It wasn’t the plan, but fountains are for the birds

For anyone who’s been in our garden in recent years, it’s obvious that we’ve abandoned any kind of recognized landscape design. There’s a method to our madness, however, since our garden has gone to the birds.

The catalyst for this development — the two concrete fountains we hauled up to Port from our previous home in Kansas City. K.C. bills itself as “the City of Fountains,” and there certainly are a lot of them around the city. My garden immediately acquired a two-tier beauty. It’s really more of a bird-bath-and-a-half, but technically a fountain. I was hooked.

Like most addicts, my addiction grew, so there’s a three-tier fountain next to our driveway here in Port. Unlike my gateway fountain, this is exactly the image of what the word brings to mind. There are no fake tubes to direct the water from tier to tier. You level the entire mass, grease the edge of each tier’s spillway to defeat surface tension and, if you are successful, you’re rewarded with cascades of water tumbling from each bowl, filling the air with a refreshing sound.

When we first dragged this mini-behemoth into place and carefully set it up, we expected to enjoy the refreshing sound of splashing water from the nearby living room. It would combine with the fragrance of the lilacs and spicebushes and we’d enjoy the garden behind screens that would keep us safe from mosquitoes. We filled the basin with water, pushed the plug into the outlet and stood, mouths agape in anticipation, as each tier filled with water and then spilled to the next level. It was magical for at least a full minute. Then a robin swooped down and started to bathe.

The bird flung streams of droplets everywhere, soaking the concrete and sending the water over the edge of the slipways but clinging to the central pedestal instead of falling to the next tier. Shooing the robin simply gave the goldfinch waiting on the fence the opportunity to take its bath. Within minutes, it was apparent the fountain was for the birds, not the gardeners.

That revelation led to water gardens and spitting pots all over the yard, and sightings of more birds than we ever imagined lived in the neighborhood. Bees and butterflies came to drink in puddles. The plants we grew changed to cater to the local wildlife. Any plan we had went out the window.

Each spring I end up on a ladder soaking myself while washing crud off the fountain. Birds excrete in the water, and despite water changes, the nutrients let algae develop. It bonds with any other junk in the water to make an icky coating that has to be blasted off the concrete. I try to dodge the mucky backwash, but to get the thing clean I get filthy.

Sunday morning we once again greased the spillways of the old fountain, filled the basin with water and fired it up. And, as every year, within minutes a bird was splashing up a storm.

This year a hummingbird was among the earliest for a fountain ablution. My husband followed the hummer and spotted her nest — a first for us. That pretty much sums up why our garden has gone to the birds — they’re just too entertaining to ignore.

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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