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Garden on Gilmore, Winona, MN

Featured Site Created By mahar

In the grand scheme of things, you might consider a small urban back yard just a drop in the habitat bucket. However, the Garden on Gilmore in Winona, Minnesota, is sandwiched between a lake, a forested natural area, a pond, and–oh yeah–the 2nd longest river in the US. The mighty Mississippi River drains nearly 40% of the continental US (talk about a watershed!), more than any other river system in the country. Fortunately, it won’t be carrying any synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers from this garden when it reaches the Gulf of Mexico (about a 3-month journey).

Birds attracted to the lush environment around Winona may find themselves in the Garden on Gilmore, a small but mighty oasis on an otherwise average street. Birds such as the American Goldfinch, Northern Cardinal, Gray Catbird, and even Ruby-throated Hummingbird use some part of the back yard, but mahar particularly enjoys the woodpecker trifecta: Downy, Hairy, and Red-bellied. Mahar’s dream was to have her small yard make a huge difference. Read her story, and be inspired.

What work has been done to improve this site for birds and other wildlife? How long did it take?

Fountain in the Bee Balm

Photo © mahar

In our 21 years of living here, most of our work has centered on improving the back yard. Two Black Walnut trees dominated this small space, one of which was removed to let in sunlight and create garden space [Black Walnut roots emit a chemical into the soil which prevents other plants from growing near it]. We added lilac bushes and other small shrubs, until eventually, all lawn was removed and replaced with perennial gardens and brick paths. Native plants are included in the perennial beds, and the addition of a fountain and birdbath invite the birds to our small urban back yard.

The front yard is a work in progress. We removed old, overgrown shrubbery and re-landscaped around the house. A Juniper is the only original shrub remaining. I can’t part with it as it is a haven for the birds. We have been improving the soil and reseeding the front lawn, but it’s a struggle…especially during extremely dry summers (like this one). In the future, I would like to add native plants so that even a very traditional and public front yard will become more bird friendly.

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?")

Our greatest success was achieving the dream of transforming a dark and uninviting small back yard into a welcoming garden sanctuary. Improving the soil to accommodate plants and shrubs was our top priority. Making sure I included plants native to Minnesota and adding water features to attract the birds have returned the greatest benefits for our efforts.

Are there any tough decisions that had to be made regarding its management? How were they handled?

Summer on a Stem

Photo © mahar

I wouldn’t say there were tough decisions, except on a personal level. I tend to have National Park-sized dreams and a very small space to fit them in! There just isn’t room for everything, so I struggle with balancing my wishes and reality.