Six on Saturday: All You May Not See

An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly nectars on obediant plant. Can you see it?

A friend and I were walking through the garden recently, when we heard an odd whirring noise.  At first, I thought it might be a hummingbird and glanced around to spot it.  But the whirring became more urgent.  There was a note a desperation in the sound.  I caught a small movement and a flash of light a few inches below the lowest branch of the oak tree.  Whatever was making the sound was hanging there, fighting against the solid restraint of a spider’s web. 

I assumed that a hummingbird had somehow gotten entangled in a web, and located a stick nearby to attempt a rescue.  I broke the web away from the branch, and then began to break the nearly invisible strands along the sides, all while watching the small creature straining against its silken restraints with its remaining energy.

Cicadas are visiting our garden this week.

As it fell to the ground, I could see that this wasn’t a hummingbird.  Nearly the same size and brilliant green, this was something else.  It immediately took some sort of crazy, stumbling flight with one wing free and the other wing still encumbered.  As we looked for a way to help, it finally broke its second wing free, and took off for the relative safety of some tall plants nearby.

The short glimpse we got of this creature in motion told us it was a very large insect rather than a very small bird.  It was probably a cicada, based on its sound and size.  Had we not come close enough to find it when we did, or had we not helped it break free, it would have been a fine meal for a spider.  These dramas play out continually in the garden.

What we see depends on how we look.  And there is a lot we may not see each day.  To see the life of the garden, one needs to look with an open and questioning mind.  Like a child, perhaps, ‘Why?’ should be our mantra.

Spiders leave webs everywhere in late summer. Can you see the indusium on the back of the Athyrium frond?

There is space in our thoughts to wonder in exact proportion to what else might preoccupy our attention.  That is why wandering in the garden, actively observing, and asking questions about what we notice opens doors to experiences we otherwise might not have.  It allows us to appreciate the rich life playing out all around us even as it gives us a brief respite from our worries.

I have been intrigued by the tiny ferns growing in odd places in our back garden.  I found the first ones late last summer, growing out of the moss near our work area behind the house.  These were charming, tiny ferns, and I had no idea how they had appeared there.  It was like magic.

The more I looked, the more I found here and there.  I potted some and moved others to safer spots where they wouldn’t be mowed or trodden.  And more appeared this spring.   Since I love ferns, and always seek them out at garden centers, these are an especially appreciated gift of nature appearing spontaneously in our yard.

A tiny volunteer fern appeared underneath our fig tree.

Which led me to feel even more gratitude when tiny ferns appeared in a tray of soil where I’d sown other seeds.  While waiting for the Camellia seeds to germinate, the whole mysterious life cycle of ferns unfolded, and suddenly I had a tray of tiny ferns, ready to harvest.  Which led me to wonder whether I could have a hand in the process and learn to sow spores from ferns of my choosing, while watching the process unfold.

I’ve been reading other gardeners’ descriptions of how they collect and sow spore from the Hardy Fern Foundation’s  1998 Propagation Handbook.  Experienced gardeners describe their preferred methods for collecting spore and sowing them on various media to initiate the long and involved process of fern propagation.  Everyone has their own twist and preferences.

How often have you noticed spore containing indusium on the back of a fern’s frond?  Can you tell when the spore is ripe to harvest, or already gone?  These are the tiny details that we learn to see and understand when we look with interest and curiosity.  But if we don’t look for these things, we might never notice them.

Like Alice stepping through the looking glass, we, too can find worlds within worlds when we look at anything more closely.  There is a multiverse of new experiences waiting, that we may never find, unless we pay attention, and carefully look with new interest at what is right around us.

Indusium covers and protects the spores on many types of ferns. I picked this broken tip of a Christmas fern to harvest the spores for propagation.
With appreciation to The Propagator, who hosts Six on Saturday each week.



  1. What a lovely blog post! It resonates with me as I write a post with absolutely nothing to do with gardening called Small Things this week. I agree with you, we need to be so observant and mindful of all that surrounds us. Because everything around is so amazing and such a blessing.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s