Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Our Growing Backyard Nature Habitat

A back section of yard that was full of invasives. We chopped them down, tarped the area for a summer, then added truckloads of leaves in fall and started to plant. 
I have always been interested in nature. I grew up camping, hiking and playing outside.  My husband affectionately has called me “Crazy Plant Woman” for about 18 years (when he first realized my affliction). In the past five years I have become seriously interested in nature. I moved from Chicago to Connecticut in 2006 and now had a house with 2 acres, one of which was the lawn, the other is mature woods with a beautiful creek running through it. My kids and I spend time exploring in the woods and playing on a small area of the massive lawn, “the playing field” which my husband turns into a baseball or football field, depending on the season. When my children started school here I went on field trips with the outdoor education teachers at my kid’s school and realized I had good, native plants growing in my yard. The kind the Native Americans would use for band-aids and to make toothbrushes to brush their teeth. I became even more interested in nature. I decided to go through the UConn Master Gardening program. Wow-now I saw the invasive plants in my yard and began pulling them out for several years. I became more interested in nature. I went back to school, this time for horticulture and landscape design. I got a job at a great garden center well known for it's teaching of organic land care practices and cool plants. Now I am immersed with nature all the time, and very happy about it.
One area of the outdoors I am fascinated with is the insects, birds and wildlife. So are my kids. I have found nature is not only meditative for me, it is for my kids as well. I purchased a CT bird book and a bird feeder four years ago when my oldest son Sam was six and a half. He got a notebook and went out and sat in the garden with the book and tracked the birds he saw.  My heart was smiling. My daughter Catherine is happiest when we are able to find a toad in the yard. My youngest, six year old Henry is the most like me. He gets home from daycare and immediately walks the entire yard, alone, and quietly observes the changes since the previous day.  He picks peas and eats them. He rushes to tell me all he saw and takes me to see it. He notices the tiniest things. He finds four leaved clovers. He knows which bugs are beneficial for the plants, which are not.
I am now immersed in the biggest challenge of all. Returning my yard to nature. We do not need an acre of lawn. We need at most a large patch. The wildlife needs the habitat and we are going to give it to them, one small area at a time.  I have seen firsthand, if you build it, they will come. I started this process a few years ago by cutting down a large area of multiflora rose and smothering it with truckloads of free chopped leaves from my landscaper friend. This area is now planted and growing native trees and flowers, which are the habitat for birds, bees, butterflies and as of Sunday, a box turtle we saw digging around. That turtle has no idea how happy he made us, and how determined we are to make more room for him and his friends. The nature girl in me has taken over and is spreading to my children and any of their friends who come by.