Here’s the gist of it: do you want this?
I worried that a lot of rodent activity at the bird feeder would dissuade the birds from coming around. But with this kind of “rodent activity”, I think I can relax.
We’ve had an overview of the Wildlife Garden with “How to Design the Wildlife Garden”. That covered a lot about Birds.
Next were a bunch more B’s–Planning Your Wildlife Garden—Bees, Butterflies, Beneficials.
Finally, let’s look at ponds and bogs. I’ve linked to NatureScape BC several times, and this is no exception: here’s a great quick primer on designing your pond.
(And lest I forget to mention, never release store-bought frogs, snakes, tropical fish, turtles, or any other critter into your outdoor pond. There is always a risk that it can become an invasive species and/or spread disease among native species. Remember the snakehead fish story!)
To get a mixture of wildlife enjoying your pond, you’ll need a variety of quite a number of things. A variety of water depths, of sun exposures, of textures, of plantings. I’ll go over each of these.
Birds will want shallow and moving water, frogs will want shallow and deep still water. So when you plan out the shape of your pond, design it with 2 sections; one is dug to about 0.5-1 metre deep, the other only 0.25 m deep. It’s particularly important to have a shallowly sloped edge–like a beach–so that nothing ends up drowning because it can’t get out. And birds like to frolic in toe-deep water, even underneath dripping water. Have a little waterfall positioned on the shallow side, which of course will flow over to the deeper side.
As for sun exposure, at least 4 hours of direct sun is recommended. It’ll be dang hard to dig a pond under an older tree, so you’ll have to locate it more in the open. But all your little guests will appreciate some shade, as will some of your plants, so plan to plant some taller shading flowers, grasses, shrubs, even small trees around the periphery.
(The above picture is in Seattle (thanks to Houzz). I love the overall look of it, but would add more tall and overhanging plants to cast shade on the water. A lovely little Japanese maple would do the trick.)
Since we’re going for inviting our native species to this pond, include both native plants as well as others that will appreciate the same environment with no added water, fertilizer, pesticides or herbicides. Goes without saying (yet everyone dos go on to say), pesticides and herbicides are going to kill off the very wildlife you want to attract. Include bog and moisture-loving plants right along the edge of the pond (a nice spot for Pussy Willow–Salix discolor), and dry soil-lovers like sedums and sempervivums (hens and chicks) among the rocks. And you’ll want to include actual water plants which will both aerate the water, and keep it clean. They in effect become a “filtering system”. Along the edge that will be your own “viewing spot”, have minimal plant growth, but along the back side, have nice dense growth with lots of layers/heights.
Along the edges and even in the water itself you’re going to want different sorts of rocks, from very flat rocks like flagstone, to rounder rocks/boulders that will add contrast to some of the plantings, to pea rock or small scale river rocks along the “beach” side. Again, the more variety you offer, the more varied will be your inhabitants.
About fish. Having a few comets or mosquito fish will increase the diversity in your pond garden because they’ll help keep the ecosystem balanced. The little problem is keeping them. What with racoon, herons, skunks and neighbourhood cats, their lives are pretty precarious. If you can keep them from becoming lunch, then by all means add them to the pond. And don’t feed them–they’re there to serve a function–eating debris and mosquito larvae not least. Oh, and being entertaining!
Now clearly, this is not a treatise on how to build a backyard pond. There are lots of details, from how to construct the waterfall to what kind of products to use to where to position your pump–none of which I can address here. My purpose is just to get you thinking about how you can increase the diversity in your property, even in your region. Your neighbours will inevitably like what you’re doing (creating your wildlife-friendly garden), and want to do likewise. And now you may have the beginning of a “habitat corridor”.
People approach your house in one of only two ways: either they drive up or they walk up. And if they drive up, they still walk to the door. How will you make that approach both welcoming and personal? If you’re ready to make some changes, and are not sensitive to criticism, try asking friends what they think about your entryway.
1. Open and Airy.
Many homes were landscaped by the builder with foundation shrubs that soon outgrow the space allocated to them. As a result there will be large-to-huge shrubs/trees competing for space with you and your guests around the front door.
This tends to make the site feel quite oppressive, and you may remember as I do the fear of walking into spider webs strung from one shrub to another across the walkway. You may be able to prune that shrub back to a shadow of its former self, but there’s a good chance that before long it will have grown back, and even larger than it was at first. When you look at websites to check the mature size of chosen plants, you can safely add 20-50% to the height they give. That rhodo that was planted 10 years ago, and still looked perfect 5 years ago, is now fighting you when you walk up the stairs to the front door. The pyracantha (thornbush) practically takes an eye out when you walk on the path, so you have to skirt it to escape serious injury. You’ve begun to grow accustomed to all the little idiosyncrasies of your site, but your guests aren’t so fortunate.
I love this Houzz picture of a house in San Francisco, but can you see what will happen to those birches in 5 years’ time?
2. Wide and deep
How wide is wide enough? Two people should be able to walk/stand side-by-side (not clutching each other). The path to the front door should be no narrower than 4′, and the landing deep enough for two to stand at the door and not be knocked off the step when the door (3′) is opened.
3. Good circulation
How do you get from the street to the front door? How do you get from the car to the front door? Is the front door the door that most people will commonly use? Is there another route to the front door that may be/should be/shouldn’t be/isn’t being used? How would you like to correct this circulation? The main things here are making the walk from “somewhere” to the house entrance obvious and exclusive, and unless your house is architecturally formal, don’t use straight lines to do it. You might line the edges of a concrete pathway with little low shrubs or ornamental grasses, creating a mini “allee”. If there isn’t a clear convenient connection between the driveway and the front entrance, make one, and preferably make it similar to or the same as whatever other pathways exist–they fulfill the same function, so should look like they do. Still at least 4′ wide. My own front door is almost at the east edge of the house, only 3′ from the edge of the driveway. So the path up to the front door is in fact the driveway. But I added a little swoosh of a concrete pad to connect the two.
4. Public/Private Balance
No one wants to feel like they’re living in a fishbowl, but that doesn’t mean you have to erect some kind of barrier all around the perimeter. If the only open space in fence or hedge to enter the property is the front walk or the driveway, you might as well post a sign saying KEEP OUT (in upper case).
On the other hand, shorter shrubs, below eye level, or deciduous shrubs that are only dense half the year, give a sense of privacy without completely blocking the view in or out. Tall-ish grasses will serve in the same way.
Be judicious about lighting. It should serve a function, or it’s just light pollution. Or “garden art”.
Lights for your entryway should be shining down onto the walkway and steps for safety purposes. Lights that shine upwards not only don’t do what they’re there for, but they are blinding to the people walking beside them. Landscape lighting has a different function; some focused spotlights will shine up into trees for dramatic effect, but we still need to be conscious of overuse.
For the front door, a motion sensor light that has two phases (very low light for security, and brighter to guide you or your guests to the door) is a great idea, as long as the brighter phase isn’t blindingly bright–as mine is.
Create Your Welcoming Entryway: Five quick fixes will make a big difference to your visitors’ “first impression”. How many of these can you see yourself implementing?
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Winter. It’s been cold and dry, and today it’s cold and rainy. But a week ago I cut some branches from the forsythia across the street (from a warehouse site) to force into blooming. And today I have spring blooms in the living room. According to About.com, azalea, beautybush, crab apple, flowering quince, forsythia, magnolia, pussy willow, redbud, rhododendron (I wouldn’t try this one), serviceberry, spirea, witch hazel, lilac, honeysuckle and fruit trees such as cherries, pears and apples are forceable. My lilac is probably about due for a prune, so maybe I’ll try forcing lilac next.
The forsythia and pussy willow are the easiest to force. Simple cut the branches, making sure each has an abundance of flower buds.
These are still living cells, and still need water to continue to grow. So give your budding branches as much water as possible by slicing upward through the lowest 1″ of the stem. You could crush the stem with a hammer or some other blunt instrument, but I find the cut is simpler and just as effective.
Some of the above flowering branches will need a period of acclimatization before they’ll perform for you, so a cool dim spot for a few days is recommended. Having only tried to force Forsythia,which doesn’t need any special treatment, I don’t know which of the list above need the transition period. I’ll let you know about Lilac after I’ve tried.
Pretty soon you’ll have spring flowers long before you’re seeing them outside. Enjoy your early spring!
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