Gardening for Nature
Gardening to encourage nature isn’t always easy in a suburban environment, but I’m a strong proponent of the phrase: “Bloom where you’re planted,” I live on a third of an acre lot within the village limits of our town.
My husband would probably be happy in a city, and I would much prefer the country. In fact, I’ve always thought living near a marsh would be the ultimate heaven. A small town subdivision is our compromise.
I do a lot of gardening in my small space, and we have a multitude ofbutterflies,
hummingbirds, and bees, birds, toads and small animals visiting our yard. The picture above is of a tree frog hanging to the stem of a milkweed plant in my back garden.
We also have house cats that look out the windows (with not a lot of interest in the squirrels and birds) that are frequent visitors to our bird feeders.
Everyone’s policy seems to be live and let live. It works for the most part, although I’ll admit being annoyed by the raccoons that have ruined three bird feeders and destroyed my water garden so many times that I finally gave up on it.
I also have to battle squirrels and chipmunks occasionally, and there was the day when my elderly house cat was sitting on the front porch when a fledgling sparrow flew out of its nest and directly into the cat’s mouth. I was standing right there. I mean what should you do when an unexpected delicious, hors-d’-oeuvre pops into your mouth? She ate it of course. I was horrified at first, but I guess that’s the risk you take when you build your nest in my hanging geranium. (I did try to discourage the bird from building her nest there, but she was very determined and that was the result.)
I strongly believe that children should be introduced to the outdoors and nature as young as possible, and now that my grown children are following my footsteps, I know that in our small way we have created a new generation of care takers for our Earth and all creatures in it.
When planting for nature, you need to provide the same basic things that humans need: food, water, and shelter. If you provide these, nature will soon be at your doorstep.
Look to the edges of your property first and think in terms of layers or tiers. Evergreen trees provide wonderful shelter for small song birds and also give your property privacy. Be aware though that these trees will eventually get quite large. One is plenty on a small property.
In front of that consider bushes that grow edible fruit and berries. Many birds are berry eaters and your garden is now achieving two purposes; beauty for you and food and shelter for birds.
The next tier should include ornamental grasses, and flowering vines. Now add your flowers. Flowers that self seed are great because not only do they provide food for the birds, the birds will help to scatter the seed.
High nectar flowers are also a must. Hummingbirds are attracted to red, tubular flowers and butterflies like flowers with flat surfaces that they can sit on. One plant that is sort of both is Monarda (bee balm).
Obviously, cottage gardens or naturalized gardens are friendlier toward nature. So if you favor a more formal garden, you might be uncomfortable with the surprises Mother Nature provides when you garden for nature.
Serendipity is one of my favorite words, and I always love it when I let some volunteer (an unplanted seedling) grow in my garden, and then suddenly a bird or butterfly that is not a regular suddenly starts coming to my garden to visit that plant.
When I first became interested in Monarch butterflies, I wanted some milkweed plant. I hadn’t gotten to the point of actually getting some though, but one day there it was. Since that day we’ve been raising Monarchs regularly.
Now of course, I have so many milkweeds that I have to pull some so that they don't completely take over my garden.
Even though I was a failure at water gardening, I do still have two bird baths that I fill daily and a small stone water fountain. Birds will readily come to a fresh water supply, and we love watching the robins jump in the bird bath and take an energetic bath. Many other birds visit the birdbaths, and we have a blue jay that likes to wash the peanuts I put out before she eats them.
Bird baths also create focal points and color to your garden.
Hummingbirds like a spray of water that they can fly through and you can buy special little sprayers that you can put in the middle of your birdbaths to do this. The water will tend to evaporate faster though so you need to be willing to refill it maybe even a couple of times a day.
One of my birdbaths is heated so that I have a water source available all year for my song birds. A shallow bowl on the ground or a rock with indentations is great for attracting toads, butterflies, and birds that prefer to eat off the ground. A flat rock in your garden is also a place that butterflies can sit and rest on.
The right plants will encourage birds to come to your yard, but you can also add several feeders to increase the variety of birds that visit. A sugar water feeder will attract hummingbirds and orioles. Eventually the orioles will want meal worms, but they also love oranges, and grape jelly.
Safflower seeds in a hopper feeder or a feeder with a tray will attract cardinals and many other desirable song birds. They are unattractive though to squirrels and black birds which is a good thing.
If you only want one bird feeder fill it with oil sunflower seeds. They are quite nutritious and are popular to many birds, but should be served in a feeder that is squirrel proof (good luck with that) because sunflower seeds are a squirrel favorite, too.
Woodpeckers need suet, and seeds in a feeder they can hang from and finches and chickadees like nyjer seed and sunflower bits.
Ground feeders such as mourning doves and black eyed juncos like millet, but don’t put millet in your feeders. It attracts a lot of undesirable birds to your yard. It is used as filler in cheap birdseed, and most birds just throw it on the ground anyway where it can create a mess.
It’s better to just put a handful of millet out each morning in a ground feeder. I also put out a handful of peanuts in the shell every morning for the blue jays. Within minutes the jays will come to eat the peanuts, and then they leave for the day. Since blue jays can be aggressive to other birds this works out well for me.
If you have the space, it’s best to separate your feeders around the yard, but try to have them sort of close to where you can view them easily.
If you’re new at feeding birds, make a visit to a quality wild bird store. You might be over whelmed at first at the variety of seeds and feeders that you'll find, but hang in there. Any new hobby or project has large learning curve at first, but asking questions and doing your own research will soon have you feeding and enjoying song birds in your own yard.
Having a few assorted birdhouses scattered around your property at various heights, will also encourage birds to make your property their home. Many birds are territorial. They will come back to your property again and again if they’ve found a good home there.
So what would be some good plants to include in this nature garden? Perennials should include purple coneflower, black eyed Susan, bellflowers, joe-pye weed, coreopsis, liatris, lavender, goldenrod, butterfly weed, yarrow, and agastache.
Below is my cottage garden in full bloom. It has a wide assortment of plants and flowers that are an attraction to many butterflies, bees and birds.
Hummingbirds want red tubular plants and flowering vines. Some annuals to include are sunflowers, zinnias, cosmos, salvia and marigolds.
Add some of the following trees and bushes to your yard and you would be good to go: a service berry tree, ornamental fruit trees, wegilia bushes, sumac and dogwood.
Depending on the part of country you live in, you could probably come up with many other choices. The ones I’ve named are all plants that thrive in the Northeast and the Midwest.
Gardening for Bees
Gardening for Wildlife
Good luck gardening for nature, and thank you for Gardening with Julie.
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