Gardens for Wildlife

“The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope.” ― Wendell Berry

Gardens for Wildlife Laura Hamill

As we develop our landscape–such as when we add infrastructure, clear land, or maintain a garden we alter and, often, cut off corridors used by local wildlife.  

“Native plants have formed symbiotic relationships with native wildlife over thousands of years, and therefore offer the most sustainable habitat. A plant is considered native if it has occurred naturally in a particular region, ecosystem, or habitat without human introduction… Private residential property makes up approximately one-third of the urban landscape and studies show that the impact of wildlife gardening is substantial.

These properties can connect corridors of habitat necessary for migratory species between natural and larger protected areas of habitat on state, municipal and federal lands. They provide a continuum of resources if planted with a rich diversity of native plants and trees to supply the food chain for insects and the animals who depend on them. (Tallamy, 2007)” –National Wildlife Federation


Gardens for Wildlife Laura Hamill

The practice of building habitat for wildlife doesn’t have to be taxing on the gardener–much of it is aiding natural processes, which mean less work and more appreciation for seasonal plant cycles. As Toadshade Wildflower Farm included in their late summer newsletter, leaving coneflowers to go to seed can supply a much needed source of food for migrating goldfinch – an added benefit is that it will attract color and life in the form of fauna to an otherwise dormant and grey season.

Even some of the plants we regard with disdain have a valuable role in the community ecosystem. Poison Ivy is another important allie for native birds, helping them to pack on fat stores needed to overwinter.  

According to Tara Wildlife, “In the fall, poison ivy produces a white berry. This berry is abundant at a time when many plants are losing their flowers, berries, and even leaves. Many birds including Northern flickers, Bobwhite quail, Eastern phoebes, Cedar waxwings, Woodpeckers, Tufted titmouses, American robins, and others eat these berries in the fall and winter. White-tailed deer, raccoons, and black bear are able to browse on this plant as well. They will eat the leaves, fruit, and even the stems. Poison ivy as a ground cover or shrub can provide cover for small animals and as a vine, it can act as a path to climb up and down trees for small mammals and lizards.”

Gardens for Wildlife Laura Hamill

The gardens I maintain are in and around Lambertville, NJ. Our town lies at the edge of the Sourland Mountains, a track of green space in the heart of American metropolitan development, identified as an important rest area for migrating birds. I recently discovered that Lambertville is working to become a Certified Wildlife Habitat and to do so residents are encouraged to certify their property as a Garden For Wildlife.

To begin preparing your garden for certification consider the habitat basics your garden provides including food, water, cover, and breeding habitat for native species. You can find the National Wildlife Federation checklist here. Planting native species will help to support native fauna by providing food and habitat they evolved in relation with. One major bonus for gardeners is that once established native plants most often need less maintenance than non-native species. Plus, there are so many beautiful plants to choose from!

“By adding native plants, water, and shelter to our yards and gardens, we can make Lambertville a more welcoming place for birds, butterflies, and even people. At the same time, the plants we use will help reduce stormwater runoff by capturing rainwater on their leaf surfaces, will protect the soil from erosion by buffering the impact of raindrops, and will take up pollution and keep it out of our river, streams, reservoirs, and wells.”–Lambertville Goes Wild


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Laura Hamill is the Founder of Perennial Collective. In addition to maintaining herbal gardens, she works directly with intentional growers to create fresh, vibrant herbal teas. 
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