Two common buckeyes among blue vervain and boneset flowers

“Along the river’s summer walk,
The withered tufts of asters nod;
And trembles on its arid stalk
the hoar plum of the golden-rod.”
–  John Greenleaf Whittier

July marks the midway point of the year, when the natural world really gets going and the excitement never ends. It is the time of gathering dewberries and the flights of swallowtail butterflies. Insects get more interesting, plants are flowering with a vengeance and rainbows and sun halos bring added interest to the skies. There is still enough warm weather yet to come, and everything just seems more enjoyable when happened upon in the garden or in the wild.

Orange glow from wildfire haze in the western United States just after sunrise on a foggy morning in late July 2021

This year so far has been for the birds. There are Carolina wrens nesting in my propane tank cover, a wood duck and her young at a pond where I work that is in a very busy area, and the gardener at work discovered a hummingbird nest, which can be hard to spot as the outside is covered with lichens and often blends in with the branch it is on.

Wood duck mother and her little flock head for cover provided by cattails.
Young hummingbird is almost ready to leave the nest

Native Nymphaea odorata water lilies are fragrant and white. Walking around a friend’s property where there is a large pond, the surface of the water was covered with the first pink water lilies I ever saw in a natural setting. They may have been put in years before when ornamental N. odorata varieties that were hardy became available.

Swallowtail butterflies are suddenly in profusion and their caterpillars are always a good find. Knowing the host plants is the key. Check out small cherries and tulip trees for tiger swallowtail cats that sit right on top of a leaf.

Caterpillar of the eastern tiger swallowtail

Crawling across the lawn one evening was a pretty large beetle with mandibles to be feared by lesser creatures. It was a male yellow-thighed stag beetle Lucanus capreolus. Males use their oversized mandibles to fight with rivals in order to mate with a nearby female.  These beetles make a loud buzzing sound in flight and are attracted to lights.

Lucanus capreolus. stag beetle

Hiking in Ayers Gap woods there was a string of silk across the trail. Hanging on it was a Micrathena gracilis spined orb weaver spider. Also known as the castleback orb weaver because of the unusually large abdomen with spines sticking out like turrets, females rebuild only the center of their web daily, not the whole web like most other orb weavers.

Female spined orb weaver
Top view of Micrathean gracilis
Indian pipe in woods at Ayers Gap

Some wildflowers that bloom now in wetland areas are monkey flower, boneset and Joe-pye weed. These attract many species of butterflies and pollinators and are often found together along stream and pond edges and swamp borders. The fragrant flowers of Clethra alnifolia, a wetland shrub, make this a plant that can be smelled long before you see it.

Monkey flower Mimulus ringens
Clethra alnifolia

Here’s to enjoying the rest of summer, keeping cool, and finding nice little surprises as move too quickly toward the colder fall and winter landscape of New England. and like this piglet from Organic Roots farm, find a way to stay cool on those hot days.

Pamm Cooper

tiger swallowtail and obedient plant

Tiger swallowtail on obedient plant flower

“What dreadful hot weather we have! It keeps me in a continual state of inelegance.” – Jane Austen

What a strange summer we have had so far in New England! I almost thought of going to Florida to escape the heat and humidity. It has been hot and humid, no doubt, but it is August after all, and things are coming along nicely in the out- of-doors. This time of year there is enough good stuff going on in the landscape to overcome any weather difficulties we may be experiencing, so let’s plod on out and see what’s happening.

Horsebarn Hill on a foggy July morning

foggy morning on Horsebarn Hill UConn

 

 

As we head on into the mid= summer, most garden buffs are by now reveling in the abundance of hydrangeas that are now in bloom. The dwarf ‘Little Lime’ is one of several panicle Hydrangeas that have nice full-bodied lime green flowers that pack a visual punch in the landscape. ‘Little Lamb’ is another of the smaller panicle hydrangeas, this one also having a compact form with pure white, ethereal blooms that give it its name.

little lambs hydrangea

‘Little lamb’ panicle hydrangea

Hibiscus are also blooming now, with their outstanding large, colorful flowers that really provide some visual excitement in the garden. I came across a nice hedgerow type planting that made a nice privacy screen along a sidewalk. I am not really a hibiscus fan, but a pink- flowered one popped up in my garden, and looks so great there that I guess it can stay. I wonder if someone snuck it in there to get me to have kinder thoughts toward these plants…

hibiscus border

Hibiscus

On the wild side, the sweet- smelling Clethra alnifolia is in full bloom and is attracting all types of bees, beetles and butterflies. Look for this small clump-forming shrub in any areas where soils are moist. The white flower spikes are very fragrant, so you can tell where Clethra are long before you actually see them. Groundnut vine is also blooming now, with its pea-like pink flower clusters dangling from its twining stems. Often found twining itself around goldenrods and blue vervain, it is always fun to come across this plant.

red spotted purple on clethra alnifolia

Red spotted purple butterfly on Clethra

The barn swallows that are partial to building their nests on the eaves of our equipment building have had their second brood of the year, as have bluebirds. Hopefully that will exit the nest soon and mom and dad can have a much needed rest in the near future. There was a female wood duck taking her brood on a tour in a large beaver pond the other day.

barn swallows ready to leave nest

barn swallows ready to fledge

female and male juvenile wood ducks Early August Airline Trail marsh Pamm Cooper photo

Juvenile wood ducks

I came across a wild grape that had one leaf covered with interesting cone- like galls formed by the grape tube gallmaker midge (Schizomyia viticola). This is a harmless gall, and only affected one leaf on the entire grape plant. Looks like a bunch of tall red, skinny gnome caps were set on the leaf.

grape tube gallmaker on grape leaf

grape tube galls

Combing through garden centers for great plants is always enjoyable when you find something like the Blackberry or leopard Lily Belamcanda chinensis. Star shaped flowers only 2 inches wide are heavily spotted with red, while foliage is sword- shaped. The flowers appear in late summer and bloom until frost, so this is a good plant to spiff up areas where other perennials are fading into the sunset.

leopard li;ly Belamcando chinensis

leopard lily Belamcando chinensis

Interesting plants suitable for containers are agave and other succulents. I saw a good size Agave colorata recently which was very striking in appearance. Its leaves are thick and powdery blue- gray with unusual cross- banding designs on them, plus leaf edges have brown teeth tipped with spines. A spectacular plant!

Agaave colorata

Agave colorata

pattern on agave leaves

patterns on Agave colorata leaves

Caterpillars this time of year are larger and, in my opinion, more interesting than the early season caterpillars. One favorite is the brown- hooded owlet, which is a sports a rich array orange, blue, yellow and red. Look for this caterpillar on goldenrods, where it feeds on flowers and flower buds.

brown-hooded-owlet-caterpillar

brown-hooded owlet

If you want a nice surprise, with a little careful handling you can check inside folded stinging nettle leaf shelters and may find either caterpillars of the comma or red admiral butterflies, or the chrysalis of the red admiral.

red admiral chrysalis inside nettle leaf shelter

red admiral butterfly chrysalis inside a leaf shelter on stinging nettle

 

The skies can provide some viewing that is better than any television show. Thunderhead clouds can provide some drama as they develop on hot and humid afternoons, and may provide further excitement in the form of thunder and lightning, and rainbows may follow. We can have remarkable sunsets any time of year, so don’t forget to have a look at the sky around sunset. August is also a great time for early morning fogs as well, especially when we have had a humid night. Getting up early does have its good points…

P1060375

Thunderhead developing on a hot and humid afternoon

 

Pamm Cooper