And that is why my backyard has always been my sanctuary, a place where I am at peace with nature, and which I make certain is constantly filled with happy birds and beautiful butterflies. For the songs of the birds, their flights to and fro, their courting and mating rituals and, of course, their babies have always meant “all is right in my world“. I try to provide a very natural environment for them. Pine trees, yews, arborvitae and stephandra for shelter, bird baths to drink from and bathe in and lots of cracked corn and sunflower seeds to fill their little tummies. And of course, special safflower seeds for Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal and the "Kardinal Kids" who reward me every day by dining on my terrace from their special little dish .
My garden is home to many avian gourmets who savor the berries of my evergreen and deciduous shrubs - holly (ilex) full of big red berries in the winter, purple berry bush (callicarpa), whose beautiful purple berries don’t last much beyond fall because the mockingbird devours them as soon as they turn purple, bayberry (myrica) with it’s silver berries, chokeberry (aronia), viburnums, firethorn (pyrecantha), downy serviceberry (amelanchier), red-twigged and Japanese dogwood (cornus), and variegated elderberry (sambucas). Their berries are so colorful and beautiful, and, I guess, tasty since they usually do not last as long as my garden books allege they should. It’s such fun to see our mockingbird, in the middle of winter, just gulping them down.
I’ve also planted lots of ornamental grasses which provide a great deal of shelter for the ducks, both in summer for nests and in winter from storms. The grasses are huge now and so graceful to watch as they sway in the summer breezes that come off the water. They are especially beautiful in the early morning or late afternoon when backlit by the slanted rays of the sun. And in wintertime, their florescence's, covered with snow or glazed with ice crystals, are truly a sight to behold.
In the fall, I never cut down any of my dead flowers, preferring instead to leave the seed heads for the birds to munch on all winter. The birds never fail to say "thank you" for this winter-time feast. Wonderful stray seedlings appear in the strangest of places!
I encourage butterflies by planting their favorites and by letting them, in their caterpillar stage, chomp on such delicacies as smokey fennel and dukat leaf dill. They especially love asclepias and, in winter I usually find their cocoons all over the stems. I read that, generally, butterflies prefer the species to all the prettier hybrids. And, so, I experimented, growing the species butterfly bush (buddleia) from seed. I always enjoy looking at my three bushes which in summer grow taller than me, while remembering how they came to be. Their fine seeds cannot be sown in dirt, only in compost or shredded moss. The seeds are scattered onto the moss, then sealed in a plastic bag and chilled in the refrigerator for four weeks. (Very Important: This concoction must be hidden from your husband so that at three o’clock in the morning he doesn’t mistakenly try to eat it!) When the seeds have begun to germinate, they’re ready to come out of the refrigerator. The brown sphagnum moss seems to be covered with a green moss and the little seedlings are so minute they can’t be transplanted for a while. By transplanting time, the seedlings are still so small that they can only be transplanted in tiny clumps. After all this work and pampering, only three seedlings survived, but, they are now tall, healthy shrubs which attract lots of butterflies. To my eyes their small lilac flowers are nowhere near as pretty as the hybrids with their large striking pink, deep lilac or deep purple blooms but, to a butterfly, I guess, the pale lilac blooms probably seem as beautiful as a rare orchid.
Gardening with ducks, however, was a totally new experience for me. I constantly had to make up new garden "game plans" as I went along and, without a doubt, I had to learn to be extremely flexible when dealing with a bunch of daffy ducks! I don’t know where to begin my anecdotes - there are so many gardening disaster stories - but, I think, I’ll start with my vegetable garden.
A little background: Since my twenties, I have had arthritis, particularly, in my hands and knees, so kneeling and digging were always rather difficult. Because of this (and three lively boys, their assorted friends and a collie who loved to chase squirrels through my small vegetable patch in my first home!) I started growing my vegetables in very large pots in which I could protect and coddle them. I mixed my own combination of potting soil which was easier on my hands when digging. Added advantages - no weeds since the potting soil is sterile and, because of the height of the pots, I did not have to kneel. Over the years, I had honed it down to an exact science - or so I thought!.
The ducks, however, taught me the true meaning of the word “adaptability” and so I began to refine my “science” a bit and to learn my lessons as I made my list of “improvements” to be applied next year - as is always the case with gardeners anyway!
Coming Soon - The Third Year!
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