Lunacies

Yesterday morning as Wonder Spouse and I headed out the front door for a day of gardening chores, we were greeted by the lovely creature in the photo above. Both of us grabbed our cameras, but since Wonder Spouse’s camera and photography skills are vastly superior to mine, these photos are his.

What a gorgeous creature a Luna Moth is, don’t you agree? According to my research, their caterpillars eat birches, persimmons, sweetgums, hickories, walnuts, and sumacs, which means they must be very happy in my yard, where all these species thrive.

Normally, we only see them at night beating against windows. To see and photograph an intact Luna Moth literally at our doorstep was well worth postponing garden chores for a few minutes. This one was wounded; its body had been bitten. It was still alive, but just barely — too weak to argue with us when we relocated it for its photo shoot.

If you’re never had a chance to look at one of these moths closely, here’s a close-up view:

Those eye spots, the subtle veining in the wings, the feathery edges — so exquisite.

Yesterday, we practiced a bit of lunacy by working out in the heat and humidity most of the day. Twenty years ago, we built the raised beds in our vegetable garden by digging out paths between the beds and heaping that soil onto the beds. We filled the lowered paths with aged wood chips left behind by our arborist. The wood chips raised the level of the paths by about six inches, providing weed suppression and, more important, a moisture reservoir for the beds. During heavy rains, the chips soaked up any excess water, then slowly released it into adjacent beds as the soil dried. These paths also made excellent earthworm habitat.

But every three or four years, the wood chips break down into soil, leaving low paths prone to vigorous weed populations, so we add new chips. We had intended to do this last year, but never got to it. We were out of wood chips, so about a month ago we purchased a dump truck load of mulch from a nearby supplier. The wood chips — run through the chopping machine three times — were reasonably well broken down; we think they’ll last several years before the worms transform them.

The lunacy? Over the past few weekends, the Amazing Wonder Spouse has moved many, many wheelbarrow loads of mulch from the giant pile left by the truck to the garden paths. I’ve been spending nearly every morning weeding the paths, so that they’d be ready for the chips. We put down paper or cardboard first to help slow weed encroachment, then piled on the wood chips. After Wonder Spouse dumped a load, I’d rake out the chips evenly across the paths.

It was hard work, but all the vegetable beds are now surrounded by mulched paths. No weeds — just happy vegetables and mulched paths. I am delighted, and I imagine the vegetables can feel the difference as their beds remain more evenly moist, and weed competition is nearly nonexistent.

Tomatoes to left and right foreground, with peppers and squash between.

We used last year’s fallen leaves to mulch around the veggies, and filled in with the shredded wood mulch in open spots and in the paths.

I’ve no doubt that our neighbors thought we were nuts yesterday as we worked straight through the afternoon heat, but we were determined to finish before the rainstorms promised for this week arrived. If all goes as we planned, rains will saturate the newly filled paths, leaving our vegetable garden well-prepared for summer’s heat and likely dry spells.

The Fortex pole beans exploded up their trellis even faster after their surrounding paths were mulched.

The mulch pile is almost gone. Wonder Spouse thinks there might be enough left for one more wheelbarrow load. We’ll be ordering more soon. I’ve still got to reclaim the front flower garden from the hooligan weeds that have been ruling unchallenged while I’ve labored on the edibles.

Paths around the rainbow chard finally got mulch yesterday.

These eternally cyclic chores of weeding, mulching, and agonizing over the weather probably do seem like the acts of a lunatic to some. The reverse is actually true for me. These tasks keep me sane, centered on the rhythms of the seasons, attentive to the dances of butterflies, and the sweet scents of a succession of flowers.

Lunacy was once thought to be exacerbated by a full moon, and we’ve got one coming up next week. However, instead of lunacy, if you live near Chapel Hill, North Carolina, consider celebrating early June moonlight in the beautiful gardens of the North Carolina Botanical Garden. On Saturday evening, June 2, they’ll be hosting their first ever Carolina Moonlight Gala. This fundraiser for the Garden will include good food, live music for dancing, and an auction with items ranging from gorgeous artwork to fabulous vacation getaways. Even if you can’t make it the Gala, you can still bid on auction items online via the link above, and all proceeds benefit the programs at the Garden.

I think summer’s exuberance lends itself to minor acts of lunacy. Why not use the upcoming full moon as an excuse to go a little crazy in your garden — or better yet, support one of the finest public gardens in the southeastern United States? As you dance in the moonlight, perhaps you’ll be joined by one or more of these breath-taking beauties:

 

 

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  1. #1 by New Hampshire Garden Solutions on May 29, 2012 - 7:44 pm

    Great idea! The mulch should also keep the soil much cooler and help keep the soil in the paths from compacting too much and turning into concrete.

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