Tuesday, May 31, 2011


            May was a madhouse, not that that’s unusual. As of today, only three clients left to change out containers for. After a delightful extended spring (for southeastern NC), summer arrived all at once on the 23rd. She’s unmistakable, with her unrelenting humidity and nighttime temperatures creeping through the 70s into the 80s. The three-day Memorial Day weekend came just in time to forestall the onset of leaden-limbed zombietonia for the staff of Fitzgeralds Gardening. Tim and I start four-day work-weeks as of June 1. We may be old and stubborn, but we’re not stupid.

Houseplant Class of '11 Reunion

            So that’s it for the wrap-up, except for this photo of the happy survivors of overwintering in the Fitzgerald House of Plant Peril. You’ll notice the poinsettia is not only still alive, it has new leaves. Miracles surround those of us with eyes to see.
Check out the poinsettia!

Inherently stable triangular supports
for tomatoes and peppers

           Keeping with the verticality theme introduced last time, today we’re about helping plants grow up. Literally.

            In May 3rd’s “Moving Right Along” post, I described contriving a triangular tomato support out of concrete reinforcing wire panels. Since then, Tim knocked off three more of them to prop up three bell peppers and six more tomatoes in my newest raised beds (see “Raising Cain [and Beds],” April 9). Here’s a picture of the completed trio: remember you can click on the photo to make it bigger.

 A construction detail featuring bendy wire;

and another utilizing the pointy ends of the reinforcing wire itself.

Detail of concrete reinforcing wire arbor

           Further plumbing of the depths of the many and varied purposes to which wire panels can be adapted followed. How about an arbor to shade the flagstone path through the New Bed? Because the panels took on a distinct sway-backed appearance when left on their own, Tim attached lengths of rebar to them to rigidify them.

 My clever husband also devised a top-panel stiffener, pictured here:

Another garden use for
concrete reinforcing wire

And here is the finished result, airy, rustic, shabby chic—exactly what I had in mind.   

A concrete reinforcing wire
wall trellis

How about something for morning glories and moonflowers to climb? Using our handy wire cutters, I removed the bottom two horizontal rows from a full four-by-seven-foot sheet and pushed the remaining verticals into the ground on the back wall of our outdoor shower; then I tied the top to the wall with gardeners twine. Voilà! A sturdy frame to attract viney tendrils, with the extra advantage of being better-looking than the deer netting I tacked up last season.

I can just picture ripe, juicy melons,
undefiled by pickleworms,
hanging down from this slanted support

 For my melons, I “borrowed” a design for a slanted support from Gardeners Supply catalog, using my by-now well-loved concrete reinforcing wire and rebar. This should prevent whatever cantaloupes the pickleworms leave from ground-contact, and provide some shade for the supposedly heat-tolerant lettuces I plan to plant underneath. Here it is:

 Trellises for the bush beans came from Mel Bartholomew’s All New Square Foot Gardening (see Good Reads over on the right). These involve one-inch electrical conduit, elbow fittings for same, and trellis netting.

One-inch-wide electrical conduit
and elbow fitting

Trellis netting (duh)


Bean trellis frame
made of electrical conduit

Cut three lengths of conduit to whatever dimensions you require: I needed two 36” legs and a 24” crosspiece. Use the elbows to attach the crosspiece to the legs. Tim pounded two-foot sections of rebar 12” into the ground, and slid the conduit legs over the 12” left sticking out. (Plan on lengths of rebar that leave about a third of the height of your trellis above-ground. For example: when we build a six-foot-high frame for pole beans, we’ll have 48” pieces of rebar as anchors, 24” in the earth and 24” out to secure the conduit-legs. Capisce?)

Tie netting to frame
and you're good to go

Once the frame is set, all that’s left is to tie the netting onto the crosspiece and secure it to the legs at a few points. I recommend you read Mel Bartholomew’s description of the intricacies of this activity. He’s much more succinct—and probably clearer—than I would be.

Finally, here are instructions for building your very own free-standing vine post(s), taken verbatim from the sidebar to an article I wrote years ago that never found any paying takers.

                   Materials:  1 4x4”x8’ post
                                    6’ of 24” chicken wire
                                    4x4” Post cap or finial
                                    Chicken wire staples
                                    1 40-lb. bag Quik-Crete
                                    Pea gravel
                         Tools:  Posthole digger
                                    Measuring tape
                                    Spirit level
                                    Wheelbarrow or tub
                                    A source of water for mixing concrete
                                    Paint or stain (optional)
                                    A helper would be a bonus, especially in the leveling and wire attachment phases

1.      Select a spot in your garden that could use some vertical enhancement and that gets at least five or six hours of sunlight a day. Dig a hole 27” deep with the posthole digger. Fill the bottom three inches of the hole with pea gravel to give the base of the post some drainage. Set the 4x4” post on the gravel and check for level on all sides.

2.      Mix the Quik-Crete with just enough water so that all the material is wetted and the mixture attains a heavy consistency (not thin or watery). Pour the mixed Quik-Crete into the hole, continually checking that the post remains level. Float (or smooth) the concrete at ground level with your hand to form a shallow cone. This helps water drain away from the post. (See drawing.) If the concrete doesn’t come to the top of your hole, backfill with some of the excavated soil and tamp down securely.

A picture's worth a thousand words,

3.      Let the leveled post sit for several hours or overnight to allow the concrete to set thoroughly.

4.       Attach the post cap or finial to the top of the post.

5.      Paint or stain your post if you plan to, and let it dry completely.

6.      Wrap the chicken wire lengthwise around the post. Slightly overlap and staple the long sides to the back side of the post. Shape the wire into a tube shape, folding in or cutting close any poky fragments of wire at the top and bottom. (See drawings.)

7.      Plant your vines either inside the tube or just outside it and watch them grow up!

      So there we have it, the May Prop-Up. Thanks for "propping" by.

Friday, May 27, 2011


            When Tim and I participated in the 2003 Oak Island Garden Tour, the brochure touted our “…mastery of…vertical space.” We hadn’t really given it much thought, but I guess dubbing us masters of verticality is apt, mainly because our small lot limits the amount of space available for planting. We compensate by utilizing the space above the ground.

            In the corners of the back garden’s enclosing hedge of dwarf yaupon hollies, we set 4x4” pressure-treated posts wrapped bottom-to-top in chicken wire upon which I optimistically planned to grow lush clematis, á la Longwood Gardens. (F.Y.I.: Longwood is in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, not too far west of Philadelphia. It’s one of my very favorite public gardens. Do go see it whenever you venture north of the Mason-Dixon. Other worthwhile public gardens in the Philly area include Chanticleer, the Morris Arboretum and Winterthur.) Little did I guess at the time the frustration that awaited me. I did know, however, that clematis take a few years to settle in—like about a hundred, in my case—so I planted annual vines on the posts for visual interest until the clematis kicked in. That was in 1998. As the years passed and clematis after clematis bellied-up, those filler vines, with their royal purple seed pods, or tiny Chinese lanterns hiding dark brown seeds with perfect white hearts painted on each, or masses of the cheerfulest little brown-eyed yellow flowers you’d ever want to see, became important garden choices in their own right. Entranced by their ease of culture and the huge number of choices available to try, I rejoiced in the fact they’re annual and supposed to die every year.

Love-in-a-puff seeds
Here’s an annotated list of the ones that succeeded best for me.

♥ Cardiospermum halicacabrum (Love-in-a-puff) The common name’s a lot easier to say, isn’t it? Delicate, finely cut light-green foliage mostly hides the miniscule white flowers; but the seed pods are the Chinese lanterns I referred to above, three seeds per pod, white heart on each seed. Thrill a child and let him break some open.

Blue pea vine bloom

♥ Clitoria ternatea (Blue pea vine) Stop tittering. The genus-name—which, by the way, nobody ever mispronounces—is unfortunate (however descriptive), and the common name’s not much better. How about blue butterfly vine? Anyway, whatever you call it, this four-to-five-foot-high scandent (meaning lax in habit, a plant that leans against its support rather than actively climbing it) plant boasts the most beautiful, royal blue pea-like flowers you’d ever hope to see. It’s love at first sight, whatever you call it.

♥ Dolichos lablab or Lablab purpureus (Caution: taxonomic turf war in progress) (Hyacinth-bean vine) Everything about this plant impresses: coarse-textured dark green leaves flash purple veins and stems; fragrant purple-and-white racemes of pea-like flowers in mid- to late summer are followed by amazing, four to six-inch long in-your-face purple edible seed pods that persist long into the fall. Butterflies and hummingbirds will be as mesmerized as you are.

♥ Ipomoea alba (Moonflower) First, some pronunciation practice: don’t reduce this botanical name to a mumble in your mind. We have six of them, so learn to pronounce it now: eye-poe-MEE-uh. (For future reference, whenever any other vowel immediately precedes an e in Latin, it seems you pretend the non-e vowel isn’t there, Ipom[o]ea being a case in point.) Now, back to moonflowers. To best enjoy the lusciously fragrant flowers, plant this one where you can smell it in the evenings, when the five-to-six-inch-wide pure white flowers open beginning in mid-summer. Heaven! They also draw hawk moths and Carolina sphinxes like magnets.

♥ Ipomoea batatas (Ornamental sweet potato vine) Available in chartreuse (‘Margarita’), purple-black (‘Blackie’), tricolor (‘Variegata’) and many other variations. Despite their lack of showy flowers, most people—including me—grow these to drape and cascade out of containers. It occurs to me as I write this that you could probably train them to go up as well. Matter of fact, I’m may try it sometime. If you live in an area without deer pressure, be sure to give them lots of space. One May, Tim and I put two one-gallon ‘Margarita’ in a four-by-four-foot raised bed at our dentist's office: by July, the parking lot was disappearing under waves of chartreuse foliage. When removing the plants in November, we pulled out a wheelbarrow-load of potatoes, some as large as footballs (and just as tasty). A warning—if you live in an area where edible sweet potatoes are grown, use something else: farmers live in fear of sweet potato virus, and I. batatas can carry it.

Exotic love vine

♥ Ipomoea lobata (Exotic love vine) One of my few successes with seed-starting, I. lobata started out slow. By August, however—Oh. My. God. The profuse scarlet, yellow and white flowers don’t resemble any other morning-glory relative you’ve ever seen. Three scraggly seedlings turned my mailbox into a waterfall of exotic something from midsummer to frost.

Cardinal climber

♥ Ipomoea x multifida, a.k.a. I. x sloteri (Cardinal climber) Small palmate mid-green leaves are deeply divided into three to seven lobes and interspersed with one-inch-long tubular crimson flowers with white throats in summer. Hummingbirds love this one. Don’t eat the seeds, though (like the thought might actually occur to you): they’re poisonous.

♥ Ipomoea nil (Morning glory) The familiar and profuse saucer-shaped blooms come in white, pink, red, purple, blue and any combination of same. Be stern about how much space you allot them; morning glories have thuggish tendencies and an eye to escaping bounds. Notorious self-seeders, the seedlings are easy to transplant and/or pull out. Don’t toss discarded sprouts onto the compost pile unless you find tangles of vines attractive.

♥ Ipomoea qualmoclit (Cypress vine) This one looks very much like cardinal climber. The difference lies in its feathery foliage and its dainty red saucer-like flowers.

'Alice DuPont'

♥ Mandevilla spp.  (Ubiquitous mailbox vine—at least that’s my name for it: most people just call it mandevilla) Two hybrids generally show up in the trade: M. x amabilis and M. amoena ‘Alice DuPont.’ They have the familiar pink trumpet-shaped flowers among leathery dark green leaves. ‘Alice du Pont’ has more numerous and darker-pink blooms. Recently, ‘Crimson Parasols,’ a red-blooming cultivar, hit the market. The $64,000 question in my neighborhood is, “Can I over-winter my mandevilla?” The short, easy answer is, “Don’t bother with the pot-in-the-garage technique.” But my friend Miss P’s mailbox specimen is in its fifth lush season. After first frost, she cuts down the dead foliage to about six inches and builds a little chicken-wire cage around it. This she stuffs with fallen leaves and pine needles; then she wraps the whole thing in burlap and hopes for the best. So far, so good.

Snail vine flowers

♥ Phaseolus coccineus ‘Scarlet’ (Scarlet runner bean) To be honest, I never managed to get this one going, although a friend’s grew lushly. I was quite jealous, because not only does Phaseolus attract hummingbirds with its brilliant red blooms, it also produces edible beans. ‘Scarlet’ is designated an heirloom variety, which means it’s been in cultivation for a long, long time. There’s another ornamental Phaseolus, P. caraculla, or snail vine, producing the most awesome white and red-violet spiral flowers. Grower extraordinaire Christine gave me one on Wednesday:  it’s slated for planting on the New Bed arbor tomorrow.

Mexican flame vine

Senecio confusus (Mexican flame vine) If you love orange flowers—although there doesn’t seem to be that many of us—this eight-to-ten-foot climber is for you. From late spring to frost, daisy-like blooms up to two inches across appear in clusters against dark green, glossy foliage.

Solanum seaforthianum

♥ Solanum seaforthianum (Italian jasmine or St. Vincent’s lilac) Dark-green leaves set off the clusters of violet-blue flowers with golden yellow stamens summer into fall. This is one of my favorites, although it’s not easy to find. In fact, I haven’t found it anywhere for many years.

♥ Thunbergia alata (Black-eyed Susan vine) Hands down, this is my most indispensible annual vine—and that’s saying a lot. Medium green heart-shaped leaves become hidden by the deluge of one-inch saucer-like flowers with round brown or green dimpled centers mid-summer to frost. There’s a golden-yellow type, a butter-yellow type and a white cultivar (‘Alba’). Cloudless sulfur butterflies love it. The golden-yellow straight species is an heirloom, dating back to 1825.

Black-eyed Susan vine

Two other Thunbergia vines I tried didn't perform well for me, but don’t let that stop you from giving them a go. First is T. battescombii (glory vine), with three-inch-long royal purple blossoms with yellow throats as its claim to fame. It’s not been particularly glorious in my garden, however, despite several tries.  Next is T. grandiflora (sky vine or blue trumpet vine). Lavender-blue flowers up to three inches across, also with yellow throats, are supposed to appear in summer. I wouldn’t know. Mine died before it got that far.

I also grew an Asarina scandens ‘Joan Lorraine’ (creeping gloxinia) in a pot for a few seasons a decade or so ago. She had dainty, dark green, intricate foliage and lovely little deep purple flowers: not at all flashy, you had to get close to appreciate her beauty. But my luck runs almost as poorly with gloxinias as it does with clematis, which is a whole other sad story we’ll get to in a few weeks.

Keep in mind these are only the annual vines that have lived and died in my garden so far. There’re lots more out there, like Cobaea scandens (cup and saucer vine) and Rhodochiton atrosanguineum (purple bells). Since annual vines out-grow their pots so quickly and tangle into other things so readily, few garden centers stock much of a selection. Select Seeds catalog, which offers plants as well as seeds, is a good place to start hunting. Woodlanders Nursery’s online catalog is a source for more exotic genera.

Next time is the May Wrap-Up (good golly, Miss Molly, where is the year getting to?), followed by a riff on Perennial Vines I Have Known, to be succeeded by my sad history with the genus Clematis. Are you on the edge of your seat yet, antsy with anticipation?

Whatever. Stay cool, y’all—and I mean that literally for those of you in my immediate vicinity: summer arrived last Monday, and feels like it’s gonna be a lulu.

Thanks for dropping by.


Monday, May 23, 2011


            A little EXPECTATION can be a dangerous thing.
            May is crazy-busy time for Fitzgeralds Gardening. Every single viola, dianthus and snapdragon we planted as popsicles in December thawed and grew full and floriferous by late January. The first night the temperature stayed above 70° a week or so ago, they all started the slide through tired to ugly. All 60-some of them needed to be changed out yesterday.

            We’d be a bit further along in the task except each client has one or two things for us to do “while you’re here.” We EXPECT that to some extent because I have a habit of making make rash promises: I’m always certain that adding in this little job or that little job won’t take as much time as it did last year. I’m always wrong, of course. You’d think I’d EXPECT it.

            For example, I told Mrs. C we’d move the 300 daffodils we planted for her last autumn. See, Tim and I are so damn good at what we do that I EXPECT the people we work for to fall in line with whatever I want them to, horticulturally speaking. However, Mrs. C has very definite ideas of her own. Two years ago, she asked for 16 bright yellow mums to line her sidewalk. In the first place, I hate mums, full stop; I especially hate yellow mums; I hate yellow mums even more fronting a yellow house, like Mrs. C's. When we went to buy them, I tried to slip in some bronzes and some reds. Tim stopped me. “It’s not your house,” he pointed out. “Get the stupid yellow mums.”

            One for Mrs. C.

            Back in November, I brought some 500 daff bulbs for the Cs. “Let’s put them here and here and here,” I bubbled. “I won’t like them there,” she said. “Who doesn’t like daffodils?” I asked rhetorically. “They’ll hide the Buddha,” she said. “Oh, they’ll have gone down by the first of April and stop blocking him,” I lied. “Okay,” she said, “but if I don’t like them you’ll move them, right?” “You’ll like them, I EXPECT.” “Mmmm,” she said.

William Wordsworth didn't think
you could have too many daffodils

            The daffs bloomed. They were beautiful. Mr. C loved them. The neighbors oohed and aahed. Traffic slowed. Mrs. C hated them. “Too many daffodils,” she said. “They block the Buddha. You’re going to move them, right?”

            “Yes,” I said, all the while thinking, There’s no such thing as too many daffodils. “We’ll move them when we come to change the containers.”

            Two for Mrs. C.

            This week, we took the time to move the daffodils, as I’d promised. It was harder than I EXPECTED and took longer, too. You wouldn’t think that bulbs placed on the surface of the ground and covered with some soil conditioner and cow poop would have set such determined roots in just six months. One of nature’s little miracles.

            I’ve given up on EXPECTING Mrs. C to do what I think she ought. Now, whatever she suggests, I nod and say, “Yes, ma’am, we can do that.”

            As everyone is by now aware, the Rapture failed to materialize as predicted by Mr. Camping, who has gone strangely silent, not to mention missing. My heart goes out to those who fully EXPECTED to enter heaven on Saturday as one of the two million saved souls, and who, in anticipation of the great event, gave away all their worldly goods and emptied retirement accounts to spread the word of imminent apocalypse. I am not a Christian. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever met a Christian as defined by my understanding of the term “Christ-like.” I had no EXPECTATION of being assumed into the Great Beyond, and was therefore not disappointed when it didn’t happen.

A life-long strategy of actively trying to avoid EXPECTATIONS has served me well. I’ve observed over the past 57 years that more often than not heartbreak lies on the far side of EXPECTING anything. And it’s not as depressing as it sounds: absent EXPECTATION, whatever happens is okay, and interesting, and a learning opportunity.

            You'd think I'd apply this life lesson to my dealings with Mrs. C. I EXPECT I shall from now on.

Talk about having one's work
cut out for one!

            Short post today. Why? Here’s what the side of our house looks like. All those flats of plants need planting before they go all leggy and have to be cut back, adding another unwelcome step on top of watering and sorting who gets what when. I’ve mentioned I’m an utter failure at multi-tasking, right? So early bedtime for this little cupcake and her best beau tonight.

            The blog passed the 3000-hit mark this morning, so thanks for dropping by. I really appreciate your interest and support.


Thursday, May 19, 2011


                                        let them go—the
                                        truthful liars and
                                        the false fair friends
                                        and the boths and
                                        neithers—you must let them go they
                                        were born
                                                         to go

            The title of today’s post comes from my most favoritest poem in the whole world, by e.e. cummings. (Read it in its entirety at the end of the post, in case you’re in search of a new most favoritest poem for yourself.)

            Back in the garden, we’re finishing up our tour of a tiny neighborhood of the insect kingdom. I hope those of you raised to believe a sentence beginning “All insects…” must end “…should be killed” have moderated your views. The truth is, the vast majority of bugs and bug-like creatures falls into the “boths” and “neithers” categories. I’ve singled out seven examples to illuminate the point.

Find the hornworm on this tomato plant
(If you click on the picture,
I've drawn a cirlcle around him)
            In “Bugs: The Good” (May 11), we talked about tobacco hornworms, and how their good points outweigh their bad ones. Yes, they chew on your tomatoes—and your tobacco plants, if you’re growing any—and they’re devilishly difficult to spot among the foliage until no leaves are left. Still, they incubate the eggs of parasitic wasps and tachinid flies. They also happen to be the larvae of Carolina sphinx moths, an important nighttime pollinator. I enjoy watching the adults fluttering around open moonflowers on summer evenings as I go out to make the last weather observation of the day. So hornworms are bad and good, with the foliage destroying balanced out by their hatchery and adult-stage pollination services.
Carolina sphinx moth
sipping from a moonflower

Praying mantis,
a.k.a. preying mantis


                        Sold as beneficials by purveyors of biologicals, praying mantises are not an unalloyed force for good in the garden. As voracious and opportunistic feeders, they’d just as soon slurp down a lacewing or butterfly as a Japanese beetle or pickleworm. Nevertheless, the law of averages dictates the bad guys get eaten as often as the good. A cautionary tale about introducing baby mantises to your garden: a friend of ours, whose torolusa juniper’s life was being sucked away by red spider mites, released both ladybugs and mantises on the shrub. A few days later, no evidence remained of either species, although the spider mites seemed in fine health and vigor. We surmised the mantises ate the ladybugs, and then departed the premises. The juniper didn’t survive. (By the way, check out the “The Deadly Mantis” post on the Quantum Biologist’s website: the camouflage mantids effect is amazing. Plus there’s a video of a pair fighting, which I didn’t watch. Apparently the Shaolin monks developed a kung-fu discipline based on their observation of praying mantises.)

The predacious velvet mite,
which sounds sexy
 unless you're a carrion beetle
(photo by Jim Kalisch,
colleague of Tom Perring)

Yellow predacious mite
(Photo by Tom Perring,
U. of Nebraska Lincoln,
Entomology Dept.)


            Speaking of mites, they work both sides of the street too. The ones wearing metaphoric white hats are called predacious mites. Not only will they attack other species, they go after their own kind as well. The yellow fellow shown here is a famous nemesis of two-spotted mites. The red guy is the soft-sounding velvet mite. They feed on creatures like carrion beetles, which I don’t believe I’ve ever seen one of. Regardless, it’s nice to think that while red spider mites are decimating your ivy and roses, their relatives fight on the side of righteousness. Or whatever.  
"Inchworm, inchworm,
Measuring the marigolds,
Seems to me you'd stop and see
How beautiful they are."

I wasn't kidding when I called
the little green guys


            Another interesting case of a “both” is the inchworm. Famous as the marigold-measuring subject of the song sung by Danny Kaye in the movie “Hans Christian Andersen,” inchworms aren’t worms at all, but caterpillars. Their peculiar mode of locomotion comes from having three pairs of legs in the forequarter, another two or three pairs at the hindquarter, and no legs at all in between. Another source of inchworm renown is that they spin silk filaments by which they launch themselves into the air to escape predation, a feat no other caterpillar has yet perfected. For those whose boredom thresholds are very high (I’m naming no names here), the itty-bitty green guys afford hours of amusement as they flail about for something in need of measuring to catch hold of. While browsing for images on the ‘Net, however, I learned that tent caterpillars are also a more social species of inchworm, and pool their silk-spinning abilities to make their signature houses. The solitary little green guys also eat foliage, but don’t cause any significant damage that I know of. It’s kind of like watching Charlie Sheen on “Two-and-a-Half Men”: you’re happier if you separate the detestable but charming character from the detestable and self-destructive person.

The deceptively ordinary-looking
brown recluse spider
            I looked up brown recluse spiders to clarify in my mind what they look like. They look like this:
Turns out a tenuous case can be made for including these inflictors of necrotizing bites in the “boths” category. If you get past that they prefer to live in human habitations, hunt only at night when we can’t see them, and that their venom is incredibly toxic, you can point out that their preferred prey is cockroaches.

Your basic cricket

            Crickets occupy a niche in neither-world. Renowned for their “singing” (the pleasant, summery sound made by wing rubbing against wing), they eat mostly decayed plants and fungi. Although the mole species can devastate lawns by stuffing themselves on grass roots, that’s only a problem if you’re fixated on the artificial, high-human-input concept of manicured green perfection. The Chinese have made pets of crickets for millennia, keeping them in tiny cages and breeding for singing skill. Like that’s possible: how do you breed for wing-rubbing behavior? Although I guess that’s mostly what eugenics is about. Anyway. Crickets don’t hurt anything people value, and don’t go out of their way to help us out. There it is in a nutshell—neither. Except, of course, for Jiminy Cricket, who is a famous philosopher and apparently has no wings at all.

Possibly the world's best-known cricket
Check out the front legson Mr. Mole Cricket--
watch out lawn!



            I don't know what this space is all about. It's not there in the editing place.

           Lastly, let’s look at the not-a-bug-at-all pillbug, a.k.a. roly-poly, sowbug, or woodlouse. Ubiquitous wherever it’s damp, the many-legged armored crawlers are actually terrestrial crustaceans, of the family Malacostraca, more closely related to lobsters than to June-bugs. Their armored-plate exoskeletons call to mind armadillos: in fact, the scientific name of true pillbugs, the ones who roll up into tight balls when frightened, is Armadillidiidae. None of these guys pose any threat to our gardens, our structures or our persons. They subsist on decaying vegetation, dead insects, fallen leaves and the occasional tender young rootlet. If they find their way inside your house, they’ll be dead in a day from lack of moisture (unless you have a leak somewhere). Terrestrial they may be, but memories of the ocean live on in these moisture lovers.
 A scared pillbug
A representative Malacostraca


            So there it is: a survey of the good, the bad, and the boths and neithers of garden insects. The moral of the story? Unless you know for sure they’re up to no good, leave the bugs you encounter in the garden alone. You wouldn’t want the death of a friend on your conscience, would you?


            Well, the Rapture is scheduled for Saturday. I’ll still be here for the next post, among all those disappointed muscular Christians. Hope you will be too.

            Thanks for dropping by, especially if it’s for the last time.


            Here’s the whole e.e. cummings poem, kind of appropriate for Rapture Eve.

                    let it go—the
                    smashed word broken
                    open vow or
                    the oath cracked length
                    wise—let it go it
                    was sworn
                                       to go

                    let them go—the
                    truthful liars and
                    the false fair friends
                    and the boths and
                    neithers—you must let them go they
                    were born
                                     to go

                    let all go—the
                    big small middling
                    tall bigger really
                    the biggest and all
                    things—let all go
                            so comes love