Episode 12 - Welcoming Wildlife
Kate: 00:02 Welcome to in the landscape, a podcast on all things landscape design and care related, with your hosts, Kate and Charles Sadler. Hello and welcome to another episode of, In The Landscape. I'm your host, Kate Sadler, and I'm here with my cohost and resident design expert, Charles Sadler.
Charles: 00:24 Happy to be here.
Kate: 00:25 Hi Charles. How are you doing today?
Charles: 00:27 Very, good.
Kate: 00:29 Excited to be here for another interesting topic all about landscape design, landscape care considerations of the landscape. So, today's topic I'm excited about. I have been alluding to the fact that we're putting together this episode for a while because I'm so excited about it. It is all about wildlife in gardens, creating habitat, promoting ecologically sound practices that would encourage wildlife. Maybe one of the reasons this is so near and dear to my heart is that I grew up with two biologists for parents and our stomping grounds were the Bay area of California, including areas like the Point Reyes National Seashore or Mount Diablo in the Eastern part of the Bay area and...
Charles: 01:19 Or that place we took great hikes, the Sunol.
Kate: 01:20 Oh yeah, the Sunol Regional Wilderness, which is sort of South East of San Francisco by, I want to say 50 miles. And it's these rolling green hills in the wintertime with live oak, California live oak, and then they turn this like golden brown in the summer, when it heats up and we get our dry season.
Charles: 01:39 Yeah, all the grasses go dormant.
Kate: 01:40 Yeah, it's really beautiful. All that to say that, creating spaces for wildlife, which I was always somewhat attuned to because my parents were pointing it out right and left, is a worthwhile ambition in terms of our cultivated landscapes.
Charles: 01:54 Right, and, you know, maybe a point-even if you don't intend to create habitat-birds, insects, other wildlife will visit it; and so if it's, if it doesn't provide food or shelter, they're not going to utilize it. So if it's a non-native tree, they might sit in it, but there's no food for them. I guess that's what I hope to bring to this episode is just a slight shift. It's not that it has to look like a national park on your property but just the slight shift, and an awareness, that when that bird or insect lands, there can be food or shelter or other beneficial items for it and still have all the program elements that the person would would want. It could be a beautiful tree, flowers, all color, shade screening. It could be all those features, plus, this, with a little bit of awareness. It can be beneficial for the, the creatures that call that area home.
Kate: 02:51 That's a great point and we spoke about, in a previous episode, we spoke about having an awareness of the organisms we plant. The plants in our landscape have their own goals, their own life-cycles, and we can be mindful of that. So, while we are very much about the artistic cultivation of beautiful landscapes, this mindfulness that you're speaking about is a helpful way of approaching the landscape. It's healthy, it's sustainable. Ultimately, we have an impact on our ecological world that's greater than we may even realize with the choices that we make. So, little choices can go a long way. One of my favorite stories, along this line, has to do with a young man who interned with us for a period of time, early on, and he was born and raised in the Bronx essentially. Now, of course the Bronx has beautiful parks and some amazing gardens. There's Wave Hill, is it, in the Riverdale section?
Charles: 03:53 Oh right, Riverdale, the New York Botanic garden...
Kate: 03:54 Van Cortland park, where that the subway ends, at the end of the line, the one line coming all the way North NYB G. so the Bronx of course has some amazing spaces and a really vibrant city life. I mean it's, it's a really fabulous place to be, but he didn't have, he didn't grow up with a garden, in that case. And he was with us at a property in, uh, Westchester County, New York, that you had done a fairly naturalistic planting.
Charles: 04:26 Right. So it wasn't, we utilize many native plants. It wasn't, it wasn't a wildlife restoration where it would be we really mimicking and only using native plants, but it was using many native plants and creating all the components of ground cover, shrub layer, tree layer.
Kate: 04:45 And, and it was, it was a development, these were very nice homes-pretty much that's all you have in Westchester County, New York. But the developers had done a minimal job in terms of the landscape design, which is often the case, that you have perfectly serviceable properties with the lawn and maybe a tree or two, but it didn't have the fullness that we see in nature, as you're saying these different layers. So, you had put those in, and the yard was becoming established, but it hadn't been there that long. I, I can't recall how many months it had been in, but we visited and, low and behold, there was a baby bunny.
Charles: 05:21 They were babies, more or less, that had been born, I think right within this, this naturalistic sort of ecotone is this, this planting edge that we created.
Kate: 05:30 Exactly. And one of the components that you'll read about when you look up the definition of habitat, which we'll discuss, is this idea of being able to shelter and potentially reproduce in a space, that safety is important. And this was the first time he had seen a bunny, a baby bunny at that, sort of in the wild, so to speak. So there's a real joy. Most of us have observed birds at a bird feeder and the real joy that one can derive from feeling this connection to not just the static landscape that has architectural elements in it created from plants, but a real living, breathing ecosystem that has come together in, in our private spaces.
Charles: 06:16 Right. Like on this particular property, it was just mown lawn, the area that we developed previously. So just by simple observation areas, even areas that have beautiful trees only, it's pretty, you don't see many squirrels. There are different types of birds, of course, some of them, their activities on the ground. So if you notice if you visit, could be a corporate park, or a public space, private space, there's not much activity on the ground if it's only lawn, and this space was only lawn, and there was zero activity, you definitely wouldn't have had, like, rabbits.
Kate: 06:54 Well, and that's an interesting point that in some ways, especially if we're talking about a corporate landscape, maybe that's intentional because what might come to the mind of listeners and certainly clients with whom you're discussing this introduction of these naturalistic spaces, is the idea that maybe not everybody wants squirrels running around or perhaps they're even less desirable wildlife elements that you might be inviting into your yard. So can you tell us a little bit about how habitat is defined and why we should consider incorporating this into our landscapes and in a very conscious way? And, also, what are some of the fears that you as a designer might address, as you begin to sell this concept, or try to win people over to this concept?
Charles: 07:40 I guess without reading a definition but, more or less, habitat is food, shelter, water for wildlife and it's, there's more nuances, but that's like the gist of it. I think of like for yourself, like your house, you sleep there, you eat there, it's safe. You might leave your house, people of course will leave your house, but it is like a safe place to return to. The pros and cons, so that'd be a good point to go into (it). So, the clients that we deal with, it's not uncommon that they may have lived in an urban area. They may have come from New York City or Boston or, or another part of the, and when we interact with them, they're living in a suburb often. And so just using the word wildlife or habitat, for some people that strikes fear and that those, they're thinking I'm going to plant a tree and then I'm going to get a wolf or something or a bear or going to get all kinds of insects that are going to bite me, I guess. So the educational process is so important. So planting, using native plants more or less in some fashion, you're mimicking how they would be in nature. So there's like an understory, midstory trees and that can be done aesthetically in many ways. It could be quite formal, informal, a wilder look, and that doing that, the wildlife you're going to attract, more or less, there's going to be birds and insects, which are not a threat to people, which is very important distinction. If you know, having a bird feeder where you have, let's say corn or some type of other product out there that could attract animals that people may not want, that could attract, if you're in a rural area, could attract a bear, a black bear, it could attract...
Kate: 09:19 Coyotes I know can be an issue because they come into more urbanized areas than one might suspect.
Charles: 09:25 So it could attract rodents. So it's a very important distinction, just using native plants, It's not going to attract larger mammals.
Kate: 09:35 Well, and of course in some regions of the country here, in North America, we have deer which are somewhat benign in terms of their physical presence-don't get me wrong, if you approach a deer, they can be quite dangerous and they certainly have antlers, they'll defend their young and they will eat certain plants. But they also carry ticks which have Lyme disease here, which is a-it is a concern. So we do need to be conscientious about the type of habitat we're creating. And there are ways to discourage the wildlife that should not be in close proximity to us.
Charles: 10:05 Right, that could be threatening. You know, of course there can be deer fencing, which, so the deer can have a, I mean there'd be a native area in some towns like when you're in, this was a number of years ago, in the East end of long Island in the Hamptons, where the properties, and some cases are larger, they're multiple acres, would be a minimal size. And there are guidelines, so, if we have properties that abut each other, there has to be thoroughfares for the deer to travel. So you can't put a deer fence on the edge of your property has to be set back, like at 10 feet or so. Or it was some distance. So animals, so wildlife can travel safely because you can imagine if everybody had a fence you get bottlenecks of wildlife.
Kate: 10:47 Well and that is an important component to this idea of backyard habitat. Especially if we're talking about your average suburban home, you may get into a discussion about slightly larger properties and their importance in the ecological quilt. Specifically, for birds, these are green oases, you know, that they have an opportunity to potentially be migrating through the area and using these as stops on the way. I've been in California when Monarch butterflies are resting on the trees as they do their mass migration. So you really are, in essence, if you're mindful about this, and interested in doing so, you help provide not just localized spaces but potentially the corridors that allow migrating animals to make it from one spot to the other. Even if there is fencing, they'll often find a way if they need access to your space for the above criteria, which we mentioned, make up habitat.
Charles: 11:46 That reminds me the national wildlife Federation, that's an organization, it's not a government organization, I don't believe, but it's a, it's an organization. They have a great, great information on use of native plants, creating habitat. This idea of planting a tree is over and over repeated how important, how important trees are and that birds and insects rely on trees, actually.
Kate: 12:10 When you have, you shared an interesting experience, and I've actually seen this once you pointed it out, of bringing a tree into a yard that you're going to get ready to plant, and what happens the minute you-it can still be in burlap or what-have-you, and you plunk it down to kind of identify where it's going to go in the ground...
Charles: 12:29 Oh right, where it's, that's happened, I guess my career is about 20 years or so, where I've been actively a professional. And bringing a native plant into a suburban, often residential area, within minutes, local birds often alight on it and so it's...I mean, spaces that I was familiar with, so I was familiar with if there were birds or not. And so let's say you have a non-native, like a Japanese privet that's a boarder plant. Maybe there's plants that were existing, let's say. And then you bring in a tree, you bring in a service barrier, a Tupelo or a Dogwood, and within minutes there is a native bird. There's a Cardinal that alights on that.
Kate: 13:11 It's so funny because as soon, you mentioned this, prior to my being on-site for planting and I observed it myself like, immediately, once those native plants came into the landscape.
Charles: 13:21 And it's not birds that were like, they weren't alighting on the existing plants. So I mean, I guess it's, it's scientific. It's a natural observation. Where it's like, they really do make a difference.
Kate: 13:32 Yeah, they do. Now, we have been through, in our work, to area nurseries that are local to a specific region, and they will often carry plants that are ornamental but clearly not native. And if you want to talk about goals of a plant for certain invasive species, it's to take over, you know, it's going to out-compete any local competition. So what are some strategies for identifying which native plants are local to your region and then how to source them?
Charles: 14:04 Okay, good question. You know for this episode we did a fair amount of research. We always look at the United States, Canada, we looked at many other country countries, France, Germany, England, you know on and on. Like many, most countries, they have a way of identifying, more or less, like what eco region you're in. Whether for instance maybe it's a coastal grassland or it's an Upland forest and so just by in some cases that's sophisticated enough and that if you allow it you can say, would you like us to tell you where you are? Like a GPS type of a feature. And so once you identify the eco-region that you're in, which would have certain traits, characteristics, and there's the soil type that would go with that would be pretty common. If you're in this region, it's likely the soil would be this, the exposure, the wind. Then once you have that term, then you can, you can quickly do a search for plants. With that that I'm in a, in a mid-Atlantic Upland forest, Upland coastal forest, and then the local land grant universities or other institutions would quite readily list what those plants would be. And that's pretty true for for many countries that I looked at, there's a similar tool.
Kate: 15:18 Yeah, I found one specifically on the Royal society for the protection of birds for the United Kingdom and they even had a guide that you could put in your region and they would help you get a six step activity set, family friendly, to help promote wildlife in your garden. And there are basically a cursory Google search for your location. So even the Australian Broadcasting Corporation had something similar for Australia. So it is kind of a global awareness and there are organizations everywhere that are eager to help. And so, if we could find it, we know you can find it. If you want to share your tips for this very topic, we welcome that feedback as well. But as you say, there are so many tools out there. In terms of going to your average nursery here in the United States, for example, are they likely to be well-stocked, or do you have to go somewhere specific?
Charles: 16:24 It varies. So like we spend time, you know, we spend time in the Northeast, New York, new England, we spend time in Texas. And so I mean like for instance like in Texas, I know for myself doing the research in advance, like there are, I think there's three palms that are native to Texas and so having that information at the nursery, there might be like 30 palms to pick from and their characteristics vary slightly. But using a native is going to provide food, shelter is going to be compatible. And so it does take, the nurseries that are even the best, most progressive, forward-thinking nursery is going to have a whole wide range of plants, and some of those are going to be non-native. Unless it's a native only nursery, which is not that common. I mean they exist, like larger metropolitan areas may have or adjacent, you know, suburban areas to a larger Metro area. So it's more or less it's on the consumer to be aware. Like at the grocery store, you know, to be at like, like to read the label. Where does this come from? There's like for instance in New York state there's a Japanese grass, miscanthus, and so I remember buying that for a project and it came labeled that this, I think it wasn't categorized as invasive yet, now it may be, but it gave you a suggestion. It said, this is an alternative, which is very similar and it is a native, I mean even I'm pretty up on information, but things change. Awareness changes, plants like Japanese Barberry, that's, there's many places in the US that's no longer sold and that there's alternatives that would be native that wouldn't, wouldn't be harmful.
Kate: 18:09 And of course we native is in some ways becoming a more relative term. We've talked about, I mean it should, it might be a funny statement, but boxwood, for example, native boxwood in certain parts of the world are really suffering from, it's almost like the ship has sailed, and they have blight, it's highly invasive and destructive and it's not something that can be used anymore, even though it is the plant native to a specific region. So there are times when one might need to make an adjustment. Those grasses that I mentioned in the Hills of California, from what I understand are not the original California grasses. They are different, but they were brought over, you know, with the first Spanish settlement essentially and took off. And that is, that is what is native in this day and age. So there are lots of nuances of course, and to be a true purist may not be feasible. It may be if you really have the dedication, but as, as I mentioned, there are some species that are already under threats and then others that have kind of turned over in this ecological process of succession that just is what it is.
Charles: 19:20 You know, there's the book, it's quite popular, Planting in a Post-Wild World, which is Claudia West and Thomas Rainier. And so that sort of acknowledges that many areas where people live are not Virgin ecosystems in a quite an urban area. I mean, when I go to Forestry and other conferences, people often bluntly say like, to have a tree survive in this challenging urban condition, that's the goal. And if it's an, if a native tree can successfully do that, by all means use that. But if it's a really challenging site, or maybe it could be a degraded site from an industrial process, and they're creating a park there, so it's, it's definitely a good to utilize natives. And then how you define that, you know, is it native to North America? Is it native to, to Northern Nebraska, I guess not being too...I don't know if dogmatic is the right word, but being too, having this high level of orthodoxy, of what is native, or not, I don't find too helpful. It's, you know, if it's something that's beautiful that survives and that within that there's lots of leeway I find.
Kate: 20:25 So, there are other benefits to encouraging habitat, this conception of habitat, because nature, in some sense, is about balance. So, you have populations that can sometimes get out of balance if there aren't corrective measures. So we talked about the deer. There's a lot of deer, there aren't as many natural predators for them anymore. So part of the issue with deer being everywhere is nothing is being done to kind of balance that population. So in terms of insects, when we're thinking about birds, and maybe even mammals, insects play an important role in the landscape. We haven't even touched on like the microbiome in your soil. It's a whole other episode. We may even invite a scientist in to talk about that because that's, that is a huge ecosystem that we can take measures to support. But the idea that for whatever reason, when things are out of balance, it is sometimes the the more harmful to us, or the more negative, in our thinking, species tend to take over. But if you have the Palm that encourages the nesting of bats, for example, because it's native, because it's where they can exist in this landscape, you have a natural insect eater and you're able to hopefully bring things back into balance. So a lot of the development of habitat actually is to encourage those native species that were here to kind of manage the population in a in a specific way to encourage those to kind of be revitalized so that they can have that beneficial impact
Charles: 22:01 Yeah, that's a great point. How, I often like to say, good landscape architecture, good landscape design, it creates beautiful places for people to enjoy, that are beautiful, that work. And so utilizing native plants and creating these environments that are friendly to the birds, to the insects, make it more compatible for people to. Just exactly like you said, that it's plants that we require less or no inputs. They don't require fertilizer, which could be a bad for people, bad for the, for the water supply, they don't require pesticides, necessarily, which is, that's bad for people. So it's the utilization of native plants creating these, ah, wildlife-friendly environment. It can be, it can be done aesthetically, there's a giant range. It can be, more or less, like a formal French garden, it could have that aesthetic by using native plants. I guess the thought is, keep an open mind and that habitat doesn't need to look messy or wild. It can, but that's not a requirement for it, for it to succeed.
Kate: 23:04 That's a great distinction. It's also, you brought up earlier that idea that if bird feeders are beautiful things, and it's, it's a lot of fun to see the sheer number of animals that might come and visit, whether it's the squirrels that are, you know, trying desperately to get in or...But you mentioned the bears or, you know, things are attracted to these concentrated food sources and I think one important element of the research that we did was this awareness that not all wildlife will stay in one place all the time. So we may, it might be wonderful to have a nesting group of bunnies or a nesting pair of birds and we get to enjoy that lifecycle unfold in front of us, but it's not, it is out of balance. I guess to go back to that concept of being imbalanced, that is out of balance to have concentrated food sources, in nature, and it is reasonable that if a, so for example we have that service berry that, that gets all these berries in June, and the birds wait like it's a buffet about to open.
Charles: 24:09 And they'll visit and check on it. They'll light into the, into this just like tweaky shrub. They'll investigate and then they'll leave and the berries are not ready yet.
Kate: 24:20 And as soon as they're ready, I mean they will pick that thing clean and it takes them just a matter of days. So it's this great rush of activity. We get to enjoy these specific birds, on this specific plant, for just a short period of time and then it's kind of run its cycle. And yet if we can accept that that's the way that, you know, the cycle is meant to unfold, we can still derive a great appreciation for that natural bird feeder. And you were making a point about organisms, animals, birds, I think in particular that have a broad range.
Charles: 24:54 Oh right, when we did that research in order to explain how, that many species have a large range of a thousand acres or, or many miles. And so, this idea on the one hand like, Oh, we're gonna, we create this habitat, we're going to have a family of birds are gonna live here for their whole life, that might not be accurate. But migrating birds might regularly stop over in seasons, and that every property, even a 10th of an acre, or even in Brooklyn, like a rooftop garden, that does matter, that contributes to the good. And that these traveling animals may utilize, more or less, these fragments of habitat as a whole, actually create a greater whole. Ah, for animals that are traveling insects, every garden does count.
Kate: 25:42 So I'm really looking forward to an upcoming family-outing to check out something that you discovered is local here to Houston, which is this massive bat-colony that you can go see,
Charles: 25:55 Right, Houston was founded at the intersection of these two bayous, these two, water courses, White Oak bayou and Buffalo bayou and the Allen brothers founded it, way back when, the city. And there, there is a bridge, right in that vicinity, that houses, I think it's a quarter of a million bats. And you can imagine it with all this...it's like Houston's the Bayou City, there's a lot of water, there's a lot of insects. And so, this bat-bridge has become this cultural destination and people like if you're at a, at a coastal area, everybody comes out and watches the sunset. Well, like it's around sunset, I believe, the bats come out and hundreds or, scores of people you know, show up and watch. And so it's very special, and than it's, I guess being in the moment. Being local, like, but like the farm-to-table movement where it's, it's enjoying that, the seasonality and that it's...I guess that there's that famous, I really enjoy, 'what is local is special.' And that this, having everything the same, everywhere, or look the same, I think it makes it less interesting, actually. Really celebrating each region has a distinct character and, and really highlighting that.
Kate: 27:13 And I do appreciate what you said about, it can still be employed artistically with great landscape design in a way that that matches the aesthetic of whatever one might envision for their landscape. We can participate in this ecology and also maintain our artistic integrity. Before we get to the end of the episode, I want to be sure I'm, I always call out our social media platforms. Of course. Of course. We're on Facebook under, In The Landscape. We are on Instagram under our design companies name, which is King Garden Inc. you can find lots of photos there. We're on Twitter @In_Landscape. Of course we always put these links in the show notes and we also link to the webpage for the podcast, which is on our own website. But we recently joined a new platform called, FlickChat, and we've started to get questions from people who've joined our podcast community there. So I think the greatest, greatest thing about podcasts, the reason I'm such a fan and decided to speak with you about starting a podcast was this idea that it's a way to engage people all over the world. In this amazing conversation
Charles: 28:31 and people can come whatever level or question that they're at. It's like a level playing field in that way. If someone's a professional, that question is just as valid as someone that has their first garden.
Kate: 28:43 Absolutely. And our hope is to respond individually to people who ask questions. Even when people write the, you know, for-profit design business we own, if it's not something we can help them with ourselves but we can answer a question or, or send them in the right direction, we love to do that. And one listener asked us about having a particularly shady garden. So we will certainly try to reach out with some tips and ideas for that person in through the FlickChat app under, In The Landscape. But it also gives us an opportunity to think about what people might want to hear about, those listeners out there who maybe have a similar landscape. And then of course we can talk about the alternative, which would be the really sunny landscape. It's just an exciting way for us to kind of generate ideas and communicate with you, our listeners, in real time or near real time. And so we may even do an episode coming up on shade and how to garden, how to make it inviting. That was really the question was how do you make it inviting if it's a relatively dark space, right?
Charles: 29:45 And there's all kinds of tricks,
Kate: 29:46 all kinds of tricks. So, do look for us there. Feel free to rate us and review us on whatever your listening platform happens to be and we look forward to getting that feedback so we can continue to improve this podcast.
Charles: 30:01 And then that phenomenon, if you have a question, it's likely that others would have the same question. That it's sort of like, if it's in your head that, I wonder what that is? It's very likely that, so by asking that, you'll be answering other people's questions inadvertently,
Kate: 30:16 especially because we always try to provide, we try to pack our show notes with lots and lots of resources, lots of links. We may have forgotten to include the answer to something, or the scientific name of a plant, that you'd really like to look up in your region. So, drop us a line and we look forward to hearing from you. Was there anything you wanted to mention about habitat wildlife in inviting it into our landscape in a way that's functional and safe and also benefit?
Charles: 30:43 For sure. Well, let's see. A couple of things come to mind. Visiting the wild areas, the native areas. Maybe it's a preserve in your area and seeing what, what patterns are represented there in nature. And so, I mean the plants might be an invasive plant, it might be a Japanese stilt grass growing in the forest. So, more or less seeing what does grow in your area and what appeals to you. That can be sort of a starting place. I always like highlighting, uh, pioneers in our field. And so just real briefly, Jens Jensen, who emigrated from Denmark, um, in the late 18 hundreds and settled in Chicago. He was a real pioneer with what they called the, the Chicago Renaissance, which was the Prairie style. Frank Lloyd Wright was involved in that. And so he was a real pioneer in utilizing indigenous plants, native plants in a naturalistic way, creating beautiful, gorgeous landscape architecture. I think his first job may have been with the parks department in Chicago. So and, and some of his landscapes are still, still exist. So it's, that's really art at the highest level and it's beneficial. And so he's a good pioneer to look to.
Kate: 31:52 Well and then researching this episode I was reminded of of course Rachel Carson and her important work, Silent Spring, which looked at the impact of certain pesticides on the ecology of the United States in the 1960s and the big important awareness that our actions matter and that what we are putting in the landscape is going to have an impact on that landscape.
Charles: 32:21 Right. Taking a sustainable approach, can be better for everybody. It's like, less inputs...it more or less it can run on its own, so it doesn't require constant human intervention. And so that's like, that's a good goal. Without our management, it's not going to self-destruct. And then if they're invasive plants that are used as hedges and without a lot of intervention, they're gonna take over your lawn, and they're gonna come up and you're going to have them coming up in the cracks of your swimming pool deck, you know,
Kate: 32:50 Or come up in the neighbors yard, as we alluded to in our, Hello Neighbor, episode. So we don't want to, we don't, to wreak havoc on our entire neighborhood by planting something that's maybe not suitable for that region.
Charles: 33:03 And so I started reassessing the like, the definition of beauty, with the local and native plants.That sometimes the beauty is not as showy, but it's, it lasts a long time. The four season interest, too, that it can be beautiful all four seasons.
Kate: 33:21 So that really wraps up nicely with a lot of the topics that we've covered in our podcasts so far. Of course, we're continuing to dream up new episodes and we look forward to sharing those with you in the future. Thank you for joining us today, and we hope that sometime soon you get a chance to be out, in the landscape.
Charles: 33:42 Thank you.