Category Archives: Patty’s Retreat

Follow Patty’s posts about what’s growing in her garden, what creatures she has interacted with, and what life is like on her woodland retreat.

When I Grow up I Wanna be a Butterfly

Monarch “larvae” ready for a closeup!
Beauty on beauty…

A few summers ago I found this beautiful monarch “larvae” in the vegetable garden on a milkweed I had purposefully weeded around.   Obviously a caterpillar can’t take a selfie, so what’s a girl to do?


The obvious answer? Pose it for some awesome photos with a friend, Sheri Bergman, behind the camera.



This year, I brought in a monarch caterpillar and it metamorphosed overnight into this gorgeous jeweled chrysalis (I missed the whole thing).

Check out the chrysalis

I also missed the  totally cool nearly-butterfly phase,  but after relocating the chrysalis outside, here’s what I found just a few days ago.  I had clearly JUST missed the hatching as well as it pumping up its new wings.

Transformation complete!

Observing this process, I can’t help but think of the many different metamorphoses we all pass through in a lifetime.  It seems unlikely that the caterpillar knows it will someday have wings, but it’s clearly trusting the process and moving through it.  Life lesson in there…

OK, OK… I can’t resist one more lesson!

Did you know only 1-3% of monarch caterpillars ever become a butterfly? Birds, bugs and other predators are to blame, and when you factor in pesticides, loss of habitat, climate change and other challenges, the result is a 90% loss of monarchs in the past year.  All of this is a strong argument for weeding around the milkweed plants, and even for bringing in monarch caterpillars for the few weeks it takes for them to grow big enough to form a chrysalis.  Plus it’s a fascinating experience!  For more details, and for some cool videos of a monarch caterpillar hatching from its egg AND a monarch emerging from its chrysalis, check out The Monarch Project.

“When she transformed into a butterfly, the caterpillars spoke not of her beauty, but of her weirdness. They wanted her to change back into what she had always been. But she had wings.”  Dean Jackson

Want more? Keep reading about Patty’s Retreat.

Seed Savers

Martha & the Great Tomato Heist

Quick and easy seed smear

Did you ever hear the story about the restaurateur who declined to provide his hard-to-find heirloom tomato seeds for Martha Stewart’s garden? Not ready to give up, Martha dined at one of his restaurants and ordered the heirloom tomato salad… and, as you might guess, did a quick save of the seeds she’d been wanting. Pretty ingenious, huh?

You may not be Martha, but you can still try your hand at saving seeds. And, what do you know! It’s already that time of year again – time to select the best-tasting and healthiest tomatoes and save a few seeds so you’re sure to have some of your faves next year.

Simple Seed Saving

Though there are many ways to save tomato seeds, I’ve found this simple technique works best.

  1. Choose tomatoes that are fully ripe and from plants that have produced well and thrived in your garden.
  2. Label a paper towel with a spot for each variety of seeds you want to save. Believe me, you’ll be glad you labelled before the next step.
  3. Now smear the seeds onto a paper towel under their respective labels and allow to completely air dry for several days.
  4. Next, put them in plastic bags for storage.  (I don’t typically seal the bag since the seeds are secure, and this avoids any chance of mold later.)

Hummingbird Moth

Hum Moth
Clearwing hummingbird moth on a short cultivar of monarda.

The first time I spotted a hummingbird moth, my brain could not believe my eyes.  Was it a baby hummingbird?  A bug?  Some weird cross between the two?  These beauties hover just like a hummingbird, and their favorite flowers are bergamot, also known as monarda or bee balm – but in general, they seem to visit the same types of flowers hummingbirds favor.

There are two types of hummingbird moths – clearwing and hawk.

The photos above and below are both examples of clearwing hummingbird moths – so named because the center of their wings are actually clear, like a pane of glass. The clearwing hummingbird moth shown below was spotted at a friend’s house in Westerville this week. And that makes sense, because the most likely time of year to spot a hummingbird moth in Ohio is July-August. During these months, they can be seen visiting flowers throughout the day and around dusk.

yellow hummer
Clearwing hummingbird moth spotted in Westerville, Ohio

The other type is called a hummingbird hawk moth.  Check out this short video I took of both types of hummingbird moths while on vacation in Hilton Head, South Carolina:

And be sure to keep your eye out for these winged beauties in your own flower garden!

Drawn to this story like a moth to a… well, you know…? Keep reading about Patty’s Retreat.