Another double header – two gardens in one day

by Sandy Garland

Tuesday must be a good gardening day. Actually, it was the weather that dictated planting the new garden beds at the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne on Tuesday morning – cloudy with showers expected in the evening.

Lynn Armstrong, who is designing a series of raised beds there, asked if the FWG would like to contribute plants to a bed devoted to butterflies. Yes, of course, was the answer, so I delivered Joe-Pye Weed, Flat-topped Aster, Butterfly Weed, Pussytoes, Nodding Onion, Gray Goldenrod, and Virgin’s Bower (clematis) to the area early Tuesday morning.

Of course, I couldn’t just walk away, so I helped Carol McLeod plant, put up shade cloth, and fetch poles, scissors, etc. The other beds contain a variety of annual flowers and vegetables, garden perennials, etc., so “our” bed will be a showcase for native species.

Lynn Armstrong of the Ottawa Horticultural Society and colleague planting annuals.

Lynn Armstrong of the Ottawa Horticultural Society and colleague planting annuals.

Carol MacLeod watering the future “butterfly bed” next to the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne Park

After lunch, it was time to meet the Tuesday Old Woodlot group at the FWG. Jesse and Melanie were the only volunteers, but they did the work of a full crew and we had a great time chatting and learning new things about the wildlife at the garden.

We had decided in advance not to try to do anything strenuous, as the day was hot and humid. Instead, we looked at a lot of recently planted trees and shrubs to give them some space and always-needed water.

We started by watering and mulching the maple trees planted by Ottawa U students last Tuesday (see Double header – two volunteer groups in one day). Young trees really need water and rain just doesn’t provide enough to get their roots growing. Then, to hold the water in, we added a thick ring of wood chips around each tree.

Jesse and Melanie mulching newly planted Sugar Maple trees in the Old Woodlot.

Jesse and Melanie mulching newly planted Sugar Maple trees in the Old Woodlot.

Toadflax (Linaria vulgaris)

Toadflax (Linaria vulgaris)

Next we had a look at the south edge of the woods where we’ve planted a variety of fruit trees last year and this spring. The trees are all doing well, but the “weeds” are doing better. We removed some Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense; deceptively named, as it’s not native), a bit of Motherwort, all the Common Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) we could find, and the ubiquitous dog-strangling vine. We’re keeping the latter at bay in this area, but we’re always on the lookout for masses of seedlings, where we missed a DSV plant last year.

At this time of year, many native plants and “naturalized aliens” are growing faster than DSV. Some of those naturalized aliens are Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota), Catnip (Nepeta cataria), and Toadflax (Linaria vulgaris). All of these are great wildlife plants, well used by pollinators. Queen Anne’s Lace is even a larval host plant for Black Swallowtail butterflies.

Catnip (Nepeta cataria)

Catnip (Nepeta cataria)

Queen Anne's Lace (Dauca carota)

Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota)

More watering. Young trees cannot get too much water.

What we saw
Melanie is very interested in helping bumblebees and we were delighted to see bumblebees on thistles, Catmint, and Queen Anne’s Lace. We’re hoping to contribute these sightings to the new citizen science initiative, Bumblebee Watch, if we can only get photos!

A pair of Summer Azures swirled together, we saw a Banded Hairstreak on a thistle, and a large orange Eastern Comma (or perhaps a Question Mark) perched on some wood chips, but not long enough for a photo.

We saw a beefly, but again the minute I raised my camera, it disappeared. The clematis is in full bloom and covered in bees and flies of all kinds. I also saw the first Black Swallowtail of the year (for me).

Jesse also saw a Common Gartersnake in the Butterfly Meadow and a now common Cepeae snail on DSV.

Huge Gypsy Moth caterpillar. The finger is there to show the scale (the caterpillar measures 5 cm).

Huge Gypsy Moth caterpillar. The finger is there to show the scale (the caterpillar measures 5 cm).

But Jesse won the find-of-the-day prize when he noticed a huge caterpillar on the trunk of an oak tree. I took a few photos and later used the Discover Life guide to ID the creature, which was 5 cm long!

I was horrified to discover that our beautiful caterpillar was the larva of the Gypsy Moth, which is known to destroy forests in North America. I quickly emailed our nature expert to ask if this was cause for panic. She replied, no, we DO have this species at the FWG (and other parts of Ottawa) but not in sufficient numbers to do any damage.

She said, “Sometimes I find large egg masses of the species, but only a small percentage survive to reach adulthood. I think I have found all stages every year for about the last 20 years at the CEF. This is not to say that they are not a big problem in some areas in some years. They seem to exist in quite low densities for a long time and then suddenly there is a big population explosion. However, we have a good and healthy Peromyscus population at FWG and they like eating gypsy moths, and many birds eat the larvae including jays, catbirds, robins, etc. – all species we see at FWG and the CEF.”

The moral for the day: not all alien species are bad. In fact, those like Queen Anne’s Lace can be beneficial to local wildlife. And even species with a bad rep, like Gypsy Moths, can live in balance with the other wildlife in our area.

Questions: Are the filamentous fungi in our piles of wood chips “good” or “bad”? If we’re not supposed to pile mulch close to the trunks of trees (because they might develop fungi), why is it okay to mulch with chips that are full of mycorrhizae?
Note to self: We’re pretty certain Black Walnut trees inhibit the growth of DSV, but they sometimes need help. Remember to cover the mass of DSV under the walnut at the southeast corner of the woods. If we can kill the plants that are there now, the walnut tree might keep others from growing back. This has worked in the past; is it a reliable method?
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