A Roof with a View

With apologies to E.M. Forster, it’s always interesting to see someone or something through different eyes.  But first, some background: we’ve had a raccoon visiting our back garden.  We haven’t actually seen him or her, but twice it has knocked over one of my bird baths.  This is a blue ceramic that we all like:  the gardener, the birds, the bees.

This photo is several years old and the bird bath sat in a different area of my garden at that time.

It’s an old bird bath and has been knocked over before, but this time the fall was fatal–the fall busted the basin to the point of no return.   I purchased a commercially made, large, heavy, container pot drainage plate and glued it using E6000 to the original and undamaged bird bath pedestal.

Voilà!

Two nights later, the marauding monster knocked the entire bird bath over again. Scoundrel!  The plate, now bird bath basin, wasn’t dislodged from the pedestal and no damage occurred, except to my back as I Iifted and set the bird bath upright once more.  That the now heavier bird bath can be upturned and its basin remain attached and intact is a testament to 1) the strength, and perhaps size, of the raccoon, and 2) the adhesive power of E6000.  I learned about the magical powers of E6000 when I was studying art, specifically ceramics, in recent years.  The stuff works!

I can also tell that the masked miscreant has been mucking around in my pond.  The fish are skittish, the pond lilies askew, and the water murky.

Additionally, once or twice recently and well after dark, we’ve heard a sort of thump on our roof or patio cover (it’s hard to tell exactly where).  Is this a visiting raccoon or is he/she  perhaps squatting somewhere on our property, possibly on the roof?  Raccoons have moved in under our solar panels in the past, but they were juveniles, small and oh so cute, and their homesteading occurred in late summer/early fall after their mamas booted their fuzzy butts from parental care.  We’ve installed a metal protective barrier between the roof and the solar panels to prevent such critter habitation, but raccoons are strong–remember the bird bath.  Could one have busted the barrier?

So out comes the ladder and up goes The Hub to check out any evidence or damage indicating raccoon invasion or vandalism.   From the ground, the only thing I could see under the solar panel was a suspicious lump.  Might that be a raccoon, snoozing in the morning? The Hub verified by spraying water from the pitch of the roof downward and under the panels.  The lump didn’t move, didn’t shift. Turns out, it was a bundle of leaves, but when you’re on the hunt for a rascally raccoon, it’s good to check out all suspects. Thankfully, there was no obvious raccoon renter on or near the roof.  Whew!  That’s good news, though I’m sure our mischievous mammal is still around, most recently squashing some plants at the base of a tree.  Varmint!!

While on the roof, The Hub took pictures of the garden with his phone.  We live in a one-story home and I’m not one to hang out on rooftops often, so it’s a view I don’t enjoy often. The photos demonstrate a different and delightful view of the garden I know so well.

The back garden is pie-shaped and the far corner is completely obscured by the tree.  The rest of this part of the garden is also mostly hidden by the lush canopy of the Red Oak tree, but two of our three bee hives sit in an open area.

 

Moving leftward, the main garden with the pond, comes into view.  My back garden is shady (pop-up sunflower, notwithstanding) and growing showy flowers is challenging, but I’m pleased that foliage variety is apparent from above and lends interest to this large garden.

 

The central and narrower part of my back garden hosts the pond, seating areas (some of which are out of camera view) and two other perennial gardens, left of the photo.

 

The northern, left-most part of the garden is where the raccooned-targeted bird bath sits.  The new basin is shallower than the original, but I think the birds will like it, though so far, they’ve been shy about taking a plunge.  The bees however, approve; they were ready for sipping before I added water.

At the left of the photo and hidden by the overhang of the roof is a fence with a gate which leads to the compost bin and a work/storage area.  If you look at the bottom right of this photo, you can see the remains of the broken bird bath basin.  Darn raccoon!

I’ve allowed some late summer and autumn wildflowers to seed out in this area, where I also house yard waste bins, extra mulch, and other garden paraphernalia.  This area becomes messy, but sometimes, I tidy it up.  Sometimes.

The front of the house hosts a raised bed in conjunction to the driveway.  You can see an edge of the solar panels and the darkened spot is where Hub ran the water underneath the panels to flush out, the “raccoon” that wasn’t.   This part of the garden enjoys significantly more sun than the back garden, though it just barely qualifies as “full” sun.  Still, I can grow many bloomers which please the pollinators. Yay!

The last major part of my garden lies in front of the garage, to the right of the above photo.  Shaded by a declining Arizona Ash tree, it’s a nice place to sit and pet the cat (if he’s out), finish the crossword puzzle, or chat with neighbors–all of which we do.  The mulched walkway leads to a narrow side garden.

I take photos of my gardens at least once during each season because it’s a good way for me to see things that, somehow, I don’t directly observe with my eyes.   The view from the roof is revealing and instructive, seeing my garden like the birds see it–looking down upon diverse and mixed foliage, and viewing the flow of pathways and islands of gardens.  I now recognize that there are things and areas that I might change, but I’m glad my space is all garden, full and lush, and a welcome home for critters.

I wouldn’t mind, however, if the raccoon critter would move along to another place.

I’m pleased to join with Anna and her Wednesday Vignette.   Check out her blog, Flutter and Hum, for musings of various sorts.

June Pollinator Blooms

Here in Austin, Texas, the weather has settled into the summer pattern of boringly bright days, warm-to-hot-temperatures, and plenty of humidity;  the solstice is now a memory.  There’s just no way around it–it’s summer, and as writer Al Bernstein said: Spring being a tough act to follow, God created June.

So what’s in the garden reflecting the shimmering June days?  In a word: Daylilies.  I say that, though I have only one type of daylily, planted in only one spot.  Their cheery orange is, for me, a June thing every summer.

My mother-in-law gave to me a couple of daylily leaves with attached root 20 some-odd years ago.  She wasn’t a gardener and I have no idea where she got hers, but they hadn’t bloomed alongside her driveway in many years.  She insisted that they were lovely.

And she was correct.

Full and ruffly, I look forward to the blooms every June, though sometimes they appear as early as May or as late as July.  I believe they’re a form of the Asian variety Hermerocallis fulva.

For years, I didn’t notice any pollinators at these blooms, but as I have paid more attention, I see a species of native bee who visits when these flowers open.  A small, iridescent blue-green bee, it’s probably a Sweat bee, Genus Halictidae.  The bees dive deep into the flower and it’s usually several minutes before they emerge;  I have to be quick with the camera button!

 

The Purple coneflowersEchinacea purpurea, opened for business in May, but have achieved their zenith of beauty in June.

An excellent pollinator plant, there’s always something working these happy flowers, like this Pipevine Swallowtail, Battus philenor.  I wonder if Ms. White flower spider is sizing up the butterfly for a meal?

 

YarrowAchillea millefolium, is a pretty plant year-round, mostly due to its foliage.  But in May, it sends up flower stalks and by June, those stalks are topped off with white flower clusters, adding their particular charm to bright June days.

I’ve seen all sorts of pollinators at Yarrow, from common, everyday flies, (great pollinators!),

…to large, dramatic bees, like this Horsefly-like Carpenter bee, Xylocopa tabaniformis.

By mid-July, the snowy blooms will turn toasty, and will then attract little finches and sparrows who flit through the garden.

 

Barbados cherryMalpighia glabra, a hardy Texas native, serves as a privacy screen in my front garden.  It’s a large shrub which may be hedged, though I prefer its natural shape of arching branches.  After rains, the plant bursts full of sweet pink flowers, eventually producing, juicy, red fruits favored by birds and mammals.  The fruits are called acerola cherries and are used to make juice.  I’ve tasted the fruits and they are sweet, though it would take quite a few to squeeze into juice.

The pink flowers are small and dainty, borne in clusters along the branches.

Eastern Carpenter bees, Xylocopa virginica, visit whenever the blooms appear.  These bees are fast fliers–I was lucky to get this shot!

 

Zexmenia, Wedelia acapulcensis var. hispida, provides a sparkle of yellow in my garden.  A low growing, deciduous shrub, Zexmenia loves abusive heat and blooms best in the heat.  In fact, with our wet late spring, mine haven’t bloomed quite as well as usual, though the yellow still sparkles-up the garden.  The yellow flowers are companionable with many plants.

Another flower which attracts many types of pollinators, it’s also a host plant for three different butterfly species:  Bordered Patch, Sierran Metalmark, and Lacinia Patch.

Here a Ceratina bee sips nectar.  It looks like others before it have nibbled at the petals.

 

Pretty in pink are Rock rosePavonia lasiopetala.  Another shrub with twinkly flowers, I utilize Rock rose as a staple plant in my garden.  It grows and blooms in shade or sun (better in sun), and is a tough customer in our long, hot summers.  I prune it back a few times during the growing season as it blooms best on new wood and will seed out prolifically if allowed.  I like this little shrub planted in a mass to amplify the its pink power!

Small, hibiscus-like blooms are favored by pollinators like this Grey Hairstreak, Strymon melinus.  

 

Red yuccaHesperaloe parviflora, is no yucca, but in fact a gorgeous plant in the Agavaceae family.  From late April until late October, Salmon-pink, tubular flowers with creamy yellow interiors, adorn tall, arching bloom stalks.

The base of the plant is fleshy, dark foliage and a nice structural element, especially in winter; the showy blooms are a cherry on top.   Typically, I can’t look at these flower stalks without seeing some pollinator going about its business:  bees of several varieties, some smaller butterflies, and hummingbirds are all are drawn to Red yucca.  Alas, I seem to have missed catching any pollinator in my recent photos. Drat!

 

Late spring blues segue–just for a bit–into June with Heartleaf skullcap, Scutellaria ovata ssp. bracteata.   A perennial groundcover, which is low to the ground during late autumn and winter, the plant rockets upwards in spring, developing beautiful lavender-blue flowers, which make gardeners swoon,

…and bees work.

The foliage is a lovely blue-grey, soft and slightly sticky, but a perfect partner for the salvia blooms.

 

I like oregano–a lot.  Pollinators like oregano (and other herbs) blooms–a lot.  The teeny-tiny, frothy white flowers of oregano are in full bloom mode right now and pollinators are all over them.

My honeybees are especially fond of oregano flowers.   I wonder if their oregano-derived honey can be used on pizza?

 

Big red sageSalvia penstemonoides, started blooming this month and will bloom throughout summer.   My camera doesn’t quite catch the beauty of the magenta coloring of this salvia flower, but it’s a show-stopper.    Native only to the Edward Plateau of Central Texas, this plant was thought to be extinct, but was then discovered blooming in south Austin in the 1980s.  Fortunately for Austin gardeners, it’s easy to grow from seed and some local nurseries have made plants available.

During its summer blooming period, hummingbirds, mostly female Black-chinned and Ruby-throated, visit mine.

 

Happy June blooms and many thanks to Chloris of The Blooming Garden and her celebration of monthly blooms.  This ends National Pollinator Week  here in the United States.  Readers from elsewhere–you were probably wondering why I was beating the pollinator drum! Gardeners are usually close to and aware of their  environment, so I’m probably preaching to the choir, but if you don’t plant for pollinators–do!  You’ll be amazed at who shows up and pleased at how pollinators and all wildlife bring life to your garden.

From left to right: Red Yucca, Yarrow, Rock Rose, Big Red Sage.

 

Bird Feeders: Widlife Wednesday, February 2019

This is a bird feeder.

Left, American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis); right, House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)

This is also a bird feeder.

Lesser Goldfinch (Spinus psaltria)

The first feeder, purchased at Wild Birds Unlimited, is filled with black oiled sunflowers, and many birds, not just the two in the photo, love the seeds.  It’s a popular dining establishment in my back garden.  The second feeder is courtesy of two native plants (Frostweed, Verbesina virginica, and Plateau goldeneye, Viguiera dentata), both of which bloomed during summer and autumn, and have since been rendered dormant by a couple of light freezes.  I’ve pruned neither this winter because these plants, and others in my garden, are currently providing meals, cover, and (eventually) nesting material for a number of bird species.

In the past 50-70 years, the paradigm for home garden beauty has been the swath of green turf, augmented with hedged, tidy, and typically non-native, evergreen shrubs lining the foundation of a home. Additionally, spots of decorative flowers, dictated by season, are popped into designated beds.  At the end of a season, those flowers are unceremoniously ripped out and replaced by a new batch of bloomers.  The bedding flowers, often sterile, are cultivars which are mass-produced for their beauty to the human eye, rather than for any importance to pollinators, birds, and other endemic wildlife.  This garden model is high maintenance, requiring frequent irrigation and chemical intervention to feed the thirsty and hungry plants. Herbicides and pesticides often partner with the chosen plants because problematic insects thrive in landscapes which rely on non-native plants. This garden mode certainly enjoys a kind of beauty:  it’s neat, with colors and textures that are controlled, expected, and predictable.

But I find this–a native plant, post-freeze, crinkly of leaves and tawny in color, providing a wintering American Goldfinch food and cover–an exemplar of garden beauty.

I know many people prefer the neat hedge, loud bedding colors, and trim lawn over the bare bramble of limbs, “dead” foliage, and spiky seed heads that define native plants in winter.  But wildlife–birds, insects, reptiles, and mammals–require native seeds and decaying plant material that nature provides; it’s a process that is part of the seasonal norm and is how living, self-sustaining environments evolved.  The symbiotic relationship between a plant and its animal or insect mark both biological balance and eternal beauty.

While growing wildflowers, and native trees, shrubs, and perennials never entirely disappeared from home garden practices, the native plants movement has enjoyed a renaissance in recent decades.  This back-to-native plants movement has bolstered wildlife in urban areas.  As urban areas encroach into and limit wild spaces, native plant additions to home and commercial gardens serve as a respite for wildlife.  Yes, non-native plants can provide food, but fauna benefits most when the flora it evolved alongside is present.

Not a great photo, but I like the stair step of the three male Lesser Goldfinches.  They and several buddies were all over this collection of dormant Frostweed and Plateau goldeneye.

While it may look “messy” to the human eye, dormant plants, with their prickly sticks and complex seeds, are a boon to birds.  I don’t prune my garden messy until late in winter, the exact wacking-back dependent on the unique the weather pattern of a particular winter-into-spring.  I also pay close attention to whether there are any birds feeding at the plants.  Once the plants are bird-free and days have lengthened and warmed, pruning time in my garden has arrived.

Both the American and Lesser Goldfinches are migrants who overwinter here in Austin, Zone 8b.  They travel in groups from available seeds source to available seed source, in a sort of avian progressive meal train.  Flocks will flit and nosh in my garden one day, and be gone to another gardening establishment the next.  Some stick around to snip insects from the trees and shrubs, bathe in the pond’s bog or bird baths, and eat seeds, either from the feeder or the plants.

Other wintering birds, like this Orange-crowned WarblerOreothlypis celata,  are daily visitors to a variety of plants in my garden.  This female (I think!) enjoys the seed from a dormant Frostweed.  During the blooming seasons, it serves as a rich buffet for many kinds of pollinators; in winter the seedheads splay on strong limbs, high enough to protect tiny bird diners.

The Orange-crowned also regularly stops at the suet feeder.  Purchased suet (like mine) or the homemade kind is nutritious for birds in winter, as it provides needed fat.

It’s not only migratory birds who enjoy plants or suet, but also residents.  The year-rounders, like this Carolina ChickadeePoecile carolinensis, regularly partake of the suet offering.  In my warm climate, I only hang the suet feeder from late October to April, or at the latest, early May.  Central Texas summers are far too hot for suet–it becomes rancid quickly.

I’m not against feeding birds, but I aim to plant at least some of what they’ve been eating for millenia, and pair that with supplementary sources.  I’m pleased to offer both.

Achieving a wildlife friendly garden doesn’t require radical changes, nor does it have to be all wild. With relatively simple modifications, gardeners can easily transform their gardens to wildlife habitats;  even a formal garden can serve as a wildlife habitat, with some thoughtful plant choices and particular plant practices.   Choosing native plants (when available) over introduced species, and leaving plants to their natural state are key drivers to the goal of a wildscape.   Birds and mammals nibble from natives and utilize limbs and leaves for nesting and cover, so deadheading and over-pruning should be limited.  Available water sources, some leaves and limbs left in discreet areas to decay naturally over time, and eliminating chemicals from the garden are all equal good wildlife gardening for restoring a healthy ecosystem for our wild brethren–and ourselves.  The National Wildlife Federation and your local Native Plant Society are great resources in the how-tos of creating a wildlife habitat.

Roughly 40% of Americans feed birds and we do it for a variety of reasons.  Those who study birds suggest that for people, feeding birds is a simple and satisfying way to connect with the natural world.  Audubon Society and Cornell Lab of Ornithology both suggest that bird lovers exercise caution in what they feed birds and where feeders are placed.  Development of aggressive behaviors, deformities caused by poor nutrition, diseases passed through contaminated feeders, and dependence on humans as food sources are all serious concerns in the long-range interests for birds.  Because the plight of birds is precarious, certainly for some more than others, it’s wise to learn about the birds who live in or travel through your region, and then make appropriate food choices.  For interesting information about how feeding birds impacts their populations, read these two articles, one by the Audubon Society  and the other by Cornell Lab.

All that said, it is fun to watch birds and part of the watching is the feeding.

“Three little finches, sittin’ on a feeder….”  Okay, it doesn’t quite have the same ring as the original ditty.

Share, and share alike! Three wintering male American Goldfinches dine with a resident female House Finch.

For myself, it was a love of Texas native plants that led to an appreciation of the wildlife that followed those plants.

If you plant them, they will come. 

Minor tweaks to the traditional 20th century better-living-through-chemicals garden practices will change your garden, your perspective on your part of the Earth, and will lead to new learning and adventures in the garden.

I like birds, so much so that I’ve added a section to my menu bar which will link you, dear reader, to past (and future!) articles about birds in my garden.  Enjoy!

What’s in your wild February garden?  Please leave a link to your Wildlife Wednesday post when you comment, and happy wildlife gardening!