Sunday, September 26, 2010

A popular plant

Since we moved in to our new house this summer, I've been observing what's growing in the garden, thinking about what I want to keep and what will become compost fodder. Some plants that seem to impress visitors to my garden don't really appeal to me, such as the tropical-looking hibiscus, which gets rave reviews from visitors pretty often—it's quite showy. But it just looks so out of place in an upper midwest cottage-style garden, I can't see it sticking around and fitting in gracefully. Perhaps more significant, though, to me, anyway, is that, popular as it is with my human visitors, the plant's big pink flowers don't seem to be attracting any insects. That's not surprising, I don't think there's any relative of the hibiscus (that I'm aware of) that's native to Minnesota. So, naturally, there are no insects that have evolved here alongside it.

A marked contrast is this New England aster (despite its name, it's a native plant) which probably planted itself, since it's wrapped itself around the clothes pole, an unlikely place for a tidy gardener to have put it, and I believe that Julia Johnson, 60-year owner/resident and gardener here, was a tidy gardener. The garden itself has what I would call a good foundation—it was well-planted and well-tended at one time. This aster has not won any complements from my human visitors, but today I noticed how it's teaming with insects—not only the clouded sulphur butterfly that stands out in this photograph, but if you look closely, you will see two different kinds of bees on the flowers, too. Besides those caught in the photo, I noticed one or two types of wasps, and a couple other types of bees, and multiples of all these species all over the abundant blooms of this weedy flower.

I had been a little concerned that the raspberries growing along a fence on the south side of the backyard weren't getting pollinated—quite a few of the blossoms never formed into fruit this fall, and I haven't seen many bees in their vicinity. But the few straggly raspberry plants in the tangle of weeds between this clothes pole and the alley do seem to be producing fruit quite nicely, even though I haven't been able to get into the thicket to pick them. Those raspberries must surely be benefitting from their close proximity to this magnifient polllinator magnet, and that's as beautiful to me as it's pretty purple flowers.