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Wildlife Gardening

Wildlife Gardening. Photo: Frank van der Most, National Wildlife Federation.

Gardening for wildlife is fun! Wildlife gardens are beautiful, full of life, always changing, and always engaging.  What’s the newest bird, butterfly, dragonfly or flower to be recorded in the garden? Wildlife gardens pull you outside to examine things closely, and while you’re there the little garden chores become aesthetic ecological interpretative acts. A gardener will think, "Hmmmm,  I’ll deadhead the blue mist so the queen butterflies come back, and I’ll remove the espantes vaqueros so the tube tongue doesn’t get shaded out . Then the vesta crescent butterflies will lay some eggs. Aaah... the evergreen sumac has ripe fruit, so it’s time to make some lemony tasting tea from its berries."

In a wildlife garden a person connects with the natural world in a myriad of life-affirming ways. One’s heart leaps in joyous admiration when watching a hummingbird pluck spider webs for its nest, or when a skink slinks out of a rock wall crevice or a box turtle wrestles a hornworm. A world of neighbors live in the backyard, hundreds of life forms live out intricate lives. A wildlife gardener participates in a world that’s much greater than human constructs.

A wildlife gardener is a builder. Many wildlife gardeners have already constructed homes for the creatures of their yards. Turtle shelters constructed of bricks, boards and leaves draw the builder closer to the lives of turtles. A tiny backyard water garden gives a great return to the physical labor of digging a hole. Pay comes in the form of every bird that comes to bathe or drink, and in the frog that slips quickly into the water as its defense if the garden is interrupted. A wildlife gardener celebrates the myriad life forms she sees every day.

Gardening allows a person to experience the interconnectedness and interdependence of all life. Gardening helps a person to be alone with oneself, quiet and listening and feeling. Spiritual teachings are revealed in the stillness of quiet observation. Basho says, "Let go of your preoccupation with yourself. When you and the garden become one, poetry arises."

Wildlife gardeners honor their regional ecosystems and local culture by growing the most beautiful native plants of their ecoregion and those imports that have stood the test of time. Plants are gateways to stories and a major part of culture. Think of the garden as a sandbox, and the plants, hardscaping, and ornamentation as the toys in the sandbox. Each of the “toys” will have stories associated with them. The stories transmit culture – in other words, stories of our experiences, our knowledge, and the traditions of our bioregion.

We change the world by gardening. We change ourselves too. We enrich our own lives, for they are places of stories. Every garden contains not only the stories of all the visiting animals and bugs, but also the stories of the plants themselves. And here, we can also learn the stories of all the cultures of the people of the Chihuahuan Desert and the Llano Estacado. Pick out a favorite plant and then find a story about it.

Go visit a wildlife garden. Watch the many birds swarm around. Bring a camera and try to get a great photograph of a bird or butterfly or turtle.  It’s a lot of fun, and you’ll leave refreshed, rejuvenated, and maybe inspired to start your own wildlife garden. Wildlife gardens are also known as Xeriscape gardens, for a properly designed wildlife garden requires little supplemental irrigation. Hundreds of species of appropriate plants do well in our region's ornamental landscapes.

Nature Notes is sponsored by the Dixon Water Foundation and is produced by KRTS Marfa Public Radio in cooperation with the Sibley Nature Center in Midland, Texas. This episode was written by Burr Williams of the  Sibley Nature Center.

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