My Backyard Wildlife Habitat
Linda Hines certified her yard in 2004—the 14th Sammamish homeowner to do so out of the current 217. She is a graduate of the 2005 Washington Native Plant Society Stewardship Program. As her first steward project, she helped establish the Sammamish Lower Commons native plant garden. The collage below are all photos she took from her yard. Clockwise from upper left: Nodding onion (Allium cernuum), bobcat, black bears, tiger lily (Lilium columbianum).
The following is an interview with her about the wildlife habitat she created in her backyard.
Tell us a little about your garden and why you chose to create a wildlife habitat.
Growing up, I learned from my mother a love of planting patches of beautiful flowers no matter where we lived in a variety of rental houses. I have loved animals and being surrounded by them—both domestic and wild. It was natural that when I finally owned a house, its surroundings would be kept as wild as possible—filled with trees, shrubs, flowers, and critters. I spent a lot of time hiking and wanted that feeling of wilderness. I also resolved to plant organic vegetables and fruits to can and freeze, knowing that some would be “shared” by the wildlife.
How does a wildlife habitat differ from a more conventional landscape.
The wildlife habitat puts a priority on choosing and placing plants that entice a wide variety of native birds, bees, butterflies, and animals to enter and feel safe and welcome as they seek food, shelter, and places to raise their young. The density of native plants in my yard makes it possible for the Orchard Mason bees we raise to find enough food. We have destroyed so much wildlife habitat that we need to be deliberate about restoring and preserving whatever we can, wherever we can. I consider my property to be both a wildlife AND a native plant sanctuary.
Why should someone choose to plant native plants in their yard?
Native plants are adapted to our Northwest environment and are essential to the diet of the native wildlife that enriches our lives. They are perennial and, once established, require little maintenance. We have so many native plants to choose from that no two native plant habitats look alike. (I stopped counting after I catalogued over 250 species in my yard.) The landscaping is cost-effective in that using free native wood chips rather than beauty bark for mulch fits right in. My property has about 45 truckloads of wood chips added over the last 14 years. For much of the year, plants are watered from my rain barrels. During the rainy winter, the rain barrel water is directed by hoses into my woods and shrub areas and thus back into the aquifer.
Is there one particular native plant that stands out in your garden as a “must have”?
Each plant has its own special beauty, but I especially look forward to the blooming of the tiger lily (Lilium columbianum) and Western trillium (Trillium ovatum) The fragrance and abundant white blossoms of the Mock-orange (Philadelphus lewisii) put that shrub at the top of the list. The little wild strawberries (Fragaria virginianus) are the best ground cover, providing delicious snacks for many weeks in early summer and a carpet of green year-round.
The habitat garden you created is on an acre of land. What tips can you give to those who want to get started creating habitat but have limited outdoor space?
Native plants can be grown in pots on decks and in small ground spaces, as well as in large areas. The important first step is to investigate which plants will flourish in whatever space you have available—full shade, full sun, arid, etc. In my yard I have mini ecozones, each with very different plants.
How has your garden evolved since you first created it?
I was very fortunate when my husband and I bought our house in 1983 to find a development where the builder left as many native shrubs, plants, and large trees as possible. I first had to learn what was here and how to care for it. Since I worked at a very demanding job and was raising three sons, the yard did not get much additional attention.
When I retired in 2002 that all changed. I dislike grass, which I consider an invasive, and began a process of removing it and choosing what to grow instead. Since my husband had died, I mostly worked on the project alone at my own pace. First, I had to tackle the removal of a lot of English ivy that the developer used for cheap landscaping. It occurred to me that I did not really know what was native and what was invasive in many cases, so I pulled out plants that should have stayed.
I was delighted to learn of the Washington Native Plant Stewardship Program and signed up at South Seattle Community College (the oldest person in the class). The training gave me so many ideas of what to plant in place of the grass—which is now almost gone! It also gave me the knowledge to talk to neighbors about what invasives we could all remove to improve our neighborhood and attract wildlife we wanted—not rats. Working in my yard provides such peace and serenity, a respite from my full-time volunteer job heading a nonprofit caring for orphan children in Tanzania.
What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were first starting out?
I wish I had known earlier what I learned in the Native Plant Steward classes and from other native plant and wildlife enthusiasts I have met since I first began. I am still learning from the monthly WNPS meetings and from books and conversations with other gardeners. At every native plant sale I discover a few more treasures to fit into the yard somewhere. Now I can share plants (and Orchard Mason bees) with others who are starting or expanding their native plant habitats.