“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” - Audrey Hepburn
We first began gardening for wildlife 14 years ago after purchasing our 130-year-old farmhouse. It began with consolidating 19 garden beds on our property to make it a little easier for my husband and I to manage when it was only the two of us. It makes me laugh to think all these years later that we were actually just relocating those garden beds instead of truly reducing and simplifying. We planted a few plants that we knew would attract hummingbirds and butterflies. We also planted some native species of plants, given it’s a great low-maintenance solution.
Years later, I read The Humane Gardener by Nancy Lawson (highly recommend!) and finally understood the big picture. Our focus broadened further to support not just pollinators, but all wildlife. So, fast forward years later --- plus two pre-teen daughters --- we now have vegetable gardens, nut trees, fruit trees, wildflower gardens, “re-wilding” areas, and more bird feeders and habitat than we ever thought we’d be able to manage. To watch the local animals thrive is so gratifying. My late Father-In-Law always said he loved to sit back and watch “nature’s TV” whenever he came over. There is plenty more work to be done, but this year we decided our property was ready for a “Certified Wildlife Habitat” designation. We are now the proud owners of a placard and a certificate displaying our designation from the National Wildlife Federation.
When my daughters were very young, we had a mishap that galvanized our choice to embrace this chemical free and wildlife-friendly way of living. It was 4th of July, and our family used to venture to the outskirts of downtown Columbus to watch the fireworks every year. We made such a great evening of it --- camping out in a parking lot, throwing some food on a portable grill, and letting the kids ride bikes and scooters while we waited for nightfall. My daughters found a grassy hill adjacent to the parking lot and decided to log roll down over and over. What we didn’t know was that the grass had recently been “treated”. There were no signs posted. Within the hour, both of my daughters developed an itchy rash on their arms, legs, stomach and back. Within a couple of hours, their skin had painful raised welts and blistering. It infuriated me that my two children were crying in the bathtub in the middle of the night while I tried to wash any remnants of the chemicals off their tender skin and soothe them in any way I could. I can only pose one question: if these chemicals are dangerous enough to do this to my children, why are we using them? We are regularly applying these chemicals to the only habitat our local wildlife know and depend upon for survival.
In general, we have developed such an adversarial relationship with our natural surroundings as well as the creatures with whom we share them. Our relationship is one from which we have come to view ourselves as being independent. Commercial exterminators, pest control, and landscaping companies often advertise with messaging to eradicate “pests” (if we can really call them that) and “eliminate weeds” by putting down toxic chemicals that not only harm wildlife, but pose a threat to us, our children, and our pets too. Commercial companies further that messaging with their offers of services that take care of the “problem”. Wildlife is captured, removed, and euthanized for simply striving to exist. Destroying them creates yet another vulnerability in both directions of the food chain, as well as the survival chain for that animal’s now-orphaned young.
We have come to favor high-density development and well-manicured lawns over the lush prairie and woodland landscapes that once covered Ohio. Those same lawns are barren of food sources and repeatedly covered in a toxic cocktail of chemicals. I find it unfortunate when we complain that a hungry animal ventures into our backyard garden to find a meal amidst the scarcity we have created. What is it that we expect them to do to survive?
It’s not too late to reverse course, starting in our own backyards. Fall is the perfect time to lay the groundwork. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Native Ohio Flowers List
Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea)
Wild Bee Balm (Mondara fistulosa)
Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
Wild American Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
Foxglove Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis)
Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)