Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Epic Monarch Butterfly Migration: Doing Your Part

Monarch butterfly - Danaus plexippus

One of the world’s longest animal migrations goes through our own backyards. You can be part of it!

Millions of monarch butterflies take flight annually, traveling over 3,000 miles across North America. The round-trip spans Canada to Mexico.

As common as they seem, monarchs have many secrets that intrigue scientists. It's known that they overwinter as far south as Mexico, but do smaller populations overwinter elsewhere? If so, why? Are populations declining? If so, why? This is where you can help.

Scientists can not monitor everywhere at once, but you can be their eyes and ears on the ground. Your involvement is needed. You might ask yourself, "Self, what can I do?"

You can provide food. Adult monarchs love flower nectar. Almost any nectar will do, so plant a wide variety of species. Native or naturalized species are best.
Caterpillars eat foliage, but only certain species of milkweed leaves. To satisfy them and yourself, you must select species that are native to or otherwise thrive in your area. My state - Georgia - publishes a helpful brochure for download. Your state might, too.

State Departments of Natural Resources occasionally hold training sessions for citizens to learn how to monitor monarchs. Become involved! Click on a helpful link below. States not listed below apparently do not have web sites for their DNRs, or at least I couldn't find them.

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Arizona Game and Fish Department
Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality
California Department of Fish and Game
Colorado Department of Natural Resources
Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection
Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control
District of Columbia Department of Energy and Environment
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Georgia Department of Natural Resources
Idaho Department of Environmental Quality
Illinois Department of Natural Resources
Indiana Department of Natural Resources
Iowa Department of Natural Resources
Maryland Department of Natural Resources
Michigan Department of Natural Resources
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Missouri Department of Natural Resources
Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation
Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
New Mexico Department of Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources
North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Ohio Department of Natural Resources
Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
South Carolina Department of Natural Resources
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries
Washington State Department of Natural Resources
West Virginia Division of Natural Resources
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Butterfly Houses at
Butterfly Feeders at
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation 

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Saturday, April 7, 2018

Behind a Garden Wall: Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, GA

Jewish Section, Bonaventure Cemetery

 Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, GA

 Ah, Spring and Easter season in Savannah! Barring any miraculous astonishments, it’s the perfect time to stroll through a cemetery. Bonaventure is one of my favorites. Since Savannah is my hometown, I can remark to my companion about the interred. Beside near relatives, there are notables, friends and acquaintances – “he owned the restaurant where…, he fit my shoes when I was small…, she used to live on the corner of _ and _,”and so on.

In addition to marveling at the historic tombs, visitors from out-of-town usually seek out the resting places of folks like JohnnyMercer, Conrad Aiken, Jack Leigh, Josiah Tattnall, Sr. and J. Tattnall, Jr., Hugh Mercer, JamesNeill, Edythe Chapman, Marie Scudder-Myrick, Edward Telfair and F. Bland Tucker. There’s little Gracie Watson – departed at 6 years – who  probably wouldn’t be known by many if not for the charming memorial at her tomb. Her grave is now enclosed by a sturdy fence to keep visitors at bay. One of the four original castings of “The Bird Girl”, aka “Little Wendy”,  – formerly at Bonaventure and featured on the cover of John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil – was moved to the JepsonCenter for the Arts for the same reason that Little Gracie is behind bars.

Speaking of which, the cemetery used to be a quiet place suitable for personal reflection on life, death and the chief end of man. That changed a lot with the publication of Berendt’s novel. “The BOOK”, as Savannahians know it, brought instant notoriety and a steady stream of visitors – especially in spring.

Long before Bonaventure became a destination for ghost tours, the naturalist John Muir spent six nights sleeping among the tombs. He declared it safe and inexpensive in comparison to other accommodations of the day. It would still be inexpensive if the cemetery didn’t close at 5:00pm.

For Muir’s observations about Bonaventure Cemetery, check out:

Here are some of my snapshots of Bonaventure Cemetery and of what grows behind that garden wall.

Azalea-lined drive, Bonaventure Cemetery

Jewish Chapel, Bonaventure Cemetery

Intricate portal, Bonaventure Cemetery
American Legion Field

Edward Telfair Memorial

Von Waldner Grave

Nicholson Memorial

Childrens' memorials

View of the Wilmington River

Corinne Elliott Lawton Memorial

Johnny Mercer Memorial

Little Gracie

Have you visited Bonaventure Cemetery? We'd love to read your impressions. Comment and tell us!

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Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Camping among the Tombs - From John Muir's book, A Thousand Mile Walk

The following is a chapter about Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, Georgia, from John Muir's book, A Thousand Mile Walk. Bonaventure is a lovely place to visit this time of year when the azaleas are in bloom and the temperature is mild. I hope you'll discover it for yourself.

Part of the grounds was cultivated and planted with live-oak (Quercus virginiana), about a hundred years ago, by a wealthy gentleman who had his country residence here But much the greater part is undisturbed. Even those spots which are disordered by art, Nature is ever at work to reclaim, and to make them look as if the foot of man had never known them. Only a small plot of ground is occupied with graves and the old mansion is in ruins.

The most conspicuous glory of Bonaventure is its noble avenue of live-oaks. They are the most magnificent planted trees I have ever seen, about fifty feet high and perhaps three or four feet in diameter, with broad spreading leafy heads. The main branches reach out horizontally until they come together over the driveway, embowering it throughout its entire length, while each branch is adorned like a garden with ferns, flowers, grasses, and dwarf palmettos.

But of all the plants of these curious tree-gardens the most striking and characteristic is the so-called Long Moss (Tillandsia usneoides). It drapes all the branches from top to bottom, hanging in long silvery-gray skeins, reaching a length of not less than eight or ten feet, and when slowly waving in the wind they produce a solemn funereal effect singularly impressive.

There are also thousands of smaller trees and clustered bushes, covered almost from sight in the glorious brightness of their own light. The place is half surrounded by the salt marshes and islands of the river, their reeds and sedges making a delightful fringe. Many bald eagles roost among the trees along the side of the marsh. Their screams are heard every morning, joined with the noise of crows and the songs of countless warblers, hidden deep in their dwellings of leafy bowers. Large flocks of butterflies, flies, all kinds of happy insects, seem to be in a perfect fever of joy and sportive gladness. The whole place seems like a center of life. The dead do not reign there alone.

Bonaventure to me is one of the most impressive assemblages of animal and plant creatures I ever met. I was fresh from the Western prairies, the garden-like openings of Wisconsin, the beech and maple and oak woods of Indiana and Kentucky, the dark mysterious Savannah cypress forests; but never since I was allowed to walk the woods have I found so impressive a company of trees as the tillandsia-draped oaks of Bonaventure.

I gazed awe-stricken as one new-arrived from another world. Bonaventure is called a graveyard, a town of the dead, but the few graves are powerless in such a depth of life. The rippling of living waters, the song of birds, the joyous confidence of flowers, the calm, undisturbable grandeur of the oaks, mark this place of graves as one of the Lord’s most favored abodes of life and light."
John Muir, Camping Among the Tombs, A Thousand Mile Walk.

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Saturday, March 24, 2018

FAQ: " neutralize dog urine?"

Would you recommend I flush the ground really well (although we've had tons of rain) or amend the soil in some way before planting to neutralize dog urine? 


Flushing usually works, but you could remove the top inch or so of soil in affected areas. Replace with some potting soil, mixing it in with native soil. Then plant on that. It would also be a good idea to take a soil sample to your Cooperative Extension Service for analysis.
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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Should I trim the green daylily leaves after planting?

We received our 100 yellow daylily bulbs last week and they are now planted. I have a question-should I go ahead and trim the green tops or wait a while? I want to do everything I can to encourage blooms. Thanks so much. We were thrilled that they came in such a great shape!

Thank you for your nice note. There's no need to trim the leaves unless there are some damaged portions to remove. Otherwise, leave them. They will help to feed the plants via photosynthesis. If leaves turn yellow or brown due to transplant shock, they can be removed. 

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Saturday, March 10, 2018

FAQ: How to maintain dark green foliage color

The Liriope spicata I ordered has been growing great however the starter plants that were a nice dark green the first growing season have become a leggy light green color.  Is there a fertilizer that you recommend to maintain the dark green color? 
 Two things you can do:
  1. Spray over the top with a water-soluble fertilizer such as 
    Miracle-Gro®. These will feed immediately through the foliage, as well as add nutrients to the soil.
  2. Apply a granular or pelletized slow-release fertilizer such as Osmocote® or Nutricote® to the soil. Properly applied, they feed without the danger of foliage being burned by nitrogen.
Always follow label instructions.

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Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Are you a frequent visitor of botanical gardens?

We did a poll on asking, "How many times on average do you visit a botanical garden in a year?"

You responded thus:

Never - 13
1-2 times - 29
3-5 times - 17
6-10 times - 2
More than 10 times - 9

It's very satisfying to see that the majority of you take advantage of the many opportunities botanical gardens offer to the public. But I'm very surprised that almost 20% never visit a botanical garden during the year. That's a shame.

To help promote botanical gardens, we keep a blog page announcing various events at gardens around the country. I hope you'll visit the page at You can also check the gardens' event calendars.

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Sunday, February 4, 2018

FAQ: Can dwarf mondo be shipped and planted in winter?

Is dwarf mondo in a dormant state to be able to be shipped and planted at this time of year or should I wait until spring?

Mondo is evergreen, so it never really goes dormant. It just grows slower in winter. It's a very tough plant, though, and can be planted any time of year - even in summer with adequate irrigation. You shouldn't have a problem planting now so long as you can get a shovel in the ground.  Be sure to water them in so soil will be in good contact with roots. 

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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

FAQ: Should I cover my plants during cold weather with a plastic sheet?

Should I cover my plants during cold weather with a plastic sheet? It's getting unusually cold tonight here in Atlanta, so I covered my patio plants. Here's a picture. Is this good enough?

Maybe, but there are better coverings to use. Plastic sheeting has no appreciable insulation value itself. Plants that come into direct contact with it will be damaged by the cold, so it's important to keep the plastic from touching them by using some sort of supporting structure. To keep the plastic from collapsing onto the plants due to the weight of precipitation, the supports should keep the plastic taut allowing water or snow to slide off.

Another problem with plastic is that it doesn't breath, so heat and condensation can build up beneath it. Even on cold days, the heat of the sun can cook your plants.

If you're caught off-guard by cold weather, a cotton sheet or lightweight blanket would be better for covering. The fabric would allow some air exchange to avoid heat build-up, but still provide insulation. Again, if precipitation is expected, provide support. Soggy blankets are heavy!

You should plan ahead and buy some material manufactured for the plant nursery industry. One vendor offers a thermal blanket made of a "white, non-woven, needle punched polypropylene material." It's designed to "allow rain and irrigation through ... while holding in precious heat."

The same advertises a "1.5 oz. fabric [which] is ideal for protecting flowering annuals, bedding plants and vegetables from severe cold and freezing. Temperatures underneath the fabric are 6 to 8° warmer than outside conditions...".

You should be able to find products like these at an independent garden center or by mail-order.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

I think a bear got into my bird feeder...

I woke up to find my bird feeder pole bent over. Even though we live in a subdivision, I think a bear got into it. I also found my garbage cans plundered. There are bears in the mountains a few miles away. Do you have any suggestions to prevent this?

I also suspect you were visited by a bear. It would take a mighty big dog to bend a pole like that. I haven't had any such experience apart from camping, but I'll offer a few thoughts anyway.

I see that you have suet cages on your feeder. Suet could be the main attraction because it's mostly fat. Bears are omnivorous, which means that in addition to fruits, seeds and insects, they also eat meat or fat. Suet, of course, is fat mixed with seeds, sometimes fruits and even insects. YUMMY!

I also see that you have children, judging from the toys around. Bears could become a danger to your little ones as well as yourself if they become accustomed to finding food in your backyard.

So, I suggest you avoid attracting them by doing one or more of the following:
  • Keep your garbage cans in your garage, if you have one; 
  • Stop using the suet cages for awhile, or stop feeding the birds altogether;
  • While you're at it, remove anything else that bears might like to eat;
  • If you must feed the birds, suspend your feeder from a cable strung between sturdy steel posts or trees so the bears can't get at them.
I hope this is helpful.

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Friday, November 17, 2017

2018 Perennial Plant of the Year

Photo Credit: Walter's Gardens, Inc.

"The Perennial Plant Association has awarded the title Perennial Plant of the Year® 2018 to Allium ‘Millenium’. This herbaceous perennial, relative to the common onion, is a workhorse of the late summer garden. Bred by Mark McDonough, horticulture researcher from Massachusetts,

"...This cultivar is the result of a multigenerational breeding program involving Allium nutans and A. lusitanicum (formerly Allium senescens ssp montanum), selected for late flowering with masses of rose-purple blooms, uniform habit with neat shiny green foliage that remains attractive season long, and for its drought-resistant constitution.

"Allium ‘Millenium’ has numerous virtues to add to the landscape setting. Growing best in full sun, each plant typically produces an upright foliage clump of grass-like, glossy deep green leaves reaching 10-15” tall in spring. In midsummer, two to three flower scapes rise above the foliage with each scape producing two or three showy two-inch spherical umbels of rose-purple florets that last as long as four weeks. The flower umbels are completely round (spherical), not domed or hemispherical as they are in some Allium species.  They dry to a light tan often holding a blush of their former rose-purple color.  While other alliums can look scraggly in the heat of the summer, ‘Millenium’ does not let the heat bother it!  Easily grown in zones 4-9 (possibly zone 3) makes it a great perennial in many areas of the country.  In very hot summer climates it does appreciate afternoon shade."

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Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Peggy Lee Hahn Horticulture Garden

The Peggy Lee Hahn Horticulture Garden covers almost six acres of plant displays on the campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. It was established in 1984 by faculty members of the Horticulture department to serve as a resource for plant, landscaping and environmental education.

The garden featuring perennial borders, aquatic gardens, shade gardens, a native meadow, and a pavilion was named in 2004 after benefactors T. Marshall and Peggy Lee Hahn (1923-2009). T. Marshall Hahn (1926-2016) was president of Virginia Tech from 1962 to 1974.

Ms. Hahn is dearly remembered in her obituary. “During her marriage to Dr. Hahn, she was a successful and much loved First Lady throughout his presidency at Virginia Tech from 1962 to 1975. Her love of flowers and gardening is legendary, evidenced by her determination to see the Peggy Lee Hahn Horticulture Gardens and Pavilion at Virginia Tech brought to fruition. The embodiment of a gracious lady and consummate hostess, she spent many years at her husband's side while he served as President and CEO of Georgia Pacific in Portland, Ore., and Atlanta, Ga. After retirement, they enjoyed traveling around the world, but ultimately returned to Blacksburg and Hickory Hill, which she often referred to as ‘the most beautiful place on earth’ where her greatest joys were tending her gardens and spending time with her family.”

The Hahn Horticulture Garden is set in the magnificent campus of Virginia Tech. In my opinion, the real beauty of the campus is due to the Hokie Stone, a local limestone that forms the facades of most VT buildings. To ensure a ready supply, the university has owned and operated its own quarry nearby since 1869.

Visitors can reach the Hahn Horticulture Garden without difficulty, with the possible exception being “game days”. Any season is a good season to stroll the garden.

Follow me to see what grows behind that garden wall.

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