Bird-Friendly Shade Gardens

The shady spot in my garden is bordered by a garage wall to the south, a camellia tree to the east, and a wild, overgrown wisteria to the west. It would have been easy to ignore this area and concentrate on the sunnier places in my garden, but the birds led me to the shade and prompted me to set about creating a better habitat for them. They perched along the garage roof, built nests in the camellia, and twittered at me from the...

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Hedgerows

Coastal Californians have long relied on hedgerows to help tame the salty sea wind that blows in off the Pacific in the wintertime. Farmers recognize their benefits for erosion control and windbreaks, but now hedgerows are gaining new respect as a way to attract beneficial insects and birds to farms, thereby helping to reduce the use of pesticides.  Scientists at the University of California Santa Cruz are working with local...

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Dogwoods

Maybe I’m just longing for spring, but I’m convinced that California gardeners could hardly do better than to choose a Pacific dogwood, a California native, or the more widely known Eastern dogwood, as a focal point in the garden. Both produce grey branches that grow in a pleasing horizontal pattern in winter. Both burst into spectacular bloom in April or May, with a second flowering possible in September. As if that...

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Bird Gardening in California

From great egrets standing majestically in a coastal marsh, to spotted owls roosting in an old-growth redwood forest, to mockingbirds building a nest in a backyard citrus tree, California’s bird population is as diverse as the geography of the state itself. From my window in Santa Cruz, I see Anna’s hummingbird visiting a late-blooming salvia, double-crested cormorants perched in a eucalyptus tree across the street, and a...

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Backyard Fruit Trees

A woman up the street from me goes to great lengths to protect her fig tree from thieves. She drapes netting over the entire tree to protect it from an invasion from above. As the tree has grown, she’s had to construct a wood frame to support the netting and keep it in place. She’s built a fence around her front yard to keep the neighborhood kids out. When the figs are ripe, she even puts a sign on the tree: “Keep Out! Do Not Take the...

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A Better Lawn

California gardeners are always looking for grass alternatives. Watering a traditional green lawn can be impractical in areas with long summer droughts, and many gardeners prefer the more free-flowing look of native grasses or wildflowers. The birds prefer this look, too: it provides them with a source of food and nesting material.  If you like the look of a green expanse of grass, but would prefer a more...

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Hummingbirds

Watching a hummingbird work its way around a Mexican sage in full bloom is one of the finest pleasures of summer here in California. Hummers are methodical about their feasting, visiting each flower along the stalk in strict order. The deep blue-purple flowers attract them, and the nearly year-round bloom keeps them coming back for more.  A neighbor planted three Mexican sages in a group and dozens of hummingbirds...

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Birds in the Kitchen Garden

I drive through the vineyards in Sonoma County, the heart of California’s wine country, at least once each season. I am always struck by their beauty: in autumn the grape leaves turn burgundy and gold, and in spring the mustard flower carpets the rolling hills, the gnarled vines standing out in stark relief against the expanse of yellow blooms. In summer, there’s another familiar sign of the season: bright silver...

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Plant a Thicket

There are so many good choices for thicket plants that it is hard to pick just a few. Whether you have a small corner in your backyard or the luxury of a large lot and a nearby detention pond like Miles’s, these California natives will serve you—and your backyard wildlife—well.   Start with a foundation of coyote bush. This dense, low-growing bush plays host to hundreds of insects, birds, and other creatures,...

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California Natives

I have seen native gardens flourish in the unlikeliest of places: on condominium patios, in a postage stamp-size front yard in one of those brand new subdivisions that are springing up all over the Bay Area, and around a corn and soybean farmer’s ranch house. Sure, California natives are drought-tolerant, disease and pest resistant, and good for wildlife. But the fact is, they’re also beautiful. Whether you...

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