Planting a Wildlife Habitat

After wandering around my garden, a visitor once turned to me and exclaimed, "The birds are so happy!"

That made me very happy, too. I get great joy watching the many birds, squirrels, rabbits, and even occasional foxes who visit my garden. I love lizards, butterflies, dragonflies, ladybugs, and bees. I feel good that so many creatures choose to live in my garden. A healthy garden is one that is full of life.A few of the creatures that call my garden home, clockwise from top left: A green Anole lizard; Bumblebee, Chipmunk (Ground squirrel); Barred owl.

If we create an environment that is good for wildlife, often that garden will be a place that is pleasing to us as well. There are a number of things a gardener can do to make a habitat that is friendly to wildlife. 

If you are serious about attracting wildlife to your garden, be sure to use only organic products, rather than artificial fertilizers, pesticides, and insecticides that can harm wildlife. I cringe at those products that have a nuke-em approach, promising to get rid of every bug. Many insects are good guys who eat other bugs that damage our gardens, and insects are an important food source for many birds and other forms of wildlife.This Eastern Bluebird is enjoying a tasty meal.

Also, plant a variety of both evergreen and deciduous plants in your garden. This is the best way to insure that your garden will become a wildlife habitat.A diversity of plantings will provide shelter throughout the year, as well as places for birds to nest and raise their young. Cardinals have nested in this forsythia bush every year since we moved here in 1985.Trees and shrubs that produce berries - for example: hollies, dogwood, viburnum, hawthorn, and serviceberries - as well as flowering plants that are allowed to go to seed, will provide sustenance.A robin eats dogwood berries in winter.Clockwise from top left are some of the berry-producing plants in my own garden: Burford holly; Mapleleaf viburnum; Weeping yaupon holly; Serviceberry treeRose hips and Coneflower seeds are only a couple of the many types of seed heads that birds and other wildlife consume through the winter.

Many of us enjoy watching the aerial acrobatics of hummingbirds. Yes, hummingbirds do perch!If you want to attract these amazing creatures, plant brightly colored, nectar-rich flowers that have funnel-shaped blooms as well as those that have distinct “landing zones”. Trumpet creeper, Campsis radicans; Trumpet honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens; Bee Balm, Monarda didyma; Indian Pink, Spigelia marilandica; and Red buckeye, Aesculus pavia, are some of our native plants that attract hummingbirds. Rose of Sharon, Hibiscus syriacus; Pineapple sage, Salvia elegans; Shrub verbena, Lantana camera; Giant blue sage, Salvia guaranitca; and Butterfly bush, Buddleja davidii are a few of the non-natives that attract hummingbirds. Spearleaf swampmallow, Pavonia hastata, which is in the hibiscus family, is a favorite in my own garden. Often hummingbirds will ignore the nearby hummingbird feeder and fight over this!In my own garden, hummingbirds prefer Trumpet honeysuckle and Pavonia hastata.

Butterflies are also welcome inhabitants of our gardens. They are attracted to colorful perennials and annuals such as Zinnia: Pentas:Cosmos:Below, clockwise from top left, are more butterfly magnets: Coneflower, Echinacea; Blue mist shrub, Caryopteris; Butterfly weed, Asclepsias; and of course, Butterfly bush, Buddleja.

Butterflies are also drawn to asters, salvia, and to many flowering shrubs, such as azaleas.

Remember that a water source is important to wildlife, even through the winter. I dream of a pond or a stream, but for now I maintain a couple of birdbaths.I managed to get a rear view of this mockingbird enjoying a birdbath.Many natural wildlife habitats are perishing as modern society expands. We gardeners should do more than just make our yards pretty for ourselves. We can help preserve the local ecology by providing safe and healthy environments for garden creatures. Ultimately, we are benefitting our own lives, as well.

"Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father's care." Matthew 10:29


The Bravest of Them All

The sun has been shining, but don't let that fool you; it is still COLD out there! At least to me, with my thin southern blood. Oh, I went outside yesterday, thinking to spend some quality time in my garden with the camera. Ha! The first gust of chill wind had my teeth chattering. Today is only marginally better. The following is a view from the arbor garden, down from the patio. Can you feel the cold, even though we have no snow?

Yet spring should be here within six weeks, and I am getting more excited every day. Once Christmas is over, I am done with winter; although, in truth, it hardly gets here till January. So in spite of the wind, I did spend some time yesterday looking for signs of spring. That is not unreasonable; in some years past we have had forsythia, quince, and daffodils in bloom as early as January.

Buds: You have got to be kidding! Have you forgotten those single digit temps we had just a couple weeks ago?

Me: No, I haven't forgotten, but I was hoping...

Buds: Well, we are not crazy. We plan to stay wrapped up nice and cozy, and we suggest you do the same.

Me:  So you say, but I know you well enough; with a day or two of warmer temps, you will be peeking out. Then the next minute you will be dancing in the breeze!

Buds: Just like you.

Me: Yep, just like me. I can't wait for spring!

So, I saw no signs of daffodils, and buds were staying inside their wraps, including these:Clockwise from top left: Camellia 'Red Candles'; Edgeworthia crysantha - If these buds seem closer to blooming, it's only because of the fuzzy coats they wear; Witch hazel; Viburnum opulus.

Most of what I saw yesterday were 2013 dried-up leftovers:Dried hydrangea blooms lay on the ground amidst fallen leaves.A dried sedum still holds its head tall.

I found a single hellebore bloom that had poked its head up and then hunkered over, wishing it had not been quite so anxious:

Only little violas were stalwart enough to show their full faces. So delicate in appearance, but surely the bravest of them all! No doubt this is why their common name is Johnny-Jump-Ups!

I have always loved violas. They are the first flowers in my memory. I was three years old, and my next door neighbor Mrs. Jordan had them growing in her back yard. Mrs. Jordan may have been 80 or she may have been 60, but I remember her as being very old and wrinkly in a navy blue dress. She let me wander through her garden, and I was enraptured by the violas' sweet faces, just as I still am today.

Have a great week!