I used to be all about the vegetables, when it came to planting and maintaining my own garden. I wanted plants that delivered something tangible to the [kitchen] table. At a bare minimum, it used to be the ingredients for a basic salad – instant gratification when it came to throwing a feel-good meal together at last minute. My view on that has changed as my vegetable growing objectives have grown and become more about the longer-term, sustainable output of an ever-increasing variety of fruit and vegetables for my kitchen and pantry. However, it has been a gradual, not an overnight, appreciation for what plants of the flowering, non-edible variety have to offer in aesthetic and more productive ways.
From time-to-time, we have lived amidst wonderful, flowering gardens surrounding the various homes we have lived in. However, I admit that I enjoyed cutting off their blooms and putting them in a nice vase much more than I enjoyed cultivating them or walking about my garden to take in their splendor. My current garden is mostly native New Zealand plants, with many of them quite striking when in bloom at different times during the year. My favourite is the flax, but for the creaky-squawk of Tui birds that it brings into our garden throughout the year (we have one or two still hanging around now in winter). We have our fair share of hebes, manuka, renga renga lily, heath and one or two others that attract the bees when my veges need them. First it was to ensure my tomatoes, capsicum and seeding plants for propagation came through. Now, it is also for my own viewing pleasure – especially over winter.
Last summer, my marigolds, alyssum and sunflowers put on a great show and right now my newest flower beds are beginning to bloom: alyssum, dianthus, pansies, violas, lobelia, cineraria and stock. I am enjoying their bursts of colour, but have been given some advice to pluck the flowers off these young plants quick smart to encourage the plants to bush out. It will be worth it in the long run.
Besides bringing colour and bees to my garden, I love to bring the bold, bright colours of monarch caterpillars and butterflies. The first swan plant came from a wild seedling that I spotted when we first arrived here nearly five years ago and I let it continue to self seed around the place. When the plants are still small, I gather them into the vege patch and watch them grow until they are big and can support a community of monarch caterpillars. Right now is the best season ever, with between 20-30 monarch caterpillars having feasted on the swan plants over the last few months. There are only two caterpillars left on one plant at the moment, with five chrysalis’ hanging from the native renga renga lily nearby and one fat caterpillar who attached himself two days ago and will soon construct a bright green and gold chrysalis around himself for metamorphosis. The renga renga has a wide flat leaf that provides shelter from the rain and other weather during this most delicate time for the monarch.
The second to last photo has 5 chrysalis’ and one newly attached caterpillar. They activities occuring on and around the swan plant during autumn and winter make for something interesting to see in the garden when growing has slowed down.
The next day, I went out to inspect the chrysalis’ and look what I found, a freshie monarch butterfly. Lovely!