My first gardening project was to turn a garden bed in the middle of the front yard into a pollinator garden. It was full of weeds and hostas. I left some weeds (especially violets and creeping charlie) in the spring so bees had something to visit, but gradually I planted native and pollinator host plants, then removed most of the weeds and the hostas.
|This is what it initially looked like.|
Since we moved in spring, I had plenty of native plant sales to visit. Aside from those, I managed to find a bunch of native plants at Gurnee Garden Center and Pasquesi Home & Garden (though the latter has less of a selection in that category).
|Progress! I yanked out the solar lights and planted the first three plants. I unfortunately didn't take consistent update photos.|
For this first year, I planted Asclepias incarnata, A. incarnata 'Cinderella', A. exaltata, Carex bebbii, C. radiata, Foeniculum vulgare, F. vulgare 'Purpureum', Dianthus 'Neon Star', Liatris spicata, Lobelia siphilitica, Lobelia cardinalis, Lupinus perennis, Monarda fistulosa, M. punctata, Silene regia, and Silphium laciniatum. The only plants I lost were the poke milkweed and lupine, both of which were doing great for a while but suddenly died within a few days. So, not too shabby for my first garden! I don't have much gardening experience, so I'm basically winging it.
I planted the milkweed for monarchs, of course, but wasn't sure what to expect as far as monarch eggs. I waited for some time and stopped checking daily when I kept finding nothing, but one day I checked and I found two 5th instar monarch cats! I brought them in to pupate, and released them a day apart. Shortly after, I started finding an insane amount of eggs and larvae! Overall there were 30 healthy butterflies successfully released, with an overwhelming majority being female.
I had some issues with OE, so I lost a lot of larvae, unfortunately. That's nature for you. Steve reminded me that its better to focus on the butterflies we released, because ultimately our goal is to help the monarchs, whether that ends up being five or fifty.
Raising monarchs was educational for us, especially for the kids. I was inspired to do more research on monarchs, and read some books on them as well. I learned quite a few interesting things about their relationship with milkweed and their life cycle. The most rewarding thing was feeling connected to these cute little critters. I never knew how tiny they started out until I saw in person. It is amazing watching them go from egg, to the few instars, pupating, and then releasing a beautiful butterfly!
I definitely need to plant a lot of milkweed because we nearly ran out this first year. Those little caterpillars sure can eat! I collected some seed from the swamp milkweed, and hopefully I successfully propagate it so I have free plants for the monarchs in 2018. :) I am considering tagging migrating monarchs for 2018.
I didn't see any swallowtail eggs on the Apiaceae plants this year, but I saw one swallowtail butterfly! The fennel and bronze fennel really took off, and seem to be popular with some pollinators. I am happy with my decision to put them in the pollinator garden. I snagged the fennel at Fresh Thyme in Kenosha for less than a dollar, and it was looking small and a bit worse for wear, but it recovered nicely.
I think next year I'll add a few more Liatris since it did so well and popular with pollinators. I was so pleased with the Monarda spp.; I knew M. fistulosa would do well but I had never seen M. punctata before. I love the colours of spotted beebalm!
I'm really excited to see how the sedges fill out. They are really neat plants! Lobelia siphilitica was constantly covered with bees, and Silene regia was such a gorgeous pop of red when it finally bloomed. There was only foliage on the Lobelia cardinalis and Silphium this year.