Sunday Garden Miscellany

Caterpillar Vindication.

Psychologists have determined that there are three kinds of personalities: those who are motivated by their own sense of what is right, those who seek the approval of other people, and those who seek the approval of caterpillars. I am in the third group.

Black Swallowtail on Parsley

In fact, I have been suffering from a terrible sense of rejection because, while I have a great variety of butterfly host plants, I have seen very few caterpillars. I do see butterflies, but it seems that while our garden is an amusing sort of place to feed on nectar, it is not a worthy home for butterfly offspring. This made me feel as if I had committed some kind of embarrassing butterfly faux pas.

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Black Swallowtail on Fennel

Just recently this has begun to change. In the last week Judy and I have seen Black Swallowtail caterpillars – first on the Bronze Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), then on the Parsley (Petroselinum crispum). This has led to an enormous boost in my self-esteem.

In fact, just this afternoon I saw a Black Swallowtail laying eggs on the parsley. This made me happy, though it meant that Judy had to go buy parsley at the store despite the fact that we have a vast quantity of it in the garden. I just couldn’t be sure where the butterfly eggs were, and we didn’t want toย cook and eat them inadvertently.

Surely now when the other butterflies see that the Black Swallowtails consider us to be all right, they will all begin to come around and start laying eggs on our plants.

Transplanting in August is a Bad Idea

It’s just that we had a stretch of cool weather last weekend, the soil had been turned moist by a long, slow rain – and I thought, why not?

So I transplanted three ‘Snow Swan’ Peonies from the back garden, where they were in too much shade, to the Parkway Bed. Of course, the weather immediately turned very hot. All three peonies fainted dead away, despite my efforts to hand water them.

Two of the transplanted Peonies, not yet happy in their new home.

I also transplanted three struggling ‘Honorine Jobert’ Japanese Anemone, all of whom had a similar reaction.

The thing is that I know better, I really do. It’s just that I get impatient. Once I think of a thing to do in the garden, I want to do it right away (unless that thing is weeding). Actually, I’m confident all the transplantees will come back in spring, but they could have had a gentler introduction to their new homes.

Partridge Peas Porridge Hot.

The first of my orders for fall planting has arrived – a packet of Partridge Pea (Cassia fasciculata – which apparently we are now supposed to call Chamaecrist fasciculata). This is a native self-sowing annual with yellow flowers that is a host plant for several butterfly species (see first item above).

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Partridge Pea seed packet


I plan to direct sow them in a couple of sunny spots once the weather turns cool.

Hoping you all had an enjoyable weekend.



60 Comments on “Sunday Garden Miscellany”

  1. Congratulations on attracting the Black Swallowtail caterpillar…and what a magnificent specimen it is! We have the dilemma of wanting to eat what we grow, and yet also seeing the need to encourage some caterpillars. Re the planting I have the early spring problem here, I want to put plants into the garden, but we have surprise frosts right up until November. Very hard to wait that long!

  2. I once had a pair of Black Swallowtail caterpillars feeding on a potted parsley plant on a bench next to my back door. They ate all the leaves (not the stems) and then disappeared. Hopefully, they became butterflies.

  3. How wonderful to have these beautiful butterflies using your parsley as a nursery. What a privilege. We have a dearth of butterflies in the garden this year. I provide all their favourite plants but they are not there to enjoy them.
    In fact any sort of planting is a bad idea in a rainless August.. It doesn’ t stop me buying plants though. They just provide me with an extra watering job. And more plants to worry about.

  4. I think sun is a great indicator as to where caterpillars will show up even on host plants. I have bronze fennel that has been in the same place for years. The Black Swallowtails used to be all over it. Now that the shrubs and trees have grown up around the fennel the cats no longer appear here. I need to move some fennel into the sun.

  5. I like the way you think! I haven’t seen any caterpillars this year and i think it might be all the rain we are having! I have had such pangs of guilt because I do also wonder if it is because I feed the birds. But actually I have been doing that for years and still had caterpillars. I look forward to seeing how your Partridge Pea turns out.

  6. Ooh. Congrats on the partridge pea choice. One of my favorite new flowers in the garden this year. And I’ve seen more caterpillars (really pretty green and yellow ones!) on the partridge pea than on any other plant in my garden.

    I do have bronze fennel, for instance, but haven’t seen a single cat there.

    And I’ve got quite a large patch of swamp milkweed (well, not ginormous, but probably a couple dozen plants) in the back garden that attract aphids and ants and milkweed bugs and other critters, but not a single monarch caterpillar. That was a disappointment.

    Maybe I need to plant some parsley? Or dill?

    PS – I also planted some Senna marilandica and I did see a few small caterpillars on that one recently. And some devoured leaves, which makes me think more cats are hiding on the plant somewhere where I can’t see them…

  7. Oh gosh, I’m sure you’ve had tons of caterpillars in your garden! They simply know how to hide–very well! Plus, it’s impossible to see the young ones without a magnifying glass even when they’re in plain sight. In any case, this is an awesome post. Good luck with the new plants and the transplants. Enjoy the caterpillars and butterflies that you see, and take comfort that you’re providing habitat for many more! ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. You have me smiling, first because I’m in the third personality group too, and secondly because I to am impatient and do things I know I shouldn’t. How marvelous to have the black swallowtail caterpillars grazing your plants, the monarchs will be next! Here’s to your transplants recovering, I’m sure, as you say, come next spring, all will be

  9. I sow parsley seed every year and often find the plants being devoured by swallowtail caterpillars! My one great success.
    Oh, I do understand your August transplant problem. My garden club’s civic project is a herb garden which we are restoring by quadrant each of the next four years. Our first “new” quadrant is for medicinal herbs. Two of us transplanted last week when the weather was mild. Now, we’re in the mid 90s, humid and no rain, so are having to take turns going out there each day to water.

  10. I hope you will see many more caterpillars in your garden. I know the problem regarding transplanting in august. I have also divided and moved some plants the recent week. We have cool weather, and plenty of rain, so I hope it works out well. When I decide on transplanting, it has to be now, and not tomorrow ๐Ÿ™‚ Iยดm sure your plants will come back in spring again.

  11. Oh, I feel your joy – I had a couple of black swallowtail caterpillars on a volunteer dill in a pot and I lugged that pot to a bigger patch of dill once they had almost stripped the plant. I suppose I could have picked them up and moved them by hand, but I figured the less trauma they had, the more likely they were to stick around.

  12. I think this is an off-year for caterpillars/butterflies, due to the weather. I am seeing fewer this year, and they are arriving a bit late.

    I grow Queen Anne’s Lace in my “prairie” bed, along with purple coneflowers & cosmos; it’s a lovely combination, and typically the black swallowtail caterpillars are all over the Queen Anne’s (since it’s a wild carrot). I regularly check for caterpillars on the QAL, however, this summer, I hadn’t seen any activity. My husband suggested that the goldfinches ~ attracted to the coneflowers ~ might have eaten the caterpillars, too. ๐Ÿ˜›

    Later, when I checked the vegetable plot, where I’d been growing carrots for salad, there were several swallowtail caterpillars gorging themselves and stripping the remaining carrots! Haha!

  13. I haven’t seen many caterpillars here either. I did see quite a few on the dill earlier this summer, and within a day or two they were all gone–a feast for the birds, I suspect. I wonder what that says about me:)

  14. I’ve never seen Swallowtail caterpillars on my parsley and there is usually more of that than there are fennel plants but it is on those that I always see the caterpillars. You’re doing a great job in providing nectar and host plants for their caterpillars, most people are good about the first but unhelpful for the second.

  15. One year I went away on vacation in August and came home to find the parsley stripped bare and a fat, happy swallowtail caterpillar draped over each bare stem, looking for all the world like characters in a children’s book.

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