Goings On About the Garden : Late Summer 2015

hibiscus rose of sharon toronto

While we live amoungst plenty of concrete and glass, there is still a good dose of nature to be seen around our urban home. Here's a little visual summary of some recent sightings ...

I'll start with a bird who graced us with her presence in August, every afternoon for a week. She's a Downy Woodpecker and since she lacks a red patch on her head, we know she is a she.

This was an exciting one for me I can recall only one brief glimpse of one before in the city, so getting a good look was pretty cool. (They aren't a particularly rare bird though and I'm sure there must be plenty in High Park.)

I knew she was there by the muffled tapping sound coming from the tree she preferred; once she'd arrived, she would stay for a good hour, pecking lightly at the bark while circling around the tree trunk. The fact that her head was in constant motion made getting a good clear shot a challenge, so there were plenty of blurred pictures in addition to these. I've said it before and I'll say it again -- thank goodness we live in a time of digital photography, because otherwise getting one clear shot of a rapidly moving target like this would cost a mint in film and processing.

female downy woodpecker

female downy woodpecker toronto

To give you some scale, she was about 6 inches long -- these are the smallest species of woodpeckers that live in North America.

One afternoon as she was there, I saw a little tiny version of her, no more than 3 inches long, swoop in and take a single peck before quickly flying away again. So this bird must have had her family somewhere nearby.

The second rare-to-me bird sighting of the summer was one I caught last week. I believe this Black Throated Blue Warbler, which is a migratory species, was flying back down south for the winter. It was only in view for a quick minute and while I happened to have my camera handy, he moved so quickly that I didn't get a good picture. The female, brownish yellow in colouring was with him too but I didn't catch her.

black throated blue warbler bird seen in toronto

black throated blue warbler male in toronto

Aside from those two "special" sightings, we've had our 'regular' feathered friends around this summer, including a flock of these European Starlings ...

european starling in toronto

The robins have also been around. They're common here, but I love them nonetheless ...

american robin in toronto

robin in toronto

While we've seen some Cardinals, this year was nothing compared to last summer when they nested in a tree beside our home (see pictures of that family in this post.)

This one, spotted last week, didn't feel much like posing ...


As for butterflies, the most commonly seen one this summer was the Cabbage Butterfly ....

cabbage butterfly toronto

After doing some research about butterflies, I figured out what the odd looking balls I'd spotted on the rose bush were. This is the egg of a Swallowtail caterpillar (there's a pictured of that kind of butterfly in this post).

swallowtail butterfly egg toronto

I know we're not supposed to like them because they are considered to be pests, but I can't help but be charmed by the cuteness of the neighbourhood raccoons. This baby one and its siblings had to be chased off our deck with a broom a couple of times last week, but I think they got the hint and they've moved along.

young raccoon in a tree toronto

As always, the squirrels continue with their jumping and running through the treetops, sometimes stopping to to take an afternoon siesta ...

squirrel in a tree


Our potted garden consisted of a mixture of flowering plants and herbs this year.

As for herbs, we grew oregano (regular and spicy), basil, thyme, parley (curly and flat leaf varieties), mint (spearmint), chives (that actually survived the winter and came back this year) and a robust rosemary plant that I over-wintered inside. That was a first time success for that after trying to do it many times, so I was happy -- it's the small things, right? lol. Everything has done very well and we've been using them to flavour our cooking all summer long. They continue to flourish, so I imagine there will be some to preserve in the fall (see how I'll do that in this post.)

herbs from the potted garden

mint in flower

↑ A flower on the Spearmint Plant ↑

Of the flowers I potted up this year the winners were the Calibrachoa, that I tried for the first time last year and loved so much that I was sure to find some again this year. They look like tiny petunias and I planted purple and red ones. They've become a favourite, for sure. As I type they are still both covered in blooms, so are great for adding colour towards the end of the season.

potted calobrachoa look like small petunias

↑ Calibrachoa ↑

The others that did well are the always dependable impatiens, both white and pink (they are so inexpensive to purchase as seedlings and so lush when planted in pots -- I love them) and Marigolds, an annual Vinca with pink flowers that I tried for the first time this year and really like, the Fuschia -- I can't get enough of those little frilly bells and plant one every year.

I also planted some yellow dahlias that I've not tried before and which were and continue to be lovely. Another new plant for me this year, called a Melampodium, did very well. It is a small bush covered in tiny yellow daisy-like flowers, that haven't stopped all summer long.

annual vinca in a pot

↑ Annual Vinca ↑

fuschia flower

↑ Fuschia ↑

annual dahlia

↑ Dahlia ↑

melampodium million gold plant

↑ Melampodium ↑

Of medium success was the Nasturtium, with lots of foliage but minimal flowering -- those are the edible plants I wrote about in this post.

Not so good were the Snap Dragons and Dianthesis -- I plant both of these every year and they hardly flower so I'm giving up on them for next spring. I was also disappointed with a plant called Lobelia, which didn't flower very well. I'd planted the purple variety for the first time last year and it was amazing, however this time I tried mixed colours of white, pink and blue, which didn't do so well. I'll try again next year, but look for the Purple Crystal Palace one.

The complete duds were a sweet-pea that looked very promising at the beginning but ended up fizzling (I'd heard they were easy to grow and was excited to find some, but they were entirely disappointing in my garden), and some Stock that basically withered up and died the same week I put them in the pot. So, all in all, more successes than fails, that yielded surroundings in which to sit and read and entertain friends (although we didn't do nearly enough of that -- the summer just got away from us this year and we've only had a couple get-togethers at our place.)

I tried a cherry tomato plant this year, after minimal success with one last year. The plant did well and there are tons of tomatoes on it, however, contrary to what this photograph may belie, they're all mostly still green. I'm pretty sure they should have ripened by this time of the year, so I'll call this a semi-win.

cherry tomatoes growing

I also planted a hot pepper plant that is very bushy and healthy, albeit without yielding one single pepper!

As for the picture at the top of this post : For the past 5 weeks or so, the hibiscus tree, a Rose of Sharon, planted by an unknown gardener a long time ago, has put on a magnificent show with what seemed to be thousands of flowers. What is usually a medium sized bush has grown into a tree, which I estimate is over 30 years old. It's planted in a place that nobody can see it but us, so sadly we can't share its remarkable beauty with passers by, which is too bad because seeing it would certainly brighten anyone's day. I thank that long-ago gardener for the gift they nurtured, to be enjoyed so far into the future.

And, I thank you very much for taking a look at the natural beauty that has graced our world this summer. I hope there has been plenty of prettiness in your life too.
xo loulou

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8 Responses to Goings On About the Garden : Late Summer 2015

  1. Lisa says:

    Oh these pics are beautiful Louise! So much nature visits your yard – it must be attracted to the kindness and good energy that you and Nick give off :) I really like the raccoon picture, so cute! We have a family of 4 or 5 living near us in a park too.

  2. Gaia says:

    Wow ! these photos are so pretty. Your photography is amazing!!

  3. Norma says:

    Love the woodpecker – you take such good photos.
    I have a few pepper plants in my greenhouse – oddly the hot ones have peppers but the sweet pepper plants don’t. However do these things happen? Wish I knew. x

  4. Jason says:

    I really enjoy woodpeckers and your photos are wonderful. Raccoons I find are cute only from a good distance, they can be fierce up close.

  5. Julie says:

    oh wow, such amazing photos! I love the wildlife in your yard, it’s a great reminder that just because Toronto is a city, doesn’t mean we don’t have lots of diverse nature. I love raccoons, I don’t care what anyone says I admire their survival skills, they are a mammal that knows how to adapt. And I had a chuckle at that cardinal’s bum photo!

  6. Vix says:

    What amazing photos! I know the starlings well, they dominate the skies of our cities and their cries at sunset drown out the traffic! The cabbage white & squirrel are very familiar in the UK but your robin looks totally different to our more portly variety!
    The raccoon is adorable, I’d love to see one in real life! xxx

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