February is for the birds!

February is National Bird Feeding Month. I love being able to tell how bad a winter storm will be by the way the birds are flocking to and eating winterberry and suet, which is a good indication of very cold temperatures because these are high energy foods. Birds look for natural food sources first, such as natural seed in the landscape, fruit, and insect larvae in winter before they appear at your backyard feeder. Feeding the birds supplements their normal diet. Black oil sunflower seed is the preferred seed of over 50 species of songbirds, and none of it will go to waste. Look for 40-pound bags, which are usually much more economical.


Provide essential elements in your bird garden, such as food, water, a place to raise their young, and shelter, which can be provided by roosting boxes and evergreen shrubs and trees. Feeding birds and providing habitat with native plants is a very important and fun hobby. Creating a bird sanctuary brings color and activity to your winter garden and is fun for both the young and the young at heart.

The annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) brings more fun to February. On February 14, birder Jim Wilson brought students from local schools to locate and identify birds at the Arboretum. Click here for the morning’s results, and here to read a newspaper article about the event.

Although the GBBC weekend is over, anyone who wishes to count the birds in their yard may enter data here through tomorrow, February 28.

Robyn Affron
Visitor Services Coordinator
Certified Professional Horticulturist

Housebound, dreaming of outward bound

As the sole holdout in an epic family battle with the stomach flu, I feel strong, resilient. I feel…in desperate need of some fresh air.  The roses in my cheeks have long expired, and the snowy landscape seems a distant dream.

Luckily, that dream is in reach for healthier members of the population. Sunshine and warm winter gear make the cold temperatures bearable and well worth the price of admiring the Arboretum’s snowy paths.

_ASR4855 Wetland snow from nr visitor ctr entrance email

Photos by Ann Rohlfing


If I close my eyes, I can visualize the lacy ice that edges the Blockston Branch. While much of the wildlife that calls the Arboretum home is sheltering from the cold, their tracks abound, and the feeders near the Visitor’s Center are thronged with birds.

_ASR2447 Footprints in snow email

Don’t waste winter dreaming of spring. Take some time to step outside and enjoy the season’s beauty. Sparkling snow and crystalline ice can hold their own against tulips and daffodils, and sunshine is surely the best medicine of all.

by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Coordinator

Winter pathfinders

pax pencilThe thin dark line coming from the pencil anchored itself at one end of the front steps, then formed a generous curve on the paper that moved in one smooth flow all the way out to the parking area. I watched as this fresh walkway seemed to emerge from the paper—the essential backbone of a brand-new landscape—and I started to feel a tingling that this might be the one.

Husband, wife, and I had been struggling with a complicated but necessary set of three interconnecting paths that all converged in the front yard! Parking area, garage/office, and the way down to the dock—each wanted a path of their own—the challenge was to keep the utility of the paths but rescue the landscape from the aesthetic confusion they created. We were working with the idea of making one path primary, emphasizing it by making it very broad and gliding, in a grand, eye-catching arc. At this point it was easy to see how the other two paths, narrower and now comfortably secondary, could link in.

“Wow, that’s beautiful,” the wife said. “Could we do that lovely curve in brick, do you think?” In that moment we all knew we had the key element of our new design. And I felt again the joy that is unique to co-design: the deep satisfaction of having the design flow from the input of all of us working the design process together. I may (or may not) be holding the pencil, but the ideas are coming from all present.

Later the husband told me, “We hadn’t been thinking of a broad, curved path. I didn’t think that would fit here, but it’s perfect. Now I can’t imagine it being any other way.”

The couple was eager to get the hardscaping decisions made so that work could commence during the winter. Paths will be constructed as time and weather permit over the next few months, and then by spring this industrious pair will be able to turn their attention to planting.

I am similarly busy at my own, new home in Annapolis. A stepping stone path went in pax houseduring December, and a low, stone wall was just completed this month. It will be easy to schedule the last little bit of grading and prep work while I locate the plants I need, all well before things get crazy in spring.

I also get to enjoy keeping busy in winter…instead of longing for spring, preparing for it.

by Chris Pax
Lead Designer, Adkins Arboretum Native Landscape Design Center

To begin your own winter co-design, contact Chris Pax or click here to, learn about the Arboretum’s Native Landscape Design Center co-design service.

Embracing winter, planning for spring

Winter simplifies my landscape. Many branches are bare now, revealing views that were obscured the rest of the year. The lush cloak of more verdant months is gone, and what remains is structural, offering me a fresh understanding of the spaces I’ve been tending.

pax 1

I can see paths and other circulation corridors more clearly without the distractions of color and the movement of leaves, helping me to understand how creatures flow through my garden. Sometimes clues are obvious, as when a fresh snowfall captures the footprints of my garden’s abundant visitors. Sometimes more subtle, as when a half chewed acorn is left on the wooden railing of my deck, or a scruffy chunk of debris successfully raided from the compost bin. Since my garden is as much for these visitors as for me, these clues help me keep tabs on how attractive my landscape has become, in the eyes of the feathered and furred.

pax 2

Because of this fresh perspective, winter’s clean slate makes an excellent time to design a landscape. Putting a master plan on paper enables an early spring purchase of just the right plants for just the right places. If you would like to use winter’s thoughtful and patient energy to create a satisfying native plan landscape plan for your own landscape, contact me or click here to learn about the Arboretum’s Native Landscape Design Center co-design service.

by Chris Pax
Lead Designer, Adkins Arboretum Native Landscape Design Center

The power of one

I am positive that if my children had fewer toys, they would treasure them more. One doll instead of seven. One Matchbox car instead of fifty. While I may never have the parental strength to put this theory into practice, I do try to adhere to a “less is more” policy.

There is power in the number one, whether it be toys or individuals. At the end of his play Candide, French writer and philosopher Voltaire writes, “Chacun doit cultiver son jardin,” or “We must each tend our own garden.” I have forgotten much of what I learned in college, yet this phrase remains with me, reflecting the need to shoulder personal responsibility before trying to take on the world.

At Adkins Arboretum, we strive to improve the world not only by encouraging everyone to “cultiver son jardin,” but also to fill those gardens with native plants. Native plants embrace the soil and weather they’ve thrived in for the past 10,000 years. They shelter and feed native wildlife. They’re beautiful, hardy, and healthy for the earth.

acorn frost

“Cultivate my garden?” you might ask. How to do that in an age of too much—too much stress, too much work, too much to accomplish by the end of the day? This is where priorities come into play. After all, we have only one Earth. Let’s treasure it.

by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Coordinator