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A Garden Getting Better

Every time I start to get depressed about the weeds coming in on all sides, I must remember that the garden really does get better every year.

It’s not just the plants (although they, too, get better every year—my fire pinks went from a single spindly stalk to a respectable clump and my American spikenard is going from a respectable clump to a terrifying parasol of doooooom that may need thinning.) It’s also the wildlife, or rather, our carrying capacity for wildlife.

My back-of-the-envelope math indicates that for the last few years, we got four to six fledglings per year in the immediate vicinity of my garden. What they ARE varies–last year was a banner year, we had two apiece of chickadees and gnatcatchers and ruby-throated hummingbirds, a few years ago it was red-bellied woodpeckers and titmice, but generally those seem to be the numbers.

This year we’ve got six ALREADY, by early June. A juvenile chipping sparrow, a rather wobbly great crested flycatcher (nowhere near as vivid as the parents, and spending a lot of time floundering amid the flowerpots) three baby Carolina wrens who are all gone from the nest today (hoping they fledged and weren’t devoured, but honestly, I’d rather have “part of the food chain” than “not enough food to exist in the first place.”) and a juvenile brown-headed cowbird.

Not sure how I feel about the cowbird, honestly, but there he is.

There was also a rather delightful first-year summer tanager, who was molting red over yellow, like a goldfinch with psoriasis. He perched on a tomato cage and sang his heart out. I would be perfectly happy to have tanagers settle in here—we’ve had them pass through but not stay—but this little guy may be out of luck for the year. I don’t know how first year males do in the great songbird wars.

On top of that, more and more birds stop by to grab a drink or a snack on the way to something else. The butterflies are thicker on the ground every year. (I have enough pipevine for a couple of swallowtails this year, instead of just one!) My neighbor’s honeybees coexist peacefully with respectable quantities of native bees.The frogs…well, the frogs tend toward a boom-and-bust cycle, near as I can tell, and the pond is SWARMING with predacious diving beetles, which are very cool even as they are keeping the tadpole numbers in check this year. (I have faith it will all reach equilibrium eventually.)

There are fireflies in the field, and occasionally wandering through the garden or sitting on the screen and pulsing with light.

This spring I found a wild native honeysuckle growing on the fence, where I hadn’t planted it. (And yes, I pulled about half of it before I realized my mistake and felt like history’s greatest monster.)

And this is all with big bare mulched patches left between plants still. When it all grows in, if I ever manage the lush cottage-esque garden of my dreams…well, who knows what might show up?

ETA: As of 6/10, there’s a juvenile (probably) female cardinal, mourning dove still with baby fluff, and a juvenile red-bellied woodpecker spotted as well. Also a herd of grackles on the feeder. That’s one new yard bird (never had grackles before, oddly enough) and three more fledglings, for a grand total of NINE.

Also grackles are bad at sharing. And if we get much more water, the yard will just be underwater.

Originally published at Squash's Garden. You can comment here or there.

That would be cool to see a year-by-year panorama of your garden. It might make you feel better!

That is so cool. I haven't the patience for gardening but I quite admire those who do! Who is hosting the cowbird? And how do you tell native honeysuckle from invasive honeysuckle?

Well, GOOD gardeners can probably go by stem and leaf and other stuff.

I go by "Native honeysuckle has red flowers, and invasive Japanese honeysuckle is white/yellow" myself.

It sounds splendid, a whole little flourishing world.

It really does! And the heck with the destination (hyperbolealically speaking); gardening is a journey Pour a glass of sonething cold and tangy, and enjoy.

I had cowbirds through my yard last year, but this year they've moved on. Right now I have a very busy nest full of bluebirds on the front porch and I'm not sure what on the back (it's fast). Chickadees in the holes in the apple tree, and mockingbirds at the brushline. Also ravens in the woods next door! It's great fun to watch the bluebirds feeding the babies--they're constantly going back and forth!

Where do you live that you have Ravens?

We are greatly lacking in butterflies and bees this year, and thanks to the great Duke Power/Asplundh deforestation that went on last month, we've lost quite a few bluebirds and other birds who liked to nest on those woodland edges that were cut down. The hummingbird who peaked into the house, looking terribly upset that there was no feeder for him, hasn't returned either. The invasive wysteria and honeysuckle are having a record year. The turtles are nowhere to be seen. The moles/voles have made the yard almost impossible to walk over. The last Mr Fokker is gone.

But! The fireflies are rampant, the bats are back, the little tree frogs are deafening, the tomatoes survived the insane weather, the clematis finally took off, the blueblack sage that I thought died has reappeared, the sweet shrub started with a million blooms and is still blooming, the phlox and woodland phlox came back heartily, even the little lithodora made it through the winter for once.The clover is spreading like wildfire (it's one of the few green things in the yard; we don't really have "grass" as such) and there's enough that I can plug it out this year to the rest of the yard. We have some sort of woodpecker with a red head (the limbs hang down too far for me to see him when he's still) who is devouring the suet, and we have a fledgling mockingbird who defends the satellite dish with great ferocity. The hyacinths had a record year, and the daffodils even bloomed for once (just one! but it's a start). The curly milkweed has gone from two plants to four, quite a feat considering one's never bloomed and the other has its blooms eaten by deer (I guess; it's tall) everytime they appear. The firebreather iris might have to be divided this year; they had a great run. And the thing that might be an indigo has seven huge stalks on it ("It'll only get three feet tall"... it's at least five and still going up).

So, lots of good despite the bad, and lots of room to make things better. My goal right now is to find something other than zinnias for the monarchs when they stop by later this year, and get it in the ground in time for them (our yard was burned at some point 15-20 years ago, but it's still a struggle to get some plants to grow). And to keep the birdbath full of water for once.

Sorry for the long post and cookies to all who got this far!

I have such loathing for Asplundh. :( I've never had a personal disaster with them, but I see them out and about in my neighborhood butchering trees all the time, and it makes me so angry. It's totally possible to prune a tree away from a power line in a way that looks good and doesn't hurt the tree, but they top everything -- and then surprise, surprise, it comes back hideous and bushy and more in the way, and they 'have' to do it again the next year! There are so many once beautiful trees that have just been mutilated by them into these deformed club things. ARGH.

"It'll only get three feet tall"... it's at least five and still going up

I have two of these in the same bed -- my wild rose ("It'll top out around waste high!"...try "over my head.") and Oregon Figwort ("It'll reach four feet". Or, y'know, six). Meanwhile the stuff that's supposed to hit two feet muddles along slowly at nine inches. PLANTS.


You sound like you are in a little piece of heaven, right there in your garden! I have ambitions for mine this year, but so much work, so little time!!

We have a pair of cardinals that raised a cowbird last year. We haven't seen any cowbirds this year, but haven't noticed any cardinal fledgelings, either.

There's also been a whole troupe of scuzzy-looking finch fledgelings, now turning into young birds who look just like their parents except they continue soliciting food from them.

Teenagers. Hard to get them out of the house ...

This is so awesome. It gave me a great big heart-happy, which I've been needing this week.

It does make me wonder, yet again, if it's time to buckle down and keep the cats indoors. It's my one major area of cognitive dissonance -- I know they're an ecological problem, but it's so much easier than two young, rambunctious felines in a small house, it's so fun to watch them in the yard (Calliope helps me garden -- she likes digging), and my town has a rat problem -- but my yard doesn't *smug*.

If only they'd stick to rats and starlings. *sigh*

Even without bird feeders and with fuzzy little predators, my yard has more good bugs than it used to, for more of the year! The bees always go mad at the giant rhododendron, but now there's flowering red currant for earlier in the season, and native columbine for after, and even the teeny flowers on the towering Oregon figwort.

BTW, I've done the "Pull half out before you realize it's a native" thing. Mine was something I'd planted, later mis-identified as invasive, and then later realized my error. I'm sorry, agoseris, I should never have thought you were hawkweed. *shame*

I have the same problem. I've just resigned myself to the 12 year old Maine Coon being my last cat, since I really can't keep them inside (allergies) and both the former vet student in me and the wildlife scientist in me knows that cats absolutely shouldn't be outdoor animals. In this neighborhood, though, my cat has taken to just stealing other cats' kills rather than killing himself. He's old, fat, and arthritic.


Suggestion: a weed garden. Plants you know will grow.

"A weed is just a plant growing in the wrong place".

That is AWESOME! Look at him!

Don't think of 'em as weeds-- think of them as mulch in training! (Ba-dum ching!)

Also, I have now seen several Vermillion Flycatchers out here in Tucson. No, that has nothing to do with this topic, but I had to gloat; they're so pretty!

That is TOTALLY gloat-worthy!

You continue to inspire me, Urusla, even if my gardening ability seems to be limited to hostas outside and containers inside. I'm still not sure how my three little basil stalks are still alive, given that basil usually dies a horrible death on me in a matter of days.

I actually did some weeding in the back yard plots this evening and discovered the three plants set last year in the shade of the fence are coming along splendidly and one by the house has actually bloomed! Darned if I can remember what it is, though.

I still have bulbs to plant in the front yard once I get in there and weed out the ugly lilies that are running rampant. I'm in upstate NY, spring decided to show up about three weeks ago.

I'm growing almost entirely vegetables (6 tomato cultivars! 3 tomatillo cultivars! 4 kinds of New Mexico green chile!) but there are nasturtium, larkspur, spiderwort (boo hiss) and something pink and invasive in the flower beds as well.

I was so pleased this spring to find 3 goldfinches on my nyjer/thistle birdfeeder. I'm hoping they're nesting somewhere nearby -- I've seen house finches, sparrows, cardinals, and a ridiculous number of starlings as well, but goldfinches were a treat.

We had problems with the local council about our "untidy" garden, until we pointed out our densely planted shrubs and plants had far more birds and insects in than the regular lawn desert of the rest of the street. That was three years ago and no more nasty letters from them since.

It is definitely true of wildlife "If you plant it, then they will come!"

That's awesome! So many council/HOA stories are nastier than that -- I'm glad they saw sense! (Lawn deserts... ugh).

I started planting native plants after having wrens nest in the wren house- they worked SO hard, I had to plant more native thingies to get more native insects to feed to little wrens. It's important! Plus I really like plants and enjoy having more of them and less grass.

This year, almost all the new growth leaves on the fringe tree have been eaten up to lace. I feel so terribly conflicted and slightly guilty. Poor fringe tree.