In my second tale from my Canadian odyssey this spring, I’m going to take you to an amazing garden set in the countryside of southern Ontario.
You might need sunglasses for this one, for I know our Blue Tits and Robins are beautiful, but how would you feel about having birds that are REALLY colourful at your feeders? How about a splash of orange?
Or a complete burst of sunshine yellow?
Or maybe a bird that looks like it has been dyed totally blue?
This is the back-garden reality for Jo-Ann and Gerry Wilhelmus who run a B&B called Tranquil Moments. I can confirm that it lived up to its name, and it was hard to draw myself away from the garden each day where the amazing trio of birds above – Baltimore Oriole, American Goldfinch and Indigo Bunting – are all regulars on their many birdtables and feeders, along with lots of others.
The garden is effectively a woodland glade, surrounded by tall native trees. It merges seamlessly into the native forest beyond, without any hedge or fence to separate the two. Garden and nature mingle, such that it was impossible to tell exactly where the divide occurs. Wild Turkeys, Chipmunks and the like can come and go as they please.
Jo-Ann, who is ‘head gardener’, embraces the wild flowers from the woodland that come up in the borders. They include species that we know as garden flowers here in the UK such as White Trilliums (below; photo taken in a wood just down the road from Jo-Ann's) and Jack-in-the-Pulpit, but here they are growing exactly where nature intended.
Jerry is the carpenter, knocking up all sorts of birdboxes and birdtables. A House Wren (a slightly larger version of our Wren) had built its nest in one 'bird house', and an American Robin in another. Indeed, you only had to walk up to the front door to be greeted by the indignant calls of a Robin who had decided to raise her brood right next to the front door. This, of course, is not ‘our’ Robin, but the Blackbird-sized American Robin (below).
What I think surprised me was how much Jo-Ann and Jerry’s garden was in contrast to almost every other garden I saw. Yes, in the cities there are big high-rise apartments with little in the way of gardens, but many Canadians live out along the highways in ribbon developments. The typical house there sits in a big block of land – there is plenty of space in Canada – and it is as if the timber-clad houses have dropped out of the sky like Dorothy’s house in the Wizard of Oz, plonked in the middle of a football field.
This grass typically has no hedges, no fences, and very little in the way of planting bar a few specimen trees and what the Canadians call 'foundation planting', which is a few flowers around the perimeter of the house itself. When I was there in early May, it was as if half the Canadian population was out on their sit-on mowers. I saw nothing to match the UK intricate mosaic of lawns, flower beds, shrubberies, ponds, hedges (and fences).
Jo-Ann’s garden is so special that it has been featured in a Canadian gardening magazine for its natural approach. Interestingly, the Baltimore Orioles come to special feeders laced with grape jelly and orange halves (below), while the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds come to nectar feeders.
Sadly, there is no prospect of attracting hummingbirds or orioles to our gardens, but here's the food for thought. Firstly, are there new and novel ways we might offer supplementary food to garden birds? And is there more we can do to welcome plants and planting into our gardens that rightfully should be there, that better recreate what Britain should really be like had houses not been built there? I'm pondering hard, and if you've got any thoughts, share away!
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