August 2019

Sunflower in its glory

“This morning, the sun endures past dawn. I realize that it is August: the summer’s last stand.”
― Sara Baume,

August is a favorite month for me as many things I have been looking forward to in the scene have now arrived. Whether in the garden or in the natural environment, there are plants, birds, insects and other things that seem to be more interesting to encounter later in the summer than earlier.

Late bloomers like Caryopteris (bluebeard), turtle head, goldenrods, boneset and spotted Joe-pye weed add interest to the garden and provide food for bees and butterflies before the cold weather sets in. Closed gentians put in a more subtle appearance hidden under shrubs and small trees along pond, stream and lake edges. As many bees are active right until cold weather sets in, these late bloomers are of special value.

wool carder bee at Hill Stead museum sunken garden 8-20-2019 Pamm Cooper photo

Wool carder bee at Hill Stead Museum sunken garden 8-20-2019

Canna lilies and Caladiums, great annuals for foliage color and texture, should be at their peak foliage development now. While still in bloom, check out hedges and borders of hibiscus, hydrangeas and rose-of-Sharon that can make attractive screens with their colorful flowers in August. The hardy hydrangeas will also continue to delight throughout the next month or so as their flowers change colors as they age.


Sun backlighting ‘Calypso’ Canna lily leaves

hibiscus border

hibiscus border

‘Little lambs’ hydrangea

Numerous butterflies are out and about, although this year many species seemed few and far between. Monarchs, though were numerous. One butterfly that was an unexpected surprise-seen just about everywhere, it seems- is the common buckeye. Usually considered vagrants from the south, they were here as early as June and were breeding throughout the summer


Spicebush swallowtail on salvia

Two common buckeyes amid wild blue vervain and boneset August 2019

Check out Rudbeckia  flowers for the diminutive camouflage looper caterpillar which cuts flower petals and sticks them on its body to hide from potential predators. There are also many other small loopers that can be found on black-eyed Susan flowers.

Camouflaged looper with flower parts slapped on it to hide from predators


Sunflowers are a winsome addition to any garden and are easy to start from seed in June. There are many varieties to choose from, and some are pollen-less for cutting and floral arrangements. ‘Firecatcher’ has flowers that smell like Juicy Fruit™ gum.

Sunflowers can be started from seed and should be in full bloom by the end of August

Yellow sunflower

Orchards are having a terrific harvest this year. Rains were not as abundant as last year, but the sun was, so fruits like peaches and nectarines are especially sweet this August. Native trees and shrubs that ripen their fruit early include the sassafras and some viburnums, and birds will usually eat the fruits before they drop off to the ground.

sassafras fruit

Sassafras fruit

Along hiking trails, in open fields and in the woods, the caterpillars that are found from August until fall are usually more robust, colorful and generally larger than their spring and early summer counterparts. Sphinx, giant silkworm, dagger, tiger and prominent moth caterpillars are some of the more interesting ones. Generally not pests, several can occur in large enough numbers in the garden landscape to cause alarm, such as the Datanas, but in the wild, they are not a major concern. Slug caterpillars are small but many can inflict a painful sting if the urticating spines are touched. One of the more notorious is the spiffy looking saddleback caterpillar.


Early instar saddleback caterpillar August 2019

Northern pine sphinx


At any time of year check out the skies for colorful sunsets, sunriss and cloud formations. Indicative of weather to come, clouds and sky colors are good to learn about. A sweet little book on clouds and other phenomena of the skies is “The Cloud Collector’s Handbook” by Gavin Pretor-Pinney.  Like anything else, it takes practice and careful study to correctly identify anything, clouds being no exception.

August dawn with a crescent moon

August 28 2019 dawn with a crescent moon

I will be enjoying the rest of August and the upcoming September, which I hope will be warm. Keep your eyes open for migrating night hawks and tree swallows. which are starting their southern journey now. Large flocks of tree swallows were seen this last week of August week at Hammonasset Beach State Park.

tree swallows Hammonasset August 28 2019

tree swallows Hammonasset State Park August 28 2019


One last note- if you are hiking along a woodland trail and come across a single strand of spider silk running between two trees, follow it to the main web. It is likely a spiny orb weaver, Micrathena gracilis , which eats her web every day and builds a new one in an hour the next day.

Micrathena gracilis spider


Pamm Cooper



In June I shared a visit to the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford, CT with you. Last week an outing took me to another beautiful garden site, Elizabeth Park, with three generations of ladies that included a dear friend, her mother, and my future daughter-in-law, Jamie. This was Jamie’s first encounter with Elizabeth Park as she is a recent transplant to the area from Long Island. It couldn’t have been a nicer day as the weather was warm but not hot with just enough cloud cover to allow us to walk about quite comfortably.

Elizabeth Park is of seven major parks that ring the city limits of Hartford, Connecticut and were created to benefit all of the citizens. Bushnell Park led the way in 1854 followed by Colt Park, Goodwin Park, Keeney Park, Pope Park, Riverside Park, and of course, Elizabeth Park by 1895. The lands for these parks were attained through purchase or bequest. Such is the case for Elizabeth Park which was bequeathed to the City of Hartford upon the death of Charles M. Pond in 1894. During his life, Charles Pond had acquired 90 acres that were bordered by Prospect Avenue on the east and Asylum Avenue on the north. His only request was that the park be named for his deceased wife Elizabeth who loved the flowers and many gardens around their vast estate. The site of the current rose garden was their nursery. Charles also left a very generous $100,000 fund for the ongoing care of the grounds, an amount roughly equal to $2.8 million today.


The original landscaping for Elizabeth Park was done by the sons of Frederick Law Olmsted as he had retired in 1895. Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., and John Charles Olmsted followed in their famous and prolific father’s design footprints. The park now encompasses 101.45 acres and includes 12 different gardens, 4 greenhouses, 2 gazebos, 2 bridges, and a pond among various other outbuildings, sports fields, tracks, and playgrounds.

Annual bed 2

The day of our visit we saw people strolling the grounds, bikers and runners on the paths and roads, and dog-walkers that included 2 Portuguese water dogs that were enjoying a cool swim in the pond! Our daughter attended one of the many weddings that take place in the Rose Garden each year and we have been to one of the fun outdoor concerts that are held during the summer.

full garden

But the big draw always remains the flowers. The Rose Garden was the first municipal rose garden in the United States and is the third largest with well over 15,000 roses in 475 beds. If you think that it’s difficult to take care of your flower beds then just imagine the number of hours that it takes to care for 2½ acres of roses! The day of our visit the gardeners were trimming the arbors that line the 8 paths to the main gazebo, known as the Rustic Summer House, as those roses bloom mid-June to late July. They actually remove the clips that hold the trailing vines on the arbors, unwind them, trim them, and reattach each one. It seems quite a laborious process but the gardeners just worked steadily and systematically.

It was impossible to take in all of the roses that were still in bloom, many of which will continue to bloom into the fall. Each new variety was as beautiful as the next as these images show.

But the roses aren’t the only beautiful blooms at Elizabeth Park. The Annual Garden is planted in early June as the 10,000 tulips that were planted in the fall die back. Those bulbs are pulled out as they don’t always re-bloom but in their place is a circular annual garden with crescent-shaped beds of plants that were started from seed in the greenhouses. Some of our favorites included the sunflowers, Helianthus annuus, cleome, Cleome, and heliotrope, Heliotropium.

And Zinnias! Lots and lots of zinnias!

Walking from the greenhouses past the Annual Garden you come to the Perennial Garden. In existence since 1914, the Perennial Garden is an herbaceous delight of 8 large beds bordered by Japanese yew. The Japanese anemones, Anemone hupehensis var. japonica, also known as thimbleweed, were standouts with their delicate pink blooms above the purple stems.

A summersweet bush, Clethra alnifolia, with its upright panicles of white and pink were very attractive to the dozens of pollinators that seemed to be everywhere, including on the hydrangea, Hydrangea paniculata, the coneflowers, Echinacea, and the blue shrimp plant, Cerinthe major.

Other beautiful areas include the Horticultural gardens where herb beds, oleander (Nerium oleander), and giant castor bean (Ricinus communis) plants grow side-by-side.

The Julian and Edith Eddy Rock Garden is a shady and peacefully contemplative area with the spicy anise aroma of agastache (Agastache foeniculum).

Closer to the pond are the Charlie Ortiz Hosta Garden and of course, the renowned Pond House. I always thought that it was thus named due to its proximity to the Laurel Pond, but no, it is named for the Ponds.

The area surrounding the Pond House is worth a visit in and of itself just to encounter the quirky surprises that are around each corner, such as the stone face planter that peeks out of a slightly ajar door and the gravity-defying terra-cotta planters. The Pond House has a working kitchen garden that is full of herbs and vegetables that are used by the café where we enjoyed a delicious and relaxed lunch that gave us the break that we needed to head out to the gardens once again.

As you can imagine, it takes a lot of work and money to sustain something as large as Elizabeth Park. In fact, in the 1970s, the City of Hartford had decided to plow the park under due to the expense of keeping it up. Fortunately, a group of volunteers formed the Friends of Elizabeth Park in 1977 and the Elizabeth Park Conservancy is still very instrumental in working with the City of Hartford to keep the park free and open to the public. If you are 18 years of age or older then you can volunteer to help in the maintenance of the park, just check out this link, Volunteer. Should you want to learn more about the history of Elizabeth Park there will be a free tour on Saturday, September 14th, 2019 at 10:00 a.m. starting at the flagpole outside of the green Cottage.

Susan Pelton

All images by S. Pelton, UConn, 2019

It’s that time of year again when all of the Monarch caterpillars and butterflies start to invade the UConn Soil Lab’s garden. For those of you who remember, the Soil Lab is a Monarch Waystation, a registered space that provides resources necessary for monarch butterflies to produce successive generations and sustain their migration. We have common milkweed planted in-front of the lab for the Monarch’s to chow down on. The nectar provided by milkweed is essential for the Monarch’s to produce successive generations and make their trek from Canada and the United States to Mexico. They migrate to Mexico in order to stay warm during the winter months, and return in the spring when the weather is more favorable. Monarch Waystations and crucial in their journey, the Monarch Butterfly’s natural habitat is decreasing daily by 6,000 acres in the United States due to over development. Topped with increased use of pesticides, herbicides, and other harmful chemicals that kill milkweed, waystations provide a safe space for the Monarchs to eat and breed.

I took these pictures towards the end of July, these where the first Monarch caterpillars I spotted. These guys, along with the countless aphids, were chowing down on some of the milkweed in front of the lab.

They grow up so fast! It’s remarkable how quickly they can eat milkweed. The last couple weeks I counted over 10 Monarch caterpillars in our waystation, a refreshing sight considering we didn’t really have any last year. It’s nice to see that the waystation is actually providing a stable area for the Monarchs to live and breed.

Once they got their fill of our milkweed, the Monarchs find a nice spot to pupate. They form their chrysalis and hang out for about 10 days while undergoing metamorphosis.

Dawn was able to snap a picture of a Monarch just emerging from its chrysalis. You can tell they are getting ready to spread their wings when the chrysalis looses that green sheen it has and turns black.


Monarch @joecroze

There it is, the final product. The Monarch has 4 stages that make up their life cycle, and can produce 4 generations in 1 year. The Monarchs born in August will live around 2-6 weeks, eating milkweed and laying eggs. If they eggs they lay have the chance to complete their life cycle and metamorphose into a Monarch butterfly, it will head south, chasing the warmer weather.

Enjoy the weekend!


A well-designed garden is more than a collection of beautiful plants. There is a purpose to its layout and an overall theme. Hardscape elements like pathways, walls, patios give the garden its structure. Lawns can be used to enhance gardens or gardens planted to break up large expanses and create vistas.

NS Hs back garden

Gardens edge lawn areas at Nickel-Sortwell House in Wiscasset, ME.

Garden ornaments and furniture add that finishing touch to many gardens and landscapes setting the style, period and formality of the space. On a recent visit to Maine, I was delighted to find a great many exciting garden features, both in planned landscapes and in more casual ones.

Across from the Nickels-Sortwell House in Wiscasset is a lovely sunken garden. It was designed by Rose Ishbel using the foundation of the Hilton House, which burnt to the ground in 1903. Alvin and Gertrude Sortwell had purchased the burnt out lot and used the garden for private reflection as well as for entertaining for a number of years. The garden was eventually donated to the town.

Among the features of the sunken garden is a lovely stone birdbath. Garden ornaments can be useful as well as aesthetically pleasing. Birdbaths are available in many different styles. Not only can they serve as a focal point but the birds appreciate them as well.

sunken garden across st 2 - 1

Sunken garden across from Nickel-Sortwell House, Wiscasset, ME

The sunken garden also had this Victorian style cast iron bench. Set against the old foundation, it was sited to give one a close up view of some lovely blossoms but also a bit of privacy. There are probably even more types of seating than birdbaths. Whether you choose more formal designs in wood or metal, a laidback Adirondack chair, rustic twig furniture, cement benches or a swing, put your seating where you can enjoy the view. A favorite spot in my yard is a 6-foot swing we put up in the shade between two trees. The gentle swinging lulls one into a sleepy stupor these hot days but then thoughts of weeds taking over the garden manage to get me moving again.

sunken garden across st 3 -1

Garden bench in sunken garden across from Nickel-Sortwell House, Wiscasset, ME

Walking through Wiscasset and other nearby towns was a delight due to the colorful blossoms and well-tended gardens along the town’s main roads. Containers were popping up everywhere from overstuffed window boxes to urns flanking the front door to vivid arrangements of all sorts.

Planter box 1

Cradle filled with red geraniums, Wiscasset, ME

Both main and side streets shared details of their owners’ individuality and taste. Attractive gates beckon one to enter another space. Annual plantings abounded but also some more subtle perennial plantings like this Mary garden echoing the blues from the house.

Moon gate 1

A gate beckons to places beyond. Wiscassett, ME

mary garden wiscasset 1

Blue hydrangeas pair well with the blue trellis and house colors.

One day we visited the Coastal Maine Botanic Garden in Booth Bay. If you ever get the chance to go, by all means do. What an incredible place! The design of the garden is so well integrated into the landscape that it looks like it was implemented years ago although it was the brainchild of a small group of dedicated gardeners who felt that Maine needed a Botanical Garden in 1991 and it was first opened in 2007.

Fast forward to 2019. New gardens are still being developed and planted but there are almost 300 acres to explore. The first thing that struck me while strolling through their lovely beds was the size of their plants. Many of their plants that I also grow in my gardens were two to three times as big as they are in my yard. Their Asclepius incarnata, for example, was nearly six feet tall. Mine have never topped three feet. The flowers on their sweet shrub (Calycanthus floridus) were so huge I had to look at the sign to make sure I wasn’t misidentifying the plant.

Sweet shrub 1

Sweet shrub with the largest flowers I’ve ever seen! they were about 3 inches across.

Many paths lead through the woodlands paralleling the Black River. Plentiful seats from natural rocks to logs to manmade items line the trails. Sit and bathe in the forest, admire the vista or just catch your breathe. Along the woodland trails, water features and curious but most befitting garden ornaments prevailed.

CMBG 10 1

Simple but elegant & perfect in this woodland setting at the Coastal Maine Botanic Garden.

Most inventive was the children’s garden with its garden tool bridge, green roofed buildings and almost every vegetable imaginable. I’m sure it was entertaining to every child that entered but it also enthralled adults with the creative use of plants and their choice of garden ornaments like their garden tool arch, the entrance to the garden.

CMBG 18 1

Whimsical entrance to the Children’s Garden at the Coastal Maine Botanic Garden

There are so many items that can be used to dress up your gardens. Take a walk around, envision a focal point where you might want eyes to drift or just a relaxing venue for a seat or chairs and a table. The only limiting factor is your imagination.

Happy Gardening!

Dawn P.

8 fritillaries on milkweed

Some milkweeds are still blooming. Look for butterflies, like these great spangled fritillaries , on the flowers

Taking a walk around the yard, garden and woods, we are never at a loss of finding interesting, and sometimes annoying, plants and insects. Below are a few favorite and fun things that we found last week.

wineberry upclose

Wineberries, Rubus phoenicolasius, are non-native plants with edible fruit.

Wineberry is native to China and Japan and is a relative of raspberry and blackberry. It was originally brought to this country in 1890 as breeding stock. Today it is classified as invasive due to its aggressive tendencies.

Tobacco hornworms shown above are actively feeding on tomato plants. If you find a stem of your tomato plant with few or no leaves, scout for this caterpillar. Remove and dispose of as you see fit.

Hibiscus border

This hibiscus border is colorful in August

Many plants can make a suitable border, as seen above on this property featuring a hibiscus border. Perennial hibiscus Hibiscus moscheutos is easy to grow and gives a tropical, colorful look in the summer.

Check undersides of squash leaves for the egg rafts of the squash bugs. If, found, you can crush or use the sticky side of tape to remove them from the leaf. Dispose of tape in the garbage.

red spotted purple on clethra alnifolia

Clethra alnifolia and red spotted purple butterfly

 CLethra alnifoilia is a native shrub often found on edges of ponds, streams or in other places where soils are wet. Flowers are very fragrant and attract many pollinators and butterflies.


juvenile red- tailed hawk on rock wall late summer

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

This juvenile red-tailed hawk has found an ideal spot on top of a stone wall to wait for prey like chipmunks, voles and squirrels. Young red-tails have blue eyes.

grapevine beetle 2019 Pamm Cooper photo

Grapevine beetle resting on a grape leaf

The grapevine beetle, Pelidnota punctata, is often found on or near wild or cultivated grape. The beetle is attracted to lights and is frequently found in swimming pools where lights are on for part of the night. Although it feeds on grape leaves, it is not considered a pest. Larvae feed on organic matter.


In the spirit of ” gung ho” (Gung ho!, motto (interpreted as meaning “work together”)  Carol Quish and  Pamm Cooper did this blog together