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Haven, Baltimore, MD

Featured Site Created By Elaine Champion

Elaine Champion’s property outside of Baltimore, Maryland, is truly a labor of love. Aptly called “haven,” Champion has turned what was once .23 acres of lawn into young forested habitat that’s filled with native plants and brimming with wildlife.

Her decision to turn her backyard into habitat was influenced by her love of wildlife as well as the desire to not spend her time constantly mowing her lawn. Ten years later, Champion’s property is proof that a small lot near a big city can mean the world to birds, butterflies, bees, and other critters.

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

Backyard haven

Photo © Elaine Champion

In the ten years of living here I have planted over 50 trees and removed, replaced, replanted the large full lawn with native, pollinator and bird supporting shrubs, perennials and flowers. The first time I mowed the big lawn it took over 45 minutes, all on a slope full of danger and I said “This HAS to change!” And has it ever! Now I cut the few spots of grass with scissors. It’s more clover and moss than grass anyway.

The trees came primarily from the Arbor Society and are from the “trees for birds” collection. Most of the native shrubs came from a local, nonprofit group. The array of birds, bugs, wild things and joy that have flocked to the yard brings tears to my eyes and song to me ears! I feel that “nature has forgiven me” and returned her beauty to this place. It truly is a magical, trees-filled, garden of wild nature that is the greatest source of personal pride for me.

  • Tip: Local nonprofit organizations and nature centers often host native plant sales, where you can find native trees, shrubs, and flowers for a low price. Visit YardMap’s Your Local Resources and enter your zip code to find native plant suppliers in your area.

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?")

Young forest

Photo © Elaine Champion
The removal, replacement, replanting of the sweeping lawn to a “young forest” is my greatest joy. The families of squirrels, birds and insects that live here make the yard feel like a fairy tale.

The groups of birds that visit the yard, that know this is a safe place where they will find shelter, berries, seed and water, is a great source of pride for me. I have even seen what looks like a new partnership form around the watering hole! The day I counted five varieties of woodpecker, among several other varieties of birds, was incredible! When cedar wax wings came through it was so beautiful.

One of the highest signs of approval from nature was when a Wood Thrush, my most favorite bird, sat in the tree and serenaded me. To me it meant that I had enough trees to make a small forest and an inviting place for a shy forest bird.

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

Bee on purple coneflower

Photo © Elaine Champion

I have had a blank (green) canvas and good luck. All the trees mean I can’t grow vegetables or full sun plants, but that’s hardly a tough decision!

Running out of room for more plants has been the problem- I knew I was in a new zone when I started planting outside the fence!

  • Tip: There are many shade tolerant, native plants that are valued by wildlife, including mayapple, heart-leaved aster, Eastern columbine, and mosses and ferns.