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Atlanta, GA, United States
Diana is a Georgia native from the small town of Jefferson and now lives in Atlanta suburb Lakewood Heights, where she now spends her free time gardening or writing about it. Another of Diana’s passions is raising Monarch butterflies. To date, Diana has raised and released over 40 Monarch butterflies and plans to raise more every spring and fall. While not internationally known, Diana has already created quite a name for herself both locally and online. She’s referred to by names such as Garden Guru, Flower Lady, Butterfly Queen, and her favorite, Little Caterpillar. She has helped to spearhead programs including South Bend Park Community Garden. Her online friends depend on her gardening expertise. After starting this blog two years ago and with encouragement from friends and family, Diana is now working on other writing endeavors. She still writes her blog, but will soon start writing gardening blogs for a local publication. Diana is also writing a book that she hopes will be published sometime before she dies. Gardening is Diana’s peace of mind, her solace from the stresses of the world. She’s has never felt better than she does when she has dirt under her fingernails.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Confessions of a Seed Hoarder

When we bought our first home, I was beside myself with excitement at the prospect of having my own yard to garden in rather than hauling pots of plants from one rental to another.  I started collecting seeds from every avenue available to me; stores, roadsides, vacant yards (even those that weren’t vacant until I realized what devastation taking even a few seeds could cause a fellow gardener); anywhere I could find them.  Then I discovered the world of online seed trading.  The generosity of so many people willing to encourage a gardener in training only fed my growing obsession, not to mention that I discovered there where so many different kinds of plants out there I had never seen or heard of.  I spent hours researching plants that others had to offer and searched everywhere I could to find something to offer in trade.  I even bought seeds just so I could negotiate a trade for some seeds that were rare and unusual to this novice gardener.  Living in hot, dry, Atlanta; many plants just don’t do well here, but that thought never even crossed my mind.  I didn’t care if the plants were water hogs, invasive, poisonous, or weeds for that matter.  And I didn’t care if they were practically impossible to germinate, if experienced gardeners told me the seeds were sterile, if they could take up to eight years to germinate, if they would take just as many more years to bloom, or if they may not be true due to open pollination.  All I cared about was how pretty they were in the pictures I saw online and all the beauty I was confident would surround my home.  I even imagined passers by stopping their cars to admire my yard.

 October of that same year rolled around and I knew I needed to start getting organized for winter sowing, so I started going through all my seeds.  They were organized into two major categories:  annuals and perennials.  The perennials would be sown first, so I focused on those.  I used zip lock bags to organize them alphabetically.  I had one bag for each letter of the alphabet; well make two bags for a several letters.  I quickly realized that each and every pack of seeds was so precious to me that I couldn’t set any of them aside to grow later.  I knew there was only one solution.  I started with the bag labeled “A” and started writing out plant tags; then on to B, then C, the D and so on.  Soon I thought my fingers would surely fall of and decided to sow what I had tags prepared for and move on to the others after I finished.  A mountain of containers later I was eager to see them grow in the coming months, but exhausted and tired of smelling dirt.  After a much needed break, I started plugging away again.

My first year growing from seed produced over 500 plants for my half acre lot.  This didn’t even begin to put a dent in the number of seed varieties I had collected all year and I could hardly wait to start more of my stash the following year.  I finally had the beautiful gardens I had always wanted and tried (with absolutely no luck mind you) to assure my fiancé that I was done collecting more seeds and would focus only on what I had already collected.  Needless to say, that thought stayed in my head only until the next time I was out shopping.  I spied a seed rack out of the corner of my eye and without blinking, was drawn to the rack as though I had floated across the room to it.  I didn’t remember taking the steps to get there, or the steps to the register, or the steps to my car afterwards.  The only thing I did remember was trying to hide my newest treasures inside my purse so my fiancé wouldn’t see them when I got home.  I was able to slide them into my seed boxes without being noticed.  I should have known that I couldn’t hide my secret treasures forever.  I was busted after he overheard a phone conversation with a dear gardening friend when I ecstatically told her about my newest additions.  As I rounded the corner, the look on his face said it all.  There stood a man thinking to himself, “She has lost her mind and there is no hope!”  He walked away frustrated and I, of course, continued to chat away about my latest score.

Three years later, I’ve learned a lot of things about gardening.  For one thing, I know I can’t afford the water bill to keep many of the water hogs I felt I so desperately needed.  I also know that I’m too impatient to wait years for blooms, much less germination and there are a lot that are easier to buy as a plant that trying to germinate their seeds.  There’s also a ton of flowers that are a pure nightmare and have taken over so many spaces in my gardens that I rip them up in huge chucks every year trying to finally rid myself of them.  I won’t even share those with others for fear that I’ll add one more plant to the list of Georgia invasive plants like Kudzu and Wisteria are now.  One of the lessons I’ve learned that I love most is about seeds coming true to the parent plant.  Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t.  And I truly love that.  I’ve enjoyed some of the most beautiful plants I’ve ever had that didn’t come true to the parent.  I’ve even had some that I love more that I would have if they’d been true.  Another lesson I’ve learned about gardening is that I don’t have enough space to plant every plant I would like to have.  I came to the conclusion that I owed it to other gardens in the world to share seeds with people who would be able to water them, to wait for blooms and germination, to keep them under control, and would have room for them.

And so, last night as I sat on the bed with mounds of seeds spread around me, I was looking forward to finally being ready to sort through my seeds and “spread the love” with those that wanted to grow them.  I first started with a tray of seeds that I had never taken the time to file away with the rest of my stash.  Eying each one carefully, even having to take the time to look up a few as I had forgotten what type of plant they were, I started four piles.  One for those I didn’t want to grow, one for those I wanted to grow but had enough of to share, one for those I wanted to grow but had a small amount of, and finally one for all the seeds I’ve collected from my own yard and planned to donate to the local park or share with others.

Suddenly, I had an epiphany.  I had gone through about 50 packs that were shared with me by others and had only set aside two, yes two packs that I was willing to part with.  I even had hundreds of seeds collected from my own garden that I was torn about parting with even though I still have the parent plant growing in my yard.  That’s when it hit me like a freight train.  I am a seed hoarder.  Frustrated with my selfishness and greed, I put all the seeds away and started writing this blog.  I still have hundreds of different types of seeds and I know that I’ll never be able to sow all of them.  I’ve come to the realization that I may not ever get rid of all these seeds and it deeply saddens me to know that they might not ever achieve what they are intended for.  I guess my fiancé and his sister are right.  I need a 12 step program to overcome my seed addiction.  I’m just having a hard time finding that program.  I’d be happy to start one myself, but I think I’d do more harm than good to those coming to me for help.  Thus, I digress.  I wonder if I can find any new seeds from my online friends.  I haven’t visited them in a while………

Thursday, May 12, 2011

I've got blogger's block and can't shake it so I'm asking for your help!

Greetings followers and fellow bloggers.  I know I promised a blog update a while back and have yet to post one.  Well.........I guess I've developed blogger's block.  So.........I'd like to ask all of you for help.  Most of you know that I love to garden and that is really the whole reason I started this blog.  I want to share my love of gardening with the world, help educate those starting out, and provide new ideas to fellow gardeners.  While I'm enjoying working in my gardens and haven't the opportunity to raise Monarch butterflies this spring, I seem to have lost my mojo for writing so to speak.  I can't seem to find anything to write about that truly inspires me.  That's why I've decided to look to all of you.  Let me know what interests you most about gardening.  What kinds of things you'd like to learn more about.  Tell me about your biggest gardening challenges.  I welcome any and all of your thoughts.  After all, you all are the reason I decided to start a blog anyway.  I look forward to receiving all your feedback and to getting my bloggers mojo back STAT!!!  :-)

Ladybug Manor's Resident Gardener

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Stay tuned AND follow me on Twitter!

I know I haven't posted in ages, but rest assured that I'll be back to posting soon!  I'm gearing up for the gardening season and have a ton of information I'd like to share with my followers!  Stay tuned for new posts!

Also, you can follow me on Twitter - @ladybugmanor - thanks for those that do!

Friday, December 4, 2009

So you want to raise a Monarch Butterfly

Monarch butterflies are not commonly seen in Georgia and I’ve eagerly set out to change that.  They enjoy nectar from most all flowering plants, but will only lay their precious eggs on Asclepias, more commonly known as Milkweed. There are more than 100 known species of milkweed and it grows naturally in Georgia.  Most of the Milkweed once found here in the wild has been eradicated by due to development.

Fall of 2008 was definitely the most exciting year in my gardening experiences.  I bought milkweed plants in hopes that I would finally get to witness the life cycle of the Monarch butterfly. The first variety I purchased was Asclepias Tuberosa, Silky Gold.  This particular variety of Milkweed has clusters of bright yellow flowers on it.
I carefully watched the plant all summer long and was delighted one fall afternoon to find a tiny Monarch caterpillar on it!  Since Monarch caterpillars are often eaten by predatory insects, I quickly moved my little one to milkweed plants on my screen porch and witnessed a miracle!  Raising a Monarch in this type of controlled environment increases its survival rate by 90%!
The life cycle of a monarch butterfly from egg to adult is completed in about 30 to 45 days and each phase offers a look into the unique life of this beautiful creature. Monarchs usually lay a single egg on a plant, often on the bottom of a leaf near the top of the plant.  The female attaches the egg to the leaf with quick-drying glue which she secretes along with the egg.  For egg laying, they do not seem to discriminate milkweed plants whether they are currently in bloom or not.  The egg is white or almost clear and is ridged and spherical in shape.  It is difficult to tell just how many eggs each female lays during her life, but the average is probably from 100 to 300.  The eggs hatch about four days after they are laid.
It is during this stage (larva or caterpillar) that Monarchs do all of their growing.  They begin life by eating their eggshell, and then move on to the plant on which they were laid.  The baby caterpillars eat the milkweed leaves, and grow very quickly. I have found they tend to prefer eating the leaves of plants that aren’t in bloom to those that are.  The milkweed contains a poison that the monarchs use as a defense.  While the poison doesn't hurt the monarchs, it makes them taste bad to birds and other predators.  Predators soon learn to avoid the bright colors of the monarch caterpillars and butterflies.
When the caterpillar has become too large for its skin, it molts, or sheds its skin.  At first, the new skin is very soft, and provides little support or protection.  The new skin soon hardens and molds itself to the caterpillar, which often eats the shed skin before eating more of the plant.  The intervals between molts are called instars.  Monarchs go through five instars, the first of which being as small as a grain of rice and the largest being as big as your pinky finger.
The caterpillar spins silk from its spinneret, a body part on its lower lip, and attaches its hind end to a branch with the silk and small hooks in the anal prolegs. It hangs head down and molts for the last time. During the pupal stage the transformation from larva to adult is completed. Pupae are much less mobile than larvae or adults, but they often exhibit sudden movements if they are disturbed.
I’ve never seen anything more beautiful than a Monarch Chrysalis. In the beginning it looks much like the caterpillar in color with white and yellow stripes, but different in form. Then its magnificence really starts to show in the most beautiful color of jade with little speckles of gold so pure it looks like someone painted it on. Suddenly the Chrysalis begins to change yet again.  It starts to turn clear and the wings of the young butterfly can be seen.
Once the wings can be seen through the Chrysalis, it only takes about a day before the butterfly starts to emerge.  Happy to stretch its wings for the first time, the Monarch slowly opens and closes them for a few hours.  This is necessary so the wings will dry, otherwise he won’t be able to fly.  Close attention during this time will also show that the Monarch butterfly can’t eat immediately.  He has to exercise his Probocsis for a while before it is fully functional.  This is what the Monarch uses to eat nectar.
Male and female Monarchs can be distinguished easily.  Males have a black spot on a vein on each hind wing that is not present on the female.  These spots are made of specialized scales which produce a chemical used during courtship in many species of butterflies and moths, although such a chemical does not seem to be important in Monarch courtship.

As the weather gets colder, monarchs begin their annual migration.  Tens of millions of these butterflies travel as far as 2,000 miles to spend the winter in a mountain forest in Central Mexico.  Monarchs sometimes cover whole trees of eucalyptus and pine groves, so many that you can barely see the tree itself.   People from all over the world travel to this part of Mexico each year to witness this amazing event.  In the spring the Monarchs will make the long journey back north, and lay eggs along the way.

Watching Maximus rest gently on my finger tips, I really felt like he was thanking me for helping Mother Nature raise him.  He seemed to enjoy this short stay on my hand before flying off into the sunset.  I can only hope that he tells all his friends in Mexico to stop by and visit me so I can watch the cycle all over again.

Before you squish, you MUST read this!

The best way to attract butterflies and moths to your gardens is not just by providing nectar plants. I've found that having their host plants available works great too. That means that they not only come to your garden for nectar, but they also breed in your yard and increase the number of each type you'll see in you yard year after year.

Before you start trying to get rid of "pesky" insects eating the leaves on your plants or before you pick a caterpillar off your plants, be sure to know your host plants. You just might be trying to get rid of something that you actually want in your yard!

Another thing to keep in mind when cutting back plants in the fall is that many of these butterflies and moths will go into chrysalis right on your plant. So be careful when cutting back. You might end up tossing a budding arrival into your compost!

Here’s a list of butterflies and moths along with their host plants. Please note that this may not be a complete list.

American Painted Lady - Artemisia, Borage, Burdock, Daisy, Everlasting, Hollyhocks, Knapweed, Mallow, Sunflower, Wormwood
American Snout - Hackberry
Anise Swallowtail - Queen Anne's Lace
Baltimore Checkerspot - Plantain, Turtlehead
Banded Hairstreak - Hickory, Oak, Walnut
Black Swallowtail - Carrot, Dill, Fennel, Parsley, Queen Anne's Lace, Rue
Cabbage White - Broccoli, Cabbage family, Mustard, Nasturtium
Checkered White - Mustard family
Clouded Sulphur - Alfalfa, Apple, Cassia, Clover
Cloudless Sulphur - Senna
Comma - Elm, Hops, Nettle
Common Buckeye - Heliotrope, Loosestrife, Monkeyflower, Plantain, Sedum, Snapdragon, Verbena
Common Checkered Skipper - Hollyhock, hibiscus, mallow
Common Sulphur - Vetch
Common Wood-nymph - Purpletop Grass
Dainty Sulphur - Spanish Needles, Sneezeweed
Dogface - False Indigo, Indigo Bush, Prairie Clover
Eastern Comma - Elm, Hop Vine, Nettle
Eastern Pygmy Blue - Glasswort
Eastern Tailed Blue - Clover, Pea Family, Vetch
Emperor - Hackberry
Falcate Orangetip - Rock Cress, Mustard
Falcate Orangetip - Mustard,Rock Cress
Fiery Skipper - Grasses
Fritillaries - Violets
Fritillaries - Violets
Giant Swallowtail - Citrus Tree, Hop, Prickly Ash, Rue
Gray Hairstreak - Clover, Hibiscus, Hollyhock, Mallows, Rose of Sharon
Gulf Fritillary - Passionflower Vine, Pentas
Hackberry Emperor - Hackberry Tree
Least Skipper - Grasses
Little Wood Satyr - Grasses
Little Yellow - Cassia, Clover, Senna, Legumes
Long-Tailed Skipper - Beans, Legumes
Milbert's Tortoiseshell - Nettle
Monarch - Milkweed (Asclepias)
Mourning Cloak - Aspen, Birch, Cottonwood Ash, Elm, Hackberry, Poplar, Wild Rose, Willow
Northern Cloudywing - Legumes
Orange Sulphur - Alfalfa, Clover, Vetch
Pearl Crescent - Aster
Peck's Skipper - Grasses
Pipevine Swallowtail - Dutchman's Pipe, Pipevine
Purplish Copper - Dock, Knotweed
Queen - Asclepias (Milkweed)
Question Mark - Basswood,Elm,Hackberry, Hops, Nettle
Red Admiral - Nettle
Red-spotted Purple - Apple, Aspen, Hawthorn, Poplar, Wild Cherry, Willow
Sara Orange tip - Mustard family
Silver-spotted Skipper - Black Locust Tree, Tick-Trefoils, Wisteria
Silvery Blue - Legumes, Lupine
Silvery Checkerspot - Aster, Sunflowers
Sleepy - Cassia, Clover, Sennas
Southern Dogface - Indigo Bush, Prairie Clover
Spicebush Swallowtail - Sassafras, Spicebush
Spring/Summer Azure - Apple, Blueberry, Dogwood, Spirea, Viburnum, Wild cherry
Tiger Swallowtail - Aspens, Sycamore, Tulip Tree, Wild Black Cherry, Willow, Yellow Poplar
Variegated Fritillary - Passion Vine, Violets
Viceroy - Aspen, Cottonwood, Cherry, Poplar, Willow
West Coast Lady - Mallow, Nettles
Western Tiger Swallowtail - Alder, Ash, Aspen, Poplar, Willow
White Admiral - Aspen, Birch, Honeysuckle, Poplar, Willow
Wild Indigo Duskywing - Crown Vetch, Wild indigo
Zebra Longwing - Passionflower
Zebra Swallowtail - Pawpaw Tree

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Winter Solstice is the Heart of Winter Sowing

The time for winter sowing is almost here, making my thoughts turn to Winter Solstice. Annually, December 21st (or somewhere near that date) is typically the day of Winter Solstice. It’s seen by most as the shortest day of the year and the reversal of the gradual lengthening of nights and shortening of days. Many religions observe and celebrate Winter Solstice for various reasons, and Native American Tribes even celebrate Winter Solstice to this day. Their ritual is one that honors your ancestors, belief system, and a way of offering prayer and gratitude. Many Winter Solstice celebrations involve eating foods that contain grains and other seeds. This, of course, leads way to Winter Sowing.

The Winter Sowing season starts on the Winter Solstice. Winter Sowers celebrate the day by sowing four sets of seeds. Each seed set will honor Remembrance, Life, Mother Nature and Faith.

There are a few extra steps I’ll be taking before I start sowing my seeds though. I’ll start by walking through every room my house burning dried sage to keep destructive thoughts and feelings away. Then I’ll enjoy a nice exfoliating scrub and moisturizing lotion, followed by a glass of wine. Then I’ll imagine how comfortably “Nekkid” I am under my clothes! No one else has to know that I’m “Nekkid” under there, now do they? It’s a state of mind, letting all negative thoughts slip from your mind and thinking about the good things that come from giving back to Mother Nature. Now, about those seeds……

Seeds of Remembrance should be seeds of flowers that remind us of someone we knew and loved but is now gone from our lives forever. I’ll be sowing Asimina triloba (Paw Paw tree) seeds in honor of my dear Paw Paw.

Seeds of Life should be seeds of plants that make fruit or nectar and invite birds and butterflies to our gardens. For this, I’ll be sowing shrub seeds to provide cover for birds, seed of nectar plants to attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees to my gardens, and seed of butterfly host plants to aide the butterflies in breeding. I have over 150 types of seed to sow for this category.

Seeds of Trees should be sown to honor Mother Nature. Trees will help clean the air we breathe, reduce excess sun on the soil, and provide shade for our heads on a hot summer's day. Prunus persica (Peach Tree) seeds will be sown to honor Mother Nature.

Seeds of Faith should be seeds for plants from a zone that is beyond ours in warmth. It will help us to remember that we accept the "Leap of Faith" in our hearts and know that Mother Nature is capable of miracles. I live in zone seven and will sow seeds of faith for plants that are only hardy to zone eight. Leap of Faith seeds I’ll sow are Matchless Cuphea ignea (Cigar Plant), Plumbago auriculata (Plumbago), Mimosa strigillosa (Sensitive Plant), Chenopodium ambrosiodes (Epazote, Mexican Tea), Stevia rebaudiana (Stevia) , Isolepis cernua (Fiber Optic Grass), and Ipomoea alba (White Moonflower).

The upcoming weeks will be spent prepping my winter sowing containers, writing out plant tags, sterilizing soil, and organizing my seeds to sow. It’s a lot of work, but the rewards are so much greater. I just hope that Mother Nature smiles down on me while I’m sowing those Winter Solstice seeds and sends a wave of gardening success my way.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Confessions of a Serial Gardener

When I was a child, I’d go out on the tractor with my Paw-Paw to harvest vegetables from the garden. All we needed were 5 gallon buckets, a gallon of cool water and a pocket knife. After a hot Georgia day filled with picking every ripe vegetable in sight, we’d stack our loot onto the tractor. Then we’d always sit under a shade tree when the work was done….gulping the then warm water, while Paw-Paw cut chunks of cucumber and tomato for us to snack on. That time spent with my Paw-Paw became the defining moment of my life and it wasn’t just about eating my vegetables! Gardening soothes my mind, exercises my body, and provides an outlet for my creative impulses.

In my mid twenties I was diagnosed with ITP. ITP is a blood disorder where your antibodies become confused, so my antibodies started killing off my platelets making it nearly impossible for my blood to clot. The only answer short of removing my spleen was to take prednisone. The medication caused me to balloon from 130 pounds to 185 pounds in 18 months. I was constantly tired and the medicine had horrible effects on my mind. Everyday life became so overwhelming that I was at a loss of how to express my feelings. I didn’t know where to turn and even thought I might be losing my sanity. I started walking every afternoon just so I could get away from the ringing of phones and sounds of television and radio. I started out blocking out everything around me. Slowly I started to hear the birds singing and notice the butterflies fluttering through the air. They’d been singing and fluttering all along; I’d just never taken the time to notice them before. I bent down to pick a wildflower when a bee suddenly landed on it. A flood of tears started to stream down my face as memories of my Paw-Paw came flooding back. The release I’d so desperately needed had finally come. Mother Nature was right there with me and she’s never left my side. Suddenly everything became clear to me. The plants take care of the animals. The animals take care of the plants. Without one, we won’t have the other. The beauty of Mother Nature pushed me back into the world clear headed, strong and ready to take on the any obstacle.

Gardening has been great exercise for me and although I often wake up with sore muscles, bumps and bruises from my gardening too, it never stops me from getting back out there the next day. Those aches and pains are nothing compared to carrying around all the weight I gained while I was sick. Gardening provides the regular physical exercise that can prevent heart disease, obesity, diabetes and osteoporosis. I once heard a saying. “Gardening is a labor of love. Exercise is just plain labor.” Growing my own vegetables also provides nourishment to my body. They are one of the most natural foods available and contain different vitamins and minerals the body needs. What’s the best part to me? I know where my vegetables came from, that they were grown organically and that they are truly fresh.

My gardening experiences have opened my creative mind allowing me to design all kinds of garden spaces. For me, there’s a quiet place to watch the birds play in the bird bath and the butterflies feed on flower nectar. For Wyatt, there’s a nice little place filled with the sweet scent of honeysuckle where he can start a fire and watch the embers glow. And for my Paw-Paw, there’s a Pioneer Garden in remembrance of the hard work those before us put into the land. My garden spaces have provided me with a sanctuary for thought; given me new friends, both human and animal; and even encouraged those with a so-called black thumb to create their own gardens. Gardening connects me with nature and the rhythm of life. It slows me to garden time. A place where there’s always time to “stop and smell the flowers.”

Over 30 years have passed since the time I spent with my grandfather and the significance he put on our earth lives on in my mind, body and soul. I see so many analogies to life through the plants I tend - the way they respond to light and water (just like people who respond to love) and the way they face adversity just like people- through severe drought and lots of heat. Gardening saved my sanity when I needed it most - when I needed to see that life does go on, that although there is death there is also life, that although colors may fade they can also reappear even brighter, that although winter brings about the bleak and dreary.............spring is always around the corner waiting to bring new life......