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Friday, June 29, 2012


Serendipity -- I've always liked that word. defines it thus:

[ser-uhn-dip-i-tee] Show IPA
1.      an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident.
2.      good fortune; luck: the serendipity of getting the first job she applied for.

 Wikipedia's definition is as follows:

Serendipity means a "happy accident" or "pleasant surprise"; specifically, the accident of finding something good or useful without looking for it. The word has been voted one of the ten English words hardest to translate in June 2004 by a British translation company.[1] However, due to its sociological use, the word has been exported into many other languages.[2] Julius H. Comroe once described serendipity as : to look for a needle in a haystack and get out of it with the farmer's daughter.[3]


"An aptitude for making exciting discoveries by accident" describes me to a T.  You could also call it a knack for being in the right place at the right time.

 How else could you explain the fact that, two years ago I happened to walk around to the side of the house to turn on the water hose just in time to see a little brown bird fluttering around on the ground.  It was a fledgling Carolina wren, just left the nest and still learning to use its wings.  Dad (or mom) was sitting on the fence giving vocal encouragement.  I blogged about it here: Of Canna's, Cats and Wrens.

Or how else could you explain that I happened to hear a lot of noise outside in the garden and looked out the window just in time to see a mockingbird feeding two hungry babies.  How many other people would have just ignored the noise, or not even heard it at all?

Or when I got a headache while pulling weeds in the front flower bed a few weeks ago and sitting down, came face to face with a Monarch caterpillar I hadn't known was there, as I blogged about in We Have Caterpillars!

So this week, serendipity still seems to be following me.  Remember all those Monarch chrysalises we have hanging on the front of the house?  Well this evening, before sitting down to dinner I decided to quickly fill the bird baths.  After I was done, I went round the side of the house to turn the faucet off and as I leaned over, I saw a Monarch sitting on one of the landscape rocks around the front border.  I was slightly surprised it didn't fly away immediately, but then I realized its hind wings were still a little bit wrinkled.

It was a newly hatched Monarch!!  I have never seen such a thing and to say I was excited would be an understatement!!

I did something you're probably not supposed to do, but when it closed its wings, I gently picked it up and carried it around to the dining room window to show my husband.

I set it on the window screen, where it caught Panda's attention.

It sat on the window screen flexing its wings for a while and I hoped I hadn't damaged it by picking it up.

After a few minutes though, it had moved up the screen a bit and it's wings were looking less wrinkled.

Looking at the photos, I was able to identify this as a female (notice she doesn't have the two prominent black dots on the hindwings that the male below has).

A few minutes after I took this photo she was gone.  I caught sight of her nectaring in the front border before flying off up the street.

Who knows, she may meet up with the male Monarch in the photo below that I photographed in the front border yesterday (amusingly, I assumed *he* was a female laying eggs -- how wrong can you be?) and then the cycle of life will start again and I hope she lays some eggs on our milkweed. 

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

More Monarch Progress!

One evening during the week, I headed out to the front garden with a view to pruning the milkweed, which have completely taken over the front border.  They're tall and straggly and I wanted to cut them back to encourage bushier growth, as the ones in the back garden have done.

However, as I bent over to prune, I came eye to eye with a fat juicy Monarch caterpillar.

 Moving on, I looked around some more and was delighted to count upwards of 15 caterpillars all steadily munching on the aforementioned out-of-control milkweed.

I made the decision then and there that the pruning could wait!  Since then I've been on caterpillar watch.

I was a little concerned yesterday evening as I was looking around and there seemed to be less caterpillars.  In addition, a mockingbird was keeping a wary eye on me and giving regular "chucks" of annoyance.  

Her behavior was strange and I thought that perhaps she had been eating the caterpillars and was annoyed at my presence.  However I have read that monarch caterpillars are unappealing to birds and are not eaten due to the presence of cardenolide aglycones in their bodies, which they ingest as they feed on milkweed.

Her strange behavior was suddenly explained a few minutes later when I went into my husband's den, which is at the front of the house.  I was standing by the window talking to my husband when a flurry of movement outside caught my eye.  I looked out and was thrilled to see a fledgling mockingbird clinging precariously to a milkweed stem.  "Mom" swooped down and gave a chuck of encouragement and flew up to the gable of the roof.  The little one fluttered to the next milkweed stem.

By the time I got outside with my camera, they were in the trees next door.  I couldn't see them, but I could hear mom still encouraging her offspring.

 So -- back to the Monarch caterpillars -- where were they all?  What had happened to them?

That's when I looked up to the gabled roofline of the house.  Oh what a wonderful sight!  There were several caterpillars, now hanging from the roof, obviously beginning the miracle of metamorphosis.

I took lots of photos of them, but unfortunately, when I went to take more photos this morning, I realized I've completely misplaced the Sandisk out of my camera!!!  We looked all over and couldn't find it. Hopefully it will turn up, but for now I don't have the photos I took of the caterpillars yesterday.

I did get this photo of a caterpillar picking out his spot this morning.

 He's not the first, as you can see from this longer shot.  The caterpillar is on the right.  Next to him are two new green chrysalises and further up to the left are some chrysalis shells from earlier this year.

 This one is right by the front porch and will be nice and easy to keep tabs on.

These three are on the west side of the house by the downspout.

This one didn't show much ambition -- where the others are all at least  8 feet off the ground, this one attached itself to the stonework a mere foot above ground level.  I hope it doesn't cook there - the area gets full sun.

So the total count is 7 right now (that I can find, anyway). If the caterpillar in the first photo makes it (it was still munching on milkweed this morning) it will be 8.  And if the caterpillar in the second photo makes it, the total will be 9.

I just hope they all make it -- I have read awful things about nasty bugs that suck the juices out of chrysalises and kill them.  We've done what we can, not sure what else we can do at this point.

Rather than get all melancholy about the unfairness of Mother Nature, I'm just going to Think Positive and hopefully we will have contributed to more Monarch Butterflies in the world.


Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Down Memory Lane: Newlands Corner

Back at the beginning of April I discovered a new feature on my camera, which allows me to take three consecutive photos and then "stitches" them together into one wide panoramic view.

I mentioned in my blog at that time that I was looking forward to capturing some sweeping landscape scenes on our trip to visit my family in England.

One of the places we wanted to go was Newlands Corner, a beauty spot on the North Downs Way in the Surrey Hills.  I've always thought of it as the most beautiful place in the world.

If you click on the photos, you can see a larger version.  I think I got the sweeping views I was hoping for!

Newlands Corner is privately owned by the Albury Estate and Surrey Wildlife Trust manages the area under an access agreement between the Albury Estate and Surrey County Council.  There's a visitor center, run by the Surrey Wildlife Trust, a snack bar and picnic tables at the top of the hill. 

The area comprises 255 acres of chalk downland and mixed woodlands of oak, birch and evergreen yew.  Some of the yews are apparently hundreds of years old.  The grassland is maintained by grazing animals and by mowing once a year after the wildflowers have set seed.  This helps prevent scrubby plants from taking over.

The views are just spectacular as you look from the chalk ridge of the North Downs at 500 ft, across the Weald to the ridge of the South Downs.  

 I could sit and look at this view for hours!

In the valley below is the picturesque village of Albury.

I hope you've enjoyed this brief trip to the Surrey Hills.  I certainly enjoyed seeing it again.


Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A New Visitor in the Garden

Yesterday, as I was sitting out in the garden having my morning coffee, I noticed a butterfly flitting around in the border at the end of the garden.

Judging by it's general color and size, I assumed it was a Gulf Fritillary, which have been regular visitors in years past.

However, as I got closer, I noticed this one was different.  I couldn't identify it, so after taking some photos and watching for a while, I pulled out my Gardener's Butterfly Book to see if I could find out what it was.

 I'm pretty sure it's a Question Mark, polygonia interrogationis. I didn't get a good look at the underside, so I didn't see the silvery white mark on the hind wing that identifies the Question Mark butterfly.  But everything else seemed to match the photos and description in the book.

It seemed a little bit ragged, with some parts of its hind wings missing, but it didn't seem bothered by that.

The Question Mark butterfly is a resident butterfly that overwinters as a butterfly, taking shelter in hollow trees or brush piles. Their host plants are large trees such as hackberry and sugarberry, and weeds such as nettles.

They are often listed as not visiting flowers but as you can see from my photo, that's not strictly true :-)  They nectar on butterfly bush, milkweed and asters. To attract more of them, my book suggests installing a butterfly feeder of overripe fruit.  I thought about that, but decided that would be more likely to attract wasps and ants, so I'll hold off on that for now.  

Perhaps our ripening grapevine will drop some fruit to keep them happy.  We have more than enough to share :-)


Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Down Memory Lane - Penton Hook Island

On the first day of our recent vacation to England, I took a wonderful trip down Memory Lane and at the same time, got to show Eric a place that holds very special memories for me.

I grew up on the border of Staines and Laleham in England, within walking distance of the Thames. I have very fond memories of many pleasant hours spent playing down by the riverside, in particular on Penton Hook Island, adjacent to Penton Hook Lock.

 As you can see from the map, the river forms a deep loop and the island was created when the lock was built across the neck of the loop. 

The lock allows boats to navigate the river with a drop of about 4 feet. 

On the other side of the island, the water flows over a weir.

At first glance, the island itself hadn't changed a scrap since my friend Lorna and I used to play over there. There's a path that goes around the whole island, with smaller paths criss-crossing it.  Lots of little beaches to play on and glades for sunbathing.

On closer inspection though, I realized that some changes have been made, and they are changes that, while I may not have appreciated them when I was younger, I can appreciate them now for the wildlife habitat they provide.

As we were reading about the wildlife that has been attracted to the area by the latest additions, we spotted a heron on the path ahead of us.

As we continued our walk, we must have disturbed him and he flew across and landed on the other side of the river, before posing for this photograph.

I'm afraid my knowledge of English wildflowers is limited to daisies, buttercups and dandelions, which were in abundance, as seen above.

 But there were also a lot of things I couldn't put a name to, such as the purple flower above.

I'm pretty sure this one is a rose of some sort, possibly Rosa canina - Dog Rose.

On a later riverside walk, we saw swans and cygnets, geese and goslings (I'll share those photos another day), but on this day, this lovely swan was alone.

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Queen's Diamond Jubilee

 Eric and I are now back from our vacation in England which was filled with lots of wonderful memories.  I'll be blogging in more detail later on, but for now I simply want to offer Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II my very best wishes on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee, celebrating 60 years on the throne.

Paul Grover/Reuters
While we were in England, the preparations were in full swing, so although we missed the actual event, we were able to join in the excitement.

One picturesque village we passed through was holding their Village Fete in celebration of the Jubilee and the entire village, including the church steeple, was bedecked with flags and bunting.  It was a sight to behold and I only wish I had taken more photos.

We've got some patriotic decorations here too, in the form of a Union Jack windsock hanging in the back garden - and I'll be sure and make "afternoon tea" in celebration and catch what I can on television.

I hope everyone has a great weekend.  I'll blog again either Sunday or Monday, with some more memories from our trip home to England.

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.