At the end of another cold snap, it’s fun to look back at pictures of the garden in its prime.
Front view of the front yard:
Obviously, as I’ve documented at length already, black-eyed susans were the star of the show. Blooming from late June to mid-August, taking up a huge spot right in the front of the garden closest to the street, they were amazing.
This is the year that the cup plant “leaped” — more than a dozen new plants grew away from the original cluster.
Bonus: these were young enough that they were just my size. (The older ones are several feet above my head, so I usually don’t see these flowers up-close. The ones at the top of this website were taken when I was holding a camera above my head while standing at the top of a ladder.)
White snakeroot, which was in our backyard before we were here, spread to a new area in the backyard, and also to the front yard:
Joe-pye weed seedlings made themselves comfortable between the pine tree and the sidewalk:
Of course, not everything succeeded.
Trout lily and bluebells didn’t grow, but this was completely my fault. I never got around to planting them, and the little pots blew over in the wind and then something ate them.
Blazing star was eaten by rabbits (though I planted more seeds in the fall to try again).
Vegetables didn’t grow, again. Tried in a different spot this time, too. This might be the last time; we can rely on farmer’s markets and the co-op for our fresh veggies instead.
Even the path through the garden: it disappeared around the end of June, engulfed by plants that I didn’t have the heart to pull out (or the time to transplant).
Every year it seems as if one non-native perennial fades or doesn’t survive, and this year it was evening primrose’s turn.
Allium: perhaps fading like other perennials, perhaps just overshadowed by
bigger, flashier plants around them.
From the Landscape Revival plant sale: bishop’s cap, native false indigo, and three kinds of milkweed. (More stories to come another day about milkweed.)
Lobelia from a friend. This is one of my favorite photos of the year because I have no idea how I managed to get the tussock moth caterpillar to photobomb this flower. One day I was transporting caterpillars from the backyard (which ran out of milkweed) to the front yard (which had plenty) and apparently chose that moment to stop and take a picture of a lobelia!
Purple giant hyssop, yellow coneflower, joe-pye weed, and pearly everlasting, dug up from our front yard to donate to a Wild Ones fundraiser:
Squash plant that volunteered in the flower garden — though it waited until October, so no actual squash were produced:
Bishop’s cap, which I bought in June and normally blooms in the spring, apparently didn’t want to wait for next year, and bloomed in its original pot in July:
Peachtree borer moth:
I wasn’t sure how to describe this one on Google to find its name, so I posted it on Instagram and asked for help. Within minutes, I got an answer: brown marmorated stink bug nymph.
(More posts to come about new bugs.)
Culver’s root with a stalk that split into six:
Rabbit caught in the act:
Pretty American Lady butterfly next to a faded coreopsis:
Here’s what I wrote on Instagram in June, on my first master naturalist anniversary. I think it summarizes my year’s exploration nicely.
Today is my master naturalist birthday: one year ago I earned a certificate for completing the prairies and potholes course. Taking this class was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made because it reinforced my growing interest in the natural world. Since then I’ve learned a lot and committed to environmental stewardship through events such as invasive species removal, wildflower planting, and seed collecting. But my favorite place to explore remains my own front yard.
In 2017 I started to get more involved in learning about the environmental movement. The public side of that work is not an easy thing for an introvert.
In March I participated in a three-day workshop about how to teach about climate change issues (for people who are not educators), led by Climate Generation at the beautiful, peaceful, sustainable Audubon Center of the North Woods near Sandstone, Minnesota.
I started the session feeling out of my element, since most of the rest of the attendees work in an environment-related field. I worried I lacked credibility, but quickly learned that interest and passion are enough.
I wanted to learn about the science behind climate change, as well as to be able to discuss the facts when needed in everyday life, because at this point I am not planning to be directly involved in advocacy work. Not surprisingly, my interest comes from a love of nature, particularly wildflowers. I want to make sure nature is available for future generations.
These words spoken by one of the instructors made so much sense, but I thought it was important to write them down and remember them: Being outside in nature instills a value. Do it often. Take time to be quiet and observe. People see changes when they observe multiple times.
And so did these words, written by another attendee:
I walked to the Minnesota State Capitol over the lunch hour on April 19 to observe part of this all-day event that gives citizens the opportunity to talk to legislators about water issues. I was there only long enough to see the crowd gathering for a rally in the rotunda, but there were also trainings and scheduled meetings with state representatives.
On a bright, sunny, warm May morning, I joined a huge crowd in St. Paul for a positive, uplifting show of support for the science community. I loved all the clever homemade signs. My favorite, which I saw on my way out when I didn’t have my camera ready: “March for science? Every month for science!”
People started by gathering near the cathedral, walking around looking at each other’s signs and admiring the clever slogans or asking people to pose.
And then the crowd began moving down the hill toward the state capitol.
I had to leave early for a family wedding shower, so this was as far as I went along the route, and I missed the rally:
On a very cold morning in St. Paul, I learned how to identify trees that have been hit by emerald ash borer. The branches on the left side of this image have some flaked-off bark, which is a sign of EAB. Not visible in this photo, but also present, are lots of woodpecker holes from birds looking for the bugs, which is another sign. The trunk on the right side shows a section where a human manually removed the bark to show tunnels below, left by an EAB. This tree was scheduled for removal, which made it a perfect example to study.
I attended part of an interesting prescribed burn workshop in February (could only stay for the first half, due to a family lutefisk event)…
…and Aldo Leopold Day presentations about bees at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
Right before the end of the year, it was time for a new car. My old car, a Honda Civic, served me extremely well for 17 years — yes, 17 — and nearly 250,000 miles. But when it had an electrical problem the week before Christmas, we knew it was finally time to make the move we’d been considering for probably two years.
I knew I wanted either a hybrid or an electric car, as an environmentalist who isn’t even close to being ready to go car-free. While I’m hoping for electric someday, I don’t feel that I am ready personally, and the local infrastructure isn’t quite ready enough, either. So, hybrid it is.
And while I was a couple years too early for a Civic hybrid when I bought my car back in 2000, I was too late in 2017 because Honda has discontinued them. But fortunately, on the very day we decided to look for a used car, we found one at a local dealership. I’m still getting used to the “newfangled” features like keyless start and bluetooth connection, but I love being able to see the miles-per-gallon updates instantly and know how much the heat or highway-vs.-street-driving is affecting that.
I’m at the end of my second year as a master naturalist, and this time I had an entire year to get my 40 hours of volunteering in. Once again I concentrated on stewardship activities, with just one event that was another volunteering category (citizen science).
There were lots and lots of events to remove invasive species, but this year it went well beyond buckthorn — mostly to garlic mustard, but also several others. On the other side of the spectrum, I got to plant native plants on several occasions. The fall once again brought some seed collection events, my favorite activity of all, though I was pretty disappointed that two long sessions were rained out.
In addition to those familiar activities, I got to try several new-to-me opportunities this year: my first BioBlitz, a super-fun bumblebee survey, a creekside live-staking planting, collecting acorns, and not just seed planting but also tending (inside my own home). One thing I missed doing this year: tagging monarchs.
2/4 Allemansrätt Wilderness Park (Lindstrom) for Great River Greening, 3 hours: Back at Allemansratt Park to volunteer for the third time in five months, this time for a buckthorn burn. Not surprisingly, I wiped out with an armful of brush because we were walking on snow-covered ice – or maybe the surprise is that it only happened once. 82 volunteers cleared 5 tons of buckthorn from 1.5 acres.
2/16 Mississippi National River and Recreation Area and Park Connection, 1 hour: Planted seeds into 144 native wildflower plugs (sky-blue aster, prairie onion, and rosinweed). Then I took them to my house to tend them until they were ready to be planted at Coldwater Spring in June.
3/18 City of Roseville, 1 hour: Hauled pre-cut buckthorn and other brush into piles for Stantec to remove and chip later.
3/25 Lost Valley Prairie SNA, 2 hours: Raked pre-cut buckthorn, sumac, honeysuckle, grapevines, and dogwood, none of which belongs in a prairie. Made three giant brush piles that will be burned next winter.
5/2 Coldwater Spring at Minnesota National River & Recreation Area, 1 hour: My first time pulling garlic mustard. It rained a lot over the last couple days, so the picking was pretty easy.
5/4 Lebanon Hills Regional Park, .5 hour: Showed up just 10 minutes late, but I couldn’t find the crew and “had” to take a hike through the woods instead. By the time I found them, there was only half an hour left in the session. But every little bit counts! (I need to be more creative with the photos since this is almost the same as the previous one.)
5/13 Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden, .75 hour: Brought my husband and we picked a big bag full of garlic mustard in a “maple bowl” outside the wildflower garden. The group had been there a week before, and now this area is essentially all clear of second-year garlic mustard. (There are a lot of first-year plants sprouting up, though.)
5/27 Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail, 1 hour: Garlic mustard pull. Plants were past flowering, so it was not easy to find them. This area was pulled last year, and that must have been effective, because we found very few plants.
5/30 Ole Olson Park for Friends of the Mississippi River, 1.5 hours: Dug and pulled weeds (Canadian horseweed and absinthe wormwood, but mostly dandelions) from the demonstration prairie on the west bank of the Mississippi River, just north of downtown Minneapolis.
5/31 Tamarack Nature Center, .5 hours: Joined a garlic mustard removal crew already in progress.
6/6 Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, 1.5 hours: My first time pulling leafy spurge. Most of this was in a thistle patch, unfortunately. Then we got to plant some flowers and grasses — which were grown from seed that I helped collect last fall. Very exciting to see that work pay off already!
6/13 Coldwater Spring at Minnesota National River & Recreation Area, 1 hour: Planted the surviving plugs from the MNRRA seed-planting event in February. A handful of scrawny prairie onions were the only visible plants; none of the rosinweed sprouted; and several sky-blue asters sprouted but faded. Scattered the remaining dirt, too, in hopes that there are still viable seeds that will germinate in the future.
6/22 Hastings Sand Coulee SNA for Friends of the Mississippi River, 1.5 hours: Dug cow vetch from the dry prairie, while fighting the rain — until lightning drove us away. Lots of interesting plants, and lots of poison ivy.
6/27 Grey Cloud Dunes SNA for Friends of the Mississippi River, 1 hour: Lopped sumac, which is native but forms dense colonies and crowds out other plants in this fragile prairie, in two areas. Toured the area that was cleared last year and saw so many plants thriving, which was a rewarding sight.
7/8 Blanket Flower Prairie SNA, 2 hours: PlantBlitz in which my husband and I were the only members of the public to show up despite beautiful weather. The naturalist and site steward decided to carry on, anyway. We found blanket flowers that had already lost their petals, special-concern hill’s thistle, bright orange wood lilies, purple and white prairie clovers, and several grasses (I am no help with identification of those). I’ve unfortunately already forgotten dozens of other flowers we identified — some familiar names, most unfamiliar; total number of species TBA. We got back to the parking lot covered in porcupine grass seeds.
7/11 Indian Mounds Regional Park for Friends of the Mississippi River, 1.5 hours: Invasive species removal on a muggy evening. My group pulled crown vetch. Others dug burdock, wormwood, and knapweed.
8/25 Xerces Society, 1.5 hours: Back to volunteering after an unintentional hiatus that was simply due to the busy-ness of summer. Helped Great River Greening and the Xerces Society with a bumble bee survey, collecting bees in the final summer of a three-year monitoring project. The team caught (and released) 50 bees despite a slow start when rain struck briefly at the kickoff. All were just three species — brown-belted (Bombus griseocollis), common eastern (B. impatiens), and black and gold (B. auricomus) – and most were found on Canada goldenrod or a native thistle.
8/29 Indian Mounds Regional Park for City of St. Paul, 1.5 hours: Kicked off my favorite volunteering season, seed collecting, with Saint Paul Parks & Recreation. Collected Golden Alexanders (super easy, but came with lots of little round beetles), yellow coneflower (relatively easy), and bee balm (required a fair amount of patience).
9/15 Lebanon Hills Regional Park, 1 hour: Collected acorns for a planting project to take place on National Public Lands Day. This was a particular challenge for me because trees are not my strong suit, but I tried my best. We were to collect acorns from bur oaks or white oaks but NOT from red oaks or pin oaks. More than once I found myself accidentally under one of the wrong trees, but I’m fairly confident I ended up with all white oak acorns.
9/16 Crow-Hassan Park Reserve for Three Rivers Park District, 2.5 hours: Collected seeds from a number of wildflowers: purple prairie clover, white prairie clover, cinquefoil, anise hyssop, tick-trefoil, black-eyed susan, common milkweed, and butterfly weed. We cleaned the milkweed seeds, too. Rain threatened all morning but held off.
9/19 Coldwater Spring at Minnesota National River & Recreation Area, 1.5 hours: Invasive species control: burdock, curly dock, mullein, buckthorn, crown vetch, all over the park. We didn’t find much — only one garbage bag among nine of us.
9/20 Spring Lake Park Reserve / Schaar’s Bluff for Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, 1.5 hours: Collected hoary vervain seeds from a remnant prairie, and yellow coneflower seeds from a restored prairie.
9/21 Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, 1.5 hours: Pulled weedy absinthe from a triangle-shaped patch, then planted several types of native flowers and grasses. Quite muggy on the last day of summer.
10/3 Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, 1.5 hours: Seed collection: one hour of purple prairie clover, a half-hour of big bluestem. Gorgeous early-autumn evening after rain all day, though the sun set before the end — at just 7 pm.
10/14 Phalen Regional Park for City of St. Paul, 1.25 hours: Collected seeds from partridge pea (a new one for me) as well as little bluestem.
10/22 Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden, .75 hours: Removed buckthorn. In my area the soil was so loose, and most of the plants so small, that most could be pulled by hand; the rest were dealt with via weed wrenches.
11/4 Grey Cloud Dunes SNA for Friends of the Mississippi River, 2 hours: Cleared an entire field of staghorn sumac, and started on the invasive honeysuckle. We got to leave the debris in place because the area will be burned next spring.
11/18 Middle Creek at Meadowview School for Friends of the Mississippi River, 1.75 hours: Planted dogwood live-stakes on the banks of Middle Creek, part of the Vermillion River Watershed, on a chilly morning. Friends of the Mississippi River is hoping that 50% of these stakes will “take” next year and eventually provide stabilization and habitat. This creek has been recently re-meandered (my favorite new term) to a more natural and healthy curved shape that supports plant and animal diversity, and today’s project will continue the restoration. This project was a last-minute addition for me (I had already planned to do another event later that morning) but I was so curious about the live-staking process that I had to add this one too.
11/18 Lost Valley Prairie SNA, 2 hours: Hauled precut brush such as sumac and honeysuckle and maybe some sumac into giant piles that will be burned when there’s snow, followed by treating the stumps to try to prevent them from growing back.
12/16 Central Park Arboretum for City of Roseville, 1 hour: Cut, hauled, and treated buckthorn and honeysuckle.
Late this summer I decided to participate in a million milkweed challenge. A local environmental restoration organization asked volunteers to collect seeds from common milkweed, whorled milkweed, and butterfly weed, which will be used to grow plants and also used in seed mixes. Milkweed is vitally important because it’s the only thing that monarch caterpillars eat, and its flowers also attract other pollinators.
At one point in June, just one small section of our front yard looked like this, so in late autumn there were plenty of common milkweed pods to be found:
Here are some
and here are some
…though I decided to just leave this pod.
I didn’t collect every last pod, especially leaving the ones that had already opened so the seeds were starting to fly, so there is plenty of seed left over in the yard to regenerate next year. I still ended up with a table full of ripe pods:
I decided to remove the seeds myself, rather than turn in pods, and that meant I had a lot of work to do. Since the collection process had taken place over several weeks, by the time I began working, not all the pods were in good shape anymore. Some had already opened and started to separate
and some of the pods had gotten a little damp due to weather, so I found a few pods like this:
Those squiggly lines aren’t worms, they are sprouts!
(I discarded pods like this and only included fresh seeds.)
To remove the seeds, I held on tightly to the “fluff” end of the pod, then scraped downward across the seeds to loosen them into the container.
This pod is going smoothly.
This one ended perfectly: all the seeds came off easily.
But sometimes, no matter how tightly I held on, the seeds didn’t cooperate — and with not a lot of patience for picking up seeds one by one, when that happened, I set that pod, fluff, and seed aside.
Wayward seeds still attached to their “parachutes” floated all over
and once I realized just how many seeds were falling through the wire table down to the patio stones, I put on a tablecloth and caught quite a few that were missing the container.
About three hours and 159 usable pods later, I had one gelato container filled to the brim:
And what I’m left with now is a bag half-full of fluff.
I recently heard that a Canadian company is starting to make jackets using this for stuffing instead of down or synthetics. Maybe I could go into business! (Though at about one coat or pillow a year, it wouldn’t be a very lucrative business.) The fluff is super-soft.
I’m several weeks behind on posting these photos of the garden. Most of these photos were taken October 20 and 25.
The last turtlehead held out until the 20th:
The new native false indigo turned yellow:
So did the whorled milkweed:
Lots of pretty goldenrods:
A gathering of large milkweed bugs on bee balm:
Butterfly weed seed pods popped open:
Beautiful red stems of giant purple hyssop:
The spiderwort cultivar resprouting:
Hepatica leaves visible, though I didn’t see flowers reblooming like many other people did:
A squash, unexpectedly growing in the flower garden:
Part of a paper wasp nest, probably carried in by wind:
Milkweed fluff stuck on bee balm:
I could watch bees crawl in and out of turtlehead flowers all day. Mostly it’s just bumblebees and honeybees that do this, because they’re big enough to open the flowers. And I see more bumblebees than honeybees here.
They force their way into the “mouth” of the “turtle” and rustle around inside for quite awhile, then exit and find another flower to repeat the process.
Video of a bumblebee from a few years ago:
Sometimes they need to stop and regroup after they exit, brushing the pollen off their antennae or eyes, I assume.
This flower has a honeybee inside, barely visible.
This year, at first, I thought I had noticed a difference – bumblebees climb out backwards, while honeybees turn around and climb out face-first – but then I saw a bumblebee turn around, too. (And the video above shows a bumblebee that turns around, so I had seen that before.) In fact, I don’t seem to have any photos of bumblebees backing out. So much for that theory.
This one is my favorite: looks like it was quite the effort to squeeze out of this blossom.
Only a little hint of the insect inside.
Every autumn I seem to find a surprise or two in the yard, usually spring flowers that should be long-gone. Four years ago it was an iris. I’ve also found late-blooming snowdrop anemone more than once.
This afternoon, while checking up on the status of the yard, I spotted this single wood violet.
The vegetable garden is also a good spot to find late bloomers, usually plants that just didn’t quite get enough time to finish before the first frost. But today I spotted beans that are making their first appearance of the year. There are two plants, each completely tangled up in thistles. (When they didn’t appear on time, I didn’t bother weeding the garden.) Strange time to be starting!
Black-eyed susans that are opening look like they’re sleepy and having a hard time waking up.
My hair is a bit wild in the morning, too.
One last stretch, and then this one will be ready.
At the end of the day, this one looks like it’s ready for sleep.
All tucked in for the night. This doesn’t look comfy to me, but what do I know? I’m not a bee.