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'How-To' Book for the Birds



Watch the birdie. That's what Sally Roth expects you'll do after reading her latest, "Attracting Birds to Your Backyard" ($30, Rodale Press, 1998). This 308-page hardback boasts "536 ways to turn your yard and garden into a haven" for featherheads of all persuasions.

Of course, not everybody wants a yard overrun by hungry, squawking birds. But Roth believes, probably correctly, that most of us are charmed when hummingbirds, sparrows, jays and even raucous crows appear on the landscape.

Roth breaks the book into simple categories, most focusing on individual species. Turn to page 237 and you'll find a pretty picture of a pair of swallows and ways to woo them.

Try creating a pond or even a mud puddle to draw these nesting birds. Roth also notes that swallows readily take to manufactured birdhouses. Toss chicken or duck feathers nearby--they love to line their nests with the stuff.

The author also likes butterflies. To attract them, plant flowers they prefer, such as Mexican sunflowers, verbena and tickseed daisies.

Posies From the Past

Heirloom flowers, as Tovah Martin explains in "Heirloom Flowers" ($16, Simon & Schuster, 1999), are especially colorful and aromatic varieties that have been favorites of gardeners for generations. They also tend to be "originals" (in other words, not hybrids).

Some of her top picks are violas, morning glories, jasmine, irises and marigolds. Her book, with rich up-close photography, gives pointers on how to grow these flowers but mostly settles into often-lucid reveries on their history and beauty, from the bold hues to the perfumey scents.


Weed 'Em Out on the Web

There aren't many nuts-and-bolts sites that include a page with media reviews. But ImproveNet ( is proud of raves from the likes of the New York Times and U.S. News & World Report and makes a big noise out of them.

The kudos are justified. This is a clean, easily navigated destination for anyone thinking of hiring a contractor for a major home project. One of the best features is that you can do a search to see if any of the companies you've taken bids from have complaints or legal judgments against them.

The site provides lists of qualified contractors near you and includes a checklist for finding the right one. Among ImproveNet's suggestions: Be sure to call the contractor's references and verify his or her license and liability insurance before signing over the job.

* To have a book or Web site considered for this column, send information to: Home Design, The Times Orange County, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626. Mark Chalon Smith can also be reached by e-mail at mark.smith@

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