It doesn’t often frost here in Fallbrook, which is located about an hour from both the mountains and the Pacific in northern San Diego county. When it does, the fruit growers have to take drastic steps to keep their citrus, avocados and other tender plants from dying. The last frost happened after a long steady rain, just after a thick mulch was applied to all the trails here at Finch Frolic Gardens (thank you, Lori!). I awoke to a magical result: just the pathways had turned white with frost. Beautiful! (You can click on the photos to enlarge).
Last February I wanted a photography hide and decided to make one out of willow (withy). I cut stalks of curly willow which I already had around the property, stuck them in the ground near the subterranean irrigation lines in a ten-foot diameter, and hoped for the best.
Curly willow tolerates less water, direct sunlight and heat better than the native willows, as well as being delightfully kinky.
The willow grew immediately, gradually sending out tall shoots and lots of leaves. Most withy structures are created with straight willow sticks that are crossed and either tied or woven into a pattern.
Since I began with irregular pieces and the nature of the willow is very curly, I just let it do its thing and figured that abundance would make a good hiding spot. It did.
A few weeks ago I took some of the tallest stalks and tied them together overhead to create something of a dome shape. I’m not sure how the willow will adapt to the changes, but they ought to begin to grow in that curved shape. I didn’t tie all of them because I wanted a wild look, just semi-tamed.
The willows are already beginning to lose their leaves, creating a wonderful mulch underneath. While the willows are bare there won’t be as good of a hiding spot, but as more stalks grow next year it should fill up beautifully.
Our large pond has been attracting many waterbirds. We’ve seen mallards, widgeon, shovelers, snowy egrets, greater egrets, green heron, great blue heron, plus fishers such as phoebes and a kingfisher. In fact one mallard couple has become brave enough to waddle near when I feed the chickens. I throw a little scratch out, and the ducks snack on that along with the grasses. The male, who my daughter dubbed John Drake after the Secret Agent Man series main character, stands nearby and scolds me for not throwing out scratch on demand.
Since the garden plants are within their first year they haven’t grown in. I thought how great it would be to continue providing habitat by having a duck nesting box. I began to search online but the ones I saw were incredibly expensive for what amounts to just a box. You could place them on shore, but they would be within reach of predators. Or you could connect them to a pole sunk into the pond.
I broached Jacob with the subject and he was enthused, so he built one entirely out of scrap materials. I had a length of 4-inch PVC pipe with caps on the ends, which had come with the house. He used this as plastic pontoons for support. He tied on the side of a crib, built a little house out of a lightweight wooden crate I’d brought home that day which had transported potted plants, and dug up some of the plants already in the ponds to use as camouflage. The plants will live with their roots trailing in and helping clean the water. What came of all these recycled materials is just the cutest duck boathouse nesting box ever, I’m sure. I haven’t seen the female mallard for a few days, so she may be sitting on a nest elsewhere. I hope that a duck does enjoy the house, and if not, it is very fun to look at and is helping clean the water as it floats. What fun!
I was going to continue my series on weeding, but I’ll pick it up next post. Yesterday we received almost an inch of rain. Whoopee! It wasn’t the damaging downpour we had a few weeks ago, either. It was steady and soaking. The temperatures dipped but not to frost (what a strange February!). This morning after I sat clutching my warm tea mug and doing some Internet research, I went outside to check out the yard and it felt like the first day of spring. Cool but not cold. Wet but not soggy. Cloudy and a little threatening but with patches of sunlight. Birds going nuts in all the bushes and trees. It reminded me of our first trip to England during Easter week five years back. There was this feeling, both there and here today of movement everywhere. The soil was stirring with awakening seeds and slumbering creatures.
I put on a knit hat and old clothes and a jacket (ever the lady!) and was all set to pull weeds from the wet ground. Instead I felt inspired to create a bird hide. So, right now you’re thinking of places where birds can hold up. Actually I already have these; they are brush piles all around the fence just for the purpose of providing shelter and escape venues for critters. A bird hide is actually a structure where bird watchers may watch and photograph birds without being seen by them. We have mallards, wigeon and egrets coming to our pond, as well as plenty of songbirds in the surrounding trees. I wanted a bird hide for us and visitors in which to sit and watch.
Since I can’t build anything (the whole measurement thing… I’ve already told you about that) I obtained prices from Quality Sheds in Menifee who built my two sheds so well. Expensive… yep, but not as much as hiring a carpenter, even if he used scraps from my old sheds. Then this morning I started browsing the Internet (trying to stay by that warm teacup as long as possible) and researched withy structures, tree branch structures, living buildings…. all fascinating. Withy is a bendable piece of willow, and sometimes other wood. I’ve always wanted to make a living thing out of willow; stick pieces in the ground, weave together the shoots and it roots and grows! I’ve seen living willow benches before.
So I figured I’d seize the day, this beautiful unofficial start of spring, and see if I could make a decent hide. There are other wonderful structures on the property build by Roger Boddaert and crew, so something natural would not only fit in and be ecologically more sound (than having a structure built), I know the wonderful feeling of being in a structure that is made of natural materials.
This spot was left untouched during the creation of the garden because somewhere in the area there had been a fairy ring, which is a ring of mushrooms growing out from a central fungus. I’ve given up hope that its still alive, and this is an ideal spot for watching birds both in the pond and in the trees behind.
I guessed where the center was, measured roughly five feet (I stepped on the string and held it to my head… I’m 5’3″) and made a ten-foot circle. Why ten? Eight looked too small and twelve too large. I also uncovered the irrigation lines so that I could avoid breaking them (only one casualty).
Old burnt tree stumps had been given to me by Juan, who constructed most of the garden. They’ve been happily growing fungus and providing some habitat as they’ve sat waiting for me to figure out what to do with them. Of course, I wait for the day after a heavy rain when they are good and soaked to move them, and uphill at that! Most of them were old and light enough to roll without too much effort.
Then there was this squat, misshapen devil. It was just oddly shaped enough to not roll, too short and heavy to move with the dolly. Finally I just walked it, bit by bit, curse by curse. I laughed like a madwoman when I put it in place. I’m really glad that I have tolerant neighbors. I often tell my chiropractor about my garden projects. He seems to really like them, and encourages me to keep on hauling flagstone, rolling logs, etc. Hmm.
Of course, right as I position it, some of the back breaks off. There was a sleepy Western fence lizard trying to keep warm.
Just when I thought I’d moved the heaviest, the last one proved to be a monster. It wouldn’t roll. It wouldn’t wheel. I brought out my incredibly handy garden cart, tipped it up, hoisted that guy onto it and off we went! It wasn’t that easy, but I did it. I had a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment similar to when I took Tai Kwon Do with my kids, and broke a board with my hand and one with my foot. I felt as if I could chop down walls! Anyway, making this ring felt right, and perhaps their acid decomposition will inspire another mushroom ring.
Then I scavenged for old twisty branches and willow. Although I have native willow growing in the streambed, I opted for curly willow for the sides. Not only is it more architecturally pleasing to my eye, it likes full sun and is more drought tolerant than other willows.
Since the willows would just be whips yet, I wanted to kick-start the hide with some camouflage in the form of dead oak trees that hadn’t yet shed their leaves. I stuck them in the mud on either side of the main viewing window. They can be incorporated into the design as the willows grow, or come out easily. Everything is reversible! (I try not to build anything that isn’t).
I managed to find some long curly willow off of the plants that aren’t even a year old in my garden yet. I want the withys to meet overhead. The ‘windows’ will be over the stumps, except for the main window looking down to the pond. The hens came over to help plant willow by standing on the shovel and in the hole slurping valuable worms. I sure loved the company.
I planted all the willow, but didn’t really finish working on the upper portion before sunset. I really wanted to finish, too, and move on to weeding. Giving the project a little time will help me in finishing it, especially since I’m making it up as I go! I’m not weaving the structure like many willow structures are, but I will be shaping them so that they grow in the right way.
A little anticlimactic, but I’m not done yet! The willow will be growing and filling out with leaves, making the roof canopy all in good time. I bet there are ducks in the pond right now not paying any attention to the hide! 🙂 Tomorrow I might look at it , recoil in horror, and pull everything out. Or not. I’ll let you know.