• Dr. Jill Bakke

Scrub Oaks

Once I realized love heals, I found it could be applied to many things . . . even things I truly disliked at first. All I needed was a new perspective.

When I bought my home in Colorado, the property abounded with groves of scrub oaks. People either love or hate scrub oaks. One dictionary defines them as “any of various chiefly American small scrubby oaks often a dominant form on thin dry soils sometimes forming dense thickets.”

Like aspen, scrub oaks send out lots of roots that form new trees and eventually the groves can take over. So, in addition to the current overflow of scrub oaks, I had the problem of them popping up in places where they didn’t belong—like in my flower beds or the lawn. For me, they had another unlikeable quality: the scrub oak’s leaves turn an ugly brown in the fall instead of the luxurious reds and golds I was used to in the East. My immediate response was how can I get rid of them? Their only endearing feature I could see was that during drought cycles they would withstand the lack of moisture better than most trees.

Although I was not thrilled with my stands of scrub oak, I soon realized they were too numerous and too well established to consider removing. My choices? Look at them and weep, sell the house I just bought and buy a different one, or find a way to incorporate the scrub oaks into the beauty I envisioned for my new home.

Incorporating them came quickly when I sought certification as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat from the National Wildlife Federation. To be certified, I needed to provide cover, food, water, places for wild animals to raise their young, and create a sustainable gardening plan. With the help of the scrub oaks, I could provide that.

The more I worked with the requirements, the more I began to appreciate the scrub oaks, which provided great cover for the birds and small animals. I discovered the trees were also self-mulching and provided privacy for my lot without demanding much care. I added a touch of beauty with a few showy flowering bushes on the edges of the grove and hung newly painted birdhouses with back doors, so I could keep them clean for the tenants. There would be no absent landlord at my residence! I put up a seed feeder for the finches and bought peanuts in the shell for the larger birds like the jays, magpies, and the ever-hungry squirrels. The final touch was a heated birdbath for year-around use, which I mounted on the railing of my deck.

The wild areas were left alone, and the privacy they provided when they were leafed out was a welcome relief. I recently saw a raccoon coming up on the deck for water from the birdbath, so my next task was getting a simple, larger water source for him and the other small animals that live in my scrub oak forest. The seedlings that attempt to grow in my lawn are mowed down and the ones in my flower beds are dug out or clipped off as soon as I see them.

I love my scrub oaks now for what they are, what they provide in nature, not just for any visible beauty they may contain. And, in the process, I learned how something, or someone, makes you feel is one of the nice aspects of love. However, it takes new eyes, and often time, to see the reality and potentials of the unappreciated and unloved aspects in our lives.

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