I took my cup of coffee out on the front porch today and sat on the steps for awhile, and I am struck, once again, by the depths of my own ignorance.
My garden is alive.
It’s an ugly garden by the standards of garden design–it’s got one of everything, and a couple of bare patches, and in other places things are shoved too close together, and it has not yet achieved that dramatic growth that makes even an ugly garden lavish and impressive. I have not arranged things based on harmonious color combinations, being rather more concerned with “Is there room?” and “Will it grow here?” because I’m really quite inept and cannot take these things for granted, so orange zinnias are trapped between purple sage and pink petunias and lavender chives. I did try to put the tall stuff in the back or the middle of the bed, whereupon the native vervain grew a lot taller than the stuff behind it and the Culver’s root, which “adds an impressive vertical element to the garden” promptly fell over, and is now providing an impressive horizontal element to the garden.
And the poppies, which I remember as a deep red-orange from the days my mother grew them, are a sort of regrettable-bridesmaid-dress salmon pink.
Despite these failures on my part as a designer, the garden is alive. It is hoppin’. And this is where my own ignorance strikes me, because, while I’m pretty confident that in a few years, I’ll be good enough at the plant-care thing to maybe practice some garden design, I’d need to go back to school and get a degree to ID most of the stuff out there.
I can do birds pretty well. Birds aren’t bad. I’ve even gotten pretty good at our local lizards–the garden’s alive with Carolina anoles and five-lined skinks and even a few adult broadhead skinks, which are big honkin’ monsters the color of burnished metal. But the bugs…lord, the bugs.
I’m trying to keep up with the butterflies, but even they defeat me. What are those rapid little grey things? What’s the big bark-colored moth spending the day on the inside of the porch roof–or that other one–or that one? Those things are some kind of skipper, but I’ve no idea what. The red-spotted purple, the question mark, the mourning cloak I love, but what kind of azure are those teeny bopping things, and what’s the little grey one feeding in such numbers on the oak tree sap?
Get off butterflies, and I’m lost completely. What’s that vividly colored green hopper, or that bouncing iridescent green thingy? What are those slender beetles with the white spots, or that stark white hopper with the little red spot? What’s that adorable bee(?) with the snout and the big eyes that looks like it was designed by Miyazaki? Or that other bee that lives in the ground in the prairie planting? Who emerges from the green almost-inchworms? The airy-legged spiders lurking by every flower are called “harvestmen” but there’s at least a dozen kinds of them around here, and the wee jumping spiders come in all shapes and sizes. I can ID a flower longhorn beetle, a common resident of the yard, but the large black beetles lurking in the leaf mulch still baffle me.
Fire ants, okay, I can spot the mounds–but what are those large, single-minded black ants who are carefully clipping the big leaf veins on the top leaves of my pink turtlehead and downy skullcap and harvesting the resulting sap? (I find them fascinating, even as I am annoyed by their pruning of two good plants.)
I might have a chance of IDing the giant green dragonfly that goes by with a wingspan as big as a goldfinch, but the regular flies defeat me utterly, and I didn’t feel like disrupting the single snail on the black-eyed susans to haul him inside and google him.
And I can tell if it’s a ladybug, but not if it’s a native or a Chinese import. (This one was from my place in Raleigh–there are some spotless varieties in the yard here.) There is simply too much variety to insects–what is it, a fifth of all species on earth are beetles?–and without a camera along every minute, I am overwhelmed by my own ignorance.
They seem to like my yard. That much I know, and can be happy with.
On the other hand–as proved by the fact that I had to stop this post to yank a very large Lone Star tick off my ass–there are elements of our local insect life with which I am entirely too familiar. (Lone Stars do NOT carry Lyme disease, for which I’m grateful. They do carry some other weird thing that makes your joints hurt, but I apparently haven’t gotten it yet, and it’s supposed to clear right up with antibiotics.)