I’ve been asked many times at various speaking events I’ve done around the country how I developed the concept of Ecosystem Gardening for wildlife. I’ve been writing about this journey in installments at various places around the web, so I thought it would be a great idea to collect them together for you here.
Martha the Passenger Pigeon, the last of her kind, died alone in the Cincinnati Zoo on September 1, 1914. I was 9 years old when I first read about Martha’s death, alone in the zoo, and the story of the destruction and elimination of the Passenger Pigeon by human actions has stuck in my mind to this day. And thus began my mission: to teach people to give a little back to wildlife by creating welcoming habitat in our gardens.
It all started over 25 years ago when a very bossy and persistent Chickadee grabbed my attention, and ultimately changed the course of my life’s work. I knew that this bird needed far more than the bird feeder I obligingly hung for her, and I set about to learn about everything she did need in her habitat.
I became a birder that day, and haven’t stopped observing birds since. This was also the impetus that set me on a path of learning to create welcoming habitat for wildlife in our gardens. I discovered that the leading reason why birds, butterflies, and other wildlife were declining was that we had destroyed so much of their habitat. But we could learn to make ammends for our destructiveness by learning to give a little back to wildlife by learning to share our spaces with them.
Prior to this transformation of my goals, I dreamed of becoming China Bayles, my favorite mystery novel heroine who had left her high powered career as an attorney and opened an herb shop in a small town in Texas. She had her own gardens and made her living from them on her own terms. I wanted to do this, too. At least until that Chickadee changed my direction
Along the road, I made many mistakes and learned many hard lessons. The worst offender was to beware of being seduced by a pretty face. I made this error because many gardening catalogs at that time would photoshop gorgeous pictures of birds and butterflies onto various plants and proclaim: “Birds love this” or “Butterfly Magnet.” Many of these plants turned out to be invasive thugs who would take over gardens, escape into nearby woodlands, and destroy the very habitat I was trying to create more of.
After reading lots of disappointing books that kept recommending those same plants that I was now working so hard to remove from my client’s gardens, I finally found a book that made sense, Noah’s Garden by Sara Stein. I had come to learn that every action we took in our gardens had consequences, and not all of them good ones, and not all of them limited to our gardens. Everything is connected. Noah’s Garden talked about restoring the ecology of our gardens and becoming responsible for our actions that could have such severe repercussions outside of our garden gates.
It was this idea of looking at ecological principles when making decisions for our gardens that planted the seeds for the idea of Ecosystem Gardening.
But I was missing something. I was lonely. My clients wanted to have more birds and butterflies in their gardens, but they expected me to figure out how to do that. What I wanted was a friend who shared my passion, someone with whom I could discuss successes (and failures), someone who would understand what I was talking about, someone who “Got It.”
Fortunately for me I met my friend and mentor, Pat Sutton. I learned that Pat led workshops about creating wildlife gardens, and I attended every one of them so that I could meet other wildlife gardeners. I was so excited that I had finally found someone who “Got it,” someone who was every bit as passionate about creating wildlife gardens as I was.
My story is also a personal one. I’ve had to overcome a few challenges along the way, as most of us have. I originally built my business around designing, installing, and maintaining wildlife habitat gardens for a growing list of clients, who happily referred me to all of their friends.
During the off-season for gardening I worked as a home renovation contractor, mostly designing and installing new kitchens and baths for many of the 100+ year old houses in my neighborhood. From a very early age I had a particular fondness for power tools, and loved making my living by their use.
That all changed one day when an elderly man named Earl ran a stop light and smacked into the back of my truck. I knew that I had injured my collar bone in that accident, so I went to the ER to have it checked out. Imagine my surprise when they told me that I had broken my neck!
I had to learn to reinvent myself so that I could make my living in a new way because I was no longer able to do the hard physical work that had given me such pleasure over the years. So I went to grad school, hoping to teach Ecology at the college level upon graduation. But the economy crashed just prior to my graduation, so I had to find yet a new plan, and I wanted this plan to include my passion for creating wildlife habitat in people’s gardens.
After the accident, I had become quite hermitlike, hiding out in my house except for trips to the many doctors I had appointments with. I became quite shy and introverted, but when I began to get requests for me to speak at various conferences, I had to learn to overcome this shyness. And that was no easy task!
But that time in the house led me to the love of a new power tool — my computer! I learned how to use it to spread the Ecosystem Gardening message online, to build websites to bring even more people together, including my two team sites: Beautiful Wildlife Garden, and also Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens.
My journey out of my house began when a friend I had met online invited me to come meet her at her home. And I was terrified! But that journey was well worth the effort as I now travel around the country quite a bit speaking at various conferences and spreading the word about Ecosystem Gardening. And I’m so happy that in the process I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many of you!
So that’s my journey so far. I’ll be adding new chapters as I get them written, but I’d love to hear your story of becoming a wildlife gardener. What is your journey? Leave a comment below and let us know how you became a wildlife gardener.
Check out my new free online course Ecosystem Gardening Essentials, 15 free lessons delivered to your inbox every week, teaching you to garden sustainably, conserve natural resources, and create welcoming habitat for wildlife in your garden.
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