Friday, 30 January 2015

Not just for the Birds: Bird Bath Central

 Sitting on a stone seat in the garden is a birdbath I love; made by my pottery-teacher mother-in-law, it’s made bird-friendly - even for all the little ones - by a large stone in its deep centre. Its rough `floor’ is probably an asset too.
Like the pink Salvias – bird magnets - in the bed to the north (now trimmed back), it’s a fave view from the kitchen whenever we wait and watch for the kettle to boil. (Placed under a white weeping wisteria tree (Robinia) it collects blossom in spring.)
Blue wrens come to drink and bathe; and white browed scrub wrens, red browed finches and grey fantails. Those connoisseurs of the disturbed garden as we weed, dig, and plant, the yellow robins that follow us, especially in the edible patch. Tree creepers walk backwards into the birdbath; clown-like, their big, awkward feet don’t allow the usual entry technique. (Do the other birds laugh?)
Birdbaths are supposed to be shallow for the birds (for safety) but our only correct one dries out too fast and the birds seem to prefer a more reliable source of aqua pura. Nearby branches, too, are perfect for a good look about for predators before a quick splash.

Until recently Ms Wallaby used the birdbath too – at least in the horrid summertime heat. For drinking.
About twice per week I refill this birdbath, tossing out the stale water making a rivulet onto...a patch of dry white belladonna lilies. If the vegetable world could think, then these bulbs would surmise that the autumn rains had come a little early and up they have thrust their spears of flower stalks. (Below are some pink ones; it’s easy to see why they are also called Naked Ladies.)

Many bulbs flower when the autumn rains come – rain lilies (Zephyranthes, Habrathus, Cooperia), some Cyclamen, belladonna lilies (Amaryllis belladonna), some crocus and some Sternbergia. And no doubt others.
Currently I am writing a lecture about bulbs and, of the many fascinating facts, the ways bulbs are triggered to grow or to flower can be extraordinary. 
Snow melt induces some crocus and, I imagine, most snowdrops (Galanthus); spring or summer warmth brings forth the flowers of most bulbs; and for some Australian bulbs, the summer rain season (Proiphys) or flooding of river flood plains (Crinum).
Day length affects tree dahlias. Dutch iris, of course, just need a certain length of time from immersion in planting medium. Fire, too, can affect flowering: just as with our grass trees (Xanthorrhoea), after fire, in the next flowering season, there can be a prolific, wonderful blooming.
But Colchicum always seem to come early – about February – for an `autumn’ bulb- so what sets them off?

Blue salvias are flowering more day by day. Honeyeaters flick past then hover at the lemon Phygelius but I don’t see them at the birdbath. But it’s used by many others. My spring-time friends, the yellow robins, may have somewhere cooler now and only sometimes visit the garden. The fairy blue wrens seem to be here year-round, the garden and property big enough for their needs, while red-browed finches only pass through – frequently, a joy. All, I think, are enticed or encouraged – or it’s even made possible for them to be here in summer – by the reliable supply of clean water in a fairly cat-free place.

And now the flowers like it too.
Jill Weatherhead is a horticulturist, writer, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, and works throughout Victoria (

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