Thursday, August 18, 2011

My accidental garden

My backyard bird feeder started out like any other, with a long black pole, a seed container and some sunflower seeds. I was hoping to attract some cardinals and finches to my yard. What I got was a veritable menagerie.

Once the black stake was firmly in the ground with the glass and metal seed container filled to the brim and screwed securely on top, I went inside and waited. Peering out my kitchen window every few minutes, I wondered how long it would take the birds to discover their new buffet.

It took longer than I thought for the first visitor to arrive. It was a nondescript little brown bird—possibly a sparrow. I kept watching and waiting for his colorful cousins to arrive. Little by little, more birds showed up to the feeder.

There were noisy black starlings. Nervous doves. A pair of cardinals began to visit every day around sunset. Plenty of small brown birds I couldn’t identify showed up too.

Then came the squirrels. At first they were content to forage among the scattered seeds on the ground that the birds had knocked out of the feeder. But soon they were shimmying up the pole til they reached the top, where they would perch precariously and balance with their tails while raiding the feeder.

Between the birds and the squirrels, dozens of seeds were scattered on the ground. And despite the nonstop foraging around the feeder, little looked-over seedlings soon began to sprout. By the next time I was ready to mow the lawn, a forest of sunflowers was taking shape around my feeder.

Dodging the seedlings with the lawnmower became a game. I wanted to see how high they would grow. If all of them reached maturity, I’d have 40-50 sunflowers crowded around my feeder!

Some of the young plants became rabbit fodder. The entire family of squirrels that started hanging out beneath the feeder probably flattened a few too. But the majority of the flowers grew taller and taller, creating a canopy under which the birds and squirrels could escape from the hot summer sun.

Now it’s August, and the flowers have burst into bloom. Bees collect nectar from them, and vivid yellow finches grasp the flowers with their tiny feet, picking out seeds one by one. Nature is putting on a show in my backyard, and I’m enjoying every minute of it. The grass beneath the dense flowers is trampled and littered with seed hulls. It will have to be replanted, but the enjoyment the bright yellow flowers and the creatures they’ve attracted have brought me make my accidental garden well worth the effort.