Thursday, June 21, 2018
Home and Garden

Tips to attract wildlife to your Florida garden — and why you want to

You'll be hard-pressed to find bigger Bucs fans than Doreen and Bob Damm. They've got red, pewter and skulls everywhere. Friends love coming over to watch games on their three living room TVs, including a 65-inch big-screen and a 36-inch wall mount.

But the show isn't always on TV.

Bob angled the screens and furniture so anyone sprawled on a couch can easily see what's going on outside the windows, which he cleans religiously at least once a week.

That view can be the life of the party — especially when the home team is losing.

"Last month we had friends over watching the Bucs and the Eagles when we saw a young raccoon up on the feeder branch eating," Doreen says.

The thick branch hangs horizontally, just outside a window, from two chains attached to the eaves. Doreen sprinkles it with a seed and berry mix, and unsalted peanuts ground in her food processor.

"The raccoon had a plan for getting up there, but no plan for getting down," she says. "He tried everything — going to the end and reaching for plants, hanging upside down from all fours, hanging upside down from his tippy-toes.

"Everyone quit watching the game. We were all laughing at the raccoon."

It was welcome comic relief — the Bucs racked up their fifth straight loss that game.

Bob and Doreen live in Deer Park subdivision, a neighborhood with ranch-style homes on lots just under a third of an acre. When they moved in 10 years ago, their back yard looked pretty typical — turf and weeds. Except for the view.

The back yard slopes down to a water management preserve with ground-to-sky tree trunks: cypress and oaks, camphor, swamp magnolia and elderberry. It's a stunning view.

Doreen, now a 49-year-old retail merchandiser for Hallmark gift cards and gifted in all things handyman, and Bob, now 59, a recovering workaholic with 40-plus years at Winn-Dixie, immediately set about weaving their 54-by-30-foot back yard into that vista.

They hauled plants and rocks from the home they left in Oldsmar.

"It took two 24-foot trucks and a lot of friends who will never help us move again," Doreen says.

She laid out a hardscape design: winding paths and a mountain-brook style waterfall and stream stretching from one side of the yard to the other.

They replaced the grass with pentas, lantana, angel's trumpets and powder puffs; kumquat, loquat and American beautyberry.

Their goal? Inviting wildlife.

Doreen is also an obsessed photographer. Her linen closet holds two shelves of Canon cameras, each ready to go with a different lens. She's got about 100 memory cards, and enough batteries to document a natural disaster and its aftermath for years.

In one day alone, she'll shoot more than 500 pictures. And they're incredible! A possum and raccoon tussling over a feeding log; migrating robins pausing for a bath in her stream; flying squirrels putting on a nighttime aerial show.

Mostly, only friends and family see Doreen's photos. But she did enter New Port Richey's 2009 National Audubon Society contest and won the People's Choice award. Her shot of a shy raccoon hung in the Pasco County Courthouse for weeks.

To increase the photo opportunities, she takes cues from her visitors.

"I could see the woodpeckers are uncomfortable on traditional feeders; they're used to bracing their tail feathers against a tree trunk," she says. So she drilled holes in logs and filled them with peanut butter (woodpeckers prefer crunchy), then hung the logs vertically from tree limbs.

She finely grinds peanuts because birds grab the whole nuts and fly off. They stay longer if there's no takeout.

Sticks and logs invite more hanging out than man-made perches — and look better in photos — so dead branches abound.

She also has more than a dozen "feeder logs," her own invention, mounted on posts of galvanized and PVC pipe attached to the log with a plumbing flange. She drills holes in the log to deposit seed and unscrews the log from the flange when it's time to replace it.

She and Bob have new projects going all the time.

"The grass doesn't grow under his feet," Doreen says of her husband.

"She's the creative one — she comes up with new ideas all the time," Bob says of Doreen.

But as the sun sets each day, the two shut everything down and settle in to their five-star backyard buffet. They like to kick back in lounge chairs, relax and watch the show.

It's better than anything on TV, they say. Even football.

Reach Penny Carnathan at [email protected] Find more local gardening stories on her blog,, join in the chat on Facebook, Diggin Florida Dirt, and follow her in Twitter, @DigginPenny.