Fall is the time of year when plants are forming seed heads. We spend most of the growing season dead-heading – cutting off the dead flowers that form seed pods, to keep the plants groomed and blooming and the garden looking neat. But now the annuals are dying, and the perennials will soon go dormant, in preparation for winter. I like to leave some of the seed heads on now, so we can enjoy the beauty of their varied shapes, but especially as food for the birds in winter, when it becomes scarce. Rose hips are a tasty and nutritious treat, and they’re quite lovely.
I love making gardens, gardens that are beautiful and exciting, gardens with a sense of magic. But most of all, I am happy when my clients love their gardens. What I want to share with you now is that everyone can have a garden, no matter what the circumstances. So I’ll tell you about a range of gardens I’ve made.
* Many homes in San Francisco are set on very steep slopes, and homeowners, and even architects and builders, often feel so intimidated that they do very little in terms of a garden, so the slopes in front of their homes look drab and uninviting. But in fact, stunning things can be done with those nearly-vertical slopes. One I designed is so steep, from the street you have to crane your neck to see the house at the top. I created a series of terraces and retaining walls, with winding stairs connecting each level. At the landings and on the terraces, where people can rest on their ascending journey, are large planters. The stairs and walls are color-coordinated and filled with lush plantings. Many plants are cascading types, so you see their blossoms hanging down when you look up at the slope.
* Recently, a man who grew up in Panama told me that he missed the plants of his childhood, so I made him a tropical garden in his very small space, using plants with big, dramatic leaves – deep burgundies and purples, bright reds, and lots of green. In a small pond surrounded by plantings, I put water lilies and other tropical-looking plants that are happy in our climate.
* One young mother complained that her kids kept destroying her flower beds. They would try to be careful, but then they would get caught up in their games, and before long, Mom’s favorite plants would be trampled. For them, I made part of the space into a children’s garden, with grass and a sand box, a tree swing, and a raised bed for their very own vegetable garden. Now Mom’s garden was left to grow in peace.
* For a woman who loved to cook but had no garden space at all, I put small containers on the stairs and filled them with the herbs she loved to use – basil, Rosemary, thyme, parsley, and chives.
* And for a man who thought he couldn’t have a garden because of his dogs, I used large containers and deep, rectangular planter boxes – guess that was thinking inside the box! I left the central area and a pathway along one side open for the dogs, so everyone was happy.
* I just completed a design for a woman with a spiritually-based bodywork practice, which she recently moved from an outside office into the ground floor of her home. Her front yard was ugly and depressing, with just a couple of struggling Rosemaries and a few dead plants here and there. As it is the first thing her clients see when they come to her for treatment, she wanted it to be inviting, with a calming, soothing effect. I gave it a Japanese-style treatment, with some boulders and simple plantings, lots of varied greens, and not much in the way of flowers – just some white and a bit of pink. She said it was perfect!
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Imagine this: The flash of sunlight on rippling water; blue dragonflies dance and swirl. Gentle murmur of a fountain; the air smells fresh and green, with a sweet fragrance. You close your eyes, sinking deeper into the soft cushions of your chair.
No, you’re not at a resort – you’re in your own backyard! You can have the pleasures of water in your garden without spending a fortune – ask me about it.
I know spring is coming when I hear ~ and see ~ robins, chickadees, finches, & hummingbirds!
Without birds a garden seems lonely & incomplete. Plants & animals, including us, need each other. There is an intimate relationship between plants and birds: plants cover themselves in colorful foliage and gorgeous, fragrant flowers to attract their lovers, the birds. And in return for a delicious meal of pollen and nectar, the birds pollinate the plants and spread their seeds across the landscape.
As you may know, John Muir was the great naturalist, author, and environmental activist who founded the Sierra Club. Over century ago, he said, “Tug on just about anything & you’ll find that it’s connected to everything else in the universe.” The overarching theme for humanity today is the interconnectedness of all things.
If you saw the film, “Winged Migration”, you know that many of our treasured songbirds in North America travel 600 miles or more in spring & fall. Most of them fly by night. They leave their daytime hangouts at dusk and fly for 8 to 10 hours. Then at dawn, they descend and must find places to feed & rest for a day or two until they are strong enough to continue their journey.
Vast stretches of natural habitat of North American flyways have been carved up & developed, and the use of synthetic chemical fertilizers & pest controls has poisoned the birds’ food sources. Huge areas have been covered over by malls, big box stores, and parking lots.
If high quality habitat is not available, exhausted, emaciated birds must continue on until they find adequate food and cover. The ones who are too thin or weak will die. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we live along the Pacific flyway, and we can help our declining songbirds. We can create B & B’s for weary warblers!
Maybe you’re wondering, “What good is one little garden in a city of asphalt and toxic fumes?”
Like Obama’s grass roots presidential campaign, where one person at a time contributed as little as $5 and accomplished a miracle, each one of us can contribute. In the years I have known her, a dear friend has moved several times, and always, even in the tiniest of outdoor spaces, she has set out at least a saucer of seed and a dish of water, and the birds come – it’s wonderful!
The basic necessities are food, water, and shelter.
Beyond setting out seeds & a birdbath, many things can be done, whether you’ve got a large garden or just a single window. Here are 6 examples of common garden situations:
1. If you have a Large Garden, you can plant in vertical layers, like a forest, because different birds prefer different heights.
* Tall trees
*Understory trees, like fruit trees, large shrubs and vines, including some with fruit & berries – most songbirds stay at this level.
*Flowering Perennials and Annuals, full of nectar. And grasses for shelter and protection.
*Lowest layer – ground cover plants – ground feeding, nesting.
With a large garden space, you can create an amazing place for birds!
Boxes, pots – plant just about anything!
Just one container
Vine on trellis
4. Roof Garden
Boxes, pots, custom-build your own
Grow almost anything
Lattices for wind control, privacy
5. Window box
6. Window feeder
And what if we got our neighbors on the block to do this, too? And even the whole neighborhood, which is connected to a park, and could extend to another neighborhood – imagine!
We can all do something. What benefits the birds also serves people, helps the trees, the soil, the air, effects climate change ~ everything benefits! Plus, they are beautiful, musical, and entertaining. And they eat insects and weed seeds.
So whether our gardens are large, small, or none at all, every one of us can contribute – no excuses!
We can help you bring the joy of birds into your garden – call us today.
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