"He that plants trees loves others besides himself."

— Thomas Fuller

Creek House notes

Yard work is, of course, work.

However, it is also an opportunity for impromptu delight that moderates the drudgery.

Here at Creek House, I often have brief up close and personal moments with the creatures that share their natural world with us. Recently, one of the many swallowtail caterpillars on the pot of parsley out on the deck was in trouble. Still tiny, it was running out of foliage to eat on its stem, and no other one was nearby. So I gently moved him to a stem thick with foliage.

Another time, a female turtle appeared on the edge of the lawn near the stone path and proceeded to disturb a patch of grass and lay some eggs right in front of me. As I hurried to find something to mark the area so we would not walk on it, mother turtle disappeared. So we guard the eggs.

My hummingbird friend out by the bog shows up when I water and zips happily in and out of the spray for a minute or two.

Then there was the baby praying mantis who was stuck somehow on the front wall. I gently moved her to a safer spot.

The fish in my water garden pond come when I call them.

In every instance, I know that interacting with these and other resident creatures will, in the end, benefit my yard, as well as provide precious moments for me.

Poison ivy

If you did not find poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), or it did not find you, over this summer so far, you may still encounter it.

As fall progresses, its foliage turns a lovely reddish fall color so it is easier to find. Pull small plants with a plastic bag over your hand and up your arm. Grasp the plant and pull it out of the soil. Try to get the roots. Then pull the plastic bag down your arm and over your hand and vine. Toss it in the trash.

This season at Creek House, we found more young plants than ever before. No surprise there. One of the main factors that influence and support the growth of poison ivy is proximity to areas disturbed by human activity. Research suggests that our Eastern climbing poison ivy plants can live for 50 years or more if not discovered and destroyed by humans. They keep producing berries that birds love and scatter about, so the adventure never ends.

PI positives

To be fair, poison ivy does have many positive attributes.

It is a native plant. Its roots control erosion. Fortunately for pollinating insects, there is no urshial in the nectar of its flowers, so its flowers support bees. The plant also supports 37 caterpillar species. Its fall berries have helped support the comeback of bluebirds. Woodpeckers and catbirds also love the seeds. Cardinals may build nests in the vines. Snakes shed their skins on its roots. Finally, while this may not help us in our yards, it is helpful to know that elsewhere, in natural environments, deer, bison, bears, moose and wild turkeys eat it.


1. Which is bigger — a downy woodpecker or a hairy woodpecker?

2. Which describes our yards here in Delco — xeric or mesic?

3. Which describes a plant that grows in areas where it originated — naturalized or native?

4. Which warning label on yard chemicals is strongest — Caution, Warning or Danger: Poison?

6. Which bird’s favorite feeder food is thistle seed — cardinal, goldfinch or bluebird?

7. Which turfgrass is not recommended for northern lawns — zoysia, tall fescue or bluegrass?

8. Which is not a native fruit tree — pawpaw, serviceberry or orange?

Answers: hairy woodpecker; mesic; native; Danger: Poison; goldfinch; zoysia; orange.

For more than 20 years, local garden writer and lecturer Liz Ball has offered helpful information and advice to homeowners on enjoying and caring for their yards and the plants that grow there in her Yardening column. Direct your Yardening questions to her at lizball@aol.com.

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