Observe the wonders as they occur around you. Don't claim them. Feel the artistry moving through and be silent. ~ Rumi

Monday, January 25, 2010

Sense of Wonder

"If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in." –Rachel Carson

As a young adult my father gave me a copy of Rachel Carson's book, The Sense of Wonder. The images in that book reminded me of my rich and powerful past as a child who was not only allowed to roam in the woods and climb trees but was also taken for glorious long walks through our large park that meandered down to the Potomac River. My father was mostly quiet on those walks and always walked behind us, letting us lead the way. He was always good for an answer if we had a question and his shoulders came in handy when we grew tired. I don't remember him teaching us anything but I learned so much. Two lessons in particular stayed with me. I learned that the quieter you were the more you saw and trees needed to be climbed gently. I think that is when I developed an unspoken communication with trees, testing the branch's flexibility before I put my weight on it. (Later in life that communication extended to all plants and a hunger to learn about ecosystems and my place in it.)

Recently, I had a smiliar experience with my neice. Our development has put aside some open space for all to enjoy including a Cypress Swamp behind my house. We set out on our walk around the swamp and I let her lead the way. We discovered so much; maple trees with red and yellow leaves, warblers that flew around us,turtle eggs that had been dug up by a predator,an expansive view of a large pond,tracks,secret places filled with Cypress knees,and most of all something she told me she had waited her whole life to do. As we past by a vine climbing on a wax myrtle, I recognised it as Carolina Aster. I asked her if she would wait for me as I got a closer look at the seeds. As she watched me, she noticed that as I grabbed that small fluff ball of seeds the wind blew it out of my hand and into the air, revealing each seed with it's own parachute. That's when she told me that she had waited her whole life to blow those seeds into the air. I carefully lowered a branch for her to pluck an opened seed pod. She was so careful and so satisfied to blow those seedlings on their way. I didn't say a word but felt joyful at being able to grant a life time wish for a six year old.

Since spending more time with my neice I have discovered that she has many of these lifetime wishes. Everyday experiences that seem extraordinary in her presence...the sense of wonder!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Wildflowers and Invasives

Now is the perfect time to start observing those bare patches of ground in your yard. Seeds are sprouting and hopefully some wildflowers are among them! Although they may appear to be weeds wildflowers are great nectar plants for butterflies. The grasses or perennials that grow in between them are good as well, providing cover and resting areas for the butterflies.

The mist flower is one such flower that I see blooming now. It is a great source of nectar for a variety of butterflies.

The absence of leaf cover also makes this a great time to get going on removing invasive exotics such as rosary pea and Caesar weed. The rosary pea (Arbus precatorius) is setting seed now and is easy to spot. The Caesar weed (Urena lobata) has already sprouted after setting seed in the fall and early winter. The seedlings are quite easy to pull up. The Brazilian Pepper -tree ( Schinus terebinthifolius )is also full of berries now and easy to spot as well. Those trees need to be girdled and poisoned but the sprouts are easy to pull.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Garden Observations

Today, as I was finishing up the garden preparations for our Butterfly Garden party I noticed that the yellow elder saplings no longer needed the stakes that we had placed there this summer to hold up their pendulous blossoms. After the freeze the bare white barked trees needed to be cut back and now they stand up straighter than before. Their open goblet shaped forms take up prominent positions in the garden that I hadn’t noticed before and the pruning will help to strengthen these naturalized exotics. I also took this opportunity to cut back the Bahama cassias and the native shrubs. The annuals have disappeared completely for now and the maypop vine has the sun all to itself with the shade cover gone. Those blue star shaped passion flowers will be amazing! But I’ll wait patiently while those vines cover the bare ground and set their buds with the Gulf Fritillary, following close behind its’ host.

A solitary Monarch butterfly was our only visitor today. It was lucky enough to discover a few milkweed plants still thriving. The Monarch caterpillars that were taken into the butterfly house before the freeze are continuing to eat and spin their chrysalises. There are two of them now. The Polydamas caterpillars are still eating the Dutchmans pipe vine and growing larger.

Our human visitors numbered twelve including a dad and his two young children who arrived on their bikes. It was actually the young boy who helped spot the chrysalises. We took time together to discover the alligator trail, hiding places for snakes and the tadpoles in the pond. How refreshing to see children enjoying the outdoors with a parent!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Winter Day

Our freeze is behind us and the day is warming to the 70's. The walk along the cypress swamp revealed butterfly orchids, the usual gang of blue jays, flocks of warblers, a few wading birds and even a humingbird.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

"Love winter when the plant says nothing."

This quote from thomas Merton says it all for today.

Monday, January 11, 2010

After the Freeze

Jan. 10, 2010

After the freeze

For three weeks now we have had below normal temperatures but last night we had our first freeze. At 7:00 AM it was 31 degrees. The butterfly garden was holding its own with no casualties until early this morning. I went to check on the damage and discovered that most of the pentas, yellow elders, porter weed, milkweed, firebush, some of our coffee and pineland lantana had significant damage to their leaves. It looked as if someone had taken a large black paint brush across the western end of the garden where these plants were nestled. Could it have been a freezing wind? The east side of the garden was untouched except for a few burned leaves on the newly planted yellow elder. Then as I stepped back to take in the whole garden I realized that our native plants had little to no significant loss. The only exceptions were the firebush and lantana. I had trimmed some of the firebush early in the fall to trigger more growth and flowers. All that new growth was now gone. The untrimmed plants were fine with their orange tinged leaves still securely fastened awaiting their new spring growth with evolved patience. I think the lantana was already suffering from lack of water because the ground under its roots was so dry, so it was already stressed. There were still some hopeful signs of green along the base, however. The verbena, Glandularia tampensis, seemed to be thriving with its brilliant purple, the only color now in our winter garden.

We are expecting another freeze tonight and although they probably won’t need it, I did cover the blanket flower and some of our new transplants with pine needles. The lizards were absent as expected and the milkweed bugs were huddled together on one of the sign markers. The caterpillars that were left on the milkweed seemed to be doing their own version of meditation. These insects are actually in a state of torpor, a method of conserving energy that reduces their body temperature and rate of metabolism that helps them survive periods of cold temperatures. I retrieved one with some new stalks of fresh milkweed and placed it in the butterfly house.

Our water temperature must have dipped below 60 degrees because as I walked along the creek’s edge I saw a number of dead fish, some being covered by the incoming tide.

The rhythm of the garden needs to be respected I learned. Wait, watch and observe continues to be my mantra here in this beautiful butterfly garden nestled in between the mangrove forest and the uplands in Southwest Florida. After my observations today, it is clear to me that we need to plant more natives and observe more closely the transitions between the seasons.