My garden is in the midst of a summer shower. There's thunder, but it is far off and rumbling rather than near and crashing. The rain is gentle and soaking, and the gardens expand; seeds move to sprout and buds to bloom. The rain moves off followed by a cold front with cooler temperatures, a relief from the near 90s that had even the bumblebees resting on the broad base of the feverfew leaves.
Hummingbirds zoom in and work through the foxglove, stopping at a Deptford pink newly opened. In the late afternoon sun, chipping sparrows and house wrens move through the gardens picking up bits and pieces, and a robin pulls a long red earthworm from the rain softened ground. The bluebird who has a nest in the box down in the old orchard chatters from the telephone wire in a conversational manner, and the finches and wrens have a quiet Q and A.
Our yard is full of birds. A list would include everything from house sparrows and barn swallows to orioles and cedar waxwings. Hummingbirds are the smallest, and the sharp shinned hawk is the largest regular visitor, although the red tailed hawks, turkey vultures and a bald eagle fly over on occasion. We feed black oil sunflower seed year round, but that is the only concession to them. Except, of course for the gardens.
A variety of heights in vegetation is attractive to birds.
My gardens are not 'garden tour' gardens. They are often messy, and I let the flowers seed themselves around. Some of the beds are left from gardeners several generations back and tend to be full of old roses, irises and goldenrod. I plant annuals every year, cosmos and flax, strawflowers, and sunflowers and I let many of them go to seed for the little birds. The hummers have rhododendron and azalea blooms early, hardy geraniums, foxglove and pinks and roses in June, along with coral bells, and pansies. Penstemon bridge the late spring into early summer and astilbe bloom with the ox-eye daisies and day lilies. As the summer progresses, there are sages and hollyhocks, hanging baskets of fuchsia and begonias, mint blossoms, potted geraniums (Pelargonium) and garden phlox, native lobelia and old hostas with their tropical looking flowers.
Did I mention the dandelions? Yes, I let them grow, too. With the forget-me-nots that have been here for much longer than I, they make an early spring banquet for the wild honeybees and the bumblebees, and the seed heads are favorites of song sparrows and finches.
In late summer and sliding into fall, goldenrods and native asters attract butterflies. The monarchs spend several days feasting on the bright yellow of the goldenrod and the rayed aster blossoms that bloom from palest blue to dark fuchsia pink. A last blast of bright yellow comes in September and October with the blooming of the tall sunflowers, another seed provider for the little birds.
I can't say that I really planned any of my gardens or the additional benefits of the bird population, but I do try to keep something in bloom in all 12 months of the year. In late fall through very early spring, the Helleborus niger and orientals provide waxy blossoms even under the snow and johnny-jump-ups are willing to bloom at any time they get a little sun.
Having trees, from tall evergreens and a shrubby clump of river birch to ash trees and maples, a cedar break with elderberries and hazelnut growing up through and hollies in its shade, will give shelter and nest sites. The little orchard supplies more fruit to the birds than I wish it did. The birds always seem to be ahead of me in the harvest.
I'm sure that is probably possible to have a neat garden and birds at the same time, but I like the mix of Canterbury bells and Sweet William and the background of malvas and roses for the heather and Japanese spirea. The native spireas, steeple bush and meadowsweet, make room for themselves out in the perennial border with the old white peonies and the autumn asters, and there isn't a bed where the forget-me-nots and foxglove haven't carved out a space. Now, if I could get rid of the grass and sow thistle, I'd be content.
Visit Audubon's bird gardens and others at 1600 Riverside Road, just off Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails, gardens and Liberty are open from dawn to dusk, and the building is open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily expect Sundays, when it opens at 1 p.m. Visit jamestownaudubon.org or call 569-2345 for more information.