I like to recycle plants from one garden to another. As I mentioned in Part I, last year I moved to Austin from San Antonio and took several plants from my Alamo Heights butterfly garden with me. A large rue bush, several milkweeds, a couple of bulbines–these plants made the 75-mile trek to Austin.
Now I find myself returning to the Alamo City. I’ll take a few favorite plants back–some of the original San Antonians, as well as Austin finds. Our new living quarters will be a green built downtown “Cube” (Leed-certification pending) conceived by progressive architect/urban pioneer Hilary Scruggs of Operative Ventures. The front yard plot has a grey water system that recycles shower, bath and dishwater for landscape irrigation. That has been an interesting learning experience (more on that another time).
Last week I prepped the area via solarization, using mulch and newspaper to kill the turf. Now I’ll install a few plants.
Here’s what I’m digging up and moving from my Austin bed:
Several milkweeds–brought from my Alamo Heights garden Rue–the same one I moved from Alamo Heights Bulbines–moved two from Alamo Heights Lantana–bought in Austin, will move them to SA Indigo spires–bought in Austin, will move them to SA Red sage–bought in Austin, will move them to SA
Fresh transplants will be added shortly, such as:
Italian Parsley–buy at local nursery Dill–buy at local nursery Fennel–buy at local nursery
Milkweeds, of course, are the Monarch butterfly and Queen host plant and will ensure plenty of caterpillars. In late March, the Monarchs leave their overwintering roosts in Mexico, laying the first eggs of the migratory season in Texas. Milkweeds transplanted now will die back with freezes, but bounce back in the spring. Many species of butterflies enjoy nectaring on Milkweed.
My well-traveled rue bush is a sturdy, heat tolerant perennial that plays host to the Eastern and Giant Swallowtail butterflies and blooms yellow in the heat of summer. As soon as the weather begins to warm, the black and blue butterflies deposit their golden yellow eggs on rue, Italian parsley, dill, and their apparent favorite–fennel. For some reason they don’t care for the curly parsley and I don’t either. The Swallowtail caterpillars are highly entertaining, and sport crazy yellow tentacles that seem to reach out and fathom the universe when bothered, giving off a weird scent. Kids love them.
Another plus to using these herbs as a foundation for your butterfly garden: you can eat them, harvesting leaves and seeds for cooking. Fennel bulbs can be braised and used raw in salads. As temperatures rise in June, the herbs will bloom and go to seed, useful for next year or as an addition to dips, yogurt or sprinkled on toast or pizza.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. After plugging in the transplants by simply cutting a hole in your mulch-covered newspaper, you can propagate more butterfly plants by starting them inside with this year’s seeds. Cowpen Daisy, milkweed, Frostweed, sunflowers, and Jimsonweed can all be perpetuated by a shallow planting in plastic seedling trays with potting soil. Get the plants started indoors, water regularly, and they’ll be ready to transplant in the ground after danger of frost is past (usually March 15).
This year I might try pellitory or nettles, which host the Red Admiral butterfly. Passionflower, host to Zebra Longwings and Gulf Fritillaries, also makes my wish list. Friends at the Austin Butterfly Forum rave about the woody Flaming Acanthus, the host plant to the Crimson Patch butterfly. That would be a new species for me, and apparently hummingbirds love it.
Until then, my winter garden will remain sparse, as the solarization process breaks down the turf, creating fertile soil. Likely I will supplement with winter lettuces–arugula, frisee, chard and kale–probably in a container. Then, later in the spring, we’ll add tomatoes, okra, and peppers or eggplant. Mixing edibles into the butterfly garden makes for a continuum of interest and activities. If you’re not enjoying the butterflies or collecting caterpillars, you’ll be harvesting fresh produce.