From our Deputy Director Deb, who is is also our gardening expert:
Late last summer I visited the Charlotte Rhoades Park Butterfly Garden in Southwest Harbor, Maine. Full of color from both the flowers and the many butterflies it was designed to support, this garden was an inspiration. I thought of it often in the ensuring months but a major gardening project seemed like more than I would be able to manage at this point in my life.
The came the coronavirus. Remember March when the state shut down? Then there was April with empty shelves and Governors Cuomo and Lamont’s daily news briefings. May didn’t bring a lot of relief. It was starting to seem obvious that we would be in this situation for the long haul. I needed to do something positive and thought again about the Charlotte Rhoades garden. Maybe this would be the year to pull this off. To plan a garden is to plan for the future, a future that exists outside of the news cycle. The world was a mess and I couldn’t do anything about it, but I could create a garden that would support and nurture the wildlife in my small corner of the world.
Each night for weeks I fell asleep thinking about plants and butterflies and birds. If I started to worry about the coronavirus, I turned my thoughts instead to the Jersey Tea shrub I had just ordered. Or those beautiful fall-blooming asters that would be covered with bees and butterflies come September and October. Or the big clumps of Verbena bonariensis I planned to scatter throughout my garden.
I read books and looked at websites about creating pollinator gardens and sketched out a plan for an irregularly shaped garden about 50 feet long and between 12 and 20 feet wide. There was an existing spruce and 2 shrubs from an earlier planting scheme. And I wanted to incorporate a number of plants from another garden. A 50-foot garden may sound large but it wasn’t nearly big enough for the dozens of plants that I wanted to include. I made list after list. And then crossed out most of the plants on the lists until I had a workable plan. At this point, it was late April and time to get busy.
There were challenges, as there are with any garden. My location was a sandy hillside next to our driveway that turned out to have been a town dumping ground for road sand and hunks of old macadam from long–ago repaving projects. We had to remove the sand and junk from the planting area for each shrub or perennial (there were dozens) and replace it with decent topsoil. This was hard work! Luckily for me (though not for him), my 28-year-old son was stuck at home and was willing to help. He did most of the heavy excavating and moving of soil, alI I had to do was plant, mulch, weed and water. Months later, my garden is taking shape. It has been full of bees in all shapes and sizes as well as butterflies. As I write this, a flock of goldfinches is busy pulling the seeds out of the fading liatris and coneflowers. And I am busy thinking about how to improve the bloom sequence and plant variety in the garden. As any gardener knows, a garden is never completed.
Want to plant your own wildlife garden? There are many wonderful resources online. Check out the website for the Xerces Society for information and plant lists. American Beauties Native Plants, a wholesale nursery partially located in Connecticut, also has great plant lists.
Many of our area nurseries carry native plants such as coneflowers, liatris, asters and goldenrods. Some natives can be more difficult to find. Natureworks, the organic nursery in Northford, had a great selection of milkweeds and asters earlier in the season. Their website also offers lots of excellent information on gardening to support pollinators and butterflies. If you can’t find the plants you need locally, try Prairie Moon Nursery in Minnesota. They have been around for 40 years and supply over 700 North American species.
Consider joining a local gardening club. Members are knowledgeable and experienced gardeners who are happy to share their experience. Many clubs offer a wide range of educational programs. Cheshire has 2 garden clubs, the Cheshire Garden Club and the Suburban Garden Club.
Gardening has benefits beyond improving the beauty and utility of your yard. Check out this recent New Yorker article on the therapeutic power of gardening.
The library has numerous books on planning gardens for pollinators, butterflies and birds. Search the catalog using keywords such as “pollinators”, “native plants”, “xeriscaping”and “gardening for birds” .
Here are a few :
100 Plants to Feed the Bees : provide a healthy habitat to help pollinators thrive by the Xerces Society
Native Plants for New England Gardens by Mark Richardson
Garden Secrets for Attracting Birds : a bird-by-bird guide to favored plants by Rachael Lanicci
For inspiration and specific suggestions for what you can do in your own yard to support wildlife (hint: it involves planting more natives), read Douglas Tallamy’s books Bringing Nature Home and Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard.