The grateful deadheader

The Deadhead Basket (© Huffygirl)

I’m going around the  garden with my deadhead basket in hand, gently snipping or pulling off spent blooms. This is my most soothing time of day. I AM the grateful deadheader – the one who pulls and snips off dead flowers, so the plant can bloom anew. I wish I had coined this phrase, grateful deadheader, but I can’t take credit. Years ago I read an article in a gardening magazine about a couple with extensive gardens, and how they divided up the work to maintain such a huge landscape. The wife pointed out that she did the deadheading and was thus the grateful deadheader. The term struck a chord – I’d never thought of deadheading as something to be grateful for. It seemed like thankless, constant work. In fact for years I purposely avoided planting anything that needed deadheading to thrive, thinking my time was much too important to spend it bringing out the dead. But, if you don’t want to deadhead, you’re severely limited in what you might plant in your garden. Begonias, Impatiens, any lazy plant where the dead blooms just fall off – these I  find too uninspired and prosaic for my garden.

Petunia transformed into a dramatic spiller. (© Huffygirl)

So, I decided to try it. I pulled out an old basket and an inexpensive pair of scissors, and left them  by the back door where I could grab them easily. And I started deadheading. Whenever I had a few minutes, I’d creep around the garden, clipping, pulling, filling my basket with dead blooms. Eventually, two things happened. My gardens really, well, blossomed. And I relished in the quiet moments I would snatch here and there to perform a task so mundane, yet so important, Why this is soothing, I still don’t know. When I’m going from plant to plant, tenderly checking for dead blooms, I get the same feeling I used to have when sneaking in to peek at my sleeping children. That sense of quiet nurturing. Plants produce flowers as their seeds; once the seeds are produced, the plant feels its work is done. Seeds ready to go, no need to put out any more energy. But clip off the seeds, the plant says “Oh, my seeds are gone, I need to produce more” and voila’ – the plant thrives, blooming like crazy, filling out, adding branches. Do not our children do the same with quiet daily nurturing? So deadhead I will. And gratefully.

Deadheaded zinnias grow from a spindly stem to a multi-branched bush. (© Huffygirl)

© Huffygirl 2011

(Disclaimer: In no way does Huffygirl mean to offend persons who plant begonias, impatiens and other self-deadheading flowers.)

News from the Huffy aviary

Goldfinches return to the newly clean feeder! (© Huffygirl)

Even though the snow is gone for most folks, the birds still need and appreciate goodies from your feeder. If you still have your bird feeders out, you’ve probably noticed the goldfinches have almost completed their summer transformation to their full yellow uniforms. I hadn’t seen any goldfinches for several days and wondered what was going on. Then I remembered – after the 40 days and nights of rain that we’ve had, the finch food may have gotten wet. Goldfinches are very particular about not eating seed that might be moldy or spoiled. If there is any wet seed in the feeder, they eschew it. Today I went out, emptied the finch feeder, and sure enough there was a small clump of wet seed at the bottom. This necessitated scrubbing out and drying the feeder and putting in fresh seed. In no time at all, the finicky goldfinches were back in all their finchy glory! Goldfinches are the strictest of vegans of the bird world – eating only seeds, and apparently pretty particular about it. They probably also do a little birdy Yoga and only drink soy lattes too, but I can only guess at that. Since goldfinches do not nest until mid summer, you’ll see them pretty much hangin’ around the feeders for the next couple months, adding bright yellow to your backyard landscape.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak - not the one I saw in my yard, but close enough! (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Today, I caught a glimpse of a bird I’ve never seen in my back yard, and perhaps will not see again. It was a male rose breasted grosbeak, who did not stay long enough for me to grab the camera. According to my bird book, the grosbeak is not a city-dweller, favoring scrubby habitats, so he must have ventured into town looking for food. Finding all the birdy restaurants closed, and no berries on the trees yet, he decided to stop by my feeders for a bite, but was too coy to stay for the photo shoot.

The starlings have been back for about a month, the urban gangsters of the bird world. They come in big groups, scarf all the food and scare the other birds away. Then they fight with each other over what is left. There doesn’t seem to be any way of keeping them away, although they do hang back if large groups of the better-behaved  birds are around, not unlike the “Samaritan woman at the well”  of the bird world.  They are especially greedy over the suet. If you have an upside-down suet feeder this will discourage them, as they don’t like to eat upside down. Otherwise, it may be time to put the suet away, if you don’t want starlings swarming all over your feeders.

Rogue squirrel baffles baffle! (© Huffygirl)

One rogue squirrel has figured out how to get up on the bird feeder pole. I never witnessed how he did it, but must have gotten up by jumping on the baffle from the patio. We’ve moved the baffle up higher and have not seen him back yet, so that may have done the trick.

Some people put their bird feeders away for the summer and let the birds fend for themselves. I tend to leave them out at least until June-July, so the busy new parents in the bird world will have a place to eat in between tending their young. If you’re getting messy shells and seeds on the ground spoiling your landscaping, try shelled peanuts and shelled sunflower seed instead, which leave less ground mess. You can also plant low-growing junipers under your feeder pole, so the mess falls below the branches where it’s not seen. Just be careful to choose low bushes, or the squirrels will use them to jump up onto the feeders. If you have a bird house and want to watch some birds nesting, you should put it out now.  Leave any old nests you see in your trees in place, as some birds return to reuse their nests from previous years.

Enjoy watching your spring and summer birds!

Mr. Goldfinch (© Huffygirl)

© Huffygirl