Grand Canyon, AZ

We recently visited the North and South Rims of the Grand Canyon. It’s our fourth visit, but the first in twelve years. We’ve hiked to the bottom twice but were content to stay closer to the rim this time.

No words or photograph can do the Canyon justice, but I’m one of many who can’t resist trying.

Grand Canyon - AZ - South Rim

Our backyard seemed rather tame when we returned home. However, I’ve discovered our hummingbird is still here, Monarchs are nectaring and then heading south, and the bees and small insects are busy on asters and goldenrods. All I need to do is take the time to notice the small wonders close to home.

Purple Coneflower – a favorite perennial

If I could plant only one native perennial, it would be Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). In June and July, its pinkish-purple blossoms attract numerous butterflies.


It is also a host plant for small Silvery Checkerspot butterflies (Chlosyne nycteis).

Now, in mid-September, the few remaining blooms are less showy and many have been replaced by seed heads.

Purple--coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) -and-seedhead

The seeds are attracting goldfinches (Carduelis tristis), one of my favorite year-round backyard birds. I enjoy seeing them and hearing their ‘chatter’ as they feed. The striking yellow and black of the mature males certainly adds a bright spot to the garden. However, they will soon change to a yellowish-olive color for winter, and then the males will closely resemble the females.

American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) on Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

The sturdy seed heads will be empty by January and they will provide visual interest to the garden throughout the winter.

Purple Coneflowers are easy to grow. They are drought-resistant and prefer sun, though mine grow well with some shade. I like the attractive foliage in spring, the beautiful blooms in summer, the food for goldfinches in autumn, and the added texture in the winter garden.

For all these reasons, Purple Coneflowers are among my favorite native perennials.

A welcome rain

The ground had become quite dry, and four inches of rain last week were most welcome. The backyard is quite different after a rain, and I like to check it out when everything is still wet. I especially enjoy water drops and the designs they create.

water drops

The water had a very different appearance on the tendrils of the Passionflower vine (Passiflora incarnata).


Here is yet an entirely different arrangement on the same plant – a temporary work of art!

Passion Vine and water drops

These water drops added a magical touch to the backyard. They also reminded me how much I appreciate a good rain after a long dry spell.

Milkweed – good for Monarchs, bad for eyes

I had a scare last week, and I hope others can learn from my experience. One afternoon, my eyes suddenly started burning and tearing. I washed them with artificial tears and used a cold wet compress and they seemed okay. However, a bit later my world became extremely foggy although my husband, Harry, assured me the air was perfectly clear.

When I got to our eye doctor the next morning, the only letter I could see on the eye chart was the largest letter at the top. The diagnosis was cornea swelling in both eyes. I finally realized I had first felt the symptoms shortly after cutting some of my Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) to feed Monarch caterpillars (Danaus plexippus).

my backyard milkweeds (asclepias)
My backyard milkweeds: 1. Non-native Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica). Kentucky native milkweeds: 2. Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), 3. Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), 4. Purple Milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens), 5. Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca).

Research revealed that the sap of Tropical Milkweed causes severe eye problems and others have had similar experiences: link 1 and link 2. Apparently all milkweed sap is cause for caution, but Tropical Milkweed is especially dangerous.

I like fog and the impressionistic effect it creates, as in this backyard image.

backyard fog

However, I want the fog to be in the atmosphere and not the result of poor vision. I’m extremely happy to say that my sight is now close to normal and I expect a full recovery.

This was a frightening experience and I have a new appreciation for my eyes and the ability to see. I had no idea milkweed could cause eye problems. I’m reporting my story in hopes of preventing others from having a similar experience.

Monarchs must have milkweeds to survive and I will continue to grow them. My Tropical Milkweeds have attracted more Monarchs than any of my other milkweeds this year and I will plant them again. However, I will treat them with high respect and caution.