Sunday, January 15, 2017

Gifting Warmth and Sunshine

Gift baskets are fun to assemble.  I'm going to share with you a basket I made one cold, but sunny, day.  I wanted to bring some warmth into our house so I thought a basket of fruits and flowers that originated from a warm climate would do the trick (at least visually). 

For this basket, I used six miniature chrysanthemums (about as tall as my iPhone). 

Three pinks and three yellows.  

Chrysanthemums were first cultivated in China and appeared in Chinese literature as early as the 15th Century B.C.  This flower appears in many poems and paintings and symbolizes grace and nobility in ancient Chinese literature. Today, the chrysanthemum is a symbol of happiness and good luck.  This flower has been used in tea and cooking for centuries.  It also has medicinal properties.  The Chinese people celebrate the Double Ninth (Chongyang) Festival on the 9th day of the 9th lunar month (which usually falls in October in the Gregorian calendar).  The Double Ninth Festival occurs when chrysanthemum blooms.  Although the Double Ninth Festival originated as a day to drive away danger, over time it became a day of celebration. During this festival, people drink chrysanthemum tea and wine and enjoy other activities celebrating the chrysanthemum flower, such as reading poetry about chrysanthemums and admiring the blooms.

In addition to the flowers, I also added three guava, three persimmons, and three pomegranates.  These fruits are not your standard fruits that you can easily get from most chain grocery stores, but it's worth hunting for them because they are exotic and delicious and they are considered "super fruits" when it comes to health benefits.

Guava -- the "queen of fruits" 

Persimmons -- the "fruits of the gods"

Pomegranate -- the "jewel of the winter"

Although combining fruits and flowers produces fantastic arrangements, this technique often comes at a cost. 

Most fruits emit a colorless gaseous plant hormone called ethylene that greatly shortens the life of fresh cut as well as potted flowers.  Although all three of my fruits release ethylene, the pomegranate emits only a very small amount of this gas.

However, certain flowers are not sensitive to ethylene and luckily chrysanthemums are one of them.  So, we are all good!  I can tuck little pots of these flowers everywhere in my basket!

And VOILA!  
A cheerful little basket
that is loaded with goodness.

Happy Lunar New Year
[it's the year of the rooster]

Happy Rooster at Cedarmere in the Blue Ridge

BTW: The Lunar New Year will be on January 28 this year.  The Lunar New Year is a very important national holiday in many Asian countries, such as China, Korea, Vietnam, and Singapore.  The common theme celebrated during the Lunar New Year is family reunion.  According to the Chinese zodiac, this coming new year is the year of the rooster. 

The Chinese zodiac is based on a twelve-year-cycle, each year is represented by an animal sign.  The twelve animals are rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.  To find out what your zodiac animal sign is, here is one site to visit     Have Fun 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Monarchs Need Your Help!

I planted my first milkweed in the spring of 2013.  This particular milkweed is called asclepias curassavica (also known as tropical milkweed, scarlet milkweed, bloodflower, or silkweed).

Since then, each year more and more Monarch butterflies come to lay their eggs and a multitude more eclose each subsequent year and head south for the winter.

Some arrive in my garden quite tattered after a long and difficult journey.

Please read my previous posts to learn more about why Monarch butterflies need our help:
They Are Here  and Here Come My Monarchs

Life Cycle of the Monarch Butterfly

It's very easy to distinguish between a male and a female monarch.  The male (bottom left) has two highly visible black spots on his hind wings, while the female (bottom right) doesn't.  The male also has thinner wing veins (black webbing) than the female.

Laying Eggs

Female monarchs will only lay their eggs on milkweed plants, because that is the only food source that the caterpillars can eat.  They usually lay a single egg on a plant, often on the underside of a leaf.

Eggs & Caterpillars at Various Stages

 The eggs hatch about four days after they are laid. 

The caterpillar (larva) stage will last about 10-14 days.  During this period, they are ferocious eaters.  As the caterpillars get too large for their skin, they molt (shed their skin).  The interval between molts is called an instar.  Monarchs go through five instars.

Caterpillars at various stages of growth. 

Pupa Stage

The caterpillar below on the left is getting in position (hanging upside down, forming the letter "J") to enter the pupa stage.  The one on the right is entering the pupa stage.  It's shedding its old skin one last time as the green shell emerges.

The transformation is now complete.  This green shell is soft at first but then slowly hardens to protect the butterfly as it goes through its last phase of metamorphosis. 

Beautiful jewel-like designs slowly emerge
on the hard shiny green chrysalis.
This pupa stage can last as long as two weeks.  Before the butterfly ecloses, the chrysalis turns transparent.  You can see this butterfly's wings through the chrysalis below.  

The butterfly below just eclosed a short while before I took this photo.  (I wished I could see her eclose!).  A newly emerged butterfly must wait two or more hours before it can fly.  The new wings are small and shriveled.  She pumps body fluid through her wing veins to make her wings bigger.  She then waits for air to replace some of the fluid before she can fly. 

This newly emerged butterfly is waiting for her wings to get stronger before she can fly with ease.

Data Collection

According to Monarch Watch (a nonprofit education, conservation, and research program based at the University of Kansas that focuses on the monarch butterfly, its habitat, and its fall migration): "In all the world, no butterflies migrate like the Monarchs of North America.  They travel much farther than all other tropical butterflies, up to three thousand miles.  They are the only butterflies to make such a long, two way migration every year.  Amazingly, they fly in masses to the same winter roosts, often to the exact same trees.  Their migration is more the type we expect from birds or whales.  However, unlike birds and whales, individuals only make the round-trip once.  It is their children's grandchildren that return south the following fall." (source:

Scientists have been collecting data to learn more about the Monarch butterflies in an effort to save them.  According to the Monarch Watch "[m]any questions remain unanswered about the fall migration of the monarch population east of the Rocky Mountains.  How do the monarchs move across the continent, i.e., do they move in specific directions or take certain pathways?  How is the migration influenced by the weather and are there differences in the migration from year to year?" (source:

Monarch Watch needs data to answer these questions and one way we can help is to participate in their tagging program. Through tagging, scientists will be able to obtain sufficient recoveries and observations of the migration to answer these questions.

This is my first tagged butterfly.  I hope she makes it to her overwintering site.

Unfortunately, many monarchs won't reach their overwintering sites.  If you recover a dead monarch with a tag similar to the one below, please call the number on the tag and report your recovery.  A great newsletter to subscribe to is Texas Butterfly Ranch. (Click here).   Read its October 4th issue for an example of how much information a little tag like the one below can provide scientists. (Click here)

If you are interested in learning more about or in helping the Monarch butterflies, two good sources to start with are (click hereand (click here).

Monarch butterflies need your help! 
Please consider lending scientists a hand. 
Thank you, Christa

I am linking with the blogs below.  Please visit them with me.

Outdoor Wednesday

Wordless Wednesday
Friday Greens
Floral Friday Fotos
Orange You Glad It's Friday
Life Thru the Lens
Today's Flowers
Scenic Weekend
Our Beautiful World
Saturday's Critters

Saturday, August 27, 2016

A Spectacular August Day

The weather this August has been crazy, devastating floods in parts of the country and unbearable heat in others.  We have been lucky here at Cedarmere in the Blue Ridge; the weather has been spectacular as far as August weather in Virginia is concerned.  Summers here at Cedarmere are often very pleasant because there is a gentle breeze that comes down from the mountains.

Cedarmere in the Blue Ridge

What helps keep our climate temperate is the fact that we are at the foothills of the magnificent Blue Ridge mountains.

View from Moss Vineyard

Our flowers thrive in spite of the fact that I have left them to the care of Mother Nature.




Rudbeckia and gold finch

Verbena bonariensis and skipper

Celosia argentea

Clematis paniculata and skipper

Rosa, Coreopsis, Echinacea seedhead, Veronica

Here are three flower arrangements I designed a few summers ago. These flowers are a staple in my summer garden.  I find them cheery and refreshing. 

Zinnia, Centaurea, Lavandula

Every summer it seems, I also have a few lavender stragglers, which I love to use because they add a sense of fresh cool spring into my summer bouquets.

Zinnia, Cosmos, Centaurea, Rudbeckia, Coreopsis, Lobelia

Our butterflies love it here, too.  The most common butterfly that lives on our farm is a variety of Swallowtail. One day recently, for some reason, I saw a large number of the yellow Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (both male and female) and one Spicebush Swallowtail.  

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

You can see why this Swallowtail is called Tiger Swallowtail.

Butterflies usually rest with their wings wide open only briefly as they bask in the bright sunshine.  This one seemed to really enjoy sunbathing.

Spicebush Swallowtail

I think this is the Spicebush Swallowtail and not the black Tiger Swallowtail, because it's missing one orange dot along its first row of orange dots. (Source:

Gray Hairstreak Butterfly

I was very happy to see this butterfly because it is very rare in Virginia.

Common Buckeye Butterfly

I've also noticed that the Common Buckeye butterfly has multiplied these past two years.  It makes me very happy to know that somehow I've made our environment more inviting to these beautiful butterflies!

Pearl Crescent Butterfly

I was excited to see this fancy looking butterfly as I haven't seen it before.  The poor thing looked quite weathered.  

A few days later, I saw this beautiful Pearl Crescent butterfly.

Skipper (Butterfly)

Although this little guy looks more like a moth than a butterfly, structurally it is much more closely related to the butterfly than the moth.  Skippers earned their name from their fast, erratic and skipping flight.  I have seen 4 different species in our garden.

(See my old post, Flutterby Visitors, 1/22/2014for other butterflies that visit my garden that are not shown in this post.)

But what keeps me hanging around in my gardens are tiny little pollinators, some no longer than an inch I need help in identifying the first two below.



Ailanthus Webworm moth

I particularly like to watch the little insects in my garden interact.

Please help me identify the green-headed bug & the orange and black stripe bug.  Thanks

Have a fabulous rest of August,