A mown path through a meadow with native grasses and wildflowers

Meadows and Gardens A-buzz with Life!

When we made the decision to install two meadows on former pasture land in the year 2000, we were one of the first, if not the first, historic site in Virginia to create native grassland wildlife habitats. You can read more about the many benefits of having native grass fields and the process of creating them in this article I wrote for Magnolia , a publication of the Southern Garden History Society here: Magnolia_Summer_2010

Seventeen years later we are reaping the benefits of two mature fields that are home to a variety of wildlife.

I also try to use in the formal gardens a variety of plants that serve as food for both larva and adult stages of various insects. The pipevine, also known as the Dutchman’s pipe – Aristolochia macrophylla, was featured in a blog-post in June where I discussed how important it is to the survival of Pipevine Swallowtail – Battus philenor.

Pivevine swallowtail caterpillar on a Dutchman's pipes vine.

Photo: Beate Ankjaer-Jensen. Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillar.

I am happy to report that there have been several sightings in the garden this summer of eggs, caterpillars, and the adult butterfly of this species.

Humans enjoy the fields and gardens as well, and wildlife and flower photographers are especially thrilled to have an opportunity for such easy access to so many beautiful flowers and the insects they attract. One of those photographers is Edward Episcopo.

A mown path through a meadow with native grasses and wildflowers

Photo: Edward Episcopo. Paths through the meadows allow you to see plants and insects up close.

Ed is especially interested in macro-photography; this is photography that produces photographs of small items that make them look larger than life-size. He has been coming to our gardens for several years, and has shared some of his photographs with us. I hope you enjoy the following selections and that they inspire you to come visit the meadows and other areas of the grounds where blooms and wildlife abound.

I want to extend a special thank you to Dr. Joella Killian, Biology professor at University of Mary Washington for help with identifying the various insects seen in the pictures.

Close up picture showing a Thick-headed fly with hairs on body and legs visible.

Photo: Edward Episcopo. Thick-headed fly.

This Tachinid fly, Tachinidae, seen here on a clustered mountain mint, – Pycnanthemum muticum, is a fly that lays parasitic eggs on caterpillars. The details seen in the picture is quite astonishing. Who knew that flies were covered in hairy bristles?

Very close-up picture of a wasp. Hair on legs and body are evident.

Photo: Edward Episcopo. Thick-headed fly.

This adult Thick-headed fly, of Conopidae family, is taking nectar from flowers, but the larva are parasites of wasps, bees, ants, crickets, and cockroaches.

Irridecent green and red Dogbane beetle.

Photo: Edward Episcopo. Dogbane beetle.

This beautiful iridescent bug, the Dogbane beetle, Chrysochus auratus, is found across the U.S. continent where it feeds on various plants, including the common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, which is abundant in our fields.

Adult Midas fly on white flower.

Photo: Edward Episcopo. Mydas fly.

Mydas fly, Mydidae, our largest fly, is enjoying the nectar on the rattlesnake master flower, Eryngium yuccifolium.

Orange, white and black Webworm moth on a milkweed flower

Photo: Edward Episcopo.

The Ailanthus Webworm moth, Atteva punctella – is a pretty little moth enjoying the nectar from a common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca flower. The larval host plant is the paradise tree, Simarouba glauca, native to South Florida and the American tropics.

Another tree, called tree-of-heaven, Ailanthus altissima, originally from China, has been widely introduced and naturalized, and Atteva punctella, now also identified as Atteva aurea, has been able to adapt to this new host plant, giving rise to its common name, the “ailanthus webworm”.

Close up picture of a wet bumblebee

Photo: Edward Episcopo. A wet bumble bee resting on a flower.

This bumble bee, Bombus, got caught in the sprinklers, and water highlights the fuzzy “fur” on the body.

Close up of bumlebee covered in pollen grains.

Photo: Edward Episcopo. Bee covered in pollen grains.

I cropped this image so we can see the individual pollen grains and the pollen sacs on the legs of a bee on the cup-plant, Silphium perfoliatum.

Green June beetle.

Photo: Edward Epicsope. Green June beetle.

The Green June beetle, Cotinis nitida, is seen here on a common milkweed plant, Asclepias syriaca, but their favorite food is fruits of many kinds, including grapes, peaches, raspberry, blackberry, apple, and pear. They also frequently feed on the sap of oak, maple, and other trees, and on the growing ears of corn. The larvae feed on decaying organic matter in the soil or in well-rotted manure or compost piles.

Japanese beetles mating.

Photo: Edward Episcope. Japanese beetles.

Most gardeners will recognize these as Japanese beetles, Popillia japonica. Seen through Edward Episcope’s lens we can for a minute forget their destructiveness and enjoy the beauty of the photograph itself. I shudder to think of the damage the offspring of this mating pair will do to the roses next year.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.

Photo: Edward Episcope. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.

The Japanese beetle might be reviled by most, but we can all agree that butterflies are welcome in the garden. This Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Papilo glaucus, enjoying a meal of nectar on Liatris, is Virginia’s official state butterfly.

American Lady butterfly.

Photo: Edward Episcope. American Lady butterfly.

Mr. Episcope captured the face of the American Lady butterfly, Vanessa virginiensis, perfectly in this picture. The American Lady is found over the southern half and eastern half of the US.

Close-up of blue clematis Jackmanii flower with a white center and prominent stamens surrounding the stigma.

Photo: Edward Episcopo. Clematis Jackmanii flower.

Insects love flowers for their pollen and nectar. Edward Episcope uses his camera to capture details that can escape the naked eye.  The petals on this clematis flower are quite showy; their main job is to attract insects to transfer pollen from one flower to another. The lighter color towards the center acts like a magnet to attract the insects to the stamens and stigma in the center, ensuring pollination and seed production.

Orange spotted blackberry-lily.

Photo: Edward Episcopo. Orange Blackberry lily.

Iris domestica, commonly known as Leopard lily, or Blackberry lily, is an ornamental plant in the Iridaceae family. The flowers last just one day, then forming large green seed-pods. When mature the seed-pods open to show a cluster of black shiny “berries.” If you look closely, you can see small bees enjoying nectar and pollen.

Pink Hibiscus flower with red center and long withe and pink stigma.

Photo:  Edward Episcopo. Hibiscus flower.

Hibiscus, Hibiscus mutabilis , flowers are short-lived as well, generally lasting for a day or two in most varieties. The bloom opens in early morning and wilts by late afternoon. The petals drop off, leaving the seed capsule behind. This hardy hibiscus starts blooming in mid-summer and the colorful show goes on until frost.

Close up of a red daylily

Photo: Edward Episcopo. Daylily.

Of all the short-lived flowers, the Day Lily, Hemerocallis, is perhaps the best known, and best loved of them all. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of varieties, each flower lasting just one day. This bloom was perfectly captured, frozen in time for us to enjoy whenever we wish.

I hope these pictures have inspired you to come take a closer look in our gardens and meadows. The grounds at Gari Melchers Home and Studio are open during regular museum hours for your enjoyment. Please check in at the Visitor Center when you arrive.

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We have pollinators following our harvest trailer around the farm! Harvest buckets of zinnias with a swallowtail butterfly left and a hummingbird moth on right.

Grow Great Spring Flowers and Pollinators Will Come!

Spring blooming Scabiosa will attract bees from the get go of the season. Scabiosa Blue Cockade.

Spring blooming Scabiosa will attract bees from the get go of the season. Scabiosa Blue Cockade.

Spring blooming flowers are about so much more than just gorgeous flowers.  Those featured in my book Cool Flowers are spring bloomers, but they also offer a big hand-up to pollinators and other beneficial insects that are eager in spring for habitat and food. So, not only are these some of the most beloved spring bloomers to enjoy – but they roll out the welcome mat to the good guys that will impact your entire growing season for the good.

I didn’t set out to fill my farm with pollinators and other beneficial insects. You might say it has been a side effect of all-natural cut-flower farming.

As simple as it sounds, it’s true. Just plant flowers. Don’t use pesticides–organic or otherwise. Soon a wave of these guys will overrun your garden.

As my awareness of beneficial insects has grown, I find that it is getting easier to farm. It has become my second nature to consider and provide a place for them to live, eat, and raise a family year round. This practice is not only the right thing to do for the future of all, but it totally impacts my business bottom line for the good.

We have pollinators following our harvest trailer around the farm! Harvest buckets of zinnias with a swallowtail butterfly left and a hummingbird moth on right.

We have pollinators following our harvest trailer around the farm! Harvest buckets of zinnias with a swallowtail butterfly left and a hummingbird moth on right.

This little-known community of good bugs is as diverse a mix as the population of NYC. And don’t underestimate their entertainment value either. A fairly common comment directed at me on our farm:  “Are we harvesting flowers today or are we taking photos of bugs?” There is a reason they make movies about bugs — they are fascinating!

How to attract them? Provide flowers from the first crack of spring and throughout the season until frost. It’s those early spring blooms that really kick-start our insect population. Bachelor buttons and calendula are two of the heavy hitters in our gardens. They bloom in spring when the nights are still chilly but the days are warm. Their foliage secretes nectar even before the flowers bloom, making them a great favorite of hungry bugs.

Fall blooming flowers will keep the garden full of pollinators until winter arrives. Left Salvia Leucantha, right Salvia Mexicana.

Fall blooming flowers will keep the garden full of pollinators until winter arrives. Left Salvia Leucantha, right Salvia Mexicana.

Pleasing the pollinators requires providing a continuous supply of flowers throughout the growing season. This fits perfectly with my flower farming because my customers want the same thing! Monthly succession planting fits the bill for us.

To reap the benefit of these guys as pollinators and pest control, you must resist the urge to treat a possible problem that may pop up in your garden. Be patient and do not be afraid of some pest damage. To keep your community of good guys home and fed, they have to have some bad bugs to eat, right? Give them time to do their job.

Planting flowers in the garden with your vegetables with ensure pollination. Celosia plume with a bumblebee.

Planting flowers in the garden with your vegetables with ensure pollination. Celosia plume with a bumblebee.

It is my opinion that if you have a 10-row vegetable garden, you should also have 2 rows of flowers to support them. I won’t get on my wagon here about the vegetable gardens I visit. There are some that don’t have a flower in sight, while the gardener complains of a lack of bees for pollinating. It couldn’t be more simple: plant flowers and they will come.

To learn how to supply your garden with beauty and a vast population of pollinators and other beneficial insects, attend my program Growing Great Spring Flowers that will be held at Belmont Sunday, November 1 at 2pm.  I will share what to grow, starting it from seed, best planting times, how to set up your garden for low maintenance and how to keep the blooms coming!

Perhaps spring is the most anticipated season of the year– yours can be full of abundance and beauty as featured in my book Cool Flowers.

A Pop-up Shop will follow the program offering seeds, tools and supplies for sale.

Lisa Mason Ziegler is a commercial cut-flower farmer in Newport News, Virginia; she lectures and writes about organic and sustainable gardening. You can email Lisa at lisa@shoptgw.com , call her at 757-877-7159 or visit her website www.shoptgw.com.

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