Bird Cottage, (Book Review)

I just finished the most unusual and delightful book I’ve read so far this year! Bird Cottage by Eva Meijer is a novel based on the life and research of Len Howard. Len was born Gwendolen Howard in 1895 in Wallington, UK. She grew up in a bird-loving, artistic family–her father was a poet and dramatist–and became a violist with an orchestra in London.

After years of a successful musical career, she decided, at age 40, that she’d had enough of city life and that what she really wanted was to live quietly in the country observing and interacting with birds.

She moved to Ditchling in East Sussex, had a small home constructed, which she aptly named Bird Cottage, and lived the rest of her life with birds. The birds learned to trust her, would fly in and out of her house and even roost in her house in nesting boxes. They became familiar enough with her that they would land on her head, shoulders, hands, and feet. A few of them even came to her when she called. Len began to distinguish different calls and songs, and to understand the birds’ behavior through close, careful, continual observation.

Over the years, Len wrote for various nature magazines and wrote two books: Birds As Individuals and Living With Birds. She became more reclusive as she got older because she was so focused on not changing things in the birds’ environment. When guests would visit, for example, the birds were unfamiliar with these newcomers’ gestures and voices and would stay away. This would set back her research for several days.

Sadly, because she was not a trained scientist and she focused on bird behavior and relationships rather than measurable, quantitative observations, none of the scientific journals would take her seriously and publish her research. However, her writings did raise the general public’s awareness to the importance of birds and the habitats they needed to thrive.

What was wonderful about this book was the way the author interspersed chapters about Len’s life, from age ten and onward, with chapters containing fascinating stories about particular bird friends at Bird Cottage. Even though it was fictionalized, it felt as if I was reading a biography.

Whether you enjoy books about birds, nature writing, or people who follow their own path in life, you will absolutely love this book. I highly recommend it!

I received a copy of Bird Cottage from Pushkin Press, but all opinions are completely my own.

Planting Native (A Book Review)

Here in the Northeastern part of the United States in April, we haven’t planted our gardens yet. But we are cleaning up our and gardens and preparing them for planting. We are buying shrubs and trees and perennials too. If you are wondering what to plant, PLEASE think about birds before you do. Are you investing in plants that are native to your area? Birds need native plants to thrive and if you already know this, hooray!!! But if not, and you live in the Eastern part of the U.S., this book might be just what you need to help you choose plants for your yard!

The book I’m recommending is called Planting Native to Attract Birds to Your Yard by Sharon Sorenson. What I love about this book are several things: The photos of birds and native plants are gorgeous, the quotes by naturalists sprinkled throughout the text are inspiring, and the facts that are highlighted bring perspective, importance, and responsibility to us as property owners.

Another thing I like about this book is that in chapters 1-3, the author explains EVERYTHING–even down to a definition of what a native plant is (not a weed!) She doesn’t simply say “birds need native plants for shelter, nests, and food”, but explains how birds use the plants for shelter, nests, and food, and why it’s so crucial that we have them in our yards.

Did you know that native plants are actually less work and less expensive to care for than non-native plants? They don’t need fertilizer, and they rarely need watering, pruning, or deadheading either!

In Chapter 4, the author helps us to formulate a plan for our yard and garden spaces, by analyzing what is already in our yard and neighborhood. We make a list of assets and liabilities. She also includes a list of invasive plants named “The Disaster Dozen”. She shares why they are such a problem, how to get rid of them, and what to replace them with.

She goes on to have ample suggestions for what to plant in any size space. Chapter 5 is dedicated to Native Trees with consideration of biodiversity, soil conditions, space, personal preference, and more! Chapter 6 is all about Native Shrubs and Vines and she has you choose one for each season. (I would’ve never thought of this!) Chapter 7 is Native Perennials: Flowers and Grasses, and finally, Chapter 8 discusses Adding Water.

So, if you are a property owner, gardener, landscaper, or bird lover, I highly recommend that you order this book here or from your favorite bookseller!