Month: September 2012

Out-of-Season Blooms

Out-of-Season Blooms

Virginia creeper on birch tree A mild September has meant that a few plants in the Chester area have been tricked into re-blooming.  Although occasional glimpses of red leaves have shown up on selected maples, most gardens are still green. One of the first plants to change colour is the Virginia Creeper, seen here winding around the trunk of  a white birch and offset by the fresh green branches of a pine. Such a scene could tempt a Sunday painter to reach for her acrylic paints and brushes.  That is, if you squint hard enough, it’s almost like looking at a  splendid splash of abstract art.

But on to the out-of-season blooms. Having enjoyed the usual array of rhododendrons and azaleas in the spring, we were pleasantly surprised to find a few of those plants setting out new blooms in the fall.  The next few images (contributed by Sandy) were taken mid to late September.

rhodo rampao
Rhododendron Ramapo
Rhododendron (variety unknown)
Actea Hillside Black Beauty
Silver Lace vine

The Kerria japonica (below),  found in another Chester garden, usually puts out its floral display in May. Although it has produced fewer blooms in September, the out-of-season  display makes a welcome bright addition to the duller colours of the spent blooms and foliage of its neighbours.

Kerria japonica

A honeysuckle vine that was a favourite source of nectar for hummingbirds all summer continues to put forth a few blossoms even though the birds have long since departed for southern climes. Adding their own dash of colour and interesting shapes at this time of year are the various fruits and seeds that appear on trees and shrubs.

Ornamental crab apples
Holly berries
Wisteria seed pods
Asclepia seed pods

The ascelpia photo is included as a nod to our previous posts devoted to Monarch butterflies and their reliance on asclepias (milkweeds).  The thousands of delicate wispy  seeds are released when the hard pod opens.  They drift away on the breeze and those that find fertile ground will be the source of new milkweeds that will nourish and provide egg-laying bases for future Monarch butterflies.

Butterflies 101

Butterflies 101

When is a Monarch only a Viceroy, or even less regal – a mere Painted Lady? Your faithful blogger humbly confesses to having confused the various species of Lepidoptera in recent posts, and misidentified images of Viceroys and Painted Ladies as actual Monarchs.

The first image here is that of a Painted Lady filling up on nectar (or “nectaring’ as the experts call it) in a Chester garden. To the untrained eye, this beautiful insect looks just like the popular image of a Monarch  butterfly. In a fascinating presentation entitled “Journey and Transformations”, Roberta MacDonald, a retired school teacher who has made a life-long study of  Monarchs, clarified the differences for members of Chester Garden Club.

monarch butterfly close-up
Painted Lady

Monarchs have a  strong connection with Nova Scotia during the summer months when they feed on nectar-producing plants in our province before setting off on their 4000 Km trip south to Mexico.  The migration may take as long as 2 months, between September and November.

Monarch butterfly [photo from Wickipedia]
The distinguishing marks that identify a Monarch include its larger size, the white polka-dot border around the edges of the wings, and the simple strong black veins on the orange wings (without the extra black lines or spots seen on the Painted Lady). The Monarch males do, however, have a dark spot (an  androconium, that emits pheromones) in the centre of the hind wing.

Left, a male Monarch butterfly; and on the right a female. This image is from Wickipedia.

Monarchs are termed a “species at risk”, partly because of the arduous journey they undertake and also because of changes in their habitat.  Deforestation in Mexico has depleted some of their roosting areas and their main food sources are scarcer, with many stands of milkweed and other special plants along their flight route having been destroyed by pesticides or replaced by housing developments and strip malls.

Roberta described the migration to and from Mexico as a journey that stretches over a year and involves several generations taking part at different stages of the trip.  After  a winter spent roosting in trees in Mexico, the Monarchs begin to start flying north in February, but no individual butterfly completes the round trip.  En route north, the females mate and look for milkweed on which to lay their eggs; then they die. Those eggs hatch into larvae which eat voraciously and go through the chrysalis stage before becoming full-fledged butterflies. They in turn live only about two months before they repeat the process, so it only a fourth or fifth generation that actually reaches Nova Scotia.  Nectaring plants in our area include not only three types of milkweed (asclepias), but also  goldenrod, asters, purple coneflower, bee balm, and lilacs.

Jocelyn greets Roberta MacDonald as Cynthia sets up the computer/projector before the presentation.

Roberta’s  own interest in these lovely creatures was whetted when she was teaching science to young children in her classroom. They in turn became entranced as they watched the transformation from egg to larva to chrysalis to adult butterfly, and their parents were caught up in the general enthusiasm and some have since participated in an international banding program as part of a study to learn more about these tiny creatures.

The northern Monarchs are now on their way south and we wish them a pleasant journey. For additional information on Monarchs,  why not check out these websites:   and

And to close this post, the photo below shows that there really were a few real Monarchs among all those Painted Ladies that we posted in earlier blogs.  Still, it’s a lesson learned – as the saying goes: a little knowledge is a dangerous thing!  Next time, we’ll be checking more closely.

A Monarch butterfly supping on a Buddleia in a Chester garden.
Flowers for a September Wedding

Flowers for a September Wedding

Chester Garden Club rose to the occasion recently in response to a request for flowers to add a splash of colour to a September wedding.  A committee of three – Sheila, Sidney and Jocelyn – met in a local garage cum workshop to fullfil the order.

Working with a mix of plants from local gardens supplemented by floral material purchased from commercial growers, the club members created bouquets for the bride and bridesmaid as well as table decorations. 


The bride had chosen the local yacht club as the venue for her wedding and she arrived, with her bridesmaid and wedding party, by sail.  In the club’s main reception room, a lovely floral arrangement that Sidney had created was placed on the mantlepiece, where it picked up the colours in the painting above, with its white sails, blue water and gilt frame.  

With the bride and groom safely launched on their new life, we turn again to the natural world around us, including our other summer visitors – the Monarch butterflies.  The Club’s September 16th meeting will feature a presentation on the life span and travels of these beautiful creatures.

monarch butterfly close-up

A Look at an Autumn Garden

A Look at an Autumn Garden

Goldenrod As Chester gardeners greet the second week of September, they are keeping a weather eye out for a possible hurricane but, to date, the community has experienced only a warm south wind and heavy showers. Many of our favourite perennials, having outlived their terms, have vanished from local gardens but a number of hardy wildflowers, like goldenrod in its many varieties, are adding splashes of colour to the landscape.

A cloud of native asters (volunteers) brighten the edge of a more formal bed, where the sword-like leaves of gladioli stand stiffly as if defending the plot from additional invaders.

One perennial that is welcome at this time of year is the Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, with its gradual colouration that develops from pale pink to deep rose over the next few weeks.  

Not so welcome is the change seen on some perennials and shrubs after a nocturnal visit by the ever-roaming white-tail deer.  In one garden this year, they have pruned several rose bushes, three yews, a stand of hollyhocks and a young Weigela bush, a section of which is seen in the photo below. After suffering from deer brouse in the spring, this shrub has again been assaulted this summer when another ten healthy growing shoots were recently nipped off. Sometimes we doubt it will ever grow tall.

And, despite best efforts to provide a barrier composed of a fishing line and netting, we were unable to prevent deer from reaching into a rose bed where they sampled the tender shoots of a rose named for our favourite composer – Mozart. The stark ends of several stalks show the sad result of losing yet more buds and blossoms.

Still, in every garden there are always compensations, like a rambunctious clump of bright pink superbells, spilling over a rockery wall…

…Or the surprise of finding a newly opened day lily (Sweet Child), still damp from a recent rainfall, long after we’d thought all the blooms were finished for this year.

Now that the peaches have been harvested, sampled and turned into jams and chutneys, we can turn out attention to the apple crop. The apples on this tree are a variety called “July Red” ( which is curious since they ripen in September).  An earlier variety, the NovaMac, with its crisp tart taste, is a favourite in this area. It was  especially developed as a Nova Scotian hybrid of the standard Mackintosh. 

"July Red" apples
To close this post we add another photo of a Monarch butterfly, supping from the tiny blossoms of a Buddleia bush. This is by way of a reminder that the next meeting of the Chester Garden Club – September 17 – will feature a presentation on these marvellous and somewhat mysterious creatures.

Monarch butterfly on Buddleia