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Posts Tagged ‘Wildlife Habitat’

…and other news. Here are a few stories that we’ve come across in the past few days that we think you might find interesting.

School Wildlife Habitats

We loved this one in particular. We all know about the life-enhancing lessons that kids take away from school (food) gardens. Well here’s another powerful way to engage them, help them learn, and improve their lives in the short- and long-term.

The Leo Politi Elementary School, in one of the most densely populated areas of Los Angeles, removed 5,000 square feet of concrete and lawn and replaced it with native plants and trees. Amazingly (or not, as most gardeners know), insects, birds and other creatures appeared so quickly that the principal said it was almost as if they were waiting for this oasis to appear. Not only were the kids fascinated with the activity in their new habitat, but the school’s science scores increased six-fold.

Let’s hear it for school gardens, both edible and habitat gardens. They enrich the lives of students, teachers and their neighborhoods by creating green spaces for all kinds of creatures. Read the whole story here.,

Historic Garden Photography

Anne Raver (one of our favorite garden writers) writes in the NY Times about a collection of garden photos taken from the late 1800’s to 1935 by Frances Benjamin Johnson. A catalog of her hand-colored glass lantern slides is available here. It’s a wonderful resource for anyone planning a new garden.

Conservation

Finally, here’s a thought-provoking editorial, Drop That Bog, that appeared in the NY Times on April 11. It’s a pretty convincing argument against using peat moss. We’ll quote it here in its entirety:

“To gardeners, there is something deeply gratifying about opening a bag of sphagnum peat moss. It’s the smell and texture, as well as knowing that peat makes a good ground cover and soil improver. But, like so many other things in our lives, peat moss looks different, and far less gratifying, when you take climate change into account.

What gardeners are buying in those compressed bags of peat is the remains of what was once a living bog. Extracting peat requires a kind of surface mining — laying back the top layer of a drained wetland and digging out the peat. The stuff you’re forking onto your garden is a broken-down version of stuff that has been used for centuries as fuel in Scotland, Britain and Ireland.

Here’s the trouble. Peat results when bog and wetland plants decompose partially in the absence of oxygen. Instead of emitting carbon dioxide as they decompose, they become the carbon in peat. In other words, peat acts as a carbon sink, trapping carbon that would otherwise have been released into the atmosphere. But once peat has been dug up — even before it is burned or dug into the corner of the garden where you’re hoping to plant blueberries — it begins to release its stored carbon, adding to the climate-altering carbon dioxide we are already pouring into the atmosphere.

Compared with the amount of carbon dioxide emitted when gardeners drive to the nursery, the problem may not seem that big. But every reduction helps, and there are easy alternatives. The best substitute for peat in the garden is compost, which you can make at home, unlike peat, which takes thousands of years to form. Peat should stay where it does the most good: in the place where it formed, beneath the complex ecology of a living wetland.”

That’s it for now.

P. S. Yes, we have been on an extended hiatus which was quite a bit longer than we intended, but we’re happy to be back. Tomorrow’s Tuesday’s Tips will be a primer on creating succulent terrariums. It’s super easy!

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Last week I was watering a plant on my windowsill when a flash of movement caught my eye. A hummingbird!

She hovered on the other side of the glass and I couldn’t figure out why she was looking at me through this window. The hummers in my garden are always checking out what I’m doing, but this window is facing the innermost corner of a little walled garden — not the birds’ usual haunt. In a moment the mystery was solved as I watched her flit past the Heavenly Bamboo’s leafy cover and settle into her tiny, tiny nest.

Hardly able to contain my excitement (I at least had the presence of mind to move away), I literally jumped up and did a happy dance. What an honor to be able to see this little miracle unfold!

This is precisely why I have been gardening organically and why I’ve done my best to make my property a creature-friendly habitat. It’s so obviously paid off. I have many more birds, lizards and beneficial insects in my garden, especially this year.

My beds need to be cleaned and my shrubs could use a trim, but I had a feeling that with all this activity there must be a nest or two hidden from view. So I decided to hold off on that work and I’ve made a real effort to keep Miss Emmie on a short leash for the nesting season. Good thing, because the hummingbird’s nest is so tiny — the size of a golf ball — that I never would have seen it before the loppers dropped the branch, nest and all, to the ground.

The nest is hidden in the leafy branches on the far lower right part of the shrub.

Mama Bird has been a real trooper. She’s endured several storms the past few days, one of which had 50 – 60 mph winds. She just hunkers down in her nest while the shrub sways in the wind. She chose a good place to build her nest though. The little garden is walled in on three side and the fourth side has only a four-foot opening.

Her nest is a marvelous structure. It’s cantilevered out from a fork in the branches and she’s constructed it from the materials at hand; I recognize birch bark, dried leaf pieces, skinny twigs, and lots and lots of cobwebs to hold it all together.

Mama Bird has only one egg in her nest, though hummingbirds often lay two. She has a regular schedule leaving her nest for about 20 minutes at a time, but most of the day she sits quietly on her egg. I’ve been watching her for a week, so it should be just  another week or so till baby emerges from its egg.

Here she sits for the most part unperturbed by my nosey camera. I haven’t wanted to scare her so I’ve taken these pics with available light, through a dirty pane of glass, which is why the last two are grainy and not very sharp. I’d love some better shots, but the important thing is to make sure that I don’t disturb her, not the quality of the pictures.

I can’t wait to see our little baby hummingbird! Of course, I’ll be taking as many pictures as Mama will allow and sharing them here with you.

Happy Spring!!!

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Mary Beth: Raccoons have been visiting us since we got back and they have been downright rude! I’m pretty sure they were setting up house on our deck while we were living on Block Island — droppings and the shredded cat bed were my first clue that we might not be alone.

They come late night, hissing and growling at each other while they crash into things and dig around in my potted plants. They’ve even dug up the dahlia tubers I just planted in the garden which really tested my patience.

The other night I was so fed up with their antics that I decided to chase them away. I knocked on the window to scare them. They turned to look at me, their expressions clearly indicating a ‘Who the hell are you?!’ attitude and then they continued their late night porch party. You might be envisioning cute, cuddly Disney-style raccoons, but in this part of the woods these are BIG suckers. So when I opened the door a crack to see if I could scare them off, that look made me close the door, turn off the lights and retreat back into my bed!

My take away from all of this was that if I would be getting any sleep, I would have to remove everything in the yard that might be attracting them. That meant that I had to stop using the hummingbird feeder and bird feeders. And yes, I should know better, feeders attract bears as well and those are considerably larger and more fierce than the raccoons. So considering myself forewarned, I packed up the feeders. Now I only put a handful of birdseed out in a bowl in the morning and I bring it in the house at night. I also bought some Shake Away made from Coyote urine that should discourage the raccoons — hopefully this doesn’t attract the coyotes!

Our yard is home for lots of birds and I really enjoy watching and listening to them. There are so many interesting ones here in SW Colorado that I decided I would concentrate on adding to the plants in our yard that will attract birds. Then I won’t have to resort to putting out food that ends up attracting some fuzzy-faced creatures who really are kind of cute, just not at close range.

Pine Siskin (?) in Crabapple Tree

I think this is a Pine Siskin, although it may be a finch. Anyone know for sure? (BTW — apologies for the fuzzy pics. My zoom lens has mold (!) courtesy of the constantly damp weather on Block Island.)

Another thing that attracts birds right away is the sound of moving water. I have little pond with a pump that trickles water over rocks that sounds like a stream. It draws in all sorts of bird who bathe and drink here.

Pine Siskin (?) drinking from my pond.

Bluebird

Many birds will help out in the garden by eating insects — Pine Siskins love aphids. You can help them by providing them shelter. You can leave a snag (a dead tree for nesting), or a brush pile somewhere out of the way along with some nesting boxes so they will want to stick around.

Ray makes fun of me because there are so many birdhouses on our property, but almost all of them are being used. My swallows, chickadees and nuthatches come back every year. Right now I’m trying to entice the bluebirds that have been drinking from my pond to take up residence in a birdhouse I made them last year. And this morning I spotted a Flycatcher making a nest under our porch near the clematis vines.

Try putting up some birdhouses and making a little pond or fountain in your garden. You’ll be delighted with all the activity it attracts.

Trees and shrubs birds like for:

Shelter and nesting:

  • Crabapples
  • Birches
  • Hawthorns
  • Maples
  • Viburnum
  • Hollies
  • Bayberry
  • Berry Thickets
  • Cottonwoods
  • Cedars
  • Dogwoods

Food:

  • Chokecherries
  • Crabapples
  • Dogwoods
  • Hawthorns
  • Ash trees
  • Roses

Nectar for the Hummingbirds:
Spring Blooming:

  • Lilac
  • Columbine
  • Apple Blossom
  • Lupine
  • Bleeding Heart
  • Iris
  • Currant

Summer Blooming:

  • Butterfly Bush
  • Bee Balm
  • Crocosmia
  • Coral Bells
  • Foxglove
  • Penstemon
  • Phlox
  • Salvia
  • Honeysuckle

Late Summer Blooming:

  • Cardinal Flower
  • Hollyhocks
  • Salvia
  • Larkspur
  • Nasturtium
  • Goldenrod

Nesting Materials for Hummingbirds:

  • Willow Leaves
  • Ferns
  • Moss

These are short lists of common plants, to find plants that will do best in your area go to Attracting Wildlife With Native Plants and follow this link to find out how to certify your garden as a wildlife habitat. Here’s a link to a page on the Gardener’s Supply site that tells how to attract bug-eating birds.

Still more links: plans for building birdhouses — here and here.

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B: My plants are finally in the ground. It seemed like such a long process. And the truth is it kind of was. Per my usual habit, I had to research EVERYTHING; partly because I just need to know and partly because I HATE making mistakes. And that’s ridiculous, of course. I mean really, what’s the worst that can happen? A plant will fail to thrive or die? Frustrating and sad, but not a tragedy.

I did a crazy amount of cross referencing among California native, drought-tolerant, pollinator-friendly plant lists (with special attention to honeybees) to see what would thrive in a difficult, part-shade location that’s under a canopy of eucalyptus trees, in heavy clay soil, and in a bed that tends to be dry in the back and wet in the front. “List mania” took a lot of time, but I learned a lot about backyard restoration, native plants, my micro-climate and my soil. In a way all of these limitations made the final selections easier because I ended up with a list of only 25 plants, mostly natives, which might work. I hope. I hope. I hope!

Tree of Life Nursery

Tree of Life Nursery

My list was shortened a little more by what was available at the Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano. TOL grows California native plants and they have many mature specimens on the property that helped me visualize what my plants would look like a few years down the road.

Salvia greggii Autumn Sage

Salvia greggii Autumn Sage

The bonus is that this place is a true oasis. When I feel like I need to get away from it all, I’m always tempted to call and ask if they’d let me move into the office. I go there just to soak up its wild beauty. Which ends up being a dangerous thing to do with all those beautiful plants begging to be taken home.

Can I live here? Please?

Can I live here? Please?

After much poking around and many questions answered by the knowledgeable staff, I came home with 14 little beauties. And little they are, too. These natives are a bit fragile in that they have brittle roots and so it’s much better to start out with 1-gallon sized plants, rather than the larger 5-gallon size. I’m told they’ll survive transplanting much better at the smaller size.

Selecting my plants.

Selecting my plants.

Here’s the list of my babies:
These are the plants that will get pretty big. Most of them will grow to be from 6 to 10 feet tall.

I’m in love with the Arctostaphylos bakeri/Manzanita ‘Howard McMinn’. With some careful pruning this shrub will mature into a beautiful “tree” with twisting branches covered in mahogany-colored bark. It will provide nectar for hummingbirds and bumblebees in the spring.

Carpenteria californica/Bush Anemone — A big shrub with large, fragrant white flowers with bright yellow stamens and ivory and tan peeling bark. I think it will look lovely against the brick wall. Provides spring and summer pollen for bees.
Ceanothus/Wild Lilac ‘Sierra Blue’ — A pretty blue-flowered shrub that grows to 10 feet. It likes dry, poor soil. (No problem there.) Pollen and nectar in spring for butterflies, honeybees and bumblebees.
Philadelphus lewisii/Western Mock Orange — It has white, highly fragrant blossoms on arching branches. Supposed to be easy to grow. This wasn’t on the pollinator list; for the life of me I can’t remember what possessed me to buy this. Oops!
Rhamnus californica/Coffeeberry ‘Eve Case’ — At TOL this shrub was literally covered with all kinds of bees and other insects gathering pollen and nectar from tiny lime-green flowers. The berries color up through the spring and summer going from lime-green to rose to red and then to burgundy-black in the fall at which point they become food for the birds. Butterflies like it too. The nurserywoman said, “I can’t say enough good things about this plant.” Sold!
Ribes malvaceum/Chaparral Currant ‘Dancing Tassels’ — This one worries me a little. In the spring it has beautiful light-green leaves and dancing light-pink flower tassels, but it’s deciduous. Will I be happy with it when it drops its leaves in the summer? Not on the bee-friendly list, but hummingbirds love it’s nectar and birds like the berries. Those lovely dancing tassels seduced me.

On the smaller side:
Ribes viburnifolium/Evergreen Currant ‘Catalina Perfume’ — A fragrant groundcover. Supposed to eventually do well under mature trees. Note eventually — we’ll see. Not on the pollinator’s list. Why did I get this? Can’t remember.
Salvia greggii/Autumn Sage ‘Annie’ — A delicious orangey-pink. Not a California native, but it is drought tolerant and my options were limited. Besides the specimen at TOL was gorgeous and I couldn’t resist. Butterflies, hummingbirds and honeybees love the nectar. My Anna’s Hummingbird came to visit everyday as I was planting. Soon he’ll be sipping nectar.
Salvia greggii/Autumn Sage ‘Lavender Rose’ — Another one for the hummingbirds, etc. in a lovely lavender-tinged pink.

Heuchera Coral Bells "Canyon Chimes"

Heuchera Coral Bells "Canyon Chimes"

Heuchera/Coral Bells ‘Canyon Chimes’ — I can’t overstate how excited I was to discover that this plant was a California native. A favorite of mine from my East Coast gardening days, this was a gift, something familiar. A favorite of hummingbirds.

Mimulus aurantiacus Monkeyflower

Mimulus aurantiacus Monkeyflower

Mimulus aurantiacus/Bush Monkeyflower — With a sweet apricot-colored flower, this was the first CA native that I was able to recognize in the wild. Provides spring pollen and nectar for bees, hummingbirds and butterflies.
Monardella villosa/Coyote Mint — Love the name, it sounds so outlaw. The fragrance of the leaves is delightful – mint with an edgy twist. Soon bees, butterflies and hummingbirds will be sipping nectar and gathering pollen from its purple blossoms.
Iris douglasiana/California Iris — another familiar plant! I love this old-fashioned beauty. This one has a lovely pale-blue flower that really pops in the shade. Not on the pollinator list, but too pretty to pass up.
At TOL I spotted a gorgeous dark-blue variety under a massive 200 year-old sycamore. When I asked where I could find a pot of it, they told me that this plant just appeared and they are waiting for it to get big enough so they can propagate it. Put me on the list. This is a spectacular flower.

Sisyrinchium bellum Blue-eyed Grass. This poor blossom is a little beat up, but you get the idea.

Sisyrinchium bellum Blue-eyed Grass. This poor blossom is a little beat up, but you get the idea.

Sisyrinchium bellum/Blue-eyed Grass — What can I say? Another plant that stole my heart. It has the most delicate little blue flowers with bright yellow centers. This dainty plant sways in the slightest breeze.

Once I got my babies in the ground, I spent the next two days checking them every hour or so to see how they were doing. When my husband started worrying about my mental state, I limited myself to checking every few hours. I’m happy to report that they have responded to my constant attention and, except for the sulking Chaparral Currant, all have new growth.

I tried as much as possible to get plants that would provide food for insects and birds. Those that don’t will provide cover and nesting places. Soon I’ll need to fill in with some that bloom later in the season. And I have lots of containers that I want to convert to what Mary Beth calls “bee pots” — container plants for bees. These might be CA natives, but I also want to plant bee favorites like rosemary and borage.

Now that this first bed is enlarged and planted, I love taking my morning tea out to the garden to admire my handiwork. Soon I’ll be making my plan for replacing the rest of the lawn with pathways and new beds. I can hardly wait to see the transformation of a wasteful lawn-covered space into a wildlife habitat. This really is turning out to be quite the adventure.

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