02 September 2013

Basil and Butterflies

Walnut Pesto on Pasta with Flowering Basil Leaves

Gardening in Discovery Mode

One of the things I love about living in Tennessee this summer is my garden. My yard here is small and my vegetable and herb gardens are too. I have two small raised beds dedicated to vegetables, a rosemary hedge border above my retaining wall, basil plants tucked into the edge of one shrub bed and tomatoes tucked into some gaps in another. Then there is a rogue garden on the side of the driveway that has everything from blueberries, to jalapenos and another basil bush growing in it.

Tomato plants and parsley in the garden

This year we are planting the beds in discovery mode. We are taking what we remember from gardening in Texas and Virginia and blending it with our experience in the garden from the latest chapter of our lives in the Pacific Northwest. What we have found so far is that tomatoes like it here far more than they did my backyard in Washington. We have also learned that basil THRIVES here and parsley is happy enough to grow in its shade.

Basil plants in garden border

Keeping up With the Basil

I could scarcely be more pleased. I love to make Pesto and have missed having it stored in my freezer these past few years. This year I can’t seem to keep up with the basil growing around my yard. Every variety I planted is growing vigorously and flowering before I can fully use it’s fragrant leaves.

Flowering basil plant in garden bed

The last time I went into the garden to gather the herbs for another batch of Pesto, I pushed aside the branching basil to find my parsley was not faring quite so well. While the leaves were growing thick and full there was evidence that I was not the only one who enjoyed their fresh flavor. Many leaves were chewed on and some down to the stems. I cut what remained and brought it in with the basil.

parsley eaten by caterpillars

Handsome Intruders

Inside, as I rinsed the herbs, I found the culprit. Clinging to the fronds I had cut were two fat green caterpillars. They were so handsome I hardly knew what to do with them. I felt bad about disposing of them and finally relocated them to the side of the house.

Swallowtail butterfly caterpillar on parsley

I soon learned that I wasn’t the only one to have fat green caterpillars on my parsley. In fact, from the photos I saw, I seem to have been lucky to have any parsley left at all! Fortunately I was able to gather enough to make my Pesto and the parsley plants growing in my second garden seemed nearly caterpillar free.

Swallowtail butterfly with torn wing on butterfly bush

Parsley with Purpose

Reading beyond the photos I learned something new. Those handsome green caterpillars were not just pretty worms but were actually the predecessors of Swallowtail Butterflies. Though I have read The Very Hungry Caterpillar enough times to have memorized it at some point in my children’s development I still did not realize that the caterpillars crawling on and munching my parsley were the same guys Eric Carle had featured in that book. Call me a slow learner, but it just hadn’t dawned on me before.

Swallowtail butterfly on Butterfly Bush

Now I have new purpose in planning next summer’s herb garden. I will be sure to plant more parsley, and quite probably a little less basil. While I am making Pesto to freeze I will also be ready to share my parsley with caterpillars that will delight me in a few short weeks as they visit my butterfly bush on painted wings.

3 comments:

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

It looks like you have a very green thumb as your garden looks healthy and very productive.

grace said...

my basil plants are about 1/10 that size. :) my boss uses bat guano to fertilize hers and they're amazing. not as lovely as yours though--kudos!

Lisa said...

Karen - I think it's the climate more than anything. It's been a lovely summer here in Tennessee!

Grace - My husband used to use bat guano. This year he tried something new from Gardens Alive. Gardening is always an adventure and something of an experiment around my house. lol!