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On Instagram, Nobody Cares About Your Dog

Now through July 9, I’m celebrating having attained 10,000 Instagram followers by giving away all four of my books! See details. 

Instagram is pure eye-candy, one luscious photo right after another. Captions tend to be brief or nonexistent. If you have a favorite topic, such as “echeverias,” you can scroll  through glorious echeveria photos simply by searching for #echeverias. Not only does Instagram give people like me opportunities to visually share our garden adventures and favorite photos, it’s terrific exposure for our brands. It’s also a great learning experience. In a nutshell, I live for “Likes,” and I continually strive to post photos that earn them. The screen captures below illustrate what I’ve learned—what works and what doesn’t—as evidenced by their number of likes (at the upper right of each).

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I can post the most amazing photo and it won’t get many likes if it doesn’t show succulents. No surprise: Most of my followers are into succulents, so that’s what they want to see.

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To paraphrase a popular saying: On Instagram, nobody cares about your dog. It doesn’t much matter how cute he is or how you pose him, he won’t earn many “Likes’ from people unless they own the same or similar breed.

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When I do post a photo of a succulent, I aim for amazing. The quality of photography on Instagram is extraordinary. I enhanced this photo using filters provided by the Instagram app. The most interesting filter, IMHO, is “Structure.” Depending on the quality of the original photo, Structure can sharpen the image so that it practically pops off the page. A little goes a long way; photos that have been excessively filtered look unnatural and garish.

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In terms of likes, my nice photo of a pachyveria earned a C+.

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People quickly scroll past anything that resembles advertising. Who can blame them?

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No matter how lovely, cactus is simply not as popular as nonspiny succulents.

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People love anything they haven’t seen before, like this succulent-planted trash container lid I shot recently at Roger’s Gardens nursery.

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But what they really go nuts over are innovative, well done succulent wreaths…

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…topiaries…

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…and short videos, especially if the description intrigues them.

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It’s considered the height of rudeness to repost someone else’s photo without giving them credit. At first, I erred on the side of caution and didn’t repost anyone’s at all. Then someone told me about Repost, an app that automatically identifies a photo’s origin in the lower left corner. It’s a win-win: I got 3,306 “Likes” for Jen’s terrific photo, and Instagrammers who weren’t following her already probably did so after I posted it.

If you’re thinking, “Who’s got time for all that? I’d rather read a book,” be sure to enter to win all four of mine! (Btw, I save my very best photos for my books!)

 

 

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Rick’s Aloe and Butterfly Garden

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The current population of monarch butterflies is a mere 4% of what it formerly was. These once ubiquitous butterflies are on the brink of extinction. Anyone with even a small garden, in any part of the US, can help reverse this sad trend.

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I knew that Rick Bjorklund’s garden in San Diego would delight me with its aloes, but I didn’t expect to see butterflies who felt the same way. Not only do monarchs love aloe blooms, their offspring have settled into Rick’s garden, too.

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This is because Rick also cultivates milkweed, the one and only food of monarch caterpillars. His numerous Asclepias curassavica shrubs are infested with striped, leaf-eating, antennaed tubes.

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Hm. Which end is which?

Once they’re fat and sassy, caterpillars look for a place to hang out…literally. To pupate, they attach themselves to a branch or eve, and their skin splits open, revealing a conical box that resembles a jade earring. What a surprise to see a chrysalis hanging from a kalanchoe (below). It’s amazing that insects native to the Americas are at home in a garden of plants mainly from Madagascar and South Africa.

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This one’s attached to an agave leaf.

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Here’s what happens next (photo courtesy of http://www.monarch-butterfly.com/):

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Monarchs also like Verbena bonariensis. I photographed this in a northern CA garden in early autumn.

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What every friend of butterflies should know: 

— To promote the survival of monarch butterflies, cultivate milkweed (one or more plants in the genus Asclepias).  Native to the Americas, milkweeds can be cultivated as far north as Quebec.

— When designing your monarch-habitat garden, position nectar-producing plants (like aloes, daisies and verbena) near milkweed. Adult butterflies look for both when laying their eggs, to ensure that their offspring will have plenty to eat.

— Refrigerate milkweed seeds three to six weeks prior to sowing. Get them off to a good start in peat pots with a thin covering of topsoil (they need sunlight to germinate). Transplant into the garden when rooted, four to six weeks after germination, in a full-sun location. Daytime highs should be at least 70 degrees F. Plants grow 36 to 60 inches tall, and can be spaced 12 to 18 inches apart.

— Monarchs and other butterflies have liquid diets. They like muddy water for its minerals, and the nectar of numerous flowers, which they ingest through a proboscis that unfurls and serves as a flexible drinking straw.

— Monarchs produce four successive generations annually, each with phases of egg, larva, pupa and butterfly. Adults of the first three generations live two to six weeks. The fourth generation, born in the fall, migrates to a warmer climate where the butterflies live through the winter, mate, and then return north.

— Butterflies fly best when temperatures are between 80 and 100 degrees. They’ve been clocked at 12 mph.

— Make sure butterflies have plenty to eat by supplementing their diet with a quality commercial nectar. To keep ants out of a butterfly feeder, coat an inch or so of the rod that supports it with Vaseline. Clean the feeder and replace the nectar daily. Place the feeder close to the milkweed and flowering plants in your garden, but out of direct, hot sun lest the liquid evaporate.

— Provide a mud puddle as a water source, ideally near a boulder on which butterflies can sun themselves.

Resources for monarch gardeners:
Reference books: Milkweed, Monarchs and More by Rea, Oberhauser and Quinn; and Monarch Butterfly by Gail Gibbons
Milkweed seeds
Butterfly feeder
Butterfly nectar