Let Your Garden Be a Wild Place
Seeing nature's wonders up close is among the rewards of creating a backyard wildlife habitat
"Nature, wild nature, dwells in gardens just as she dwells in the tangled woods, in the deep of the sea, and on the heights of the mountains; and the wilder the garden, the more you will see of her.” —Herbert Ravenel Sass
I first read those words when I moved to Loudoun County, Virginia, and was faced with gardening for the first time. I remember looking at this space of lawn that we planned to transform into a flower garden and worrying that I would do something “wrong” because I didn’t know the “rules” of gardening. However, Sass’s words stayed with me; so, as I read about gardening, I also made a small stone plaque with the words, “let your garden be a wild place.” I put that plaque at the side of the garden to remind me of his message as I dug in the dirt.
These days, that plaque is often seen crowded by milkweed, coneflower, grasses, tickseed and cardinal flowers that grow up around it, providing food for monarch caterpillars, hummingbirds and goldfinches and serving as great places for spiders to spin their orbs or dragonflies to perch. Indeed, the words proved true. The less I “clean up” the garden, the less I try to control and organize it into colors or patterns, the more wildlife—large and small—arrive, and the more fun I have.
Gardening for wildlife is rewarding and exciting in so many ways. It can be done on the smallest balconies and porches or on the largest patches of land. It gives us the opportunity to interact with nature on the most basic levels and be a part of the changing cycles of the seasons. One of the first things we see when gardening for wildlife is that everything is connected. Nature is a complex web of interrelated elements that, when working in balance, provides the elements that living things need to thrive. Through our gardening, we have the chance to see this web of life and watch its interdependencies play out right before our eyes. In this way, we can experience having a positive impact on the world around us.
Nicole Hamilton is an NWF member and vice president of the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy (LWC). This text is excerpted with permission from her article “Gardening for Wildlife,” which appeared in the Spring 2005 issue of LWC’s Habitat Herald.