August in the Prairie and Garden

“Gardening is a long road, with many detours and way stations… .”–Henry Mitchell


Listen? Can you hear it? It’s the sound of summer winding down. Crickets and cicadas. A school bus passing by. The chatter of children walking home from school. My first-year front yard prairie pollinator patch (try saying that three times fast) is full of bees and insects working the wildflowers.

Front yard prairie pollinator patch, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Common Mountain Mint is a popular hangout.

Western Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) on Common Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum), Crosby’s front yard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

The bees whiz over the last few Butterfly Milkweed flowers. And look—seedpods! Not bad for a first-year planting.

Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) with an unknown bee, Crosby’s front yard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Blazing Star blushes color; it won’t be long before it bursts into bloom. Are those spider silks trailing along the buds? I’m not sure.

Blazing Star (Liatris aspera), Crosby’s front yard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

In the backyard, the garden shifts into high gear. The squirrels, chipmunks, and birds are ready for it. They wreak havoc on the tomatoes, eggplant, and anything else that catches their fancy. I find big, impudent bites out of my best, almost-ripe “Delicious” and “Supersteaks.” What to do?

This week, I covered green tomatoes and some of the eggplant with drawstring mesh bags to deter any furry or feathered noshers.

Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

We’ll see if it works. My yard is wildlife-friendly, and I like it that way. But this summer, it’s been a little too wildlife-friendly for the garden. Although the mesh bags make the garden look a little strange, hopefully this will slow hungry varmints down a little bit.

Meanwhile, I try to stay a day ahead of the critters by picking a little early. Sometimes, it works.

Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum)—Delicious, Better Boy, Supersteak. (Glen Ellyn, IL)

Fortunately, the birds, bunnies, and squirrels don’t seem interested in okra. I would grow Burgundy Okra just for its flowers alone. I also love okra in soups and gumbo. And wait—is that a Yellow Jacket? Or a Paper Wasp? They are tough to tell apart.

Possibly an Eastern Yellowjacket (Vespula maculifrons) on Burgundy Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

This week, I’ve been reading Endless Forms: The Secret World of Wasps. As I’ve read, I’ve put aside a few of my prejudices against these varied and diverse insects. I learned there are tens of thousands of named wasp species in the world! My apprehensions about wasps are slowly being replaced by curiosity. There is so much to discover.

Next to the okra, the arugula is in bloom. It’s so…stripy! Attractive enough that I haven’t pulled it yet. Soon, I’ll need its garden spot for lettuce or beets. But for now I’m enjoying the flowers.

Arugula (Eruca vesicaria), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Nearby, the green beans tower six feet high over my head. This June, after the bunnies sheared off the early green bean leaves, I fenced my raised bed. The beans slowly put out new leaves and took off. Now, at the end of August, I finally see the results. Green beans for dinner! At last.

Kentucky Blue Lake Green Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

The backyard prairie patch is shorter this season, likely due to the lack of rain here. However, some of the toughest plants are flourishing. Joe Pye Weed is in full bloom.

Sweet Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum) with an unknown bee, Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Cup Plant thrives. (Although, when does Cup Plant not do well???)

Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

The goldfinches love drinking the rain that collected in Cup Plant’s leafy “cups” after this weekend’s brief shower. Nearby, Obedient Plant is so short it is barely noticeable. But still the bumblebees, hummingbirds, and butterflies seem to find it.

Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana) with some tiny pollinators, Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Speaking of hummingbirds and butterflies, what’s that by the pond? Great Blue Lobelia is in bloom! One of our backyard’s prettiest August wildflowers.

Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Close to the Great Blue Lobelia I see our first Cardinal Flower of the season. What a beauty.

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

It’s a lovely surprise. With the recent lack of rainfall, I wasn’t sure we’d see Cardinal Flower at all this summer. It makes me wonder—what other surprises will the prairie and garden offer this week?

I can’t wait to find out.


The opening quote is by Henry Mitchell (1923-1993) from Henry Mitchell on Gardening. His sense of humor reminds me to keep smiling, even when the bunnies nibble my new native prairie plantings and the squirrels make off with the tomatoes…again. Mitchell was a columnist for the Washington Post for almost 25 years.


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10 responses to “August in the Prairie and Garden

  1. Thank you, Cindy, for a really interesting presentation on Sunday on β€œA Brief History of Trees in America.” This West Cook Wild Ones Zoom program was well attended, a compliment to you and your reputation. And in your post today, loved your photos – especial those delicious deep orangey reds of the tomatoes you rescued from the wildlife!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Squirrels have been after my tomatoes, too — never before in our 14 years at this site have I had them take so many! In addition to the predation on the tomatoes in my raised beds supported by fencing (which of course, did not deter the squirrels, nor did I expect it to), near my patio I have a large container with a cherry tomato plant. After they started plucking those, I enshrouded the plant with old nylon curtains held on with clothespins. That (rather to my surprise) did thwart the squirrels, but every couple of days when I unclip the fabric to harvest the ripe tomatoes, a cloud of whitefly billows forth! They do not seem to have had a detrimental effect on the plant, though. I give things a shake to release as many as I can before re-wrapping the plant. I know some remain under cover, but so be it.
    Since we have had little rain & 90+ temps (often accompanied by 20+ MPH wind) I was wondering if the critters were ultra-thirsty. A friend this afternoon said she used to have a similar problem with the “tree rats” but once she started putting out a panful of fresh water daily, they mostly left them alone. So… maybe? Although now that the hickories and black walnuts are producing green fruits, I am finding little piles of gnawed nutstuff on the pavement. Maybe now they will turn to the higher-nutrition food source and give my tomato plants a break!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Carol — It’s a squirrel-fest, chipmunk-fest, mouse-fest, bird-fest…. you name it this year! Maybe I need to plant some nut trees! πŸ™‚ I do provide fresh water, so my critters have no excuse. I loved your story — thank you for reading, and especially for sharing about your attempts to thwart these hungry creatures. I just found one of my new nice mesh bags chomped through, so I’m working on a new plan. Onward we go! πŸ™‚ Cindy πŸ™‚


  3. Just beautiful, Cindy. Grateful for your sharing — a sweet moment in the day from nature brings a calm. Cindy

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I have been staying a step ahead of the critters in our DGC Sprouts Learning Garden. I read this info recently and feel like after all the work and watering that the kids and their families are doing to produce the fruit, it’s best to ripen most inside and then off to the food pantry once ripe.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Cathy —
      Yes! Absolutely –Good article. My lovely drawstring bags have been plundered by the critters this week — they chomped right through them! — so I’m picking defensively. Anything with a good blush of color is fair game! I think I’d rather have a counter-ripened home grown tomato than no tomato at all. πŸ™‚ Thank you for taking time to read and send me this encouraging note —I appreciate you! Cindy πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Add me to the chorus of complaints about tomato predation. Having good luck with in-house ripening once a little color shows. Enjoy your cornucopia!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Marcia — yes, in-house ripening is becoming my method of choice — the bags help a little bit, but some of the squirrels just chomp right through them. Drat! At least they are leaving most of the cherry tomatoes alone…. Good luck! And thanks for reading. Cindy πŸ™‚


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