Greenpoint: Leave a little wild for winter’s outdoor friends

Outside the big window in the front room that serves as office, living room, dining room and sometime animal hospital, the view is of a tangle of dead plants. It’s what’s left of my flower garden, which, at the height of summer, was full of 7-foot golden glows and 5-foot cleomes shading out the coneflowers and cosmos.

 Some of the dried brown stalks are bound together with blue baling twine tied to random, moveable fence posts, a move designed to keep the tall flowers standing through the August thunderstorms. I am the first to admit it’s an ugly sight.

 And I keep meaning to cut them down and open up the view to the yard. At first, I left them because the birds were eating the seed heads of the dried flowers. The seeds have all been eaten now, and I was ready to chop them down again. But then the juncos came, and seem to enjoy hopping from stem to stem. Nuthatches and chickadees joined in, and since there’s been a hawk around picking off our baby chicks, I feel like the small birds need the cover.

 So the view out the big window remains ugly.

 On the other side of the yard, between a vegetable garden and a compost pile, there’s a dead patch of former beebalm and milkweed. Also somewhat less than attractive, but our cat likes hiding in there and peering out at the chickens and goats.

 Well, we call her our cat. She, or possibly he, showed up in September, slinking through the hedgerow and working the stone wall for mice and voles. My husband becomes asthmatic near cats so we can’t have one in the house, but one that hangs around the yard and barn is always welcome. We can use the help.

 We call her — or him — Sasha, and have been leaving food and a little goat milk out every day in hopes that he’ll stick around. Sasha is cautious and has yet to come close enough for pats, but has been sleeping in the barn or under the sheds, coming as close as the front stoop. And seeking cover in the overgrown places at the edges of the yard and garden.

 There’s something to be said for a neatly manicured yard and gardens, all trim and properly put to bed for the winter.

 But a tangle of dead flowers will shelter birds. A pile of brush will house rabbits or foxes. While carefully deadheading your flowers keeps your garden pretty and in bloom, not deadheading lets the flowers go to seed, which feeds the birds.

 Leaving some wild places, even if it’s in the least conspicuous edges or corners of your yard, makes room for some wild animals. And they are around, even if you don’t see them. With a dusting of snow last week, I saw fox tracks in the woods and rabbit tracks all over the yard.

 I will make a few changes before winter comes for real. One is a warm house for Sasha that we’re making from a box insulated with a foam cooler, in case she decides to stick around for the long term.

 And I’ll probably trim the dead plants in my flower garden, at least low enough so that I can watch the snow fly in the front yard. But I’ll also leave some there, as cover for the birds. They make a pretty nice view, too.

 Greenpoint appears every other Sunday. Look for it next on Dec. 20. Reach Margaret Hartley at [email protected] or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter. Opinions expressed in Greenpoint are hers and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

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