There is a handful of people who were influential back when I was still in school and trying to configure my passion for habitat gardening into a career. One of them was the lovely head research librarian at the community college I then attended; her resourcefulness coupled with a deep love of nature quickly endeared her to me in those early years of the millenium. Joyce Miller convinced me that any information I had curiosity for was more accessible than I’d previously realized, and she demystified the searching process. You dont have to know everything, as long as you know where to look for everything, seemed her mantra, and its one thats served me well. Imagine my delight when I received a call from her to redesign her wildlife garden this past week!
Joyce’s property sits adjacent to a satellite of the Albany Pine Bush, a high value ecosystem known as the Connected Pine Grove, which offers the unique habitat needed to support the endangered Karner Blue Butterfly. In homage to the location, and the Karner Blue species, we planted some native Blue Lupine, which is that butterfly’s larval host plant. A friendly neighbor stopped by during installation and informed us that a secret field located generally across the street is filled with wild Blue Lupine, which seems to strongly affirm our choice to plant it here.
At the outset Joyce’s upstate New York garden was filled with many generations of healthy Joe Pye Weed and overgrown, angry Rugosa Rose, and then a mix of plants that had more sentimental value than they did habitat value. It was easy to convince an open minded nature lover like this librarian to let me rip out the dozens of space wasting hosta and overgrown non-native Rugosa Rose. When I generated a list of species I wanted to add in the new wildlife garden design, this librarian immediately looked each and every one up on a search engine. (It’s a rare delight to work with someone that interested and motivated!)
Joyce Miller is possibly the most avid birder I’ve ever met. She is often traveling to exotic locations specifically to commune with the feathered residents. Joyce’s biggest desire for her wildlife garden redesign was to attract more birds, and offer them naturally existing food. We talked about the best kept secret in bird gardening, that if we want to see more birds we need to attract more insects and thus create automatic stock bird food. There are birds who primarily eat seeds and berries, birds that eat other birds, birds that prefer insects over all other foods, and hummingbirds, who supplement their diet with nectar, but nearly 100% of bird species feed their young insects. So when we plan our wildlife gardens with native plant species that foster pollinator habitat, its a double win for the birds: the many adult birds who love to eat insects will show up, and have food to eat, and the carrying capacity of all the neighborhood bird species is expanded exponentially. Its so easy to be kind to hungry birds with this simple method of choosing native plant species.
Our plant choices besides the aforementioned native Blue Lupine included NY Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis), Skullcap- shown in the above photo (Scutellaria incana), Monarda punctata, white Beebalm (Monarda fitulousa), Salt Bush (Baccharis halimifolia), Ageratum (Eupatorium coelestinum), Fothergilla (Fothergilla sp.), native pink Coreopsis (Coreopsis rosea) and Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis). As we planted this mix of native perennials into the wildlife garden, lots of bumblebees found their way to the blooms of the Ironweed, Ageratum, Skullcap and Soapwort.
This librarian’s wildlife garden was redesigned at a stellar time of year: autumn in upstate New York consists of more frequent rainfall and lower average temperatures than in the peak of summer. Trees, shrubs and herbacious plants delight in these conditions and acclimate with ease to their new surroundings. In the coming spring and summer, when the native plants are established and happy, scenes from the librarians wildlife garden will be quite a spectacle, and the sweet librarian will have a ton of fun watching birds from inside the house all year long.