When the sun came out after the heavy morning rain, the first New England asters (Aster novae angliae) opened in my garden, and my husband captured this wonderful shot of a skipper nectaring on the first aster of the season. (If you can identify the species of this skipper, please let me know. This unknown species is present in my garden from spring to fall, so it must breed here and produce several flights per season. There are many skipper species, and I can’t figure out what this one is.) As you can see, the brown-eyed susans (Rudbeckia triloba) are still going strong as the fall flowers–asters, Boltonia, goldenrod–begin to open.
The asters and boltonia are recovering from severe rabbit and deer depredations last season. You may recall that the winter before last was unusually mild. I think that as a result, fewer critters than usual got killed off over the winter. The larger than normal populations dined so heavily and so repeatedly on my perennials last season that several species, including all the Phlox, the New England asters, the Boltonia, and the sunflowers (Helianthis species) never bloomed. The plants didn’t die, however, and now this season they’re back, although there are fewer of them. In the meantime, the less tasty plants, such as the Monarda and the Rudbeckias, are taking over. My number-one garden chore for next spring will be to clear out some of the Monarda fistulosa and Rudbeckia subtomentosa to make room for other, less aggressive and perhaps more tasty plants. A garden is always a work in progress.
Asters are the favorite late-summer and early fall butterfly plants. There have been almost no monarchs this season–I have seen one the entire summer–but in years when they are plentiful, my asters have been monarch magnets during the fall migration season. Let’s hope that this is merely a normal population fluctuation and not the beginning of the end for monarchs. And consider planting milkweed and asters next year.