Gardening: Fauna makes the flora come alive

Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News

My life in garden has never been just about plants. I love the critters, large and small, that hang out in the soil and surface. Sneaky the snake, who lived under the front stone step of my English cottage in the country, always startled me when he came slithering out to find lunch, but never did I consider doing him in.  I just said hello and we went our separate ways.    

Dragonflies are a delightful garden visitor.

I was working in the OPC garden in Rochester a couple of weeks ago when I had what I consider an almost perfect visitation – a toad, a humming bird and a dragonfly in a less than a minute.

I’ve had a “thing” for toads ever since I was a child. In the 35 years of gardening in the city, though I always practiced organic gardening, I never saw one in my landscape. A couple of times I bought some babies from a local pet shop, but sadly, they never thrived. Happily, when I moved to the country toads had already moved into the neighborhood – 20 acres of woods with half a dozen water features – in the country we call them swamps.  Thanks to the water garden at the OPC they thrive there too.

We also have lots of birds in the OPC garden, thanks to that water garden.  The stonework allows them to pop in and horse around like kids and that’s where the tadpoles – baby toads, hatch out in spring by the hundreds.  

The dragonfly that stopped in was a biggie. I don’t see them as often as I’d like. My memory as a child recalls the thin-bodied models we called darning needles, but the one I saw in the OPC garden was a hefty dude with two sets of wings, a full body and huge black eyes. Sadly he didn’t hang around too long, just landed, looked me straight in the eye and buzzed off.  But he made my day.

Unlike butterflies and humming birds that suck up nectar from flowers, dragonflies feed like bats catching their pray on the fly so they don’t stay put on plants for long. The good news is they favor mosquitoes

If you are attending this weekend’s Ann Arbor Art Fair, chances are you’ll see reproductions of dragonflies on rocks, pottery and jewelry. They’re used in homeopathic medicine in China and are symbols of courage, strength in Japan. Dragonflies have been traced back 300 million years. Fossils of these magical bugs have wingspans exceeding 3 feet in width. Check out more fascinating info search the web starting with: 

 Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and a Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at