Georgia Department of Agriculture

Sound Gardening Advice

My garden is a musical place.

Fiddling crickets, singing birds, a woodpecker drumming on a dead tree limb, the woodwind combo of breeze and branches…

A cicada cracks open the summer afternoon with waves of rhythmic percussion. The steady buzzing of bees performing their pollination duties encourages me to get on with my chores.

The gurgling of water in a small garden pond relaxes me and distracts me from traffic noises up the street. Robins and blue jays turn the birdbath from a silent garden ornament into a feathered fountain. A song sparrow, so named for its vocal abilities, delights me with its canary-like trills and vigorous splashing in a terra cotta saucer on the ground under the sasanqua.

The catbird mews like a feline but occasionally bursts forth with melodies from the undergrowth, less often from high, exposed perches like its crooning cousins the brown thrasher and the multi-tongued mockingbird. The Carolina wren (ounce for ounce probably the loudest bird in the state) combines its cheerful song with warning calls that sound like fussing or scolding.

The “song” of a hummingbird sounds like a tiny snort or sneeze. You will hear it more often than you will the “humming” of their wings, something you can only hear when lucky enough to have one very near. Being close enough to hear the humming of these iridescent flying jewels is magical.

On still, summer afternoons I hear the snap of the seedpods of anisacanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii) popping open and flinging their seeds like tiny Frisbees. Tall ornamental grasses create visual poetry with the slightest breeze and please the ear with their rustling, especially in winter.

From the chanting of birds to the clattering of palmetto fronds in a stiff wind to the tiny sound of a paper wasp nibbling a dead yucca stalk, the more I listen; the more I hear. And the more I hear, the more it sounds like part of nature’s grand symphony. It reminds me of a verse in a hymn I learned as a child:

This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.

Put away that cell phone. Pull out those earbuds. Listen to your garden. It is calling to you.

Visit a Georgia nursery or garden center today to find ways to make your garden more musical. They have an array of plants for birds, from evergreens for winter protection, to twiggy shrubs such as abelia for nesting, to flowers and fruiting plants to provide food. Many have a wide selection of birdbaths, nesting boxes and feeders. Some have all you need to create a garden pond or water feature to bring the cooling and calming sound of water to your garden or that may also serve as a lure for bullfrog basses and tree frog tenors. Ornamental grasses are increasing in popularity due to their beauty and durability, and garden centers and nurseries have a wider selection to choose from than ever before.

-- Arty Schronce

Arty Schronce lives and gardens in the historic Cabbagetown neighborhood of Atlanta. He and the Georgia Department of Agriculture encourage all Georgians to discover the pleasures of plants and gardening.

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