Yesterday, I saw a hummingbird in the garden. It’s the first one I’ve seen since moving into the house last October. She helped herself to some nectar from the native butterflyweed plants before buzzing off to her next stop. Pretty excellent way to start the week.

The butterflyweed is a magnet for native pollinators, such as this small bee.

The butterflyweed is a magnet for native pollinators, such as this small bee.

She wasn’t alone either. The butterflyweeds are some of the most popular plants in the garden. The air around them literally thrums with the double wings of countless native bees, which can’t seem to get enough of the yellow and red flowers. Butterflies, of course, are also frequent visitors. I’ve identified at least six species on the plants: buckeyes, gray hairstreaks, cabbage whites, swallowtails (eastern black, I think), great southern whites and monarchs. I’m sure I’ve missed more than a few, too. Elsewhere, the garden is alive with wasps (which appear to love the taste of cabbage worms), bumblebees, praying mantis, toads, catbirds (which, unfortunately, LOVE the taste of blueberries), chickadees, goldfinches and much more. I’m never alone when I’m in the garden:

It was already early fall when I moved into this house last year. This is my first summer here, and I’ve changed the front yard dramatically. This yard is nothing like the one I bought; I don’t think there was a single flowering or fruiting plant in the whole of the front yard. Now, there’s barely anything there that doesn’t bloom or fruit — or both. So, I can’t really compare the life of this garden to last year’s garden. Even so, I’m fairly confident it was nothing like it is now. The hummingbird I saw today might be the very first hummingbird to visit this yard in years, for example.

Cabbage worms munch on my kale leaves. Until, that is, the native wasps munch on the cabbage worms.

Cabbage worms munch on my kale leaves. Until, that is, the native wasps munch on the cabbage worms.

When I started this garden, I was thinking mostly about homegrown yummies. The plan always included flowers (how else to hide the veggies?), and I eventually decided to go mostly native (the few exceptions are there because the pollinators LOVE them). Along the way, I’ve created a habitat that supports a wealth of wildlife. The vegetables aren’t apart from this system. They are a part of it: an assortment of pieces that help make up the whole. The cabbage whites come for the nectar, and leave their eggs behind on the kale. Then, when the cabbage worms hatch and munch, the native wasps show up to collect a tasty treat for their own larvae. Yes, the worms do leave scattered holes in the leaves, but the wasps ensure that the damage is never plant-threatening. And, I’d choose holes over chemicals any day.

The praying mantis also help control the cabbage worm population, by dining on the adult butterflies.

The praying mantis also help control the cabbage worm population, by dining on the adult butterflies.

It’s easy for gardeners to lose sight of the habitat, and see only the vegetables. But, nature doesn’t work that way. Neither do gardens. And I’m really very glad about that.

Perhaps we ought to stop calling them vegetable gardens, and start calling them vegetable habitats?

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