On a recent late summer morning, I was taking care of some overdue weeding — overdue because my covid-long-haul body is still too often reminding me of just who’s boss. As I was enjoying the cricket chorus and birdsong while working along the base of my bank, a gentleman caught my attention. He noted that I’d already been hard at work at this early hour — I’d begun my project before 7am and already had several piles heaped with weeds.
I turned to greet him with a smile and quick, “Yep!” He continued, sweeping his arm toward the area the goldfinches frequently attend, asking me what the pretty yellow birds were. I responded while standing up and showing him the chicory that they love so well. He explained that he’d recently taken to walking for his health and loved seeing them along his route. He added that he only sees them in our garden and has mentioned this to others.
John (pictured above, and the gentleman referred to in this post) went on to say that one morning he had counted five pretty little goldfinches and a few days later he’d seen three. I told him they usually came by between six and ten. They love this area of chicory because of the concentrated cover and its location near the hugelkultur, which houses the echinacea, another favorite.
What I didn’t tell him was the more specific reason for their morning visits: It’s between those hours that the chicory flowers are open. The birds aren’t coming quite so early in late August, because the sun isn’t up and the flowers open later and later these days. Goldfinches also very people-shy, which is why it’s so darned hard for me to get a decent photo of the li’l goobers. Regardless, they always bring me joy as well when I see them partaking of our chicory.
John finished up our conversation that day by telling me that this was the best part of his walk—seeing these birds that he sees nowhere else along the way. I thanked him and continued to grin for the rest of the day.
After John walked on, I paused long enough to get my phone out and take a video of the chicory bed with a couple of lingering goldfinches. I was too far away from our modem for the video to upload to Instagram so I wandered into the yard for a closer connection. While doing so, I received another lovely gift. I happened to glance toward the far end of my sweetgrass bed and noticed two wee hummingbirds flitting about the pokeberries. They appeared to be having breakfast from the blossoms. I’m fairly certain they have a nest nearby, perhaps in the river birch.
My earlier grin doubled in size and my heart filled with joy. You see, these two examples of wildlife in our garden served to underscore the importance of our choice to shift to more natural landscaping. While pokeberry is native to North America and chicory is a Eurasian immigrant, both are thoroughly enjoyed by our wildlife. I consistently see flyers (both insects and birds) utilizing these plants.
Some of the farmers (along with their family members) still see these as weeds, even in our garden. I understand why — these plants in their fields can interfere with crops and their livelihood. However, I see them as life-affirming and have countless photos of pollinators on my chicory. Like John, I also revel each time I see the goldfinches enjoying the flowers. I already knew that many birds munch on the pokeberries, which is why I let them stand through the winter, but now I also know the hummers find the nectar of their flowers useful.
Relaying this story has me beaming once again as I recall John’s enthusiastic joy as well as my own. I’m also refilled with determination and grace in knowing that our garden isn’t only a haven for us huming residents but life-giving and supporting to our wildlife friends. It’s no small benefit that John is sharing his observations with others since they may begin to see our “messy yard” with somewhat opened eyes and hearts and just maybe will start to see our garden as the sanctuary it is.
Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humings and Being Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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