Life as I know It

My photo
San Luis Obispo, California, and South Bristol, Maine, United States
Author ~ Illustrator ~ Lecturer

Monday, May 28, 2012

My Peaceable Kingdom

One day, as I worked in my gardens, I found a lizard clinging to the side of a terra cotta pot that held an old conifer. A jay swooped onto the top of the tree, and nearby, a hummingbird zipped between the blossoms of a pineapple sage. Butterflies visited flowers, a dragonfly hovered, and stopped to rest on a peach.

This beautiful dragonfly would hawk an insect out of the air and then return to rest on the peach.

I looked around and thought, this is my version of a peaceable kingdom. Sure, I have days when I think that the aphids and the gophers are conspiring to defeat me, but mostly I am in awe of how everything seems to work together to keep the garden (and me) healthy.

Let me introduce you to some of my friends. They're not flashy like butterflies, and maybe they're not your favorite garden dwellers, but if you get to know them, you'll realize how much they help to keep your garden thriving. I'd love to share their stories with you and would love it if YOU would share their stories with a child in your life. Gardens and children belong together. They make our lives richer in every way.

Frogs serenade us on warm spring evenings, but they're not just songsters; they also rid the garden of pests. 

I'm always cautious about washing aphids off my plants. When I look closely, I often find these aphid wolves feasting on the culprits. These look like little crocodiles with orange spots. They're the young of lady bird beetles (aka ladybugs). The aphid wolves are voracious, and they can out eat their parents (but isn't that true of lots of kids?).

Green Lacewings are gorgeous, but they're not predators; they feed on nectar and pollen. When you see one out in the garden at night, be sure to shine a flashlight on it. The large eyes will glow golden-orange. Lacewing eggs, which are small, pale, oblongs, are attached to leaves by long "stalks." I always think they look like some sort of undersea coral dweller. The eggs hatch and the young of the lacewings, which look like an alligator with pincers, will feed endlessly on mites, aphids, eggs, and more. 

My granddaughter Sara May and I watched this elegant caterpillar, which looks like a fine piece of enameled jewelry, turn into a gorgeous chrysalis, then an Anise Swallowtail butterfly. What a lesson of the circle of life.

I taught Sara to gently (GENTLY is the key word) touch the top of the caterpillars head. See the little orange spots on top? They are osmeterium (also called stink glands). They pop up (a great scare tactic and threat) and emit a strong odor, which discourages predators. 

A Monarch caterpillar. Oh, what a life this little beauty has ahead. Imagine being a fragile butterfly and migrating thousands of miles during your life.

Thousands of miles on paper-thin wings. How can we overlook such miracles?

Bumblebees make me happy. Look at this woolly bumble sipping nectar from a Echeveria bloom. Look closely at those legs. Can you see the golden pollen basket on the rear leg?, The bumble will pack the basket with nutritious pollen and carry it back to her nest. Can you see the long tongue (really a proboscis, which is a sucking tube). You can close your eyes in the garden and hear the deep rumble of a bumble bee. These native pollinators wear a soft, hairy jacket. They're able to get out into the garden on a cold day, long before honeybees are up and about. 

This beautiful alligator lizard patrols my garden and gobbles pests, larvae, and eggs. I love him (or her) and have seen this lizard dip into a tiny pond and swim.

My garden abounds with fence lizards. I love watching them hunt, do their push-ups in the sunshine, and bask like sunbathers. Yesterday, as I watered, this guy ran into the spray from the hose and took a long shower.

I don't have a great photo of a toad, but I do have this little painting I did of one in my herb garden. These plumpy-bumpy critters are some of the best pest patrollers you can have in your garden, eating dozens of bugs, centipedes, and slugs a day. And who can resist that wise old face and gorgeous golden eyes? I sure can't. Having a toad as a neighbor is a blessing.

Well friends, this is a short posting, but I have assignments to finish today and must get back to work. 

Thank you for all your support, your e-mails, Facebook ramblings, Pinterest input, etc. Phew, it is tough to keep up with you all.

One of my favorite mail order companies, Imagine Childhood, did a wonderful interview with me and posted it on their blog. If you visit Imagine Childhood and leave a comment before Thursday, you will be eligible to win one of my books AND a pottery toad house. 

Sending love across the miles, OH, and come hear me talk about organic gardening, nature, and publishing on Saturday, June 2nd at 2 P.M. at the Curious Cup Bookstore at 925 Linden, Carpinteria (near Santa Barbara). California! Y'all come!


P.S. Please drop by my recent Lowe's blog and leave a comment!


Donna@Conghaile Cottage said...

Isn't life wonderful? I LOVE to witness my garden critters at work. At the moment it is VERY HARD to walk out the front door without an angry mob of nesting birds casting their discontent with ME! Your posts are wonderful and fun. LOVE EVERY ONE!
Big Hugs,

Foodiewife said...

Sometimes, in the business of life, we forgot to stop and really listen to the sounds of nature around us. I'm afraid of bees, but it doesn't stop me from keeping a respectful distance to admire them-- and appreciate the honey they make for us to enjoy. How I'd love to see a monarch caterpillar. I work in Butterfly Town, where the Monarchs are famous for the groves they come to visit. They are gorgeous! This is why we do organic gardening. We don't want to harm the helpful critters. Now, if we could only get those annoying ground squirrels from tearing out our plants, and those snails.... the eat more of my basil than I do!

Debby, "A Feast for the Eyes"

Casa Mariposa said...

I teach about the importance of not bothering the balance of nature in my science classes and the kids (11-12) seem to really understand. I have a lot of the same critters in my garden and find them much more interesting than TV. To know that they chose to live in my garden is always a gift. :o)

Anonymous said...

that was such a lovely critter visit in your garden, Sharon! xo
I'm sharing! thea

Susan said...

It's all in knowing how the food chain goes. Helpers are always welcomed in my garden, especially the ladybug...for so many reasons:-D

Sharon Lovejoy said...

Thea dear,

You ALWAYS share, that is part of what is wonderful about YOU.



jaz@octoberfarm said...

i love your drawings!

FlowerLady Lorraine said...

Great post Sharon. You have some interesting lizards, different than the ones we have down here in s.e. FL.

It is always a treat to see what critters are out and about in the gardens.

Thank you for being the inspiration you are.


Anonymous said...

Our creation is a miracle! I have three grandsons, two of which love to garden with me. They amaze me at their wonderment of life! Last week we planted sunflower seeds in their garden. I must tell you that last year one of them planted sunflower seeds from a bird feeder and they grew beautifully! The wonder of a child continues to thrill me daily.
Martha Ellen

One Woman's Journey - a journal being written from Woodhaven - her cottage in the woods. said...

Love this post
I learn from you
things I did not know...

Nellie said...

Oh, this was a very informative and beautiful post! I have read your blog for awhile, but don't think I have ever left a comment.
I am a fan of both you and Susan Branch. I know the two of you are good friends.
We have a large vegetable garden, but lack some of the predators you have mentioned.
Happy growing season!

Jim Longs Garden said...

What a zoo of wonderful creatures you have around you. It's always a relaxing adventure to see your world through your eyes and words.

Julie Marie said...

Oooh Sharon, I just love your Peaceable Kingdom and all of your precious garden visitors... your photos of them are just stunning!... wish we had some cute little Lizards close by... I see them on our daily Nature walk, but none in my garden... I do have little cute garden snakes though... they are so teeny and Jack says they look like a little bungie cord, so of course, I call them all "Bungie"... I cannot even imagine a day without Nature in my life and in my gardens... I truly believe even the tiniest of God's creatures knows when we love them... I am certain that is why so many have chosen your gardens as their own peaceable kingdoms... and what a beautiful haven you have created for them... much love to you, off to visit your links now... xoxo Julie Marie

Julie Marie said...

PS One of my Dragonflies just emailed one of yours...

Carol said...

Yes, Sharon . . . you do have quite the kingdom there and your efforts help sustain all that life. It is not always so peaceful though is it? Here the catbirds are always diving after the poor tiger swallowtails and well your dragonfly is diving for someone else's life too. The cycle of life can be rough to realize sometimes. Though I love those aphid eaters! I think I might not hose my roses off either. You have some very important critters there and your painting of the toad is fantastic! xxoxo Carol

Pam G. said...

gardens and children do surely go together. My granddaughter Maddie loves gardens, birds and all of nature. At 5 she is the perfect age to learn all about the natural world.
I love obseving nature and even more when I get to see it through her eyes.

Sharon Lovejoy said...

Pam dear,

The eyes and heart of a five year old are THE BEST.

We get a second chance at life.



Low Tide High Style said...

It's wonderful that you take the time to stop and appreciate all that nature has to offer, your photos and paintings are beautiful. I feel the same way about our garden and the wonderful, and not so wonderful creatures (skunks) who inhabit it! Have a great week!


TexWisGirl said...

such cute paintings! i like your view of your 'kingdom'. :)

thanks for dropping by this weekend! continued blessings to you!

africanaussie said...

I loved this post - you just create such an excitement about gardening - i want to run out there right now!

camp and cottage living said...

Definitely a Peaceable Kingdom! And I learned so much from this post. Thanks for sharing your lessons in gardening with us Sharon
It's so interesting!

Kay's flowers said...

I love your friends and I love to hear all the benefits they give us. They are great reminders of what they all mean to us.
Have a great weekend.



Cindy Garber Iverson said...

I love your term "peaceable kingdom". It is perfectly fitting. I will remember it now when I am in my own garden sanctuary. You and I garden the same way--in harmony with the critters and bugs. I can't imagine it any other way.

Cindy at Rosehaven Cottage

Pat said...

We are having an incredible season of many butterflies - more than I can remember in a long time...and the spring peepers & leopard frogs are singing quite a chorus in the evenings. Dragonflies and the large bumble bees are also more plentiful this year...a good sign!!

Carla said...

I always love visiting your blog. You have captured the secret life of our garden dwellers beautifully.

Curbstone Valley Farm said...

I agree with you on washing off aphids. We had hoards of aphids this year on our favas, but we've also had hoards of beneficial insects among them too. Despite healthy aphid populations this spring though, damage has been slim to none as their natural predators prey upon them. I have yet to find Monarch caterpillars here, although I've added a lot of milkweeds to the garden this spring, so I'm hopeful. I did just find my first Anise Swallowtail caterpillar this week though, lurking on our fennel! That was a very exciting find. If I'm honest, I almost enjoy finding creatures in the garden more than flowers!

kj said...

my dearest sharon,

i give up any hope of knowing one zillionth of what you know. I have relationships with NONE of these bugs and until reading this post i have given them no respect.

you are amazing. this reads kind of like a love story and I think that says volumes about you.

(but, too, my yard is looking good and i wish you could see it) ♥

troutbirder said...

I do love your open minded and enchanting view of the world. To many bugs are bugs. To you an interesting and often beautiful view of the web of life.... Thanks

Storybook Woods said...

What I love about nature is how it all works together. Like a puzzle where all the pieces fit. Clarice

Brenda@CoffeeTeaBooks said...

Now that my son's wedding is part of family history, I can read and comment again!

LOVE the pictures and prose on this post.

My daughter has started using the iPad in her homeschooling of the grandchildren. She is so excited about the nature apps.

One of them not only shows various birds but lets the children hear their individual bird songs. She said they have now learned to recognize a few birds in their backyard just by sound. :)

But I still love your artwork better.

Privet and Holly said...

Sharon, it IS amazing
what the Master Gardener
had in mind with all
these miraculous creatures
that work together, so

I've had fun catching
up on your doings ~
CONGRATS on the sweet
bird book. I know three
sweeties in Maryland
who will be receiving
this from their Aunt
Suzy when she goes to
visit in a few weeks!

Loved your garden tour,
too. What a wonderland : )

xo Suzanne

Anonymous said...

Dear Sharon,
I so look forward to your new book for my youngest grandson. He loves the garden, and I want to teach him about living sustainably. Thank you for another lovely post; I know you are a busy gal so it is that much more appreciated!
Playing in the Dirt,

Carla said...

I have been a fan of yours for quite a while (and have been know to buy a magazine just to read your articles:). How nice to find your blog. Thanks for sharing this awesome simple-ness. Carla

Dee Nash said...

I enjoyed this so much Sharon. I love the critters in my garden best of all. My camera is broken, and I'm waiting on a battery. It's murder . . . waiting. Once I was scared of the flying and buzzing around me, but now, I see them all as friends. Oh yes, every little kids who stops by gets a lesson in critters.~~Dee

Sandy Schaefer said...

Hi Sharon. I am behind in my blog reading, just catching up today. What a wonderful post. I loved each critter that you shared. Thank you.
~ sandy s.

LindaCTG said...

I loved taking a stroll through your very peaceable kingdom! I'm watching our own critters frolic today but could not in a million years create the beautiful illustrations that flow from your hands.

Sharon Lovejoy said...

Hi all,

Just want you to know that LindaCTG is the producer of one of the best gardening shows you'll ever see, Central Texas Gardener on PBS. You can access Linda's blog and catch up on great garden designs and fun projects.



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Trademark Lawyer said...

I loved looking at all of these photos, it goes to show how vivid and beautiful nature is! I particularly like those alligator lizards because we don't have those over here.