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Author suggests ways to build a backyard garden for wildlife

From left, Nancy Lawson, author of `The Human Gardener,` with Nicole Gerber of Citizen Coalition for Wildlife and the Environment.

From left, Nancy Lawson, author of “The Human Gardener,” with Nicole Gerber of Citizen Coalition for Wildlife and the Environment.

Fri, Jun 17th 2022 10:10 am

Story and Photographs by Alice Gerard

Creating a garden full of native plant species helps animals and plants maintain a harmonious relationship, and it prevents conflicts that people get into with animals, said Nancy Lawson, author of “The Humane Gardener: Nurturing a Backyard Habitat for Wildlife.”

Lawson, the guest speaker, also signed copies of her book at “Plant for Nature: Free native plant giveaway, ecological gardening, and environmental education event,” which was held June 4 at the Western New York Welcome Center. This event was sponsored by the Citizen Coalition for Wildlife and the Environment, and it was funded through the Tonawanda Community Environmental Benefit Fund.

In addition to Lawson’s presentation, there were exhibits at tables outside of the Welcome Center focused on wild animals, native plant species and environmental education. All visitors to the program were given native plants to place in their gardens.

The task of creating a garden full of native plant species need not be onerous, Lawson said, adding that plants and animals need each other. She said that, for people who are starting a new garden, she would advise them to start small.

“You don’t have to start big,” Lawson said. “You can start with a small area and plant maybe four wildflower species, a shrub, a tree, whatever you have the space for. And then, just gradually add on to it. It doesn’t have to be overwhelming. You don’t have to do it all at once. With each little bit that you add, you’ll start to see animals coming right away. You’ll see butterflies. You’ll get the bug in you that, next year, you’ll want to add a little more.”

An exhibit about bats at the Plant for Nature event held June 4 at the Western New York Welcome Center.

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Lawson recommended that people who already have gardens could add more native plantings to their gardens slowly, as well. “Try to add and nurture as many native species as you can, because those are the ones that animals evolved with, and those are the ones that they know how to eat and to take shelter in. Animals and plants have sometimes specific relationships.”

Plant species native to Western New York would include coneflowers, Joe-Pye weed, violets, whorled tickseed, wild geranium, blue flag iris, black eyed Susans, various types of phlox, and others.

Many different types of living creatures can be defined as animals, Lawson said, including mammals, insects, birds and fish. She said wildlife in this area would include bumblebees, opossum, deer and butterflies. Bats are also a native animal species, the only mammal that has the ability to fly.

One organization in Western New York, “Wild Care of Western New York,” has three areas of focus, which includes bats. According to Amanda Gabryszak, who was at the organization’s display, “Wild Care of Western New York is a new nonprofit.” Its main areas of focus are wildlife rehabilitation, education and restoration.

The wildlife rehabilitation is mostly accomplished by Karen Slote, a veterinarian who also works with the wildlife department at the SPCA and takes care of “pretty much all of the wildlife there,” which includes eagles, beavers, turtles, and hummingbirds. Her passion for her, however, is bats, she explained.

“Bats are very cool. They have individual personalities and are easy to work with. They seem to know that you’re helping them,” Slote said.

Mary Jo Graham, who is with Oakmoss Education, a Western New York organization, said her organization’s focus was on birds. She said gardeners should plant “native plant species to support insects to support birds.” She also pointed out that spiders are beneficial to a garden because they provide natural pest control. In addition to the plantings, people should build bird boxes to support the native bird species.

Another way that people can encourage a healthy environment through plant care is to leave snags, which are standing dead trees. Graham pointed out that dead trees attract woodpeckers, which create nest cavities in those trees.

Lawson agreed that dead material is part of the life cycle of an ecosystem: “Even if you don’t have room for a big tree snag, you can do little things. You can leave a stump. You can leave a tree trunk. Pileated woodpeckers will eat. All that dead material is just as important to the lifecycles of animals. Butterflies are overwintering in there. Bees are wintering in there. The bees will nest in the ground, and they need this kind of cover. I think that’s the other piece – not just thinking about these beautiful live lush flowers, but all these other things that contribute to the ground.”

“Bumblebees will go in grassy areas or in squirrel nests or mouse nests,” Lawson said. “They go into burrows. There are mining bees that will nest in the soil (they are solitary bees). They just need compacted soil. It’s not hard.”

Nature experiences can be fun and memorable for both adults and children, said Michael Klepp, a nature teacher. He suggests educating children about nature “in a fun way.” He also suggests projects that families can do together, such as building a mason bee house or looking for insects or particular animals on a nature hike.

Mary Jo Graham, with Oakmoss Education, focuses on a healthy environment for birds.

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