For the Love of the Wild

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Doug Tallamy, the author of  The Living Landscape, spoke recently at our local Audubon Center. Doug is the Professor and Chair of the Entomology and Wildlife Ecology Department at the University of Delaware, and a wonderful speaker and teacher. His compelling books have become my guide, to better understanding how my plant choices dramatically impact local wildlife.

After the lecture and an instructional walk with Doug around the Audubon, I returned home with fresh eyes to inspect our yard, and ruminate about how I might make this place a greater magnet for birds, insects, and butterflies.

Years ago, I designed perennial borders influenced by great English plantswomen such as Penelope Hobhouse and Rosemary Verey. They were pretty gardens planned for textural appeal, harmonious color and seasonal longevity. Over the years, environment and wildlife habitat concerns have influenced my design ethic.  My passion for more natural, wilder spaces has matured, as open spaces are shrinking and growing more sterile, due to development, the overuse of chemicals and over-grazing by animals trying to survive in less space.

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Doug used slides to powerfully illustrate how the choices we make at the garden center, impact the wild things that bring delight to our lives.  One of the slides was a photo of a backyard, and above each plant was superimposed a bird feeder. Plants that provided no food attractive to birds or insects had an empty feeder above them, while some would have a half full feeder, while other feeders were full…a great and simple illustration of where the action is. This image has given me a tangible way to look at trees and shrubs in my own yard, and gauge how supportive they are to the bird and insect life I’m trying to encourage.

Sadly, my Japanese maple has an empty feeder above its pretty little head, while my stately white oak has a feeder that is overflowing. My hydrangea is providing very little for my feathered friends, while my high bush blueberry deserves a gold medal. His books provide data about many plants and will help me think carefully about future plant purchases. While I will never discard my japanese maple, I will ramp up the plants that provide the diversity and sustenance that sustains wildlife.

Doug talked about the layered forest that has a high canopy of trees with understory trees and shrubs in the middle layer, and ground covers blanketing the forest floor. This is a healthy environment resplendent with biodiversity. It abounds with insects supporting a network of birds, amphibians and other wildlife, that need our help, as we hope they will always be there.

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I have lots of plans, but a Winter between us and Spring planting. I’m going to have to hibernate like mama bear.

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