We are situated in a leafy suburb very near the western tip of the island that hosts the city of Montréal. Our small municipality has, fortunately for our purposes, an unusually high tree cover which plays no small part in the presence of plentiful wildlife, despite the fact that this is not open countryside. Here is a rough map of the major features of the garden:
The back garden has a moderately extensive area of lawn that one of the gardeners at least would like to reduce by planting native shrubs and flowers – however, it is over the weeping field for our septic tank and if ever that has to be worked on it is easier to replace grass than mature shrubs. Sometimes compromise is essential. In consolation, it is liked by Eastern Cottontail Rabbits that come to graze and by Gray Squirrels who plant nuts at random. Skunks are not averse to the grubs that live in the soil and raccoon families will wander through at sunset in search of something to snack on.
The open, lawn area and the house itself are surrounded by a good mix of mature trees, both evergreen and deciduous including paper birch, hemlock, larch, rowan, maple, redwood, pin oak, sour cherry, fir and spruce, catalpa and others. There are also dense berry-bearing shrubs, especially dogwoods, that sustain small birds and give shelter. These tress and shrubs encroach on the more formal garden and hide beneath their shade extensive areas of “scruffiness” where birds and mammals can forage for food, make homes and avid predators and the worst of the weather. In one corner under the European larch tree we have made a small “stumpery” … basically a rocckery made of wood rather than stones and originally inveneted by the Victorians. This is full of nooks and crannies that provide shelter but wher insects live, thus offering food to the creatures seeking it.
Between the maple tree on the eastern boundary and a tall spreading fir tree we have installed a pond with a small waterfall and pumped water recirculation. The impermeable lining is bonded to a felt matting that encourages moss growth along the margins. Without a shadow of a doubt, this pond is the feature most essential to attracting birds to the garden. During spring migration, for example, many, many warbler species will come down to the water to bathe and drink and cool off. They particularly enjoy doing this in the stone-filled header pool to the waterfall where they can stand in a couple of inches of fast flowing water spilling over the lip. If you put nothing else in your intended wildlife garden, install some sort of moving water.
More traditionally formal plantings (for the old-fashioned gardener in our souls) focus on year round colour, dahlias, many varieties of lily, some roses, milkweed etc. There are hostas, rhododendron, azalea, various culinary herbs, lavender, clematis, magnolia grandiflora and magnolia stellata, coneflowers and others too numerous to mention here.
Finally, in one corner is a small vegetable patch and a larger collection of blackcurrant bushes … an essential fruit almost impossible to purchase in the stores. Interestingly, Canadian birds simply ignore the blackcurrants. Not interested at all – whereas European birds gorge themselves silly on the fruits to the extent that unless you grow them in a fruit-cage with bird proof netting you can say goodbye to them altogether.
There are other pages on this site that go into each of these groups of plants in more detail, and we will be talking about most of them week by week in the journal as they each come into their seasonal best.
A short digression … If you are reading this page on a regular desktop or laptop computer screen you will have noticed the rather interesting column of photographs to the right. However, if you are reading it on a mobile device such as a smartphone or iPad you will see all the images down at the bottom of the page. I know this is not ideal design but it’s what mobile devices do to web pages in order to fit it all in. C’est la vie … be happy in the knowledge that there are almost no more pages laid out like this 🙂