Wednesday, March 09, 2005

A Garden That Extends An Invitation To Perch

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In his weekly Washington Post "Green Scene" column local Landscape designer Joel M. Lerner advises on how to design a garden appealing to visitors.

A pond or other water feature will draw all kinds of living things. If the water is clean, moving in some fashion or contains fish, it will not be a habitat for mosquitoes, but it will bring birds, dragonflies, butterflies and frogs. An in-ground pond can also attract small mammals, such as raccoons and rats. It might also appeal to an occasional exotic visitor. A friend's pond was just cleaned of fish by a passing heron; they might need to install a net to protect the fish. An elevated fountain or birdbath will appeal mostly to airborne visitors, such as birds and butterflies.

When it comes to food, birds vary widely in what they prefer. Some birds, including robins and flickers, eat crawling insects and thrive where there are lots of worms to be had, such as in beds and lawns that contain lots of leaf mold or other composted organic material.

Robins, mockingbirds, catbirds, finches and sparrows like berries. Some of the best plant to provide this treat are serviceberries, hollies, hawthorns, bayberries, dogwoods and viburnums. Birds go for seeds. Colorful goldfinches, mourning doves, house finches and native sparrows are partial to seeds from perennial and annual flowers, such as zinnia, chicory, black-eyed Susan, purple coneflower, thistle and gaillardia. Some species feed in flocks -- robins, wrens, finches and cardinals among them -- so if you provide a lot of food, you might actually create a bird haven and get more visitors than you ever imagined.

Hummingbirds are a special case. They are nectar feeders and love tubular flowers such as honeysuckle, trumpet vine and bee-balm (Monarda). They're also very fond of red. They will also come to hummingbird feeders containing a nectar-like liquid. If they get used to feeding around you, they can be absolutely fearless and will even come to a flower in your hand.

The North American Birdfeeder Guide, a new book co-authored by Steve Kress and Robert Burton, explains how to attract, feed, and identify birds you see in your gardens.

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