On the heels of Earth Day at the end of April comes Garden for Wildlife Month, celebrated each May. Here is an opportunity to be a good steward of the planet by gardening in a way that nurtures the natural environment and the plants and animals that depend upon it. What do wildlife gardeners do? They create habitats that contain native plants and mimic a landscape that would have been there had development not occurred. They foster biodiversity by creating habitats that provide appropriate food, water and shelter to attract a wide range of animals, from tiny insects to deer. They typically utilize organic methods and conserve on water use (since native plants tend to need less water).
My family’s home in the city of Columbia has a backyard that butts up against 7 acres of private, forested land that includes a large pond. I love the quiet and privacy this affords us and the wildlife it supports. Because of these surroundings, we enjoy (without much effort) sightings of all kinds of critters. There are songbirds galore, which we further entice with feeders. We have resident barred owls, red-tailed hawks and once we had a wild turkey trot through. Beyond the bird category there are raccoons, opossums, rabbits, groundhogs, toads, tree frogs, garter snakes, box turtles, countless insects, etc., and we even have a resident herd of deer.
You can create a wildlife-friendly garden and still enjoy decent yields of flowers and vegetables. By observing the wildlife and their habits in your immediate area you can design a garden habitat that supports them and allows you to reap the edible and visual benefits of your toil in the soil. This is what I’ve been told in my recent readings on this topic, and I’m interested in testing this theory myself because…
I have been confounded by that herd of deer! If I didn’t want to flower and vegetable garden, I’d delight in seeing them amble through, but they have undermined my attempts, demoralizing me when my blood, sweat and dollar bills never pay off with any kind of harvest due to their ransacking. Looking into this particular deer “pest” problem further I’ve learned various ways to protect the plants from these marauders. The most surefire way to keep deer from munching out is to build a 9 foot-high fence. Since I don’t have the resources for that, I’ve decided to try the “coexist” method and will put in plants that deer are not much interested in (such as rhubarb and aromatic herbs). Of course, there are other animals and insects that can be problematic to gardeners (groundhogs, rabbits, aphids, etc.), and depending on the critter, different approaches are needed to deter them.
There are resources aplenty available here at DBRL to answer your questions about wildlife gardening, including how to design gardens that allow a peaceful coexistence between humans and other animals. With some planning and specific types of effort you can reap a harvest of flowers and veggies and enjoy seeing the critters that your garden invites and supports.