Bringing in the Birds

My garden expands and changes each season, as most people’s probably do. It began as a small flower bed at the end of the sidewalk. It was about three feet in diameter. The next year,  I extended it down the sidewalk, changed its shape, and added a border. Then, the third year, I decided to triple the area the garden occupied, and the year after that, we added a small pond and expanded the planting area yet again.

This year, rather than digging up more grass, we began adding structures. I had a hummingbird feeder sitting on a shelf in the house (where no bird would ever find it!) and bought a bird feeder on clearance last winter, so one of the structures had to be something to hang two feeders from.

Using old tent poles, I made a structure for a vine to climb and the bird feeders to hang.

The first feeder, freshly filled.

The first feeder, freshly filled.

The structure went up in March, and I filled one feeder with seed, and watched for birds. A week later, the feeder was still completely full. Two weeks later, no seeds were gone. The third week, I said, “LOOK! Some seeds are gone!” My dad admitted to shaking some out for the chickens.

A month. Two months! It got to the point that I’d just shake my head every time I saw the feeder and feel bad about the money I spent on it and the bird seed. (Not much, but it was so disappointing!)

Then, one day, I saw a cardinal at the bird feeder. Within a week, two inches of bird food were gone. On the day I filled the bird feeder with seeds for the second time, I also filled the hummingbird feeder. It took a little while for the hummingbirds to find it, but I see them occasionally.

birdfeeders, field 6:18:14

There are more birds in my yard now than there have been in the eight years we have lived here. I’ve seen bluebirds, mockingbirds, robins, hummingbirds, LOTS of cardinals, and a few days ago, two tiny, bright, gorgeous gold finches. The bird feeder empties regularly, and birds sit on top of my grape arbor most of the time. I suspect they bathe in the pond but haven’t spotted them at it yet!

Birdsong is cheerful. The birds themselves are beautiful. Having them in the garden makes me happy. If you don’t have as many birds as you’d like, try putting out a feeder. Then, wait patiently!

Gardening at the Home Place

Belle and I both write mostly about growing flowers and fruits, so this post is a bit of a departure because it is about a more traditional kind of vegetable garden. My family owns a small farm collectively, and this year we are growing a garden together. My grandparents always grew a huge garden and we all share fond memories of working in it — but especially of eating up the proceeds from it — zealously and with great enjoyment.

Last year, one of my uncles planted a dozen blueberry plants and some grapes. Over the winter, I added four apple trees to keep the one already there company. In the spring, we built a small raised bed for perennial herbs, and got going on the big vegetable garden. Here’s what it looks like now:

FarmgardenJune1We have several varieties of tomatoes, two lettuce beds, onions, spaghetti squash, yellow squash, LOTS of radishes, beans, beans, and more beans, parsley, rosemary, sage, watermelons, bell peppers, okra and a few cucumbers. We still plan to put in some carrots and some corn, and maybe one or two more things if we find the time. In late July or August we’ll add several types of greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, garlic, and maybe potatoes for a fall/winter crop.

It’s difficult to describe the joy that working in this garden brings. It’s in a beautiful place, with a stunning view. Combine the natural beauty with a couple of lifetimes’ worth of happy memories, and you can see why it’s such a pleasant place to work.

The last weekend in May, several people showed up to work, and we had dinner together, including fresh-from-the-garden lettuce, onion, and radishes. Each week, there will be a little more on our plates straight from the garden and we’ll be sustained in body, spirit, and mind. A garden can be so much more than rows of plants!

The Final Toll of the Killing Winter in Dava’s Garden

It was a rough winter. I didn’t realize just exactly how bad it was for my garden until the last couple of weeks. Here’s the final list of victims:

  • rosemary (this one hurts the most)
  • brugmansia
  • ALL of the strawberries
  • 2 varieties of canna lilies

Canna Carnival - purchased at the Green Thumbs Galore Driveway sale in spring 2013.

Canna Carnival – purchased at the Green Thumbs Galore Driveway sale in spring 2013.

  • a fancy orange coneflower
  • a cream and pink colored rose

I bought it at a grocery store for $2.

I bought it at a grocery store for $2.

  • columbine

A gift from Belle, 3-4 years ago.

A gift from Belle, 3-4 years ago.

  • 2 succulents

Of those, I didn’t fully expect the brugmansia or one of the succulents to make it. The columbine, rosemary, rose, and about half the strawberry plants were very well established, so it was surprising they didn’t make it. From what I understand rosemary plants across the region were hit hard.

Plants come and go — I’ve had some that survived for several years, then suddenly, inexplicably died, so I’m not mourning the loss of these too terribly much. This is the first year I’ve lost quite so many to cold weather, though.

Next year, if conditions are brutal again, I may have to implement Belle’s leaf blankets!

Along with the many garden losses, there were some surprising survivors, too:

  • hostas, even though there was a late-season frost
  • all of the daylilies
  • a gorgeous penstamon, which is about twice or three times bigger than last year!


  • all of the native purple coneflowers, which are about to explode into bloom!

coneflower buds

  • the English wallflower, which smells so nice
  • a baby hydrangea
  • some tender, newly planted sage


  • the grapes, which were moved in the very early spring

grapesThere were many other survivors as well, but these (especially the sage!) surprised me partly because they all seemed to really take off this spring. Another survivor was my peony, which didn’t bloom, but does have healthy, strong-looking foliage.

Did you suffer losses due to the cold? Were there any super-tough survivors?

A Rescue and a Surprise

A great many of the plants in my garden were not ones I chose. They came to be in my garden because I couldn’t stand the idea of them being discarded. Last summer some folks were working on a house on my street and I was stunned to see them use a mini-bulldozer looking machine to get rid of an iris bed that had been there for years! I felt sick to see it, and wondered why they hadn’t let people come dig bulbs instead. It just seems senseless to me to plow beauty under when it could just as easily be relocated.

Luckily, my friends generally share the sentiment — and often their plants! One friend knew of a house that was recently sold that had lots of flower beds the new owners didn’t want to maintain. She got us permission to go and dig as much as we wanted. This was in the fall so we were digging iris and lilies with no idea at all what they would look like.

Last summer, when we built my pond and tripled (!) the size of my garden, I planted most of the unknowns we rescued around the pond. The lilies bloomed last year and were yellow. Since I didn’t have any yellow lilies (just the regular, native orange day lilies) I was delighted. The iris didn’t bloom until this year.

At first, I didn’t think they were going to bloom. The fans were thick and lush and green, but most of my other irises bloomed out before I spotted a bud on the mystery plants. Then, I thought they were going to be purple. At that point, every single plant that had bloomed in my garden had a purple flower. Several varieties of iris. English wallflower. I’d been hoping for some yellow or white.

The day the first one opened I was stunned. They were a deep burgundy, and the blooms were huge:

unknown iris

It was exciting! They weren’t purple! They were big and beautiful. And, it turned out they were also prolific. Most stalks had 2-5 blooms each.

more unknown irises and pond


Even better, they bloomed for about a month! Most of my other varieties only bloomed for a couple of weeks. It was so exciting to watch for a bloom every day and then enjoy the flowers. I even cut a bouquet of them for a friend.

Do you rescue plants without having any idea what they will look like?

Making a Daylily Cross

Daylilies are some of the most beautiful and carefree plants in the garden.  They come in many colors, sizes and patterns.  They withstand heat and drought.  They are even edible!
They are plants that do not come true from seed. This means every seed produces a new and unique plant that may or may not look anything like its parent.
And that’s where the fun starts.  How about trying your hand at hybridizing this year?  It’s quite easy and you never know what you might get.  The 3 most common crossing types are:
1. pretty on pretty – pick two varieties in your garden that you really like
2. trait on trait – flower shape, height, number of blooms – your choice
3. intentional – using plant genetic and science to attempt to bring out desirable attributes

Daylily flower with anther and stigma labeled

How to find the Anther and Stigma on a Daylily

Making a cross is quite simple, take the pollen from one variety and apply it to the stigma of another.  Then wait and see if the mating was successful.  If yes, there will be a pod developing at the base of the flower.  Daylily pregnancy takes about 50 days from fertilization until seeds are ripe and ready for harvesting.