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Read This: Bird-Friendly Gardening – Digging


May 09, 2024

Part of the enjoyment of having a garden is watching the birds drawn to it. We put out birdfeeders, birdhouses, birdbaths, fountains, and ponds to bring them in. But what really attracts birds is plants — and I’m not talking about turf grass. Trees, shrubs, grasses, and flowering perennials and annuals provide hiding and nesting places. They produce berries, seeds, and nectar, and they feed insects like caterpillars, which many birds rely on in turn to feed their young. Birds delight us not only with their beauty and antics but by showing us that we’re successfully creating healthy habitat for wild creatures.

Putting some plants in the ground and nurturing them is a great start, and birds will come. But to make your yard really appealing to birds, with a variety of food and nesting places, check out the new book Bird-Friendly Gardening: Guidance and Projects for Supporting Birds in Your Landscape by Jen McGuinness, longtime blogger at Frau Zinnie.

Eastern bluebird. Photo: Jen McGuinness

An avid birder and gardener in Connecticut, Jen shares the basics of what birds need for food, water, and shelter. She includes safe feeder practices and how to provide nesting materials and the right kind of boxes for different birds. But the meat of the book consists of around 25 bird-friendly garden projects, complete with plant lists and the bird species attracted by them. These include: a native plant container garden, hummingbird patio or balcony garden, native plant rain garden, drought-tolerant garden with native grasses, woodland retreat, warbler-friendly habitat, condo-friendly plantings, flowering vines hideaway, and streamside garden. Whatever size yard you have, or however ambitious you feel, you’ll find a few projects that can bring more birds into your life.

Red-eyed vireo. Photo: Jen McGuinness

Jen helpfully includes the native range for each suggested plant, so you can pick and choose among them depending on your climate. And of course you can always substitute plants that are better suited for your region. Here in Central Texas, for example, I’d opt for yaupon holly or possumhaw holly instead of Allegheny serviceberry, and Lacey oak instead of dwarf chestnut oak. Just look for appropriate local plants that offer similar features.

Grey catbird. Photo: Jen McGuinness

Interspersed among the garden projects are “birder spotlight” profiles of people across the U.S. who are working to help birds in some way. Their stories add a welcome human element, connecting us to individuals with a passion for birds that they want to share with others.

That passion for helping birds is evident throughout Jen’s book. Whether you’re an experienced birder eager to attract more species to your yard or a newbie wanting to try a few small garden projects to see if birds will show up, this book will help you get started. Your feathered friends will thank you!

Disclosure: Cool Springs Press sent me a copy of Bird-Friendly Gardening, and I reviewed it at my own discretion and without any compensation. This post, as with everything at Digging, is my personal opinion.

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Digging Deeper

May 11: Tour four Austin gardens on 5/11, from 9 am to 3 pm, on the Inside Austin Gardens Tour. Each garden “is created and cared for by a Travis County Master Gardener and demonstrates realistic gardening practices that inform and inspire.” Tickets are $25, or free for children 12 and under.

May 18: On Austin Home’s Great Outdoors Tour, held 5/18 from 10 am to 3 pm, find “Pinterest-worthy pools and outdoor kitchens to thoughtful plantings and stylish urban density solutions.” Tickets are $30.

May 18: Pop up to Dallas for the 2024 DCMGA Garden Tour on 5/18 from 10 am to 5 pm. Tickets are $18 if purchased online prior to 6 pm on 5/17, or $22 after 6 pm on 5/17 or at the event. For a sneak peek, click here.

June 1-2: Take a self-guided, 2-day tour of ponds and gardens in and around Austin on the annual Austin Pond and Garden Tour, held 6/1 and 6/2, 9 am to 5 pm. Tickets are $20 to $25.

Come learn about gardening and design at Garden Spark! I organize in-person talks by inspiring designers, landscape architects, authors, and gardeners a few times a year in Austin. These are limited-attendance events that sell out quickly, so join the Garden Spark email list to be notified in advance; simply click this link and ask to be added. Season 8 kicks off in fall 2024. Stay tuned for more info!

All material © 2024 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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