Bird’s Nest Guardian

Words by Sloane Citron

Photos by Annie Barnett

I was visiting my brother-in-law in Re’ut, Israel, this summer and was impressed with the pristine quality of his yards. The flower beds burst with color; the outdoor kitchen, tables and chairs were spotless; and there was not a dead flower bud in sight. It inspired me to bring my own yard up to snuff. 

When I got home, I took a survey of my gardens and lawns and saw a lot of work to be done. It wasn’t as though my personal nature space wasn’t attractive, but upon close review, I noticed messy vines, dead plants and overgrown trees. It was clear that there were many opportunities to make some upgrades. 

This exercise was to serve two purposes: one, to improve my gardens; and two, to get me out of the house and into the air. After too much inside time, my mind fills with too many thoughts that I’d rather not have rattling around inside my brain.

I looked for and found a gardener who I thought would keep a better eye on things and who also had more expertise in a number of landscaping areas. The first thing he found was that I had six irrigation issues—
broken underground pipes, missing spray heads and leaking drip irrigation valves. This explained my several dead plants.

I bought a good number of new plants, both to replace those that had died and others to enhance the various beds. My new gardener redid all the pots, some with annuals and others with perennials. He trimmed back overgrown areas and spent three days pruning trees, which was clearly overdue.

When I would get home from work each evening, the sun with a couple of hours of light still to give, I busied myself pulling dead leaves and branches out of the fig vines that cover almost all the fences, cleaning out ground cover and pulling weeds. There is, apparently, no end to doing these chores. I would do a section and the next day go back and observe how much I had missed. But it was a gratifying effort to see the accomplishments we were making on all fronts.

On a Sunday morning, I started a new mission and for the next many hours managed to eliminate the spider webs and clean everything around the exterior of the houseall the light fixtures, the windowsills, the barbecue, the storage shed, even the garbage cans. Because I am a cleaning fanatic, once I had started, I couldn’t stop until everything was immaculate.

With much done, one bedding area around our backyard porch caught my attention. Because the small trees around it had grown up over time, the once sunny spot was now almost always shrouded in shade. As well, the soil was almost impossible to dig because the tree roots had usurped the space beneath the top layer of soil. The plants there, though filling the space, were a tangled mess. 

The weekend before our gardener was to come help with this area, I discovered a tiny bird’s nest hidden in the plants and within it three small eggs, each about the size of a marble. On Monday, thinking the gardener would come later in the week, I called to tell him to hold off, but he was at my home, seconds away from starting to take out all the old plants. I was grateful that I managed to stop him in time. I told him that we’d have to wait until the eggs hatched and the chicks had flown away.

Every few days I’d check on the nest until one day there were three tiny birds inside. The mother bird would fly back and forth finding food for her little ones. After about two weeks had passed, I looked to find an empty nest. These birds had flown.

Because of the shade, I settled on round English boxwood, tassel ferns, yerba buena and white annuals for the area. As it turned out, the delay worked in my favor as when I went to my prized nursery, Wegman’s in Redwood City, they had an ample supply of all the plants in good sizes and quality, something of a rarity these days.

My final effort was to plant some lemon trees that were on my wife’s wish list. Though I somewhat bungled the effort and removed some plants that were best left in place, we will now be able to produce enough lemonade for our whole neighborhood. 

As I notice the days quickly shortening and autumn upon us, I happily walk outside my home to enjoy the work that has been done. The garden project served its purposes, improving the quality of the nature around me and taking my mind away from its endless chatter. But, of course, the work never ends, and there is always a dead fig vine to be clipped and a trash can to be cleaned