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A Purposeful Garden

Mourning dove

The last Mourning Dove fledged the other day, eliciting mixed emotions in me. My “growing season” begins before spring blooms, it starts when I see, and hear, birds in the yard. I start most days watching them preparing their nests and eventually, tending to their clutch. With binoculars and camera in hand, I check in on “my” nests (realizing all along they aren’t “mine”) and am thankful that the garden just happens to provide a good nesting location for certain species.

Dry StreamI noticed the last Mourning Dove nest was no longer active and went outside to start the other morning activity – wandering through the garden to see what’s growing and, I’ll admit, glancing up towards the likely nesting locations in hopes of spotting another active nest.

While watering the flowers just beginning to emerge along the backyard’s dry stream bed, I noticed a young dove hanging out near the rocks. Calmly, the dove sat towards the back, huddling under the sweeping limbs of the Scotch Broom.

Looking around the backyard’s dry stream bed, I realized it was only a matter of time before the butterfly bush would live up to its name and soon, it would be covered with purple blooms and the wings of butterflies and moths.

The dry stream bed area, or “The Green Bed,” has taught me a lot about gardening: Appreciating the different colors, textures and growth of predominantly green plantings . . . . . and how to incorporate my passion for color as well.


As the plantings ramble, and some flower, the Green Bed’s beauty deepens as does my appreciation for the aesthetics and purpose. It’s beautiful, easy to maintain and nature’s creatures visit it.

When the monarda’s in bloom, hummingbirds congregate long enough to enjoy the colorful blooms – I’ve yet to capture it well in a photograph but the image is ingrained in my memory. For now, that’s enough.

bee balmAs I look around, it dawns on me how drastically different my approach to gardening has evolved. What started as a yard for raising twins slowly became a garden filled with colorful blooms planted solely for my preference. Decorative plantings were guided either by aesthetics and/or emotions commemorating milestones.

Slowly, perennials replaced annuals, height, color, textures, bloom times and planting conditions came into play and overall, I enjoyed the vision of a long, interesting and colorful blooming season. I admit that very little thought was given to how my little piece of land fit into the bigger scheme of things. Helping the ecosystem and good planting practices seemed like things beyond my reach.


Visions of Martha Stewart danced in my head as I pictured myself, basket and clipping shears in hand, gathering the day’s bounty of blooms for vases scattered around my home.

decorative jarDon’t get me wrong – I still plant and will continue to plant with aesthetics in mind. Should there be a lot of blooms to spare, I’ll cut a few stems to enjoy indoors and I’ve been known to post a “Bouquet of the Day” from time to time but last summer, I started to collect fewer bouquets and this summer, I think the same will be true.

Function and aesthetics can be the foundation for any garden, no matter where and regardless of size. If I restrain myself from cutting the blooms and am thoughtful about evolving the landscape, nature’s creatures benefit and become the most beautiful part of the landscape.

Planting with purpose takes time, research, trial and error and professional input (a huge thank you to Serena Masters Fossi who continues to patiently guide me with thoughtful planning and planting). The Native Garden we began this summer is a small beginning and no, it isn’t lush or dense with all the plantings and life I envision – but it’s planted with thought towards the bigger picture. I hope Monarchs are encouraged by the Butterfly Weed and Goldfinches will be attracted to the Willow Leaf Sunflowers and Black-eyed Susan.

planted pot

I’m not pulling out the Violets wandering throughout the backyard because I’m hopeful Regal Fritillaries will find them and I love hearing the Red-Bellied Woodpeckers enjoying the many oaks in our neighborhood.

ladybugContinuing my ritual of wandering through the garden each morning . . . the first ladybug on the Viburnum was just as beautiful as any flower.

In the perennial bed, the orange Geum blooms were plentiful but I resisted picking them – who knows what winged creature might enjoy the brilliant color? The Smokebush is lush, Coral Bells are shooting up stems of flowers and the St. John’s Wort bush will soon be covered in yellow blooms.

Instead of looking at this lovely sight as “bouquet potential” I wondered what birds and butterflies might be attracted – I look forward to that landscape because THAT is a complete scene of nature. The Centranthus ruber, Lavender Towers, Dicentra, Bluebells, Fothergilla, Salvia and more are also putting on a show. I think I’ll just sit back and enjoy it.


As I walked past the climbing hydrangea, I noticed little sparrows darting in and out of the lower leaves. I passed the vine, careful not to disturb whatever those sparrows were doing and noticed a full, tiny nest with eggs no bigger than marbles.

Birds nest

Case closed. Many should enjoy gardens – and when nature shares in your enthusiasm, everyone benefits.

Posted By: Emily Stashower Behnkes Guest Blogger

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. You capture here a wonderful example of how our human minds and hearts (and some hard work) can impact our little plots of land to the benefit of that amazing world of nature that we are part of and so often forget! When we bend just a bit so as to create nooks for birds, food for worms and soil microbes (read ‘leaf mulch’), plants with gifts for pollinators, and a biodiverse garden, the natural world comes. And there is no more beautiful garden than one that is alive with life. Emily, your garden is one of these oases and you’ve given it some special magic on top of being a truly loved and lovely space… to continually attract those just unbelievable variety of nesting birds.

  2. So beautifully written – stirs up similar thoughts and I love the variety of color and design jumping out in the post. I long to get my garden and landscape going again as we settle down in the dusty dry earth of Africa just now. Soon our rains are coming and pray that changes my planting world.

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