- Author: Kathy Thomas-Rico
Cool, sunny spring mornings bring a visual and aural symphony to my neighborhood. Just the other day, I saw and heard this variety of fine-feathered friends in and around our yard:
- Harsh, assertive yet beautiful scrub jays. I can usually find my cat by following the yelling scrub jays.
- Twitchy, flighty but amazingly versatile mockingbirds. We have the world’s loneliest mockingbird in our area. He goes through his repertoire of songs 24/7, in hopes of finding a mate. Alas, no luck yet.
- Lovely, perfectly named mourning doves, always in a pair. Their coordinated flights are graceful yet pensive.
- Pert and perky finches and sparrows, arguing over a cache of ants or seeds.
- Chatty, glossy black and super smart crows and ravens. They do sky-high battle with the owls and hawks. Quite a sight.
- Acrobatic nuthatches, defying gravity by turning sideways and upside down on vertical surfaces as they forage.
- Hummingbirds of all kinds, glittering in the sun while they forage at the salvias. I have had hummers stop by the business end of my hose, just 2 feet away from my hand, as I water out back. What a gift! Stunning little creatures.
- Hawks, mostly red-taileds, riding the thermals and screaming their primeval cries. They often cruise by our chicken run, always hopeful of a quick fly-thru meal.
- California quail — lots of quail — sending out a sentinel, then the covey emerging, crossing the street and setting up shop in the shrubs. There’s a daily commute, across our street in the morning, then a return trip around dusk.
I am not a birder, but I sure do enjoy watching the local winged wonders. What about your yard? If it’s devoid of chirps and screeches, perhaps you need to put in some bird-friendly landscaping. This guide offers plenty of suggestions to get you started, if you’re closer to the Bay. Here’s another that is more specific to the Sacramento Valley.
I know birds can be voracious pests to backyard gardeners, especially if you’re growing fruits or nuts. Heck, we had to build Fort Knox-like frames of bird netting for our raised beds in order to protect our tomatoes. This publication is full of good ideas to keep the birds away from your future harvest.
- Author: Kathy Thomas-Rico
Every yard has its microclimates, pockets of sunlight or shade, dry or wet soil, wind exposure or calm. Learning the microclimates of your yard takes time and watchfulness, and maybe the guidance of certain plants.
Take the bird of paradise (Strelitzia reginae), for instance. We have several of the evergreen perennials planted hither and yon in our back yard. Some were here and already established when we moved in back in 2002. Some I have added over the years. And, quite honestly, some are thriving while others are languishing.
It’s a matter of microclimates, if you ask me. And the ever-changing nature of said microclimates, as the shrubs and trees within grow taller, throwing more shade and taking up more of the irrigation.
For instance, some of our long-established birds of paradise are located in a small “glen” of hypericum, pittosporum and rather aggressive Euphorbia. This spot has a protected eastern exposure, is watered regularly and gets a healthy sprinkling of fertilizer twice a year. Over the years, the birds of paradise have grown larger, but they flower rather weakly. Quite possibly the plants need division; I think the nearby pittosporums sop up all the irrigation and block the spring sun required for flowering.
Just 20 feet away stands another bird of paradise. It is a sight for sore eyes: Three-plus feet tall, healthy gray-green leaves, and a profusion of stunning orange and purple flowers. This plant sits in a sunny spot with a western exposure, next to our tiny back lawn. Its neighbors are New Zealand flax, a Chinese hackberry and a sprinkling of Santa Barbara daisies (Erigeron karvinskianus) at its feet. Admittedly, this plant is younger than the others, but it stands in full afternoon sun and has survived several frosts over the years.
Go figure. Maybe the birds of paradise are telling me it’s time to rearrange a few microclimates.
- Author: Jennifer Baumbach
It’s like a rainbow of colors out there! As I look out my kitchen window, it seems overnight there was a color riot in the backyard! I have a lot of plants that flower from spring until fall, so I really enjoy the garden for those months of the year. In bloom right now are sweet peas, borage, ceanothus (Ceanothus ‘Dark Star’), a variety of sages, marguerites, daffodils, Lady Banks Rose, weeping butterfly bush-that’s just to name a few!
The benefit to having such hues in the garden is the wildlife it attracts. I see bees, birds, spiders, and cats playing in the jewel tones.
Just the other day, I was having a look at the backyard with a critical eye. I decided that I need to add more colorful foliage and movement to the yard. I plan on adding ornamental grasses and bronzed, variegated or other-than-green plants to my yard. Granted, the flowers are colorful, but the majority of the yard is just green foliage when the flowers are gone.
In the next few weeks I am going to Annie’s Annuals in Richmond and also a UC Davis Arboretum Invitational for Master Gardeners. I hope to find the plants I am looking for that will spice up the yard for the 'plain green' times of the year.