Why do we do it? Why do we create wildlife gardens? For me the spark was the wonder of it all.
In the beginning, my growing patch of Bee Balm pulled in so many different butterflies, plus hummingbirds, Oh, and Hummingbird Clearwings, not to mention all the cool bees and wasps. And did I mention the predators? Preying mantises, garden spiders, robber flies.
My next venture, a wildlife pond, filled as if by magic with Leopard Frogs and Green Frogs that found the pond with their own magic road map. While natural wet woods dried up, my pond provided a wet oasis that lured them from who knows how far away. An amazing variety of dragonflies and damselflies found the pond too. They danced over it, paired up, and busily laid egg after egg after egg on the pond surface and in emergent pond vegetation.
Learning of and then planting key host plants resulted in nurseries of eggs and caterpillars within the garden: Monarchs on an assortment of milkweeds, Black Swallowtails on fennel, American Snout and Question Mark and Mourning Cloak and Hackberry Emperor and Tawny Emperor on Dwarf Hackberry, Red-spotted Purple on Black Cherry, Tiger Swallowtail on Tulip Tree, Pipevine Swallowtails on Dutchman’s Pipe, Cloudless Sulphur on Partridge Pea . . . the list goes on and on.
My wildlife garden is my own private jungle of nature unfolding, dazzling, constantly entertaining. It thrills and excites my mind and my spirit. Plant it, a wildlife garden of native plants, and all sorts of wildlife will come. Create a wildlife pond, and aquatic creatures will come.
The wonder has not diminished over time. Every day, like eager children, we dash out into the garden, binocs around our neck and camera too to see what new mystery will unfold.
We can’t resist scanning the pond vegetation for exuvia, the shed skins of dragonflies that have recently left the pond to begin the winged segment of their lives.
It is often the totally unexpected that thrills. I’ll never forget the Rough Green Snake that I almost “picked” as I was picking green beans from the bean vines twining up the outside of my wildlife garden. Suddenly one bean moved!
Box turtles, at least fifteen different individuals to date, trudge through the garden ever so slowly, but can disappear quite easily when I run back to the house for the camera.
An aphid infestation is soon followed by the arrival of hungry ladybugs. This is nature doing what it does best in a healthy environment – taking care of business.
Most of us juggle family, work, friends, and extracurricular activities. We live hectic lives with tasks tugging at us every minute of every day.
For us, binocs, camera, and sun hat all live by the back door overlooking the garden. A stroll through the garden centers and nourishes the soul, soothes and stimulates a racing mind in a positive way. A “Wildlife Garden FIX” is just what’s needed when those everyday tasks and pressures are about to take over.
So, why do we do it? Create a wildlife garden? It’s the right thing to do in a world where much of the landscape is anything but wildlife friendly, even hazardous to wildlife. But it also gives us great personal pleasure, and a wildlife garden fix may be just what the doctor ordered to help us deal with the stress of modern day daily life. But don’t make the wildlife garden fix “one per day.” The doctor recommends “take as many as needed.”
Every walk through our wildlife garden is like seeing it for the first time, full of wonder and discovery, and it’s just darn good for the soul.
Pat Sutton, of Cape May NJ, is an author and naturalist who has taught gardening for wildlife workshops and tours, for over 30 years, and is available to speak to your group or organization.
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