Insects and other garden pals

I’ve just spent a contented half hour watching insects in my tiny garden. It’s a very warm autumn day. The sun still has bite and I’ve not checked today’s UV level, so I carefully balanced my need for Vitamin D with my need to keep the insect-watching brief.

First there was a pair of larger orange-brown butterflies feeding on buddleia flowers – Australian Painted Ladies, perhaps. I watched them sip, then fly a lap of the yard before returning to the same flowers. One would move, then the other move to join it. Do butterflies always travel in pairs? I realised I don’t know much about these things. A small blue-grey butterfly danced around the geraniums and paper daisies without stopping.

Honeybees were everywhere, man. In the lemon verbena, the marjoram, the catnip, lavender, and almost anything else with flowers (not the geraniums). I stood and listened to their hum for a while, then checked that none had been taken by resident spiders or praying mantis. Not yet. The mantis that hunts on the letterbox was absent, and I watched a tiny fly with a metallic blue abdomen there instead. Couldn’t work out what it was doing – perhaps tasting something on the paintwork?

Now I’m getting lost in my need to identify species. I’m not getting much satisfaction either, having mislaid my favourite ID book and useful websites. I want to know the names of all the flies, the native bees, the damselflies, butterflies, and spiders. I am astonished by both the abundance and diversity of small creatures in my garden today. Are they there every day, or only when it’s clear and sunny? And if the “as above, so below” adage is correct, I wonder about the soil life.

Standing out there in the sun, I recalled the graphite drawings I did for my organic horticulture course, back in 1997. Hooly dooly, that seems so long ago now. I still have the records somewhere. I refused to kill and stick pins in anything, so spent a lot of time looking for dead things and perusing illustrated reference books. The act of drawing made me pay more attention, anyway. In my landscape design studies I focussed on wildlife-attracting species, which often emphasised indigenous plants for obvious reasons. That info is also here, somewhere. I used to be more organised than this, dagnabbit. I need to keep better records and plant more of what works.

Last year I planted native and exotic daisy species, with all my gardening pals in mind. Daisies are so diverse! The bold colours satisfied my human neighbours, and daisies attract all kinds of beneficial insects. I just watched a hoverfly move clockwise around the centre of one flower, feeding, for instance. I count on hoverflies to keep aphids under control. I sow mustard seed to attract clouds of them each spring. I planted tansy near the apple trees, and regret placing one beside the path, because their scent is anything but attractive. Not as off-putting as carob flowers, but bad enough. The yarrow is doing well, further out in the sunlight. Both yarrow and tansy are also great compost additives.

And now I’m just rambling, needing lunch. I have photos. Will I get myself organised enough to share them? Perhaps another day. I hope so. Sharing such things makes me happy. Paying attention to gardening coworkers and making them happy has delightful ripple effects.

Happy Vegemites Outside

I stripped one apple tree of its squat green produce after a rat munched one fruit. It’s the best crop I’ve had from this tree in ten years. Thinned the Pink Lady’s crop next, as I’d neglected to earlier. Another couple of months and they’ll be sweet.

The peaches are all for the fruit bats this year – my payment for the pleasure I derive in their very existence. The cat and I watch from the front door or the other side of the living room glass. I sit in silence, in the dark, waiting for the flap, flap, flap, crash. The squabbling. Their silhouettes.

The other day I told a friend that Summer had remained Praying Mantis free, a sad state of affairs. Then barely 30 minutes later I encountered one inside, striding in slow motion across an art portfolio. I approached slowly, not wanting to frighten, and gently relocated it to a shrub of the same green hue beside the letterbox. There it immediately, meticulously cleaned each leg and its face, as if to say that removing my beastly human smell was top priority. Still cleaning when I returned with the camera.

And today my companion and I walked to the river. I was drawn by the rich scent of hemlock, fennel and eucalyptus, heavy in the humid air. As we navigated the winding path, my pal made a startled noise and pointed to a blue tongue lizard, motionless in the grass. We squatted to take a closer look. I’d only ever seen dead ones in this area, and live snakes, so I was thrilled. And then a few steps further was a pregnant lizard. Her colouring was more brown than the steely grey of her friend. We couldn’t recall whether they laid eggs or gave birth to live young, so made a mental note to look it up later. (Live young.)

Icing on the proverbial was finding a tiny mushroom of a species that’s on the Fungimap list. Day. Complete.