Grow A Garden, Help Wildlife

By Fred J. Aun
THERE would be a lot of happy little critters if every homeowner in New Jersey with a backyard embraced the state’s nickname and planted a garden, especially one containing some native plants and a little pond.

The Schiff Nature Center in Mendham, NJ opened its new Native Plant and Butterfly Garden this year, and even director Tanya Bi signano–who thought she knew what to expect–was surprised by what happened once an artificial pond with recirculating water was installed.

“We put it in the end of March last year,” said Bisignano. “We got Gray Tree Frogs at the end of last summer.”

While she said she wasn’t surprised when the tree frogs showed up –since there are many of them in the area–she was amazed one day when, while working elsewhere in the garden, she heard Wood Frogs calling from the pond.

“Wood Frogs typically like vernal pools, not running water,” said Bi signano. The surprises didn’t end there. “Two weeks later, there were toads mating in the pond,” she said.

Amphibians are hardly the only creatures enjoying Schiff’s quarter- acre creation. Birds and insects, especially butterflies, are showing up in throngs.

“The idea was to create a garden containing plants native to New Jersey that would offer some kind of benefit to wildlife, whether it’s food plants for caterpillars or nectar for butterflies or blueberries for the birds,” said Bisignano.

The garden is divided into quarters, each featuring a different habitat. There’s a wetland plant section (with the artificial pond), a specialty plant section with orchids and some unusual ferns, a berry section for the birds and a butterfly meadow containing native flowers.

The Schiff garden proves you don’t need hundreds of acres to help wildlife. However, it’s important that the right plants–and some water, if possible–be included.

“It doesn’t matter what size yard you have,” said Bisignano. “There are always things you can do to benefit local wildlife, whether it’s planting native plants or not mowing certain sections of lawn and letting them revert back to more meadow-type habitats.”

Few will suggest subdivisions beat open spaces when it comes to wildlife habitat. But urban or suburban gardens can provide food and shelter that have been disappearing even in undeveloped areas.

“Because of deer over-browsing of native plants, there are declines in some food plants that different butterfly species use,” said Bisig nano. “That’s one benefit of enticing people to plant native pants in their yards.” –Star Ledger