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DRAINE: Gardens and their creatures are a delight
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DRAINE: Gardens and their creatures are a delight

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Every gardener has expectations for the summer’s garden; some expectations focus on the harvest, some of the production of unfamiliar plants. Mine could best be described as serendipitous, even quirky.

Remembering that last year’s unusual moisture produced an abundance of slugs, I was surprised to find several slugs in our significantly drier garden this spring. After feeding the them to the eager chickens, I reflected on what I know about slugs.

To keep it simple, I regard them as snails without shells, as appealing as the evidence of someone’s bad cold. There are many varieties of land slugs but all are hermaphrodites, each containing both male and female reproductive organs. After the mating — a twisting, mucous-covered maneuver, they lay their eggs... the cycle begins again, and I maintain my search for them.

While I find slugs less than delightful, I was happy to find a patch of bright yellow ‘dog vomit’ slime mold on the wood chipped path to the garden. This slime mold is great stuff — an amazing life form. The ‘dog vomit’ variety is correctly named Fuligo septica. It is common, found world-wide, spread by spores, and known to science since the early 1700s. Looking like a patch of spilled mustard, it appears in gardens that have wood chip paths or mulch. Interestingly enough, it has been found to have some antibacterial action against certain cancer cells.

Radically different from slugs and their mucus and the brightly colored slime mold is the family of house wrens that set up housekeeping in a small birdhouse in the linden tree outside the front window. The near constant trilling of their songs is an almost constant joy.

A new experience for me was what LeRoy called “a moment of nature.” He led me to the large bed of Euphorbia myrsinites, the common donkey tail spurge which grows in a bed of rocks along the front of the house and motioned me to lean down and listen. I did and what I heard was the heat of the sun causing the popping open of the mature seed pods. Donkey tail spurge is a solution for rugged garden spots because it will truly grow almost everywhere. And now I know how the seeds get scattered.

A daily delight are the robins that appear when I water the garden. I hand water and, drawn by the sound of the water, the robins appear and hop, stop to listen, bob for worms and generally delight me. They are quite tame and familiar with the watering routine. My pleasure in them actually begins when the neighborhood’s resident avian alarm begins the melodious trill someplace between 4:30 and 5:00 in the morning. The bird’s greeting of the new day is so musical I remind myself that they are, in fact, members of the musical thrush family.

While we all have been happy with the abundant bumblebees this year, I was happy to find evidence of the leaf cutter bees’ activity on the rose leaves. These are sweet little solitary bees that make little paper-punch half circle cuts along the edge of the rose leaf. This is food for their nesting areas. They do no harm to the plant. I have never seen one at work — that would be a grand delight.

Cathie Draine is a South Dakota Cooperative Extension Master Gardener and a member of the Garden Writers Association. She lives and gardens in Whispering Pines. Contact her at blackhillsgarden.com.

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