Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

A New Garden Tote

All too often when I am working in the garden, I am running back and forth to the potting shed to get the tools I need. Whereas this is great exercise and I definitely get my steps in according to Fitbit, it isn't an efficient use of time. This Christmas, my husband gifted me an awesome garden tote so I wouldn't leave my tools in the garden (anyone else lose tools this way?) and I could carry everything with me from one spot to another.


It's actually an electricians tool bag, but it works perfectly as a garden tote. It is made of heavy duty material that will stand up to garden abuse. The 180 degree rotating handle with padded grip makes it comfortable to carry, but also allows quick access to the contents of the bag. And if you are so inclined, there is also a padded shoulder strap which is especially useful if your hands are busy carrying plants, like mine often are.


The central compartment has three dividers that can be used in many different ways. I'm using two dividers for all my favorite hand tools. The middle compartment has 4 side pockets where my pruners and scissors fit securely, leaving plenty of room for seed packets, water tumbler (good to stay hydrated in the garden!) or other garden supplies.


There are handy pockets on the exterior of the tote too. I can stow my cell phone here for quick access when I find a gorgeous flower or fascinating pollinator that I must photograph and share on Instagram or document for a future blog post. A slender pocket is used for a magnifying glass to inspect insects or other tiny critters. A handy carabiner for keys is convenient when working at another location than my home garden.

Our GSD photo bombing the garden tote photo shot. 
A large pocket on the other exterior side is perfect for holding extra garden gloves, tape, rope, plant markers, seeds or other miscellaneous items.




This tote is going to get a ton of use. It is incredibly convenient for hauling my gardening tools with me as I work. I don't know why it took me so long to get garden organized!

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Wildflower Wednesday: Hamamelis vernalis

Finding flowers in winter is alluring especially fragrant flowers. They awaken the senses and bring the garden to life, especially during the period when most of the garden is in a state of slumber. Just the other day I was walking the garden, taking in some warm sunshine, when I stopped in my steps because a sweet smell tickled my nose. I realized I was standing near one of our witch hazel shrubs and the fragrance was remarkable. Hamamelis vernalis, commonly called Ozark witch hazel, is native to the Ozarks Plateau. Usually we choose plants that are native to the Southeast, but we planted two vernal witch hazels to cheer up our winter garden.  

copyright Karin Hicks

Our original witch hazel was purchased 8 years ago and is situated under the tall canopy of our hardwoods, benefiting from the shade they provide in the blistering summer months. In winter when the canopy is open, the sun reaches the shrub, encouraging beautiful blooms to open. The large oak, hickory and tulip poplar trees that it resides under soak up much of the water that runs down the sloped landscape in this part of the garden, creating a dry shade situation. In hindsight, not the best place for this native plant that prefers moister conditions. We've enriched the soil by adding rich loam and lots of leaf litter over the years to help it thrive. This multi-stemmed, slow growing shrub reaches 6 to 10 feet tall at maturity and ours is leisurely making its way to the bottom end of its height potential.

copyright Karin Hicks

Our other Ozark witch hazel is standing in a sunny flowerbed on the East side of our home, in the supplemental water zone. A healthier plant than our original witch hazel, it is larger and stronger in just two short years. Perhaps because it gets more sun and additional water when needed.

copyright Karin Hicks

The wonderfully fragrant flowers on this shrub resemble small party streamers, but you need to get close to really appreciate them. The crinkly flowers are intermingled with the marcescent leaves on our 'young' shrubs. The scent is only released on warm winter days when the petals unfurl. Otherwise, the ribbon-like petals roll up and retract to avoid freeze damage. So clever!

copyright Karin Hicks

I have often wondered how flowers that bloom in our coldest months get pollinated. I did some research and according to Bernd Heinrich, author (have you read any of his books? They're excellent) and serious scientist, witch hazel is pollinated by a few species of owlet moths that remain active during winter.

coypyright Karin Hicks

During the day, when these moths are at rest, they often hide in the leaf litter, which provides good insulation. They will go into a state of torpor to save energy, a strategy many animals use to survive extreme environmental conditions, such as freezing temperatures or reduced food availability. In the evenings when these moths are active, they use thermoregulation to raise their body heat to activate their flight muscles. Isn't nature is utterly beguiling!

If pollinated, these blooms will develop small seeds that birds like to eat. This is just another example of why using leaflitter in the garden is so important for the nature's food web to function and why waiting to clean up your garden until spring is critical.

copyright Karin Hicks

Witch hazel is a long lived shrub and its vase like shape allows underplanting of shade plants, such as ferns, heuchera, and other low lying woodland plants. It works well as a specimen or as a border, along stream banks and as part of a wildlife hedgerow. So many ways to include it in your landscape.

I'm joining Clay and Limestone for the monthly Wildflower Wednesday meme. Do click over to see what other bloggers are sharing from their gardens. 

Monday, January 14, 2019

Pops of Color in Winter Wildlife Garden

It's been a dreary, wet winter and I feel the chill in my bones. As I look out into our back garden I'm hit with uninspiring, muted tones. The trees are mostly bare, the ground a blanket of brown leaf litter and I find myself weary of winter. More of a warm weather gal, I am longing for the pastel tones of the spring landscape that will kick start the growing season. I often find solace in the quiet season, but this year I am yearning for color. 

We often think of adding texture and color to our winter gardens through plants, from berries and flowers, and colorful branches or vibrant foliage, but there's another way to make your garden come alive.  Birds that are year-round or over wintering in your area provide wonderful pops of bold color that travel throughout the landscape like moveable art. 

Here are a few of my favorites from our winter garden.

Male pine warblers provide a cheerful burst of yellow against the subdued background. Their normal diet of insects is harder to come by during winter months , so we often see them creeping along branches before they fly down to feeders that contain suet and sunflower seeds. 

Copyright: Southern Meadows-Karin Hicks

Copyright: Southern Meadows-Karin Hicks

Copyright: Southern Meadows-Karin Hicks

They will forage in leaf litter searching for dormant insects, but even then, their tiny, yellow bodies are sunshine against the brown foliage.

Copyright: Southern Meadows-Karin Hicks

During the winter months the pine warblers often forage alongside another insectivore, the eastern bluebirds. Our bluebird population has exploded over the past few years, partly due to nesting boxes that we've added over the years, as well as the increasing number of insects available to them as a result of sustainable gardening practices. Bluebirds sport my favorite color blue, and their cobalt plumage is incredibly brilliant. Even their brick red brown throat and chest is vivid.

Copyright: Southern Meadows-Karin Hicks

Copyright: Southern Meadows-Karin Hicks

Copyright: Southern Meadows-Karin Hicks

Another 'blue' bird, the Blue Jay, can't be missed with its loud call and bright coloring. Not always a favorite, I think they have gorgeous feathers. Visiting feeders in search of suet, sunflowers, or peanuts these assertive birds will certainly liven up the winter doldrums. 


copyright: Southern Meadows-Karin Hicks


Copyright: Southern Meadows-Karin Hicks

Male Northern cardinals provide big bursts of color as they glide from one tree to another. It's hard not to be happy when you see this striking red bird. 

Copyright: Southern Meadows-Karin Hicks

Copyright: Southern Meadows-Karin Hicks

Even though the male cardinals are spicier, the orange on the female's beak and wing feathers still contribute a nice bit of color.

Copyright: Southern Meadows-Karin Hicks

Woodpeckers are energetic foragers, scurrying up and down the tree trunks in search of food. The male red-bellied woodpeckers are easy to spot with their bright nape that pops against the gray-brown textured tree trunks.

Copyright: Southern Meadows-Karin Hicks

Copyright: Southern Meadows-Karin Hicks

The smaller downy woodpecker is usually first heard before seen, as it drums vigorously on the side of trees. The male's red nape is easy to spot against it's black and white feathers.


A little more subtle, but still providing some rays of sunshine on an overcast day, are the phoebes. These flycatchers will come to the feeders for mealworms during winter months.

Copyright: Southern Meadows-Karin Hicks

Their pale yellow belly, albeit understated, does add warmth to the somber background while they actively whip their tails around. 

Copyright: Southern Meadows-Karin Hicks

The tufted titmouse is another bird that, from the distance, would fade into the background if it weren't for its constant movement and cheery disposition. These small birds don't stay still for long, but when they do, their brownish orange accent stands out against their gray feathers and picks up the tones of the marcescent red oak tree leaves. During winter months titmice join other families of their clan, including chickadees, nuthatches, and small woodpeckers roaming the woods in search of food.

Copyright: Southern Meadows-Karin HIcks

You can invite an abundance of winter birds into your landscape that will deliver those fun bursts of color in your winter landscape by providing food sources for them.
  • Keeping a organic, sustainable garden provides food for insectivores. 
  • Including trees and shrubs that bear fruit during the winter months supports frugivores. 
  • Incorporating native grasses into your landscape, while not cutting back flowering perennials such as sunflowers, coneflowers, and other wildflowers until spring feeds granivores. 
  • Hang a few bird feeders that include suet, mealworms, peanuts and seeds.