About ten days ago, just before I left for a few days in St. John’s, the rock of my birth, I was driving out to Springvale Nurseries when I spied a big clump of milkweed growing by the side of the road. I’d seen it before; the first time was two years ago when it was in bloom and its sweet fragrance enticed me to pick a few stems to bring home and put in a vase. Last spring, I went to dig some up to have in my garden, but was too early; later in the spring I figured I was too late.
Not this day. I had bags and a shovel in the car with me. I’m sure the people driving by in their cars thought I was nuts; down in the ditch, swatting at blackflies and digging clumps of ‘weeds’ out, stuffing them into bags, and lugging them back to my car.
I proudly brought my treasures home, after stopping at Springvale’s garden centre to water the bags. Once home, I put the plants in the shade to slow their wilting (they WERE, after all, about to bloom and somewhat traumatized by being dug up on a warm summer’s day…studied the garden, looking for the perfect place to tuck these new acquisitions in, and planted them carefully.
“Hold everything!” I can hear some people hollering. “MILKWEED? Milk WEED? That’s a weed, dummy! In some places, it’s classified as a noxious weed! What WERE you doing digging up weeds???”
The answer is real, real simple, dear friends. Milkweed is the host plant of choice for monarch butterflies. Their caterpillars eat the leaves, and grow to impressive size before pupating into those perfect specimens of flying flowers, monarch butterflies. Milkweed is also stunningly beautiful, fragrant as all get out, and I happen to love it. We have rosy milkweed and regular butterflyweed here in our gardens, but I wanted the regular milkweed too. And now, we have it. And behold, look what else we have:
Yup. This is the cherished caterpillar of the monarch, munching his way through the plant’s big lush leaves and flower buds. Eat hearty, amigo.
Because of this fellow—and there are a few of them—I won’t even put down diatomaceous earth around the hostas or heucheras, where slugs have been playing havoc. What’s a few holes in leaves when soon, very soon, there will be monarchs in our garden, to join the other butterflies that have been providing us with great pleasure?
And as for those who think milkweed is a weed—a weed is any plant growing where it is not wanted. Meaning that my magnificent Alchemyst rose would be a weed, were it growing in Bruce Rand’s broccoli fields, or the fabulous orange echinaceas if they were festooning Darryl Steele’s grain fields. In our yard, in our garden, milkweed is welcome.
We’ve had some sunlight and warmth in recent days—mostly, while I was away, naturally—but now we’re back to humidity and fog. Actually, the rain was welcome as the soil is getting a bit dry despite the humidity, but alas, this humidity causes balling in some of the roses; Thomas Lipton, Alchemyst, Polareis, even my perfectly divine Snow Pavement, all are experiencing some balling of flowers, resulting in soggy brown clumps that refuse to open. Not all flowers are going this way, however, and those that do open are so perfectly glorious that we simply cherish each one and ignore the brown Kleenex clumps hanging on some branches.
And this summer, victory has finally come to us. Four years ago, I got a rose called Veilchanblau, the so-called blue rose, from somewhere—I forget what nursery or gardener. For three summers prior to this one, I have waited patiently for flowers. I don’t know whether this is a slow maturing plant, or whether we’ve just had too much cold the past few winters, but til this year, not a flower, not a bud; just lots of green shoots.
This spring, I went out and frowned at the rosebush. I trimmed it a bit, tidied up around it, gave it a dose of Seameal, and threatened it.
“If you don’t flower this year, I’ll replace you with something that will,” I told it.
Well. Whether it took me seriously, or whether it was just a slow bloomer, I don’t know. But voila: we have flowers. Lots and lots of them. They aren’t huge, and they aren’t real blue, but they’re certainly more blue than anything else I’ve seen…and they’re lovely.
I wouldn’t have really replaced the plant, not while it is alive, of course. But we won’t tell it that.