Goal For The New Year: Creating A Garden That Feeds The Birds

By Teo Spengler | January 3, 2021
by Teo Spengler
January 3, 2021

My biggest garden goal for the new year is to be able to spend time in my little house on the mountain again and see how the garden has fared in the 12 months I’ve been away. Have the tall eagle ferns taken over the land again? Is the pond I made for the frogs and toads still operational? It’s a little like returning to the family after a year abroad – my heart full of love, my mind full of questions.

It’s been a long year for all of us, and my particular burden is light compared to the sorrows so many suffered. But I do miss my trees and garden very much and hope to get back there and put things to order.

Missing My Garden

Having a garden in San Francisco really has helped me stave off the pangs of longing for my garden in the mountains. The “love the ones you’re with” wisdom applies to plants as well as people. I have enjoyed planting seeds, rooting cuttings and putting in succulent beds here in the City.

But my garden in France, the work of 15 years, is always close to my heart. When I bought the little home, the grounds were bare, sloping steeply with only a dozen or so big oaks on the parameters of the property. Now, when you glance up at it from town, my parcels are a large green patch in the middle of the slope. And it was my hands that planted each and every tree and shrub, bulb and berry bush.

Goal for the New Year

When I am able to travel – when the doors between the U.S. and France get unlocked – I have so many projects I want to begin in my garden in France. One is to create more natural food sources for wild birds.

While I am living there, I keep the bird feeder full of grains, seeds and suet. Birds of all kinds, from hawks to robins to blackbirds, come there to eat. This is especially cool in baby bird season, since parent birds bring their young to the feeder and leave them there while they are searching for worms. But now that life reminds me that circumstances can keep me away for months at a time, I want to make a garden that feeds the birds in my absence.

Bird-Friendly Plants

I have a short list of shrubs and trees that will help my birds make it through a long winter if I’m not there. I am particularly excited about putting in shrubs that produce nuts or berries in late fall, berries that remain on the bushes all winter until eaten. Holly trees and chestnut trees are great for this, but I’ve already got lots in the yard.

Two shrubs made my list: cotoneaster (Cotoneaster) and firethorn (Pyracantha). Both prefer sun and good drainage. Cotoneaster offers long, gray-green leaves and summer flowers that turn into orange-red berries in late fall. These can get taller than the gardener who plants them and are drought resistant.

Firethorn also produces a multitude of shiny red berries, but it also offers nesting areas. The sharp thorns make this shrub perfect for a protective hedge, which means that birds nesting there will be safe.

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