Red dragonfly and golden spider, beneficial garden predators


Here be dragons! I see a lot of dragonflies in my garden each summer thanks to the stock-tank pond. Last week I watched this beautiful red dragonfly guarding his mate as she laid her eggs in the pond, dipping her tail repeatedly in the water.


He flitted from one plant to another as I edged around the pond, staying just beyond my reach, perching in jewel-like splendor amid the waterlilies.


Less lovely to my eyes, but no less beneficial for its voracious appetite for insects, an argiope spider has made a large web in the front garden. I had a hard time getting a focused photo of her until I framed her against the windshield of a car — creating the illusion that she’s nearly big enough to carry off the driver!

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Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by talented designers and authors out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Smithsonian Gardens and U.S. Botanic Garden: Capital Region Garden Bloggers Fling


As we celebrate our nation’s Independence Day today, it seems appropriate to share my pics of the Smithsonian Gardens on the National Mall and the U.S. Botanic Garden, which I toured on the recent Capital Region Garden Bloggers Fling in Washington, D.C.


A small posse of garden blogging friends — me, Cat of The Whimsical Gardener, Joanne of Down 2 Earth, Laura of Wills Family Acres, and Diana of Sharing Nature’s Garden — worked our way east along the Mall from the Smithsonian Castle, exploring the gardens outside the museums along the way. (Thanks to Cat for the photo.)


The day was pure Southern summer — hot and steamy — but we powered through a 3-hour stroll, ducking into shady gardens and an occasional museum lobby for A/C relief. Despite the heat, I found the sight of the Washington Monument stirring, as always.


My absolute favorite garden along the Mall was the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden, which wows with this dry-garden planting in the raised beds along the sidewalk. Shazam!


A closer look at the New Zealand sedge, flowering echeverias, and orange-blooming portulaca.


Silver beauties — an agave (foreground) and maybe a puya?


The conical roof in the background echoes the triangular shape of the agave’s leaves. An intentional design choice? I wouldn’t put any artistry past horticulturist Janet Draper, whom we met while we were admiring the garden. She is a talented designer and plantsman.


Coreopsis Update: My thanks to Kylee Baumle for ID’ing this as Bidens ‘Beedance Painted Red’.


Entering the garden you see a tiered fountain and plaza, with benches along the brick walls that make up the raised planting beds of the garden.


Handsome brick buildings make a nice backdrop to the garden, but the plants are the stars. I was excited to see several spherical, strappy Yucca rostrata in the lush perennials beds.


Beautiful combos


Dahlia’s dark-leaved drama


And more, with blackbird spurge


Chives


Under the shade of an old elm, chartreuse makes an appearance in hydrangea flowers and full-skirted hostas.


I like this combo of ‘Frosted Curls’ carex and wild ginger.


At the rear of the garden, a focal-point urn is planted with succulents and spilling silver ponyfoot and accented with a large steel sphere.


Additional spheres were scattered in a shady sedge “lawn.”


Along another part of the Mall, I spotted tall rudbeckia…


…and this cool bird sculpture in the garden of the American History Museum.


Eventually we made our way toward the U.S. Capitol building…


…and entered the National Garden, part of the U.S. Botanic Garden, which is planted with mid-Atlantic native plants.


The garden was mostly a wetland with a nicely designed stream and small pond, which were visually refreshing on this hot day.


It’s a good spot for bird-watching, and I spotted a robin taking a bath here.


I love this winding, cut-stone path and arching bridge.


The Botanic Garden’s centerpiece is a large conservatory, which we toured rather quickly, as we were nearly out of time.


I’ve never been a big fan of conservatories, preferring outdoor gardens, but I enjoyed our quick pass through the various collections.


It must be lovely to come here in the winter.


I’ve visited D.C. at least a half-dozen times over the years, but this was the first time I’d toured the gardens rather than monuments and museums. Unlike some bloggers who stayed extra days, I wasn’t able to visit any of the iconic monuments on this trip. That felt strange, but the Mall gardens were interesting and worth a visit. And I’m sure I’ll be back one day — if for no other reason than to see those famous cherry trees in bloom.

Up next: A woodland garden of exploration created by Peg Bier. For a look back at the classic garden rooms of designer Scott Brinitzer, click here.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by talented designers and authors out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

RIP, wren chicks — you were no match for a rat snake


Tragedy for the wrens raising week-old chicks in a birdhouse I’ve been observing from my office window. Yesterday morning, as I sat down at my desk, I looked out to check on the little family — I’ve been watching the parents feeding the chicks — and something looked strange. I got up for a closer look and gasped as I realized a snake was coiled inside the birdhouse, its scaly side blocking the doorway.


Just the day before, I’d photographed the wrens feeding their peeping chicks.


But overnight, apparently, a rat snake had Houdinied its way up the side of the house (yes, rat snakes can climb brick walls), about 8 feet from the ground, and across a foot of space to reach the birdhouse opening on the side facing away from the wall. It was quite a feat.

I was on deadline for a writing assignment, so I camped out in my office all day, looking up periodically in hopes of seeing the snake emerge. But the darn thing stayed put all day long, only occasionally shifting position and revealing the tip of its tail.


Finally I left to make dinner, and afterward I popped back into my office for another look. It was dark outside, so I had to use a cell phone flashlight to see — and I spotted movement. “The snake’s coming out!” I yelled, and everyone came running. The pics are blurry because it was dark, but you can see the snake stretching for the brick wall while still anchored in the hole. Amazing.


Our lights and activity startled the snake, and rather than risk a tricky descent it retreated back into the birdhouse, slithering in like an octopus squeezing itself through a hole.


Going, going, gone. And so are the wren chicks, sadly. But snakes have to eat too, and it’s been fascinating to watch. Being wildlife friendly means accepting nature’s brutality, which was happening even with the wrens as they fed live caterpillars and other insects to their young. I won’t kill a snake in my garden unless I feel it poses a danger to my family, and rat snakes are harmless to humans and largely beneficial, as they do hunt rodents.

Still, it’s painful to lose the wrens.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

The Austin Daylily Society will host a free garden tour on Sunday, May 28, from 10 am to 2 pm. Four private gardens featuring lots of daylilies will be open to the public, including Tom Ellison’s lovely Tarrytown garden.

Calling all pond lovers! The Austin Pond & Garden Tour is coming up June 3rd (North Austin ponds and night pond) and 4th (South Austin ponds). Tickets, which are $20, can be purchased online and include entry to all 20 ponds.

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by talented designers and authors out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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