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.

 

Munchies

A bevy of beautiful birds are noshing in the garden.

Three males and a female enjoying lunch.

Lesser GoldfinchesSpinus psaltria, come and go throughout the year, but I can set my calendar by their appearance in the garden buffet during autumn when the Plateau Goldeneye, Viguiera dentata, are creating seeds.

After all, that’s how the plants and the birds rock-n-roll with one another: seeds are produced at the end of flowering and for the nourishment of the birds, and the birds, in turn, spread the seeds to other places to grow, bloom, seed. It’s an ancient complementary relationship and one worthy of watching and appreciating.

 

Bienvenue et au revoir: Wildlife Wednesday, November 2019

It’s November and my garden is still in active flowering and life giving mode.  In recent weeks I’ve said a happy howdy y’all to a resurgence of Gulf Fritillary butterfly larvae and a slightly regretful, but ultimately joyful so long ’til next spring to migrating Monarch butterflies.  That’s the wildlife gardening way: seasonal change is more than an onslaught of blooms or a conversion of foliage color.  It’s also about the cyclic lives of those dependent upon plants for their survival, as well as the fostering of a healthy environment in which wildlife will thrive.

I’m pleased to report that there are scads of Gulf FritillaryAgraulis vanillae butterfly larvae currently chowing down on my passion vine foliage.

Welcome to the passion vine buffet!

I’m fine with the dining on the leaves, but I wish the cats would leave the budding blooms alone.

Many Gulf fritillary larvae are busily munching, when earlier in the season there was a dearth of larvae activity, which you can read about in my September Wildlife Wednesday post.

I was perplexed at that time, because adult butterflies were clearly laying eggs and some caterpillars were hatching and working the vine.  But there were few caterpillars surviving to chrysalis stage and at least some were clearly parasitized during their later instars.  That the foliage wasn’t eaten as vigorously as is typical piqued my curiosity, but after some observation and reading, I concluded wasps were the culprits, preying on the caterpillars and reducing their numbers.  As with all natural cycles, the tide has apparently turned: there are significantly fewer wasps around and the Gulf Fritillaries are in ascendance.