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 Wild ThingsÖ
Record Your Garden 
By Karen Vizzi
    One of the many things that distinguishes the wild garden from ordinary landscaping is its "aliveness" and its impact on all our senses. Prim plantings of color-coordinated flowers, neatly manicured shrubs and the perfect lawn may be pretty to look at but they stimulate only the sense of sight and (to me) are just plain boring. The wild garden stimulates all the senses ... the graceful dance of a dragonfly, the cheerful whistle of a cardinal, the sweet fragrance of milkweed blossoms on an afternoon breeze. 
     Having this sensory experience from May through October only is just not enough for me, so I "record" my garden in several different ways. Through pictures, video and journals, I can relive the experience all year round.
     Being able to take good garden pictures is really a talent ... one I am still trying to acquire. But Iíve learned a few things that have made a difference in my photos. First, pictures taken mid-day in bright sunshine almost always appear washed out. I take most of my plant and flower shots when the light is 
softer - on cloudy days, early in the morning or after the sun goes down. Of course, the critters donít always cooperate with my light requirements. 
     Butterflies, for example, fly almost exclusively at mid-day when the sun is shining. For these shots, I use a macro lens that enables me to blur the background and focus only on the insect. This cuts down on the glare somewhat, and keeps the picture from being too busy. All you see is butterfly. A macro lens also allows you to take a good picture without getting too close and scaring off your subject. Birds are a little tougher to 
photograph in this manner because they are a lot more wary of humans than butterflies. However, I find that if I sit very still ...in just the right place ... for long enough ... I can usually get a good shot with a macro lens.
     The "right place" is an area that contains food (seed and fruit-bearing plants) and water (birdbath or pond). The birds usually find this setting irresistible. I also try to capture behavior with my photos. A picture of a robin struggling to pull a worm from the soil is much more interesting than a robin just sitting on a chain-link fence.
     I started videotaping the garden last year and as of yet, have received no phone calls from Hollywood. However, I find these tapes to be an invaluable resource as I begin my planning for this year. I made the tapes at different points in the season and they bring my garden to life... reminding me of 
bloom times, size, growth habits and even behavior of my plants. I am reminded that the black-eyed Susan's (rudbeckia) have overstepped their bounds; that the gayfeather (liatris) in the corner blooms late so I can plant early blooming annuals underneath it; that I really better stake that anise hyssop because itís being battered by the wind, and that the stinging 
nettle (caterpillar food for the Red Admiral butterfly) should be moved so it doesnít sting anybody. 
     But my favorite way to record the garden is with a journal. I have been keeping journals every year for the last ten. Book and gift stores carry wonderful, cloth-bound blank books, with many garden-theme covers to choose from. I start a new one each year to record my successes, failures and the 
miscellaneous private thoughts that a photograph could never capture. I also include sketches of birds I canít immediately identify, lists of different butterfly species that have visited, and always a few perfect flowers to press between the pages. Re-visiting the garden past through these pages makes the garden future even more exciting. 
    Bird Brainers: The American Crow is not usually a popular bird, but they are thought to be one of the most intelligent. Their tendency to gather in mobs results from their complex family structure. Juvenile birds stay with their parents for 3-4 years and will help raise and feed the upcoming broods. Their 
noisy calls are also extremely effective at warning other birds of approaching predators - hawks, cats, etc.
    Butterfly Bullets: When planning this yearís garden, donít forget to include plants that will serve as caterpillar food for the species you want to attract. Butterflies are more likely to visit a garden where they can raise a family, in addition to finding food. Milkweed for Monarchs, Dill and Parsley for Black Swallowtails, Wild Cherry for Tiger Swallowtails, Viburnums for 
Spring Azures...to name a few! 
     Let It Be: Donít be tempted to disturb the garden as temperatures moderate and snow melts. Digging or poking around too soon can expose delicate plant roots that may die when the Lion of March roars in.

 
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