Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

September 26, 2013
Hummingbird Haven

Liz Smith and her family have a backyard filled with all kinds of life 

Behind a simple, pale yellow house on Grantsville’s Hale Street, a delightful nature show unfolds every day.

A 4-foot tall waterfall tumbles into a 40-foot long stream that winds under a footbridge. Flowering plants bloom in pockets of merry color. Fat bumblebees hover from fiery orange dahlias, to yellow Mexican Hat coneflowers, to purple salvia. Like circus acrobats, tiny finches perch and eat from thistle socks.

Liz Smith, 50, is the architect of this nature show. A mere three years ago, she and her husband Mike were looking to buy the yellow house. She looked past the chain link fence and 5-foot tall weeds, and somehow was able to imagine a refuge for wildlife and also for her family.

Today, it’s a reality.

Her garden attracts a variety of birds like lazuli buntings, finches, tanagers, and sharp-shinn hawks, but the most active and entertaining of them all are the hummingbirds. The birds, which are the size of an adult pinky, flit past burgundy mallow flowers that resemble wine-cups. One sits and sips at one of four glass feeders, then it’s off again to zip in circles or fence with another. At the height of the summer, as many as 20 hummingbirds converge upon a feeder.

The tiny visitors migrate south for the winter and come back to the Smiths’ yard every spring. Liz said they come back for the licorice-smelling hissop plants that have showy, orange tubular flowers. They also love to flit about the dwarf butterfly bush, red sage and Mexican Hat coneflowers.

One of the Smiths’ favorite spots to watch birds from is a bench under the shade of two “weed” elm trees Liz didn’t have the heart to chop down. Another favorite spot is the pair of Adirondack chairs in the middle of what someday will be lawn. On weekend mornings, she and her husband wake up, bring out their cups of coffee and soak in the scene of birds, bugs and plants, all co-existing happily.

Even snakes, like the common, and non-poisonous garter variety,  are welcome.

“When they go through the garden,” she said, “they scare me to death. I just stop and let them pass. They eat little bugs.”

Like most gardeners, Liz loves the colors and scents of plants, but she doesn’t like to weed. So Mike hardscaped half of the backyard in gravel, 100 bags of mulch, and weed barrier. To keep the yard maintenance-free, Liz doesn’t coddle the plants. She lets them go to seed and seldom deadheads, occasionally shearing off dead growth to nudge it into a late season blooming.

“If (a plant) doesn’t grow on its own,” Liz said, “then I won’t baby it.”

Sprinkled liberally among all the natural beauty are whimsical decorations. A little arbor with climbing roses first greets their yard’s visitors. Under a pine tree, the shards of a broken pot add color to the ground. A chair without a seat now holds a coconut liner filled with flowers.

In the backyard, Mike made a “man planter,” an old barbecue grill planted with small shade-loving varieties like coleus. Empty, antique seed packets of cosmos, nasturtium, aster, sweet peas, poppy, and little gem line a shelf with some watering cans. Everywhere — on the fence, sheds, walls, and posts — colorful objects draw the eye and bring on a smile.

Liz makes some decorations simply by repurposing something that would normally be thrown away.  Some ideas come to her as she reads the gardening and craft magazines organized neatly on shelves in a “playhouse” shed her husband built for her.

It has a little bed, as well as plenty of storage. On rainy days, Liz can still enjoy her garden by throwing open the doors and sitting at a table. Beside the shed, there’s a bonafide outhouse from the Depression era.

“A guy at our former rental house in Erda was just going to throw it away,” she said. In their yard today, the outhouse functions as a tool shed.

A teacher at Grantsville High School by day, Smith said, “In the summer, (gardening) is what I do. It keeps me sane. It helps me relax to go out and work in the yard.”

From year to year, Liz focuses on a different part of the lot, just shy of a half-acre. Last year, it was the backyard. Next year, it’s the adjacent lawn and putting stone on the steel bridge. She and Mike also want to work more on the east end of the backyard, which is a child’s paradise.

For their 9-year-old daughter Harmanie, Mike built a swing set about as tall as a house. Also for her, he converted a little camping trailer his boss gave him into a playhouse. A cozy porch shelters a table and chairs. Inside the trailer, Disney princess decorations and pink accents replaced the old walls. There’s a table that can host a tea party or be converted into a bed, as well as shelves for books and toys.

Liz, just as recently as this past spring, also did a frontyard makeover.

One day, she decided to rip out part of her front lawn to make way for flowers. She planted starts from neighbors, like lemon balm, tansy and yarrow. Old-fashioned zinnia seeds she randomly scattered grew into a cheerful clump of vivid blooms. When most gardens are starting to slow down for the season, her purple and white petunias and yellow marigolds still put on a traffic-stopping show.

Liz developed her green thumb while growing up in Salt Lake City.  When she was 5, her mother died, and subsequently, she spent a lot of time in her grandfather’s care.

“He liked to putter in the garden after his retirement from the Union Pacific Railroad,” she said. Under his guidance, she learned how to work the soil, weed, and plant peonies, irises, and sweet Williams.

Today, as a grandma herself, she shares her garden with her visiting grandchildren.

Six black wrought-iron fairies are scattered throughout the flower beds. It’s a “fairy garden” she built for her littlest visitors. Liz said, “I like having my grandchildren count the fairies.”

From their kitchen table, one can see hummingbirds flying, again and again, to the feeder. One of her granddaughters said, while visiting, “Grandma, there’s honeybirds!”

The garden attracts the neighbors, too. Her neighbor once told her, “Anytime I’m having a bad day, I walk by your yard and it makes me happy.”


Homemade Hummingbird Feeder Mix

(enough for two small and one large feeder)

Dissolve 4 cups of sugar in 8 cups of hot water.

Cool, then put in feeders.

Don’t put food coloring (it’s bad for the birds).

Empty and wash feeders as needed.

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