A Wildflower By Any Other Name Could Be A Weed

By Judy O’Rourke
SANTA CLARITA, CA–The city has long sought to encircle Santa Clarita with a greenbelt, but a local environmentalist wants to embroider it with a big green patchwork quilt.

Nature lover Barbara Wampole backs a voluntary plan in which folks plant wildlife-friendly habitats in their yards. Over time, the hundreds of gardens could roughly enjoin, creating a blanket of mottled green.

“People are looking for ways to make a difference as individuals at a time when they think there are serious environmental issues,” Wampole said. “Oftentimes they feel they can’t do anything as an individual. This gives them the opportunity to do something meaningful and joyful at the same time.”

Wampole’s garden is among tens of thousands that have been certified as wildlife habitats across the country. Participants agree to provide natural amenities for birds, animals and beneficial insects.

Wampole’s rented Castaic home sits on a sprawling ranch that attracts three varieties of owls, migratory birds, foxes, coyotes and bobcats–“an outrageous wildlife corridor.” But a grand nature-magnet isn’t needed to snag a certification.

Participants simply provide food, water, cover and a haven for species to raise their young. They need not devote the whole yard to the effort, and apartment, townhouse or mobile home dwellers who have patios, rooftops or balconies and a green thumb are eligible. At least 15 households in Santa Clarita are certified.

Sydell Stokes tends greenery on the patio of her Valencia condominium, whose sprawling grounds host seasonal visits by Canada Geese.

“I have a feeder for the finches and one for the hummingbirds,” she said. A Chinese silk tree, once indoors, has grown so tall it towers above her unit’s second story.

The food can be native plants chock-a-block with nuts, berries and pollen, or supplemental feeders. Plants can double as shelter–as when Raccoons nest in an oak tree cavity.

Certifying wildlife habitats has gained momentum in the past three years, when about half of the participants have joined. Residential sites are the norm, but schools, places of worship, community gardens, nature centers and zoos take part.

Children are transfixed by boxes that attract birds, butterflies and ladybugs in the small demonstration garden at San Jose’s Happy Hollow Park and Zoo.

“It’s an opportunity to show children that it’s not just about animals in the zoo, it’s also about the animals that live in their own community, in their own backyard,” said Vanessa Rogier, a spokeswoman for the zoo.

It’s saving the government a tremendous amount of money because homeowners are greening. People take on small city parks, creek beds, sidewalks any area they can have access to.”

A mass infiltration of painted lady butterflies roughly a year ago set folks afire.

“They would land in one of the established wildlife habitats, then you would see them flying en masse to the next one and land, and they just kept going to each of the wildlife habitats!” a resident said. “There was a buzz of everyone on the phone, `Are they are your house yet?!”‘

Like the butterflies, Wampole hopes to link the households, one by one. She’s mulled a citywide project for more than a year. “The idea is to create greenways through the Santa Clarita Valley that connect our open spaces right through suburban spaces,” Wampole said.

A critical mass of sites would need to accrue, and the city would need to launch education and community projects. Existing efforts, such as the annual Santa Clara River cleanup and native plant sales would likely qualify.

St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, in Newhall, has signed on with its Ark Project, an on-site habitat. “An ark holds sacred things … it is a ship of life,” said the Rev. Lynn Jay. “We’re to be the stewards of creation, co-creators with God. The planet is an ark and we are to create small arks to carry life.”

The city has its embarked on its own environmental projects. A new open space measure is in the works after an earlier attempt failed, and the city recently built a state-of-the-art $30 million “green” bus maintenance facility.

“We definitely want to see Barbara’s project at city environmental events, such as Arbor Day on May 19, to promote this concept to our community,” said Heather Merenda, the city’s sustainability planner. “I totally embrace this concept – it’s one of those things where there isn’t a `lose.”‘

Folks shouldn’t worry browsing critters will shred their prize roses or exotics, said botanist Ileene Anderson–they much prefer native species. You plant the plants that are the basis of the habitat in the area and the animals will know how to use them, she said.

Finches love Malcolm Blue’s dead lime tree, fringed by a dead asparagus fern–killed by the recent freeze. But it was the squawking Blue Jay that drew him to the window.

“He cautiously backed himself up against the wall and literally spread himself flat,” Blue said. A hawk swooped down and split after failing to spot the jay. “I saw the Blue Jay slowly lower himself on the ground and take off again.” –Los Angeles Daily News