Springtime at the Arboretum

I spent the morning surrounded by birdsong at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. The chickadee is my spirit animal, or is it spirit bird?

It’s springtime in Minnesota and life is beautiful!

Especially since our very own Minnesota Landscape Arboretum was named The Best Botanical Garden in the country in the 2017 USA Today Reader’s Choice Survey.

Twenty botanical gardens from around the U.S. were nominated by a panel of experts and the Arboretum was voted number one.

I have to admit, I did more than my fair share of lobbying for votes. I’m lucky enough to live about 20 minutes from the Arboretum in Chanhassen, MN, a southwest suburb of the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul. It’s located just down the road from Minnesota icon Prince Rogers Nelson’s Paisley Park studio.

In fact, Prince enjoyed spending time there.

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Prince at the MN Landscape Arboretum. Photo Credit: Arboretum website

I have an annual membership, so I can enjoy the arboretum year-round, in my state that celebrates four resplendent seasons, each uniquely gorgeous in its own right. While there’s a three-mile trail that winds its way through the various gardens, an avid gardener or photographer can find small wonders to entertain herself in just one small area on multiple visits.

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The daffodils are coming soon!

So even though most spring bulbs and flowering trees are still weeks away from blooming, I visited the garden this morning to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air that April ushered in. Maple syrup was flowing into buckets hung on the trunks of the giant maples and the smokestacks were billowing out long gray plumes at the Maple Sugar House.

Waves of daffodil and tulip leaves stood at attention on every hill, garden and wooded area. In just a few weeks the entire arboretum will be awash in a sea of color and fragrance.

I had planned to join the mothers pushing strollers, retirees and tourists who enjoy daily walks on the 3-mile trail through the garden today.

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As I was crouching down to peer at the plants, I heard a rustling at my knee. The friendly garter snake. Lots of wildlife at every turn.

Instead I got side-lined in the very first garden I came across. I hadn’t been expecting much color, but as it’s my first season as a member, I thought I’d familiarize myself with the various areas, and the plants they contained. It’s always fun to try to identify the early foliage of the perennials as they first poke through the soil. But I was pleasantly surprised to find many pops of color sprinkled throughout the first garden.

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A cold hardy Dwarf Iris (Frank Elder) 4/23

I planted my first Iris garden last September, with bulbs from the National Iris Society’s sale at the Arboretum in August. So I was delighted to find these little beauties nestled into the rocks.

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Snowdrops. Beautiful blue, too!

Snowdrops are the earliest blooming bulbs to appear on the scene, just as the last snow is melting in March, with the little cups of crocuses following hot on their heels.

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Brilliant purple crocus

Besides hunting for blooms and identifying bird calls, spring is an excellent time to stop and learn something new, that I might normally just breeze by, thinking “oh that’s pretty.” The skeletons of espaliered apple trees stopped me dead in my tracks. The outdoor living garden has a small square paneled on three sides with these ghostly beauties.

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Espaliered Haralson Apple Tree – Introduced in 1922 by the U of M

Then there are the gorgeous structural shrubs that flourish year-round and never fail to wow, such as this beautifully sculpted Korean Boxwood. Love the vibrant foliage. I have two miniature boxwood in my fairy garden at home, so they’re a favorite of mine.

Korean Boxwood

Finally when you’re not in a big rush, during the lull before the full spring bloom and its resultant crowds, solitary time in the gardens allows for time to stop and appreciate the beautiful sculpture, art installations, benches and other hardscape features that memorialize loved ones inspired by nature. I thought this was especially poignant.

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In addition to the beautiful grounds, the Arboretum features events and workshops year-round. I’m looking forward to Yoga in the Garden, using the On-Leash Trail with 3 energetic terriers, plant sales, and the 20th Annual Bud Break and Daffodil Dash 5K coming up on May 7th.

For more information, visit the Landscape Arboretum website at arboretum.umn.edu.

In whatever part of the world you call home, I hope you take some time this month, to get out and enjoy nature. Your senses, mind, body and spirit will thank you.

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Birding – Nature’s Yoga

 

A bird does not sing because it has an answer. A bird sings because it has a song.

– Joan Walsh Anglund

There is only one thing in life that motivates me to wash a window, and that’s to better appreciate the fine details of the birds gathered at my feeder.

Just outside my window there is a whole bustling world of little creatures performing a show just for me.

Nature is one of my greatest inspirations, and the most effective anti-depressant available without a prescription. Birds make me unspeakably happy, just by being. All I have to do is provide them a little enticement, some food, a garden, some water and they are my faithful friends year round.

Stepping outside on a cold winter morning, to take out the trash, I hear cheerful songs surrounding me in all directions, from birds on high, unseen in the tall trees dotting the suburban landscape.  A tell-tale monkey call lets me know a pileated woodpecker is nearby, and if I’m lucky he will come swooping by with his pterodactyl–like head and giant wing-span, with all his red-mohawked glory.

Pileated Woodpecker (dryocopus pileatus)

I read somewhere that birdwatching is nature’s yoga. It helps us all slow down and breathe.

There is no instant gratification in bird-watching. If you want a photo of a bird, you will never capture it by making a mad dash for your iPhone. You will have to sit quietly. As you patiently wait, you’ll gradually become more aware of sound, of birdsong, wind, the leaves rustling. You’ll begin to watch for movement and color, staring fixedly between branches and leaves. During this quiet observation, you begin to take note of your own breathing, your heart rate slowing. It’s like meditation.

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Bird-watching is also good for mental alertness and acuity. When you go to a museum, you study paintings, brushstrokes, a painter’s use of light and shadow. When you go to a city, you may study the architecture,  a certain style, arches, columns, or building materials. When you see a fashion show, you study the sophistication or elements of the design, the intricate details of beading or lace, the quality of the fabrics.

With birding, the objects of your study are typically hopping, flitting, flying or seeking cover. Do you know how many types of finches, sparrows and warblers there are? Do you know how difficult it is to discern one hawk from another? A zillion and yes. I know.

Even with guidebooks at the ready, I have trouble distinguishing between finches and warblers, so similar are the color and marking of their feathers. There are so many different variables in look and behaviors, type of beak, wing-patterns, the shape of a tail. tail, the notes of a birdsong. If you’re very lucky, you will see operatic displays of romance or jealousy in territorial birds or mating pairs. I once saw a breeding pair of pileateds flying back and forth from my suet log to the tree and regurgitating food in the mouth of a baby woodpecker. I never regurgitation could be so adorable.

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An Eagle from the Wildlife Rehab Center who attended Mark & Michelle’s wedding.

Bird-watching can also lead to human romance. Who needs eHarmony when you’re part of a passionate community of birders? My friends Mark and Michelle met through a birding group on Facebook. They go bird-banding together, at night, with coal miner lights strapped to their heads. They rescue raptors. They travel to exciting birding destinations, like South America. They built a huge backyard waterfall and pond to attract more birds to their yard. Did I mention that among the most distinguished guests at their wedding, were several raptors from the rehabilitation center where Michelle volunteers?

Mark who works at All Seasons Wild Bird Store in Minnetonka, says”Winter birds, with their spring songs and colorful attire, remind a person that life should be happy, not sad.”

If you’d like to become a backyard birder and enjoy all the mental and physical benefits, here is a variety of seed to help you get started. My $15 membership at my local Wild Bird Store, saves me 10% off all my purchases.

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Sunflower chips attract all the little songbirds. Especially my darling chickadees and nuthatches. Nuthatches are the only birds that run head first down a tree trunk. The Berry Nutty blend is a higher calorie blend, great for winter feeding because of its critical nutrients and antioxidants. I like to put out a bowl of peanuts especially for the blue jays, and watch them come and go like planes at the airport. They cache their nuts and can remember hiding spots months later. Golden Safflower is another songbird favorite, but people like it, because the squirrels don’t. A squirrel has gotta eat, too, though! And nyger thistle is a favorite of finches, chickadees and ground-feeding juncos in winter.

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Finally, the best birding gift I ever received was a woodpecker log, over a decade ago now. It’s a birch log feeder with holes drilled to fit these year-round, no mess suet plugs. I can sit at my window and watch seven different varieties of woodpeckers come to feed. I’ve seen cardinals and flickers eat from it as well.

 

I’d like to share a small portion from a poem written by one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver. The poem is entitled Snow Geese, from her collection of poems, “Why I Wake Early.”

“The geese

flew on.

I have never

seen them again.

Maybe I will, someday, somewhere.

Maybe I won’t.

It doesn’t matter.

What matters

is that, when I saw them,

I saw them

As through the veil, secretly, joyfully, clearly.”

If feeding the birds in your own yard isn’t an option for you, I encourage you to check out one of my favorite pages on Facebook, Ricky Montgomery’s Wildlife. His feeder cameras are amazing.