The Birds and the Bees… and Gardening

Gardening, for me, can be an interest that waxes and wanes. I usually get excited about flowers in the spring, and then get tired of it all by the parched days of August, when all I can do is keep plants watered enough so they don’t die. This past winter on a very cold day, I noticed a large flock of birds, mostly American Robins and Ceder Waxwings, descend on my cotoneaster shrub and start eating berries like mad. Usually birds leave these berries alone, so I knew they were a bit desperate. That started me thinking about deliberately landscaping with plants that birds can use for food and shelter, and those that provide for bees and other pollinators. What can we do to help? Luckily, the library has some books on the topic, because I have a lot to learn. Most are available in ebook format, as well.

A Cedar Waxwing joins a mob of berry seeking birds in my backyard cotoneaster tree (a non-native plant, that does attract bees, and on occasion, birds).

Douglas Tallamy, an ecologist who teaches at the University of Delaware, has been a trailblazer behind the research that proves we must plant native trees, shrubs, and flowers in order for butterflies and other pollinators to survive, and we must do it now. The decline in bird populations is believed to be partly caused by lack of food for their young; almost all birds exclusively feed their offspring caterpillars and insects. The sterile landscapes that dominate our neighborhoods do not support enough insects to feed birds, but if enough of us plant native plants, we can make a difference together. Even those of us with tiny yards can contribute in this way. Learn more by watching this talk given by Tallamy to WWF-Canada.

Books by Douglas Tallamy
Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants was Tallamy’s first book about planting natives to regain the biodiversity we’ve lost. Check out the audiobook and listen while you garden!
Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard describes Tallamy and others quest to start a national movement to enlist homeowners everywhere to help create conservation corridors. You will learn specific tips on how to add native plants to your yard.
The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden by Rick Darke and Doug Tallamy
This book, full of photos by Darke, will help you create a beautiful, natural, and diverse garden that will work for both your family and wildlife.

Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest by Arthur R. Kruckeberg
This is an older book but it’s still useful – after all, native plants aren’t new varieties created by humans, but the original species that have been around for thousands of years. The Garden Uses section after each plant’s description gives a lot of detail on growing needs and habits. Also useful are the plant lists in the back for specific settings such as shady dry, shady wet, maritime sun, etc. These are excellent lists for planning a native garden.

Real Gardens Grow Natives: Design, Plant, and Grow a Healthy Northwest Garden by Eileen M. Stark is another PNW guide, but this one is packed with color photos of plants, and includes many of our best native species. The usual garden book tips on soil, location, and landscape design are there, but this time with the focus on our beautiful Northwest native plants.

Garden Revolution: How Our Landscapes Can Be a Source of Environmental Change by Larry Weaner The author wants us to plant native, but instead of focusing only on the environmental benefits, he makes the point that it’s much easier and more rewarding to garden with native plants; they have evolved right here so are perfectly suited for the conditions. His ‘design’ method is much more natural – let the plants choose their place. Your garden can be “…a sanctuary for indigenous wildlife, and a protector of biodiversity.”

New Naturalism: Designing and Planting a Resilient, Ecologically Vibrant Home Garden by Kelly D. Norris explores the elements needed to create the natural looking outdoor spaces that we crave, rather than the tightly controlled and difficult to maintain landscapes that do nothing for the soul, or the environment. You can build your own meadow or prairie even in urban or suburban yards, and help increase biodiversity, while increasing your peace of mind.

The Pollinator Victory Garden: Win the War on Pollinator Decline with Ecological Gardening by Kim Eierman shows us how we can help pollinators, which are so important to our own food supply, to increase in number by making a change from “vast green pollinator deserts” (lawns) to pollinator havens. Pollinators, not just bees but many other insects, are in a steep decline. We can all help to win the war against pollinator decline by following the suggestions in The Pollinator Victory Garden.


Gardening with native plants feels rewarding. I have just started, and now have about 20 different species planted in pots. I have plans to turn a mostly empty garden bed into a natives only section. It feels like maybe I can make a difference.

A note about finding native plants at nurseries – it’s difficult. Consider telling your favorite nurseries that you want them to carry native plants. There are some native plant nurseries in our area, but don’t expect to find the plants you want in your usual shopping spots.

Douglas Tallamy and others have started Homegrown National Park, a way to promote the native plant movement and track the progress nationwide. After you start your garden, you can get on the map! Currently there is only one garden listed in Snohomish County – let’s create more, and help our birds, bees, and ourselves survive.


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