Saving wildlife focus of garden

Posted Aug. 07, 2009, at 6:37 p.m.

In backyard landscapes devoted to wildlife, in front lawns converted to sanctuaries for birds and pollinators, and in public policies focused on preservation of life rather than its annihilation, there is hope for stopping the current precipitous decline in global biodiversity. Innovative solutions for saving wildlife do exist, both globally and locally.

In Holland, saving nature became a national goal with establishment of a National Nature Policy Plan that quickly led to a National Ecological Network. Innovative designers and engineers created “wildlife crossing passages” that link landscapes planted for wildlife. There are badger pipes, amphibian tunnels, ecopipes for small creatures, and ecoducts for large animals.

These passages provide for safe movement of wildlife from one area to another. New roads are routed to avoid disturbing habitats and passages. Populations of insects, birds and mammals are on the rise.

While neither voters nor politicians in the U.S. have yet to see the wisdom in a nation-wide biodiversity rescue plan, landscapes designed to preserve local biodiversity do exist. For example, at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension office for Hancock County, on Boggy Brook Road in Ellsworth, visitors can stroll about a beautiful garden created for birds and pollinators.

Designed in part by an Ecological Landscaping class, installed and maintained by Master Gardener volunteers, this is a teaching garden. A bluestone patio, an outdoor classroom, provides space for people to gather for lectures and discussions. Sitting on the bluestone or perched on native boulders, notebooks open on their laps, students are surrounded by native shrubs and herbaceous perennials chosen for wildlife value.

Walking around the garden, you will find most of the plants clearly labeled, although more labels and informative signs are planned for the near future. This is clearly a landscape in progress with plans to continue the native landscape around the entire building.

This is also a garden that changes dramatically with the seasons. At the moment it is a landscape in transition from flowering to fruiting. A large colony of head-high Joe Pye weed is in full bloom, bringing butterflies and bees close to the patio for easy viewing, while most of the shrubs are in fruit, including pagoda dogwoods, chokeberries, elderberries, high-bush blueberries, winterberries and Virginia roses.

All of these fruits will soon present a feast for wild birds. Birds also need cover, protection from predators, and this is provided by the larger shrubs and by a heritage birch that will soon tower over all.

Earlier in the year, these same species and others provide nectar and pollen for native pollinators. Native bees, both bumblebees and solitary bees, as well as butterflies, forage among the blooms of blueberry, elderberry, chokeberry and summersweet clethra.

A water garden designed to catch runoff from the building’s roof was installed along one edge of the garden and planted with native species that love wet feet, including several rhodora (a native rhododendron), sensitive ferns, blue flag irises and marsh marigolds. A small berm separating the water garden from the patio holds my favorite pine, jack pine, Pinus banksiana, too often left out of native plantings. Though small, it is already developing the twisted, contorted habit characteristic of this coastal species.

The entire garden is maintained using only organic fertilizers, such as composted goat manure, and without the use of pesticides. Signs of insects chewing on leaves and stems are tolerated, even welcomed, as insects are food for warblers and thrushes.

Above all, this is a garden that demonstrates what each of us could accomplish as we replace wide expanses of lawn with native plantings that provide food and shelter for wildlife. Imagine all of our individual gardens linked with wildlife corridors, safe passage for salamanders, frogs, birds, insects, mice. Imagine planning future roads and buildings to avoid disturbance of wildlife habitat.

Think globally, act locally. Begin with a visit to this garden.

Send queries to Gardening Questions, P.O. Box 418, Ellsworth 04605, or to rmanley@shead.org. Include name, address and telephone number.

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