Monday, March 3, 2014

New Directions

Well, I’m back.

Much has happened in the 2 years since I last posted. My entire attitude on gardening has changed, with my focus now on welcoming and nurturing the wildlife which has given me so much education and entertainment since my back surgery. The recovery from the surgery was much worse than I anticipated, though my doctors told me I did very well. It was a solid year before I could even agree that maybe it had been a good idea. As of today, I can say I’m not glad I had to go through it but the final product was worth it.

During that time of recovery, when lifting a gallon of milk was a struggle, the sheer frustration of physical limitations made me unbearable. I was angry a lot. I had no interest in anything, including my blog. My last post, about the bluebirds, was a struggle to write. I simply couldn't get excited about writing when I wanted to be out working in my garden.

I spent a great deal on the summer of 2012 sitting on my patio in front of the pond. I stared at nothing for hours. Occasionally, I would notice movement around me. Eventually, I even paid attention. I started keeping a small journal with me and noting down the critters that joined me for the day. A lot of them were ones I had never seen before, not because they were new but because I hadn't paid attention. Stacks of field guides started making the trip outside with me, giving me names for these strangers.

An interesting thing happened at that point. I discovered that knowing the name of a critter increased its importance to me. I was intrigued by it. Now I could say “I know your name! I read about you in a book! Do you do the things the book says you should do? Why don’t you look like the other ones I saw pictures of?”  It was along the lines of learning a person’s name. Suddenly, they’re not just a face in a crowd; they have a name. They are unique and not strangers anymore. And I wanted to get to know them better.

Once I started paying attention, I was amazed at how diverse a population could be found on my little plot of land. I had always known what a wasp looked like but I began discovering just how many different types of wasps inhabited the garden and surroundings. Some were gentle giants, like the golden digger wasp, while others were little terrors, like yellow jackets.

Golden Digger Wasp

One little black wasp would land on the dead daylily stems I hadn't removed and scrape away fibers, presumably to build a nest. I could actually hear the scraping from 10 feet away! It occurred to me while watching, if I had been in top gardening form that year, I’d have cleared out all those old stems and never seen that wonderful, noisy little wasp. Hmmmm. Perhaps I could leave a few stems for them in the future. Maybe a little chaos would be OK. Maybe it was even a good idea.

Yes, I've written about this before, when I first started realizing my days of gardening like a maniac were over. Up to this point, though, I think I didn't really believe it. Not having a real connection to the critters around me, I couldn't see an upside to allowing chaos into my realm, other than preventing further injury to yours truly. A worthy goal, but somehow not sufficient.

Now, I began to really understand why I would want to ease up and let nature have a more of a say. All the little beasties and birds and bugs that fascinated me during my recovery needed to have some wild places to live. If, by some miracle, I was suddenly able to return my garden to its prior glory, much of the habitat they are using would disappear. And so would my new friends. I decided that was not going to happen.

Since then, I've continued the renovations as much as my limitations allow but with a different emphasis. I still clear out the noxious weeds. I don’t care how much the little birds like quack grass seed, that one is a goner. The black-eyed susans, on the other hand, are allowed to seed in greater profusion. Goldfinches flock to the dead plants all winter, pulling the seeds out with their sharp little beaks. Goldenrod is allowed in limited numbers both for seeds and also for all the fascinating insects that rely on its pollen, a topic I will cover in some detail in a later post.

Goldfinch and seed heads

Some areas are being abandoned to nature. Domesticated plants are being relocated into the newly cleared terrain closer to the house and replaced with native shrubs and trees. The only maintenance that will go into the “wilderness” will be removal of invasives, if any show up, and occasional mowing of paths so we can enjoy whatever develops.

Closer to the house, the gardens will, eventually, resemble traditional gardens. The plants, though, will be wildlife friendly with as many natives as I can squeeze in. I’m not a purist, though, so there will still be room for my hybrid daylilies and a few roses, butterfly bushes and weigela. Any new plants will have to have some critter welcoming feature; flowers full of nectar, fruit to feed the multitudes or housing possibilities.

Area near house that will remain "domesticated"

This blog will be changing, too. I expect to be writing a lot more about the creatures I share space with; what they are, how to identify them, even how to attract them to your own gardens. Under the Tenacious Tips title, I’ll still be putting up suggestions on how to work around limitations as I discover them. The Low Maintenance Plants feature will have some additional categories added, providing information about any wildlife benefits the plant may have.

There is so much more to be stubborn about now! I hope you enjoy the changes and continue to follow my backyard odyssey. It should be a good ride.

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