A Garden Getting Better

By June 5, 2013 Birds, My Garden 3 Comments

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.


  • Lin Ellis says:

    It must be nice to be at the glad to see you stage. I’m still at the ARRRRRGH GET OUT OF HERE stage. That includes ravenous jack rabbits (nothing cute about these monsters at all), gophers, voles, Red Lily Beetles (an imported scourge) and moth caterpillars that must be descendants of Moses’ plagues. I just need a scythe to go with my daughter’s evil villain cloak and I can swoop around the yard dealing out natural and good for the environment buggy death. I admit some days I’m tempted to just raid the entire yard but then I come back to my senses and dig out my iron pellets again (did I forget the slugs?).

  • I love your idea of carrying capacity based on the number of fledglings you find! (The down side of this technique is that I’ve quit searching for nests; it seemed like I was leading predators straight to them.) I’ll have to see if I can start keeping an unofficial tally in the same sort of way.

  • Wolf Lahti says:

    I am so envious. A decade-plus ago I moved onto a former farm of 5.6 acres and of course put an enormous amount of effort into creating a good-size garden, with potatoes and corn and pumpkin and peppers and broccoli and tomatoes and and and. (You get the idea.) I edged this large garden with that Trex-like roll edging, thinking that would stop the pasture grass from invading. I reaped a decent harvest throughout summer and in autumn, greatly enjoying the fruits of my labors.

    I mostly ignored the garden through the incessant rains of a Pacific Northwet winter, and come spring… the garden was gone. It looked like any other patch of pasture, with the exception of the edging now mostly buried by the *aggressive* grass. I tried again the following year, and yet again. Despite having a rather nice garden in existence for a succession of summers, one cannot even tell now where it used to be.

    I think the only solution would be making raised beds with a concrete footing at least 30 inches deep.