August’s Gardening column from What’s Up? Media

Gardening’s For the Birds

BY JANICE F. BOOTH

AUG. 19, 2020

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As summer draws to a close, we can look ahead to autumn’s delights. One of fall’s pleasures may be enjoying your fall garden. The little joys—the unremitting blooms of the Black-eyed Susans, the tender roots of that Boxwood twig you planted, and, hopefully, the call of the Canada geese winging their way south. I hope, dear reader, that you and I can hold onto some of the insights we gained from our months of self-isolation and apply those insights now and in the future—how satisfying it became to simply watch the trees bud and leaves emerge. What a simple pleasure, having the time to watch the squirrels scamper across the telephone wires and the birds nibble at your feeder. 

Let me propose an easy and satisfying project based on our reawakened enjoyment of life’s simple pleasures. Why not devise adaptations to our gardens, patios, or decks to make these areas even more welcoming to those songbirds, bees, and butterflies that have entertained us during our long sequestration? Some of those little, feathered balls of energy may winter over here in Maryland while others can be enticed to return next spring to our welcoming gardens. Expand

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Why garden with birds, bees, and butterflies in mind? 

There are at least five solid reasons for encouraging these tiny creatures to visit your garden. 

• Birds and butterflies entertain and delight us. (Honey bees, too, can prove entertaining—at a safe distance, of course.) There is the simple pleasure of watching them zoom in to rest on a railing or perch on your feeder. What are they thinking as they select the perfect seed, cooperating with one another or pushing each other out of the way—not unlike kids on the playground. How does that delicate splash of color emerge from its dull cocoon? The minor-key song of the Chickadee, the melodic chirrups of the Song sparrow, the hearty songs of the Robins fill the day. There’s also the particular pleasure of learning to identify the birds that visit our feeders. Is that a House finch or a Purple finch? Am I listening to the Cardinal’s song, or is that a Robin? How does that Nuthatch hang on as he skitters, head down the trunk of that oak? It always takes my breath away, watching a tiny Goldfinch undulate like a yellow snake across the sky. As we learned during our forced confinement, there is a great deal to be observed, if we have the time and the patience. 

• Another compelling reason to provide for the birds, bees, and butterflies is the work they do in our gardens. They are the seeders and pollinators. They carry the potential for new plants and the magic dust that allows plants to flower and reproduce. Without the pollinators our mums and asters would never bloom, our fruit trees would bear no fruit. 

• Tired of swatting at those pesky flies and mosquitoes? Avoiding those smelly sprays and noisy bug-zappers? Well, leave it up to the birds! Their favorite meal may be a juicy fly or a crinkly mosquito! Birds dine on those nasty aphids and mites that can plague our plants. Woodpeckers, finches, chickadees, and (here’s an easy one) flycatchers eat oodles of insects every day; picking off a fly on the wing is a favorite pastime for a swallow. Barn swallows will eat over 1,000 insects per day! But they’re light eaters when compared to the Purple martins which eat 2,000 mosquitoes per day. No wonder folks put up those pretty apartment-birdhouses designed specifically for Purple martins! 

• Birds can also save you some work in the flowerbeds. Ground feeders, like finches, towhees, and sparrows eat the seeds of future weeds, eliminating or at least diminishing the number of weeds you’ll do battle with in your flowerbeds. 

• Finally, some of those more impressive raptors—hawks, owls, and kestrel—will help keep down the rodent population. These sharp-eyed hunters eat mice, voles, squirrels, and snakes. (Sorry about the squirrels.) A nesting pair of Barn owls eats over 3,000 rodents during their mating season. A hawk eats one or two large rodents each day. And for all of us struggling with voles beneath our lawns and in our gardens, hear this! Kestrels eat 4–8 voles each day, depending on the season! (They’re welcome to all the voles in my lawn.) Expand

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How can I encourage the birds, butterflies, and bees to visit my garden?

There are only four essentials for making your garden, patio, or terrace a welcoming habitat for these visitors.

Food: You can, of course, set up bird feeders and buy bags of birdseed. This is a great way to draw birds in, so you can get a closer look at them. A few cautions, however: If you are successful, buying seed to keep your hungry guests well fed can get expensive. Also, if you begin supplying a feeder, you need to continue refilling it. The birds that visit will come to rely on your largesse. If your feeder goes empty for too long, your feathered friends might suffer. And, prepare for clean-up duty. The birds will be a bit cavalier in their exploring of your feeder, tossing seeds hither and yon. You’ll have to keep a broom and dust pan handy or your patio floor will look like the floor in a saloon that offers free peanuts—unshelled. Bees and butterflies need only flowers—trumpet vines, sunflowers, petunias, and roses. No clean-up necessary.

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Water: A reliable water source will be a valued gift for your visitors. A few plastic flowerpot saucers will do—you’ll have to dump and refill them often. A birdbath is a charming, old-fashioned solution. They’re usually a bit larger and will hold enough water for a few days. Either choice must be shallow. The birds need to be able to stand on the rim or a rock in the birdbath. A major project that offers a lovely solution is adding a pond to your garden. A pond provides essential water for all the small creatures that share your neighborhood—birds, butterflies, foxes, raccoons, and rabbits. 

Shelter: Here’s the excuse for all of us who are lazy gardeners. Resist a too-tidy garden or flowerbed. Birds, bees, and butterflies need places to hide and shelter from predators and weather. You’ll provide essential shelter if you leave a few forsythia to run wild or create a small wood pile with those fallen branches you collect. There are plans on-line for clever insect apartment buildings you can create and install in your garden. 

Safety: Whether you’re figuring out where to hang the feeder or locate the birdbath, consider the safety of the birds as they rest. If there are cats and dogs in your household or neighborhood, you will need to consider height—how tall a base will be needed to keep the cat from jumping into the birdbath? If you hang the birdfeeder from a tree, how far out on a branch should you go to keep squirrels from easily jumping into the feeder? 

And, speaking of squirrels, as we gardeners face the unremitting struggle to keep squirrels out of our flowerpots, birdfeeders, and bulbs, let me offer a few suggestions for squirrel-repellants. 

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Nature’s solution: Try planting some or all of the following flowers in your garden. Squirrels are repelled by: 

  • Allium 
  • Geraniums 
  • Hyacinths
  • Lilies of the Valley
  • Snowdrops 

Kitchen concoctions: 

1. Hot stuff: Mix 1/3 cup of flour, 2 tablespoons of Cayenne pepper, and 2 tablespoons of powdered mustard. Sprinkle the powder around birdbaths and feeders. The birds won’t be bothered, but the squirrels may! 2. Wet stuff: Mix equal quantities of water and vinegar. Spray areas where you wish to repel the squirrels. You can also try adding peppermint oil or garlic. 

With over 400 species of birds sighted in Maryland, and almost 300 of them fairly common, what are we waiting for? Hold onto those quiet hours when you can sit and observe the world around you—feed the birds, watch the bees move delicately from flower to flower, catch your breath as a golden Monarch butterfly visits your purple asters. And when winter comes, you’ll still find a few old friends looking to you for seeds when snow and ice blanket the earth.

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August 2020

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New Friends With Feathers…

Summer is passing, if at a pace a bit slower than in years past. I, along with ordinary citizens, have been barred from my usual morning walk around the Naval Academy Yard due to the dangers of spreading COVID-19. And so, I have not been able to observe my old friends, Opal and Oscar Osprey, as they fritter away the summer months rearing their fledglings and preparing their new brood to join the September migration back to regions south – Florida, Central or South America.

Fortunately, for me, I have found another interesting and predictable walk through Annapolis, along the harbor, across the bridge over Spa Creek to Back Creek or the mouth of the Severn River – whether I choose to go straight or make a turn along the water.

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Now that I’ve traversed these same sidewalks, around the same time of day, for 6 months, I have found new friends – both human and feathered. There are familiar faces who, like I, walked the Academy regularly and now wander Annapolis, like lost lambs. Also, there are new faces, people who find themselves with time for a walk in the morning – time that was once spent sitting in traffic on the way to work.

Since I walk the same route each morning, I’ve begun noticing the flora and fauna as the summer slips away. In March I observed and was observed by a flashy, young osprey. He perched each morning on one of the masts of the sailboats docked at the yacht club. He often called my attention to himself with his distinctive osprey chirps, not unlike a high-pitched sonar detector. I named him Alfonse.

Apparently, Alfonse’s mating song was persuasive, because before too long he was joined by a plump, young lovely – about half-again his size. I named her Abigail.

Rather than remain on the precarious masts, they took up residence on the other side of the bridge, in a lush copse of maples, poplars and sycamore. In that grove, there is a dead tree that rises above the rest, a perfect perch from which to watch the creek below.

The trees on the far right of this image are the copse and home to the osprey and herons. The church is St. Mary’s Catholic Church. The water is Spa Creek. This photo was probably taken from the bridge I cross each morning.

As the summer wore on, I regularly saw one or the other, sometimes both Alfonse and Abigail perched handsomely above the greenery in the dead tree. Until one morning in July. As I started across the bridge I looked up for my friends. And, there, perched grandly on the very tree “owned” by Al and Abby, were two beautiful, big, blue herons. I named them Bluebell and Berry.

Yes, the grove and the creek below are claimed by two pairs of beautiful hunters. Since then, I have seen usually one or the other pair as I cross and recross the bridge. Recently, Abbie and Al Osprey seem to be introducing at least one young fledgling to the creek. Al and Ab fly across the creek in lazy circles, while a small, tentative osprey sits cautiously in the top of a tree – not, I might add, the favored perch of parent osprey and neighbor herons.

I can’t be sure if there is only one fledgling, or if I’m only seeing one-at-a-time. I’ll let you know. In the meantime, I’m watching to see if I can spot any youthful herons making their way along the shoreline. I often see Bluebell and Berry winging their way over the bridge and into the trees after what I hope was a successful fishing foray. They spend less time perching and more time stalking the creeks’ shorelines for breakfast.

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And so it goes… I still get occasional sightings of Oscar and Opal across the harbor, perching on or near their nest. But, I can’t discern whether they’re rearing a new brood. I certainly hope so! I’ll let you know if further details become available.

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Minimalism in the Garden

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Minimalism in the Garden

BY JANICE F. BOOTH

JUN. 12, 2020

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Minimalism has become a hallmark of contemporary architecture and interior design. Muted colors, simple lines, geometric shapes, clear vistas, and clean surfaces are characteristics of minimalism. Minimalists strive for an unembellished, even austere, beauty that encourages serenity and thoughtfulness. Author and lecturer on minimalism, Joshua Becker explains, “At its core, being a minimalist means intentionally promoting the things we most value and removing everything that distracts us from it.” Certainly, a timely approach to our hectic lives. 

This same focus, choose the best and ditch the rest, can be applied to gardening. If carving out more time for what matters most to us is important, perhaps we can simplify our landscape and its maintenance as we pare down other demands on our time. 

Let me propose a minimalist approach to the garden, based on plants that really do take care of themselves; namely shrubs, ornamental grasses, and trees. With a bit of planning, your landscaping may enhance your home’s appearance and require less of your time—only occasional pruning, fertilizing, and tidying. If that sounds like an inviting proposal to you, read on.

Simplicity is the key. Complement the lines of a modern house with a weeping cherry or elegant Lombardy poplar. A clump of Moon-grass or Raven-grass can subtly screen the meters and cables marring the exterior of even the most carefully designed house. No need to install a stockade fence to hide your neighbor’s camper and garage; instead, plant a hedge of Skyrocket Juniper; they’re tall, elegant, and fast growing. These are examples of the practical options available to the minimalist gardener. 

Let me offer you three reasons for landscaping with trees, shrubs, and ornamental grasses instead of the traditional garden’s profusion of flowers, herbs, and vegetables. 

Simple to plant

Decide where softening, screening, or shade is needed. I recommend consulting with a landscaper or experienced gardener as you create a placement plan. You’ll want to consider not only where you think the tree or shrub will be most attractive now, but also how the tree will fit in as it matures. Might the shrubs you’ve chosen grow and block a view? Or, will the roots eventually endanger the foundation of the house? 

Once you’ve devised a placement plan, holes must be dug deeper and wider than the root ball. Be sure the hole is well watered and appropriately fertilized, another reason to have the advice of a professional. Settle the sapling, bush, or grass mound into its new home and tamp down sufficient soil to fill in the hole. Mounding a bit is a good idea since settling will occur. Depending on the variety, you may need to water the new plant often until its roots begin to mature. Then, forget about it. 

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Time saving, easy maintenance. If you’re landscaping with trees, shrubs, and ornamental grasses, there is only one task that MUST be done, and that is pruning. You may have to set aside a weekend in the fall or early spring, or make an arrangement with landscapers to tidy up the shape and size of your plants annually. For some shrubs, deep pruning is best and will give you lush, full new growth; others require only “haircuts” to keep them looking good. For ornamental grasses, annual, serious dividing of mounds will keep them elegant and properly sized for the location. Once a year, your trees may need an arborist’s trained eye to remove any weak branches or detect any infestations. (Note: The minimalist gardener spends no weekends weeding. She doesn’t rush home from work to check the sprinkler system. He doesn’t spend Saturday morning pouring over fertilizer formulas. No dead-heading for the minimalist.) 

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Elegant design clarity. Concentrating your landscaping on a few, well-placed specimens fits in with the minimalist philosophy. “Almost all quality improvement comes via simplification of design, manufacturing, layout, processes, and procedures,” observes American author and efficiency expert Tom Peters.

Simplifying your home’s landscaping need not mean sacrificing color or variety, rather the minimalist landscape includes carefully chosen, well-placed specimens. They may be colorful and fragrant, spare and graceful. Here are some suggestions you may discuss with your landscaper or research for yourself:

Evergreens & Holly: In addition to the obvious advantage of lush foliage, year-round, evergreens and holly can be either trees or shrubs. Spruce and pine may spring to mind, but there are other beauties to consider.

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Japanese Red Pine: Heat and drought tolerant, these pines grow tall and handsome with meandering limbs crowned with large needle clusters, distinctive from the traditional evergreen tree. They are dramatic and require no attention, not even pruning. 

Gardenias & Camellias: These beauties retain their glossy, dark green leaves all winter. They need some protection from harsh conditions, such as wind and strong sunlight, but if they are planted in a comfy setting, their beauty is unsurpassed. Add to the year-around glow, in springtime these shrubs provide fragrant, colorful blossoms. Grow these bushes in clusters. You can prune them as low shrubs or let them grow, possibly reaching three or four feet tall. 

Nandina (Heavenly Bamboo): The best of bamboo’s qualities with none of the disadvantages, Nandina is a deciduous shrub that displays beautifully all year long in our region. Clusters of slender stalks rise up to, perhaps, five or six feet, but can be kept pruned as low or mid-size bushes. While the clusters of slim leaves remain all winter, spring leaves are blush pink, turning to green. Late spring brings on Nandina’s tiny white flowers. And, as summer progresses, clusters of berries appear maturing from green to vivid red. Not only do these berries provide a striking contrast through the winter, they also provide food for birds and squirrels. Expand

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Fragrant & Flowering Shrubs: If your garden plan is minimalist, then pleasing the senses with one or two well-placed shrubs fits your desire for maximizing joy in the simple pleasures. Here are a few exceptionally fragrant and/or colorful shrubs: (Note: grouping a few plants together helps avoid a woody, unkempt appearance.)

Boxwood: In our historic surroundings, you see lots of boxwood hedges and individual bushes. They’re distinctive for their rather bitter scent, but Colonial gardeners found the scent deters insects, so they often planted boxwood under windows and near outdoor seating areas. Their only drawback—they’re slow growers. Don’t expect a line of young boxwood striplings to fill in quickly. You’ll want to practice your Zen patience with them.

Korean Spice Viburnum: Here’s a showy darling that does put on quite a show throughout the growing season. You’ll see clusters of pink buds flowering in March and April. These flowers have a heady, spicy fragrance. In autumn their green leaves turn deep red. 

Abelia: Another easy-care beauty, the Abelia has white flowers shading to pink on dramatic, arching branches. The jasmine-like fragrance tempts hummingbirds and butterflies. And, if that’s not enough to persuade you to plant some, consider that the glossy, dark green leaves turn bronze in the fall. 

Ornamental Grasses: Finally, consider a few of the beautiful grasses that can accent a pond, hide an unsightly garden hose, and just lift your heart with their graceful motion on a summer’s day. Honestly, there are so many beautiful types that it’s hard to choose which to recommend. But, here goes: 1. Pink Muhly Grass: Also known as “Sweet Grass,” this beauty’s pink fronds, usually 12–15” tall, keep their shape and color through the winter. A mound of Muhly Grass is a consistent performer—modest, colorful, and lovely.  2. Maiden Grass: Tall and graceful, these silver plumes on dark green stems hold their own throughout the year, even adding drama to bleak winter gardens. And… (drumroll please), the deer won’t eat Maiden Grass. 3. Golden Hakone Grass: And if you need a low, shade-tolerant plant that provides some drama, Hakone Grass is for you. As its name indicates, the long, slim blades are golden edged in green, turning russet as cold weather sets in. This hardy, low grass settles in easily and stays where it’s planted, not requiring much pruning.

Consider what will serve your garden’s needs. Once you’ve chosen and planted your minimalist garden, you’ll know that you can set aside worries about garden maintenance. You can devote your spare time to reflection and recreation. 

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Divine Decks & Perfect Patios – April, 2020

Home and Garden What’s Up? Magazine

Divine Decks & Perfect Patios

BY JANICE F. BOOTH

APR. 17, 2020

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What if you could rub Aladdin’s lamp or wave a magic wand and your home would expand by one additional room? How would that room serve you? Would it be a space to get away from the demands of family and work, a place to nap and daydream? Visualize feet up, pillows, and comfy hammock or lounge chair. Would your new room be an entertainment area, a place where friends and family would gather to eat and talk? Would you enjoy hosting cocktails at sunset for a few friends and neighbors or firing up the grill for a summer barbecue? 

Where is this extra room, you ask? Imagine your deck or patio as a bonus room. April is the perfect time to examine your outdoor spaces and decide what you have available to you. 

Basics

Before getting too involved in the pleasures of choosing paint, pillows, furniture, and lighting, take a serious look at the structural integrity of your deck or patio. Is the deck fundamentally sound? Are the railings secure and safe? Do you need to add electrical fixtures, perhaps even some plumbing for a small sink? Is the area sufficient in size? Would your patio benefit from some extra pavers or perhaps a platform added for a small dining area?  If you’re unsure, call a professional. Safety is not to be ignored. Expand

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Advantages & Limitations

Once your outdoor-room is deemed safe, take some time to think about how the area has been used in the past. Were you happy with the comfort level? Did the patio become a dumping ground for sports equipment and dirty shoes? You may have to plan for a storage area where that equipment can reside without taking over your outdoor living area. What about sun and shade? When is that patio in direct sun? Do mature trees shade the deck? Don’t forget about rain and wind. How will inclement weather affect your deck and its furnishings? 

Once you’ve refreshed your mental picture of that patio, let your imagination entertain ways you might enjoy your out-of-doors area even more. 

When we think about the advantages or limitations of a living space, it’s possible to turn a limitation into an advantage with just a little creative planning. 

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Location: Does the sun beat down on your patio with its southern exposure? A perfect setting, perhaps for your relaxing spa. Imagine sunbathing in private behind a display of succulents and cacti, beneath a striped awning and decorative palms. 

Time: Only a month until you host that baby shower for 30 guests? May is a lovely month for showing off your garden’s azaleas, rhododendrons, tulips, and daffodils. With a quick coat of deck paint and some new furniture, you’ll have the perfect setting for your guests.

Budget: Can you budget for a few new pieces of all-weather furniture? Or, will it be wiser to buy some paint and freshen up the table and chairs you’ve had on the patio for years. Adding a few pillows and some new plants may be just the solution you’re looking for.

Size: It is possible that your deck, which runs the entire length of your house, may seem ungainly. Do people find it difficult to gather there? Like any large room, think about breaking up the space into areas devoted to activities; a table for cards or games in one area, a few comfy chairs and an ottoman clustered for reading or conversation, and a third area for outdoor cooking. 

The Big Picture

Okay, you’ve evaluated the safety and sturdiness of your deck or patio. You’ve thought about Nature’s impact on the area—sun, rain, wind, vegetation. As you begin your repurposing of that outdoor area, allow yourself to think again about that patio room as a space you will use more often if it meets your needs and expectations. 

When designing the layout of your deck consider the aerial view from upstairs windows or other upstairs decks. The use of pure form in your layout will provide an aesthetically pleasing geometry when viewed from above.

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Go upstairs and look down at your deck. If there were four walls, how would you decorate that area? Imagine looking at your patio from your neighbors’ second-floor window. What will be seen? The question of privacy looms here. You may want to use awnings, curtains, shutter-screens, and plants to provide privacy if neighbors and casual strollers are too near. A clever and attractive awning can be constructed from painters’ drop cloths. You can add a design or leave them white. Drape the cloths over bamboo or curtain rods to shade all or part of the deck. Sheer curtains that flow with the breezes provide privacy and a diaphanous mood. You can buy ready-made stands in different lengths to hold your curtains, or install shower rods in some areas. Another option might be to purchase wooden screens, usually 3-part hinged, that can be set-up and taken down as needed. Tall Florida shutters hinged together add a tropical feel, and can be louvered open or closed for breezes and privacy. And don’t overlook some of your beautiful, potted plants. Bring them outside too. Let them bask in the sunshine. Clustered, they’ll make a natural screen to protect you from prying eyes. Like the screens, plants can be easily moved and repositioned as circumstances demand. And, in stormy weather, they can be taken in and safely stowed. 

Under Foot

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So, looking down once again from our second story, we’ve established walls for privacy and definition. What about the floor? Those wooden deck planks, would they look better stained or painted? Maintenance is always an issue—the less, the better, I say! You want to enjoy your new room, not spend all your time keeping it looking fresh and tidy. So, choose a deck floor treatment that will be easy to have underfoot. If the deck is already finished or has a permanent treatment, you might have fun considering the addition of area rugs. Bold geometric designs? Or cool colors? Simple, old-fashioned, woven sisal area rugs are popular for a reason. You’ll probably want to avoid textured rugs. Dust, soil, and mud will eventually challenge your rugs, and cleaning them should be easy. 

Your patio may be stone or pavers. You may want to give them a good scrubbing. Mold can dull the patina of slate. You might want to have a small rug beneath the café table area or the comfy reading chair and ottoman to differentiate those areas. 

And, speaking of “under foot,” what about pets—yours or your neighbors? Will there be dogs and cats sharing this outdoor living space? If so, there are bound to be accidents. Be sure your floor treatment can handle a good scrubbing and that it doesn’t trap odors, as some material might.

Furnishings

Well, here we are. That dream-room is beginning to come together. Maybe it’s do-able! You can see the layout of the deck’s activity areas, or the patio’s theme. You’ve figured out the privacy issue, and now you’re looking at your budget. Will you want simple, clean lines? No clutter? Or, do you want lots of personal touches on the interesting tables you found at the consignment shop? Do you want to plan for some storage cabinets, perhaps old wooden or clean, plastic ones, to hold the sports equipment, jigsaw puzzles, and patio-designated dishes and glasses? Look for an interesting cabinet or stackable boxes that can keep everything reasonably clean and dry until they’re needed. 

Have fun locating the perfect table and sofa. Add some lanterns and throw pillows. Maybe there’s even room for a hammock and stand for that afternoon nap. This part is easy. The only cautions I would offer are (1) consider size. Don’t buy pieces that are too large for the space. And, (2) mind your budget. A few, well-designed and manufactured pieces will be wise investments. The pieces you use on your deck or patio will get hard use from people and from Nature. Choose material designed to take rain and wind, and an occasional good scrubbing. You don’t want to end up spending too much time on maintenance. 

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A Final Tip: Beat the Bugs

One final tip for your new room. You may not want to screen in your patio or deck, but you also may not want to spend your outdoor time swatting mosquitoes and flies. Yes, I know, Citronella candles and torches work, sort of. But I may have a better solution for you. Pedestal fans! Place a pedestal fan, or two or three, near seating areas. When you’re outside, turn on the fans. The breeze they produce will be pleasing to humans and hazardous to bugs! Flies and mosquitoes will be whisked away! You’ll be free of those pesky intruders. (Now, unfortunately, I have no remedy for ants. They just go with summer, I’m afraid.)

It’s April! We can smell the earth awakening, see the buds forming, hear the birds singing, feel the sun warmer on our faces. Soon we’ll be sketching new designs for some of our flower beds, opening up those promising seed packets, and beginning the bustle of gardening. But for now, there’s still time to sit quietly and plan how to enhance that outdoor space you may have been overlooking—your deck or patio. 

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Catching Up With Opal and Oscar (Their 19th season)

I’m writing this post at a serious disadvantage. It’s 2020, and we humans are dealing with a deadly pandemic; we are quarantined.  Our friends, other species, are carrying on their lives – migrating, nesting, brooding, and enjoying Spring’s delights.

Fortunately, I have many opportunities to observe birds, fox, deer, rabbits, and people as I enjoy my morning walks in Annapolis.  Unfortunately, that walk no longer includes my circuit around the U.S.Naval Academy.  The Academy is closed to all visitors, indefinitely.

At the beginning of our statewide quarntine, I paniced. How would I check on the arrival of my old friends, Oscar & Opal?  They’re not young any more, and there’s always the chance that they won’t return to Annapolis this year, or, if they do, this may be their last clutch of nestlings. Was I going to miss observing them? (You may recall that I first enjoyed the entertaining family of Oscar & Opal in 2001.)

I began my search for a spot where I could catch a glimpse of their favorite nesting light post along the harbor side of the Academy’s football practice field. I tried a couple parking lots – they gave me a distant and obstructed view. (Yes, there are several parking lots along our lovely harbor’s shoreline.) I could see the light posts from the Eastport Bridge, but this was less than ideal.  After further experimentation, I discovered I had the closest view of the 4th light post from the end from the launching area at the Eastport Yacht Club.  And so, most mornings, I stop there, grab my binoculars, and have a look at my old friends.

Through my binoculars, I finally got a good look at Oscar & Opal in early May.  Their nest was already quite well established. (You may remember that the Academy’s maintenance people tore out their nest from the 2019 season.) I saw both osprey – the larger, Opal, and the smaller, Oscar.

Now, I realize you may be asking yourself, “How does she know that’s the same pair building their nest? It could be any pair of osprey, surely.”  There are three ways I have known each season that the osprey nesting on that light post were actually the same pair.  First, the light pole itself.  Since the nest has been totally dismantled several times, it would be just as easy for a new pair of osprey to build a nest on any of the dozen light posts along that shoreline. In fact, Oscar & Opal used to build on the 3rd light post until Hurricane Katrina destroyed their nest in August, 2005.  That year, they rebuilt their nest but moved down one pole.  At first, they rebuilt on what was the lower bar of the lights affixed to the pole.  But, they seemed to want a more secure perch, and built a “second story” nest on the top of the upper light bar – a most unusual appearance for an osprey nest.

Since 2005, each year they have rebuilt both stories of their nest, a second reassurance that Opal & Oscar have built the nest.  In fact, when they’ve returned to a pole swept clean of their nest, they have rebuilt from scratch, and always with TWO stories, though they only use the upper level to lay their eggs.  That is exactly what they did this spring.  Their nest is a brand new, two-story, waterfront bungalow.

My final observation that tells me that Oscar & Opal are in residence is the decorative feature they’ve been adding for the last three years.  Into their nest, our osprey couple weaves something that flutters, sometimes diaphanous, sometimes sturdy.  This year, from a distance, it appears to be white – perhaps a strip of plastic or fabric.  Last year, it was yellow, polypropylene rope that had unraveled and waved handsomely in the on-shore breezes.  Three years ago, you may recall, the decorative feature – perhaps plastic, almost proved fatal for one of the fledglings.  She caught one of her legs in the loose material and hung, upside-down, for hours while her parents tried to coax her to fly free – which she eventually must have done.  The next day there was no dead bird hanging upside-down from the nest and no carcass on the ground.

I’m watching now for the appearance of the chicks.  Unfortunately, they’ll be quite mature before I can see them at this distance, heads bobbing above the nest’s rim.  But, I won’t give up. Perhaps my introduction to the fledglings will be when I see Oscar & Opal giving fishing lessons to the young birds.

I’ll keep rooting for Opal & Oscar’s little family to prosper while they’re in Annapolis. So many friends have asked me about our Naval Academy Ospreys.  It’s fun observing their adventures – and sharing them with you, their fan club.  It will be mid-September before Opal & Oscar head south, so I hope we will have a few interesting sightings in the months ahead.  

 

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