Jill’s Garden

Jill's amazing backyard
photo credit: Jill Stevens

This is not my backyard, though I wish it was.

As much as I love plants, you would think my backyard looked, oh, attractive. Nope. I’m overwhelmed by the size, like too many different styles to commit to one thing, and am unsure how to handle all the shade we have when combined with our dry, blistering heat. It’s a field of grass surrounded by an empty bed.

Enter, Jill.

Jill is the grandmother of one of my students, which is weird to contemplate because my grandma is 4’8 and has hair the color of a strawberry Good Humor bar. Jill, on the other hand, has long dark hair and is overwhelmingly beautiful. This must be because she spends all her time in the fresh air creating an animal sanctuary in her backyard. Those are her pictures, above. One day on Facebook I had to ask her if the pictures she was posting were hers and of her property. “Yes!” she said, as if having 25 different species of birds was no big deal. Every few weeks a sparrow the color of abandoned hope will visit my yard, but that’s only because they’re tired or injured.

She hasn’t posted too many bird pictures lately because she is, obviously, certifying her garden to be a Monarch Butterfly way station. This is how I imagine Jill spends her days.


Before we get to the butterflies (I can’t wait to show you those pictures), we’ll talk birds. This may sound naive, but I thought you hung up some feeders full of seed and waited for all the birds and their animal friends to stampede toward the house like last boarding call for Noah’s Ark. I was incorrect. Apparently it takes a good deal more thought to attract birds that aren’t despondent.

I took Jill’s advice and went to a local bird store. I knew I was in the right place when we pulled up and there were a dozen different birds eating from various feeders. They had a bunch of books and helpful employees that explained to me how to attract the birds local to our area. Aside from the depressed sparrows, I didn’t know we had “birds local to our area.”

If you are interested in what I learned you can read it in this post at Wayfair, which I organized in nerdy bird watching fashion. It may not be the most riveting post in the world, but I like it because it’s organized and will help me set up the backyard once I get the nerve to get started.

Have a great weekend, and thanks for your support!

Jules Kendall writes about books, family, and easygoing simplicity.


  1. says

    It’s like marketing, you know–word of mouth is best. Get one fellow to like your establishment and he’ll bring his friends. But they do expect you to maintain high quality fare — plenty of food and fresh, clean water. You’ll hear about it if you falter. But it’s worth it; it’s ridiculously fun watching those birds in our backyard. I even let the sunflowers go to seed–because it’s their favorite treat. And I swear, at times, I can hear them laugh as they play in the bath . . .

  2. Shaina says

    Our back yard is a sorry sight. We both love the *idea* of a nicely landscaped yard, and we even took a few days three years ago to dig up a 3-foot wide edging area all along the fence. I even covered it with weed-block fabric and planted a few sedge clumps and lilies along the long lines. Then we stopped. We didn’t have money to buy mulch so it was just new little plants and black weed-block fabric. The weed-block fabric eventually blew loose in places, then was further chewed up when it got caught in the lawn mower (just about every time we mow). The edging became the place where aggressive native plants grew (most would call these “weeds”).
    Sweetie started a strawberry bed with just four strawberry plants in the back yard – and it was thriving within two years to fill the entire six-by-ten foot plot! But neither of us are very diligent about weeding, so once the strawberries are done producing, the plot becomes a big vine/weed patch. When Winter is about to come, we pull as many of the strangling vines out as we can and cover the strawberry plants with straw. When Spring arrives again, we lazily pull the straw aside and pull any remaining vines we see. That’s the annual effort for homegrown strawberries. They are not in nice, neat rows or trellising from some beautiful lattice work or pots. Just plants doing the best they can in an environment determined to choke them out.
    Despite all of this – or maybe because of all of this? – we have had a steady visit from a variety of birds since we moved into our house 5 years ago. The drought last summer killed both of our Dogwood trees, one of which held an annual house for two different nests. We still have two other trees in the back yard, one on the side yard, and one in front. But the Dogwoods were the only flowering trees so I’m curious to see how this affects our yard as the ‘place to hang’ for the birds.
    Also, we don’t keep up with lawn maintenance (shouldn’t be a surprise if you’ve read this far)- which means we have tall grass 90% of the time. The birds, rabbits, bees & butterflies (and many other critters) LOVE this.

  3. Lisa in Seattle says

    You could so easily create a Certified Wildlife Habitat in your yard! I’ll bet you’re at least halfway there already. You can do it in as little space as an apartment balcony, or all the way up to Jill’s magnificent gardens. You need just five things: (1) water, (2) food, (3) cover/shelter, (4) a place to raise young, and (5) commitment to sustainable gardening/yard maintenance practices. There is so much information available online and in books about how to create wildlife habitats, attract birds and other pollinators to your yard, learn to identify and care for the wild birds in your area, and incorporate native plants into your existing garden. (I know you could perfectly well research the daylights out of these topics, but sometimes it’s nice to have a place to start.) Mikey and Nico might enjoy helping to create a habitat and proudly displaying the NWF sign in your yard. You do have to invest some sweat equity and real equity, develop patience and a tolerance for some untidiness (a perfect garden is a sterile garden), and not get all verklempt when some plants die, because they will. (Fortunately, I read a quote from a master gardener that said “you never truly know a plant until you’ve killed it three times,” so I’m well on my way – red elderberry, I am looking at you.)

  4. Stacey says

    Hi….I live a bit to the north of you. (Pismo Beach). We have a postage stamp yard, but we have a Meyer Lemon tree that the hummingbirds love. I know you can grow citrus where you are….and if you plant one, the birds will love it’s shelter and it’s blooms. I have a basic bird bath and two plastic plant saucers filled with water. The saucers have rocks on the bottom to weigh them down. There is a peanut wreath from the bird seed store, which we fill with Hoodys peanuts in the shell from Costco for the blue jays. My husband added a njer seed sock and a seed tube for the finches, sparrows, juncos and grosbeaks. We too have a shady yard and a drought, so I am taking a trip to a native plant nursery to fill out my planting border in the fall….October is supposed to be a good time to plant natives and I am keeping fingers crossed for a nice, wet El Nino winter. I will add a bat house some day! Critters in the garden = cheap therapy, cat entertainment and deep contentment.

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