Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Sunday, January 10, 2016

On Becoming a Habitat Gardener

It's hard to say when the journey officially began. Maybe the seed was planted in my formative years, when I spent lots of time exploring insects and amphibians in our backyard, hiking the National Parks in the great Northwest with my family or our many adventures along the Oregon coast.  Perhaps it was because I had a mother with a green thumb who, despite all our moves across America and overseas, managed to create amazing gardens that inspired even this self absorbed teenager. Or could it be that I was bedazzled by all the botanical gardens, arboretums and nature parks I've visited in my lifetime. Possibly it was when I took the Georgia Master Gardener class and became a plant geek and started sharing my infatuation with butterflies and moths. Or, was it when I began the Native Plant Certificate program at our State Botanical Garden and learned more about how special the Georgia Piedmont region really is. Maybe it's just in my blood. I have an English father after all. Most likely, it is a culmination of all these experiences that has shaped my passion for gardening and wildlife.

Fortunately for me, my husband shares my passion for plants and the outdoors and is all in when it comes to creating this wildlife sanctuary that is my vision.

The aerial photo below shows our neighborhood as it looked in 2007 when we purchased our home. I remember vividly when we relocated here from Texas thinking we were very secluded in our country abode. To put this in perspective, we had moved here from a 1/4 acre lot in Austin in a development of 2,000 homes. Of course it looked spacious!

Our original homestead outlined in red

We happily gardened here for five years, during which time the housing market blew up and the neighborhood developer went bust. As was the story across the country, empty lots sat undeveloped and ripe for plant invasion. This was fine with me, as this city girl had grown use to living in the 'country'. We had been dreaming for some time of expanding our refuge and in 2013, the 2+ acre lot adjacent to our home became available. We jumped at the opportunity.

This map outlines the plot where our house sits flanked by the acquired lot #2.
Over the past two years my husband has diligently been clearing these 2 acres of all the brambles, Japanese honeysuckle, privet and kudzu which has besieged this land. Under all the invasive cover, we were pleased to discover a grove of elderberry shrubs, devil's walking stick, ferns, trillium, and crane fly orchids. More native plants are revealing themselves as we continue to remove the invaders.

I never thought we would own one of these. And unlike most homeowners we don't use it for mowing turf. It makes clearing open areas much easier.

In 2015 we were presented with the opportunity to procure the 4 acre lot (Lot #1) which borders Lot #2. This was a more complicated sale since there were survey issues and discussions on county jurisdiction. As you can see in the map below the shaded blue area is one county and the white area is another. We sit neatly on both. But just in time to celebrate the year's end the sale was finalized.


Our newest procurement is a mix of approximately two acres of open land fronting the main road that leads you to our subdivision. The remaining 2 acres is forested (as is lot #2) with white oaks (Quercus alba), northern red oaks (Q. rubra), post oaks (Q. stellata), yellow poplars (Liriodendron tulipifera), and several species of hickory (Carya glabra, C. tomentosa). American Beech (Fagus grandifolia), Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida), Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), American Sycamore (Platuanus occidentalis), Winged Elm (Ulmus alata) and Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) also inhabit the wooded area.
 
view from the main road at front of subdivision

A small creek  flows through this lot from the overflow pool on the other side of the road. There is some water running most of the time.

gently flowing creek

Lots of potential for water loving plants. I see button bush growing here

All this previous farm land is ready for a make over. Out with the nasty invasive plants and in with the natives. This is our big winter project.  Hardwoods are being liberated from strangling vines.

Japanese Honeysuckle vine girdling a hardwood tree

Removing the understory layer of privet that has become trees in a short period of time requires a chainsaw to take out. This will make space for an new understory layer of native trees to grow and thrive.

Standing in front of some monstrous privet

Reclaiming this land to its natural glory will take some time. There is so much to clear! Just look at it all.

disturbed land overrun with invasive vines

Come spring it will be dangerous to work in this area because there is a good chance someone venomous will be lurking in all these vines, so we must make quick work of clearing this area. The road ahead is long and will require arduous work but it feels good. All the sore muscles, cuts and bruises, thorn punctures and fire ant bites are worth it. There is so much potential here for ecological preservation.

So how did I get here? It was my wish to create a watchable habitat for wildlife right out our backdoor. Observing and photographing native pollinators, insects, birds, reptiles and other mammals evolve with the native flora. It was the desire to show our children how to be good stewards of the land. Providing food, shelter and support for food webs in the garden to educate our kids in the sciences.

Turning these 10 acres of former agricultural land, which was further disturbed by development, into a habitat of diverse flora and fauna is an ambitious undertaking but we are up for the charge. The rehabilitated space will provide us with a sense of place and an appreciation for the landscape that is unique to our region.

Becoming a habitat gardener has come naturally. It flows easily. It feeds my soul. It is my life's mission. 

24 comments:

  1. Wow, what an awesome journey and a wonderful goal. Congratulations on your expansion! I'm so glad that you are all in it together.

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    1. Thanks Ellen. Maybe one of these days you can come out and walk it with us.

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  2. Congrats to you all on the acreage! I think you all are more energetic than we are.....our 2 acres are more than enough. I agree a Buttonbush will be super happy along the stream. I look forward to seeing more of the forward progress.

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    1. It is a huge undertaking and as we clear the brambles we can actually see how much land their is. Our dogs are loving the extra space to romp.

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  3. What a fabulous wildlife habitat you have and will have! So glad I live close by and can watch the progress and enjoy your wildlife too!

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    1. Me too! It's so much fun to have a habitat gardener friend close by.

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  4. Lucky, lucky you! I love "from scratch" garden projects and am really looking forward to seeing your progress with such an ambitious undertaking.

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    1. There is definitely lots to do. It will take time since we can only do certain work in specific seasons. I think it will be a long time until we can fully appreciate all the space but it will be a fun journey.

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  5. This is an ambitious project, indeed. Good for you! It's so encouraging to hear of people who feel a mission to take on the hard work of reclaiming and maintaining native habitats. The world is a better place because of your mission and your work! And what a wonderful learning experience for your kids!

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    1. Well, it will take us into retirement that's for sure. It'll be fun and we can work at our own pace.

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  6. Hooray for you! This is awesome! How are you going to get rid of the kudzu?

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    1. I'm thinking goats Tammy. I want to rent some to eat their way through this mess of kudzu and honeysuckle.

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  7. I admire you taking on this big challenge. They are some mighty tough invasives to rid. You are lucky your husband shares your passion. The kids too will learn much from your undertaking. Much luck as you forge ahead. Kudzu look out!

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    1. Getting rid of invasives is maddening work for sure. It amazes me how quickly some of these plants and vines establish themselves and take over. Makes me really question why nurseries are allowed to sell them.

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  8. I am so very impressed. You are doing the Lord's work.

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    1. Thanks Jason. It'll all be worth while in the end.

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  9. Wow, congratulations on the new plot of land!! How wonderful that you are taking on the job of making a little habitat preserve right there, and how great that your husband is on board with this, too. It looks like a big task, but the wildlife will love it!

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    1. It will be our own private nature preserve right out our back door. I think our neighbors think we are crazy!

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  10. How exciting! You have taken on a big project, but I am sure it will be worth all the effort. It is lucky that you have a hubby that shares your passion. Your children are bound to learn from you both and develop the same love of the natural world.

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    1. The kids have been helping clear invasives too but it is definitely not their favorite thing to do. However, lots of great teaching moments do present themselves.

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  11. How exciting! You have taken on a big project, but I am sure it will be worth all the effort. It is lucky that you have a hubby that shares your passion. Your children are bound to learn from you both and develop the same love of the natural world.

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  12. I had no idea you had bought the 2 extra lots....and even though it is lots of work, I would love to own woods I can reclaim for nature....you are my hero Karin! And I agree it is amazing to have your husband share your passion!

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    1. I am really fortunate to have a partner who shares my passion. It is so much fun to dream, create and grow together.

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  13. Congratulations on the expansion of your space! Have you considered buying a tractor?

    We struggle with invasives too, like everyone. It's kind of depressing to see all of the Chinese privet and Japanese stilt grass in the woods down by the creek but there are wild crabapples and hawthorns and wood ducks and turkey and beaver and clean water too, so I'm grateful for that.

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"Don't wait for someone to bring you flowers. Plant your own garden and decorate your soul"

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