Live your beliefs and you can turn the world around. ~Henry David Thoreau
I have not always been a wildlife gardener. There was no talk of gardening for wildlife as I was growing up. Wildlife was found in the woods we explored, the woods where I camped and hiked as a child. It wasn’t until I came to the job that brought me to my current house that I heard about native plants. Intrigued, I planted a few but they did not seem to grow or so I thought… Patience Donna….Wish I had some.
I had not heard of native plants in any of my high school science classes. Perhaps we should have. They were not mentioned the first Earth Day or in any of the environmental movement literature and films of the 1970s. And even after I heard about these native plants and studied them a bit (Step 1 in my education), I was still ignorant of the wildlife that depended on them. Truthfully it wasn’t until I began reading Beautiful Wildlife Garden a couple of years ago that I was bitten. I saw a few birds in the garden. Occasionally a butterfly flitted into the yard and stopped for some nectar. Birds didn’t nest here. There were some frogs and toads. Of course the deer, rabbits and voles were ever present.
But I wanted to have butterflies and birds in the yard more. I wanted to see birds nest and fledge, and caterpillars spin a cocoon breaking free as a butterfly like the ones in the posts at BWG. Why didn’t they visit my gardens? I had some native plants. I planted other plants that were supposed to draw in the butterflies like buddleia. Did they have to be native? Why? Butterflies were supposed to love them.
Well it took more and more reading and self education before it finally sunk in (Step 2). These native plants are important for many butterflies as larval and nectar plants. Without them butterflies may pass by occasionally, but they will not stop and make themselves at home. And birds rely on food other than a feeder, like berries. If you have the food, they will be frequent visitors. OK I can start to do that. I can add more natives in my garden while still keeping the other plants that are non-native.
Then about a year ago I discovered wildflowers and invasives. Step 3. And who would have guessed that some of these wildflowers I planted years ago popped up. I had completely forgotten them. I had no idea that they make take years to emerge, but here they were. Trilliums, jack-in the-pulpits, twinleaf, blood root, Mayapples to name a few; all growing and flowering. Then I discovered my first Trout lily in the meadow. That’s what all these spotted leaves were, and they have such a lovely flower.
OK I admit, it takes a while before I completely understand some things. I am a big picture person. I need to see how it all fits if I am to plan. And while I have been haphazardly trying to garden for wildlife, it took the complete picture to finally help me…but once I get it you better move aside because I then move into action. That action is happening even more so this year. While I have planted many native plants and bushes, I am now obsessed with having more. More berry producing bushes and trees especially for the birds.
So this spring, we have been removing exotic and invasive bushes. Out came most of the forsythias, the one burning bush in the back I had forgotten was there, the buddleias, some barberry and boxwood. (I know don’t judge me-who knew) In their place I am planting Inkberry bushes, Viburnums, White Fringetree, Witch Hazel, Serviceberry, Black Cherry tree and a Crabapple.
The birds will adore the fruit on the inkberry, serviceberry, viburnum, Black Cherry and crabapple. And the native bees and other pollinators will lust after the flowers they all produce. And this just the beginning. As I lose the native white ash that are aging and may succumb to the emerald ash borer that has invaded NY to the west of me, I will be replacing them with native trees (one will definitely be an oak).
My neighbors think I am crazy. Why are you digging these bushes up? Can I have them? No! Some like the forsythias are not growing well and others are invasive. I certainly don’t want my invasive or non-natives ending up in another garden nearby. That would make no sense. Of course what I am doing makes little sense to some. My garden helper (my wonderful husband) is very tolerant and trying not to think of the money being pulled out of the ground replaced with more money going in. He gets the higher purpose here. He loves the wildlife too. He has dug up all the bushes going out, and he has carefully dug the holes helping me plant our new babies. And he will tenderly care for them with frequent long drinks of water throughout the spring and summer.
Our garden has become like a family. The call of ‘snake’ will bring either of us running. Finding and examining a toad or watching and counting the frogs in the pond could take us hours. We love looking for eggs in the pond and caterpillars on the milkweed. Watching dragonflies and butterflies gives us a relaxing respite. And while we sit and relax we may be buzzed by native bees or a hummer or 2 looking us over. Our wildlife family has become tolerant of us and we try not to invade their privacy. We live now in harmony…well except for the voles. Of course they are food for someone. But I wish the someone would eat their dinner already…what do they need a neon sign!
If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer. But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen. ~Henry David Thoreau
Photo1: Crabapple newly planted in the meadow
Photo2: native Phlox subulata
Photo 3: Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla)
Photo 4: Non-native bushes out/native trees waiting to be planted
Photo 5: Two of five Inkberry bushes that were planted
Photo 6: Trout Lily (Erythronium albidum) blooming 3 weeks early in the meadow
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