Partnering With Mother Nature


I was recently faced with landscaping challenges for a weedy and barren new lawn in a strange new climate. And I was overwhelmed, to be honest. I've always loved nature, especially photographing wildlife, so I decided I needed something different when I moved to this new location. Something more and something better than a vast green lawn, no matter how challenging. So I embarked on the quest to create not only a colorful garden, but one that will attract and benefit birds and butterflies. When I look back on my choice to veer from the proverbial lawns of my past, I realize it was one of the best decisions I've ever made and one that keeps me entertained, motivated, and happy every day. And it's become a favorite of friends and family when they visit as well. The extra perk of locating it outside my breakfast room window has proven to be even better. I constantly enjoy the incomparable beauty and  "wild" activity ever present outside, and it has slowly morphed into my office/tv/hobby room area, and any excuse in between, no matter the weather.

Some of the birds have actually become familiar with me and will fly in from other places and rest and have a chat while I fill their feeders or have coffee on my patio. But it's not only the colorful and interesting view I have now, it was also a fabulous journey that has added an abundance of enjoyment, reward, and satisfaction. Lots of research and planning went into collaborating with Mother Nature, all designed to ultimately attract and support the various endemic and migrating species that populated this new and foreign climate for me. Clearly she ultimately controls the various seasons and extreme weather conditions.

My only semblance of control was to know how important it was for plantings to be in the right exposure for their particular needs, i.e, shade loving plants in shady spots and sun lovers in full sun and . . . well, you get the idea. The sunny spots in my new area are more like the desert, so it was fun to explore heretofore unknown plants that would thrive and support my wildlife. One such "desert" area was chosen for a bulb bed, with not only spring bulbs that bloom in the moist early, mid, and late spring, but other sun lovers in the front. The area is shaded by a few bushes and a magnolia on the sides and the back to provide some shade, plant diversity, and a respite for wild summer visitors. 

The garden is an interesting and neverending study, which continues to this day. It's been fun to experiment with attracting hummingbirds, one of my favorites. I finally learned that vibrant, red canna lillies are their fave and the first stop on their way to sip the sweet nectar from my tall, purple Mexican chrysanthemums, another favorite for them. A river birch tree I planted right outside the window provides the perfect spot for a hummingbird nap after visiting their nectar feeder. But it's also the perfect resting place for the bluebird fledglings who venture tenuously out of their nearby nesting box but are still working up their nerve to fly all the way over to the pines, to join  their parents and recently fledged siblings. Occasionally there is a hummer vs. titmouse scuffle at the feeder, since they also have discovered and taken a shine to the nectar. And all of this is viewed and enjoyed from inside, with no regard to us or stress for the birds.

Around the summer-blooming canna bulbs, I planted hibiscus and clumps of perennial, seedy coneflowers (Echinacea) which I chose because they're touted to be a bird favorite as well as drought tolerant. For my flock, however, it was an added surprise that the butterflies are attracted to the cone flowers.

The project, while gratifying, isn't instantly successful as far as attracting all the species you desire. And that's the fun of this neverending garden story. It took a few seasons to make several species aware of the abundant oasis here. Initially, only one type of butterfly straggled in a few times, but five years later I enjoyed seven different species on a regular basis this past season.

Plenty of irony here, too. I now enjoy four different species of dragonflies, and though they love the purple hearts when they bloom, they'll ultimately pick a dry brown stick or a bedraggled blade of grass to settle on and take their time soaking up the sun, so I provide them as well.

I learned of, and fell in love with, sweet olive bushes after visiting the Outer Banks in North Carolina post hurricane.  Despite the destruction, the full, vibrant bushes were blooming and the desolate shores were filled with green and their incredible fragrance. In my garden, it provides a lovely border and some welcome summer shade to the bulb bed. It's virtually indestructible and its even greater perks include its dense protection for birds and über fragrant blooms. It will sprout long renegade branches a few times too, and the birds will choose them to sit on and comically swing in the wind or to dry after a bath. It's been fun too, to see species I've never seen before or are recent to this area. The last two years, my first Baltimore oriole, a male, claimed a little niche and sat there everyday for a week to my delight. They're believed to be expanding into South Carolina so hopefully between the sweet olive, lots of oranges, and the mealworms he loved at my feeders, he will decide to stay longer and nest here this year.

Amidst stories of the dwindling honey bees plight, another happy surprise this past fall was a swarm of honey bees who overtook the olive, one of the few bloomers available this time of year. The dense and super fragrant bush literally jiggled and hummed for several days as the bees collected the last remnants of flower nectar available that would have to send them into winter so they could thrive.

These are only a few of the plantings, a sprinkling of stories, and part of the gratification I've experienced on a daily basis from my garden and the wildlife Mother Nature provides me year round. 

-Story contributed by Penelope P.

Photos Show

A dragonfly visitor in the garden

A dragonfly visitor in the garden

Perched on a stick. [View Additional File Details]

Baby bluebird in his box

Baby bluebird in his box

Trying to fledge! [View Additional File Details]

Ruby-throated hummingbird on canna

Ruby-throated hummingbird on canna

Nestled in hibiscus with coneflowers in foreground. [View Additional File Details]

Cite this Page

“Partnering With Mother Nature,” Community of Gardens, accessed June 24, 2024, https:/​/​communityofgardens.​si.​edu/​items/​show/​12400.​
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