Ruth, a recently retired English teacher, has lived most her adult life in San Jose, California, but relocated to Taylors, SC in May, 2011, to share her mother's golden years and to be near three sisters. Now she's excited to have a house with a yard 10 times the size of her property in California, and can't wait to get digging! Follow her blog to see how a recent transplant experiences gardening, both ornamental and vegetable, in the hot clay of South Carolina.

Recent Blog Posts

May 22
Blooms and Beds and Garden Buddies   (2 comments)

Apr 08
Cardinals, Crows and Thunder Snow.   (4 comments)

Jan 02
Minding the Future Garden as the Old Year Wanes   (3 comments)

Dec 30
Brimming Well of Winter and Goblets of Ice   (4 comments)

Dec 16
The Garden Green, Deep in December   (3 comments)

Nov 26
A Taste of Cold November   (3 comments)

Oct 28
In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the (Garden)..I’ll Be There   (4 comments)

Oct 11
Summer Garden Residents: The Original Earthlings   (4 comments)




Summer Garden Residents: The Original Earthlings
by Ruth Mason McElvain - posted 10/11/12

The primal planet owners, the original earthlings, are welcome in my backyard dirt and the main reason I shun pesticides in their habitat.  I'm learning this year just how benevolent these garden citizens are in sharing my garden with me.

The correction of my wrong thinking began with the bee decline several years ago, and this-spring's reading, illuminating my head about the other pollinators like the common wasps.   My knee jerk wasp-reflex comes from a third grade stinging at Girl Scout camp in a shoe one morning: three before I could kick it off.  A new respect dawned on me this spring though, an environmental adult's.  So I welcomed this gentleman's nest in a birdhouse on my screen porch, he so slender and elegant in all black..

and his cousins, these red paper wasps, here on a morning roam of white hydrangea, doing unbid garden duty in their own quest.

I left a yellow jacket nest, counter to instincts, fencing it in the ground to protect yardmen and dogs from accidental or eager disturbance.  I admired yellow jacket music and industry in my vegetables all summer, while they ignored me when I jostled my arms among them to tie up white acre pea limbs or to pluck corn and squash.

And who doesn't adore bumble bees in their flannel pajamas humming in spider wort blooms, busy also in peas, beans, squash, peppers, okra, petunias, alyssum, all garden over, filling their pollen baskets hung like sidesaddles while they drank.. did honey bees gathering pollen and nectar in the corn tassels,

and the Eastern Carpenter bees droning dreamily along, wearing black patent-leather pants and gossamer wings over yellow angora sweaters,

going to lavender hyssop spikes in large benign parties, maybe overdoing, till they clung stupefied like drunks at a bee bar, so fascinating.  Gayla Trail, in Grow Great Grub, says that the taste of hyssop is "between mint, fruit, and licorice" and leaves and flowers make a great tea, a harvest I plan next year.  The carpenters relish hyssop qualities, are one of the first returning migrants in the spring,

the females setting up camp like this one in my backyard shed, sweeping out the sawdust from her perfect porthole to the nursery, maybe one for the mama of my handsome hyssop partiers, all doing their part unrequested by and unmindful of us.

Butterflies pollinate, too, like this variegated fritillary in summery oranges, yellows, and fluted brown, sipping from the marigold juleps and dusting in couture style the fairy pollen dust with her ball gown wings.   

The beautiful biplanes of brown dragonflies dust the marigold crops too.  Seeing them I put out watering stations for evening bats that dine on mosquitoes, each eating a few thousand each night, feeding a third their weight in an hour, and pollinating also in the process.  I'd read that bats love dragonflies, and was hopeful of secret bat diners when, several nights last spring, whole fleets of dragon flies darted overhead in the dusk where I sat on the backdoor steps to see their display.  In days to come I'd spy little zooming bats at twilight, camera shy in their erratic flights, circling from mysterious homes and doing great favors in spite of being hated and misunderstood for eons.  Thank you, handsome bats in your leather jackets for ignoring my Halloween decorations and servicing my garden anyway. 


Giving a lie to the idea that only the garden pilots pollinate, I tip my respect to the diligent ant, here in their love for peony buds and peas, giving rise perhaps to the post-hic-ergo-propter-hic idea that ant ministrations are essential for peonies to bloom.  I suspect some delicious lure from the buds invite them instead.  These eager guys sure swarmed the break-off points from my harvest of ripe and swollen peas, often making me brush off their feathery runs on my hands and arms, and biting in their jealousy at my intrusions in their treasure.

There were other workmen who performed their craft in my yard as the gorgeous weaving here in the garden loom testifies.  I misted it to crystallize the pretty pattern, but the artist hid backstage somewhere. 

As did this one, whose fine mesh creation the dew made a gossamer vision in the grass, good affirmation that my organic approach was not thwarting nature and further education of an almost invisible ecosystem afoot.

A whole other world exists that can humble and fascinate when we take the time to appreciate.  This Carolina mantis scared the moody out of my son just here from California and amazed at the insect life of the South.  Slim Shady here in his/her green and brown livery lingered on my carport window

just long enough to snag a moth dinner, indulging my camera, staring levelly with glassy onyx eyes as he munched, reminding me of his life and unacknowledged partnership before winging into the night.

Some buddies were frankly startling to discover.  Oops, did I jump back when this baby garter twined away from my fingers as I picked peas one morning.  Ok, not knowing that he eats slugs, worms, ants, and insect eggs, but in my defense, also not wanting to blithely dispatch him, I scooped him in empty milk cartons, and with pounding heart ran him over to the woods beyond my fence in surefooted haste. 

I felt a little guilty when his mother gave me the cool shoulder one early morning soon after, slithering into my pea patch unimpressed as I muttered some of Emily Dickinson's "A narrow fellow in the grass occasionally rides" to justify my knee jerk reaction to her son, how I can't help the biped reflex, even to a friendly serpent: "attended or alone without a tighter breathing and zero at the bone."  My smart explanation fell unfortunately into empty air.

It was easier to welcome the nameless little lizard who made a disturbed appearance when I cleared the five sisters bed in September.  I do admire the elegant reptilian suppleness of lizards; he was nimble and fleet, and welcome news that I haven't killed off good buddies like him who eat flies, spiders, slugs and caterpillars.  I anticipate his return, maybe into the collards and turnips, before his winter snooze.

The most emotional response came when an American toad appeared in my backyard, strange relief washing over me at the visit of this long lost friend from my childhood, for his cold textured skin, wrought with wonderful pattern, his lithe twist in my remembering hand, the clawed resistance of his feet, the pull of his leg in a gentle stretch for release.  I sorrow that so many of his kind are the first to succumb in poisoned environments and grateful for his participation in my backyard; feasting on slugs, spiders, fleas, worms, insects, this talented songster whose pleasant trill in the trees and brush often gets taken for cricket chirrups, serenades through a respectable thirty years of life.  I love ya, man!  And all y'all other under-appreciated fellow earthlings out there in your intelligent wild, light years above our puny estimation.



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Janet, The Queen of Seaford - 10/14/2012

Yup, lots of critters in your garden. Healthy environment.
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Ruth Mason McElvain - 10/15/2012

Hey, Queen Jan! I DID have garden assistants didn't I! Just enjoyed your blog at again. Loved your "Blue and White" posting. And I saw my blog link! You're my first one! I need to see if the magazine will let me add some. Thanks for visiting!
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Carolyn Choi - 10/22/2012

Great article , Ruth . Spent my first summer in Carolina getting acquainted with many of them. When I first arrived I was ravaged by chiggers and had a severe allergic reaction that ended me up at the doctors. Freaked out when I saw my first wolf spider - they look like they're on steroids. My daughter, while mowing the lawn , ran into a yellow jackets nest and was stung multiple times. I've seen some cute lime green tree frogs, many lizards, beautiful swallowtails, caterpillars, praying mantis and a few snakes so far.
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Ruth Mason McElvain - 10/27/2012

Thank you, Carolyn, for your readership! Yes, the South has always been a region of extremes which our insect world shares: hospitable benefits and very obvious in-your-face vituperation like those yellow jacket attacks. I loved those tree frogs you describe (though I haven't seen them yet here) climbing our glass door in Georgia during our teen years. I wrote about them several issues back, shiny as green blown glass. The snakes have scared me in my backyard about six times in one year! Forty years in California, I never saw one in my postage stamp yard or elsewhere. But neither did I enjoy fireflies, cardinals, frogs, and many other buddies mentioned in this posting. Thank you for your observations!
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