The Garden As A Teacher

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Sometimes I find teachers in my garden.  The garden is never the same from day to day.  It deserves a good look at least once in the morning, because what is there then may not be there when I get home in the evening.  Sometimes I tell myself, when I see a flower and want to linger on it, “You don’t have time, You can do that later.”  But almost always when I come back it is not the same. Something has changed… either the flower is completely gone, or the light is hitting it differently, or maybe its been chewed on.  What I’ve learned in the garden is this.  Every moment is unique.  Nothing is permanent, so if you see something special, honor the moment and let yourself stop and drink it in.

Caterpillar01_sig.jpgThe garden also teaches non-attachment.  One such example happened recently with Monarch caterpillars.  One day there were 2 happily munching on milkweed.  They looked like they were in their 5th instar and I was excited to see them form into chrysalis’.   The next day they were still there and I took more pictures.  Any day now I should see chrysalis’.  The day after I went out to look for them, and they were gone.  I looked all over the area the milkweed was planted.  I felt disappointment, perhaps even a bit of grief for the Monarchs.  Then I stopped and noticed that what was making me feel bad was attachment.  I had grown attached to the idea of seeing them turn into butterflies, so when the world presented me with something different I felt disappointment.  The lesson is that I can choose to feel bad, or I can accept what has happened.  I can then make wise choices in the future… like perhaps next time I find caterpillars on my milkweed I’ll put them in an enclosure while they are still vulnerable.  Or maybe I just accept that sometimes in nature things don’t go as planned.

The garden is a good place to learn mindfulness lessons with subject matter that isn’t as overwhelming as a lot of personal situations, especially impermanence and acceptance.

What has your garden taught you lately?

Adding Datura To My Butterfly Garden

Datura Bloom- photo by H. Valey

So somewhat cautiously I bought a Datura plant (Datura wrightii) and put it in the Butterfly Garden section of my backyard.  Cautiously, mainly because it is very toxic, and also it is considered a weed to some folks.  To me, the term “weed” usually means it has a spreading habit.  Having a small yard, I, unfortunately, don’t have a lot of room for plants with wanderlust.  However I was won over at the thought of hosting Sphinx Moth (AKA Hawk Moth for some) caterpillars and the big showy night blooms of the plant.  Having a moth pollinator plant seemed like a logical addition to the butterfly garden.  Also, I have a friend who is crazy about these plants, she keeps buying more of them for her yard.  So heaped with a good dose of peer pressure, I thought, “sure, I’ll give it a go”.

Datura Flower – photo by H. Valey

Datura, also known as Jimson Weed.  (There is a great story about this I’ll tell later) has greenish grey foliage and will form a mounding shape.  If its in an area where it doesn’t die back in the winter, it can get up to 4 feet tall and 4 feet wide.  So if you live somewhere with warm winters make sure you give it room.  The flowers are trumpet shaped and open up in a bloom about the size of an adult’s hand.  They bloom overnight and in the morning, but by afternoon the bloom is gone.  What grows after the bloom is a thorny seed pod, sometimes called a “devil’s apple” or “thorn apple”.  I let these stay on for awhile, because they look pretty cool, but ultimately I remove them because I don’t want Datura seeds all over my small garden!

Devils Apple – Datura seed pod

The nickname for Datura is Jimson Weed, which is a truncation of the original nickname “James Town Weed”. The story goes, that in 1676 some British soldiers  who had been sent to James Town to stop Bacon’s Rebellion, had harvested some young Datura leaves and made a salad of it for one of their meals.  They spent the next 11 days in delerium, effected by the toxicity of the plant.  Below is a description of their behaviour from a book written by Robert Beverly Jr. about the History of Virgina.

“The James-Town Weed (which resembles the Thorny Apple of Peru, and I take to be the plant so call’d) is supposed to be one of the greatest coolers in the world. This being an early plant, was gather’d very young for a boil’d salad, by some of the soldiers sent thither to quell the rebellion of Bacon (1676); and some of them ate plentifully of it, the effect of which was a very pleasant comedy, for they turned natural fools upon it for several days: one would blow up a feather in the air; another would dart straws at it with much fury; and another, stark naked, was sitting up in a corner like a monkey, grinning and making mows [grimaces] at them; a fourth would fondly kiss and paw his companions, and sneer in their faces with a countenance more antic than any in a Dutch droll. “

Robert Beverley, Jr.The History and Present State of Virginia, Book II: Of the Natural Product and Conveniencies in Its Unimprov’d State, Before the English Went Thither, 1705

Abstract Close Up Datura Petal – photo by H. Valey

Here in zone 8, this plant is a perrenial.   The native species for the Texas Hill Country region is Datura Wrightii.  Like most weeds, its not to particular about soil. It does take more water than most native Texas Hill Country plants.  It would do best in a boggy area or a place that gets regular water.

Here’s some more information on Datura:

Datura profile in the Lady Bird Johnson Wildlflower Database

Growing and caring for Datura

An account of using Datura as a drug

About Jimson Weed – Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension 

Gardening For Wildlife

28225581807_431293b5c4_oI’ve been spending a good portion of my time this spring working on my wildlife garden in my backyard.  We started out 3 years ago with just a backyard full of St. Augustine grass, now I have over 25 types of native plants in the backyard and about half the grass.  Do I have more wildlife? Yes and no… When I wasn’t out fiddling in the yard all the time I did notice that we had more lizards. When I wasn’t taking such good care of the compost bin, we had raccoon visitors nightly.  Now, not as many lizards, although that might change now that there are more shrubs growing in the yard and rock piles that I won’t be mucking about with anymore.  The compost bin has been switched out from an open frame style to a closed drum, so no more raccoon salad bar, but perhaps that’s ok. I didn’t mind the raccoons, but I never got any compost because they ate all the green bits!

42843548601_7c85524141_oI have noticed more birds, as I have more native bugs in the yard with the native plants.  I’ve noticed more wrens gleaning bugs off of our dwarf Yaupon bushes, which  is quite entertaining to watch.  Plants with berries, such as the Beauty Berry bush and Pigeon Berry bring in Mocking Birds and Doves, not that I needed more Doves, but still 🙂 We also had a Painted Bunting in the yard this year, and a Red-Breasted Grossbeak last year which is a little unusual in a suburban neighborhood.

We have more hummingbird visitors now that  I have more Salvias & Batface Cuphea planted. My milkweed is doing really well this year so I’m hoping to get some more Monarch visitors at some point as well. We definitely have more spiders… jumping spiders and wolf spiders. They are quite fun to watch.  We have more ants too, which I’m not that excited about though.

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I’ve had a lot of fun picking out the plants and planning the garden, although its taking more iteration than I ever imagined.  I really enjoy just sitting and watching the animals in the yard.  I’ll be adding a butterfly garden addition soon.  We just pulled out more grass in a sunny spot, so this fall I’ll plant some pollinator annuals. I also have some plans for a new water feature for next year to replace the utilitarian bird bath.

We don’t have a big yard.  I envy the folks with an acre or more to work with, but I’ll do the best with what I have. Now that it’s summer and over 100 degrees everyday, I’ll just wait until the fall to do some more work in the yard.  Its worth it to me to have a place to escape to, to forget all of the craziness in the world.

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Plant Resources for Texas Wildlife Gardeners:

What kind of plants and critters do you have in your backyard?