Monday, June 22, 2020

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Wildlife Gardening

"How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!
Up in the air and over the wall, till I can see so wide,
River and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside.
Till I look down on the garden green, 
Down on the roof so brown--
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!"

~ Robert Louis Stevenson, The Swing

Gliding on the front porch swing, I'm resting after an afternoon of planting wildflowers as the sun sits low in the sky.  The twinkling of lightning bugs creates a magical moment that will dwindle as the sun sets until it's dark and the twinkles fade into just memories.

I remember those tall swings at the playground.  Holding tight with a long chain in each hand, I pumped myself higher and higher until I was lying on my back at the top of the ride.  Life was simple as a child; then I grew up and complications grew up with me.

I garden because my parents gardened.  It would have been better, for my sake, if I had been raised in a gravel yard with a sea of dandelions at my feet.  Around twenty-nine years ago, I figured an easy peasy hobby would be to surround myself with gardens like the ones I played in as a child.

Of course, being the perfectionist my dad raised me to be, the easy way never seemed to be my way.  It was only after I established the perfect green yard of nothing native, that I was drawn into the Audubon International Backyard Wildlife Program vortex.

I swear the application was the size of a small book with a dozen pamphlets of information and a workbook thrown in about land stewardship to create water, food and shelter for wildlife; including what was being done inside my home to improve the environment on the outside of my home.  Saying it was quite intensive compared to most programs around today, is an understatement.
Literally, it was removal of the old and in with the new.  While I'm not poor, I'm also not rich; so from my perspective, I think gardening is expensive.  Bare areas mean weeds; you know, those misunderstood wildflower that come for a visit, take over your space, and stay until you die.  The whole undertaking had me feeling at times like I was gasping for my last breath of air before drowning.

With the certification of my yard, Audubon International became my mentor.  Yearly updates and spreadsheets of projects to improve my property were encouraged.  A website was provided to enter our wildlife garden information, maps and photographs.

My guess is that it was an experiment that morphed into something much bigger, and a decision was made to make it all about towns and golf courses, leaving the backyard portion to be dismantled.  It was a shock being dumped, but it was my start in land stewardship which has never left my side to this day.

In suburbia, as most were cutting down their trees, I was planting mine along with an under-story of shrubs and perennials where the lawn once lived.  The grounds were off limits to pesticides, so I felt as if I lived through two eternities of aphid and green worm hell, until the good blended in with the bad, and a balanced ecosystem began to emerge.

While it's not cost efficient to place a string trimmer in the middle of my bed of wildflowers and turn it on, it's also not time efficient to place myself in the same bed and pull up a bazillion weeds one at a time.  Weed management is purgatory, because, well.....because it IS purgatory.  Sometimes it's more conducive to my well-being to just spritz an herbicide or paint a bit of concentrate on an individual nuisance and call it a day.  

I garden to attract wildlife to my fourth acre plot of land in the suburbs just south of Nashville, and it's wildlife more on the smaller than larger size.  Wildlife like song birds, hawks, squirrels, opossums, rabbits, butterflies, spiders, beetles, snakes and lizards.  I may have left out a few, but you get the jest of what's happening here.  Even though its not a large area, it's packed with native plants that support a small variety of residents that come and go throughout the years.

The downside of attracting wild things is that boundaries mean nothing.  A company had to be hired to install steel gratings on the foundation and roof peak vents to prevent nesting under the house and in the attic.  A mountain of strategically placed rocks walled up open areas around the heat pump to send a visiting skunk on its way.  While its rather amazing - that other world that wakes up after darkness falls, you'll only see me as a bystander at the edge.  It's unnerving not knowing what's occupying my space in all that blackness.

My type of gardening draws attention, and not always good attention.  I call it the manicured countryside look.  It stays manicured to keep the health department and urban court out of my life.  While I have a lot of drought tolerant plants, that doesn't mean they're drought proof.  I water just like everyone else to keep it healthy, lush, and complaint free when the neighbors walk by.  It's a delicate balance between pleasing myself and pleasing the neighborhood, although I do push the envelope quite a bit. I sit motionless on my front porch swing in the peach glow of end of day, I watch the cardinals fly in for that last bit of seed in the feeder.  I'm finally at peace with becoming a wildlife gardener all those twenty-nine years ago.  It's been a personal experience with nature I've sometimes called hell and other times called heaven.  If I could go back in time and change anything.....would I?  

Who knows..... 

"In summer; the song sings itself."

~William Carlos Williams

Sunday, June 7, 2020

If only I were a little more not my age ~

Baby cardinal quietly chirps in the dogwood tree as its parents flit here and there hunting spiders and insects.  A tiny frog hidden nearby calls twice and then no more.  The rabbits frequent the clematis patch more often than less, so it's almost a given they're tucked under that tangle of stems and leaves to escape this relentless heat of afternoon under a clear sky of burning sun.

I've been out there...earlier...watering twenty-five large planters and two raised beds.  In the heat of each morning, dragging that watering hose from planter to planter, I'm wondering why thirty years ago the thought that one day I would seriously contemplate blowing up all twenty-five plant repositories to bloody smithereens never ever entered my head.

Viewing my gardens through dust stained windows with wolf spider webs crisscrossing back and forth between glass and screen, the luxury of indoor coolness will be short lived.  I must venture reluctantly outdoors once again to stop my terrier from doing what all terriers do best...barking until the moon explodes or his cute little head falls off.  I don't think there's much chance of either happening.

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