A Love Letter from the Birds

The birds are always a-twitterin’. What are they talking about? I am learning that if I listen, I can receive messages from them. I am sharing two love letters that they shared with me this year.

My first letter involves Echinacea, A.K.A. coneflower. As this summer was ending, I was walking through my gardens and asking them how they were doing. I love to do this because it opens me up to a sweeter connection with my little plot of the earth. I found a pile of seed remains in one area, and my first thought was that it was super messy. I thought, “Ahh, I have to clean this up!” Thankfully, I looked up and realized that it was from my echinacea seedheads that were picked clean by the birds. I reflected on it and came to see it as a love letter from the birds.

American Goldfinch with Echinacea by Evan Deutsch

They were leaving a message with me, thanking me for planting things that they can use! Our avian companions, like goldfinches, chickadees, and cardinals, relish the dried seedheads of the echinacea plant. Here is the secret to giving them an all-access pass to this valuable food source throughout the winter: we must not cut back the echinacea in the fall!

Coneflower Seedheads by Jen Ott

Many of us “tidy” our gardens in the fall by snipping spent blooms. However, opting for a very organized garden often means that birds, pollinators, and other critters are being cut off from vital food and nesting material. When we leave our gardens intact (meaning resisting the urge to move dying or dead plant material from where it was to the trash or compost) during this time of year, it means that every part of the ecosystem gets its needs met – including our underground heroes, the mighty decomposers! It is so important to be aware of how our gardening habits affect our non-human friends.

Echinacea is definitely easy on the eyes. In the fall and winter, we can enjoy their dried, dark seedheads that give amazing color, the structure they add for snow and frost to gather, and how they dot the landscapes with focal points. It’s a wonderful addition to a winter garden. We already knew that echinacea holds antibacterial properties, which we had previously thought were just for humans. We discovered that they actually boost birds’ immunities. Birds get colds, too! That’s certainly something worth squawking about.

Another reason that birds appreciate us leaving the tall stems with their seedheads up is that they’re an easy place to land. They can grab a snack as they are perched up high while keeping an eye out for danger. They can also easily take flight from this higher vantage point.

The nectar of echinacea makes hummingbirds and other pollinators happy, too. It really adds a lot of support to the whole neighborhood.

Goldenrod By Jen Ott

Here is the other love letter that I received: Every year, I find a rogue Solidago (goldenrod) growing in the same corner of my garden. It surprises me because, for the past few years, I have been removing it. I did this because I thought that it would become invasive. I was also under the impression that solidago is responsible for so many of our fall allergies. However, it kept coming back, year after year. I figured that it was planted there by the birds, so maybe they were trying to communicate that they needed it. As my word of the year for 2023 is “Listen,” I decided to let it grow and see what happened.

Through my experience of being receptive to their message, I learned so much about goldenrod and its relationship with birds!

I learned that it is not responsible for allergies. The less showy ragweed is often in bloom at the time of the goldenrod bloom, and ragweed is actually the one making us sneeze. Goldenrod provides plenty of pollen, but it stays mostly on the plant. Bees deeply appreciate this source of pollen, as well as the nectar it provides. Hummingbirds also love to feed at the Goldenrod temple! I am so glad I got to observe my tiny friends benefitting from this bright, helpful plant. Its sunny blooms brought a burst of energy to my more muted fall garden, so I benefitted from it, too!

One of the challenges with goldenrod is its ability to vigorously self-seed. My compromise in letting it grow this year was to appreciate its flowers and harvest, learn about how pollinators and birds interact with it, and then cut it back before its bloom went to seed. This also fed into my lesson of abundance, as my garden gave me the nudge to dry the goldenrod to use for winter arrangements this fall. In learning about how to harvest goldenrod, I discovered that it holds many health benefits for humans. It reduces inflammation, relieves muscle spasms, fights infection, and lowers blood pressure. Goldenrod is just over here doing the Lord’s work.

Being aware of the growth habits and self-seeding of different plants helps us make the decision of when – or if – to cut them back. Echinacea is not an aggressive self-seeder while goldenrod can be.

I am so thankful for the birds nudging me to keep both of these treasures in my garden. I look forward to the other lessons they want to teach me. Sometimes they will send love letters or a postcard, while other times it may be a letter of encouragement. Regardless, they have a lot to put into the suggestion box. 💌

At My Thyme Gardens, we offer garden coaching to help you become a conscientious land steward. Book virtual or in-person sessions here to learn about eco-friendly garden management.

Until next thyme,

Your friends at My Thyme Gardens

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