Say Hello to My Little Friends

She had a huge, distended belly and a curious, pinched face. Every move I made, she followed with those huge eyes of hers. I have to admit, I was very happy to have her: she took care of the bad guys and provided constant entertainment, but I never, ever wanted to get in a scuffle with her.

She was the 5" long praying mantis who lived, last summer, in one of my Japanese eggplants. I loved her and she loved eating bugs (all kinds of bugs, but I always hoped she caught more bad ones than good ones), so we had a happy relationship. When I pulled all the plants out of the bed in order to expand it, I left the eggplant in place as long as I could. And, when it came time to till the bed, my friends and I carefully removed the eggplant and put it in a pot away from the mayhem of the plot-remodel. So badly I wanted her to lay eggs. She was so fierce and such a loyal helper, I hoped for her descendants to grace my future. Always curious about her state of being, I checked the eggplant regularly, and she stayed there, usually still, sometimes hunting. She stayed until the landlord's gardeners came. In the morning before their arrival, she was there; in the afternoon, she wasn't. After that, I never saw her again.

I don't know if this is really her offspring or not, but I imagine that the eggsack from which this little one arrived was hers. I'd like to picture that, when the gardeners came that day, she made her last flight up into the black walnut tree, a tree that in every other circumstance has caused me no end of frustration, but in this case provided a home for the eggsack she laid. I imagine that this spring the eggs in the sack hatched, and little praying mantises ran everywhere, eating each other (if they could catch one another) and whatever other living creature they could catch small enough for their little jaws. As the winds came, they fell out of the tree, scattering to all corners of the yard and garden. And today, as I gathered my gear together to leave the garden, this one—no larger than a dime—suddenly fell from above and onto my camera case. Carefully, carefully, I carried him/her/it to the garden and sat the case next to my withering dry beans, where he/she/it made a surprisingly large leap from the case to the vine. The mantis paused there for a moment, looking at me just the way its mother did, and let me take a picture of it before it skittered off and into the green.

I look forward to the day this little critter is as big as the katydids that are already sizable and taking up residence in my oregano.

Next to the oregano is my sprawly mass of cilantro. One of the best decisions I made this spring was to let my cilantro bolt and bloom like mad. The graceful Queen Anne's lace-ish flowers attract many pollinators of all sorts. As well, they have encouraged ladybugs, more than I've ever seen in the yard before, to join the Forces of Good in the plot. They've been making sweet-ladybug-love all over the plants too, "working" to ensure my insect army's growth. The blooming cilantro also seems to be a good friend to moths and butterflies.

This cilantro and especially the neighbor's ferny-leafed lavender have been attracting hummingbirds, so the quiet peace of the garden is often punctuated by the zip of hummingbird wings. One day, I saw a hummingbird drink from the lavender then perch on a tomato cage, a tiny lavender blossom caught around its beak. The hummingbird repeatedly extended its very long tongue to remove the blossom from its beak, but removing the flower proved more difficult than the bird expected. Over and over, out came the spindly extension-tongue. I couldn't help but laugh; the bird seemed so human as it shook its head and stuck its tongue out, exasperated. Finally the blossom fell off and the bird zagged its circuitous route away.

I don't know where our hummingbirds' nests are, but this weekend, at my uncle's new home, in his yard full of fruit trees, grape vines, tomatoes and cantaloupes, I had the opportunity to peek inside another hummingbird's nest. It was the first time I was able to see, incredibly intimately, the handiwork of the miniature beasts.

I wore my "Garden Hoe" t-shirt to my uncle's barbecue. This t-shirt elicits two distinct responses: delighted laughs or downturned corners of the mouth. Sitting on the couch next to a second-cousin-fourteen-times-removed-or-so, a woman who grew up with my mother and one who I hadn't seen since I was an infant, I didn't know what type of reaction I would receive. But she looked at me and laughed. She told me I couldn't help it, that the gardening trait ran so deep in my genetic heritage I couldn't escape it.

I know it sounds Pollyanna of me; it sounds cheesy and overly in-love-with-everything, but I can't help it. Of this green world, I just can't get enough.


Rowena said…
Awwww...atleast you've got friends in your garden! I've been seeing "the enemies" - aphids, grasshoppers, slugs - so whenever the dogs and I are out for walks, I collect all of the ladybugs that we come across and release them into our yard. Funny actually, having to go out and find me some friends! :-P
Anonymous said…
I you would like to see a good video documentary about a hummingbird nest, please click the link below.

The video is not mine. It was found on I recently posted it on my blog. Hope you will enjoy it. Please feel free to visit often and and also to let others know about it.
Wendy said…
Hummingbirds????! Really? Oh my. I'm so jealous I could explode. I've always wanted to see one. Sigh.
And hello to your wee friends.
Anonymous said…
I envy you your garden. I just don't have the time with the boys still being so young, but I'm doing my best to get my container garden of herbs going this weekend. Where did you get your T-Shirt?
When we lived in St. Louis, we had a couple of ficus trees that would summer on our deck, becoming big and robust, with shiny leaves. One wintered in our house, the other at my office. One winter about February, the office tree was suddenly alive with tiny baby praying mantises. Obviously a female had laid her eggs in the tree the previous summer!
pam said…
I thought I was the only one who track the comings and goings of praying mantis in the garden! I have bunches of little babies all scattered throughout. So, far it's been a good spring for them.
Christina said…
Rowena: I love the image I have of you collecting ladybugs on your walks with the dogs.

Zoe: Thanks for the link.

Wendy: Sometime, when you take your California coast road trip, you'll have to stop by--hummingbirds, in this area, we have in spades.

Jean: I got my t-shirt from You Grow Girl's store--it was not cheap, but I couldn't resist.

Terry B.: That's funny. I have a very humorous mental movie running through my head of an office full of baby praying mantises.

Pam: It has been here too, even though we're in such a drought. I love to watch them grow up.
Lucy said…
Those little beasties make me glad, oh so glad, to know that your garden must be paradise.

To think. People sometimes want to rid their crops of these helpers. These bug-gy images are glorious!

Christina, you have, once again, made me smile broadly. And as for those tiny hummingbird eggs...have I told you about my obsession with birds and their nests?

Was waiting to give your post all of my attention. So pleased I did.
@JeanAnnVK said…
Wonderful post! I have a post on the praying mantises we had last year...we bought an egg watched it hatch...hundreds of little guys came swarming out...incredible!

We bought our second one last night...can't wait to see!

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