Water in the Garden

Who doesn’t love a water feature in the garden?  Whether your garden is large or small, water can provide a finishing touch and a focal point in the landscape.  With our small pond, hearing water trickling from a fountain, watching the fish, frogs, insects, the fun of learning aqua-gardening, all combine to provide a touch of magic in the garden.

Bossy bluebird monopolizes birdbath. Click photos to enlarge.

But another very simple water feature can make a garden magic and more inviting to friends and to a variety of wildlife, especially birds. It’s the birdbath and every garden needs at least one.  They are a lovely water feature and guaranteed to bring entertainment from the wide variety of birds that visit.

Birdbaths are made from an assortment of materials from stone, metal, concrete, to copper and ceramic.  They can be small, large, have bubbly fountains or be quiet reflecting pools of water.  Our fine-feathered friends will be most attracted to stone with its textured surface for traction, but because of that texture, they are a little more difficult to clean.

Female summer tanager shares a cool bath with goldfinches

Four birdbaths are in our gardens. Mister gardener has a modern copper one in the center of his vegetable garden, and I have a glazed terracotta and a bronze birdbath, but by far the birds prefer my hypertufa birdbath, an artificial stone basin made by a friend and neighbor.  It is surrounded by low evergreen dwarf pittosporum and sits in filtered light beneath the bough of our sycamore tree.

Here are some tips to keep in mind for adding a birdbath:

  • Place your birdbath close enough to your vantage point to be able to enjoy it.
  • Make sure the water level is 3” or less or birds may drown.
  • Add rocks if the surface is slippery.
  • Hummingbirds will bathe if there is a fountain.
  • Elevate the birdbath out of the reach of predators, such as cats.
  • Keep the birdbath and water clean to prevent avian diseases.
  • Place in semi-shade, if possible.

A simple birdbath will add great interest and delight to the garden and will provide birds an oasis for drinking and bathing.  If you are making plans for adding to your garden this spring, consider a birdbath.  Below you’ll find an appealing YouTube of Red Crossbills enjoying the cool water on a summer day.  Notice the hummingbird defending his territory when the video begins. The yellow crossbills are the females; the small brown striped bird at the end is a juvenile crossbill.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

A Wet Week Ahead

click to enlarge photos

Glancing at the weather forecast, it looks absolutely dreary this week in Tidewater. More drizzly moisture has moved in today with the forecast of ‘chance of rain, patchy fog, drizzle, cloudy, chance of snow’ appearing several times over the next few days. We were energized over the weekend with warm enough temperatures that caused us drop everything we were doing inside and spend two days outdoors.  Mister gardener busied himself picking up sticks near the stable while I picked up sticks on the river.  Leaves were raked and birdhouses were cleaned, just in time as the bluebirds are actively picking their territories. I wondered why the wren had abandoned her nest last spring.  Cleaning the house gave me the answer. I thought HORNET but in checking, it is most likely a wasp nest. The cells are larger than the usual paper wasp nest we see under the eaves.

Mister gardener took stock of his vegetable garden, tuned up the tractor, sharpened the mower blades, and mowed the lirope bed. I took stock of my gardens, checking plants for winter damage, uprighting birdbaths, raking some leaves, and watching the eagles. The dogs bounded around the yard playing keep-away with sticks while I wandered from bed to bed getting reacquainted with all the garden flora. I was happy to see that my dwarf  pittosporum (Pittosporum tobira) made it through the winter chill without a bit of die-back from cold. With its dark green glossy foliage, it is hardy in zones 8-10, but seems to be thriving in this seaside garden.  It grows in lovely mounds to 3 or 4 feet tall and serves as a perfect compliment to our well-used birdbath.

The pond will need a good spring cleaning.  The best way to clean out a pond, I find, is to use a crab net.  The leaves stay in the net and the fish find their way through the holes. Cleaning will be done in the weeks to come as the frogs are still slumbering at the bottom of the pond.

There is not much color in these gardens of ours yet.  Hellebores are in bloom.  Crocus is just beginning to peek through the ground. The amazing pansies, despite the weight of all that snow, are perky and colorful.  Finally, the parsley, planted in almost every bed, survived and is green with life and awaiting the black swallowtail butterfly.  Spring can’t be far away.

P.S.  The culprits in the wren house were identified as Common Aerial Yellowjackets which surprised me. I am accustomed to underground yellowjacket but two dead ones tumbled out of the house as I emptied it. There were 4 levels of papery cones in this small wren house.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Razzle-Dazzle Flower Show

It’s still too cold to garden in Virginia, so friend and landscape designer, Sue Perrin and I escaped to Richmond to warm up with vibrant flowers and green plants at the annual Maymont Flower and Garden Show. In this year’s Glorious Gardens Great And Small, we were on a quest for garden products, newest cultivars and gardening trends.  We hoped for spectacular garden displays to feast on and ideas to take home.  I was hoping for more in the category of edible urban gardening but that was not to be.

click to enlarge photos

Sadly, with the economic downturn, times are tough for garden shows.  The Maymont Flower and Garden show, now run by a for-profit company, has become less garden show and more home show.  We made our way past the grills, vinyl siding, kitchen cabinets and heat pumps to the Maymont garden area of the room where displays were only a fraction of what they were years ago.

Hardscape seemed to dominate the gardens this year with several displays offering invitations to enter and follow walkways, cross bridges, view waterfalls, pools and hot tubs surrounded by tulips, daffodils, hydrangea, and hyacinth. Garden art was whimsical and fun.  Playhouses or garden houses were displayed in landscapes along with an underground home fit for a gnome or hobbit.

Champagne moments were the discovery of two wonderful plants we’d like in our own gardens.  The first, Arnold Promise witch hazel, a hybrid cross between a Japanese and a Chinese witch hazel, was developed at the Harvard University Arnold Arboretum and introduced in 1928.  Sue was well aware of Arnold Promise and said it was prized because, unlike other witch hazel, it loses leaves to fully reveal their lemon colored fringe-like flowers.  The display shrubs were gorgeous and we both plan to seek out and purchase this variety.

Our other find, located at the Ashland Berry Farm garden display, was the Soft Caress mahonia, with slender foliage that could be mistaken for a dwarf bamboo plant. It is an evergreen and grows to about 4’ high.  Like its cousin that grows in most of our gardens, it displays fingers of bright yellow flowers in early winter.

Next we explored the garden vendors with one, Greg’s Antiques and Garden, being a standout. This company from Cincinnati OH displayed a great assortment of wrought iron garden items at affordable prices: arbors, fences, gazebos, planters, and more.  On our way to the exit, we stopped to admire the Richmond Bonsai Society‘s incredible trees, one of which is 66 years old.

Although we miss the Maymont Flower and Garden Show of yore, we were content to have a touch of spring to sustain us for the next few weeks.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Great Backyard Bird Count: San Diego

Making my bird count this weekend from San Diego has been interesting.  I’ve enjoyed the hummingbirds most of all.  There are three varieties that make their way to the feeders: the Anna’s, the Costa’s and the Black Chinned hummingbirds. Many of the Anna’s little ones are beginning to come to feeders, their short beaks just long enough to sip the nectar.

Crows, ravens, sparrows, phoebes, jays, gulls, pelicans, and the black cormorant round out my bird list.  A favorite daily visitor has been the song sparrow with its beautiful melody morning, noon and twilight.

I hope everyone has had fun counting the birds in your gardens over the weekend.  Today is the last day and my count will be the birds in Gloucester Virginia. I can only hope that mister gardener has kept them well-fed.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Edward Scissorhands Lives Here

I’ve been told by several folks that I missed a spectacular snowstorm in Virginia over the weekend, the sort of snowstorm where ice and snow clung to every horizontal and vertical object and mounded on birdbaths and swings, stopped traffic and brought everyone outside to marvel at a wonderland of white.

I was sorry not to experience the beauty of a Virginia snow but I am in San Diego where bird of paradise is considered a weed and euphorbia and jade are considered trees.  On one garden excursion, a small private hillside of cape honeysuckle jumped out to me as making the best of an invasive plant.  Over 15 years ago, the Mission Hill owners wondered how to deal with the thick, wiry honeysuckle that traveled onto their property from a neighbor’s yard.  They resolved the problem by designing a whimsical landscape of their travels to far off lands, Egypt, Asia, South America, Mexico and Europe.

It takes time to see all the countries represented but if you sit on the curb long enough, elephants, Buddha, an armadillo, monkeys and snakes begin to take shape.  If you move to another position, the view changes along with your interpretation of what you see. There is a turtle, a surfer, a sombrero, a camel, mythical creatures and more.  I felt a little like a kid stretched out on the cool grass on a hot summer day watching clouds change shape.

There are no forms supporting the creatures.  Each individual topiary is all honeysuckle, obviously carefully hand trimmed to a specific model the owners created.  The time it takes to maintain this garden can only be imagined. I am always awed by the generosity of a garden owner when I see a private landscape like this that is clearly meant to be shared with the public.  Many thanks!

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Time To Get Counting!

Here’s a little fact you may already know.  According to several sources, gardening is the fastest growing hobby in America. But here’s a little fact you may not know. Running a close second in fastest growing hobbies is birdwatching. And there is a exciting opportunity to do just that right around the corner.

Folks of all ages and abilities are invited to take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count. If you weren’t involved in the Christmas Bird Count, this is a great time to grab your binoculars, pencil and paper and get involved in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society’s 13th Annual Great Backyard Bird Count.  This event gives scientists a record of bird declines or recovery, trends, migration ranges, effects of climate changes and/or disease on the total populations.

The GBBC takes place over four days, Feb. 12 – 15 and no backyard is really needed. You can count birds at a park, while you take a walk, or anywhere you happen to be.

According to the GBBC website, it’s easy as 1-2-3

1. Plan to count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count. You can count for longer than that if you wish! Count birds in as many places and on as many days as you like—one day, two days, or all four days. Submit a separate checklist for each new day. You can also submit more than one checklist per day if you count in other locations on that day.

2. Count the greatest number of individuals of each species that you see together at any one time. You may find it helpful to print out your regional bird checklist to get an idea of the kinds of birds you’re likely to see in your area in February. You could take note of the highest number of each species you see on this checklist.

3. When you’re finished, enter your results through our web page. You’ll see a button marked “Enter your checklist” on the website home page beginning on the first day of the count. It will remain active until the deadline for data submission on March 1st.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester