to the butterflies

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This year I gave the whole garden over to the butterflies. Which is really just another way of saying I gave it all over to myself. So often we do things on schedule without question: this year again, because last year at this time on repeat. But when I paused to consider the grand task of prepping the vegetable beds last spring,  I was surprised to realize that I had very little enthusiasm for the enterprise.

I’ve never had great success with vegetable gardening – my fault, for sure – but while I’m happy to care for my plants, I’m not up for coddling them which seems to be what tender vegetables  require to survive Virginia summers. I don’t love the process, I’m not rewarded with delicious bounty, and I don’t particularly like the way vegetable beds force linear order on the sunniest part of the yard. I think I was planting vegetables out of some internal sense of obligation or out of habit because I had done so for many years. Not great reasons, especially given the effort involved and since, really, if I was honest about it I’d much rather have flowers.

So in early spring I jettisoned our rectangular vegetable beds, enlisted some help installing a curving border and proceeded to full it with herbs, perennials, flowering shrubs and a few fruit-bearing plants. I divided and shifted things I already had that I knew would survive my inconstant high season attention. I still had some pretty significant holes, so on a whim I dug into the old packets of annual flower seeds in the back of the fridge – a few were over a decade expired – to see if I could coax a filler bloom or two from them. I did this late, and without much hope of success, but a few trays of nasturtiums and zinnias was an experiment I had the time and energy to undertake, in great part because I wasn’t busy weeding and watering vegetable seedlings for the neighborhood bunny gang. Lesson learned, I’m not sure flower seeds actually ever expire. My yard was a regular cutting garden summer into well autumn

As long as I’ve been practicing photography, I’ve been working at making pictures of butterflies, both for the challenge of it and for my delight in observing them. I’ve always made sure I had plenty of plants for pollinators, but since the butterflies and I seem to love the same things, this year was a smorgasbord of unprecedented proportions. They came and they brought their friends. My little suburban plot was a riot – a practical butterfly festival –  from May to early November. I saw more in both number and varieties than in any of the 18 seasons I’ve worked this patch with a trowel in one hand and a camera in the other. 

There’s a freedom that comes from letting go of what no longer (maybe never) served us, and there’s a magic that comes of  giving yourself over fully and completely something you love. As we move into what is meant to be a joyous, but can often feel a very harried season, I plan on holding this lesson close to heart. What might you let go? And more importantly, what would you love to let in?

Keep your eyes wide open,


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