Wildlife in the garden

I’m currently revising and updating a favorite presentation (Gardening for Nature/Gardening for Wildlife/Creating a Garden that’s Full of Life) for the Blue Ridge Eco-Gardener program at the NC Arboretum.  Their course satisfies a Wildlife and Garden credit for their certificate program. 

I’ve always focused on encouraging habitat and plant diversity (especially natives) in urban, suburban, and rural gardens (large or small), with the goal of restoring as much ecological balance in our landscapes in all of the versions of this presentation I’ve done over the decades.

But having a class with a more general title (Wildlife in the Garden) is giving me a fresh opportunity to reframe the benefits of ecological balance and diversity in our gardens, for a group of participants who live in a diversity of places in Western North Carolina.  Some live on mountain ridges, others in the urban landscapes in the Asheville Basin, and yet others in the open agricultural landscapes near Hendersonville — with lots of other sorts of places, too.

The landscape that you start with is an essential part of the mix, of course.  What’s around the property?  Is it forest?  How “natural?”  Is there farmland nearby?  New subdivision?  Old subdivision?   Is the landscape conventional tree and lawn?  What kinds of shrubs and trees?  Ornamental? Native?  What are your neighbors growing?  Are there sources of water?  etc.  These situations influence all sorts of things:  from the kinds of wildlife you may be able to enjoy watching in your landscape to the ones that you may wish to discourage!

Some of the most sterile landscapes I’ve ever seen are gardens full of ornamental plants that offer little in the way of food or habitat — no flowers producing nectar, no native plants with leaves that provide food for a variety of wildlife, no shrubs with edible berries, etc. 

Not my kind of garden, nor one that satisfies any goal of doing anything more than producing some CO2 (it’s still better than concrete and stone!)

A paper wasp nest

 Watching a Carolina Wren and a Tufted Titmouse forage for the larvae in this paper wasp nest on the porch roof this afternoon pleased me.  We don’t bother active nests (unless they’re next to a frequently used door) as the wasps do beneficial work in the garden — and otherwise don’t interfere with our activities.  (Yellowjackets are another story).

location of paper wasp nest

I believe strongly that we need to recreate and strengthen the ecological frameworks of our landscapes, communities, and neighborhoods to keep our cities and towns healthy and vibrant places for humans and wildlife.  I’ve been following habitat loss since I was a young plant ecologist, teaching classes on People and the Environment and doing research. 

I became an advocate of gardening with native plants and encouraging people to be gardeners as an antidote to just being gloomy about the state of the natural world;  it seemed more helpful to encourage people to plant a diversity of native plants and grow their own vegetables than to keep lamenting about loss of habitat.   Two Natural Gardening posts that came up doing a label search for “sustainability” were telling.  I’ve been thinking about these things for a long time.  Here was one on Sustainable Gardening and another on Gardening as Stewardship

I could just as easily have written them today.

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