Since I planned my backyard mainly for the enjoyment of bird watching, I decided to make the birdbath the center of interest. First, I placed it on a bed of appropriate greenery. In addition to the trees , shrubs, and vines, I installed a couple of bird feeders conveniently visible from the comfort of my patio.
After preparing a bed of loam and peat moss, I drew a circle about three feet in diameter. In this outer circle I transplanted clumps of liriope, a border and edging plant familiar to most gardeners. For a circle inside the bed and next to the birdbath I selected a taller plant and one that would give variety to the foliage - cuphea (C. hyssopifolia), or Mexican heather, as it is usually called by seedsmen.
All work, completed in early fall, could have been done at any time of the year; but getting the plants established before winter seemed best. Also, I hoped that the few birds visiting during the waning year would pass the word along and that by spring flocks of songsters would descend on my yard.
Indeed they did, and in large numbers.
The versatile liriope is adaptable to both Northern and Southern regions of the United States, growing in sun or shade, in moist or dry soil. Planted in clumps about six inches apart, it soon becomes a permanent planting and may be divided after two or three years.
The variety Muscari produces broad, dark-green leaves and often reaches a height of 12 inches. From early spring until late summer its lavender-blue flowers grow on dense spikes, giving the appearance of grape hyacinths. Shiny black berries follow the flowers.
A variety with narrower foliage, Spicata, would also serve to encircle the birdbath. For more color, the variegated liriope with yellow-striped foliage is available.
My choice of cuphea was determined by the fact that I live in a semitropical climate. Cuphea, a native of Mexico and Guatemala, does not withstand severe temperatures but will make new growth if the temperature doesn't drop below, say , 25 degrees F.
The plant, about two feet high, has many branches with very small linear leaves filled with tiny six-petaled flowers of rich lavender during the summer. Before the season ends the ground will be covered with hundreds of new plants, which I transplant to pots as insurance for a new crop in case of a hard freeze.
In place of cuphea there are other excellent perennials, especially the various species of hard anemones and dwarf asters.
The anemone furnishes showy flowers and requires no winter protection. Asters bloom from early summer through late fall. All three perennials - liriope, anemones, or asters - make a permanent planting that is appreciated by the birds as well as gardeners.
Although my birdbath is the yard's centerpiece, for a good reason it is not entirely isolated. A crepe myrtle or a pomegranate tree acts as an escape route for the birds if a stray cat appears near the bath.
No large expense in rare or exotic plants is required to attract the birds. Making use of native trees and shrubs that are common to an area is good sense. When buying from a nursery, however, keep in mind these features: blooms, berries to provide food, good cover, and perching spots.
From nuthatches to chickadees, birds enjoy junipers, arborvitaes, birches, and hawthorns.
A tree with the greatest attraction to robins, grosbeaks, mockingbirds, and flickers is the red cedar, which provides not only food but also cover for nesting.
The pyracantha is preferred by cedar waxwings, since they find the orange-red berries a special treat.
I suppose all birds like the fast-growing mulberry tree, but some gardeners find it too messy during its fruiting season. The day laurel is another tree that spots the ground with dark purple berries, but its sprays of white flowers are among the most fragrant of all blooms.
Important to a bird resort are shrubs and vines. I have used both on the borders of my yard, because a chain-link fence offers little beauty. Among the shrubs producing flowers, fruit, and winter shelter are pyracantha, bush honeysuckle, shrub dogwood, viburnums, cotoneaster, and evergreen euonymus. I grow fancy and native vines on the fence. The paradise vine produces lavender blossoms with yellow centers and clusters of bright red berries which are relished by most birds.
Although Hall's honeysuckle can get out of hand because of its rampant growth , it attracts hummingbirds, which find it makes a good shelter. I grow one native vine (whose identity I have not yet learned) because its deep-orange fruit pops open with seeds for thrushes and mockingbirds.
Essential man-made additions to any home sanctuary, of course, are bird feeders. Many bird lovers provide nesting boxes. I once used henscratch in the bird feeders, but then discovered that there is less waste in maize. Henscratch may contain grain not preferred by all birds.
After several years, my yard is a lively area of birds and greenery. From the patio I just watch and listen.