My very hungry caterpillar(s)

(an homage to Eric Carle)

At some point last summer, a butterfly lay an egg on a leaf.

One morning, when I wasn’t watching, out of the egg came a tiny and very hungry caterpillar. Then his brother hatched. And his sister. And his other sister…

They started to look for some food.

On Monday they ate through one Rosa ‘Gertrude Jekyll.’ But they were still hungry.

very hungry caterpillars

On Tuesday, they ate through some gardenias. But they were still hungry.

gardenia 1

On Wednesday, they ate through three 6-foot Osmanthus. But they were still hungry.

osmanthus 3

On Thursday, they ate through a Heuchera. But they were still hungry.

heuchera 2

You know the rest of the story.

We all love butterflies. We want them to fill our gardens and delight our children and ourselves. But if we want them, we had better accept that we must also have caterpillars. As depressed as the chewed-up foliage leaves me, I won’t reach for any sprays. Soon they will be big, fat, sleepy caterpillars and I can pass some time with my kids finding cocoons. I grow several plants that are favorite hosts of different butterfly species: rue (Ruta graveolens), favored by the Old World swallowtail;  bronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), favored by the Anise swallowtail; butterfly bush (Buddleja), Senna marilandica, Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea), Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum) and others. When caterpillar season is over I will cut off the decimated foliage, and wait for the butterflies to emerge.

This year’s obsession

I have recently–within the past week–become obsessed with rain gardening.

If you aren’t familiar with the concept, a rain garden‘s purpose is to expedite replenishment of groundwater and to reduce pollution by harnessing the filtering power of soil and plants. In a residential setting, the homeowner chooses a site for the garden, perhaps where water tends to naturally flow or accumulate during heavy rains, but in general it’s sited between the house and wherever the water returns to the storm runoff system. The ground is excavated between 3 and 6 inches below the normal soil line, and the soil is amended with generous amounts of organic matter to create a filter bed. Swales help direct the flow of water into the rain garden and berms slow the flow out of the garden. The water sits there and drains into the surrounding ground slowly, filtered by the soil and the plants’ roots. The plants chosen for the bed should be resilient, able to withstand about 3 days of waterlogged soil, but also be accommodating of periods of drought. The bed should not retain water for longer than 3 days, Continue reading