The clock is ticking on the garden’s open day deadline. In my dreams I see calendar pages shuffling off into the air, Hollywood style, like the leaves that are falling from the weeping cherry tree too soon because it’s so, so dry. The soil in places is like powder; young trees are wilting, and I can’t drag the hoses around fast enough. I will not want to open the water bill when it comes next month.
And whose idea was it to pick up a last minute freelance job (Appliances! Furniture! Color trends!) that’s got me indoors writing when I need to be out pulling weeds? (How about paying for the water bill, and all those extra plants I keep tucking empty spots in the borders. Oh, right.)
But Sunday afternoon, I was out weeding, working right by the front door. A friend who will be helping out on the open day would be dropping off her daughter to baby sit in a few hours. I didn’t want her to be losing sleep over the state of the place (that’s my job) so I thought I’d spiff up the beds on either side of the front walk.
I’m about to start yanking the weedy vines that are covering a little boxwood, and I spot these:
Now I’m pretty sure those are monarchs, but they can’t be, I think, because this is bindweed, the weed I was planning to pull, and the monarchs only eat milkweed. Nine comes over and takes a look. She thinks they’re monarchs, too. Time for little research: monarch + larvae + bindweed -- and boom: Monarch Watch gives me blue vine, Cynanchum laeve, which, though often mistaken for bindweed, is a milkweed (though not an Asclepias, which are the milkweeds I know) and a great late season food source for monarch larvae.
Back out to the garden, and here I am having a little paradigm shift right there by my front porch. Well of course, it’s a milkweed; that explains the bright orange yellow aphids, and look, there’s the cluster of white flowers just like the photo, and oh my: look at all of the caterpillars.
Six comes on over, considers the situation, and announces “We’ve got a caterpillar farm!” – and it’s him, out of all of us, who spots (even before he goes back inside to get his cowboy/rancher hat) the tiniest ones of all. We count nearly twenty monarch larvae, grazing away on the leaves.
Checking on our fattening herd this morning, I discover the lovely little things are doing my weeding for me.
Counting down the days until the garden’s open, I’m fighting the urge to be conventionally presentable, remembering overheard chatter a few years ago during a Garden Conservancy open day at a truly great local garden, which the chatterers found “kinda weedy.” I keep reminding myself that one visitor’s “weedy” is somebody else’s “habitat,” and that’s part of what this garden is about: lots of things live here, not only us; some times I just let things be, gardening by benign neglect.
So, caterpillars: Eat up guys and girls, and then how about if you all go off and transform yourselves into lovely butterflies and let me mop up your leftovers in, say, about a week and a half. Can we do that? Do we have a deal?
Postscript: As of 6:00 pm Monday, it’s raining, gloriously raining.