This is an article on a way of thinking and seeing things as they should be.
Healthy Gardens Should Incorporate Wildlife By SHIRLEY BARKER
Special to the Planet (03-18-05)
Just as some city planners behave as though a brand new museum with no budget left for art, and a brand new library without librarians, are just fine, so some gardeners seem to think that a manicured garden without wildlife—often called pests—is also acceptable. This seems to be true of some environmentalists, too.
Yet research, as well as common sense and a little knowledge of how we got here, show that wildlife is just as necessary for our mental well-being as it is for our physical survival.
Indeed, some years ago I met a landscaper who told me he brought himself back from a severe depression by allowing his own garden to run wild. He said he just sat in it, surrounded by so-called weeds, day after day and often into the night, letting his feelings wash over him. After about a year—one in which he had surprised an opossum, who played dead, spraying her infants, presumably riding on her back, in all directions, and photo’d a pair of them frolicking in an unpruned apple tree, and found a white-footed rat living in a huge pile of twigs, and watched all kinds of insects and other creatures doing wondrous things, like the female spider who lunched on a suitor—he was cured. The fee for this therapy was a commitment to wildlife landscaping, one which I share.
It took me a while to realize that one can cohabit with the larger mammals. Racoons may be kept out of the house by shrinking the cat door so it’s a slight squeeze for one’s fattest cat. Vegetables can be wired so that they are not dug up in the racoons’ search for worms. Squirrels it must be said are a challenge, and have to be considered an opportunity to practice tolerance. James Goren, who writes about nature occasionally in the New York Times, added squirrel to his birdwatching list.
For finches, the base of a metal thistle feeder can be wired to its cylinder, so that a squirrel can not knock it off and spill the seeds. Thistle seeds attract the small dark olive-backed lesser goldfinch as well as the American, and if the feeder is hung in the branches of a Cecile Brunner whose thorns will deter cats, these birds make a charming Chinese painting of bright gold flickering among pink blossoms, enough to raise anyone’s spirits.
Providing for birds in this way is the most obvious if not the most natural strategy for inviting wildlife into one’s garden. Sugar solutions for hummingbirds can, I believe, induce a fungus disease. Hummingbirds are not only attracted to the color red. In my garden they enjoy white privet, purple buddleya and wild yellow radish. Anna’s hummingbird stays here all year. Before we cut everything native down, they got through the winter on early-flowering currant species. Now they survive on eucalyptus. Ecology is about the interconnection of everything, and environmental purists would do well to pause before removing species that are not native.
Birds do of course arrive adventitiously, and so do their nests. If you find a hummer’s, a mossy cup the size of an acorn’s, holding three tiny bumble bees with long black threads for beaks, you are in luck. I learned the hard lesson of never revealing the location of any nest, having once shared a hummingbird’s. Next day, the nest was gone. For this reason, I will just say that once, my neighborhood was graced with kites whose nest was at eye level with my bedroom. I watched three hatchlings grow into glowering adolescents, until finally the day for flight arrived. There had been the usual bouncing up and down on branches, until one morning one parent glided in slow motion around the crown of the tree, visibly conveying, “This is how it’s done.” Next day they had gone.
These kites will not return because the tree has been cut down. I have noticed kites nesting by the bay, but not since the marina environmentalists razed the meadow.
Let us not kid ourselves, manicuring the land means habitat-destruction, and it is our habitat we are destroying. My landscaper friend recognized this, just in time to save his mind.
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