Seattle Life in the Yard

Sustain biodiversity: garden with native plants.

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I was taking a break from patio sweeping and sat on the edge of a rockery enjoying the sun on my face when I heard splashing sounds just three feet away. I turned to look at the bird bath and saw a little junco fluttering its wings to splash water over its head and back. It is always charming to hear the  delicate sounds of little birds when they come to drink and freshen up; I consider hearing their presence a gift to me for providing them with trees and shrubs that harbor insects for them to eat.

Normally I would never be able to be so close to this shy little guy, but this one bird bath is sheltered by branches of a large Pacific Ninebark that arch over and around the bath creating a protected tunnel with sight lines through the leaves. I prune this large shrub just enough to get to the bird bath for brushing it clean and refilling. The leaves and branches surrounding the bath must give the little birds some feeling of security because they frequently use it even though we people are eating, reading or talking at our outside table centered about eight feet away. The growth of the Pacific Ninebark creates a thicket around and above the bath so that only small birds can maneuver through the crisscrossing branches to get down to the shallow bowl. The little birds will splash in the water, flit up onto a close branch to flutter and preen, then do it all over again; splash, dip, flutter, preen – repeat.

The hedge row I planted a few years ago along our yard’s east side gets summer sun and the plant growth continues to fill-in the gaps becoming more wildlife productive each year. Every day I see robins, crows and/or juncos forage in the duff, plus, just yesterday we saw a flock of ruby crowned kinglets peep and bounce around the branches gleaning insects and keeping tabs on each other. This hedge row area used to be a hedge of an alien conifer that had the usual hedge/fence function. It had fast chaotic growth from everywhere on the trunk, needed regular hedge trimming at least couple times a year (which it never got) and its growth pattern lent itself to the English Garden fashion/hobby of trimmed plant shaping. I prefer plants that are productive for wild life and beautiful in the context of our local ecosystem. I had the alien conifers cut down and the trunks ground-up to kill the roots, then I mulched the area with Western Red-cedar fall-out and after my next trip to the Snohomish Conservation District Native Plant Bare Root Sale, I stuck some of my acquisitions directly into the ground. I drip watered every 3-4 days at the base of each plant through their first dry season, continued mulching to help hold ground moisture and I am glad to say that all have survived to provide multi-purpose function and especially natural insect food for healthy baby birds.

Yesterday, a new chickadee baby with its little black cap and stripy chest made a brief appearance as an inexpert flyer and we saw a humming bird that was the smallest I have ever seen drink nectar from an Orange Honeysuckle, sit on the vine and eat aphids from it too, then it flew a dog fight with another tiny hummer around a neighbor’s huge catalpa tree and they both disappeared in a UFO instant. It is very rewarding to see and hear the variety of little birds and native pollinators that visit these native plants on any given day and with just a step outside, the amazing show gets better and better every year.