Attracting wildlife to your garden

When I first set out to landscape my property, I had certain goals in mind:  a privacy screen, intoxicating scents and seasonal interest.  I wasn’t really thinking about how to attract birds, bees, butterflies or other creatures to my garden.  I was actually thinking more about keeping creatures out – like those pesky deer who seemed to think I planted a smorgasbord just for them.

This year my garden became home to some common and extraordinary creatures.  As a result, I’ve taken note of the plants or garden characteristics that seem to be most attractive to wildlife.

Installing a bird bath made a huge difference.  Birds come in droves to splash around in the bird bath during the hot summer months.  I often see them taking a drink early in the morning or just before dusk.  Robins, catbirds, finches and cardinals are frequent visitors, but I have also seen bluebirds and even a Baltimore oriole. 
The Baltimore Oriole who visited my property
Having bird houses is another garden accent that attracts feathery friends to your garden. Bird houses come in all shapes and sizes and don’t even have to be manufactured by man.  My tall hedge of Green Giants is a perfect nesting spot for a number of the birds that call my garden home.  I have also noticed that birds love to perch on the branches of my smaller trees like Stewartia, Cornus Kousa, Rhododendron and Magnolia virginiana. 

A food source is key as well. Almost daily I find cherry pits in the bird bath.  The birds are fast to consume other fruits as well.  It’s rare that my winterberry holds its berries for the winter. Most of them disappear before the end of December.

Hummingbirds, bees and butterflies seem to love my hosta flowers.  I frequently see them zipping about, darting from flower to flower as they traverse my back yard.  The blooms of my Bottlebrush Buckeye, Echinacea, Clethra and Phlox paniculata are butterfly magnets for sure.  Even the hydrangeas seem to attract their fair share of swallowtails. 
Clethra is a butterfly magnet
My compost pile and log pile seem to be particularly attractive to snakes, fortunately the non-poisonous kind.  I think these hiding spots and the lush foliage I have in my backyard oasis attracts small rodents too like squirrels, chipmunks, mice and moles.  These in turn attract bigger hunters like hawks who loiter on my roof until they spot something to eat. 

I put in a toad house to attract little hoppers to take residence.  Maybe I’ll even find a toad I can turn into a prince with a kiss.  I haven’t been compelled to do that yet, but you never know. 
The bird bath and toad house are ready for visitors
A couple more uncommon visitors this year include a box turtle and a pheasant.  You heard me right; I was pretty surprised too.  I really wasn’t sure what attracted them to my backyard haven, but upon some research I discovered that pheasants like shrubby borders in which to roost and enjoy eating insects, seeds, berries and other fruits.  I suspect Green Giant hedge provided the perfect hiding spot, while my compost pile offered desirable fruit and vegetable scraps. 
Mr. Pheasant – a pleasant surprise
As for the turtle, I learned that they call deciduous forests home.  Thank goodness for that woodland trail and for the tall canopy of trees that provides shelter for these creatures.  Even some of the local barn cats seem to like the woodland setting; they enjoy sitting in a mass of Corydalis lutea at the back of my property, ready to pounce on an unsuspecting rodent for a delicious dinner. 
The box turtle hanging out in the grass
Next time I design a garden for myself or someone else, I’ll think not just about the practical elements of my design like color, structure and bloom time, but also about how I can attract wildlife to the areas I am designing.  I encourage you to do the same.  As garden owners and visitors, our experience is enriched by these moving garden accents that add so much vitality to our spaces and to our lives.   

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