A gardening tale of wonder and woe

Story and Photos by Susan Jasan

Living in the woods provides opportunities to observe and experience Nature’s creatures. It can also bring with it a variety of unexpected challenges for the gardener. 

Sometimes gardening in the woodlands is filled with wonder and amazement, other times it is exceedingly frustrating, and in still other cases it provides pure amusement. What follows is a story of wonder and woe as one gardener may have outsmarted herds of voracious deer, only to find a whole host of new challenges.

After years of little damage by deer, the herds at this woodland home seemed to increase exponentially, with little plant material safe from their voracious appetite. But this gardener thought there was a way to bring gardening to a new level, very literally a new level: create a deck garden 15 feet above ground level on a deck overlooking the woodlands, out of the reach of the four-footed munching machines.

An abundance of pots with some favorite garden accents made this deck garden enjoyable throughout the summer, whether viewed from inside the home or while relaxing on the deck. While sitting in quiet repose on the deck, one became both entertained and mesmerized by the wildlife that visited in large numbers.

Located just off a main living area of the home, the deck garden seemed the perfect place to create beautiful views throughout the year. And so the quest began.

By using a metal garden arch, rooted in two large wooden planters with strategically placed metal supports, the framework for the deck garden was formed. Adding some favorite garden pots of varying sizes and a few garden accents rounded out the scene. 

For all the woes of the unexpected garden visitors, indeed the wonder of our feathered friends and their fellow creatures was a delight year round!

Filling the pots with an abundance of colorful plants aimed at attracting pollinators, hummingbirds, and an assortment of feathered friends was the next step. Adding twinkling LED holiday lights created a magical nighttime scene year round. The new deck garden was complete and ready to enjoy!

Hummingbirds provided special delight with their seemingly effortless flight while feeding on shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeeana), begonias, a hummingbird feeder, and even occasionally alighting on the archway.

The hummingbirds soon arrived, enjoying the hummingbird feeder and a variety of the summer annuals selected specifically for their benefit. Plants chosen included Blue My Mind dwarf morning glory (Evolvulus ‘USEVO1201’), Diamond Frost euphorbia (Euphorbia ‘Inneuphdia’), Lantana, cardinal climber (Ipomoea x multifida), as well as Caryopteris ‘Dark Knight’.

The abundance of birds was a daily delight throughout the winter.

Nature’s larger feathered friends also quickly found the garden and enjoy the various types of food available such as sunflower chips, hulled white millet, shelled peanuts, mealworms, and cakes of mealworm shells. There were various mixes of oil sunflowers, thistle seed, millet, safflower seed, dried cherries, walnuts, pistachios, and pecans. It took some time to figure out the birds’ favorites, which then were supplied in greater quantities in the feeders. There were blue birds, blue jays, Carolina chickadees, woodpeckers, wrens, orioles, large numbers of several types of sparrows, red-winged blackbirds, American goldfinches, white-breasted nuthatch, house finches, cardinals, dark eyed junco, a few mourning doves, white-throated sparrows, a variety of warblers, and even a tufted titmouse. 

Soon the garden outside the family room and living room was thriving with blooms and nature’s feathered creatures were visiting regularly. Keeping the multiple feeders full proved to become quite a challenge. And soon, very soon, arrived a few unexpected guests! The word was out!

There was the squirrel that scurried up the nearby dogwood (Cornus spp.) tree only to a take leap through the air in order to find itself grounded on the deck railing. It feasted on just about anything that was in the feeders, but the mealworm cakes seemed to be a favorite. Also, there was the stray neighborhood cat that would show up from time to time hoping to catch an early dinner, but to the writer’s knowledge, the cat always went away hungry.

A squirrel was a regular visitor to the buffet.

Quite a different story, however, was the raccoon that fed at night. In fact, the raccoons ultimately became a significant challenge. Not only did they consume great quantities of seed, they also seemed to enjoy tormenting the owner by also nibbling on the wires of the party lights. Of the seven strands of lights adorning the arch, almost all were replaced, as well as repaired from time to time, as lengths would go out given nibbles on the wires from the four-legged monsters; I mean four-legged creatures. 

The sweet nectar of the hummingbird feeders seemed to be a special treat to the raccoons, probably not unlike a child’s favorite juice or an adult’s sweet evening cocktail. Though it was entertaining to watch the raccoons’ antics at getting to the hummingbird feeder, the spilled sugar water did make for a sticky mess on the decking.

Cc1: The raccoon was a nightly visitor who finished off any hummingbird food left over from the day before.

The summer color gave way to fall plantings and bulbs in the pots and planters. Flickering lights in the snow ultimately ushered in the New Year and another season of birding and blooms. 

Occasionally through the winter the squirrels would unearth the spring bulbs planted in the pots for an extra winter’s treat. Ahh! The mess! There were still many blooms to enjoy come spring despite the squirrels selective digging.

Indeed the battle with the deer was seemingly won with the elevated garden; however, the appetites of nature’s creatures, both wanted and unwanted, consumed great quantities of readily available food.

The garden proved to be a lesson in learning what types of food the birds favored as well as which birds favored certain types of foods. It also taught that filling feeders with a minimum amount of seed daily unless overnight entertainment was desired, and to some degree the coon-feeding became entertaining enough to merit supporting a couple very well-fed raccoons. 

It remained a constant battle with the squirrel that seemed to show up for a late breakfast each morning, typically after the birds had enjoyed their early morning feast. The hummingbirds seemed to enjoy a midday/early evening feeding the most.

It was interesting to note which birds were patient and shared the feeding stations, while others were bold and domineering of the space. 

One downside to the close proximity to the residence was the droppings left behind. A heavy rain or simply watering the plants often would clean up the areas dotted with the remnants of the birds’ visits. Raccoons too left “marks” of their overnight presence, which would require prompt attention the next morning.

For all the woes of the unexpected garden visitors, indeed the wonder of our feathered friends and their fellow creatures was a delight year round!

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