Jacki Kellum

Juxtapositions: Read My Mind

Category: Jacki Kellum Garden (page 1 of 2)

There Is Nothing More Refreshing Than a Morning in September

There is nothing more refreshing than a morning in September.

One advantage of living in the North is that as soon as the calendar hits September 1, PLOP! The curtain drops! And It Turns Fall! That doesn’t happen in the South. I remember my school-teaching days in Mississippi. I remember standing out on the asphalt parking lot and waiting for the kids to load into the buses. The heat was so intense that I felt as though I was baking–literally baking–I half-expected that my flesh would begin to fall off my bones–pulled-pork style.

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In another week or two, I’ll begin singing my September Song about how we all need to book our plans to go to the Poconos to watch the leaves change in the land of endless trees and waterfalls. That is an awe-inspiring, mouth-dropping experience, but it is not what I do to recreate myself. Any trip requires packing and traveling and unpacking and packing again and traveling again and unpacking again and then, playing catch-up for several days afterward. Autumn does have a restorative power, but the best place for me to take advantage of that power is to open my back door and to simply go outside and into my garden.

“Outside the leaves on the trees constricted slightly; they were the deep done green of the beginning of autumn. It was a Sunday in September. There would only be four. The clouds were high and the swallows would be here for another month or so before they left for the south before they returned again next summer.”
― Ali Smith, The Whole Story and Other Stories

In the North, we have some hot days in summer, but summer doesn’t last as long here as it does in the South. I have laughed, saying that I believe that whoever broke the years into seasons lived in New Jersey, because in New Jersey, we have 4 distinctive seasons, and you can bank on the weather’s changing at exactly the time that it is supposed to change. September should look and feel like the beginning of fall, and that is how things are in New Jersey.

“[T]hat old September feeling, left over from school days, of summer passing, vacation nearly done, obligations gathering, books and football in the air … Another fall, another turned page: there was something of jubilee in that annual autumnal beginning, as if last year’s mistakes had been wiped clean by summer.” ― Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose

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My purple asters have begun to bloom in my garden, and this year, I have been rewarded by the opportunity to watch the fascinating life cycle of the monarchs who have come to sip the nectar from my asters and t munch on my milkweed. My black-eyed Susans are about done for the year, and my garden’s purples need some golden yellow now, but that is no problem. The garden centers here are brimming with pots of yellow chrysanthemums and bunches of dried corn stalks. The pumpkins are standing in columns, making promises about the army of jack-lantern grins that are in the ranks behind them.

We’ll still have some days that are typical of Indian Summer here, but by September 1 in New Jersey, it is time to begin looking for last season’s flannel shirts and leggings because by September 1 in New Jersey, fall has begun.

“But when fall comes, kicking summer out on its treacherous ass as it always does one day sometime after the midpoint of September, it stays awhile like an old friend that you have missed. It settles in the way an old friend will settle into your favorite chair and take out his pipe and light it and then fill the afternoon with stories of places he has been and things he has done since last he saw you.” ― Stephen King, ‘Salem’s Lot

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“The first flash of color always excites me as much as the first frail, courageous bloom of spring. This is, in a sense, my season–sometimes warm and, when the wind blows an alert, sometimes cold. But there is a clarity about September. On clear days, the sun seems brighter, the sky more blue, the white clouds take on marvelous shapes; the moon is a wonderful apparition, rising gold, cooling to silver; and the stars are so big. The September storms–the hurricane warnings far away, the sudden gales, the downpour of rain that we have so badly needed here for so long–are exhilarating, and there’s a promise that what September starts, October will carry on, catching the torch flung into her hand.” ― Faith Baldwin, Evening Star

Without a doubt, I am a bit of a Rip Van Winkle, and I have a tendency to sleep-walk through chunks of time, but autumn is the season that always awakens and recreates me.

September Song
by Jacki Kellum

I just took a nap for my mind, to see,
Flickering fae breath blew in, restored me.
Visions of sugarplums danced, set me free.
Sang me that September song.

Rain showers dripped down through the limbs of my tree.
Moonbeams and crystal shards lit up my sea.
Soft webs and angel hair dropped from a flea,
And tow-tugged my leaf-boat along.

©Jacki Kellum September 16, 2017


Pictorial Guide to Butterflies in Eastern Gardens – and the Plants Where They Lay Their Eggs

This summer, I have had the privilege of watching the Monarch Butterfly Life Cycle in my garden, and I have done some research into the other types of butterflies that I might attract to might garden.  This is not all of the butterflies that visit New Jersey Gardens, but it is a list of butterflies that I want to try to attract and watch reproduce in my garden.

Black Swallowtail Male Butterfly [above]

Black Swallowtail Butterfly Female [above]

Size of Black Swallowtail Butterflies: 3.25″ – 4.25″

Black Swallowtail Caterpillar

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Black Swallowtail Butterfly Chrysalis

Black Swallow Tail Butterflies Lay Their Eggs on Dill

Black Swallow Tail Butterflies Lay Their Eggs on Fennel

Black Swallow Tail Butterflies Lay Their Eggs on Parsley

Black Swallow Tail Butterflies Lay Their Eggs on Queen Anne’s Lace

Black Swallow Tail Butterflies Lay Their Eggs on Common Rue – Ruta graveolans

Eastern Comma Butterfly or Hop Merchant [above]

Size of Eastern Comma Butterflies: Wing Span: 1 3/4 – 2 1/2 inches (4.5 – 6.4 cm) [Small]

Eastern Comma or Hop Merchant Butterfly Caterpillar

Eastern Comma Butterflies Lay Their Eggs on Hops [Hops is also necessary to make beer]

Eastern Tail-Blue Butterfly [above]

Size of the Eastern Tail-Blue Butterfly: Wing Span: 7/8 – 1 1/8 inches (2.2 – 2.9 cm) [Very Small]

Eastern Tail-Blued Butterflies Lay Their Eggs on Peas

EasternTiger Swallow Tail Butterfly [above]

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies Lay Their Eggs on Magnolia Trees

 Size of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly: Wing Span: 2 1/2 – 4 1/2 inches (6.2 – 11.4 cm)

Gray Hairstreak Butterfly [above]

Gray Hairstreak Butterflies Lay Their Eggs on Hollyhock

Gray Hairstreak Butterflies Lay Their Eggs on High Mallow or Zebra Mallow

Gray Hairstreak Butterflies Lay Their Eggs on Peas

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly [above]

Size of the Giant Swallowtail Butterfly: Wing Span: 4 – 6 1/4 inches (10.2 – 16 cm)

Giant Swallow Tail Butterflies Lay Their Eggs on Common Rue – Ruta graveolans

Great Spangled Fritillary Butterfly [above]

Size of the Great Spangled Fritillary Butterfly: Wing Span: 2 1/2 – 4 inches (6.3 – 10.1 cm)

Great Spangled Fritillary Butterflies Lay Their Eggs on Violets [above]

Monarch Butterfly [above]

Size of the Monarch Butterfly: Wing Span: 3 3/8 – 4 7/8 inches (8.6 – 12.4 cm)

Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar

Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis

Monarch Butterflies Lay Their Eggs on Milkweed Plants

Mourning Cloak Butterfly

Size of the Mourning Cloak Butterfly: Wing Span: 2 1/4 – 4 inches (5.7 – 10.1 cm)

Mourning Cloak Butterfly Caterpillar

Mourning Cloak Butterflies Lay Their Eggs in Willows

Pearl Crescent Butterfly [above]

Pearl Crescent Butterflies Lay Their Eggs on Asters

Asters are the primary nectar-producing flowers in my fall garden. In order to have a butterfly garden, it is essential to have nectar-producing flowers for at least 3 seasons each year.

Red-banded Hairstreak Butterfly

Red-banded Hairstreak Butterflies Lay Their Eggs on Winged Sumac

Red-spotted Purple Butterfly [above]

Size of the Red-spotted Purple Butterfly: Wing Span: 2 1/4 – 4 inches (5.7 – 10.1 cm)

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Red-spotted Butterfly Caterpillar

Red-spotted Purple Butterflies Lay Their Eggs in Willows

Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly [above]

Size of the Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly: Wing Span: 3 – 4 inches (7.5 – 10 cm)

Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillar

Spicebush Swallow Tail Butterflies Lay Their Eggs on Lilacs

Spicebush Swallowtail Butterflies Lay Their Eggs on Spicebushes

Spring Azure Butterfly [above]

Spring Azure Butterflies Lay Their Eggs on Blueberry Bushes

Summer Azure Butterfly [above]

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Summer Azure Butterflies Lay Their Eggs on Dogwood Shrubs

Cardinal Red Twig Dogwood Cornus sericea “Cardinal Grows 10′ x 10′

In my garden, I grow Cardinal Red Twig Dogwoods, which are great for winter gardens, too.

©Jacki Kellum September 11, 2011




How to Turn Your Garden Into a Breeding Spot for Monarch Butterflies – Free Plan for a Butterfly Garden – Free 3-Season Flower Garden Plan

Monarch butterflies are among the most fascinating of nature’s creatures. Yet, because of climate change, global warming, excessive use of herbicides, and illegal logging in Mexico, the monarch butterfly population is declining. Over this past summer, I have realized that I can harness my efforts in my New Jersey garden to help increase the monarch population, and in this article, I want to share what I have learned about butterfly gardening, and I will outline how other people  can turn your their own gardens into monarch breeding grounds, too.

My garden is a heavily planted Cottage Garden, which is a natural-looking, free-form style of gardening. While cottage gardens might make those who prefer formal gardens shudder, cottage gardening has been around at least since the Renaissance, and cottage gardens are ideal for doubling as butterfly breeding grounds.

Which Comes First, the Butterfly or the Egg?

Many people know that monarch butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed plants, and they might assume that if they simply buy a milkweed plant, they will have turned their garden into a monarch breeding habitat. But that is not entirely true.

Step 1: Begin with a Garden that is Filled with Nectar-Rich Flowers

It is true that milkweed plants are the essential food for monarch caterpillars, but adult monarchs are initially attracted to a spot that is filled with nectar-producing flowers. When it is time for a monarch mother to lay her eggs, she will only lay them on milkweed plants, but the rest of the time, adult monarchs need flowers that are rich with nectar.

Butterflies love to sip from butterfly bushes, and I always have a butterfly bush in my garden, and I also have a Chaste tree, which is like a large and prolific butterfly bush that has clusters of blue flowers.

Butterflies also love to sip the nectar of coneflowers or echinacea. At the end of the post, I’ll include a plan that names the plants needed for a Butterfly Garden. In the following video, you see bees sipping nectar from the zinnias that are blooming next to one of my milkweed plants

Step 2: Be Sure that Your Garden Has Flowering Plants for at Least 3 Seasons

In a cottage garden, a large variety of plants are crowded together and are allowed to grow as naturally and as freely as possible. Vegetable and flowers are often grown side by side, and because the flowering plants are close to each other, pollination is simple. In my cottage garden, something is blooming almost all year long, and because butterflies breed and produce caterpillars several times during the gardening season, they require nectar-producing flowers as long as nature will permit. At the end of the post, I’ll also include a 3-Season Flower Garden Plan.

Step 3:  Be Sure that There Are Plenty of Milkweed Plants in Your Garden.

I Grow Several Types of Milkweed

Swamp Milkweed is a hardy perennial in most garden zones, and you can plant it in your garden and leave it there over winter. I have the Incarta variety of swamp milkweed [above photo], and it is pink. Another variety of swamp milkweed is more purplish.

North America’s native milkweed crops are not as prolific as they once were.


Monarch caterpillars must eat milkweed leaves and by the time that the season’s final generation of butterflies are hatched, my first milkweed plants were no longer blooming. The caterpillars don’t need the blooms. They only eat the milkweed plant’s leaves. During the winter, I will bring my tropical milkweed plants inside, and will take cuttings from them to create new milkweed plants. In order to stagger the blooming season of my milkweed, I will try to stagger the starting time of the new milkweed plants.  If I have milkweed blooming over an extended period of time, I have the milkweed nectar to attract the adult butterflies to a plant that will also be an appropriate place to lay their eggs, but it is more important to have milkweed leaves for the caterpillars.

 I also grow tropical milkweed in planters that I take inside for the winter.

Early in the spring, I bought a tropical milkweed plant. The plant was about 3’tall, and it was already blooming, and I paid $30.00 for it.  The cost of the plant almost scared me away.

Image result for hummingbird tropical milkweed

For the first month or two, I only noticed hummingbirds and bees feeding from my tropical milkweed plant, but late in July, I began to notice that monarchs were hanging around, too. I never saw many monarchs assembled together, and they never hovered very long.  In fact, I was disappointed by my monarch community, and I simply gave up on the idea of butterfly gardening and quit watching my milkweed plant.

By the end of August, however, I noticed that my milkweed seemed to be dying. It had lost most of its leaves, and then I spotted my first monarch caterpillar.

Step 4: Be Sure That You Have Water for Your Adult Monarchs to Drink

In the preceding video, you see caterpillars in my garden and also a monarch chrysallis that has formed.

Before they enter the chrysalis stage, the monarch Bbutterfly caterpillars suspend themselves upside down from a silken cable that they spin

On September 3, 2017, I noticed that one of the caterpillars had moved into the hanging, J-like position. On Septer 5, 2017, that caterpillar was encased in his chrysalis.

Monarchs mate several times each summer, and they normally live from two to six weeks. However, the last of the season’s butterflies are born stronger, and they live long enough to migrate thousands of miles to Mexico, where they spend their winters. Although milkweed has been in my yard all summer, it appears that the butterflies did not reproduce in my garden until the last of the season’s matings. By that time, the milkweed blooms were gone, and I only had milkweed leaves. My main nectar-producing flowers in late autumn are asters, zinnias, and perennial cranesbill geraniums. To effectively breed monarch butterflies, you will need to plant a 3-season garden that is filled with the kinds of flowers that butterlies like and you will also need plenty of milkweed leaves all season long.

©Jacki Kellum September 10, 2017

Better Homes and Gardens provides free garden plans, check out their plans for a butterfly garden and for a 3-season garden.

Free Butterfly Garden Plan from bhg.com

You don’t have to follow this exact plan, but if you grow these plants in your garden and if you plant them closely, you will have butterflies.

Notice that the plan calls for a water source. I have several birdbaths and a pond in my garden. The butterflies frequent my birdbaths more than the birds.

This plan calls for Butterfly Weed, which is not the same thing as Tropical Milkweed. I suggest planting Butterfly Weed and buying a Tropical Milkweed, too. The Butterfly Weed is hardy, but the Tropical Milkweed will not withstand winters in most of the USA.


Free Butterfly Garden Plan from bhg.com

You don’t have to follow this exact plan, but if you grow these plants in your garden and if you plant them closely, you will have butterflies.

Notice that the plan calls for a water source. I have several birdbaths and a pond in my garden. The butterflies frequent my birdbaths more than the birds.


How to Grow Staghorn Sumac in Your Garden – An Autumn Spectacle – How to Make Sumac Lemonade

The other day, former pro baseball player Mark Littell and I were talking about my dad, who was a naturalist f the first degree. Much like the father Berenstein Bear, my dad would round up all of us little cubs and take us on regular expeditions into the forest to gather its natural products to turn into food. My family and Mark’s family used to hang out together, and Mark was laughing about the time that my dad brought the bread that he had made from acorns to a party at Mark’s house. Mark and his brother Eric were appalled, but the stuff was actually fairly good. Today, I want to tell you about some other woodsy treats that my dad used to ship up from wild sumac.

Before this year, I was only familiar with the sumac that has smooth leaves. It grows abundantly along ditches and other untended pieces of ground. Because I have removed all of the grass from my lawn, smooth-leafed sumac sprouts all over my lawn. It looks very much like poison oak, and I’ll discuss that later. If you allow any of the sumacs to grow at will, they will soon take over your property and your neighbor’s property, too. Therefore, I usually weed out my smooth-leafed sumac plants.

This year, I discovered the cutleaf variety of staghorn sumac, and I transplanted some of that into my garden. I love it. It looks like a gigantic, exotic fern.

Staghorn Sumac is growing behind and to the right of the cherub in my garden. I started that plant this spring, and it was a tiny sprig. Staghorn Sumac grows rapidly and if the suckers are clipped, it can reach a tree-like height of 30′. If left untended, sumac will spread into a massive bush and will reach a height of about 15′.

During the summer, cutleaf staghorn is a bright, chartreuse green, but during the fall, its leaves become a brilliant red spectacle.

Smooth-leafed sumac is a darker color of green. During the summer, mature sumac plants produce cone-like clusters of red berries. When I was a child, we would make a lemonade-like drink from the red berries. Sumac lemonade is an American treat that the Native Americans enjoyed long before the Europeans arrived.

How to Make Sumac Pink Lemonade

Pick about 12 Clusters of Red Sumac Berries and Place Them in a Pitcher

Cover the Berries with Water [Do Not Boil the Water. That Makes the Lemonade Bitter]

Let the Water Stand for about 10 Minutes

Cover the Top of the Pitcher with Cheesecloth and Strain the Liquid into Another Pitcher

Add Sugar

How to Distinguish Sumac fro Poison Oak

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The leaves of the smooth sumac plant are serrated. The leaves of poison oak are not serrated. Otherwise, the leaves of both plants are similar.

©Jacki Kellum September 9, 2017

Mark Littel’s childhood dog Fritz Drawn in Pencil by Jacki Kellum

I am currently illustrating Mark Littell’s second book, which is about the rural part of Southeast Missouri or the Bootheel, which is where we grew up. Be watching for Mark’s book to be released: Country Boy Conveniently Wild

You can buy his first book on Amazon: On the Eighth Day, God Made Baseball

Jacki Kellum Illustration for Mark Littell’s second book:

In Mark’s second book, he tells a story about how his dad bought geese to weed the cotton plants. According to Mark, the geese terrorized him and his brother Eric. I know those boys, and I feel sure that the geese were merely defending themselves.


Come into My Garden Said the Black-Eyed Susan to the Hybrid Tea – Learning to Love Life Through My Garden

Some people are naturally buoyant, but others of us must find ways to elevate our spirits. Writing helps keep my emotions on track.

Drawing and painting help lift me up, too.


But gardening and watching nature day by day is probably my best antidote for the blues.


Even during the winter, I watch the birds outside my window, and I write about how winter changes my perspective.

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And I like to paint winter.


I always love to see spring’s arrival. Now, that I live in the North, I love spring more than I ever did before.


And I grow a large variety of irises, and iris time always excites me. My grandmother had a huge iris bed, and my irises keep my grandmother alive.


I also grow a large variety of clematis, but by the time that the clematis are blooming, my garden is shrieking with color.

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Early this spring, I bought a large, blooming tropical milkweed plant, and my current reward is that I am watching all of my baby caterpillars munching on the leaves.


Last fall, my header had the above squirrel on it, and I wrote a piece that I titled Winter Comes Too Soon. Moments ago, I was walking around my weed-grown garden, and I was thinking that in only a few weeks, I’ll be writing again about how winter has begun to settle across my lawn. When you read my essay Winter Comes Too Soon, you will probably see that I am not only talking about how another summer is ending, but I am also talking about how the seasons of my life have shifted, too.

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I am 67-years-old, and I am no longer the pastel primrose that I once was. I feel more like a field of goldenrod now, and as I begin to look square into the eyes of the latter part of my own autumn, I have begun to notice that cobwebs have been spun from one side of myself to the other, and they have begun to dangle and drop.

Indeed, Winter Comes Too Soon. The surprising thing is that aging has a patina to it, and by the grace of God, as I age, I have begun to discover that there are good things about getting older. I know that I am more mellow than I once was. I have learned to view friendships differently than I ever viewed them before. I have given up a great deal of my tendencies toward perfectionism, and I am finding the eyes to see the beauty of the small, inexpensive things that I had never seen.


Last year, I wrote several hours each day, and that left me no extra time for doing my art and gardening.

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The year before, I had gorgeous annuals and perennials blooming in my garden.

But last year, I had fields of poke plants, and one massive wildflower grew that I had never seen in my life. That plant grew to be abut 8′ tall and had large, feathery leaves and woody stalks. Little balls hung from the stalks, and each little ball was topped by what looked like a vintage Chinaman’s cap. Ultimately, little yellow flowers popped out from the tops of the balls. It was an amazing thing to watch. That tall weed or wildflower was a few feet from my back door, and every time that I went outside, I saw it. It was almost as though God chose to give me a special gift to replace the garden that I had allowed to slip away.


During the summer of 2015, my garden was controlled and my waterfall was beautiful and clear. Last year, I never started the pumps for my waterfall, and my pond was brackish and dark. I was disappointed that without my care and nudging, many of my perennials elected not to show last year. But because I allowed some of the wilder things in my garden to have a chance to grow, I saw a different kind of beauty. It was a mellower kind of beauty that had a natural patina.

“A weed is but an unloved flower.” – Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Several times before, I have written that I question the line that is drawn between weeds and flowers. By many standards, I am probably a weed, but I enjoy the comfort and the freedom of growing the way that I seem to want to grow.

“Come into my garden,” said the black-eyed Susan to the hybrid tea.

©Jacki Kellum September 5, 2017

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How I Turned My Garden Into a Breeding Spot for Monarch Butterflies – Free Plan for a Butterfly Garden

For years, I have had a healthy community of butterflies in my garden, but I haven’t seen many monarch butterflies before, and until this year, I have not had the pleasure of following the monarch breeding cycle.

I’ve learned that in order to attract many butterflies, we must be sure that we are growing plenty of the types of flowering plants that produce nectar. At the bottom of this post, you will find a free butterfly garden plan. Butterflies love to sip from butterfly bushes, and I always have a butterfly bush and a Chaste tree, which is like a large and prolific butterfly bush.

I have a cottage garden, and I plant my flowers tightly. I like the natural kind of color explosion that I get from that type f planting, and close planting is also the best way to assure pollination.

I plan my garden so that there is almost always something blooming in my yard. For many years, this approach to gardening has attracted a large number of butterflies to my yard, but this year, I went the extra mile, hoping to attract more monarchs and also hoping that  I would be able to encourage them to breed in my garden. I have never witnessed the monarch growth cycle first hand, and curiosity was part of my incentive, but I am also aware that the number of monarch breeding places has radically diminished. I have a large flower garden anyway, and I felt that I had an ecological duty to help the monarchs, if I could.

Early in the spring, I bought a tropical milkweed plant. The plant was about 3’tall, and it was already blooming, and I paid $30.00 for it.  The cost of the plant almost scared me away.

Image result for hummingbird tropical milkweed

For the first month or two, I only noticed hummingbirds and bees feeding from my tropical milkweed plant, but late in July, I began to notice that monarchs were hanging around, too. I never saw many monarchs assembled together, and they never hovered very long.  In fact, I was disappointed by my monarch community, and I simply gave up on the idea of butterfly gardening and quit watching my milkweed plant.

By the end of August, however, I noticed that my milkweed seemed to be dying. It had lost most of its leaves, and then I spotted my first monarch caterpillar.

On September 3, 2017, I noticed that one of the caterpillars had moved into the hanging position that I suspect will precede its cocoon stage.

I deliberately kept my tropical milkweed in a large planter, and I plan to move the plant into my sunroom next month.  If the plant survives, I’ll take cuttings in the winter and next year, I’ll have several plants to offer mama monarchs.  The beauty of that plan is that I’ll have several plants without spending another $30.00 for each one.  Now that I am convinced that monarchs wont breed in my yard without milkweed, however, I eagerly say that $30.00 wasn’t very much to spend for this opportunity to watch nature unfold. Young art students come to my house each week, and this year, we’ll take advantage of this priceless opportunity to draw the monarch growth cycle from natural and direct observation.

If you look carefully at the long, green leaves, you will see where the caterpillars have been munching.

Free Butterfly Garden Plan from bhg.com

You don’t have to follow this exact plan, but if you grow these plants in your garden and if you plant them closely, you will have butterflies.

Notice that the plan calls for a water source. I have several birdbaths and a pond in my garden. The butterflies frequent my birdbaths more than the birds.

This plan calls for Butterfly Weed, which is not the same thing as Tropical Milkweed. I suggest planting Butterfly Weed and buying a Tropical Milkweed, too. The Butterfly Weed is hardy, but the Tropical Milkweed will not withstand winters in most of the USA.

©Jacki Kellum September 3, 2017


My Garden Has Pumpkin Power!

Two years ago, I snapped this idyllic photograph of my garden’s waterfall.

Here is that same spot today.

My fireball hardy hibiscus is still standing, but nature has completely camouflaged the waterfall beneath it.

Three years ago, I allowed a pumpkin to decompose in the back of my garden, and two years ago, one pumpkin plant volunteered to grow from that old pumpkin’s decomposition. This year, my garden is oozing with volunteer pumpkin plants. They are twining up and around everything in my back yard

Some of the plants are blossoming.

And some of the blossoms have yielded baby pumpkins.

My grape arbor is covered with vines, but the birds eat the grapes before I can turn them into wine.

The birds don’t bother the poke berries. They are smart and know that poke berries are poisonous. I know that poke is a weed, and it is worthless, but I love to watch it grow. I love to watch all of my garden grow. This time of year, I simply allow my garden to do its own thing. It never fails to delight me.

©Jacki Kellum August 22, 2017

“Come into the garden, Maud, For the black bat, night, has flown,
Come into the garden, Maud, I am here at the gate alone; Maud
And the woodbine spices are wafted abroad,
And the musk of the rose is blown.
For a breeze of morning moves, And the planet of Love is on high,
Beginning to faint in the light that she loves On a bed of daffodil sky.” – Tennyson


When Words Fail, Music and Poetry Connect

Writing is difficult, and one of its greatest challenges stems from the fact that words, which are mere strings of letters, are clumsy in their attempts to convey emotion.  Writers arrange letters together in formats that have become standardized symbols for something else. For instance, the letters “a-p-p-l-e” are recognized as symbolic of a red fruit that grows on trees and is usually harvested in fall. If a writer adds other words, he might foster emotions about the red fruit or he might remind the reader of the fruit’s tartness, its, crunchiness, and its juiciness. If the writer is able to carefully juxtapose other letters around the word “apple,” the reader may leap toward memories of a grandmother and the rolling of homemade pie crust, and of warm, cinnamon desserts topped with vanilla ice cream. Yet, by merely spelling the word “a-p-p-l-e,” a writer is telling his readers very little. A writer must add more strings of letters and a bit of polish to the letters before hopefully, the letters can begin to mean. Music, on the other hand, has a more direct impact than simple strings of words.

The ancient Tao Te Ching says that as soon as we begin to verbalize a feeling, the emotion vanishes. In other words, the ancient Asians recognized that there is a vein of emotion within us that defies being conveyed through words.

Chapter 1 – Tao Te Ching

The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named is not the eternal name
The nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth
The named is the mother of myriad things 

Some believe that music has the power to connect in ways that words often fail.

Music is the shorthand of emotion. – Leo Tolstoy

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I believe that music, for humans, is like the language of the birds.


In Ancient Greece, music was believed to have an almost magical power of communication.

Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything. – Plato

A couple of days ago, I wrote about the movie Out of Africa. I have seen that movie several times before, and the music of that movie helps make it monumental. As I watched the movie again this past Thursday, I entered the Out of Africa experience as soon as I heard the music. The music of Out of Africa had become a type of shorthand link into my mind. The music could communicate to me in a way that words could not, and that is why I prefer excellent movies to reading. A well-made movie employs several passages into the spirit.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote about the inadequacy of words. He said that a child who feels about what is around him understands better than the scientist who tries to capsulize life into words. Emerson adds that poetry, unlike logical words, does have a music-like power to connect:

Science was false by being unpoetical. It assumed to explain a reptile or mollusk, and isolated it…. The metaphysician, the poet, only sees each animal form as an inevitable step in the path of the creating mind. The Indian, the hunter, the boy with his pets, have sweeter knowledge of these than the savant. …The poet knows the missing link by the joy it gives. The poet gives us the eminent experiences only,–a god stepping from peak to peak, nor planting his foot but on a mountain.

. . .

Poetry is the perpetual endeavor to express the spirit of the thing, to pass the brute body and search the life and reason which causes it to exist….It is a presence of mind that gives a miraculous command of all means of uttering the thought and feeling of the moment.

. . .

Imagination.–Whilst common sense looks at things or visible Nature as real and final facts, poetry, or the imagination which dictates it, is a second sight, looking through these, and using them as types or words for thoughts which they signify.

. . .

A poet comes who lifts the veil; gives them glimpses of the laws of the universe….

The solid men complain that the idealist leaves out the fundamental facts; the poet complains that the solid men leave out the sky.

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Autumn scene. Fall. Trees and leaves in sun light

Ralph Waldo Emerson sought to explain through words how poetry communicates the essence of life that is beyond words:

No definition of poetry is adequate unless it be poetry itself. The most accurate analysis by the rarest wisdom is yet insufficient, and the poet will instantly prove it false by setting aside its requisitions. It is indeed all that we do not know. The poet does not need to see how meadows are something else than earth, grass, and water, but how they are thus much. He does not need discover that potato blows are as beautiful as violets, as the farmer thinks, but only how good potato blows are. The poem is drawn out from under the feet of the poet, his whole weight has rested on this ground. It has a logic more severe than the logician’s.  You might as well think to go in pursuit of the rainbow, and embrace it on the next hill, as to embrace the whole of poetry even in thought. – Emerson

Jacki Kellum Garden

I have a beautiful garden, and I often say that I am a nature watcher, but that is not the absolute truth. I do more than simply watch nature. Nature entrances me. I like to lose myself in nature. I like to become one with nature.  Nature communicates the primordial to me in ways that words hardly ever do.

“I find peace where the sun kissed leaves dance in the melody of the cool breeze that floats through the air.” ― Saim Cheeda

At times, I also connect with music and/or poetry  in that primordial way. The power of poetry is not that of its words, because words themselves are weak vessels. The power of poetry lies within its ability to capture and distill life itself.

©Jack Kellum August 20, 2017


Being Alone Is Not the Same Thing as Being Lonely

Last January, I was waiting for the arrival of an impending snowstorm, and I wrote about the things that I would do while I was snowbound. Unlike some, being isolated and alone doesn’t bother me. Over the years, I have learned to enjoy being alone, and when I finally reached that place in life, I became free–free of the fear of being alone.

When I am alone, I think better, and when I am alone, I can separate my preferences from what the world seems to wish that I would prefer. When no one else is around, I can pace myself by my own, unique clock. I can sleep when I am tired, and when I am refreshed, I can awaken. When the muse visits, I can write, and when I feel inspired, I can paint. When I am alone, there is no need to schedule my moods around anyone else, and I have no need to try to guess what the other wants from me. I only have the need to discover what it is that I truly want from myself. The next challenge is to pursue that goal–alone.

I am a big nature watcher. When the weather permits, I grow a massive garden, and I often sit in my garden–just watching my flowers bloom. I love to walk in the mountains and feel the expansiveness that is there. I love listening to the rain, and I love to watch it snow. If I were with anyone else, none of that would be the same. Chatter would drown the sound of the raindrops, and the language of the birds. If someone else were in the same room with me, I would not sit for hours at a time and stare out the window. I would not have the same enjoyment of watching the snow’s dance that quietly and gently alters the world, one flake at a time. When someone else is involved in moments like these, we feel the need to interact with the other person. When that occurs, we no longer are part of the moment that we are watching unfold. We lose our opportunities for mindfulness.

We are living in a culture that seems to pay lip homage to mindfulness, but many do not realize that being alone is the key to mindfulness. Mindfulness is not a state that you can share. When a person is fully mindful, he is absolutely within himself–he is at his own absolute core. You cannot have it both ways. You cannot be a participant in a group–not even in a small group of two–and become totally mindful. Mindfulness is about being alone.

l realized long ago that society is suspicious of people who opt to be alone. Mindful or not, the solitary people are classified as the cat ladies and the toothless crones who grow herbs and live in dark cottages on the fringes of the forest. The world view is that those alone should be pitied. Popular opinion is that the alone are isolated because no one wants them. They are the rejected.

That may be true, but the good news is that rejected or not, the alone do not have to be lonely. Being alone and being lonely are not the same thing. The lonely person is still invested in the myth that other people are the key to his or her happiness. When that is the case, the isolated are saddened by aloneness. Being alone doesn’t make me sad.

Consider this: Very rarely do married couples die at the same time. When one person from a couple dies, the other is still left alone. Aloneness will inevitably become part of  almost everyone’s existence. I advise people to begin cultivating their aloneness long before that happens.

It might seem that I am advising everyone to dump their partners and to immediately jump back into the life of being single, but I am not. I actually abhor divorce, and I rarely advocate it. In fact, I would love to find a truly compatible mate; yet, I would hope that I could be in a union that allows spaces for each united person to have quality moments alone.

“But let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.” – Kahlil Gibran

I propose that every couple find spaces within their union–spaces that allow each person to celebrate himself, as an individual. Only from somewhere within one’s own, individual being, can a person’s find true contentment. We must learn to love aloneness–that is the harbor within our own spirits. Aloneness is the place that we learn to cradle ourselves. It is the pillow where we will finally rest our heads.

©Jacki Kellum August 18, 2017


Slow Down You Move Too Fast You Gotta Make the Morning Last – A Moment in My Garden

Saturday morning, I stole a few minutes to amble through my garden, and I was struck by the purity and simplicity of the billowing white, hardy hibiscus plants that are blooming all around my yard now. I was reminded of the Simon and Garfunkel Song:

The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)


Slow down, you move too fast
You got to make the morning last
Just kicking down the cobblestones
Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy
Ba da da da da da da, feelin’ groovy

Hello, lamppost, what’cha knowin’?
I’ve come to watch your flowers growin’
Ain’t’cha got no rhymes for me?
Doot-in doo-doo, feelin’ groovy
Ba da da da da da da, feelin’ groovy

I got no deeds to do
No promises to keep
I’m dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep
Let the morning time drop all its petals on me
Life, I love you
All is groovy

I wanted to capture the  moment and although my efforts to do so have failed before, I clipped a couple of hibiscus blossoms and brought them inside to paint them, but before I got into my studio, the flowers had begun to wilt.

Jacki Kellum Watercolor – White, Withered Hibiscus

Jacki Kellum Watercolor – White, Withered Hibiscus 2

My garden hibiscus is a reminder that we cannot freeze time.

And the Seasons, They Go Round and Round
And the Painted Ponies Go Up and Down
We’re Riding on a Carousel of Time – Joni Mitchell, The Circle Game

When I first heard Joni Mitchell’s Circle Game song, I was turning twenty, and frankly, I am glad that I didn’t realize then how much I would change over the next several years. The greatest of life’s games is that while we are young, we don’t realize how precious the moments and the opportunities of youth actually are and when we are young, we fall for the unfortunate myth that we will be young forever. But we are like the hibiscus plants in my garden. By the time that we have bloomed, we have begun the process of fading and withering.

One of life’s greatest disappointments lies within discovering that Time itself is an illusion and that living can be like chasing after a mirage. We waste much of our lives looking too far ahead at something that seems to be golden and grand, but when we get there, that golden somethingness isn’t there at all. What we had seen and chased was merely a shiny reflection in the sand, and while we were chasing the mirage, we grew older. Because everything that blossoms eventually dies, it is essential that we find ways to fully live during our precious moments on earth. We need to live each day and we need to avoid chasing that something which is just beyond our grasps.

I don’t want to pretend that art and writing are more than they actually are, but in the almost final analysis, I can honestly say that my ability to create is the way that I begin to make sense of life’s Circle Game and the way that I have managed to slow my own aging process down and have found ways to celebrate the life around me–everyday.
“What was any art but a mould in which to imprison for a moment the shining elusive element which is life itself – life hurrying past us and running away, too strong to stop, too sweet to lose.” – Willa Cather

This has been an odd summer. Perhaps it is more of my advancing age speaking, but I have sensed autumn during much of this past summer. Even today, it is cloudy and the air promises rain. I am reminded of a little poem that I wrote one October. I hope to illustrate this as a picture book:


Winter Comes Too Soon
A Picture Book Manuscript by Jacki Kellum

There’s a frenzy in my garden,
Squirrels can’t get enough.
Birds are looking frantically
For seeds and nuts and stuff.

The corn is dry and shriveled now,
A vine has reached the top.
Fading leaves are bending low,
And little pumpkins drop.

The monarchs moved to Mexico,
And geese are leaving, too.
The spider leaves a lacy web,
Her net is etched with dew.

Shadows creep across the lawn,
Beneath the big, bright moon.
Everything in my yard knows
That winter comes too soon.

Copyright Winter Comes Too Soon Jacki Kellum October 8, 2015

In summary, life is a luxury.

Slow down, you move too fast. You gotta make your morning last. . . .
Let the morning time drop all its petals on me
Life, I love you
All is groovy

©Jacki Kellum August 7, 2017


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