Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Planting a Sense of Wonder

By Sandi Funke, Education Director

I love hearing about people’s vacations. Trips to the Africa to go on safari, hiking the rainforest, kayaking the open ocean, don’t these all sound amazing? But, does one need to buy a plane ticket to ignite a sense of wonder in our natural world? Can we find inspiration in our own backyard? How about even in the small garden of a mobile home park?

John Griffith grew up in Fairfield, California. A graduate of Chico State he has spent the last 15 years restoring native habitats in northern California as a crew supervisor with the California Conservation Corps (CCC). But he did not find his motivation in grand outdoor expeditions. 

The new Demonstration Garden at Pepperwood.
John explains, “…I fell in love with nature in a small backyard in an urban mobile home park. It was my grandma's backyard where she had a garden with soul. The soul was the bees and butterflies that went from flower to flower in her tiny garden. Under a small plastic dish that served as a watering hole for butterflies, lived a toad. When my grandma revealed that a toad lived under it, I became hooked on nature. I've been curious about it and its secrets ever since. I was four at the time. I've been a naturalist ever since.”

John knows small outdoor spaces can harbor magic! Because of this, John is big believer in the National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF) Wildlife Habitat program. This program certifies gardens that have the necessary components of a wildlife habitat - food, water, and shelter. The program has certified over 150,000 gardens nationwide with over 10,000 certified in California alone! John and his crew have recently certified the outdoor space of their Ukiah campus as a wildlife habitat. Check out this video they made about the certification process!

The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) outlines the main components that are needed to sustain wildlife in a garden. The first component is food. Oregon grapes and various oak species ensure birds and small mammals have forage on the campus. They will also be installing “pollinator pit stops” in the late fall for bees and butterflies. The next component NWF outlines is supplying water which the CCC has done with the addition of a birdbath.  Crew members report that just a short while after installation birds were taking advantage of this resource. Wildlife also require places to hide, be protected from weather, and raise their young. The CCC campus has a number bushes including native black berry serving this function as well as a mix of native trees such as sycamore, oaks, redbuds, and redwoods. Brush piles also serve as shelter. They even have an old silo which is home to bats as well as the occasional owl.
Habitat garden educator
Charlotte Torgovitsky

Besides the NWF website which has loads of information including helpful tip sheets for specific types of wildlife, another fantastic resource for wildlife gardening is Nancy Bauer’s book The California Wildlife Habitat Garden: How to Attract Bees, Butterflies, Birds, and Other Animals. Nancy along with Charlotte Torgovitsky will be teaching a class at Pepperwood Creating a Wildlife Garden utilizing Pepperwood’s new Demonstration Garden on Saturday, September 28th from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm. They will be focusing on specifically which native plants work in our northern California region as well as when to plant.

The chance to see a native animal is always exciting. Knowing that your home garden is providing habitat is very satisfying. So whether you have 50 acres or a window sill you can do something to help our native birds, pollinators, and mammals be more resilient in the face of a changing environment. You will also be planting a sense of wonder to those that get to enjoy the space!

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