Bowerbirds Build Decorative Structures

All kinds of animals use natural objects to build their beds for sleeping or nurturing their young. Their nests are usually situated in protected sites, where they feel safe and hidden from outside intruders. That is not the only reason animals manipulate their environments, however. Most striking among birds are the bowerbirds, which actually build decorative structures for no other purpose than to please their prospective mates. Weaving twigs, grass, and flowers into an arching bower or gateway, they may even strew brightly colored pebbles, shells, or feathers at the entrance to their hideaway. Scientists say it’s not “romance,” but it sounds pretty inviting, nonetheless.

There is something comforting about being enclosed by greenery for humans, as well, whether you lure your mate in with you or not. As children, my brothers and I would trample our own play areas in the three- to four-foot-tall grass in the field near our rural home. These spaces were not roofed over, but the feeling of enclosure as we lay under the blue sky was magical. This may be the same magic that draws kids of all ages to the corn mazes that have sprung up around the country. Few children today have a field of grass nearby that they can freely play in and the maze isn’t somewhere they can return at will, but there are other ways to engender this feeling. Many guides to gardening with kids suggest planting a circle of sunflowers or covering a bamboo-pole tepee with climbing vines such as fast-growing green beans. Design the space to suit the size of your little ones. Engaging children in garden projects is a great way to get them outdoors and with one of these projects they can retreat into their own green hideaway.

Fellow grownups, don’t despair; I believe we can, and should, have our own bowers. Shrink that garden room concept to a space that is big enough for just two or even one person. Create a green room that enfolds with verdancy, soothes with privacy. Plant a grove of bamboo, a circle of junipers, an arch of poplars to block out the world and find solace. A place where you can sit quietly, breathing air that is charged with newly minted oxygen.


If you can’t install such a permanent planting, do like the bowerbirds and erect a temporary structure. Woven branches, palm fronds, even a few containers of tall grasses can create the walls for your withdrawal. Add a gently weeping angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia), or a lacey tree fern (Sphaeropteris) to enclose the space even more. Your new retreat can be as simple as training a wisteria over that secluded garden bench far away from the bustle of the house and street. In fact, that perfect nook may already exist under an oak tree or at the end of the garden and need only a chair or cushion to rest on. Let Nature embrace and restore you.


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