by Rita Campbell
I could while away the hours
Conferring with the flowers
Consulting with the rain
And my head I'll be scratching
While my thoughts were busy hatching
If I only had a brain...
- Ray Bolger, The Wizard of Oz
Scarecrows throughout time have taught us lessons on thinking before you speak, generosity, loneliness, and feelings. They have been written about in songs, plays, and children’s books. Throughout history, scarecrows have been used to help farmers save their crops. The Egyptians used the first scarecrows along the Nile River to protect wheat crops from flocks of quail. Wooden scarecrows were used by Greek farmers in 2,500 B.C. These wooden scarecrows were painted purple and had a club in one hand to scare the birds from the vineyards and a sickle in the other to ensure a good harvest. Romans copied the Greek and Japanese farmers created scarecrows to protect their rice fields. In Germany, scarecrows were wooden-shaped witches while in Britain, young boys and girls were used as live scarecrows.
In the United States, immigrant German farmers created “bogeymen” or human-looking scarecrows dressed in old clothes with large, red handkerchiefs around their necks. From these, the straw-filled, human-like men with gourd faces developed. Many other types were used by Native American Indians and Pilgrims to protect their crops. Today, technological scarecrows have reflective film ribbons tied on plants to glimmer in the sunlight. We actually have some motion-powered recorded devices set in our garden to steer away deer.
Scarecrows have evolved over the years and many gardens have scarecrow festivals with competitions for creating the most original scarecrows. These scarecrows can be very creative from childlike scarecrows to adults ones. In the fall, scarecrows can also make fun decorations for your porch or Halloween.
Making a scarecrow to me is akin to creating a snowman and there are so many ways you can attempt this. At the end of the summer, you can decorate your sunflowers with hats, sunglasses, scarves, and old eye-glasses. Paper plate scarecrows are fun to make too. Using buttons for eyes, felt or construction paper for hats, yarn for hair, old shirts and pants stuffed with straw and old boots can be a fun activity to introduce a preschooler or elementary student to scarecrows.
For a garden scarecrow, you will need to create a T-shaped frame for his body and arms. You can drive a fencepost into the ground in the garden where you want to position your scarecrow. Fasten the frame to this post with wire or plastic fasteners. His/her head will need to sit on the top of this frame. An old pillow case stuffed or an old flower pot or lampshade will make a cute head.
Now you need to dress your scarecrow. Use an old shirt and pants or dress. The clothing will need to be stuffed with straw, old rags, leaves or newspaper and tied off with string. Using garbage bags to hold and shape your stuffing material is helpful and the plastic will keep it dry and from falling apart. Use safety pins, hot glue or yarn stitches to hold everything together. Adding gloves, shoes, hats, and scarves just add to the human qualities. Make your scarecrow part of the family.
Birds, rabbits and deer are adaptable. They will stay away from anything that looks suspicious. However, if it stays put for a while, they will get use to it and eventually will think it is there for them as a perch. A scarecrow that stays still in a garden will only be effective for a few days. It is important to make it as life like as you can and moving it around will help to fool the animals. He should be positioned everywhere in the garden meaning that you move him often. Make him lifelike by giving him a job with some tools or sitting on a fence. Simply changing his hat might be a way to fool the birds into thinking he is real.
While scarecrows are helpful in the garden to scare animals and birds away, there have been many stories written about them that can also teach your children about feelings. There is a beautiful story about a scarecrow who longs for the company of the creatures he scares away and in the winter he becomes a snowman that the animals play with. Once again working in the garden can also present many beautiful learning opportunities.
Plant of the Month: Sunflowers
Sunflowers come in a wide assortment of sizes. Some cultivars grow as tall as 15 feet with flower heads as wide as 1 foot across; dwarf types, however, measure only a foot or two tall. There are also early, medium-height sunflowers that stand 5 to 8 feet tall with heads 8 to 10 inches across. Some cultivars produce a single large flower; others form several heads. Choose a site in full sun on the north side of the garden so the tall plants won't shade your other vegetables once they're grown. The seeds feed countless people, animals, and birds. Sunflower oil is used in cooking, soaps, and cosmetics. In the garden, you can grow sunflowers not only as beautiful aesthetic additions, but as windbreaks, privacy screens, or living supports for pole beans.
Rita Campbell is a master gardener. The Moonbeam-Award winning author has combined her love of gardening and teaching to create an educational series of books for children ... with a touch of magic. For more information, visit spritealights.com.