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Gardening for Wildlife

When I first stuck my toe into the works of Douglas Tallamy, I immediately felt a burning urge to change everything about how my yard is landscaped. Why was so much of my garden stagnant and lifeless? I assumed that because my yard looked like everyone else’s, I must be doing something right. It wasn’t until I took a closer look at the wildlife in my own backyard that I realized how much of a difference I can make. It is a feeling that can be overwhelming at first, but ultimately leads to a sense of liberation and purpose.

While I wait for my morning tea to boil, my favorite thing to do is watch my bird bath. Standing from my kitchen window, I can watch a variety of bird and squirrel visitors enjoy a snack at the bird feeders and a drink. Some of the birds eat from the feeder perches, while others rummage and scratch around in the mulch. The squirrels act as amateur gymnasts, trying to grab on to anything they can so they can enjoy some black oil sunflower seeds.

Our bird bath outside the greenhouse in early spring

A year ago, this area of my yard didn’t exist, and I didn’t have this morning ritual with nature. While waiting for my morning tea or coffee, I was likely scrolling through one of my social media apps and paying no attention to what was outside of my window. In fact, these birds probably didn’t even know my yard existed.

It only took one reading of “Nature’s Best Hope” to inspire my husband and I to dig out some lawn and put in two new pollinator beds. We filled the beds with native asters, bee balm, rudbeckia, milkweed and a red maple tree. It quickly became my favorite part of the garden. I still needed to always have my phone with me, but now it was so I could take pictures of the weird insects and birds that I would spot. I downloaded the Picture Insect app so I could start identifying and tracking different species of butterflies – and the Merlin app for tracking species of birds.

A section of lawn before we put in the new pollinator beds

Any new visitor to the garden was suddenly the most exciting part of my day. We decided to expand our koi pond to allow for more wildlife by creating a bog area for frogs and dragonflies. We stopped fertilizing our lawn and spraying insecticides. We let the clovers come back, and happily seed with other species of micro clover.

Our primary business is growing and selling tropical houseplants. But I wanted to feel more connected to the natural world right outside my door. Of course, I still love houseplants and the joy they bring to my life inside. Especially during Covid when we were spending more time inside than ever, houseplants gave me a sense of purpose by taking care of something.  It is the act of growing and caring for things that makes me the happiest.

While we have a large greenhouse that is temperature controlled for our New Jersey climate, I try to offset its existence with an abundance of native species planted around it. I enjoy everything exotic, new, and collectable. But I also realize how much of a difference I can make to my local ecosystem by planting native in my own garden.

Ducks visiting our pond

It’s important that we try to give a portion of our yard back to nature, and to garden for the wildlife that surrounds us rather than trying to push it away. This year we’ve added an edible hedge of blueberries to share with the local birds. We’ve also added 2 even larger pollinator beds full of goldenrod, asters, milkweed and native grasses.

In our greenhouse we have been using beneficial insects to control aphids and spider mites. We have been releasing lacewing larvae and watching them hatch. I was especially delighted when a family of parasitic wasps moved in to help the battle against the aphids. Now I don’t spray in the greenhouse because I don’t want to hurt my population of beneficials. As time goes by, the population of aphids decreases, and a balance is restored.

Lacewings enjoying a snack

It’s exciting that my native plants outside of the tropical greenhouse have helped me with my houseplant growing. If we hadn’t planted those new pollinator beds, the parasitic wasps would not have found the greenhouse. And I’d still be spraying every other week with neem oil or insecticide. The more I develop my garden, the more I learn about the greenhouse, and vice versa.

As houseplant growers, we spend so much of our time trying to replicate nature. Whether it be with grow lights, fertilizer, insect control or humidity. It’s liberating to get outside and watch how nature just does it so easily.

I’ll be sharing more about my gardening journey soon, so stay tuned! If you have any questions on how to get started with creating a pollinator garden, or how to introduce beneficial insects to your greenhouse, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

1 thought on “Gardening for Wildlife

  1. Thank you for sharing your insight. Very thoughtful and inspiring. I really enjoy your blog.

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