I watched as a chickadee, perched on a nearby tree branch, prepared to eat his breakfast. With a sunflower seed gripped tightly in his beak, he furiously banged the seed, again and again, across the narrow limb. Finally, the seed cracked open: a look of satisfaction spread across both our faces.
Another morning, I looked out to see a titmouse flinging his head from side to side, struggling to subdue a small tomato hornworm. He was finally victorious — and full.
Wow, birds work hard for their food.
Like a hunter camouflaged in a duck blind, I managed these undetected observations thanks to a tree planted just beyond the bathroom window.
When we built our house 11 years ago, we planned for as many windows as possible, including a large one in the bathroom. I claimed the sink next to this window so I could survey the backyard each morning as I brushed my teeth.
Along with the window plan, I also planned to plant as many different trees and shrubs as possible. The list included a weeping yaupon holly, not because it was rare and unusual —my usual criteria — but because of its distinctive stature.
Weeping yaupon hollies have long been the go-to accent plant for residential and commercial landscapes. Their unique architecture – short, pendulous branches on an upright, narrow tree — seems to fit perfectly in tight places. “Seems” is the operative word: This tree will mature to 20 feet tall and 10 feet wide, but is often positioned within a foot or two of a building’s foundation. Not the best way to showcase its unique properties.
Small, oval, evergreen leaves create a see-through level of shade and sun, making it easy to see the holly’s silvery trunks and branches. Tiny spring blooms turn into pea-sized green berries; in October these berries become light-filled scarlet spheres. Now the fun begins, as cardinals, mockingbirds and other fruit eating birds visit early and often during our wintery months.
But throughout the year, birds hop in its branches searching for tiny insects and generally showing off for anyone who might be watching — usually me, always mentally applauding their antics.
I remember strolling around the yard, plant in hand, wondering where to plant this tree. I imagined it in many locations but settled on the corner of our back deck where its drooping branches would skim over the railing, where its open framework would screen but not block the view. It just so happened this was also close to the bathroom window – a potential bonus that didn’t occur to me. But as it grew, the holly created a swag of sheer greenery for the window and an observation point for me. And that is how an ordinary plant is elevated to high horticultural esteem: right plant, right place.
This distinctive, easy-to- grow native tree is tolerant of most any soil and water situation and is happy in sun to part sun. So far, my tree hasn’t outgrown its space by much. Its single trunk, originally planted 5 feet from the house, has produced interesting angulations and an expanded footprint. Now we need to prune an exuberant branch or two, but that will be after the berries are turned into bird food.
Master gardener Sharon Thompson has been gardening since moving to the Midlands in 1978.