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Nature's Unexpected Bounties

Extraordinary NWF certified gardens are providing harmony and healing as well as habitat

  • Anne Bolen
  • Gardening
  • Jan 30, 2017

St. Joseph Mercy Hospital Ann Arbor farm manager Amanda Sweetman says this land cultivates more than vegetables and herbs: “We want to grow a healthier community.”



THE NATIONAL WILDLIFE FEDERATION certified its 200,000th wildlife habitat this past June at the Denver Zoo. This is just one of the more than 14,000 NWF Certified Wildlife Habitats that have sprung up at zoos, aquariums, arboretums, museums, parks and schools as well as at some more unusual locations that are providing a bounty of unexpected benefits. These swaths of native habitat offer their visitors and caretakers “a way to connect to nature and each other,” says Mary Phillips, director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Garden for Wildlife™ program.

Peaceful Sanctuaries

In response to the Obama White House’s strategy to expand pollinator habitat, U.S. Department of State Division Chief for Biodiversity Barbara De Rosa-Joynt has helped certify more than a dozen embassies, consulates and ambassadors’ residences around the world. For example, monarchs now feed on native milkweed at a consulate in Mexico, Girl Scouts give garden tours at the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Ethiopia and U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman uses his native blooms to educate visitors about declining bee populations. “It is nice to see our embassy and consulate colleagues engage with their communities and local ecosystems in new ways,” says De Rosa-Joynt.

Healing Habitats

St. Joseph Mercy Hospital Ann Arbor in Michigan uses nature for treatment and preventive medicine. Strolling its 364 certified acres, visitors might glimpse a fox in its woods or silvery checkerspot butterflies in its prairie or pollinator garden. Patients can work in the “hoop house,” a wheel-chair-accessible greenhouse, as therapy. The hospital cafeteria often serves vegetables from the site’s 25-acre farm. Staff can even tend their own garden plots. Vascular surgeon Brian Halloran says sharing the victories and setbacks of caring for his plot “helps me connect with patients, not just on a doctor-patient level but on a human level.”

Sacred Grounds

Restoring the environment is innate to the Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Bethesda, Maryland. In 2015, families installed native plants such as Joe Pye weed, blueberries and 50 trees on its 5 acres.

This synagogue participates in Sacred Grounds, a program Adat Shalom Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb cofounded in 2012 with NWF and the nonprofit Interfaith Power and Light to help places of worship create native habitat. “If you are a bird or a butterfly, you can have Jewish breakfast, Muslim lunch, Hindu snack and Christian dinner,” says Dobb. Yet “the greatest multiplier effect is the hundreds of members and visitors who see this habitat, are touched by it and bring that consciousness of nature back to their homes, schools, businesses and communities.” In this way, NWF certified habitats are seeds that never cease yielding.


Anne Bolen is managing editor.


More from National Wildlife magazine and NWF:

Read More about NWF's 200,000th Certified Habitat, Denver Zoo
Communities Gone Wild
Why Communities Matter for Wildlife
NWF Certified Habitats are a Certified Success
Gardening for Pollinators: Grow Bigger, Better Fruits and Veggies
Family Fun: Create a Pollination Station in Your Yard or Make a Butterfly Garden

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