Finishing the Bird Garden

Our bird garden has turned out to be a much bigger project than we ever anticipated! We thought it would be done in a couple of months, but here we are, one year later, finally with an end in sight! It was too hot to work outside in the summer, so this has been primarily a spring-fall-spring project for us.

Spring 2008 and fall 2008 were mainly about planting. During Phase One we put many trees and shrubs into the ground, focusing on those that are known to provide shelter and food for a variety of birds. Our neighbor built us a lovely feeding station and we have enjoyed many hours watching birds at the platform feeder, on the suet and peanut feeders and on the mixed seed feeder.

My dad and I installed drip lines to water the plants. This enables me to water all the plants simultaneously with one turn of the hose, and it ensures that water goes all the way down to the roots. I love the drip line system!

Now we are in the final phase. The boys are working very diligently to finish this project, as they have a desire to enter it into a local arm of the Keep America Beautiful competition. This was their dream and their vision from the start, and they have worked hard to bring it to fruition. We have many feathered friends visiting daily now, and often we see or hear new species that haven’t come to our yard in the past. This phase, though, is about putting the finishing touches on to make this extra appealing to the birds, as well as making the garden attractive to humans. We want it to be a place that we will enjoy sitting in, as we watch the birds flitting from tree to tree or feeding on seeds.

Hummingbird Hollow

Up till now, all our plantings have focused on songbirds. Last week we dug up an area at one edge of the garden and planted lantana, spirea, and butterfly bushes. We also put some hummingbird feeders there. The boys have nicknamed this part of the garden Hummingbird Hollow.

The Dust Bath
The boys were keen to put in a dust bath. Birds like to “bathe” themselves in dust, and it helps their feathers. We’ve seen birds doing this before and wanted to build our own. The boys dug out a large hole this week, about 6 inches deep and about 2′ x 2′ square. They filled it with equal parts sifted ash, sand and dirt from the hole, and lined the edge with rocks. We placed a small feeder, low to the ground, to help draw the birds’ attention. This has been one of their favorite projects!

Brush pile and rock piles
Some birds like to forage in brush piles or under rocks for insects, so the boys constructed some of each.

Water features
The boys have dreamed of putting in a pond, but I have said that they can do that when they are all old enough to dig it and maintain it themselves. For now, we put up one birdbath near the house, and plan to put out another bird bath deeper in the garden soon.

They have also put out nesting materials, such as feathers, cut bits of string from a string mop and some unprocessed cotton fibers that are in a hanging cage (this was a gift that someone purchased for them at a birding specialty store).

Hummingbird Hollow
Up until now, all of our plant selections have focused on songbirds. We saved one small area of the garden for hummingbirds, and planted it this week. We put in some lantana, some butterfly bushes (including some which I transplanted from our butterfly garden in the back yard), some Bridal Wreath (spirea), and filled it out with several blueberry bushes for songbirds. We put another feeding station in hummingbird hollow: it is a tall pole with hooks on it, from which we’ve hung two hummingbird feeders.

More new plantings
We have several holly bushes, leyland cypress, Little Giant pines, Little Gem magnolias, crepe myrtle, snowball bushes, and other trees and shrubs already planted, but we still had a wish list of a few more. Last week we were able to get the blueberry bushes we wanted, as well as four tall, spiky grasses. I don’t know their name (I thought they were Pampas, but they don’t have the feathery top). These grasses grow several feet tall and some birds like to hide in them. We also planted a flowering cherry tree.

We put an order in at our local greenhouse for a Flowering Dogwood tree, a Washington Hawthorne, some weigela, and more spirea. Tomorrow we hope to fill the last four holes dug in spring 2008 if some of these trees and shrubs have come in. We have had some empty black planting buckets sitting in the holes over the past year to keep them from filling up too much with leaves and debris.

Final projects
We spent much of last week working on making the bird garden more functional and attractive for us. We put down groundcloth for weed protection in the flower beds (especially hummingbird hollow), and covered it all with mulch. The kids hauled what seemed to be literally tons of rock, gleaned from other places in our yard, and used it to line all the paths and beds throughout the garden. It was a big job, but fortunately (?) our soil has lots of small and large boulders. We even have some that are big enough to sit on, but we haven’t managed to get any of those over to the bird garden. All this rock didn’t seem fortunate when we were working on digging holes and planting, but it has saved us a lot of money and time on edging. The garden has a very natural, rustic look with all the rock, and we all feel a sense of pride that we did this ourselves with rock from our own property.

Building the Garden Path
Once we outlined the entire path and all the beds in rock it was time to mulch the path and all the flower beds. We purchased mulch in contrasting colors, mulching all the paths through the garden in red and the flower beds in brown cypress. We initially wanted to lay stepping stones but that proved too expensive. Using mulch was a cost effective and simple way to construct the garden path. My oldest son already knew how to lay down ground cloth and spread mulch, and we think the path turned out fantastic. It was easier and less expensive than many of the other alternatives we had considered.

We placed an old bench and a couple of children’s outdoor chairs in the garden, and we purchased a new bench that we have yet to put together.

Finishing Touches
This week is about taking care of all the finishing touches before the boys submit their project application on Wednesday.

Each of the boys built birdhouses with their grandpa, intended for drawing different kinds of birds to the garden. We got those hung today, and the boys were proud. They had a Bluebird house, a Chickadee house, and a Tufted Titmouse house which we hung. We have not hung their Purple Martin house yet as we are trying to figure out a way to get it high enough. I am thinking of drilling it to the top of our wooden swingset.

The boys also have named each part of the garden, and they want to construct small signs with names like “Hummingbird Hollow”, “Robin Road”, “Dove Dust Bath”, “Nuthatch Neighborhood”, and the like. Our oldest son plans to put small signs at the base of each tree with its English and scientific name. He had fun today hanging a Tree Face to give the garden some whimsical personality!

Although we won’t be using stepping stones throughout the garden paths, the boys each wanted to make one stepping stone out of concrete. We are studying Ancient Rome right now and they had the idea of doing a different bird mosaic on each of the stones and displaying them in the garden. I’ve never worked with concrete before, but I hope to complete that project with them in April. It won’t be in time for the competition, but I know it will be fun, and a great way for the boys to tie some of their history studies in with this big science project!

For more photos and details about what we did, see my past posts on this project:

Our Bird Garden

Fruits of the Bird Garden

Empowering Kids to Run with Their Ideas


  1. Your bird garden is spectacular! What a fabulous project to work on as a family. Thank you again for your recommendation of the book “Projects for the Birder’s garden”. It is great to see so many of those ideas implemented. Enjoy your birds!