Where do you start when you want to transform your yard into a wildlife habitat? Most of us have gotten many of our ideas from other gardens and gardeners. Whatever the situation, challenge, or dilemma may be, someone else has tackled it. Don’t work in a vacuum! Gardeners are some of the most sharing people on earth, sharing ideas, their passion, plants, seeds, and true friendship.
Whether it’s issues like sun, shade, elevation, invasive plants, nosy neighbors, a noisy high-speed road, seating, structures, water features, dry meadow, wet meadow . . . someone else has tackled it already and you can learn from them, both their successes and their mistakes.
With that in mind, I’ve led tours of private wildlife gardens for over twenty years. These tours have brought many new wildlife gardeners on board and knit an existing group of gardeners closer together.
Some of the comments shared by tour participants have been priceless. One woman pulled me aside to tell me that she was quite shocked by the first few gardens. She admitted to having been expecting manicured “Longwood Gardens” type gardens. She went on to share that in the first garden we visited the owner not only tolerated some weeds (including the “dreaded” Common Milkweed), but rejoiced in them, finding and bringing the group’s attention to caterpillars and other insect friendlies sequestered on those very weeds. By the end of the day, after touring seven different gardens as a group, with me at the helm and often accompanied by the garden creator, the tour participant admitted to having caught the fever and excitement of wildlife gardening. She got it: plant it and they will come. She was hooked and couldn’t wait to get home and begin transforming her property into a more wildlife friendly habitat, rather than a garden of the same things everyone else planted (maybe pretty, but not sustainable or benefitting much of anything).
Another tour participant couldn’t believe her eyes. Each garden exploded with butterflies. She kept repeating, “Oh – My – God! Oh – My – God! I can’t believe this. I’ve never seen so many butterflies in a backyard garden. I wouldn’t have guessed this was possible.”
Over the past twenty plus years I’ve been lucky enough to be able to include not only private backyard wildlife gardens, but also a schoolyard habitat, several gardens planted on septic fields, a stunning meadow where a vicious bamboo stand once flourished, and several gardens owned by gardeners who had been taken to court because of weed ordinances or because a nosy neighbor didn’t want to see anything but a manicured lawn (and they’d won their right to continue to garden for wildlife and explained how). The tours often include brand-spanking-new habitats as well as long-standing wildlife gardens, teeny tiny gardens and sizable gardens. All are terrific learning experiences.
A wealth of ideas is shared all day long on these garden tours. Such tours are dripping with inspiration. Heads are full by the end of the day and especially by the end of the three-day weekend of tours. Trunks are loaded down with shared plants and seeds. Notepads are full. Both minds and cameras are packed with shots of not only native plants, butterflies, caterpillars, ornate wasps, and other beneficial bugs, but also with great ideas.
If you are thinking you’d like to be educated and inspired by a wealth of garden gems, think about joining me for one of the nine 2012 Tours of Private Wildlife Gardens I’ll be leading this summer in Cape May County, NJ: three in July, three in August, and three in September. We’ll be visiting about 20 gardens over a three-day period each month.
If Cape May is too far away, see if similar tours are offered in your area. I’ll bet members of the Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens TEAM will have some suggestions.
© 2012, Pat Sutton. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. If you are reading this at another site, please report that to us