The day begins at Chaos simultaneously with the avian chorus at dawn, the soft twitter of awakening birds rising to a crescendo of gossipy greetings and always a squabble or two over something I can’t see and our cat Max walking the length of me, shoving his big head under my pillow and pulling my hair, just to make sure I heard the feathered alarm — and where is his breakfast?
Mamie May is not far behind, her needle claws knowing exactly where to stroke the tenderest part of my cheek for the quickest reaction, and if that doesn’t work, she knows just which object she can push off the dresser and bring me to my feet the fastest. I swear she giggles when she does it.
Not that it’s a chore to rise with the sun in midsummer. As usual, July comes in with a heat wave, humid and malinger-inducing in midday, but the morning air is gentle and refreshing, the rising sun’s rays turning spider webs to golden silk threads, dewdrops to glistening prisms on flowers and leaves, and moss to deep, velvet green. Cats fed (and gone to take a nap, drat their ornery fur and whiskers), I make my morning sojourn with coffee and camera through the garden to find what new surprises await. Recently, fresh hell: The cursed deer have jumped the fence and been at hostas in the front yard — that’s a first — three nicest totally ravaged, causing a spate of foot stomping and colorful invectives followed by a temper fit of flinging an entire bag of Milorganite over the entire acre, vowing a follow-up with electric fences and a Rottweiler.
Agnes and her adorable but pesky twin spawn are fast becoming my least favorite neighbors. Despite my admonitions, she cares nothing about manners and leaving my plants alone. The defiant deer hears me but goes on as she pleases — though the evening following the Milorganite tantrum, she stood outside the fence, white tail testily flipping, and barked at me, clearly displeased with the human miasma emanating from “her” garden. I’ve read fish oil fertilizer is also a good deterrent, though smellier and attracts bears.
In light of recent news reports concerning the presence of black bears a scant couple of miles south of here, I will probably forego that particular deer repellent.
The July garden is a riot of summer blooms; most of which are wildflowers, many native, en masse where I left surplus seedlings, spilling over walks and lawn. Tiger lilies tower with fat buds and promise of more summer yet to come. The huge crinum we transplanted a couple of years ago is at its best, topped with dozens of pink lily-like, trumpet-shaped flowers and thrumming with wings of thirsty hummingbirds, ruby throats flashing. Rosy-pink native echinacea, waning in numbers over recent years, have made a comeback, circling the patio.
Daylily cultivars are a fiesta of flamenco dancers. Balloon flowers (platycodon) in blue and white with red monarda are a patriotic spectacle, and tall native garden phlox is making a pink-and-mauve statement, alive with bees and butterflies.
Hostas that still have all their leaves are blooming with tall purple spikes of trumpet shaped flowers, visited by hummingbirds in morning and moths in evening, though I’m not going to get attached to them. By tomorrow, they may have been Agnes’ salad.
Missing is a blaze of blue self-seeded larkspur; there are a few stragglers but not enough to satisfy. I may have been too hasty dead-heading them last year, or maybe there has been a crop failure. Not so with brown-eyed Susans; they continue to flaunt sunshine in all corners even on cloudiest days, a living flower arrangement with soft pink saponaria and indigo blue balloon flowers.
Dutchman’s pipevine on the herb garden fence (and everywhere else within 10 feet of it; new shoots clambering over everything in sight every day — how do they get to be 3 feet tall overnight?) is alive with huge, fearsome-looking black and orange-spotted caterpillars, the only reason this rampant vine is allowed root room.
Soon, I’ll be seeing chrysalides everywhere and a fresh flock of black pipevine swallowtail butterflies.
I have yet to find a caterpillar of a yellow tiger swallowtail, though I see the butterflies flitting high in the lirodendron and have watched black cherries and the tulip magnolia with sharp eyes, nor luna moth caterpillars — and I know they are there. If it’s hard to spot a sphinx moth hornworm at eye level on a tomato plant, a green caterpillar in a tree is even more so.
I did find a small spicebush caterpillar rolled up in a leaf on the sassafras — but only one; there are seldom more. Black and white zebra swallowtail larvae are even more elusive: They only pass through as we don’t have a pawpaw, their host plant. Nor upon inspection have I found any black swallowtails caterpillars on Queen Anne’s lace, parsley or fennel, where there were once dozens.
Despite nativist Doug Tallamy’s promises — “plant them and they will come” — I have not seen a monarch butterfly or nary an egg or caterpillar on any of our healthy, thriving, unchewed milkweed plants in several years. In decades past, I marveled at hundreds of monarchs migrating through this garden on their way south in fall, but those days vanished long ago.
The alarm is sounding loud and clear on all butterflies and moths. We are losing our most precious of Nature’s jewels: Many are threatened, and some already extinct, gone forever. If we continue to concentrate on making our planet comfortable for humans with not enough regard to fellow inhabitants, I fear it will soon become uninhabitable for us as well.
I treasure summer’s life (in spite of the weeds) and all that goes with it, all year long.
Sandy and Jim Parrill garden at Chaos, their acre of the Ozarks in Joplin. Sandy is a lifelong gardener, Missouri master Ggrdener and winner of The Missouri Writers Guild 2018 first-place award for Best Newspaper Column. Jim is a former garden center owner and landscaper; both are past members of the Missouri Landscape and Nursery Association. Email them at email@example.com and follow their Facebook page, A Parrillel Universe of Wonderful Things.