Flowers for Fall

This year, when you buy chrysanthemums for fall decoration, why not add some Asters?

Asters in the Meditation Garden

This is what Plant NoVa Natives has to say about them:

They are perennials, (meaning the come back every year),

that grow to about 3 to 6 feet. For a more compact plant, cut back by half to 2/3 in early June.

They flower in the fall.

deer icon
Deer : Usually resistant to deer browsewildlife icon
Wildlife : Birds. Bees. Adult and larval butterflies or moths.moisture icon
Moisture: Moistsun icon
Sun Needs: Full or Part SunWildlife Comments:Symphyotricum species benefit Ruffed Grouse, Wild Turkey, Tree Sparrow, Cottontail, Cardinals, Goldfinches, Chickadees, Titmouse, Towhees, Indigo Buntin, and 109 species of Lepidoptera including the Pearl Crescent and Silvery Checkerspot butterflies.Design Function:Pollinator Garden.Gardening Tips:Bloom Time: September – October. 3 – 6 ft. Superior asters for gardens. Pollinators prefer the straight species over cultivars. Salt tolerant. For a more compact plant, cut back by half to 2/3 in early June. Doing this to the outer branches can disguise the bare legs.

Photo Credit: Margaret Fisher

Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)

Flickers are part of the woodpecker family, but they have a few unique traits.

Northern flicker, Roslyn, New York

Behavior: Like most woodpeckers, northern flickers drum on objects as a form of communication and territory defense. In such cases, the object is to make as loud a noise as possible, so woodpeckers sometimes drum on metal objects.

Diet: According to the Audubon field guide, “flickers are the only woodpeckers that frequently feed on the ground”, probing with their beak, also sometimes catching insects in flight. Although they eat fruits, berries, seeds, and nuts, their primary food is insects. Ants alone can make up 45% of their diet. The flicker is a natural predator of the European corn borer, a moth that costs the US agriculture industry more than $1 billion annually in crop losses and population control. As well as eating ants, flickers exhibit a behavior known as anting, in which they use the formic acid from the ants to assist in preening, as it is useful in keeping them free of parasites.

Habitat: Flickers may be observed in open habitats near trees, including woodlands, edges, yards, and parks. Northern flickers generally nest in holes in trees like other woodpeckers. Occasionally, they have been found nesting in old, earthen burrows vacated by belted kingfishers or bank swallows. Both sexes help with nest excavation. The cavity widens at bottom to make room for eggs and the incubating adult.

Reproduction: Their breeding habitat consists of forested areas across North America and as far south as Central America. They are cavity nesters which typically nest in trees, but they also use posts and birdhouses if sized and situated appropriately. They prefer to excavate their own home, although they reuse and repair damaged or abandoned nests. Abandoned flicker nests create habitat for other cavity nesters. Flickers are sometimes driven from nesting sites by another cavity nester, the European starling.

A typical clutch consists of six to eight eggs whose shells are pure white with a smooth surface and high gloss. The eggs are the second-largest of the North American woodpecker species, exceeded only by the pileated woodpecker’s. Incubation is by both sexes for about 11 to 12 days. The young are fed by regurgitation and fledge about 25 to 28 days after hatching.

Migration: Northern birds migrate to the southern parts of the range; southern birds are often permanent residents.

The information for this blog came directly from the Wikipedia entry on the Northern Flicker. Look there for more information, pictures, and a recording of the birds’ call.


An organization called has this to say about invasive plants:

Non-Native Invasive Plants in Northern Virginia and Regional Native Alternatives 

Invasive, non-native plants do not provide the same ecosystem services as natives and have a harmful effect on our environment, not only in the suburban community but also in our forests, parks, and other natural areas.

Please do not plant these non-native, invasive species and consider removing them from the landscape. Volunteers and natural resource management staff spend many hours and resources to mitigate the spread and the consequences of these and other invasive species. Although there are many non-native plant species that invade our natural areas, the plants listed below are particularly problematic because they are still available in the trade and are sold and planted throughout the region. Consider planting one of the natives listed here as an alternative to these plants.

One plant on this list is Liriope, which is flowering at this time. Here is a picture:

Invasive: Liriope muscari, Liriope

NoVA Native Alternatives:
Carex pensylvanica and flaccosperma, Pennsylvania and Blue Wood Sedge
Elymus virginicus, Virginia Wildrye
Elymus hystrix, Bottlebrush Grass

Learn More

Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Natural Heritage:

USDA National Invasive Species Information Center:

Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health:

Mistaken Identity–Invasive Plants and Their Native Look-Alikes (pub):

Plant Invaders of Mid-Atlantic Natural Areas (pub):

Deer eating your plants?

Yes, ours, too.

We have a group of brown-eyed susans (Rudbeckia triloba) in the Meditation Garden. We were very disappointed recently when we saw this:

Oh, no! The dreaded deer damage!

So we started using this deer repellent:

It comes in capsules, which you scatter around your plants, and then water.

Clearly, it works!

What a difference!

I understand that deer get used to anything, and that after a while this may not work any more. We’ll try something else, then. But in the meantime we, and the pollinators, are enjoying these flowers. Check them out next time you’re attending our outdoor Pop-up church service.

Monarch Migration

Have you seen any monarch butterflies around recently? They’re all around our neighborhoods at this time of year.

Monarch Butterfly feeding on Joe Pye Weed

It’s hard to believe, but these butterflies are preparing themselves to fly to Mexico. Just take a look at those flimsy little wings!

The butterflies find their way to a particular forest in Mexico. These individual butterflies have never been there before, but somehow they know the way.

They arrive around the end of October and the beginning of November. When they get there, they remind the local people of their deceased friends and relatives, and so they are welcomed.

They spend the winter suspended in trees, like this:

They are huddled together to keep warm. The humidity in the forest prevents them from drying out. One of the problems that the monarchs face is that people are cutting down the trees, so they have less place to land.

And, when the weather starts to get warmer, they will make the long flight back. Incredible!

Most caterpillars can only eat the leaves of a certain small number of plants. The Monarch caterpillars are even more specific. They are only able to digest the leaves of the milkweed plant.

This is what common milkweed looks like in June:

Monarch, feeding on a milkweed flower

So, next time you see a monarch, you will realize you are witnessing a miracle. And wish her bon voyage.

What’s that growing where the bamboo used to be?

We tend to think of soil as something inert that we can just walk all over. Actually, among other things, it contains the seeds of many plants that are just waiting for their opportunity to grow. (These seeds together are called the Seed Bank. Nice name, isn’t it?)

One species which is very quick off the mark to germinate is Erechtites hieraciifolius also called fireweed or American burnweed. As you can imagine, it gets this name because it is one of the first plants to sprout after a fire. It is what is called a pioneer species.

Well, we didn’t have a fire on our property, but from the point of view of the seed, there was suddenly a lot of light, just as there would have been, if a fire had razed all the existing vegetation. It needed no further prompting, and started growing immediately.

What does this mean for us, stewards of this land?

Fireweed is a native plant, so we don’t have to worry about it becoming invasive like the bamboo.

We were worried about soil erosion, as rain water cascaded over what had suddenly become bare ground. But we don’t have to worry about that now – the fireweed is holding it all in place for us.

And what about the cascading water? Well, that is still making its way to the pond. But it is doing so slowly, and watering the plants along the way.

While the fireweed is standing there, its roots are sinking into the ground. That means the earth is becoming softer and more workable. Less work for us!

Burnweed is an annual. It is going to make flowers. You might miss seeing them – they are small and not very interesting to us. Then it is going to lie down and die. And then it is going to form mulch which is entirely free, and already on site and spread for us. What a gift!

The Role of the Creation Care Committee

Being in nature and caring for nature are acts of worship. In this time when much of our worship must be outside, we are grateful for our natural spaces that also support more formal worship.

In the first Creation story, (Genesis Chapter 1) we read about our relationship with God and with the Earth. Holy Comforter’s Creation Care committee, in alignment with the Diocesan Creation Care Task Force, is working on what that means to our community.

Our goal is a gentler integration of human activities into the natural world, God’s larger creation.

God created Light, which provides energy for the world, and therefore we want to reduce the impact of our energy footprint on climate and resources.

Air Conditioning Unit. We all use energy

God created the Sea and therefore we want to minimize our impact on local streams and on the Chesapeake. One way to do this is to contain and guide the flow of stormwater, so as to mitigate erosion.

Soil Erosion between the Stormwater Drain and the Pond

God created the Sky, and therefore we want to preserve our trees so that they can sequester carbon, keeping it from the atmosphere.

Honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos) in the Meditation Garden

God created Land, and therefore we need to treat our Holy Comforter property as Sacred Space. We are working to lighten the burden of invasive plants, such as bamboo.

Bamboo, regrowing after it had been cut

God created Plants, and therefore we strive to maintain a healthy and rich local ecosystem of diverse flora because they support a diversity of fauna. We want to preserve our trees because they support wildlife directly, and create adequate growing conditions for many other plants.

Bee Balm, supporting a (non-stinging) bee

God created Birds and Fish, and therefore we strive to create a welcoming environment for these creatures, by providing sources of food and water and places to nest, as well as minimizing air and water pollution.

Our Pond

What makes invasive plants so attractive? And why that is a problem.

Invasive plants often have lovely flowers, or meet specific landscaping needs.

They tend to be hardy, tolerant of a wide variety of sun and shade.

They usually don’t attract insects.

They spread well, and are very easy to propagate.

Growing invasive plants really makes a gardener look good! So what could possibly be wrong with that?

By definition, invasive plants come from another part of the world. Many were imported for some appealing trait, like attractive flowers. But they have no niche in our local eco-system.

Only those imported plants that are particularly hardy become invasive. If the plants needed a lot of care and attention, they would only grow where they are nurtured.

While having a yard that is free of insects sounds appealing, it would actually be a problem. Other animals, such as birds, depend on insects for food. And the soil depends on the insects to provide nutrients. Each type of insect can usually only get nourishment from a few plant species. And these invasive plants are usually not on their edible list.

An ability to spread means that invasive plants will overwhelm any place they are planted, until they are vigorously cut back. You can see how the mile-a-minute is climbing over the trees on Holy Comforter property:

Mile-a-Minute (What a name!)

Spreading in this way is part of the problem. The other part is seed distribution. We don’t notice this in our yards, because we tend to them. But when a seed lands in an open space, there is nothing to stop it growing and proliferating. Look along the edges of trails, and you’ll see climbing roses, nandina, and a host of other plants that escaped from suburban yards.

Fairfax City has provided information on some of the more problematic plants in our area. To learn more, follow this link:

If you have had experience with troublesome invasive plants, please let us know in the comments section.

Journeying with God

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path (Psalm 119 v 105)

It was when the bamboo was cut down, that I realized that Holy Comforter had received the gift of many square yards of usable land. How should it best be used?

At first it seemed that a circular path to walk the Stations of the Cross would be a good idea. Sure, but why stop there?

Well, then, what about a Nature path from the pond to the trees at the top of the rise? Sure, but why stop there?

What about a path that begins at the Labyrinth, passes the pond, makes a circle where the bamboo used to be, and continues up through the stand of trees? This is getting better!

With a few zigs and zags, we could join with the path that goes through the Columbarium, and we could walk half way around the church property. Great!

Half way around? Why stop there?

Well, there’s no way to walk across near the far end of the parking lot, because that is entirely overgrown with a nasty, thorny creeper called mile-a-minute. Oh, no, wait! Our landscapers have replaced a nice strip of that with grass.

So now the path can leave the far end of the Labyrinth, pass the steps, and join this grassy strip of sidewalk. Fantastic!

Then there’s nothing for it but to walk through the parking lot to the circle. Nothing like a Nature Walk, but oh, well . . .

This is all very well, but the path remains only an idea in my mind. Making it happen will take meetings and decisions and money aaaand it might never happen.

So you can imagine my surprise and delight when I showed up at church recently, to find that the landscapers had done a lot of clearing. Invasive English Ivy, and a whole lot of other awful things had grown into a thicket. Once that was cleared, we could see that we have a whole row of American Holly. Another gift!

And underneath the Holly, flat, walkable land. A path!

The next steps are to clear away the debris (I’m working on that), put down cardboard (kindly donated by you) and then wood chips (free from Fairfax County). No meetings required! If we decide against a path, then all we’ve done is prevent the creepers from growing back.

(We need clean, flat, brown cardboard boxes. If you have any, please put them just inside the downstairs red door, and Tom will keep them until we have enough.)

That little strip of future path represents my life. On the one hand, I don’t know where I’m going. On the other hand, it is where I am right now. And, it could become part of something much bigger.

Mosquito Predators

Following the principles of Integrated Pest Management (IPM), so far we have talked about clearing away the plants that harbor them, and sources of standing water, where the lavae grow. Now it is time to look at mosquitoes natural predators, and how to attract them.

A good first step, paradoxically, is to establish a pond. Remember, mosquitoes don’t lay their eggs in ponds, because there are too many predators? So, if you can, make a pond. If you already have one, enjoy!

Ponds will attract dragonflies, which feed on mosquitoes. They like aquatic plants in and around the water, so they can hide and breed. Ponds also attract fish that eat mosquitoes. Beware, however, of the nicely named “mosquito fish.” It is an invasive species, and if it can escape from the pond, will spread like the snakehead fish.

Bats need water, too, and they eat a lot of mosquitoes. To attract bats you could set up a bat house. These need to meet certain requirements. Much easier to do, is to have less outdoor light, so that the bats feel more at home.

Among other birds that feed on mosquitoes is the purple martin. These interesting birds have forgotten how to make their own nests, and so are dependent on humans to do this for them. They tend to like groups of gourd-shaped nests.

And while you’re setting about attracting birds, put in plants that are native to your local area. These will support the caterpillars that baby birds need, until they, too are old enough to fly around catching mosquitoes.

Garden Phlox