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Barb’s Garden Habitat

Hi. I am Barb Mrgich, a Master Gardener from Adams County, Pennsylvania. I have gardened on the same land in Zone 6B for 34 years. For the past 10 years, I have been slowly adding more and more native plants to the point where I now prefer to think of my property more as a habitat than just a garden.

This is gaillardia (Gaillardia pulchella, Zones 5–8), a native wildflower. It’s a very colorful, happy flower that attracts lots of bees, butterflies, and other pollinators because of its rich, abundant nectar. Sometimes called blanket flower, it is a short-lived perennial that usually only lives for three years or less. However, its great seed heads produce many seeds. It’s easy to save some to replant.

garden in spring with bulbs and flowers in a containersThis has always been one of my favorite pictures of my front yard. There is actually grass—you just can’t see it from the angle of the picture.

close up of bee inside a bright pink flowerPenstemon (hardiness varies by species) is such a pretty spring-flowering native perennial. Most are either pink or white. I love to watch the bees crawl into the flower for a sip of nectar. Penstemons produce large, attractive seed heads. They reseed readily. If you don’t want so many, just snip off the seed heads.

bee flaying from a coneflowerThis carpenter bee (see its shiny abdomen?) is sipping nectar from a coneflower (Echinacea purpurea, Zones 3–8). Most garden bees are very docile and will not sting you. Only females are capable of stinging.

eastern tiger swallowtail on a pink zinniaThis eastern tiger swallowtail is one of our most common butterflies in Pennsylvania. It is nectaring on a zinnia (Zinnia elegans, annual). I like the way its body is striped to match its wings. You can see its proboscis, which it uses like a straw to suck the nectar from the flower.

butterfly cocoon on a fennel plantNotice anything unusual about this picture? It’s a beautiful monarch chrysalis, but it is attached to fennel (Foeniculum vulgare, Zones 4–9), not milkweed (Asclepias spp.) as you might expect. The fennel is growing very close to the milkweed. The caterpillar probably just wandered over and up the tall fennel to go into its chrysalis when it was ready. We searched the fennel plants looking for the chrysalis of a black swallowtail and were quite surprised to find the monarch.

close up of Pussy willowsPussy willows (Salix species) rise up against an early spring, clear blue sky. Catkins of the native pussy willow supply some of the first and most important nectar for tiny pollinators. Songbirds are then attracted to the catkins because of all the tiny insects. The birds peck and peck at the insects, often knocking catkins right off the stem of the plant. It’s great fun to watch! The pussy willow is a host for the viceroy butterfly. At the time of this photo, those tiny, threadlike caterpillars were wrapped in a leaf at the base of the bush where they fell last fall. Once the shrub develops its leaves, those tiny caterpillars will crawl up the trunks and begin to eat.

close up of red maple tree covered in snowA red maple (Acer rubrum, Zones 3–9) is clothed in snow against a clear winter sky. This red maple is not only a beautiful tree but is also a host to the eastern tiger butterflies that grace my gardens every year.

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