The Solace of the Wildlife Garden

Flame Skimmer dragonfly | Libellula saturata
Papilio rutulus | Western Tiger Swallowtail on honeysuckle
Papilio rutulus | Western Tiger Swallowtail on honeysuckle

Lately it feels like the garden is taking more care of me than I am of it.

The world of humans is so fraught with angst and urgent concerns (which we humans seem apt to self-create) that, again, I find myself in deep appreciation for the respite of the garden and simpler creatures.

I’m leaning on this garden as a friend in need of solace, and it delivers. Absorbing and appreciating the life all around eases me out of human worries for a meditative retreat. It is a symbiotic dance in which I’m not sure where the garden ends and I begin. It is a healing space to just relax into and as whatever this curious aliveness is that we call life.

Listening to the enchanting coo of the mourning doves, feeling the wind wash over the landscape, watching the mesmerizing glide of fish through water–this is my favorite meditation.

This poor little skunk didn’t seem well. Possibly just thirsty as I think it was trying to drink from the koi pond. I put a little basin of water for it in the field. Normally they don’t wander during the day. In the photo is the water cart we use to transport the fertilized pond water to plants. Very handy during the drought too.

There is just something about watching fish slowly drift through water that is instantly calming. Besides being a balm for the cares of the day, the koi and and other fish supply us with an on-site liquid fertilizer for our plants. For anyone contemplating adding a pond to their garden, I recommend researching “natural ponds” –for a system aligned with natural processes. There are books and online forums on the topic. Ours, being an old cistern, wasn’t designed this way, and we finally got a filter to aid the water quality and harvest the fertilized water for our plants.

The pipevine swallowtail caterpillars are amusing to watch as they hungrily devour their only host plant: the aristolochia vine. Though we’re still seeing a few pipevine swallowtail butterflies flitting around the garden, most of them have mated and produced their eggs, and the hatched caterpillars have grown full-sized. Now most of the caterpillars are scouting around in their multi-legged crawl, looking for a spot to call home for the chrysalis. We’ve been surprised to see how far some will trek to find their preferred spot. Most are up high on the shed near where the vine grows, but some journey further. I just noticed one on a building that is probably a good 50-75 feet from the vine. That’s a lot of crawling for a caterpillar!

We’ve also seen the usual Gulf Fritillary butterflies, a few Tiger Swallowtails, some buckeye butterflies and West Coast Ladies.

The new butterfly garden will take some years to get established, but most of the new plants are hanging in there so far. The plan is to keep it a semi-wild spot with as many host plants for a variety of butterflies as possible.

Western Fence Lizard
Western Fence Lizard

I wrote before about it being a bumper year for ladybugs. Besides those, there also seems to be a population boom of fence lizards. I used to call all the lizards here Alligator Lizards, but I think what I usually see are actually the Western Fence Lizard. I’m not a big lizard fan, but I’m growing to like them a little. One was very friendly and let me photograph him as he was resting atop an old, yes, fence post. He even showed off his pretty iridescent blue neck and aqua colored tummy. I read that the Western Fence Lizard’s blood has a protein which, when bitten by a Lyme-disease-carrying tick, neutralizes the Lyme bacteria in the tick. I was excited to learn more, but a later study suggested it is more dynamic than that. You can read up on that study here.

Pacific Gopher Snake
Pacific Gopher Snake

While we’re on scaled creatures, we also accidentally woke up a slumbering gopher snake recently. We were removing an old rotting wine barrel planter and it was underneath it. It seemed quite groggy and shy and though I’m skittish about snakes (having grown up around rattlers and other poisonous types) I felt a little bad about disturbing its rest and nook. Gopher snakes look a lot like rattlesnakes and though I’ve studied the differences at length, I still find it hard to tell. The gopher snake is favored amongst those of us trying to garden in gopher territory.

I think this is a Downy Woodpecker (Picoides Pubescens). He visited this fountain every day for about a week.
Atop the fountain is a Downy Woodpecker (Picoides Pubescens). He visited this fountain every day for about a week.

Though we mercifully received some late rains and the rainfall total is much better than last year, Sonoma County, like much of the western U.S., is still in a drought. We continue to find the occasional tree that is dead or barely alive. The wild animals seem thirsty and tend to make their way to the bird fountains.

This downy woodpecker visited every day for while. To protect the birds from my cat, I’ve just put up some wire fencing around the bird fountains. I don’t like the way it looks, but I’d rather protect the birds.

In the organic food garden, we’ve harvested blueberries and raspberries and the usual kale, lettuce and other greens, but most of the summer crops are not yet bearing. We’ve had some losses to deer, who seem especially hungry. I just saw deep hoof prints in the middle of a raised bed containing peas and lettuce. They have also almost stripped the bottom levels of my espaliered apples. I went out and sprayed the area with some old essential oil perfume I never use, to see if the scent will dissuade them.

Pacific tree frog (Pseudacris regilla) spotted at night, taking cover from the flashlight inside a raised garden bed.
Pacific tree frog (Pseudacris regilla) spotted at night, taking cover from the flashlight inside a raised garden bed.

The frogs are having another tough year of drought conditions too, so I was glad to spot this one on the side of a raised garden bed while we were checking for deer in the garden at night.

The late-spring and summer pruning is on my to-do list, and I’ve made a start, but the rest awaits me returning to more active garden leanings.

And finally, it’s lavender harvest time again! The essential oils scent the air and the bees are very busy. We cut it for bunches and dry them (and leave some for the bees). As you may have experienced yourself, standing near a lavender field in bloom envelops you in a relaxing aroma–another solace from the garden.

Time for the lavender harvest! The bees are busy and so are we.
Time for the lavender harvest! Smells heavenly.

Hope you are all well and taking solace from your garden or nature spot!


14 thoughts on “The Solace of the Wildlife Garden

  1. My garden is jungle warfare as usual at this time of year – the weeds grow faster than I can deal with them and the bindweed is particularly rampant. But I am harvesting some stuff to eat and I know what you mean about the healing effect of being immersed in nature.

    1. Ha! Cute about the jungle warfare. Here it gets suddenly dry this time of year, and weeds and grasses all go to seed and turn brown, unless they are near an irrigation emitter. We do get the bindweed too—so invasive. Glad you have some harvests for meals. I always enjoy reading what you share from your garden and home.

  2. Your garden is so full of wild life! I think your gopher snake is beautiful and and I have never seen anything like your lizard. I think the more you see them in the garden the more they seem like friends. I have never made much effort to attract butterflies, having concentrated on bees but I should really try a bit harder for them. Here they tie human hair to the vines to try and put deer off approaching them – they say it is the human smell that deters them. Maybe you should ask for a doggy bag the next time you go to the hairdressers, to tie to your apple trees? Amelia

    1. Hi Amelia! Yes, I think you are right…the more we see them in the garden, the more like friends they become. I bet butterflies would love your garden and they are so fun to watch. Good idea about the hair! I didn’t know they used it in vineyards! That was a great post about those two snakes in your garden and you’ve inspired me to try edible currents.

  3. Every time I read one of your posts I am transported to your peaceful, fragrant gardens. I am finally enjoying my flowers and herbs here in the midwest. It is a soothing escape isn’t it? We are not at drought levels yet but heading in that direction. Also dealing with voles which are tunneling throughout my gardens, eating bulbs and flowers and tearing the place up. I think there is an entire colony living in my yard. Scoundrels! Enjoyed your post very much, you certainly have a way with words. Be sure to let me know if you ever write a book!

    1. This warms my heart so much! Thank you! Yes, the garden is a soothing escape. I hope you get some rain and that those voles ease up! I look forward to catching up on posts from my fave bloggers like you!

  4. Hello, my favorite gardener! Did I tell you that I decided to plant sunflowers this year in sympathy for the citizens of Ukraine. Bought more seed than I intended, ten varieties. They are blooming now and I absolutely love them. The big mammoth ones are just starting to bud. Can’t wait until they open! It’s hot here right now and they love it.
    Speaking of garden wildlife, I am carefully watching for those buggers, the tomato worms. not here yet.

  5. The birdbaths in my garden are the best places for viewing my feathered friends, so it touched me that you protect your birds from your cat at such an important and essential place for them. Bravo!

    1. Thank you Jayne! Yes we love providing water for the birds to drink and bathe. And the tiny winged creatures seem to need it too, like the bees and hummingbirds. Our beloved kitty adopted us a few years ago and we love her so much, but alas she has her instincts. I wish I was a metalworker. If so, I would design a kind of wire sculpture around the fountain and birdbaths to let the birds in but not the kitty. 🙂 For now, I must be content with wire fencing.

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