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Aug 29

Tall grasses make a dramatic statement

Grass is beautiful – clean lines, delicate flowers, subtle colours, fluid movement… In conventional gardens, it has played an important but supporting role – mowed and contained to provide a setting for buildings, specimen trees and other plantings.
These days, however, grass is a star and garden centres are offering extensive selections from around the world.
Many of the more stunning species are North American. Andropogon (Bluestem), Sorghastrum (Indian Grass), and Panicum (Switch Grass) were the dominant grasses of the Tall-grass Prairie, which, along with the Mixed-grass Prairie and the Short-grass Prairie, once stretched across the continent’s central plains.Read more
Aug 8

Of Great Goldens and Little Browns

The Great Golden Digger Wasp - Photo  courtesy of Jennifer HowardThe Great Golden Digger Wasp is a large and colourful insect, shades of gold and orange and russet. We found her diligently digging a nest on a bare patch of ground on the Carolina Dyke in Tiny Marsh. Down she went, into the loonie-sized hole. Pause. Out again, backwards. In and out, with metronomic regularity as our group gathered to watch.

Then Jennifer decided to get a frontal shot and moved into the wasp's line of sight. I thought this might not affect the dogged activity, but no. The wasp stopped and started a dance – it reminded me of the Maori war dance – stamping her feet and waving her antennae at Jennifer. After which, she turned around and did the same at the rest of us. So we decided caution was the better part of valour and beat a retreat. Jennifer got some great pictures.

Despite the dance (or my interpretation of it), and despite its intimidating size, the Great Golden is not aggressive and minds its own business if left alone – though it will sting if you do something like step on it. It’s a beneficial and solitary wasp that does not live in colonies although several females may be found near each other in suitable nesting areas of bare ground, in full sun, with flowering plants nearby.

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Jul 15

If the Giant Swallowtail visits, are you ready?

They said she was on her way, and on June 12, there she was - the Giant Swallowtail, floating through the flower beds, the largest butterfly I have ever seen in these parts. I hadn’t heard she was coming so I grabbed a camera to document the find, and a day later a naturalist friend identified her, telling me there had been recent media reports about how this species is moving north.

I didn’t think, when I saw her a few more times, whether she might have special needs, this creature forced northwards by global warming, even though the question of assisted migration is one of my preoccupations. Then today, I was moving some potted Hop Trees out of a sheltered location close to the potted Northern Catalpas, thinking they all need a bit more space, a bit more sun, so they’re ready to be planted out at some stage.

That’s when I saw it. The poo on the leaf. And then I noticed that the poo, at first glance the poo of a very large bird, in fact had a structure, markings, and evidence of activity: the Hop Tree leaf that supported it was half gone.Read more