By Debbie Ludas
Most people know that I am a hobby gardener and a dragonfly/bee/butterfly/bird lover. I am involved with the Wake Forest Garden Club and the River Hawks Chapter of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation and many have come to my garden at the corner of North Main and North Avenue and walked through my open garden.
If you’ve wondered if you can have a garden, whether you have little space or maybe lots of shade, the answer is yes, you just need to put in a little thought.
I read a book that has greatly influenced me, Bringing Nature Home by Douglas Tallamy. His writing has made me question my choices for plants and my cottage garden style and how I can adjust my plantings to be beautiful and environmentally useful.
For example, what does a local oak species contribute to habitat richness as opposed to a crepe myrtle? What plants in my yard contribute to bugs, butterflies and bees?
The wild species that we have all come to enjoy will not continue if we take away their food and places they live. Many wild species don’t eat the non-native species we grow in our yards and in our urban areas.
One habitat parallel that Tallamy explains is simple: Planting trees and bushes that our insects don’t eat is like putting out bird feeders with no seeds in them. I also learned baby birds don’t eat seeds. The parents have to bring insects and caterpillars to the nest for the babies.
One oak tree serves host to 534 species of insects and caterpillars. We have numerous oaks in Wake Forest. But for every oak, willow, cherry and birch (good), we have an equal amount of crepe myrtle, autumn olive, and Bradford pear that are avoided by native insects.
The autumn olive is loved by birds, however, and seed dispersal quickly overwhelms native plants. Accordingly, it is listed as an invasive plants by the N.C. Audubon Society.
Wonder of all, autumn olive is purposely planted on the Neuse River greenway.
One way you can make your yard more habitable for native critters is to reduce the amount of lawn vs. natural area by employing what is called the ladder approach. Choose tall trees for the back, medium trees, then tall bushes, medium bushes, tall plants, medium plants and ground covers. You can start in the middle or from back to front.
Most birds hang out in the medium trees and bushes to fly in to feeders bird baths. Most people don’t like the wild look of the prairie garden but this is different. It is just like cottage gardening, but using native trees and plants.
If you have a shared space, you make use of what is around you by planting the size that you can control and provide water, seeds, and a perch for a lookout. Like me, you can gradually change your way of thinking and planting.
Also, speak up during your homeowners association meetings or civic organizations to be the voice for change. You can change your children’s way of thinking about insects from icky bugs to delicious bird food.
There will be plantings in your yard you can’t bear to remove. For example, I have Japanese iris in my rain garden that I love, but I must concentrate on increasing natives and bringing more insects in.
Join me and get on the save-the-monarch-butterfly bandwagon at Dirt Day April 2, in downtown Wake Forest. Your first step is easy — the Garden Club and River Hawks are giving away native wildflower seeds.
National Arbor Day is April 29, but will be celebrated in Wake Forest at Joyner Park April 23. There will be stations along a circle tree path that identifies native and invasive trees. There will be a seedling giveaway and planting demonstrations. This a great opportunity to see trees that are doing well in their native habitat.
On May 14, the Mad Hatters Tea will be at the Wake Forest Museum and grounds. There will be a plated tea served from 11 am-2 p.m, as well as an art and garden market from 10 a.m-4 p.m. Members of the N.C. Symphony will play, and there will be two speakers. Christina Harvey from the Audubon Society will speak on bird friendly gardening at 10 a.m. and at 11:15, Helen Yoest, a garden journalist and stylist, will speak about gardening with native plants. Yoest will have her most recently published book Good Berry, Bad Berry available for sale. Tickets are $15.
These are all opportunities to learn more about how the choices we make as gardeners can profoundly impact the diversity of life in our yards, towns and on our planet. Come enjoy the tea, music, museum, and gardens and learn what one person can do.
—Debbie Ludas is an active member of the Wake Forest Garden Club. For more information, see wfgardenclub.org.