Wildlife Habitat Garden
Brilliant bluebirds and noisy Carolina wrens eagerly swoop to feeders perched on the railing of Martina Martin’s deck. Hummingbirds hover, sipping the nectar that helps meet their ravenous need for energy. Amid the lively chatter and flapping wings, Martina and her big cat Harley, settle into their morning routine of welcoming these daily visitors.
Martina’s lifelong interest in nature inspired her to volunteer at The Schuylkill Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic 15 years ago. Later, a class at the Cape May Bird Observatory sparked her desire to create a backyard habitat. Retired from a busy career as a rheumatologist, Martina finally was able to begin work on this project when she and husband John settled into a new Media, PA home in 2002. Limited gardening experience didn’t stop Martina from thinking big. She knew the essentials of creating a beneficial habitat and the importance of indigenous plants in sustaining local wildlife. When a friend told her about Redbud Native Plant Nursery in Glen Mills, PA, Martina contacted owner Catherine Smith, who designed a habitat garden for her, incorporating fruiting trees and shrubs as well as flowers that provide nectar and seeds. The cranberry viburnum, (Viburnum trilobum) is one of Martina’s favorites: “The flowers are beautiful and the berries are outstanding. I’ve seen cedar waxwings on them; they are one of my favorite birds.” Another shrub chosen for its tasty fruit is elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), which attracts more than 40 bird species. “It was a huge surprise to find out how fragrant the milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) blossoms are; they’re heavenly.” she says. “And the butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is just so lovely in July with its orange flowers, but in addition, it hosts my monarch caterpillars.”Martina’s meadow hums with life as asters, coreopsis and towering ironweed sway in the breeze. “When I moved here this was just dirt, dust, and mud.” she recalls.
A wildlife habitat doesn’t have to be as ambitious as Martina’s garden as long as it includes five key elements: food, water, shelter, places to raise young and earth friendly landscaping practices. “You can start small and add as much as you want.” says Martina.
Any outdoor space from a small city balcony to a suburban property, can provide the basic necessities for wildlife. For example, a water source can be as simple as a birdbath or shallow dish. Decide what critters you want to attract and select plants that help create the environment they need. “Goldfinches love purple cone flower (Echinacea purpurea) and Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium sp.). Phlox (Phlox paniculata), which are just so gorgeous, are great for butterflies,” Martina says.
Restoring biodiversity to our own backyards is critical for wildlife survival in urban and suburban settings where development has eliminated most natural areas. “I’m sad that we’re
destroying so much of the natural ecosystem,” says Martina. Then, enjoying the abundant display of colorful winged creatures that flutter by, flourishing in the haven she created, she adds, “This is my contribution.”