New Digs: Wildlife Wednesday, January 2020

Another trip around the sun is completed, the calendar page has turned, and 2020 is here.   In this darkest season, my garden still enjoys some blooming, hosts a few insects flitting, and cheers with plenty of native and wintering birds feeding, calling, and singing.  I’ve begun winter pruning, though with a only few light freezes under the garden’s belt, many plants aren’t yet dormant.

My garden is a full-on wildlife habitat.  Most of the garden provides something for someone:  seeds and fruits, nectar and pollen, cover and protection, and plenty of nesting material. In my garden, water is provided and chemicals are avoided. Other than maintenance and occasional revamping of a garden space due to loss of light or some other environmental shift, my garden flutters and hums (thanks for the phrase, Anna!) with busy wildlife and minimal effort.

I live in a fairly typical American urban neighborhood.  For most of my years here, especially after I transformed the standard issue, turf-centered landscape into the vibrant, native plant-focused wildlife habitat that it is now, my garden served as the lone example of a urban habitat planted with something other than grass, a tree or two, and a couple of evergreen foundation plants.  Though most house dwellers stick with their sterile, water-hogging grass and turf remains the dominate landscape feature, more gardens have appeared, utilizing pollinator plants and native grasses, along with pathways to enjoy the beauty that the gardens provide.  Our neighborhood also now boasts a gorgeous and well-planted community garden; kudos to the many volunteers and neighborhood leaders who made that happen.  These steps toward more diverse gardens and landscapes is a solid and positive trend, even if it’s been at a slower pace than I would prefer.

Baby garden steps.

Since we moved into our home in 1985, we’ve enjoyed a nice relationship with a kind neighbor.  She’s been retired most of the years we’ve lived in our house.  She saw us bring home our babies, as we saw her with visiting grandchildren.  She would chat with me in my garden, complimenting its beauty and peace, though I believe she thought me a garden nut.

She’s not wrong there.

When I’d offer to plant for her or change something in her landscape, she would decline, declaring her yard was exactly as she wanted it.  The neighbor aged, but preferred to stay in her well-loved home for as long as possible.  But suddenly in early November, she told me she was moving to a town in the Texas Hill Country where her daughter lives.

Prior to this unsurprising news, she and I had discussed the inevitability of her moving “some day” and I asked her to let me know when she decided that it was time to move.  My sister-in-law (going forward, SIL), The Hub’s big sister, might be interested in purchasing a one-level home, rather than remaining in her lovely, two-story condominium with its dangerously steep stairs.  Many phone calls later, with a minimum of wrangling and negotiating, legal papers duly signed and the check for purchase delivered, my SIL is the three-week long proud owner of this charming home.

Isn’t it cute?  And guess who will garden it?!

Just look at all that grass and visualize instead something more diverse: color and texture varied, interesting in form and beckoning to wildlife.   In my gardener’s mind, I  already see pollinator plants blooming in shrubs and perennials of many colors and graceful native grasses sparkling in spring green and swaying in autumn breezes.  This garden transformation will be a long-term project; afterall, it took me years to “complete” my garden–and no garden is ever really complete.  Plus, this is a much larger lot than my own slice of the Earth and I’m no kid these days, as my achy knees will confirm!

I hope I’m up to this gardening task.

I’ve already planted the small bed that borders the front porch (first photo), though mulching is on the to-do list.  We’ve agreed to lay mulch between our homes, as there’s plenty shrub action on either side of the border.

 

Stepping through her iron gate and into the back yard–someday garden–reveals a huge space, opening the imagination to all sorts of possibilities, no doubt accompanied by sore muscles and a stiff back.

 

This fence between our properties is about three years old and some of “my” plants have already migrated over and under the wall, settling in for the flower show.

Trust me, I’ll add plenty more.

As is typical in most American landscapes, the layout of this property relegates the actual gardens to narrow, small areas–for shrubs, perennials, bulbs, and ground-covers–with the starring role given to the expansive swaths of turf. As a general rule, a well-designed garden places larger plants toward the back, with shorter plants in front.  The narrow beds allotted on this property will be the signature challenge to its wildlife habitat transformation :  transplanting the smaller, original specimens with newer, larger specimens of wildlife-friendly shrubs, native grasses, and understory trees,  then re-planting the smaller plants toward the front of the beds.

 

In the center of the back yard towers an aging Arizona ash tree.  Someday, it will be gone, but for now, it provides glorious shade in summer and plenty of perching opportunities for birds, including the many Screech Owls that have nested in our owl nesting box, which sits in our Shumard red oak tree, about 60 to the left of the photo.

Here’s a view from the back of the property toward the rear of the house.

 

Another view, this one is toward the opposite neighbors’ house, and you see that  between SIL’s property and those neighbors, stands a chain link fence.

Maybe vines (blackberries, pretty please!) will grow there one day as the fence is in full sun, all year-round.  There’s talk about planting some fruit trees in that section of the lot, taking advantage of life-giving full sun.

Weee!   Meyer lemons!  Peaches!  Plums!

Oh dear.  Perhaps it’s best I don’t get carried away…

Fallen leaves drift to the grass from a stunning native Bur oak tree in the southeast corner of SIL’s lot.  During the growing season, this corner is quite shady because of that Bur oak;  ferns are lush and happy there and in time, other shade-loving perennials will feel right at home, too. In autumn, the leaves cover the grass; they’re huge!  SIL is planning to hire an eco-friendly lawn company who uses electric equipment rather than gas-powered and who mulches leaves, rather than bagging for pick-up.

 

My former neighbor installed a small pond about 25 years ago under the shade of the ash tree.  My SIL is an avid backyard birder (Yay!  Another bird nut!) and she’s already set up her feeding stations in this spot.  In fact, since moving in, she’s already bested me in bird watching: she observed two Ruby-crowned KingletsRegulus calendula, at her pond to my one. 

SIL will clean out her pond in late winter, adding more rocks so that the birds have an easier time accessing the water for bathing.  It should be an excellent spot for the birds to congregate–and be watched.

 

I miss our former neighbor and still half-expect to see her amble out her front door toward me with that wry grin on her face, both of us understanding that a quirky conversation will ensue.  I wish her well in her final years; she’s in her mid-80’s, but still active and I hope that continues.  That said, I’m happy to have my SIL next door; we’ve always gotten along well–she’s a sweety–and I know she’ll be a great neighbor.  As well, she has an appreciation of gardens and gardening and understands the importance of biodiversity in the urban environment.  With her new digs comes exciting opportunities to dig:  to develop a welcoming environment for birds, mammals, reptiles, and insects and to create set of unique gardens full of plants providing color, form, interest–for all.

While there was no actual wildlife in this post, I’m interested in reading about the wildlife you enjoyed in your garden.  If you wish, please leave a link to your wildlife gardening post when you comment here about your wildlife garden happenings–and happy wildlife gardening.

 

32 thoughts on “New Digs: Wildlife Wednesday, January 2020

  1. My first thought was that it is a big project, but so much fun to start from scratch. Good luck and I know how your New Year will be. Totally off the subject, I was thinking about you when my daughter gifted me with honey from her Brooklyn neighbor. They live in brownstones and he has his hives on the roof. Her neighborhood has many small flower gardens, which seem to be enough to support the hives.

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    • Yes, luck will be needed as will some self-discipline and careful lifting, digging, and all that other gardening jazz. I’m realizing that it’s such a big project, that it will take quite a long time.

      So nice to have home-grown honey, no matter where it comes from. I think there are lots of those roof-top hives in many places and what a good thing that is! Enjoy it, Judy, and happy 2020!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. How exciting for you, Tina! I imagine your neighbor was quite happy to see her home and yard of many years pass easily to someone that will appreciate and care for it. I hope you have a blast working with her to create a welcoming space full of life and beauty!

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    • Haha–when I told my former neighbor that my SIL was, indeed, really interested and the gears were in motion to purchase her house, I mentioned that I would love to garden it. Her response? “Oh, don’t get rid of the grass!”

      But it’s such a pretty property, that even a little bit of garden additives will make it even more beautiful and I’m grateful that my SIL is interested in wildlife habitats and sustainable gardening efforts.

      Happy New Year to you, Maggie!

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    • It is nice to have her as a neighbor and she’s settling in well. I think there are still plenty of boxes to unpack and stuff to set up, but the hard part of moving is past.

      Happy 2020 to you and yours!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What a treat to have a new space to plan/play with! You and your SIL will both benefit from the enlarged native plantings (not to mention all the wildlife!). This is truly a bright spot of news – what a lovely way to start 2020.

    I look very much forward to loads of posts about the growth in your gardening spaces. Happy New Garden!

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    • Thanks, Deb! Hope you’re well, miss your blog. (Hint…) It is a nice way to start 2020: nice family member next door and a blank garden space to imagine and create.

      I imagine that the progress will be slow-ish, just because of other obligations, but I do hope that the space will become less sterile, more alive and I’m glad Sharon is totally on-board with a garden transformation.

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  4. OMG – what a SCORE!!! Congratulations to both you, your SIL, and all the other creatures that will embrace the future changes. Your post made me laugh, as – just like you – I have tried (so far unsuccessfully) convincing my next door neighbor to let me plant up her yard as well. It has the exact features as your former neighbor’s – lawn, lawn, more lawn, and tightly meat-balled foundation shrubs.
    As for space layout, with a long narrow backyard like that, one idea you might consider would be weaving it together as a number of somewhat triangular spaces on the diagonal, connected via winding pathways..? That would break the long space into smaller rooms with room for trees, larger shrubs, and ample opportunities for exciting focal points, and a variety of shady seating areas. Hard to explain verbally, but I imagine you know what I mean. I wish you tons of fun with this fabulous project – I am truly envious of such a wonderful challenge! What a great start to a new year – here is to a much wilder 2020! (And I say that in the most well-meaning of ways.) Cheers!

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    • It is a score, in so many ways!! I love the idea of the rooms and had thought that is probably the best way to tackle the size of the space, but I hadn’t thought about laying out each section as a triangle–great idea, Anna!! I’d like to use the grass as the pathways. I’m not adverse to grass, there’s just too much of it and in these big swaths, so boring, especially when there are other options.

      I’ll keep you posted and probably ask some advice, too!!

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      • Thanks, Anna–I’m glad to have you as a resource! Last night, I started the process of Google-map outlining the property, so I can use a scaled map for sketches.

        I always trash-talk turf, but in appropriate quantities (not EVERYWHERE!) it’s cooling and a lovely way to break up garden spaces. I would still have some grass in my back garden if my sweet old dog, Asher, hadn’t rolled all over what grass I left in place, rendering it so weak that it wasn’t worth keeping. I do like the pea grave that I have for the negative spaces and as my back garden has so much shade, it’s especially nice, but I think Sharon (SIL) probably would like to keep some of the grass. Thankfully, while she’s not a gardener (she’s interested though!) she’s amenable to the transformation.

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  5. Lovely to have your Sil next door and all that blank canvas to work on. You are going to have such fun. There is nothing quite like going into the new year with an exciting garden project.

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    • It really is nice, Chloris to have her nearby and I think she’ll be happy here. It’s a nice neighborhood: quiet, but close to many things. It is exciting, if not a bit intimidating. 🙂

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    • Thanks, Tracy! I don’t have space and too much shade for fruit trees, so I’m pleased that there might be a possibility of some. They do require more maintenance and I don’t know how much room SIL wants to devote to that part of the project–it is HER home, afterall!–but I think she’s open to the idea. Really, this situation has opened so many new possibilities!

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  6. What fantastic news – congratulations! How I would love to have a like-minded friend living in the house next to ours. Actually, we do have friends planning to downsize and there is a chance that they will move into one of the smaller houses near ours.

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  7. SIL here. Looking forward to learning gardening from a master and sharing the developing natural beauty, as well as stiff backs and aching muscles (the latter, not so much).

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    • Haha–well, I don’t know about “master”–I’m just a girl with a shovel who’s made lots of mistakes and (hopefully) learned from them. That said, I’m looking forward to a gardening partnership and lots of shared critters. Welcome to the neighbor hood!

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  8. Ooooooh!!! What a great blank slate! Yes, blackberries and Meyer lemons! Kumquats and peaches!
    If you want any help, I am also a nut, with a big love of shoveling and wheelbarrows.

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    • We may call on you… 🙂 Sharon is going to plant a Methley plum and a loquat tree, along with a Meyer lemon that she’ll keep in a pot she can roll into the garage during hard freezes. We’re also talking understory trees–she’s got so much room for so many and I”m so excited!!

      (Sorry for the originally unfinished comment–always a mistake when I do it on my phone during the boring part of a meeting. 🙂 )

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      • Do it! I don’t have much space to play anymore and have a cute sidekick who also works hard 🙂 you know my area code, then 4 one three and an eight sev five niner (typed funny in case the robots are reading 🤪)

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  9. It would be wonderful to have a house, a yard, and the possibilities you have before you. But, that takes money, and money’s one thing I don’t have. So, I’ll enjoy your work vicariously, and watch the transformation(s) as they come. What strikes me is the variety of conditions you’ve listed — and all that sunny space! Blackberries and fruit trees, indeed! And beautyberry. There has to be beautyberry eventually — right?

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    • It’s a big property and will take time–and lots of it–to be fully realized. And yes, I hope blackberries are in the mix. That said, I think Sharon still has boxes to unpack, so the gardening isn’t the main priority just yet. We’ll get there…

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  10. How nice the the home went to a good home . . . or someone who will appreciate it. In or culture (in the Santa Clara Valley), that is very rare. Homes cost more than they do anywhere else, but are not appreciated. Many get demolished and replaced with monster homes. I could never bear to leave, but it is enviable to see how others live elsewhere.

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    • That’s one of the reasons we were so happy that things worked out for Sharon to move next door: with Austin’s growth, there are lots of developers who would have drooled over such a huge lot. We might have ended up with as many as 7 (yes, 7) duplexes (no mitigation for parking) or a MacMansion with an ADU (granny flat) next door. Instead, we have a known, good neighbor and in time, another true wildlife habitat. It’s a win-win for us, my sister-in-law, and the neighborhood.

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