An Indicator in the Garden


Besides acting as natural air conditioners and moisture regulators, gardens are becoming ever more important to the survival of creatures other than humans.  ~Jane Powers



This weekend spring crept in to my garden.  How do I know this?  It is something that those who have a strong connection to their garden sense.  We see snow rapidly receding daily with bulb growth peeking up.  The cool air is finally warmed a bit by the penetrating sun even when it is barely 40 degrees outside.  There is a small discernible change in the scent of the air as the smell of snow is gone with the smell of the soil is just beginning to niggle at my nose.

DSCN2920But one of the biggest signs is the critters, especially the birds.  The noise is deafening with the constant honking of geese flying everywhere back and forth from the lake to the surrounding ponds and swamps.  The choir of songbirds is a music that lifts my soul.  Who was joining in this joyous song?  Robins and cardinals whistling, red wings squawking and a whole host of others I could not discern yet.  But they were here, singing welcome back to each other and to me.

So with spring’s arrival, it is a perfect time to start noticing the changes in the flora and fauna in the garden.  A while back I read an interesting post from Donna Long’s wonderful blog, In Season, where she talks about how she uses the Junco and Shadbush to indicate seasonal changes in her garden.  She goes on to explain that the study of these changes in plants and animals corresponding to seasons is part of phenology.

Phenology refers to key seasonal changes in plants and animals from year to year—such as flowering, emergence of insects and migration of birds—especially their timing and relationship with weather and climate. 


Three years ago, I attempted to study the flora and fauna of my garden through the National Phenology npn-logo-final-black-and-colorNetwork (NPN).  But I did not get as far as I would have liked as my garden was still coming into its own, and my time was limited.

Since my goal this year for the garden is to observe it in great detail, the reporting of my observations to the NPN seems perfect.  The NPN site has changed since I first started using it, and is even more user friendly.  The section IMG_1714where you make your observations is called, Nature’s Notebook.  After registering, you are directed to your Observation Deck where you register the location from which you will be observing, choose the plants and animals you would like to observe, and download the forms to help you observe.  There are so many plants and animals you can now observe depending on your state, and so many more native plants now.  You can also choose to observe invasive and exotic plants and invasive animals.  And if you so choose they have an app.


So what will I be using as my “indicators” of seasonal change in my garden this year?


  • I have a native tree that I have admired every year that was left on the property when the land was developed-a silver maple.  This tree will be my choice for my Tree Following posts for Lucy’s meme at Loose and Leafy.  I will have more DSCN2333about this tree on Thursday in a Tree Following post.
  • I also decided to follow the common and swamp milkweed patches, and the monarch that depends on them.
  • Since I enjoy following the exploits of the green frogs and bull frogs that frequent my pond, they make a perfect choice.
  • I love to observe birds who frequent the garden so I chose an American Robin and Eastern Bluebird.  Both like to nest, feed and raise their young in my garden.
  • Lastly I thought I would track one invasive species.  The Cabbage White butterfly can always be found in my garden throughout 3 seasons so I thought it would be interesting to observe its habits.

 You can see images of these “indicators” throughout the post.  Run your cursor over the picture to see the name of the plant or critter.

I know these will not be the only observations I will be noting as I love to be involved in other projects such as Citizen Science projects through Cornell University.  All of these projects help gather data for scientists who are studying these plants, animals and the environment.

IMG_2944My last job had me involved with tracking lots of data so I have become accustomed to keeping data to use when making decisions.  And I want to compare the data from my garden each year to help make decisions and observation the patterns that can be found there.  Currently I am keeping data on the weather, tracking the birds when they first appear in the garden, observing when the deer appear and what they are doing as well as observing the melting of the snow.  I can’t wait to dig into this data and use it yearly and seasonally for comparison.


So do you make observations of or keep data from your garden or nature throughout the seasons?  Do you join in any projects like Citizen Science or NPN?





Despite the gardener’s best intentions, nature will improvise.  ~Michael P. Garofalo





Brooke@Creative Country Mom’s Web Garden has created a new meme just in time for spring.  As she says:

HSG Logo SmallSpring is finally here!  Let’s celebrate by starting a new link up party!  I am happy to invite you to link up your GARDEN THEMED posts to this new weekly party starting April 1st.


Do check it out, and if you join in link back with love to Brooke’s blog.  I will be joining in as much as possible.



Also do check out Donna Long’s blog, In Season, where she observes nature around her Philadelphia, PA home.



Next up on the blog:  I will have a post on Thursday of the tree I am following, my wonderful Silver Maple.  On Monday I will have an update of my garden from March with a Garden Journal post.  What a cold month it has been with an amazing end.

I am linking in with Michelle@Rambling Woods for her Nature Notes meme.  It is a great way to see what is happening in nature around the world every Tuesday.

I hope you will join me for my posts once a month at Beautiful Wildlife Garden.  Next post is April 1st.

I can also be found blogging once a month at Vision and Verb.  I hope you enjoy my latest post.

As always, I’ll be joining Tootsie Time’s Fertilizer Friday.sharethelove

I am also joining in I Heart Macro with Laura@Shine The Divine that happens every Saturday.

All original content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella @ Gardens Eye View, 2010-2014.  Any reprints or use of content or photos is by permission only.


50 Replies to “An Indicator in the Garden”

  1. Yay for spring! I just planted new azaleas called Autumn Carnation and they are blooming like crazy. I also planted bottlebrush and some gerbera and aster daisies. Oh, and lantana. Hard work, but so rewarding.

    1. Oh that schoolyard project sounds wonderful. For some reason I find this type of science project so interesting and exciting. more so than any science class I ever took in school. I am glad you are joining in!!

  2. Phenology has always interested me and I’ve written a couple of articles on it. I didn’t realize there were programs to participate in for documenting one’s yard though so I’ll check out your links.
    It used to be seeing the first robin was an indicator but now they’ll often overwinter in our climate. This winter may change their minds though.

    1. I know what you mean with the robins Judith. My usually harbinger is the herons and/or red-winged blackbirds. It should be an interesting project and I hope to learn a lot.

  3. Indicators are so important to our peace of mind I think. Here I use the spring peepers each year. This year they were pretty late-indicative of our long winter; which is not a bad thing. So glad spring has arrived in your neck of the woods. The sound of the critters is wonderful!

    1. I love the sound of the peepers too. I hope once we warm up a bit more we may hear them…they are the sound of bliss in spring for me!

  4. I had no idea what Phenology until I read your blog Donna – a quick google tells me there are indeed similar sites here in the UK. I must read more about it.
    I’m not sure I could afford the time but you’ve spurred me into finding out more. Thank you 🙂

    1. Glad to hear their are phenology sites in the UK angie, and that your interest has been piqued. What ever you can do, it is fun trying!!

  5. The first thing I thought of while reading this, Donna, was my astronomy class in college where one assignment was to stand in the exact same spot at the same time on different week-nights throughout the semester…and to draw a couple of the constellations, placing them in their exact spot in reference to the surroundings. It was amazing to see how the rotation of the earth through the weeks really changed the orbit of the fixed constellations. I loved it and have never forgotten that simple exercise.

    So, if your project is anything like that, I KNOW you’re having fun!

    1. It is very similar Ginnie. You watch your chosen plants and animals to see certain activity and report it. I have fun watching my critters and my garden so now with more time, I look forward to doing this.

  6. After two solid days of hard rain, a lot of our snow has been washed away. Hopefully the signs of spring will be noticeable in the next few days. I’m going to look forward to following along as you track your garden this year.

    1. Keeping my fingers crossed Karen that the rest of the snow melts and the garden dries out soon. Found one patch of snow crocus blooming already.

  7. I so agree with your intro, Donna. A gardener just knows when spring is making big-time progress! It happened for me this week, too. Of course, we’ll still have a bit of cold and snow in April, but we’ve turned the corner, and now it won’t last long. 65F today! It was fantastic!

    1. Wow Beth. We are not expecting 60s for weeks it seems…just hoping for a day in the 50s even a couple of those days to melt everything else and dry it up. Glad you enjoyed it!!

    1. Karen, I am trying to send warm weather your way although it has been hovering in the high 40s…but the snow is melting and the robins are singing. It will be coming your way soon.

  8. We just had 6 inches of snow yesterday, but temperatures have risen which gives some hope. Snow and ice are still predicted here for next week, so I guess we will see. It is pretty reliable when birds start migration, and they seem to follow the same patterns each year, except for irruptions. As a birder, our group has a chart when each bird makes an appearance and it amazes me some even come the first day of the time they should be here. On Thursday, I will be almost near your house on one of my birding trips, so will be seeing all the honking geese you mentioned.

    1. Wow Donna I did not realize you got more snow. I hope it does end soon. We have been spared so far. I can’t wait to hear about your trip this way on Lake Ontario. The weather should be good as it has been all week.

  9. So good to hear spring has arrived in your garden! I have never heard of phenology before, interesting stuff. The arrival of spring over here in Britain is rather more subtle and slow, since we don’t have any snow and this year we haven’t even had any frost at all so many insects like bumblebees have been around most of the winter. My hellebores have been flowering since December, the crocuses are long gone and the tulips have been flowering for a while. I have had spring in my London garden since early February. We have similar projects over here in Britain but I haven’t delved into any of them yet, perhaps it is time to look into it, thanks for all the info 🙂

    1. Glad you enjoyed learning about phenology Helene. I am always amazed by your seasons where you practically can garden all year and blooms come up that early. I do enjoy the photos of your garden!! Must be so lovely to see in person.

    1. I am sorry to hear that. I am hoping spring swings your way soon. It was a slow creep but once it comes a callin’ it makes fast work.

  10. Lovely signs of spring..Your garden photos are just beautiful. I enjoyed the birds and butterflies and blooms.. Have a happy week!

  11. I wish you all the time in the world to spend in your garden observing Donna! I don’t participate in any formal citizen science project aside from Project Feeder Watch but record bird sightings/returns/goings and sometimes blooms on a big wall calendar. I keep three or four years worth side by side so I can compare – it’s fun to look up the years past right alongside the current year. This year was the largest span of time between the return of the Red-wings. For the past four years they have returned almost to the day or 1 or 2 days earlier or later than my recording. This year they arrived 18 days later!

    1. That is amazing data you are keeping Kathy. I am just beginning in earnest this year finally. Finally saw a heron which is very late than in past years.

  12. I’m glad to hear the NPN website is more user friendly than it was when I first encountered it 8 or 9 years ago. My son did a season long project on the web-site that he turned into his science fair project. I haven’t had time to keep up with it since but I will check out the site and see if I can work this important organization into my schedule (thanks for the gentle nudge!). I look forward to hearing more about the plants and wildlife enjoying your yard!

  13. I like the idea of sharing observations with networks, such as NPN. There is always so much going on in the garden, and we can learn so much by sharing those observations. So glad to see that spring has found a way to sneak into your garden. 🙂

  14. I am glad that there are finally some signs of spring in your part of the world Donna! Old country sayings here link up with things in nature, like the josefi flowers (scillas) signifying the beginning of spring – usually mid March, so I enjoy learning new sayings all the time here. There are hundreds of them!

    1. I agree…so many great sayings about the seasons based on nature and I love learning about more of them as well…thanks Cathy.

  15. How interesting that data from your garden can be collected and used by scientists. I keep a record of the temperatures in the greenhouse and a spreadsheet with all the seeds I sow with their germinating times, time to pricking out and to planting out. I hope this will help me sow at the optimum time in successive years.

    1. Oh I agree Alistair…it is my favorite season too…and even though it has started late, I intend to enjoy every minute of it.

  16. I am not sure if there is anything like Citizen Science or NPN in Canada and would have to do a little research to find out. I have never heard of Phenology before. Always interesting to learn something new. I do notice an increase in bird song. I haven’t seen any robins…yet. The weather has warmed though and I am starting to feel hopeful spring has arrived.

    1. Nice to hear spring is creeping in. Hoping it comes on a bit quicker and your garden starts to perk up and grow. Oh and the robins are on their way!

  17. not nearly so organised. But a monthly blog post from my garden for Wildflower Wednesday gives me a pattern over the 5 years I’ve been blogging. I have some years of weather data too.

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