Thursday, August 4, 2011

Elderberries for Birds

Elderberries ripening (Sambucus canadensis)

and ripe ― this variety is 'Adams'

For years I was obsessed with elderberries and I can't say why. I'm fond of all berries and brambles as well as birch trees, geese, mosses and ferns; the list goes on and on. They hold a magnetic attraction for me. Then again, flora and fauna are the inspiration for Nature Is My Elixir.

Anyway, back to elderberries. Seeing them growing wild, heavy with purple berries glistening in the late summer sun, was always exciting and watching the birds descend on the bushes even more so. Cedar Waxwings are one of my favorite birds and they absolutely love elderberries.

Two years ago I finally ordered three elderberry plants from a nursery that specializes in plants for birds. One variety bears red fruit in June and the other two produce the purple fruits you see in the photo above (click on both photos for a better view). The thing is, the birds eat most of the berries while they're still green! This is the first summer I've had a chance to see so many purple berries still on the plants. The nurseryman said it would take two years for the plants to bear a good crop.

There was a time when I had visions of making elderberry wine, inspired in part by the song Elton John sings. But growing bird food has become much more compelling and over the years, I have steadily been replacing non-native, purely ornamental plants with natives that provide food and cover for birds, butterflies, hummingbirds, wild turkeys and all kinds of wildlife.

As a gardener with an artistic sensibility and many years of experience I am surprised at the significant shift in my approach ― and very pleased. Fragrance matters and always will but what means the most to me now is restoring ecological balance. In "going native" I'm doing just that and creating a haven for the wildlife I love.

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