Dee O’Brien carves out wildlife haven with her small garden

9:24 am | July 22, 2013

Five years of work to enhance the gardens at Dee O’Brien’s home on Fitzsimmons Hill Road in Elizabethton has been undertaken as a labor of love to carve out a haven for birds and butterflies.

“The yard was totally bare when I moved here from Hampton about five years ago,” Dee said.

Now, although she doesn’t have an abundance of space, she has transformed the gardens around her home into a welcoming oasis for birds, butterflies and other wild creatures.

“It was a lot of work,” Dee said.

To lessen the maintenance required, she has planted primarily with perennials that return year after year.

Shrubs and fruit-producing trees introduced into the landscape at her home include blueberry, crab apple, service berry, mountain ash and holly.

“These trees are for the benefit of all the fruit-eating birds, especially Cedar Waxwings,” O’Brien said.

Her efforts to attract such birds paid off this spring when she had some Cedar Waxwings visit the serviceberry tree in her yard.
She often targets plantings to specific birds. For instance, the tall verbena blooming so profusely thanks to abundant rain and summer sunshine attracts hummingbirds and American goldfinches, as well as butterflies.

“It’s very pretty swaying in the breeze, standing tall along liatris, sedum, plumbago, lantana and astilbe,” Dee said.

Dee also landscapes with an eye toward providing shelter for her beloved birds and butterflies.

Dee O'Brien inspects some blooming Tall Verbena in her garden.

Dee O’Brien inspects some blooming Tall Verbena in her garden.

Red twig dogwoods and viburnums, tall grass and ferns, all offer cover for the birds.

She has also incorporated bird baths into the landscape to offer bathing and drinking opportunities for her feathered friends. Wind chimes and suncatchers also lend a whimsical appearance to her gardens. Bird boxes in various locations also provide nesting opportunities for cavity-nesting birds such as tree swallows and Eastern bluebirds.

Dee also has a specially designed fly-through bird feeder for small birds fond of meatier fare. She stocks this feeder with mealworms, which visits Eastern bluebirds, titmice and finches.

Daylilies provide some vibrant color in her garden.
“I got the daylilies from Goad Daylilies and Mike’s on Highway 19E,” Dee said. “I have 30 different daylilies, and they are all named hybrids.”

When the daylily blooms are nearly spent, Dee has a great way to recycle them.

“They’re a special treat for my goat, Jocy,” she said as she hand-fed some spent blossoms to the well-mannered goat.

Dee has also adopted a goat through the Roan Mountain “Baa-tany” Goat Project. Her “adopted” goat spends the summers on the grassy balds of Roan Mountain working to graze on encroaching invasive vegetation.
She also has several varieties of hosta in her garden.

“My favorite is the Hosta Sagae, which was the Hosta of the Year in 2007.”

Dee also tends a vegetable garden, and the produce raised in the garden is primarily for her benefit.
“I have tomatoes, green peppers, zucchini, cucumbers, strawberries and rhubarb,” she said.

Dee has resided in Carter County for the past 13 years. Before moving to Fitzsimmons Hill Road, she lived for eight years in Hampton.

A Clearwing Moth, also known as a Hummingbird Moth, feeds at Tall Verbena.

A Clearwing Moth, also known as a Hummingbird Moth, feeds at Tall Verbena.

She has a son and daughter, as well as seven grandchildren.
“Plants are a lot of work,” she admits while surveying her “green and white” garden, which incorporates such plants as begonia, hydrangea and daisies.

Dee said she has learned a lot about gardening.

“I do online research, read books and talk to people,” she said.
Now, she’s happy to sit back and admire the fruits of her labor, enjoying the fact the birds and butterflies are doing the same.

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