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Northeast Oasis, Berwyn, PA

Featured Site Created By gmheck

Glancing through gmheck’s photo gallery, you might think they live inside a nature preserve. Complete with a stream, ponds, rock piles, and gorgeous groupings of trees, shrubs, flowers, and bunch grasses, it’s hard to fathom that this property is only ½ acre in size and is nestled in a suburban neighborhood in Pennsylvania. In addition to having an abundance of beautiful wildlife habitat throughout the property, they also have two rain barrels and a compost pile to help conserve resources and improve soil quality.

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

The property, a small ranch house on 1/2 acre of grass and a 20 ft. deep wooded border on the north boundary, was purchased in 1990. Beginning in 1995, a wildflower garden was added, covering about 1/8th acre on the north side of the house. Ground was tilled and amended with topsoil and corn gluten meal. Land was seeded with a mix of native northeastern annual and perennial wildflowers.

Grouping plants together is a great way to improve habitat

Photo © gmheck

In 1999, a large, damaged sugar maple was removed and replaced with a 3′ high x 60′ long raised berm on the northwest boundary planted with cedar, pine, spruce, and a variety of shrubs and perennials. This effectively separated the property from the suburban street.

The wildflower garden was expanded by 100% replacing annual plantings with perennials and ornamental grasses. An artificial fast moving stream and rectangular lily ponds were added at the same time the sunroom was built, overlooking the garden. Perennials and shrubs were added to the front of the house and flowering vines added to the east fence line. In 2006, a raised bed veggie garden was added to the south east side of the property. (This year, deer jumped the 4′ wire fence and devoured the kale…and the squirrels feasted on tomatoes.)

Tower feeders for safflower, niger, and cracked sunflower seeds; a double suet feeder (using hot-pepper suet); and a hummingbird feeder are all scattered around the northern garden, a fantastic view from our sunroom. A landscaper laid out the original perennial garden and the owners add about six inches of mulch every year. As a teacher, the owner is glad to have summers off since it is a lot of work to keep up with the annual invasion of weeds.

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?")

Structural diversity is a key component of wildlife habitat

Photo © gmheck

The site has been certified by the National Wildlife Federation as a Wildlife Habitat providing food, water, cover and places to raise young. Last year we hosted a nesting pair of red-tailed hawks with one successful fledgling.

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

When Hurricane Sandy passed by, they lost a 40′ bird-planted wild cherry tree, pulled out by the roots. The tree was cut back leaving the tangle of roots still part way in the ground. The tangle of roots and stump has sprouted into several new shoots and the stump is a favorite for perching and is a chipmunk hideout.

A stream with an assortment of rocks improves habitat value

Photo © gmheck

Invasive porcelain berry vines sprout-up on the fence line and the wooded border, but the owners don’t use herbicides and are in the process of manually extracting the woody vines’ 1/2 to 3/4 inch trunks. So far over 60 feet of vine removed! They even had to sacrifice a mature forsythia to remove a particularly aggressive vine.