Winter has been playing in my wildlife garden already. The sudden cold gales blow in off the SE end of Lake Ontario and drift quickly across the land turning the sky to a gunmetal gray with a blue tinge. We are swallowed whole by the swift snow as it piles onto every stem, seed head, tree branch and bush.
And while I am cocooned snug and warm in my house watching the snow play upon the landscape, I wonder how the critters are doing. Are they safe and snug beneath the mud of the pond or the soil of the garden? Have they escaped to shelter before they might be frozen by the snow. Are the leaves and stems of spent plants giving some refuge?
I know the birds have some berries in winter from the native shrubs like winterberry and viburnum. And the voles are busy all winter wreaking havoc in my garden under the snow. Of course I catch the footprints of the deer who come to forage late at night in winter occasionally catching them when sleep escapes me. They are as surprised as I am as they feast on the red-twig dogwood.
I think my wildlife garden is a safe haven for the critters who visit in spring and summer and overwinter as they seek shelter. And the wildness of the withering plants tell the story of the fun we have had these past seasons when the pond was alive with insects, birds, reptiles and amphibians. It is eerily quiet now.
And the riot of flowers were so noisy as the winged creatures visited and those eight-legged silent hunters set up shop waiting for their next meal to happen by. But now the plants look more like party steamers that were left behind long after the fun ended. Withered and decaying, devoid of color, washed out, ripped and strewn about the garden they herald the great times.
As I gaze upon the land I care for, I realize the littered look of my garden may appear unkempt to some and in need of a good cleaning by others. But to me it is the most beautiful sight I have ever seen. I know what these spent plants really represent. They symbolize an ecosystem, a habitat lovingly crafted; a place for wildlife to visit and to live.
And just by looking around I can say, boy did they have fun this past spring and summer. Critters in my garden bring a unique joy that must be experienced. They seem to instinctively know how to live in the moment, and what may be work to them looks like play to me.
Birds flying about with abandon catching the breezes or taking a bath. Relaxing in the shade of the tree. Dragonflies flitting around the pond basking in the sun. Frogs lazily floating in the pond. Hummers, butterflies and bees taking in sweet treats. All this reminds me of my childhood and how we would live in the moment and play without much thought; just enjoying the time, the sun, the shade, the creek and oh those sweet treats.
So when someone asks about the benefits of the wildlife garden, you can tell them all the wonderful reasons to grow certain native plants so you will have critters visit and maintain a healthy habitat. You can tell them that they shouldn’t cut down the plants in fall but leave those plants and the fallen leaves as shelter for insects overwintering. You can tell them that a wildlife garden is a great source of peace and solace to help us disconnect from our lives in this hectic world. But I think you should not forget to tell them that it is a great place to play for the critters and especially for the gardener. Remind them that play is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves so why not play in your garden and grow some wonderful native plants to build a habitat playground.
Now as I await the 3-4 months of winter, I will think of those critters who are seeking the rest they need along with this gardener. Some will return, others will send their relatives and friends to party this spring when the garden is again open for business. I plan to throw a welcome back bash with warm soft earth still littered with leaves, sweet flowery treats and a pond ready for play.
“Gardener’s , like everyone else, live second by second and minute by minute. What we see at one particular moment is then and there before us. But there is a second way of seeing. Seeing with the eye of memory, not the eye of our anatomy, calls up days and seasons past and years gone by.” ~ Allen Lacy, The Gardener’s Eye
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