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Monday, August 29, 2016

Flower rave at Locust Grove

A wedding in Poughkeepsie afforded an unexpected treat when I noticed an extensive pollinator garden outside the pavilion where a lovely rehearsal dinner was underway. This was at Locust Grove, the nineteenth century estate of Samuel Morse, inventor of Morse code. Early the next morning I went back to study the plants in more detail and take pictures.

Looking toward the Hudson from Locust Grove

    I recognized familiar annual and perennial flowers blooming in full sun in a long straight border. It was impressive to see how many insects were mobbing the flowers, including butterflies, bees, and many others. I was delighted to see that mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum), had a prominent place in the garden’s design. 

Mountain mint punctuated by cosmos

Mountain mint’s white bracts stood out in clumps along the length of the garden, and pollinators were swarming around it. 

    Last month I brought home a little seedling of this plant, a gift from Peggy Anne Montgomery of American Beauties Native Plants at the Garden Bloggers Fling. Peggy Anne predicted it would attract lots of insects, and here it was in action.

    The Locust Grove garden combined exuberant flower colors, from orange cosmos and rich red zinnias to blue sages and purple tall verbena.


Tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis)

    At the Fling, Peggy Anne emphasized the importance of providing not only flowers for nectar but also host plants. These are the plants native insects lay their eggs on so that their larvae will have the food they need to eat.  An insect may be able to use nectar and pollen from many kinds of flowers, but most need particular host plants in order to reproduce. In Bringing Nature Home, entomologist Doug Tallamy estimates that ninety percent of native leaf-eating insects are specialists, depending for food on a narrow group of plants that co-evolved with them.
    Organic farmers make sure to encourage native flowers, whether they’re weeds or intentionally planted selections, near their crops to maintain a population of pollinators and beneficial insects that live off leaf-eating bugs. Keeping these insects around improves a farm’s yield and maintains a healthy ecosystem.

A tiger swallowtail sips nectar from a zinnia

    I’m trying to do the same thing on a much smaller scale. By planting some of the lovely insect-attracting plants I saw flourishing at Locust Grove, I’m hoping to build up a balanced population of herbivorous insects and insect predators. 

    The herbivores at the base of the food web provide food for birds and mammals as well as pollinating plants we need for food. The predators, eaters of other insects, will keep the leaf-eaters from laying waste to my garden—at least that’s the hope. 

A dragonfly in my garden is a top insect predator

Fortunately my livelihood doesn’t depend on my flower or vegetable crops, so I can have fun experimenting.

1 comment:

  1. Like you I am a fan of Douglas Tallamy and his book bringing nature home. I planted mountain mint last fall and it definitely lives up to its reputation. I haven't visited much this summer, but now that our big renovation is over you can count on seeing me more often.