Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
October, 2011
Regional Report

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A goldfinch nibbles on the nutritious seeds of native purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea).

Enjoy Wildlife? Get NWF-Certified.

We were sitting, talking on Liz Ball's porch overlooking a wetland glistening from recent flooding. Honk. Honk. A rumbling croak filled the air. "Hear the frog?" Liz asked, smiling. What kind? I wondered. "We have six species," she said, adding she can't yet tell them apart by their calls. "Sometimes they keep us awake a night, but you can't stay mad."

Within minutes, a great blue heron glided down from tree top onto floodplain. What a way to stop a conversation - or start one! A heron in the backyard!!!

About a decade ago, horticulture author and photographer Liz and her partner and woody plants expert Rick Ray bought this two-acre plus property along Crum Creek in Springfield, Pennsylvania. Room enough for Rick's tree and shrub collecting, the couple's raised vegetable beds, a variety of woodland, ornamental and native plant gardens, and wetlands brimming with wildlife.

It was only natural that they'd seek certification as a National Wildlife Federation (NWF) Habitat. Liz opened a file containing their application, a plant list, a rough sketch of the property and plants. She proudly showed their NWF Certificate of Achievement #31,458, winter of 2003.

Gardening for Wildlife
"If we have land, it's up to us to protect it. The collective 'we' who use the land have an obligation to manage the habitat for the creatures who also use it," she explained. "We all have to participate. We can't just leave well enough alone, continue to exploit it for our own benefit.

"When enough people in a community -- even those with small spaces-- garden for wildlife, their properties can link the fragmented forest," she added. Making contiguous habitat brings the land back to the "nature" it once was -- hospitable and eco-balanced for a wide variety of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and plants.

Gardening for wildlife a la the National Wildlife Federation is easy for those living in a countrified suburbia, I thought. What about those of us on a sparse spit of suburban or urban soil, a condo balcony, a reclaimed city lot?

Surprisingly, we too can qualify with a few adjustments. Basic habitat criteria are standard. The program allows for a variety of how-to's. An NFW-certified wildlife habitat must have food, water, shelter, and nesting Areas.

I surfed to NWF's website ( for details. To my surprise and delight, it took about five minutes to discover my property qualified and I could apply. Nothing fancy or large necessary.

For more than 35 years, NWF has certified wildlife habitat. Here are the basics for homes, schools, community gardens, businesses, nature centers, and places of worship.

Provide Food
Planting native flowers, shrubs and trees provides the foliage, nectar, pollen, berries, seeds, and nuts that many wildlife species require to survive and thrive. Supplemental feeders and food sources are acceptable.

Supply Water
Wildlife needs clean water sources for many purposes, including drinking, bathing, and reproduction. Water sources may include natural features such as ponds, lakes, rivers, springs, oceans, and wetlands; or human-made features such as bird baths, puddling areas for butterflies, installed ponds, and rain gardens.

Create Cover
Wildlife requires shelter to feel safe from people, predators, and inclement weather. Use things like native vegetation, shrubs, thickets, brush piles, or even dead trees.

Provide Nesting Areas
Wildlife needs sheltered places to raise offspring. Many different locations provide cover where wildlife can raise young, from wildflower meadows and bushes where butterflies and moths lay their eggs to caves where bats roost and form colonies.

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