Sunday, January 18, 2015

Gardening for Wildlife

Another great gardening year is long past.  There were many accomplishments this year but the best by far was the continued and increased presence of birds and bees amongst the posies.  I judge my garden by the life it encourages.  A thriving garden with healthy plants will naturally support wildlife.

Each year I plant sunflowers.  I love the big nodding faces.


but what I really love is bluejays.

look close, who's up there?
Every fall as the seeds ripen a cloud of blue birds appear overnight and the feast begins.

Bluejays aren't the only birds around here.   We have mature old birch trees that attract woodpeckers and this year we found a nest.


We didn't manage to capture a picture of the little guy inside but I believe he was a downy woodpecker.

There was another photo I wish I could have captured but alas you'll just have to believe me.  I kept going into the garage to get my garden tools and finding a pair of dark eyed juncos.  They were coming in the cat door and flying around in there.  Occasionally birds come in and get confused.  I usher them out the door and I don't see them again.  Not this pair.  I couldn't understand why they kept coming back in until I heard the peeping.  Eventually I walked in one day to see a tiny little ball of fluff run past my feet.  We were harbouring a nest.  I did finally get a good look at him one day and he was full of feathers and then he disappeared.  Success!  Later in the fall while cleaning up the wreckage of another gardening season I accidentally found the nest.  A tiny thing, just scraps of newspaper, it fell to pieces as I lifted a box off the ground. (p.s. the cats haven't been using the garage lately, they prefer the couch, so the birds were quite safe)

There is something about butterflies that just makes me happy.  The intricate patterns, the delicate wings.  To have butterflies you must have flowers and my garden is still new.  Not many flowers to choose from but oregano has really taken a shine to my veggie patch and is attracting butterflies by the dozens.  The Common Wood Nymph has been visiting the oregano for the last couple years but this year they really outdid themselves.


Clouds of these brown spotted beauties flocked to the tiny purple flowers.

do you see them resting on each branch?
I sat so long watching them that Jody took a photo of me photographing butterflies


They aren't the only ones that appreciate oregano.


I thought these were monarchs at first glimpse and got pretty excited.  Then I wondered why monarchs would feed on oregano when I've read milkweed is their preferred food.  With a little research I discovered they were Viceroys.  Monarchs are poisonous to birds and so the Viceroys disguise themselves as Monarchs to appear less tasty.  Smart insects.

I see bumblebees everywhere in the summer.  Our field of weeds makes them very happy.  Big fat bumbles, smaller honey bees, and wee flies and assorted flying critters take advantage of the clover and asters, goldenrod and yarrow.

Purple asters in fall are perfect bee food
This summer we discovered where bumbles nest.  We were mucking about in the shed, moving boxes and whatnot when suddenly a cloud of bees rose up.  RUN!!

A clump of dead grass that had dropped off the lawnmower is all you need apparently.  Inside that clump of grass was a lumpy yellow mass that looked a bit like insulation.  Yet it was clearly a nest as bees were frantically running all over trying to put it back together.

I didn't want to get too close so the picture is a bit fuzzy
Unfortunately the damage was done.  We were able to get a reasonably good look at it.  Bumbles are so gentle that they didn't even attack us.  They were more confused than anything.  We put the nest outside next to the shed in another clump of grass and hoped for the best.  Sadly I think that was the end of it as I didn't see bees around the shed again this summer.

Overall it was a productive year.  We have more birds, bees, insects, and animals joining us in our yard and I can't imagine anything nicer.  Lawns can be pretty but sterile.  Gardens thrive, creating food and beauty for us, as well as food and shelter for the bugs and critters.  What do you do to encourage wildlife in your garden?

30 comments:

  1. We have carpenter bees that look like big bumbles. They aren't aggressive either. They drill holes in wood. They can be destructive but I put wood out for them to burrow into. I plant all sorts of things for wildlife.

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    1. Lisa, I had to look up carpenter bees because I don't think I've ever heard of them. You're right, they do look a lot like bumbles. Really interesting how they build shelters in wood and a great idea to put wood out for them. Now I wonder if we maybe have them. I'll have to watch a little more carefully this summer. There's a lot of insects in our yard that I haven't identified.

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  2. Wow, that is amazing about the Bumble Bees!
    We have butterflies and hummingbirds. Sadly our bee population is in danger around our parts. We do not see many at all. ;-(

    We did have a sphinx moth. That was so fun to see in the evenings.
    Have a great week,
    Carla

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    1. I envy your hummingbirds Carla. I see the odd one roaming our yard but no frequent visitors. I had to look up sphinx moth - what a beauty! I've never seen one of those before.

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  3. LOVE sunflowers! And, bluejays, too! Lol I looked out my window today and saw 3 beautiful birds on the front lawn. Such a pretty sight in the dead of winter.
    Our bee population in Newfoundland is attracting international scientific attention, it seems. We have none of the major pests that are affecting bees in other parts of the world; at least not yet and I hope it stays that way.
    Your garden looks amazing!
    Hugs,
    Linda at Beautiful Ideas

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    1. I had no idea that Newfoundland had managed to escape the bee pests. That's wonderful news. There's hope for bees yet then. Aren't bluejays just amazing against the snow, such brilliant colours. I always enjoy catching a glimpse of them.

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  4. Marguerite girl this has been an amazing post !
    You are so right about "life" in the garden proving what a good garden truly is and how wonderful it is to see so many different types of life it attracts.
    The Juncos raising a baby in the garage made me grin hugely .. I would have been shocked by the little guy running past me (mice came to mind? LOL) .. and the Bumble nest .. I had no idea they could make a home out of grass clumps like that !
    I have oregano (and loads of other herbs) usually I am looking for signs of butterfly caterpillars on dill and fennel, but now I will keep an eye on oregano too!
    Ah yes ... sunflowers, they make me smile too! Valentine is a type that our Goldfinches love .. I have to find a spot to plant some this year.
    We did see more butterflies last year than in the past years so I hope they are coming back finally .. they are magical aren't they : )
    This was a great post for a cold January morning .. -18 here ..ugh!
    Joy
    PS .. so glad you like Canning .. Chris is great if you have any questions .. also take a look at Hortico too .. you may find their prices are a wee bit lower. When I got my order last year the plants were BIG and healthy!

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    1. Thanks Joy, so nice to look at warm pictures in the middle of winter. Reminds me of good days to come. I had no doubt it was a bird running past me in the garage, I had heard him peeping previously. Amazing to see the little fluff ball though, he was too darn cute. Now I must go check out Hortico .... :)

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  5. I LOVE those sunflowers and the woodpeckers hole. Looks like it was an amazing garden year indeed :)

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    1. It was a real treat to find a woodpecker nest. Not often you spot one of those.

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  6. Sunflowers also attract goldfinches here, just another reason to love them. Whenever I choose new plants, providing benefit to wildlife is one of my top considerations.

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    1. I've never seen goldfinches around my sunflowers but they sure do love thistle seed. We have a patch of thistle in the field that always attract the 'yellow birds' as we call them. Great idea to choose plants for wildlife. I wish I could say I've done that but my wildlife friendly plants have been happy coincidence.

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  7. I have mid-sized sunflowers that the chickadees love, but haven't planted the larger kind as of yet. We have tons of blue jays in the neighbourhood and I bet they would love it if I planted a bigger variety that could serve as a landing pad and feeding station.
    I noticed more butterflies this year than last. A good sign I hope. I didn't have bees, but I did have a wasp nest in my compost bin- a sure sign that I need to turn my compost more!

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    1. That's it, the large sunflowers offer a landing pad. I never realized that before, just assumed the abundance of seed drew the birds in. But you make a great point as I see the birds land on top and hang upside down to get at the seed.

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  8. We've inherited bits of lawn, which we are leaving to go (wild). I see birds happily eating the seed on dandelion and hawkweed.

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    1. Wonderful idea Diana. We did the same when bought this property and the birds have greatly enjoyed the 'weeds' that sprung up.

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  9. I love sunflowers too and have them every year, sadly it hasn’t been good years for butterflies in Britain the last couple of years but we have had very good years for bees. In my garden the fuchsias are the best flowers to attract bees, especially bumblebees, they crawl right into the flowers so you can hardly see them and stay there for a long time :-)

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    1. oh I miss fuchsias! One of my favourite plants Helene, wish I could grow those again. The flowers always remind me of extravagant earrings. If I were a bumblebee I would crawl right in too.

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  10. I'm like you, the more natural visitors to my garden, the better I think I am doing my job..love it.

    Jen

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    1. Makes you feel good doesn't it Jen? It's like I'm doing something right for the world. it's a small thing but it's good.

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  11. Clever butterflies!! I'm sure the bumblebees rebuilt somewhere else as they are very clever also! I wonder what you'll see this year?!

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    1. I hope so Jane. We felt pretty badly destroying the nest but we really had no idea what it was. We were just tossing stuff around and suddenly that clump of grass was buzzing. Pretty amazing to see a nest though, I had no idea it would be so small.

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  12. I really love this post because it highlights what defines gardening success. It's not perfect beds or weed free plantings of Monet quality designs but the diversity and amount of wildlife they attract. The more wildlife I have, the happier I am. Have you ever tried winter sowing? It's a very cheap, easy way to grow a lot of plants. Even in your climate, it will work!

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    1. Thanks Tammy. I hadn't thought of it in those terms but you're right. I much prefer weedy beds and plenty of insects to magazine perfection. I tried winter sowing a few years back but I'm not sure if my seed was too old as it didn't work. I should try again as it would really help with costs. I'm already thinking about the bill for trees and plants come spring.

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  13. More and more I believe I garden as much for the wildlife as for the plants. Enjoyed this posting. P. x

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    1. Thanks Pam. I really enjoy spotting new bugs and birds in the garden so I'm always thrilled to find something new.

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  14. What a lovely post, I measure my own garden in much the same way - does it make my heart sing, does it produce tasty things to eat, and is it packed with wildlife. Actually the third is a big part of the first, so I have been deliberately choosing butterfly friendly plants for my front garden to encourage more butterflies, and this year noticed a real increase. I was very intrigued by your bee nest, I had no idea that's what they would use, must try not to leave clumps of old grass in the shed, just in case... Hope the coming year is an even better one for wildlife spotting. I am envious of your woodpecker.

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    1. Janet, like you I find watching butterflies and insects delightful so they really do add to the garden. I will definitely be more aware of grass clumps now though. The woodpeckers are bittersweet. I love watching them but they are here because we have old dying trees.

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  15. It's so much fun to look back when planning what's to come, and to appreciate that we share our gardens with other creatures.

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  16. I've just started reading Rick Darke and Doug Tallamy's The Living Landscape , which is based on just this principle that a good garden is one that supports lots of living things. You might enjoy it. I planted some oregano once, and now I have oregano everywhere. I even cut it to include in flower arrangements. A neighbor of mine used to keep bees and sell honey, and when my oregano bloomed, those honey bees would appear in droves. I often wondered what oregano honey tastes like :-) .-Jean

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