Monday, September 17, 2007

Actea, Butterflies, Cimicifugas: My ABC's

Monday, September 17, 2007

Just after 8 PM and now 44.6 degrees here on the mountain above Peacham Pond. It was a glorious day and although I was in central Vermont most of the day, the bright sun made my meeting times speed by, nudged along by the thought of getting home and into the garden. Gail and Liz were in the garden when I arrived and they had 8 crates of daylilies prepared for planting. The process has been working well and although I am the lonely planter at the new site, there is a tranquility to the job that is satisfying. People honk as they go by or stop to chat for a while as Arthur did today on his way home from an environmental consulting job in Maine. I kinda like it!

I loaded up the truck and was about to shove off when the large Cimicifuga atropurpurea caught my eye. This is the plant we love so much even though it has been reclassified as Actea. Plants should have the correct classification and it seems the quite often now, plants, like people, are renamed. I am growing more tolerant of the new plant names but the same people with new "people" names still kind of gets to me a bit. Today a Karen who was then a Karin is now a "Car-in" kind of Karen. You've got me............ I'm still just plain George.

This particular Cimicifuga was originally in a gallon pot for sale until Gail decided it would accompany some daylilies and other plants in a 30" clay pot. This whole affair started 3 years ago now. At the end of the first year the plants had to come out of the clay pot so it wouldn't freeze and break. It was the end of the season when even good gardeners grow tired of digging holes and Gail planted the Cimicifuga right next to where it rolled (not easily!!) out of the pot. At the end of the following year Gail tried to coax me to dig up the giant and move it but I said I'd only be involved if she bought me a tractor with a backhoe. She bought me the tractor this year but without the backhoe and the Cimicifuga, now well over 9 feet tall, is a giant and still planted in the same place.

Today the plant was an obvious magnet for butterflies and bees of all sorts. I don't recall seeing the monarchs fly to it as they did today but they were not alone. The plant is so tall and the scapes so long that it waves in even the most gentle of winds so getting a good picture for a non-photographer like me is a challenge. As you click on these pictures to enlarge them, you'll have a good opportunity to see the beauty of the flower scapes. The flowers are often described as bottlebrush and it is an appropriate characterization.

>The monarchs are feeding heavily as they are about to shove off for points south. There is an especially good hatch of late and earlier this week just before I mowed along Route 2, there were a dozen or so "newborns" fanning their wings to straighten and dry them. This is really interesting if you've never seen it before. At one point I couldn't stand it any more and I got off the tractor and let one climb on my finger so I could watch it closer. I read in the Sunday paper of a group that was netting and tagging monarchs. If I owned a day stretcher I'd probably have time to give this a try too.

Next year when you visit Vermont Flower farm at its new location, looked down at the west fence. You'll see a couple clumps of Actea that by September 2008 should be 10 feet tall. Since that fence is bounded by a field of wildflowers, my guess is that it would be worth a walk down to count the insect varieties including butterflies. If you're a photographer too, take a camera and see if you can help me with a good shot of what you see. In the meantime, stop by Peacham Pond Road. You can't miss this year's Actea in bloom!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond and waiting for Gail to return from an autism forum in Montpelier. The night is still, except for the call of the invisible but very nearby barred owl.

Great gardening!

George Africa