In case you haven’t noticed it’s National Pollinator Week. Butterflies seem scarce this year in my garden so it was nice to spot a lovely male swallowtail enjoying echinacea in the side garden.
Today I am documenting some highlights of my summer garden, focusing mostly on zinnias and butterflies.
With the removal of some diseased junipers in spring, the southern border is filled with sunshine once again. Black-eyed Susans planted in 2012 at last are coming into their own in response to the improved conditions. Basking in the sun, Salvia greggii ‘Furman’s Red’ (Autumn Sage), added in 2014, also has thrived for the first time. I am not a fan of combining yellow and red, but there it is, undeniably red and yellow. I must have planted the salvia at a time when the black-eyed Susans were failing.
For years there has been a circular cutting garden of zinnias in summer. This year even more zinnias fill in along the fence where the trees had stood. I don’t miss the trees as much as I thought I would. They were planted for privacy, but this year at least I’m enjoying the openness of the garden and the white backdrop of the fence.
Sunlight enhances the Blue Sky Salvia as we look across toward the dogwood at the other side of the garden. This salvia is a favorite of bees. There are fewer bees this year, especially fewer honey bees. Large carpenter bees are present, though perhaps fewer of them as well.
Somewhere I saved this year’s zinnia seed packages but I have yet to record their names. They are various mixes. I am particularly pleased with some of the red zinnias this year. There are some gorgeous reds among the rainbow of colors.
A yellow with red freckled zinnia and this one below that seems to be wearing a smear of lipstick on each petal are the only novelty ones in the mix. Elsewhere I have a few cactus zinnias.
I have grown zinnias for 40 years and value their cheerfulness and reliability throughout the hottest part of summer until the first October frost. Each year from mid to late summer they and a few key plants like lantana provide extra zing in the garden, attracting a wide range of insects.
It has been a spectacular year for butterflies, especially for Eastern Tiger Swallowtails.
Yesterday the lantana was a hub of activity as this 16-second amateur video shows.
Zinnias are very popular with the butterflies.
A few other swallowtail varieties have been visible. They are exciting to discover and try to identify. In late May this Spicebush Swallowtail appeared just in time to enjoy white bell-shaped flowers of Husker Red Penstemon.
In early July I recorded seeing this striking Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus) just as the first lantana flowers were opening.
Black Swallowtails have been active here this summer with multiple sightings. Here are couple of my favorite photos of them.
I spotted a monarch August 10, 2019 and hope to enjoy more in the coming weeks. They usually pass through in September and October.
Historically the garden averages one sighting of Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) each year. Happily I have seen many the past few weeks.
In previous years I have spotted one or two Snowberry Clearwing (Hemaris diffinis), but this season they are often seen frequenting plants such as Verbena bonariensis (an all-around pollinator favorite), lantana, Buddleja and zinnia.
No signs this year of Hummingbird Clearwing (Hemaris thysbe). There are plenty of actual hummingbirds though. Sometimes I find myself face to face with one and we both pause for an instant, its wings and my heart pounding. My camera is never ready so I just stop and notice. I have never used a hummingbird feeder in this garden but the birds find reason to visit, making the same rounds through the flowers as the insects.
iNaturalist has been a great resource for help with identification of garden visitors.
Here are more entries from the summer guest book for pbmGarden.
In case you are not familiar with iNaturalist I cannot recommend it enough. It has been a great resource for help in identifying my garden visitors. There is an app and a website.
Partial List of Fauna and Flora
Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)
Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)
Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) August 6
Cabbage White (Pieris rapae) August 6
Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae) August 10
Common whitetail (Plathemis lydia) August 12
Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera) August 6
Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica)
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)
Eight-spotted Forester Moth (Alypia octomaculata) Jun 12
Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans) August 6
Hummingbird Clearwing (Hemaris thysbe)
Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus)
Slaty Skimmer Libellula incesta)
Snowberry Clearwing (Hemaris diffinis)
Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus) May 28
Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)
Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) Jun 26
Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus) Jul 1 and June 7
Buddleja davidii ‘Adokeep’ (Adonis blue Butterfly Bush)
Gladiolus ‘Purple Flora’ and ‘Espresso’
Juniperus chinensis ‘Blue Point’ (Blue Point Juniper)
Lantana camara (Common lantana)
Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ (Beardtongue)
Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’ (Black-eyed Susan)
Salvia greggii ‘Furman’s Red’ (Autumn Sage)
Salvia uliginosa ‘Blue Sky’ (Bog sage)
Verbena bonariensis (Tall Verbena)
A couple of weeks ago the weather was unseasonably hot and dry. These are photos from May 27, 2019. Lots of butterflies were visiting the garden then, flitting from one flower to the next (especially popular was Verbena bonariensis—must be quite tasty.) This is an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus). Females are dimorphic and can be yellow or nearly black. Blue spots along the hindwing indicate this yellow form is female.
At some point this swallowtail apparently escaped a bad encounter, but managed to get back to lunch.
At first I thought this next one was a female dark morph of Eastern Tiger Swallowtail—I noticed it nectaring on Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue.’ The coloring didn’t quite seem right though and I finally decided it is a Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus). The spicebush has blue markings, one of which is missing its orange spot.
I followed the same butterfly around the garden. It stopped to enjoy the Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ before moving on to the verbena.
Verbena and penstemon are also popular with bees. Shown here is an Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica) sampling the buffet.
Eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucous) nectaring on Lantana camara (Common lantana), photographed August 3, 2016.
Throughout the day yesterday I glimpsed this male swallowtail nectaring at this large stand of Verbena bonariensis (Tall Verbena). The day before the garden had been filled with colorful American Goldfinch (Carduelis trusts) also enjoying this plant. The verbena has scattered itself all around the borders, so this year I have been able to share some with friends.
About a month ago I noticed a Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) fluttering around, just for a day, but I could never get a picture. Then again on Saturday another passed through. Still no picture of the butterfly, so I will share its host plant, Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Plant).
This spectacular gladiolus below is from a package of blue shades mix planted last spring. The bulbs performed poorly last year, so seeing this royal spire each day thrills me. Although the tip of the stem is out of view, at this stage the gladiolus is half blooms and half buds.
After Aquilegia canadensis (Eastern red columbine) finished blooming here in the western border, I cut it back leaving this section looking particularly bare. Now that the weather has finally warmed up, everything should fill in quickly: Buddleia davidii ‘Adokeep’ (Butterfly Bush), Helianthus angustifolius (Swamp Sunflower) and Phlox paniculata (Garden Phlox). I am still deciding how to replace the gardenia hedge that once lined this fence along the back.
This is the same flower after a rain a few days earlier, with the northwest corner in the background: ‘Carolina Sapphire’ (Arizona Cypress), Phlox paniculata (Garden Phlox), Callicarpa americana (American beauty berry), Cornus florida (Flowering Dogwood). In front of the planter Allium atropurpureum are preparing to bloom.
This cheerful Iceberg Rose did better than usual this year due to adequate rains throughout spring and summer. It has begun another round of blossoming recently.
I would like to know what kind of little yellow spider this is hanging out on the Purple Coneflower. The front legs are positioned so it looks like it is trying to hide its face.
The Autumn Joy Sedum attracted this insect today (a wasp of some kind?) and a few bumble bees as well.
The Sedum’s flowers are deepening from light pink to a darker shade as they age.
Meadow Sage has rebloomed now that night temperatures are cooler.
The annual, Angelonia Purple, was a good investment this spring. Last year I used it in the meditation circle for color and interest, but it grew too wide. I frequently had to cut it back to maintain clear passage through the labyrinth. This year I placed Angelonia as filler in a few portions of the border where it had plenty of room. It has bloomed and bloomed and bloomed all summer and will last until frost.
Iberis Sempervirens (Candytuft) died back during the hot summer but is returning with a fresh flush of new growth.
I am excited about a new purchase this week, a grayish-blue glazed ceramic urn to replace the periwinkle jar I had kept in the southern border since spring. The periwinkle pot will be returned to its indoor setting to keep it safe from the elements. The new urn required two strong men to carry to its current location so I did not get a chance to try it out in a lot of places before setting it down. For now I plan to leave it empty but may add an evergreen form to it later.
There have been numerous Eastern Tiger Swallowtails gracing the garden this summer, but few have been of this dark female form. Enjoying Lantana, this is the same butterfly in all the pictures, with color variations standing out depending on the aspect of the view.
Sometime during Sunday night or early morning raindrops hit the window and I was awake enough to be grateful, knowing the garden had become very dry. The previous rain was on September 1 and since then, despite cooler temperatures at night, there have been some very hot days. Grass in the front yard has turned crispy brown and the River Birch has given up many leaves. The grass in the back yard where the garden is also has begun dying back in places.
By early afternoon when I had a chance to explore the garden there were no visible signs the rain had passed through, but perhaps the plants had already soaked up the nourishment by then.
A welcome drop in humidity cleared the haze from the sky and made the early morning air feel refreshingly cool.
We watched sections of the borders emerge from morning shadows as we lingered over coffee on the screened porch that overlooks the garden. Sunlight entering the garden spaces framed colorful vignettes. Wind chimes in the meditation circle repeatedly picked up the gentle breeze, echoing sweet tones.
Zinnias in the northwest corner continue to attract butterflies.
A white bearded Iris rebloomed this week bringing an unexpected treat.
Irish Eyes shine against the day’s deep blue morning sky.
This is an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus), a North American native butterfly species. I believe the Buddleja upon which today’s garden visitor is feasting is Buddleja davidii ‘Adokeep’ (Adonis blue butterfly bush).
One weather source gives the temperature as 88°F (with heat index it feels like 101°F), but another reporting station shows 92°F and my money is on the 92°F. Last year the actual high was 99°F. Thunderstorms are predicted for later this evening. They have been regular occurrences lately.
In trying to precisely identify this swallowtail, I discovered my state of North Carolina selected the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) as its official state butterfly in mid-June of 2012. After such a rancorous session, who knew what the legislature was really up to? I will not comment on the livermush part of the bill.
This North American native butterfly species is quite commonly found across the entire eastern United States. It has adapted to many host plants and to a wide range of habitats, including, of course, gardens.
There are many interesting things to know about these butterflies. Males are usually yellow. Females are dimorphic and can be yellow or black. When the female is yellow, its upper hindwing is more bluish (so I assume this is a female).
Here is one fact that may not be well-known. The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail is:
generally considered the first North American butterfly to have been drawn. The first drawing of it was by John White. White was an artist, cartographer, and is also known as the governor of the Roanoke Island colony that came to be known as the “Lost Colony.”
In this garden yesterday the native Eastern Tiger Swallowtail was attracted to a non-native plant. It fed on the nectar of Lantana camera.
Though reported to be drought-tolerant, a few weeks ago this lantana appeared to be completely dried up. Since then there have been fierce storms, intense days of triple-digit heat and more storms. Though sprawled and splayed after such abuse this shrub is rallying with bright, cheery flower clusters of red, pink, orange and yellow.
1. Michelle Czaikowski Underhill (2012). “Eastern tiger swallowtail” . NCPedia. Retrieved July 28, 2012.