When the garden is going to the birds
“Oh, what a beautiful morning! Oh, what a beautiful day! I’ve got a beautiful feeling, everything’s going my way.”The musical is Oklahoma, but on a fine day in May the sentiment describes Colorado just as well. I feel like singing. The birds ARE singing! My garden is hosting its annual spring bird concert. It has a hot market in avian real estate too, in nest boxes, dense junipers, a spruce, vines and bushes. A very small brown bird, possibly a house wren, seems to be nesting in a box attached to the box elder (Acer negundo) that shades my greenhouse. I can watch the bird from my eye level view on the porch through binoculars. It grips the entrance hole, thrashing around mightily to thread one long twig after another through the small round hole with its slightly recurved beak. One bird seems to be inside, while the other delivers the construction material. Yes definitely, there is a pair.Acer negundo is a native maple tree that don’t get no respect. Box elder, more fittingly called Manitoba or ash-leaved maple, is generally dismissed as a weed tree with all the faults that implies: It grows fast, breaks and sheds easily; it is decay-prone and short-lived; it suckers and seeds about like mad; and it rains insect honeydew on cars parked beneath. Not only that, but the female flowers nurture the pretty and harmless but detested box elder bug. These very faults make it a fabulous tree for birds and birdwatchers. Nuthatches, chickadees, woodpeckers and others eat its abundant bugs and sparrows, finches and grosbeaks consume the dried fruits.To me it is also one of the most beautiful trees, blooming about the same time as apricots. In Glenwood Canyon, its clouds of reddish-pink and chartreuse green flowers are reflected breathtakingly in the shining Colorado River, an infallible sign of spring. It is dioecious, the female and male flowers growing on separate trees; the lady box elders are festooned with charming delicate gold and red Chinese tassels set aglow by early morning and evening sun.There is probably more than one nest concealed in my Manitoba maple. In years past, I have seen hummingbirds hang out, sitting for long spells on this twig or that, and though I have looked and looked for the tiny nests, I have never found one. The first broad-tailed hummingbird whizzed by me on April 29, visiting my fruit trees. At dusk, it went from blossom to blossom in my pie cherry tree (Prunus cerasus ‘Montmorency’). I don’t know if it was sipping nectar or gobbling tiny insects and larvae. I wish birds would go after the cherry fruit fly larvae with the same gusto as they go after the cherries.New growth is masking the thicket of tangled and dead stems of my most prominent Polygonum aubertii, the silver lace vine, now horribly renamed Fallopia baldschuanica, which grows up the first porch post to the deck. You see it from the street and coming up my driveway. I usually prune it severely every spring and cut it down to the main trunk every other year or so, but this year I left it untouched because another pair of birds, house finches I think, have graced it with a nest.The silver lace vine is another plant with the defining characteristics of a weed. Lauren Springer in “Passionate Gardening” calls it a glorious weed. Unchecked, it will grow into an enormous mound or cascade over walls, fences and arbors. By continuously corralling the reddish young stems – which can grow 20 feet a season – to the deck post with twine, I have “trained” them to soften and shade the south-east corner of the house. With age they become handsome, rough-barked, sinewy trunks.The foam of tiny creamy flowers on long panicles, produced continuously from summer to late autumn, is always buzzing with flying insects. Many birds relish the papery seeds too.We probably all agree on the beauty of the cherry tree, but you might have to look at the box elder and silver lace vine from a bird’s perspective. On another thing we can agree. The sun is shining, the world is green, the birds are singing. Oh, what a beautiful day!Anna is thrilled that the garden she tends with her husband Gerry attracts so many birds. If only her ID skills were as good with birds as with plants. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Please put “Anna’s Garden” in the e-mail subject line.
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