Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Attracting Birds, Butterflies and Bees to your Backyard

 "The secret to attracting birds, butterflies ad other wonderful wildlife to your backyard lies in restoring their natural habitat."  
David Mizeyewski, National Wildlife Federation

At the start of this new gardening year, I am planning to do more to attract desirable wildlife to my garden. In the Poconos, like most places on Earth, a great deal of natural habitat has disappeared due to the rapid growth of residential areas and the way in which we maintain our homes. As a child in England I loved to gather bluebells from the woods, and catch tadpoles to watch as they changed into frogs. I want my grandchildren to have similar experiences. Loss of habitat is the number one threat to wildlife today!! The National Wildlife Federation has identified how we can provide for the needs and conditions that enable wildlife to survive and thrive.

I am proud to say my garden is a certified Wildlife Habitat, as shown by the sign. I try to follow the National Wildlife Federation guidelines for a quality habitat by providing food, water, cover, and places to raise their young.

    1.    FOOD
Seeds, berries, nectar, nuts and fruit from plants is the best food source.

Native plants are most desirable. I have many native plants in my garden:

My grandson placed a stone turtle under the turtlehead.

The lungwort is just coming into bloom.

Feeders supplement the food I provide through my plantings. My handsome husband (HH) puts out two types of seed feeders that are pretty much squirrel proof.

HH provides suet as a high energy food for the winter.

My Mum has a platform feeder for birds that normally forage on the ground. She particularly likes to attract the mourning doves. She obviously doesn't have a squirrel problem at her home in England

   2.     WATER

If birds can't bathe, their feathers become dirty making flying difficult. I would love a pond like this one I photographed on a garden tour. It is on our to-do list, but cost is a problem.

 In the meantime, we provide bird baths and fountains. In the winter the bluebirds love the heated water dish.

   3.    COVER

Wildlife needs shelter from the weather and from predators. Here at the farm we are fortunate to have wooded areas, thickets, and bramble patches. We leave dead trees standing where possible. When the branches fall, the holes provide nesting places as well as cover. Woody debris is an important source of cover for insects and invertebrates, and small mammals.

Standing dead trees are called snags.

You can create a log and brush pile to form a "wildlife hotel". This turtle lives under our brush pile.


We attached six or more nesting boxes to this fence. The brambles and wild area behind the fence provide natural nesting places.

Many of the places that provide cover for wildlife are also the best places for raising their young.

A chickadee sheltered in the "church" during our last snowfall. A thrush nested in there last spring.

Milkweed is the host plant for the Monarch butterfly. We don't have any on our property yet, but HH gathered milkweed seeds last fall and we plan to plant them soon.

Finally, if we want birds, bees, and butterflies in our gardens, it is necessary to practice SUSTAINABLE GARDENING. I addressed this in a recent post called, What is Sustainable Gardening?

Today, I looked out and saw the goldfinches have got their golden feathers. They stayed around all winter in their drab, olive coats. Now the "gold" has been put back into "goldfinch" I feel spring has truly arrived!

The rewards of gardening for wildlife are many. For me it added beauty to my garden, improved air, water, and soil quality, restored habitats, and best of all it is FUN!! I encourage you to click on the Wildlife Habitat sign in my sidebar, and learn how YOUR backyard can become a certified Wildlife Habitat.

I love reading your comments. I hope you leave one so I’ll know you visited!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Crocus: Harbinger of Spring

Since I was a child in England, I have loved Cicely Mary Barker’s Flower Fairies books. Her water-color illustrations and verses are delightful. “The Song of the Crocus Fairy” is the first poem in Flower Fairies of the Spring, and crocus fairies are pictured on the cover. Maybe this is one of the reasons I love crocuses and consequently planted so many in my garden.

I planted the four predominant colors: lilac, mauve, yellow, and white. There are many color variations and one of my goals for this fall is to plant more. Of the approximately 80 species and 30 cultivars, I have no idea what mine are, as I planted them way before I saw the necessity of keeping labels.

Here is the book that inspired me:

The yellow crocus in my first picture, is planted among purple ones. Its color is reflected in the yellow stamens of the purple flowers.

The crocus belongs to the iris family, Iridaceae. The crocus flower and leaves have a waxy cuticle which protects them from frost. Crocuses usually have three stamen as you can see in the photo below. The spice saffron is obtained from the stigmas of the crocus sativus.

Their history is interesting to me as I assumed they were native to Holland, but found their corms were taken there from Constantinople in the 1560’s. Earlier than that, they were painted on frescos on the Island of Crete.  (Yes, you guessed it: I’ve been reading Wilkipedia again).

More crocuses in my garden:

These creamy-white ones are my favorite. Today, they are, anyway.

I took an early spring break from blogging. As well as traveling, teaching gardening classes, extensive baby-sitting my grandchildren, and starting the spring clean-up in the garden, during the last several weeks I have been busy changing from an Apple blog to this Google blog. Wow, I am finding it to be a challenge, because Apple does not transfer, so I have done a lot of cutting and pasting. Thanks to the help of my friend Mary Anne of Stone Manor Garden (she is a computer genius as well as master gardener), I am hoping to complete the switch very soon. Unfortunately, your comments do not transfer. I am doing this to make the links easier for all my friends at Blotanical. Wish me luck in this new venture!

Hurray, it is spring at last! Enjoy the crocuses!

I love reading your comments. I hope you leave one so I’ll know you visited!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

What Is Sustainable Gardening?

My grandson is definitely a future gardener. A chemical-free garden is a safe place for children. Without chemical pesticides and fertilizers you can still get a bountiful harvest.

Most people are familiar with the term “organic gardening” but what about “sustainable gardening?” I like to think of sustainable gardening as “adding to” the earth, rather than “taking away” from it. This means my garden sustains itself as much as possible. In celebration of Earth Day, April 22, 2010, Jan at ThanksFor2Day has challenged garden bloggers to think about how we are contributing to a greener world. Click on "Garden Bloggers Sustainable Living Project" in the sidebar for more information about Earth Day, Jan’s project, and how you can qualify for some great “green” giveaways!

Here are six ways I practice sustainable gardening:

    1.     Making Compost

I have several compost bins in my garden and plan on adding a new one this year. I would like one of those with a handle for tumbling the compost. (Can any of you recommend this method?) It just seems easier to me. I make lasagna gardens using layers of newspaper and organic matter. I am fortunate in having a mini horse, named Dude, who produces great compost!

Many of my gardens are lasagna gardens, made by layering newspaper and organic materials.

      2.     Limiting Chemical Pesticides and Fertilizers

Using compost means I need less chemicals. I also use seaweed or kelp as a fertilizer to feed the earth and encourage a natural rate of plant growth. I cover weeds with cardboard or newspaper instead of applying herbicides.

      3.     Increasing Water Retention

Mulching is a great way of helping the soil retain water. I use Canadian cedar mulch. I collect rain water in barrels: from gutters on the barn and tractor shed. We have three barrels so far, and HH is adding another this year.

The Tractor-Shed Water Barrel

     4.     Reducing the Lawn Area

Lawns use more water and fossil fuels to maintain than any other planting. We still have far too much lawn area, but I’m working on it!

     5.     Encouraging Pest Predators

Ladybugs are great predators for getting rid of aphids. I promised my grandchildren we would release ladybugs and praying mantis this year. (Must remember to order them soon.)

     6.     Removing Invasive Plants.

The multiflora rose is pretty in the spring, but kills all in it’s path. (You have seen this picture before,
but it is worth repeating -- there is a tree under there!)

      7. Restoring Native Plant Communities.

In a previous post I described how removing multiflora rose, and other invasives, is an annual task here. Native plants generally require less fertilizer and other additives. They encourage native wildlife such as pollinators. Invasives can upset the delicate balance of a local ecosystem and even make some native plants extinct.

Sweet autumn clematis and sweetshrub are some favorite native plants.

Practicing sustainable gardening is one of life’s challenges. It is a challenge that makes me extremely happy! Jo of The Good Life kindly gave me an award, the Happiness Award. Click on the award in the sidebar to visit Jo’s wonderful blog.

The following also make me happy:
    1.      Teaching my grandchildren how to take care of the earth.
    2.      Sharing my experiences with like-minded gardeners through blogging.
    3.      Discovering the first spring flower.
    4.     Simply spending the whole day out in the garden!

Your  blogs always make me happy! And, incidentally, I believe you all practice sustainable gardening in one way or another.~~

I love reading your comments. I hope you leave one so I’ll know you visited!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Snowy English Gnome

Before I left for England to visit my mother, several gardening friends reminded me to take my camera to show what is growing in her garden this month. Previous February visits have revealed, at the very least, crocuses, snowdrops, and the green shoots of daffodils. No such luck this year.