Wildlife thicket in Boise, Idaho garden
Like so many people these days, I’ve been catching up with old friends by phone – including former Ranter Evelyn Hadden in Boise, Idaho. She’s a busy singer-songwriter and DJ these days, and I’ve missed seeing photos of her garden.

But she remedied that situation immediately, shooting and then posting and album of her April 2020 garden. It was there that I saw the photo above of her “cluster of shrubs for bird habitat and privacy.” The importance of shrubs and other vertical elements is being stressed by experts like Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott, who in her “Science of Gardening” class for Great Courses suggests that it benefits wildlife even more than focusing on plant origin (along with reducing the amount of highly managed lawns).

I asked Evelyn to expand on her vertical structure and she was happy to.

Hi, Susan, I’m so glad you asked about my thicket! This cluster of shrubs and small trees is designed to be a safe haven for quail, ducklings, toads, garter snakes, and other little creatures trying to cross the yard, as well as a privacy barrier between our house and the neighbor’s backyard. Also, shrubs fill a lot of space and keep out most weeds. Finally, I like a mixed thicket because it puts bird habitat right at the height birds want it (4-10ft), but doesn’t block the sunlight.
Shrubs and trees just 4-10 feet tall are manageable in even MY tiny yard – yay!

Evelyn also sent me these details about the plants in the photo:

  • The low spiny shrub with yellow flowers is Oregon-grape (Mahonia aquifolium). Spines make great bird habitat. This is an early-season nectar plant as well.
  • The small tree with white flowers planted near the path (so the yummy edible fruit is accessible to us humans) is serviceberry ‘Autumn Brilliance’ (Amelanchier × grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’). The fruit is sooooo good. I share it with the robins, catbirds, and other fruit eating birds. It can take dry heat after it’s established, but having that evergreen shrub on the south side of it keeps its root zone moist, which I think gives a better crop of berries.
  • The tall evergreen shrubs on the right are native cedars (Juniperus virginiana). They’ll add to the dense foliage, which is great for nesting birds and other creatures, and they are also a windbreak from the winter winds, which are typically out of the northwest. There’s a large field to the northwest of my garden, so I get a lot of that wind, and it dries the garden and makes it colder in winter. While my more distant windbreak of pine trees is growing (they are still tiny), these close-in evergreens add shelter to leeward parts of the garden, and then I can plant a wider variety of smaller plants on their south and east, which are viewable from the dining room.
Boise, Idaho garden
Evelyn also provided this more recent photo of the thicket, facing the house, and these details:
  • The serviceberry (at the right) has stopped flowering and is setting berries. Ground-level plants around the thicket are just a mix of easy-to grow grasses and forbs that I hope will weave together and completely cover the ground eventually. The yellow flowering creeping groundcover, basket-of-gold (Aurinia saxatilis), has everpresent foliage here in Boise, so it works to preserve soil moisture and prevent erosion. Plus it’s an early forage for bees and other nectaring insects. There’s also meadow sage (Salvia nemorosa), blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens), and yarrow (Achillea millefolium ‘Vintage Violet’).
  • The silver-leaved shrub beyond it, at center, is a buffaloberry native to my region (Shepherdia argentea). It has a lot of thorns and tiny yellow fragrant flowers that turn into edible fruits.

The exact mix of plants may be different here in the East, but the concept works everywhere, right? I’m ON it.

Thanks, Evelyn. We miss you!