Wildlife Gardens by Example- Wolf Trap

Grey-headed cone flower (Ratibida pinnata), Hoary vervain (Verbena stricta), Bee balm (Monarda didyma), Illinois tick trefoil (Desmodium canadense), take center stage in this front yard, prairie garden. photo Catherine B. Zimmerman

There is nothing quite as peaceful and calming, yet as vibrantly alive, as visiting a wildlife garden.  If you are lucky enough to have one in your back yard or neighborhood, you know what I mean. The busy activity of birds, butterflies, bees and pollinators amid the color and texture of the native plants is mesmerizing.  Wildlife gardens can be shady, sunny, wet or dry.  The key is that they contain native plants suited to the site.  That means we plant the right plant in the right place.  Why native plants?  Native plants are best suited to supporting our native insects.  That’s because ninety percent of our native insects are specialists and can only eat a particular native plant or family of native plants that they have evolved with over time, and I’m talking about a long, long time!  Please view author and entomologist,  Doug Tallamy’s, explanation of the native insect, native plant connection.

Native Milkweed plant seeds, dispersed by wind, will sprout new plants next year. This is good news for Monarch butterfly populations whose larvae can only eat Milkweed plants. Without this native plant, Monarch butterflies would cease to exist.  photo Catherine B. Zimmerman

For quite a while I’ve been promoting more of these dynamic landscapes through talks and workshops in communities around the country.   Last year I wrote a blog,  “Wildlife Gardens by Example.”  The blog outlines what I consider to be a key component in establishing more native, wildlife friendly landscapes.  That component? Leading by example.  This is an excerpt from that blog:

 Here’s what I started to think about. What if places frequented by many people, every week, became good examples of sound environmental practices and advocated for conservation landscapes? You know, wildlife gardens. What if they planted wildlife habitat instead of lawn? What if the people who visited observed these landscapes and learned about the benefits of these wildlife gardens and acted on changing their own yards to include natural landscapes? Hmmm….

Well, as it turns out, there seems to be a growing, maybe even exploding number of homeowners, organizations, churches, businesses, schools and communities who are leading by example. If we plant, they will see, if they see, they will plant!  A meadow planting, as many are discovering, can help mend the rift in the ecosystems that we have destroyed by planting lifeless, homogeneous, chemically dependent lawns.

This homeowner in Wisconsin decided to replace his monoculture lawn with a diverse, prairie planting.  The neighbors were so excited by the wildlife garden, they too are reducing their lawn, turning a large part of their front yard into a prairie.  That is good news for birds, butterflies, bees, other wildlife and human life.  Yes, we too benefit from these landscapes because there is no need for pesticides, fertilizers, excessive water consumption and polluting, petroleum fueled, equipment to maintain wildlife gardens.

Prairie wildlife garden inspires more prairie plantings in the neighborhood.                           photo Catherine B. Zimmerman

 

Neighbors like what they see and start their own prairie garden. First year planting from seed. photo Catherine B. Zimmerman

 

As your land–and you–go dormant this winter, dream about how, come Spring, you could transform your dull, high-maintenance lawn back into something like the warm and welcoming home for fellow critters it used to be.

Over the next months I will highlight, in a series I call “Wildlife Gardens by Example,”  individuals, organizations and communities who have committed to healthy landscapes and responsible stewardship of the environment.  First up, Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, Vienna, Virginia.  Wolf Trap has created a one acre, native meadow, in a high visibility area, so that their half million visitors can experience the process, the beauty and the benefits of a wildlife garden!

Don’t Miss! Catherine Zimmerman’s Book and Companion DVD:

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© 2012 – 2014, Catherine B. Zimmerman. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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Comments

  1. Ed Colahan says

    Catherine– The meadow is looking great! I haven’t been back since the day we planted it, so it was fun to see clips of the progress. It will be fascinating to see how it evolves over time. Please keep us posted.

  2. says

    Catherine, I love this project. I love how people are already enjoying the paths and walking on an area they most likely never did before. I am imagining all the people-young and old who will be watching the birds and insects and bonding with the habitat that was created. Really nice! Please keep posting as the new meadow comes alive each season. I’d love to see how the plants evolve.
    Diane St John recently posted..Our Growing Backyard Nature Habitat

  3. Blair Hamilton says

    Hello,
    Loved the video. I live up in Canada about 2.5 hrs northeast of Toronto and live in a woodland setting about 2 acres. My goal was to shrink our lawn/yard down to 25% of the total. When we moved in alot of the property was cleared and i just let it go back to nature. I planted alot of shrubs and wildflowers native to my area and the wildlife that as now come back was almost instant. I focus on different insects each year this year was butterflies so i planted mostly host plants and it worked out well. I have learned so much from the postings on these two web sites, alot of it works up here in ontario.Like the video because i am a visual learner and the video put me right there with the people doing the planting. Thanks

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  1. [...] There is nothing quite as peaceful and calming, yet as vibrantly alive, as visiting a wildlife garden. If you are lucky enough to have one in your back yard or neighborhood, you know what I mean. The busy activity of birds, butterflies, bees and pollinators amid the color and texture of the native plants is mesmerizing. Wildlife gardens can be shady, sunny, wet or dry.   The key is that they contain native plants suited to the site. That means we plant the right plant in the right place. Why native plants? Native plants are best suited to supporting our native insects. That’s because ninety percent of our native insects are specialists and can only eat a particular native plant or family of native plants that they have evolved with over time, and I’m talking about a long, long time!  [...]

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