3/4 acre in Growing Village; Northumberland, ON
Featured Site Created By lakeeffect18
Lakeeffect18 is an enthusiastic wildlife gardener. In the last nine years she has transformed her less-than-an-acre property into an oasis of native plants. She has impressive stories and wildlife viewings to accompany her hard work. Learn more about the transformations she has made below.
EcoRegion: Lake Erie Lowland
Planting Zone: 6a-5a
What work has been done to improve this site for birds and other wildlife? How long did it take?
When I first arrived here 9 years ago in the fall of 2008, the yard was a vast lawn. I wanted a house with a large lot in a village with the potential to plant many native trees and shrubs. I had a vision of replacing the lawn with a border of trees around the perimeter and filtering down to shrubs. The vision included an open meadow running down the middle over the aquifer and leach field (a.k.a weeping bed).
The property is about 3/4 of an acre. I work with native plant material and wanted a place to show that you can plant native materials in an urban area and by doing so have impact on wildlife, pollinators, and birds. I focus on being environmentally friendly, ‘make do’ with what you have, recycling materials–including metals–for new purposes,
I experiment with plants and I think about how the plant will be useful for wildlife and birds. I will not water unless we are in drought conditions and then only sparingly. Those are the times your plants need to toughen up. If the leaves are wilting, then I will water enough to flow through the root ball into the soil.
In creating beds, I mark the new bed outline with a garden hose, then edge the bed along the hose line I have created. I do not dig out the grass. Instead, I use the following system–with the grass in place, I use my weed whacker to take the grass down to the soil level. I cover the cleared area with heavy cardboard that I get from an appliance store. Refrigerator boxes are best as they are heavy and thick. I nail down the corners with 10” nails and then cover the cardboard with shredded leaves from the property or a mixture of soil (from the compost bin) and straw from the raspberry bed, or pine mulch received from an arborist.
The beds I have created are large. I don’t want to disturb the soil and the microbes. This method, if done in the fall, will be ready in the following spring for planting. If done in the spring, is ready to plant by late summer or fall. I use mycorrhizal fungi on roots when I plant, if they are not already present on the tree or shrub. I have found purchasing mycorrhizal fungi is the biggest development in the horticultural field in the past 15 years.
I have worked in landscaping for over thirty years and have found the less I disturb the soil the better it is for plants and fungi that live there. Having planted over 30 trees here, and probably twice as many shrubs, I have created all of my borders on this site using the method described above. I am one person, over 60, who has done all of this on my own. As I get older, I find creating gardens this way, where I avoid digging-up lawn and instead just smother it with mulch, helps to minimize the toll taken on my body.
What are some successes that you've seen since the improvements were made? (alternatively, "What are you most proud of, or excited to share about this site?")
The first fall in this house, I planted three eastern white pine (Pinus strobus). They were about 18” tall and grown locally here at a friends property in Northumberland County. It’s our Provincial tree and is a fast grower. Now, they are probably 25’ tall and bushy–all this in nine years. This is the first year they have produced cones. When people see these trees and know how much they have grown, they want a grouping like mine. I love that.
Another success with the pines are the False Morels that grew under the them last year and this year. I also had two varieties of Stinkhorns growing under them., To me this all signifies a healthy environment for the birds. I am comfortable with them eating grubs and bugs from my soil, as it should be.
Probably the best tree and shrub for birds I have planted is the serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis). I’ve planted both the tree and shrub form. Just writing about it I realize I need more of this versatile plant. The robins, Cedar Waxwings and others all vie for the berries of this tree. At first, only American Robins bothered with the berries. This summer, I noticed the American Robins were upset, the Cedar Waxwings were busy on the serviceberries before they were even ripe!
I started a veggie garden only to find perennials were reappearing from a long lost perennial border, so I worked with the digitalis, daffodils, and others that appeared. In one area, I planted everbearing raspberries and created a raised bed for blueberries planted in pine mulch. Later, I enlarged the raised bed and added Saskatoon berries. The Saskatoon berries I pluck away at, but the Grey Catbird and Cedar Waxwings enjoy them as well. I freeze the blueberries, I make pies with the raspberries. What I don’t gather the birds eat. I now call this the ‘Berry & Seed Garden’. The leaf litter I place in this bed in the fall is a perfect shelter for ground birds, such as sparrows, Mourning Doves and others. In winter it provides shelter, food, and, with the various forms of adapted metal fencing, a place in which birds can perch.
Are there any tough decisions that had to be made regarding its management? How were they handled?
I have had many failures in trees and I’ve found plants–even ones native to Ontario–grown outside my region, can be the cause. Know where your tree is grown. About six years ago we started getting some wonderful native North American trees. I got a Black Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) and I got a – Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum). I was thrilled. They both only lasted two years. I found out they were grown on the west coast in Oregon. So now I want my trees grown in the northeast and preferably Ontario grown.
I first started planting over 30 years ago. My focus now is, I want a meadow way out back. The soil in the north end of the property is perfect for more shrubbery, as well as joe-pye weed, fall asters and the like. I hesitate, however, as I know it will be a struggle with the invasive dog strangling vine, it is in every hedgerow in the neighbourhood. Dog strangling vine (Cynanchum rossicum) invades quickly. I now dig seedlings out as soon as they appear. It worked its way into a 25’ x 15’ bed once engulfed with Annabelle hydrangea, wild raspberries, and Himalayan balsam. Those plants took three years to get rid of. Still every year a Himalayan Balsam or three will appear and I pull them immediately.
I have reduced the amount of lawn that needs to be cut, but not nearly enough. I still want to do the meadow, but continuously removing invasives, such as dog strangling vine, is labor intensive.
What's your favorite wildlife sighting?
When I first arrived, the only place birds visited was the front yard as there were places for them to land. My bird counts for Bird Studies Canada and Cornell involved me sitting at the dining room window for the first three or four years. I had one feeder out back, but all the action was out front.
Now, all feeders except one are out back as there are lots of new areas for the birds to escape to. In the past few years, with the new feeders out back, my bird counts have gone up, especially in Goldfinches. I even get a shrike strike once in awhile that hunts my smaller birds.
In winter, I put the suet feeders on cedar posts for the nuthatches and various woodpeckers. Last winter, for the first time, I had a Red-Bellied Woodpecker. Mourning Doves will sit up top of the colonnade in the sun and rest. Last winter, while I was sitting here watching the birds, a large male Northern Harrier flew in and landed on top of one of the posts of the colonnade. I dared not move, as I knew if I ‘looked’ to grab the camera he would be gone.
I took great joy in the first bird landing in my yellowwood and when I saw a squirrel running up the hackberry. I love it when a scolding red squirrel is in a tree I planted. I could sit outside in the summer and watch a fox hunt for crickets in the lawn or, at dusk, watch the brown bats feed in the open low meadow outback. One summer, I even had fishers going through the property at night. I have watched the large female garter snake with a large toad halfway in her mouth in the wild garden on the south side of the house. Both she and the toad watched me watching them. Then finally the snake turned into the deep shrubbery as if to say, “enough is enough, I am finishing this meal alone.” All’s fair in nature.
Nesting birds are cardinals and the catbird. Northern Flickers nest nearby as well. The young ones, when they first fledge, are usually way out back on the lawn learning to forage with their parents. I also have nesting American Robins, Mourning Doves, and Tree Sparrows. I watched a pair of Brown Thrashers gathering their nesting materials this past spring, and I am sure they nested in the hedgerow just to the south of my large silver maple. It’s a perfect mess in there. I don’t know where the chickadees nest yet but they are around. Blue Jays nest nearby and are constantly raiding other nests unless the crows show up. It can be ruthless out there and sound like bloody murder.
Any other fun anecdotes you'd like to share?
One day I was tugging at the hose wondering who the heck was at the other end around the corner. It was the fox, he was playing with the hose, it was in his mouth and he would drop it and leap on it. Then there was the time when there was a brand new, very large, blue sneaker in the backyard, and I wondered how the heck that it got there, until the fox showed up. He walked right over to the sneaker, picked it up with his mouth and tossed it in the air and kept trying to catch it. That fox was the best guest I had that summer. A very entertaining fellow, he was.
I spend my winters with my cat and Michael Dirr, the author of the ten pound book I love and is my woody plant bible. With him comes native plant author Allan Armitage and a few others. I have to know who pollinates what, who eats what, and what are the side benefits to the soil, the air, and life on earth. It’s all a circle and it goes around. I do want to say this has been an excellent exercise for me, plotting out my own piece of heaven and writing about it all.