Our bird garden

We are planting a bird garden. This is a huge project for us, so it is a work in progress. We cleared a big area on one side of our house. It had been mostly scrubby weeds before, lots of briars and yucky stuff. I know the birds liked it as it was, and I didn’t want to clear it in the first place. Someone is building a house next door, though, and they were doing a lot of clearing. My husband felt like we had to clean that area up, so that it wouldn’t look like there was a jungle between us and them.

Once some of the brush was cleared, we started getting the garden laid out. We saved several stands of tall trees, including some dead ones. The woodpeckers love the dead trees, so we didn’t take down any dead trees at all, other than one which was threatening to fall on the house.

We hired someone with a power auger to drill holes in our tough, rocky Georgia soil. They dug 40 holes, and we are in the process of digging about 20 more small ones. We have purchased lots of trees and shrubs which birds love, as well as transplanting several from my mom’s property and our own.

So far, the boys and I have put in 5 Little Gym magnolia trees, two holly bushes, two crape myrtle, several pines (Leyland Cypress and Little Giants), some tiger lilies, hydrangeas, Nandina, and snowball bushes. We have some Rose of Sharon and 3 southern magnolias which we plan to put in the ground today.

We are working on weeding our existing butterfly garden. Once that is done, we plan to transplant several of our butterfly bushes to the outer edges of the bird garden, turning that area into two separate hummingbird gardens. The tiger liles are there already, and our kind neighbor built us a lovely feeding station which holds 3 bird feeders.

Right now we have out a screen feeder with black oil sunflower seeds, a covered feeder with a seed mix, and a peanut feeder. Soon we will put a safflower feeder and a humming bird feeder in that area, as well.

Each of the boys has built a birdhouse to attract a certain type of bird. Their Papa helped them do that to meet specific criteria needed by each species. We plan to put those in this area, too, as well as some additional feeders, one or two birdbaths, a bench, and an arbor for climbing vines.

My dad and I spent a couple of days putting in a drip irrigation system. This is an inexpensive set of lines that run from the hose to each plant, allowing each one to get a deep watering by turning on just one hose. This is important in our drought-ridden climate. We have heavy watering restrictions, and it isn’t good conservation to waste tons of water doing each plant individually with a gushing hose. Installing the lines wasn’t as hard as I feared it would be, and it is much cheaper than an in-ground system.

I have ordered two more hollies, and I still have several holes to fill. I plan to get some flowering dogwoods, which I love. They do well in this climate and the birds like them. Other than that, I am not sure what to fill the other holes with, so I am taking some time to pore over all my bird garden books, including the newest one, Attracting Birds to Southern Gardens.

I am a relatively new birder and a very novice gardener. Books like this one help me to think through the complicated process of choosing plants which will attract certain birds, be well situated to our climate, tolerate a largely “hands off” approach (which is what this garden will be once school starts up again), provide for both nesting and food needs, and other factors. With a limited amount of space and money for this project, we need every plant to “count”.

Today was the first time we have started to see the fruits of our labors. We began this project about 3 weeks ago and the birds are starting to find the trees and feeding station. We had several cardinals, a tufted titmouse and a mockingbird on our feeding trays this morning. We also saw some chipping sparrows on the ground around it, an Eastern Phoebe in one of the trees, an American crow, and two squirrels climbing up one of the magnolias. As I am typing this, I can hear a Carolina wren, and we hear Eastern Towhees now, too. I trust that as we plant more trees and put out food and water stations we will begin to see and hear much more. I’m looking forward to “phase two” of this plan, when we will begin attracting hummingbirds, as well.

This has been a wonderful project to do with my boys. We ended our school year at the beginning of May. We set aside one month to do Phases 1 and 2 of this project. It would have been impossible if we had done all the heavy labor of clearing the brush and drilling the holes ourselves. But with that work done, we should have all the trees and shrubs (over 60 including the saplings and transplants from my mom’s extensive garden and our own butterfly garden out back) in the ground within the month’s time frame. Phase 1 was getting everything prepared and getting the bird garden plants in. Phase 2 will be transplanting everything needed for the hummingbird garden from our butterfly garden out back.

Phase 3 will probably be done when the weather cools off in the fall. We have plans to put in a gravel path, get the bench and arbor into the garden, lay down a pad of pavers for a bird bath station, and put in some railroad ties and pavers to make a path for the boys down a hill which is unsuitable for planting but needs some erosion control measures.

The best thing about this garden has been doing it with the boys. My husband’s back is bad, so he hasn’t helped at all. My boys are 11, 8, 6 and 3 and each one of them has had a significant hand in digging holes, filling them with dirt, pulling weeds, and choosing plants. We are enjoying this time together, bringing our dream to fruition. This is “conservation in action”, a very valuable lesson for my boys and something we will always remember doing. We can’t do much on any given day, but we chip away at accomplishing our goal, little by little.

I know 10 years from now, as we sit on our bench under the arbor, watching many species of birds enjoying this lovely garden, we will look back and remember our our “day of small things” with fondness.

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