Monday, March 5, 2007

Let wildlife visitors plant your garden


By Sherry Boas
(First appeared in Orlando Sentinel
March 4, 2007)

When it comes to gardening, I'm lazy. I want my yard to be abuzz with birds, butterflies and pretty flowers, but I don't want to spend hours making it happen. So, I've devised a plan: I let others work for me. Not people -- birds.

Birds are my two-for-one ticket to a beautiful garden.

Here's how it works: I place bird feeders in sunny spots, spread a couple of bags of compost or black cow manure on the ground beneath, then fill the food hoppers with a mixture rich in sunflower seeds. Cardinals, wrens, sparrows, goldfinches, blue jays, doves, redwing blackbirds and tufted titmice flock to my yard to feast at personalized seed smorgasbords. As they dine, I watch, enjoying the show as one feathered creature after another takes turns on the feeder.

Did you know that doves, those supposed symbols of love and peace, are mean little critters? Anytime another bird -- even another dove -- has the audacity to land where a dove is already dining, a territorial battle ensues. The dove moves quickly into fight mode -- feathers ruffle and wings spread.
Sometimes the two birds even engage in beak-to-beak combat, a nasty bit of bird interaction that occasionally results in feathers fluttering to the ground. The newcomer usually loses these dining-right battles and flaps off to a nearby branch until the first dove is done eating.

I watch these avian antics with great amusement, my inexpensive bird feeders providing priceless pleasure. I don't even mind when these contests of will cause seeds to fall to the ground because I know that each dropped seed is a potential plant. Rain comes down, the seeds sprout and -- without any effort on my part -- I get a birdseed garden.

Sunflowers, with their bright and perky blooms, pop up quickly in the enriched soil. Kernels of corn, safflower, millet and a sorghum grain called milo also take root. Before long, the circle of ground beneath the feeder is chock-full of blossoms and greenery.

If I look out my kitchen window right now, I can see 16 sunflowers in various stages of development, and I didn't plant any of them. Though not as tall as their more cultivated cousins, my volunteer plants are just as full of cheerful beauty. They stand straight, each bright yellow face pointed optimistically toward the sun.

Growing a birdseed garden has even changed my attitude toward squirrels, those furry-tailed seed stealers that are the bane of all bird lovers.

For years I tried -- unsuccessfully -- to outwit them. The fancy feeders I bought proclaiming to be squirrel-proof were indeed not. I doused the birdseed with cayenne pepper because it purportedly repelled squirrels. It didn't. I even set up separate squirrel-feeding stations.
Squirrels came -- no matter what I did -- and ate the birds' feed, making quite the mess.

Squirrels are such wasteful gluttons. Seeds go flying as they land on feeders, and more seeds scatter when they leap off.

Seeing so much squandered bird food on the ground upset me.
Not anymore. Now when a 2-pound mass of gray fur lands on my feeder, I think of him as just another helper sowing seeds in my garden. I know that some of those seeds will land in the soft soil underneath the feeder and start to sprout. More seeds on the ground means more potential blooms in my no-work garden.

Birdseed gardens are not the only plants I grow. Dozens of blooming beauties thrive in my yard, despite my lack of attention to them.
Although I enjoy all the plants in all my garden beds, there is something special about the flowers sown by the squirrels and birds.

Maybe it's the symmetry of it all that appeals to me -- I feed the birds and they feed me with endless hours of entertainment and botanical bounty.
I may be a lazy gardener, but I'm also content.

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