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For the birds, butterflies
Tulips are just one of the many flowers, plants and trees that keep the home of Gordon and Sue Scaggs blooming throughout the summer.
TIM THOMPSON/Missoulian

Missoula couple creates garden that appeals to wildlife all year

Bright red and yellow tulips catch your eye as you scan the raised beds of flowers. Other plants just poking through the soil promise to bloom later in the year.

Trees and shrubs, some in the raised beds and others not, offer shelter, seeds and resting spots for butterflies and hummingbirds that are attracted to Gordon and Sue Scaggs' wildlife habitat garden at 5680 Pinewood Lane in Missoula.

Gordon Scaggs calls it "replacement feeding" as in replacing the vegetation that used to be there before they built their house and put in roads.

"(The garden is) nice from their standpoint," he said of the butterflies and hummingbirds. "It's a matter of survival for these guys."

During a hike in the hills 10 or so years ago, Scaggs began wondering how he could get the beautiful birds that hang out by rivers to come to his property. He knew he had to mimic their habitat in his yard so they would come to visit and, perhaps, stay.

So they began creating a habitat that "wasn't artificial. It's the real McCoy," he said.

They planted arborvitae to attract song sparrows, crab apples for pollinators and dogwood, now a staple in their yard. Song sparrows have been residents for two years, Scaggs said, overflowing with delight in the garden.

Western tanagers, spotted towhees, yellow warblers, ruby-crowned kinglets, orioles and lots of hummers have been seen in the garden.

"We've had color already for a month and it will go on into November," he said this week.

Some plants start when there's still frost, he said. Some types of asters flower in the late summer. Rabbit brush, a native shrub, doesn't start flowering until late, late summer when hummers can still perch and sip the nectar.

The Scaggs bought the property in 1989 and took 10 years before starting to create their native habitat. They built raised beds with rocks as borders. The rocks are not mortared together because, Scaggs said, "See those little tracks?" Sure enough, tiny tracks - maybe a vole, maybe some other bird - led into a hole in the rocks.

"A little deer mouse," Scaggs speculated. "We also get butterflies (staying in the rocks) over the winter." Nearby, a pygmy nuthatch nests in a snag.

"The Pied Piper is moving water, Scaggs said. So they built two circulating water ponds, one in front of the house, the second behind the house. Water in the behind-the-house pond travels through a series of four pools before being recycled and sent through the process again. Goldfish grow in them, not very big, but bigger than the traditional goldfish.

Scaggs refers to the garden as a "refueling station" where butterflies, hummers and other birds can grab a drink and be on their way.

In establishing a wildlife habitat garden, Scaggs advised keeping four things in mind: food, water, shelter and places to raise their young.

Start where you look, he advised. Put a feeder up where you can see it and watch the birds. Add flower beds where you look. You don't have to lose ornamental color as his tulips show.

"It's not just colorful flowers. Color flies in," he said.

"They are most appreciative critters. It becomes, for them, more of an oasis," he said.

Native plants are available, Scaggs said, but cautioned that digging them up from the wild is against the law. Look for local plant societies or national groups, he advised.

And be wary of the zone a plant will grow in. This area is a zone 4; plants for other zones may not survive cold weather or may need very hot weather. Elevation also plays a role in a plant's health.

Plants he suggested for use include echinacea, a cone flower. Don't cut it down when it's finished blooming, he said. Leave it standing so birds can eat the seeds. In the winter, when you look out your window, you'll see the tall stalks - and perhaps birds eating the seeds.

Shrubs have three assets: they're pretty and they offer nectar and berries.

While birds may not eat willows, they may eat bugs or hide out from a cooper's hawk in them, said Scaggs, who creates gardens through his business, Habiscapes.

Waxwings often converge on crab apple trees for their 2-inch apples. In the winter, they come in flocks. "It's something to experience," he said.

Other flowers include lychnis for hummers and butterflies, yarrow for butterflies and wild sunflowers.

"When gold finches come in, it's really special," he said.

"It's cheap entertainment."

Reporter Donna Syvertson can be reached at 523-5361 or at dsyvertson@missoulian.com.

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