Monthly Archives: November 2011

The Fifth Season

rose in november

It is indisputably late fall; almost the first day of winter. Or, as they say in Britain, Midwinter, which makes more sense, because as soon as December 21st rolls around, the days start getting longer…and isn’t winter the season of short days and long nights? (My husband insists the days keep getting shorter into January — “the lag time”.)

Right now it feels like some kind of fifth season is upon us. Most of the deciduous leaves are gone, blowing across bare yards and sidewalks. Muted colors fill garden and sky. The days are indeed short, making me want to hibernate. But wait…there are roses still blooming, and the air is warm enough for confused gnats and fruit flies to hatch. I leave my coat home, and wonder if I can still get the whole sunny border dug up and replanted before it gets “too cold” — whenever that may be. This strange fifth season made Thanksgiving a delight, and makes Christmas seem months away! I’m enjoying it all with a sense of dread that tomorrow or the next day will suddenly be freezing cold without any warning. Meanwhile, I continue transplanting, snipping fresh parsley and chives from the garden, and working without a hat or coat.

Has the climate changed? Eighteen years ago, in 1993, it began snowing the first week of December and there was snow on the ground until Easter. Happy Birthday, Philip!

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Insect Dreams

praying mantis

A praying mantis was spotted in the garden west of the greenhouse earlier this summer. Working over there last week, I saw a mantis (the same one?) in the same place. Its colors had changed from the bright green of early summer to a duller green and brown that perfectly matched the maturing plants I was now cutting back for the winter. I began to wonder about the praying mantises and their habits. Do they live in the same place all season? I know they are considered beneficial insects, but what do they eat? Here is what I found:

The praying mantis is named for its prominent front legs, which are bent and held together at an angle that suggests the position of prayer. The larger group of these insects is more properly called the praying mantids. Mantis refers to the genus Mantis, one of fifteen in the order Mantodea.

By any name, these fascinating insects are formidable predators. They have triangular heads poised on a long “neck,” or elongated thorax. Mantids can turn their heads 180 degrees to scan their surroundings with two large compound eyes and three other simple eyes located between them. They have excellent vision and can detect motion, light, and shadow up to 50 feet away.

praying mantisMost mantids are 2-6 inches long. Typically green or brown and well camouflaged on the plants among which they live, mantids lie in ambush or patiently stalk their quarry. They use their front legs to snare their prey with reflexes so quick that they are difficult to see with the naked eye. Their legs are further equipped with spikes for snaring prey and pinning it in place.

Moths, crickets, grasshoppers, flies, and other insects are usually the unfortunate recipients of unwanted mantid attention.They eat what we consider pest insects and also what we consider beneficial insects.  However, the praying mantis will also eat others of its own kind. The most famous example of this is the notorious mating behavior of the adult female, who sometimes eats her mate just after—or even during—mating. Yet this behavior seems not to deter males from reproduction. [ ! ] Females regularly lay hundreds of eggs in a small case, and nymphs hatch looking much like tiny versions of their parents. The nymphs are also known to cannibalize each other if slower moving brothers and sisters are encountered before other food sources.

mantis close upThere are about 2,000 species of mantids worldwide, with about 20 species native to North America. Contrary to popular belief, none of the North American mantids are endangered.  Two species, the Chinese Mantis and European Mantis, were purposely introduced to control pests.  Egg masses and live insects can both be purchased for release.  Although nymphs and adults alike eat indiscriminately, their voracious appetites do help control some insect pests in the garden.

Dream by escher“Dream (Mantis religiosa)” by MC Escher,1898-1972

Season of Change

maple leavesIt’s that time of year:  Fall is a season of renewed energy in the garden with crisp clear weather and bright sunshine. It’s a great time to plant without fear of heat or drought killing off new transplants. Comfortable temperatures inspire us to tackle bigger projects than we would consider in the heat of summer or in the crazy-busy rush of spring.

So, down come two trees! The snow and ice storm on October 30th just barely grazed this part of Rhode Island, but did result in a little sprinkle of snow, a killing frost, and some broken  branches. One of the two Styrax japonica in the main garden broke in half, giving us a great excuse to remove both. Don’t get me wrong, these are beautiful little trees, absolutely loaded with flowers in the spring. But they have been a maintenance nightmare, as every pretty white flower becomes a seed, and every seed sprouts into a little seedling with a big taproot! Removing these seedlings before they overran everything around them took hours of labor. They needed to come out and the storm made the final decision for us.

styrax japonica flowersWhat will they be replaced with?                                                                                         Any suggestions?

logs and chainsaw

moving brush pileOn another note: The autumn color has been much less vibrant this year, warm wet weather and hurricane salt spray taking their toll. Many leaves are still a dull, tired green. I laughed out loud when Doug Norris of The South County Independent referred to the trees as zombies, “the deciduous undead”!