Certified Wildlife Habitat

Small sign saying Certified Wildlife Habitat on metal post, near raised bed, and steps to front door of house.

It’s official. We’ve been designated by the National Wildlife Federation as a Certified Wildlife Habitat. This means that our garden “provides natural sources of food, water, cover, and places to raise young, and is maintained in a sustainable way that incorporates native plants, conserves water and doesn’t rely on pesticides.” We posted our sign in our front yard. We are one of over 227,000 such gardens in the United States, and they are hoping to reach 300,000 this year.

In order to be certified, you fill out a form at https://www.nwf.org/CertifiedWildlifeHabitat and give a donation to the organization. It’s on the honor system–you tell them the sources of habitat in your yard, in several categories. For food in our yard we have native plants, berry bushes, and fruit trees, as well as our bird feeder, and the pond. One of my favorites is evening primrose that grows wild. We keep several, only cutting in places that don’t work to have a tall plant–last year there were goldfinches all over this plant, and hopefully more this year.

Goldfinches eating seed on round plant head.

We provide water especially with the pond. The pond serves so many purposes–food, water, a place to raise young (the tadpoles!), cover for frogs. When I walk in the morning, I see birds bathing, bees taking a drink, frogs sunning and snatching flies. But any kind of water brings wildlife to a yard–small or large. We also have a bird bath near our patio, and see birds and squirrels getting drinks there.

Cover is used to protect from bad weather, hide from predators, or hunt prey. Around the edges of our yard there are trees and bushes, and piles of branches that provide cover for small critters, and places to raise young. Ever since the orchard trees and hazelnut bushes have grown up, birds are always perching there, sometimes on their way to the bird feeder, sometimes eating insects. I’ve posted about the robins raising young in a nest on our back porch. But we’ve also seen young squirrels in trees, and chipmunks coming from underground.

As for sustainable practices, we never use pesticides, and we compost our food waste and leaves. We conserve water with our rain barrels, and if the pond needs topping up, that comes from the rain barrels too. We try to incorporate native plants wherever we can–mostly by not pulling the weeds that emerge on their own: violets, pansies, daisies, wild strawberry, goldenrod among many others. I use an app to identify plants that come up. We do also have invasive plants that we are trying to get rid of.

The official designation and sign were a gift to ourselves, and to make our intentions more visible in the neighborhood. Most of the actual habitat is in the back and side yards. Have any of you participated in this program? Maybe you might like to check it out. There are little things that each of us can do to care for the earth community, and foster habitat for wildlife.

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Roadside Garden

Roadside garden strip with green spikey leaves coming up, yellow flowered turkish rocket, and wood chips between plants, plus a broken wood log.

The last couple days I have been sprucing up the roadside strip in front of our house. I had left all the leaves and old dead plant droppings all spring, better for soil enrichment and habitat for insects. The hardy perennials have been greening up, and the turkish rocket is flowering now. I think of this as my no-work garden, and mostly just leave it alone. But two days ago I pulled up crabgrass, and then I have been adding fresh wood chips between plants and along the roadway. We just got a huge pile of wood chips from our favorite tree guy. Such an excellent and free resource!

I’ve also been watching the Chelsea Flower Show on Britbox, and maybe that inspired me to put some odd shaped logs in a few empty spaces between plants. An ornamental crabapple tree fell in a storm last winter, and our neighbor cut it up for us. Some of it can be seasoned for our wood stove, and I have been moving those to our wood pile. But some pieces are just the wrong size–but apparently they are perfect for garden decor. I can see this view above from our front living room window, and it makes me so happy!

Roadside garden with green spikey leaves, next to paved road, neighbors car in the background.

I also like that it now looks a bit prettier for the neighbors. I want folks to realize that wildlife friendly, organic, permaculture gardens can be beautiful too! In fact, someone walking by commented about how much they like our gardens. I hope we may be contributing to a trend. Our neighbors across the street just put in some raised beds in their front yard, and our neighbors to the side were getting heat pumps installed yesterday.

Finally, the other blooming plant right now is a blue mountain cornflower. I only wish I’d put it on the sidewalk side, because we can’t see it from the house. Maybe I’ll move it next year.

Mountain cornflower, or perennial bachelor button, with purplish blue flowers, green stems and leaves.

Breeding Tree Frogs and Robins

Tree frog with nobbly skin, perched on rocks with water of the pond visible on the left
Tree frog male, getting ready to sing his mating trill

Our first frog sighting in the pond yesterday, April 15! Much earlier than the last two years, when the first frogs came in June or July. It turned out to be a tree frog, rather than the green frogs that we’ve seen in prior years. We figured it out because in the afternoon, when my friend Francesca and I were sitting by the pond for a visit, suddenly, he sang the most amazing trilling sound, his white throat patch blowing out and in. And I remembered that Margy had heard that sound earlier in the day. Then, yesterday evening after dark, the night air was awash in these trilling calls, from all directions. A little internet searching identified those calls as tree frog mating calls.

Tree frogs live in trees, like their name suggests, and hunt on land most of the year, but they breed in water, in ponds and vernal pools. So maybe, just maybe, we’ll have some tadpoles to grow in our pond this spring. I learned that they eat algae, so that is another good, because our pond has got a bit too much algae in it. So exciting!

The other adventure of breeding is that of our robin pair. Even after three failed attempts to rear live young from eggs in a nest on the beam under the clear roof of our back porch, they were at it again, bringing nesting material to the same spot. That spot was just too hot in summer. It was so sad. So, first I tried telling them to go somewhere more suitable! Then I tried taking out the grasses to discourage them that way. But they kept at it. So then, I had a totally alternative idea. What about making something to shade that corner of the clear plastic roof? So it wouldn’t be so hot. This morning, I searched around and found some old cream-colored sturdy curtain material, and cut it to fit. Then I got up on a ladder and stapled it tightly to the wooden crossbeams.

I have already seen the robins return with more nesting material, so maybe they’ll put up with the changes to their location. After all, I had also painted the beams last fall. Now I am hoping that it will be enough–that the shade will keep the spot from getting too hot, that the robins can finally have a little family, in their chosen spot. And can I say that my heart is filled with joy after this little project? Some kind of ecstasy to help a fellow inhabitant of this place, to live together in mutual reciprocity.

A square of crossed beams, painted white, with a cream colored shade cloth over the top, and grassy nest material showing above the lower beam.
Robins’ nest beginnings under the shade cloth

When Trees Fall

The good part, for which I am grateful, is that our neighbor came to our door to talk to us. He asked whether we would mind if they took down trees in the area between our two properties. He wasn’t sure of its status, but I told him it was a “paper road” that likely would never be built. I told him we would NOT want those trees taken down, that they provide privacy between the two yards. The neighbors want to garden in the way back of their yard, but don’t get enough sun. I suggested that the boundary trees are to their north, so wouldn’t affect their sun. He said it was just as a way for the machinery to get into the back, but they could do it a different way and not take down those trees. He wanted to respect our wishes. So that is the good part. And I like that they want to garden.

Felled pines behind our big pine, behind our back yard, with goldenrod in front.

But the rest is so bad. Loud machines have been working all day yesterday and today, felling tall pines, and chipping up branches. Sometimes we feel the ground shake in our house when the trees fall. Our thin strip of protected trees does not hide what they are doing, light comes through and all the visuals of machines, and trees being cut down. The cherished privacy of our back yard is no longer what it was. But most of all, I think about all that habitat lost and wonder how many birds’ nests have been destroyed. Many many birds yesterday were making alarm calls. Early this morning, a pungent skunk-spray smell came through my windows. I imagine that the skunk has been dislodged in some way, and perhaps came across our yard and encountered one of the little cats that hunt here. I think about how we love the wildlife that come through our yard, and how the trees and underbrush, on the so-called “undeveloped” land, have been a mini-wildlife corridor for deer, turkeys, skunks, groundhogs, sometimes even foxes.

Through the trees, we can see the big machines, the pile of wood chips.

I try not to make the neighbor an enemy in my mind–after all, he wants to create a garden, so there is love for the earth there too. We live in the city, in a neighborhood near little brooks in sunken areas that continue to provide wildlife a refuge. But just in the six years we have lived here, acres of trees have been cut down in our neighborhood. Each tree down means more carbon in the atmosphere, more warming, more drought. I think about the long history of cutting the great forests of North America for settlers’ farms and gardens and cities.

And this is how the wider world feels to me right now as well. Slowly falling down around us, more and more “developed,” less and less room for wildlife and trees. I don’t even know how to feel this sadness. It is too deep, too fundamental. Even as Margy and I try to love this small piece of land, to learn from it how to live in mutuality with the earth, all around us the path of destruction seems to hold sway. I think about the great pine in our back yard on the paper road, the one that is over 100 years old, and how she must feel to sense the destruction of her family of trees nearby. I think the trees know. They know that we are destroying our only home, our only planet. And so we grieve together.