Naturalists marvel at the wonder of metamorphosis: insect transformations from egg to caterpillar and chrysalis then adult butterflies, moths, beetles or bees. We humans have a love/hate relationship with those insects, which pollinate but also mercilessly devour our carefully cultivated flowers, vegetables and trees.
Keeping a balance beneficial to our ecosystem is essential, especially when considering pesticide use, integrated pest management and organic gardening methods.
Good news: Getting educated about the care and maintenance of Earth-friendly habitats, while investigating the sometimes quirky habits of the world's estimated 1 million (and counting) insect species, is fun and rewarding. Choosing native plants for your garden is a great beginning. Here are some resources to explore:
■ Shooting Star Nursery. Venture out to 160 Soards Road in southern Scott County this month, and you'll find a bank of prairie sunflowers swarmed by a rabble of butterflies. Owner Marianne Hunt, who specializes in propagating native plants, seems to know where every caterpillar can be found and when every seed can be collected.
When I visited the nursery last week, she spotted a large cecropia moth cocoon that was camouflaged as a bladdernut leaf, and she confirmed that a variegated fritillary caterpillar was chomping on passionflower leaves.
"We really encourage gardeners to put native plants in their gardens to help establish a stable habitat corridor that bridges one place to another," Hunt said.
Some popular choices: joe-pye weed, lobelia, mist flower, spicebush and sassafras. Wander the greenhouses and gardens at the nursery to find diverse plant choices that include rare gems, such as the tiny blue and yellow bell flowers of native clematis. Go to Shootingstarnursery.com.
■ Salato Wildlife Education Center. Native Plant and Habitat Day is 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 10. Salato is on Game Farm Road, just off U.S. 60 about 1.5 miles west of Ky. 127 in Frankfort. The event is free. Native plants will be sold and given as Habitat Bingo participation awards. Guest speakers include Sunni Carr, who will talk at 1 p.m. about diversity and the importance of sustaining native habitats. At 2 p.m., Roberta Burns will discuss how plants can be ecosystem bio-indicators.
Kids may visit a potting station to plant a seed or small plant to take home and watch grow. Also on hand: various displays; animals including a black bear, bobcats and eagles; two fishing lakes; and miles of hiking trails. Go to FW.ky.gov.
■ The Kentucky Native Plant Society. The organization, dedicated to conserving native flora, will hold its autumn meeting and expertly guided hikes at Cumberland Falls State Park from Sept. 30 through Oct. 2. Annual membership is $15, $25 a family. For details, newsletters and a membership form, go to KNPS.org.
■ Landscape with native wildflowers, trees and shrubs. Mary Carol Cooper, retired native plant coordinator at Salato Wildlife Educator Center, will guide this exploration at The Arboretum, 500 Alumni Drive. Discover new ideas, and learn which native plants are thriving. 10 a.m. Nov. 2; $5.
■ Wild Ones. This group advocates for native plant landscaping and improved biodiversity. Enlightening monthly programs, plant sources and places to visit are listed at For-wild.org/chapters/lexington.
Tracks & Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates. Charlie Eiseman and Noah Charney. Stackpole Books. 583 pp. $39.95.
This guidebook, which earned a 2010 National Outdoor Book Award, will delight and edify bug and slug detectives. If you've ever come upon and wondered about a frothy white spittle dollop on a stalk, or a leaf rolled and stitched with silken floss, enlightenment can probably be found here. It's not all pretty: Bark tunnels, gross warty galls, mite-bitten red-pocked ankles, papery wasp nest balls and parasitic larvae piggybacking on other insects — in glorious color photographs — will elicit a few "ewwws." Divided into easily readable segments, the text is packed with details that inquisitive gardeners can employ to expand their awareness of the natural world. You might find that a walk down your driveway can result in hours of new observations.
National Outdoor Book Award winners can be found at Noba-web.org. It's a great source for gift ideas, including children's books, biography, natural history and adventure.
Extend the growing season
Summer is winding down, but your garden harvest can go on into winter. Cole crops such as broccoli and cabbage love cool weather and can be newly transplanted through mid-September. Row covers, hoop houses and cold frames employ solar energy and enclosed spaces to turn up the heat. Here's some help for becoming an all-season gardener:
■ Winter gardening workshop. The Edible Garden Series presents Extending the Season with John Walker at 6:30 p.m. Sept.13 at Beaumont Presbyterian Church, 1070 Lane Allen Road. Protection techniques of mulching and cold frames will be discussed. Walker says, "We would like to hear about those experiences and discuss the pros and cons of different approaches as well as how to implement them." Go to Faithfeedslex.org; (859) 797-2326.
■ Local Cooperative Extension Service. More than a century of experience and research are distilled into publications such as the comprehensive Home Vegetable Gardening in Kentucky ID-128. It's on the Web at www.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/id/id128/id128.pdf. It's packed with cultivation hints, and tables listing vegetable choices and growing times. How to Build a High Tunnel is at www.uky.edu/Ag/CDBREC/hightunnel.pdf.
■ Grow Appalachia. Founded with a gift from philanthropist John Paul Dejoria and administered through Berea College, the program supports and encourages Appalachian gardeners in growing their own food. The program is now in seven Kentucky locations, including Bell County's Red Bird Mission, where intern Magan Meade has developed four-season gardening, a slide presentation and a hoop tunnel construction video. Go to Growappalachia.blogspot.com/2011/08/plan-of-year-round-harvest-by-magan.html; also find Grow Appalachia on Facebook.com.