Bird bedding, herb gardens and groundcover

I love e-mail. Even with all the spam and the worries about viruses, it's still a modern marvel. For instance, almost as soon as this column is published, I start receiving e-mail from readers commenting on what I've written or offering helpful suggestions for other readers.

As an example, in a recent column ("Planting berries attracts birds to your garden") I advised against putting out lint from your clothes dryer as potential nesting material for birds. Reason? The possibility that the lint was infused with detergent chemicals or bleach that birds might find unpleasant or even harmful. 

Judging by the mail I received, many readers thought my response was bird-brained.

Here's a particularly convincing argument in favor of dryer lint from reader Lee Dobolek:

"I've been putting drier fluff out for a few years now. Due to our dogs and cats, the fluff also has a good bit of cat and dog hair in it - some washed and some just shaken off in an 'air only' cycle prior to the item being washed. I too was worried about the smell of the cat/dog making the birds more vulnerable to predation but it hasn't happened as far as I can tell. The squirrels take it too (I put it out for their nesting also) and their offspring are just as wary of cats and dogs as ever.

"When you think about it, the mother birds and squirrels don't cast about looking for sterile bedding materials. The grasses, vines, and twigs they use are frequently visited by carnivores and their scents are undoubtedly on these materials. In some nests I've cleaned out of my bushes I've found a great deal of hair from various animals, not to mention string. String brings up another complaint of those who are afraid the chicks will get caught up in the string and strangle. In the many years I've been cleaning birds' nests out of my trees and bushes I have never seen any indications that any chicks have died from there being string in the nest.

"I think we should give the birds the option to pick and choose their nesting materials. To do otherwise would be equal to saying they're too stupid to make the correct choices without our stewardship. If the bird picking up nesting materials doesn't like the material, it won't pick it up. Give them some credit for surviving independently, or in spite, of us as long as they have."

Thank you, Lee! So perhaps my use of the term "bird brain" wasn't too smart, either.

 QUESTION: "I have a hill that's in full shade and is next to a storage building. The space is about 4-5' wide by around 12' long and has a walking path with stone steps on one side and the building on the other. I've tried to plant things there but end up moving them to a better spot. Periwinkle is the only plant so far that's making it. I'd like to plant spreading junipers, but worry they will get out of control. Most of my property is covered with Ivy. I'd like to get some ideas for something interesting, that's evergreen, with low maintenance, and won't grow over a foot tall." - Kathy

ANSWER: You could try something as simple as Andorra junipers. Or for something a little more interesting even though not evergreen, try Hypericum calycinum, a versatile plant that can be used as a flowering shrub or groundcover. You might even try containerized plants and move them around at different times. That way you can change it weekly if you like.