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A Further Case for Neglect

Posted by mrssmythe on August 23, 2016 in Critters, Garden |

This was how my bleeding heart plant looked this past spring.

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And, this is how my bleeding heart looks now.

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Yes – it’s has “faded” some, hasn’t it.

Normally, at this point, I cut it back. But, this year, we have a family of sparrows living in the front yard. The babies sit in the sun on the driveway in the cool of the morning, waiting for their parents to bring them food. Later in the day, they venture to the feeder, themselves. They can fly some, but mostly they hop between the bleeding heart and a butterfly bush about ten feet away. Sometimes I catch them rustling amongst the leaves in my flower garden. I spend a lot of time watching them, as I’m often on the front porch reading and they’re easy to spot – their preference for ground travel makes them conspicuous.

Of course, in light of their comings and goings, I can’t trim the bleeding heart this year. Doing so would expose them to the world. And so, all of our visitors must walk by a very spent and limp looking bleeding heart to get to the front door. A plant that drew raves and envious glances months ago now only inspires puzzled expressions. I’m tempted to put out a sign – “baby bird habitat” – or something like that, but, I won’t. I’ll just consider this yet another reason to embrace “benign neglect” in the garden.

From the dining room table, really very pleased the sparrows have chosen to call our front yard home,

Mrs. Smythe

 

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2

“Benign Neglect”

Posted by mrssmythe on August 17, 2016 in Critters |

Pepper met this little guy on the back patio the other day.

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I was so glad to see a frog back in residence. I hadn’t seen any by the pond this summer, and it concerned me. When I tried to come up with a reason for their absence, I thought perhaps my overzealous gardening was to blame. Normally the pond area is surrounded by a thick patch of spiderwort. But, as the summer wore on, the spiderwort began to look frazzled and spent. It flopped over on itself. It looked a mess. So, on impulse, I got out the clippers. Fifteen minutes later, the pond area was back “under control.”

Only, honestly, I think it looked worse than before. Instead of floppy spiderwort, now I had spiderwort stubs. And even worse, my cleaning had left all sorts of critter trails exposed to the sun. Where were the wild things going to hide on their way to the pond?

“This is why there are no frogs,” I told myself.

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But, as it turns out, the frogs are more forgiving than that. A few days later, Pepper found this one on the back patio. He submitted to a selfie.

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But back to the spiderwort purge.

That was a mistake. I’m even more certain of it now that I’m reading The National Wildlife Federation’s Guide to Gardening for Wildlife. “Where wildlife is concerned, sometimes the best plant care is benign neglect,” the book states. The authors suggest a low-maintenance approach to yard upkeep. “The less manicured you keep your garden, the more protection you provide for wildlife….little of it should be perfectly groomed.”

What refreshing words! And so encouraging, because, honestly, though the spiderwort got tidied up, much of my yard has been neglected this summer. Things just got away from me. But no worries. I know now I’m not being lazy. I’m not being irresponsible. I’m simply creating a wildlife haven. Perhaps you are doing the same?

Sometimes all you need is a change in perspective.

From the dining room table, realizing that wildlife or no wildlife I’m still going to have to mow the backyard at some point this week,

Mrs. Smythe

 

 

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4

Storm Damage

Posted by mrssmythe on August 12, 2016 in Critters |

A storm hit us in early this afternoon. And while I’m thankful for the rain (it’s so needed right now), the storm, itself, took a toll on our trees.

I was out back in the muggy air, doing a crossword puzzle while the dogs panted beside me on the patio. Storm clouds were moving in, thunder was rumbling, and the golf course warning horn had already gone off. But still, I stayed outside. I happen to like a good storm (usually), and it’s fun to watch them roll in. In the back of my mind, though, I recalled the old saying that if you can hear thunder, lightning can reach you. I looked around and there were lots of things taller than I was, so I stayed outside until I’d finished my puzzle. Then I went inside.

Two minutes later, I saw a blinding light, felt the house shudder, and heard the smoke alarms shriek.

I thought the house had been struck.

But no, lightning had struck a stand of trees separating our yard from our neighbors’ to the south – a stand of trees not far from where I’d been sitting just moments before.

I didn’t dare go outside to investigate, I could still hear thunder. But, from several windows, I saw shattered wood and a tree that looked like it’d been split in two. About an hour later, the rain slowed and CPT A and I walked over to see what had happened. Our neighbors, too, were outside, staring at a yard full of tree “shrapnel”. There were pieces of wood on the lawn, on their back porch, on their roof, and on the driveway of the house next to them. We counted, and four of the trees looked to have been hit.

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It was sobering.

I can tell you, if I hear thunder again, I’ll move into the house pronto. Looking at what a single strike can do to a stand of trees has convinced me that the best place to watch a storm is from a safe spot inside the house.

Mr. Wa agrees. I found him hiding next to our printer after the lightning hit. Mr. Wa would never have stayed out on the patio doing a crossword puzzle during a storm. Mr. Wa has more sense than that.

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From the dining room table, happy to report that the chickens weathered the storm beautifully,

Mrs. Smythe

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5

Feed the Birds…$25 a bag

Posted by mrssmythe on August 7, 2016 in Critters, Garden |

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For several years now, we’ve been feeding the birds year round. And, there have been definite rewards to doing that. My kids can identify many more birds than I ever could at their age. And, the feeders, which hang outside our dining room, have provided us with endless entertainment. Our pets, too, have loved having the wildlife so tantalizingly close. Particularly Manny.

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But all of this has come at a price.

For one thing, bird seed isn’t cheap. Especially if you’re buying the “no mess” kind that is supposed to be a better buy anyway because it is pure feed and not just a lot of hulls and shells.

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And then there is the wear and tear on the house.

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This is what the squirrels have done to our screen. The birds (you wouldn’t believe what messy eaters they are!) dropped seeds into the niche between the window and the screen. Then the squirrels (probably on a day I didn’t fill the feeders), tore the screen open to get at the seed.

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Yes, that squirrel is sitting between the screen and the window. At one point, he forgot how he’d gotten in there and ran circles trying to figure out how to get out. Manny loved it.

Meanwhile, at the back of the house, we’ve had a woodpecker visiting. See that little hole in the wooden square? It’s about the size of a quarter now.

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The woodpecker has been popping in at various times all week. Whenever CPT A catches him, the woodpecker boldly eyes CPT A through the hole, then flies away.

Now that’s cheek!

It makes me think of a story my uncle told of a squirrel caught visiting an office in the Idaho State Capitol Building. Everyone thought it was adorable until the squirrel peed on one of the computer keyboards. Animals can be incredibly destructive.

So what’s the answer?

I think for us, the answer begins with reducing the number of feeders we have. I do feel a bit of a pang, thinking about all the birds they attract, but then I think of the squirrels, who always take over the feeders anyway, and that pang goes away.

Long term, I’m toying with the idea of replacing our current “dog garden” with a wildlife garden – an area with trees and shrubs, designed to feed the birds with something other than bags of birdseed. Maybe it will also keep them a bit farther away from the house. Our screens and walls will thank us, I’m sure, and the entire project will give me something interesting to contemplate over the winter. Whatever we decide, it will definitely involve a reduction in the bird seed bill!

From the dining room table, wishing I’d kept a running total of the amount we’ve spent on birdseed over the past year (though maybe it would just make me cry),

Mrs. Smythe

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4

The Dog Garden

Posted by mrssmythe on August 5, 2016 in Critters, Garden |

Somehow, I’ve ended up with a Dog Garden.

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It wasn’t meant to be anything of the sort. Back in the spring, I had plans for a series of raised beds where I could grow herbs and flowers. I was going to use the unclaimed spot in our back yard that used to house an above ground pool – a very large above ground pool.

But, very little came of it. I put in some vegetables and grew some lettuce, but that was all. Now, weeds and wildflowers are taking over.

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The dogs are thrilled.

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The Dog Garden is the first place they go when I let them outside. They plough through the greenery, hide from one another, dig, bed down for naps, and (in Manny’s case), hunt.

(Here he is on the trail of a toad.)

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I suspect there’s a lot of wildlife beneath all that greenery; snakes, frogs, mice, rabbits….I even smelled skunk the other day. (Not too thrilled about that!)

And now that we’re late in the growing season, the plants are going to seed. The dogs come inside covered with them.

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I’m not too thrilled about that either. It’s challenging enough keeping up with their shedding. But at least someone is enjoying our backyard eyesore. Ginger and Pepper think we ought to keep the spot natural – a mini game preserve. But, CPT A and I are already making plans for transforming the spot and into something less wild. I hate to just return it to grass (that seems so unimaginative), but a high-maintenance garden is out of the question right now. Pepper bought me the Garden Design Bible for my birthday. Maybe I’ll find some inspiration there.

From the dining room table, having delayed watering the garden one more day in hopes it will rain tomorrow,

Mrs. Smythe

 

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