted by violent movement from the web of a spiny-backed orb weaver. These little fellers have been very active this year and walking through the garden lately is like walking a spider obstacle course. Going over to investigate, I saw the spiny-backed orb weaver struggling with something much larger. At first I thought it was a red wasp. I went to get my camera which sees much better than I. As I crept in closely for a photo, the larger creature ran nimbly up one of the threads holding the web to the tree. I held still and it ran back down to finish off its dirty deed, for it had attacked the smaller spiny-backed orb weaver and rent its web in the struggle.

Update: October 10, 2007

I sent some photos to Jerry Cates of Bugs in the News and he identified the spider as an arabesque orb weaver, Neoscona arabesca. As it turns out I completely misread what I had observed. The web belongs to the arabesque who builds it every night and dismantles it every morning when it is light. The small object is most likely not another spider but just a nasty bug that the spider is cleaning up for me.

I confirmed his hypothesis by going out this morning to have another look. The web that had completely disappeared by mid-morning yesterday had been rebuilt. And there was the arabesque orb weaver curled up in the center. It is very camera shy and every time I tried to get close to it to get a photo in the low light of dawn, it would run up a thread to the tree above. I have to say that I wish the spinyback orb weavers would take a page out of their cousins book and dismantle their webs every morning!

arabesque orb weaver, Neoscona arabesca

Isn’t it amazing to believe one’s own eyes and then discover that one is completely wrong. I have to learn to see with better eyes than this.

Teeny Tiny Toads

Last week I was alarmed when all the tadpoles disappeared from the pond what seemed like overnight. This happened about the same time the water suddenly cleared and I wondered if a chemical imbalance had occurred and killed off the tadpoles. Would dead tadpoles float to the top of the pond or sink to the bottom? Was it possible that the tadpoles had morphed into toads and hopped out of the pond? Maybe some of them, but they were all of different sizes so it seemed, to me, unlikely that they all turned tail at once.

This morning while watering the squash and beans I noticed a little movement in the dark mulch. Cricket? No smaller. I got down on my hands and knees and there were several teeny, tiny toads. (At least I assume they’re toads.) Are these my little tadpoles all grown up? If so, what a proud nursemaid am I!

People often tell me that I’m observant and keep good records. I feel that it’s just the opposite. I never seem to catch the significant details. And I always end up with more questions than answers.

Delights of Garlic Chives

In one of Pam’s recent Tales from the Microbial Laboratory she posted some gorgeous photos of the bug life on her garlic chives (Allium tuberosum). I’ve noticed that mine have been buzzing with bees for a couple of weeks. (What a nasty honey that must make!) But it wasn’t until I saw her photographs that I was inspired to take camera in hand.

The bees were plentiful but camera shy. In all my shots all I got was a blur. Still, as Pam showed me, there is an amazing diversity in the creatures attracted to garlic chives. I’ll add more photos as I take them.

Allium tuberosum

Allium tuberosum

Allium tuberosum

One of the things I love about garden blogging is comparing notes with other gardeners near and far. I had all this beauty in my garden but wouldn’t have given it a careful look if Pam hadn’t shown me what she saw in her garden.