Wildlife in the garden

I was chatting with a new acquaintance of mine and invariably the subject of gardening came up. “Oh I only put poisonous plants in our garden. I research every plant thoroughly to make sure it’s irritating or deadly.” I was a bit taken aback. Immediately, I had visions of dire motives gleaned from reading one too many murder mystery. Perhaps my friend was preparing venomous potions in her kitchen . What sort of nefarious plot was she up to?? Get a grip, Ilga, this woman is a soccer mom! Turns out the suburban neighborhood where she lives is a haven for deer. She’s forsaken tasty rose buds, hostas and tulips for monk’s hood (Aconitum), caster beans, and colchicums.

Gardens ARE a great attraction for wildlife. However, we need to remember that does include the curse of the creatures we disdain along with the delight of the rare and beautiful creatures we crave. As with most garden activities, the good comes with the bad.

We have been blessed by NOT having deer in our garden. Even though we do have 32 acres, most of our hillside is covered with Himalayan blackberries (Rubus discolor) which seems to be impervious to almost everything except rabbits, mountain beavers, mice and other rodents. Some of their predators do manage to dine there: coyotes, weasels, and raccoons. (Oh, and skunks we know this because, our old dog, Issa, tangled with one―but that’s another story for another day.) And we are GLAD for those predators, believe me, the rabbits would over run us completely. The blackberry terrain must inhibit the inquisitive deer. It’s pretty hard trekking for anything that doesn’t crawl underneath. And, I am sure, that two German Shepherds can’t hurt, either.

The attraction of prey and predator is something that often comes as a mixed blessing. We made mason bee homes for our native northwest bees (Osmia lignaria) They are solitary bees, living naturally in holes made by beetles in soft wood. We drill ¼ in holes in thick cedar chunks to attract these early predators. What we didn’t realize was that we had also make woodpecker feeders. Interestingly, Mother Nature has accommodated for just such a calamity. The female bee lays the females deep inside the hole and the males at the entrance. Only one male needs to survive to pollinate many females, so the outside eggs are sacrificed as woodpecker food. One must resign oneself to the fact that both the birds and the bees need to make a living.

When we installed our ponds and waterfall features in our previous garden, , it was with the intention of providing our koi with a new home. Imagine our awe as we watched a great horned owl come to investigate the sound of running water on the evening we started the pumps for the waterfall. There was not a return visit for the many years we lived there, but that one silent flight only feet above our heads and the ten minute perch in our maple was such a thrill. Here, at Edgewood, the Osprey with their amazing hovering technique, come to check out the koi and the trout. Imagine the amazement of watching a bald eagle snatch a trout out of the water in your own front yard. Now, THAT was exciting! Even if I do fear for my koi.

Water features are a great attractant for creatures. I remember the excitement of having frogs finally find the pond we designed for them. We are not very near any natural ponds so I had spent a couple of spring introducing tadpoles. No luck. Then, when I abandoned the effort for a couple of year, resolving just to enjoy water plants, they arrived. We enjoyed the sightings, sitting on water lily leaves or eyes and noses drifting among the Azolla filiculoides, an aquatic fern. Then one autumn day, the kingfisher arrived and dined on them for an afternoon until every frog was gone. Here in our current garden, the “lower pond” as we call it is a haven for frogs. The din of the Pacific tree frog, Hyla regilla, can be heard through the evening with all the windows and doors closed. Mind you, I am NOT complaining. The first year we lived here, we had have a red-legged frog (Rana aurora) that came into the living room with some impunity. “Oh, there’s that frog again!” as you bend down to scoop him up and deposit him in the more appropriate surroundings of the garden. Though there is a new fungal disease that is killing our native Pacific Northwest frogs, fortunately, we seem to have a pretty healthy population.

Each autumn and early spring, we watch in trepidation as the young herons stalk our fish. Each year, at least one is convinced that he has found the ultimate feeding ground. They carefully walk the stream, or perch on the edge of the water pondering the koi.

At Ridge Garden, we lived quite near to a large heronry, so we designed our koi pond with the fish’s health and longevity in mind. Our pond was constructed with steep, straight sides that went down to the un-heron-friendly depth of five to seven feet, depending on which end of the pond you are measuring. Nonetheless, there is always a bit of fear that perhaps THIS bird THIS year has come up with a successful plan. Here, at Edgewood Garden, we have our share of herons as well, but with a half acre pond, one can only cross one’s fingers and hope for the best.

We did have a regular visitor this spring—quite bold actually. I stood, coffee cup in hand, and watched him from our front porch, for several mornings. Finally, I stealthily opening the side door, gingerly tiptoed out and stood very still. He looked at me with one eye and then twisted his head and stared with the other, gave a yawn, and resumed his koi stalking. Apparently, I wasn’t as interesting as the prospect of breakfast. Eventually, he left the pond to contemplate the Asian Garden. He didn’t even seem to mind that I went back inside, came out again with a camera and snapped his picture. Either this same handsome fellow become completely emboldened or he brought a friend that started coming up to within five feet of our front door to eat the tiny koi babies that lived in the two concrete ponds on either side of our sidewalk. That necessitated our removing the youngsters and tossing them into the big pond to make their way in the wild. Talking about all this makes me think, perhaps I should go outside right now and see who’s dining in our garden this evening!

Great Blue Heron in the garden

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