Under the Oaks – Vistiting Guests and Author too…

While sweeping the back deck  of the endless Oak leaves, I spotted these visiting guests – two caterpillars out for a stroll on the deck railing:


I know that often fuzzy caterpillars are a warning not to touch – so counter intuitive!

So yet another reason to take a  well needed break – head inside and look them up – to see who these visitors are.


Both  are caterpillars of Halysidota tessellaris – commonly know as either the Pale Tiger Moth or Banded Tussock Moth – the Oak  tree over head is their host plant.

In researching, I found Canadian entomology graduate student and nature photographer Morgan D. Jackson’s blog Biodiversity in Focus.  

Morgan writes about  their ability to hear incoming sonar pings of bat predators.  Some have even evolved sonic countermeasures. (Dunning & Roeder, 1965)

How Cool is that!

Morgan has graciously allowed me to share his blog on the Sonic Moth… who knew?

Banded Tussock Moth – Halysidota tessellaris #NMW2012 » Biodiversity in Focus Blog.

Explore some of his other cool posts and he’ll have you hooked on Natural Science!

Thanks Morgan for leading and sharing an Entwined Life!

Jayme B

NC Certified Environmental Educator

Garden Conservancy Regional Representative

A Visit under the Oaks

At this time of year chores at Entwined Gardens include raking the leaves and acorns from under the Oaks.  It somehow seems like a never-ending task, but one that always elicits a mixed bag of frustration and wonder, as I visit under the Oaks.

The grove of Oak trees was on the property when my husband purchased this woodland paradise.   He hates the thought (and expense) of  thinning them.   So many hardwoods were cut adjacent to our property when the woods became a golf course community – habitat lost.

But their  limbs have begun to hang over our rooftop,  making the back deck and terrace a constant battleground… and a potential threat of roof damage in some crazy storm.

I know – first world thinking!


The acorns under foot can be dangerous, the leaves slick…  and with a back that easily twists out of shape… I do get annoyed from the raking and sweeping.

It is not an easy task to establish new plants under the Oaks, as they provide a dense shady canopy for most of the year, so I often grouse (to myself) that I’d really like a more refined view from my dining room and kitchen…  more light would be nice.

Most recommended woodland plants I’ve tried have languished, as the roots of the Oaks are far-reaching – sucking  up any available moisture from the hard packed,  root bound clay soils.

Then  comes the fall when the thick drop of leaves builds up an anaerobic layer, smothering anything below.

To have any success,  I have learned to plant specimens in pots. Should they survive the deer, then  I create a modified raised bed – planting on top of the of the woodland floor adding good soil amendments  around the root ball and  spreading out the  hauled in soil around the plant – yet not too high to smother  the roots of the Oaks.  It’s a learning experience and indeed a delicate balance.

I grumble more as most of the acorns sprout with ease just laying on top of – well anything –  in the pots in the raised planting and across the woodland floor…  while nothing else grows with vigor under the thick woodland floor of  tannic acid…  each spring I have a sea of Oak seedlings.

Oh a good remainder  when raking – to limit the amount of Oak leaves added to the compost pile –  no more than twenty percent  because they take forever to break down and will create an acid, anaerobic mess.

While on the topic of tannic acid, (Plant Geek Alert!)  it  is also found in acorns… this is the true reason that squirrels and Jays hide the nuts… waiting for rain and melting snows to wash away the tannic acid  over time to make them palatable.  It is also nature’s way of distributing the nut seed with squirrels acting as dutiful gardeners planting them in new locations where often they forget to retrieve.

Or, is it Mr. Squirrelly shrewdly planting a tree for ensuring a future harvest?

The deer eat acorns and don’t seem to have a digestive problem.  Then again the deer seem to eat just about anything, except poison ivy or just plain ivy!   Dang!

The sprouted acorns cannot get raked,  so this becomes a zen like meditation of tugging them out one by one.  There  are hundreds each year! It always amazes me how quickly they can put out a tap-root of several inches long once they get growing as temperatures become mild in early spring.

Last year I had an indoor mini forest of Oaks growing in a large pot of Aspidistra – cast iron plant – which we bring in for the winter.  It was amazing that 15 or so acorns sprouted and developed leaves!  Note to self: to look for photo.

So in the midst of raking, hauling and grumbling,  I am reminded to pause, look up and ponder…

OakWonder… good for the back, good for the soul – the majestic Oak.

Today with milder temperatures  under a Carolina Blue sky,  I laid down in the leaves to take the photo, resting and hoping to capture some frolicking squirrels, as they perform aerial feats of delight, soaring from tree to tree, but no suck luck.

I am reminded that these giants are also woodland habitat to Woodpeckers, Jays and lodging for migrating flocks.

Squirrel NestMajestic crooks are protected nurseriesfor the baby squirrels called kittens.

Shelter also for butterflies and host plants for moths.

All in all – grateful for their beauty,  the  shade for our home.  The Oak flooring we walk on, and Oak furniture we use.  The delicious wine that is aged in Oak barrels…

Grateful for the Oak table our family gathers around.

Now back to work…

Enjoy – living the EntwinedLife

Jayme B

NC Certified Environmental Educator

Thanks for taking the time to visit under the oaks…

Leave a comment on your what your favorite Oak …

Nature – Plants & Herds – evaluating an EntwinedLife

One of the benefits of our times – is having an encyclopedia of  information in my back  pocket.  OK, you might say ” Whoa – you must be addicted to your smart phone.”

I say, “I’ll admit – I’m addicted to Plants…  but I look at my Smart phone as helping me to  learn to take breaks…  or taking breaks to learn!”

So sometimes, when not observing nature,  I tap into  TED Talks…   – how wonderful to be able to learn from some of the most thoughtful minds of our times  –  while taking a break out in the garden… Continue reading

Gifts from the Universe –

There are fleeting moments in time that are gifts from the Universe.

Recently it was bundling up in the wee hours of the morning to watch the Geminids as they danced merrily across the winter sky….

Or to welcome in the New Year at the shoreline edge – and voila – the moon emerges from behind clouds – throwing a magical beam of hopeful light across the water; a pop of a champagne cork barely audible as the waves rhythmically crash on their voyage; then further down the shore – a fireworks array twinkling in the distance and delighted oohs, ahhs and laughter to remind us that we are not alone… a magical convergence of time & place locked into memory.

This brings to mind another occasion at water’s edge  – a sudden hoard of hairless polar bears running into the water, shrieking and squealing as they plunge in to the icy water – then disappear as quickly as they had emerged.  Perhaps the polar bears were just as surprised to see our curious encampment, which included Mongolian robes & hats (left over from a recent Genghis Khan film project) and a space ship floating above the campfire… well it was the Millennium after all!  Y2K and the world coming to a standstill!


We all have snippets of stories that remain in our brain database triggered by the unexpected delight, and titillated by the senses.

In the garden these happen often – unexpected encounters and amazing lessons of survival and hope.

Once while pruning in the JCRA Mixed Border, the Border Babes were mesmerized as we watched as hundreds of tiny Praying Mantis emerged from their protective egg case. With silk-like threads they performed an aerial show… a miniature Cirque du Soleil in the garden and we had front row seats!  I will always regret not having my camera for this show!

Just yesterday the Babes were enthralled as the earth started pushing up between flagstone in a path… a snout or a paw visible in the blink of an eye!


Returning home after the holiday interlude, it is always joyous see what surprises await in the garden.

As I opened the car door, a scent overpowered me.  I knew immediately the Prunus mume had begun its show.   The buds had held tight for weeks… and now the welcoming scent lured me down the garden path.

I grabbed the new 6’ long reach pruners my husband gave me for Christmas… all shiny & new and headed to basque in the heavenly scent.

Prunus cluster

Under lovely pink blossoms, I shivered with delight, engulfed in Prunus mume ‘Kobai’s’ sweet cinnamon scent.

Prunus mume or flowering Apricot or Plum – is a lovely tree, considered a small specimen tree topping out about 25’ tall.  It brightens the winter landscape and available in shades of white to deep pink almost red blossoms. Planted in full sun or part shade it is a welcome site in the winter garden.  ‘Kobai’ blooms from late December to March in our Entwined Garden.

Although first observed blooming in Japan, the flowering plum or apricot is native to China.  In the 1930’s, China designated it the national flower with the 5 petals representing the 5 blessings – wealth, health, virtue, old age, and natural death. Even more reason to plant one!

There are over 300 named cultivars according to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden and a passion of the late Dr. J.C. Raulston.


Prunus mume blooming at JC Raulston Arboretum.

The dark ruby red leaves of another Chinese native forms a horizontal hedge line under the Prunus mume.  Several times a year it bursts forth with fireworks looking hot pink fringed blooms!  Ooh la la!

This was a well researched variety – Loropetalum chinense var. rubrum ‘Ruby’  the promise to be  a 5’ x 5’  hedge which I added to Entwined Garden in 2003.   It is the perfect foil for a formal garden room and before the landscapes terraces to the pond.   Perfect if plants could read their descriptions!  Regularly this hedge can spring out of hand shooting up to 8 – 10 feet if not kept in check.  Well it is a Loropetalum for goodness sake!

Trapped it it’s hypnotic spell, I clipped for three hours, pruning the Loropetalum hedge, shivering from the cold.   I had neglected to throw on a warm vest or jacket & hat, but was so possessed I was unable to pull myself away.   The new pruners were perfect. Easy to use – think of pruners on a stick with an easy to balance lightweight aluminum shaft and trigger grip for easy clipping – great to sight a lines.  If only I had thought to conjure up Pearl Fryer and give the hedge an artistic flair… but who knows that might come – stay tuned!

Entwined Gardens - Italian cypress flank the Loropetalum hedge under  fragrant Prunus mume show.

Entwined Gardens – Italian cypress flank the Loropetalum hedge under fragrant Prunus mume show.

As the light began to dim and Magic the dog – nudged me for dinner, I reluctantly stepped way from the hedge and snipped a few branches from ‘Kobai’ – knowing they would fill the house with the delicate scent of hope for what delights this New Year would bring!

Prunus branch

Close up of Prunus mume ‘Kobai’

Enjoy – living the  EntwinedLife

Jayme B

NC Certified Environmental Educator

Garden Conservancy Regional Representative

JC Raulston Arboretum Volunteer

Jewel in the Garden

Iris unguicularisIris Ungularis  – A welcome jewel in the Garden

Also known as Algerian Iris, this rhizome is  a welcome treat along the garden path in December.  Iris unguicularis will take a fair amount of dry shade.   Some fragrance is another reason to love this plant.

Another is that it was shared by a friend.   Best dividing is in the spring.  Your friends will treasure this jewel.

Enjoy – living the EntwinedLife

Jayme B

NC Certified Environmental Educator

Garden Conservancy Regional Representative