Using Drought Resistant and Native Plants To Attract Birds and Butterflies: A Habitat Hero Success Story In Evergreen, CO
With Louise H. - 2015 Outstanding Habitat Hero Residential Garden
What motivated you to create a wildscape garden?
My yard in Chicago backed up to a forest preserve and was registered as a National Wildlife Habitat. I loved all the birds and pollinators there and had a beautiful butterfly garden. But when we first moved to Evergreen in July of 2009, with the exception of a small failing Aspen grove and a beautiful Douglas fir on the north side, our new home sat in the middle of a 4-acre dry, barren clearing; nothing but weeds, rocks and dust--without even a bird in sight, only voles--which we still have!
My husband had a fence installed around a manageable area in the back, and we started planting. Since we had no trees, my first attempt to attract birds was by putting out multiple water features and feeders on our deck. (We can only offer the bird feeders in the winter when the bears are hibernating.) One of the few things I like about living in a clearing are the bluebirds. We put up several bluebird houses shortly after we moved in. They have since been occupied every spring. Usually, one bluebird family and one swallow family. This summer, we had a Mountain Bluebird family and an Eastern Bluebird family. They love bird baths. The hummingbirds saved me! They arrive by the dozens and we all enjoy their entertaining antics.
Over the course of five very short, very challenging high altitude (8,700 feet) growing seasons, and the completion of Colorado State University’s Master Gardener program, the once barren back yard is now like an oasis with quite a wide variety of birds.
There is also a garden now, full of pollinators, a snake, a lizard and even a mud puddle for the butterflies. The garden is left untouched over the winter to feed the birds, and there are heat coils in the bird baths. The arid Colorado climate and the completion of CSU’s Master Gardener program helped me to understand the importance of planting natives and xeric selections whenever possible. Outside the fence has been left to its natural, chaotic state, sustaining the wildlife that the fence keeps out!
What makes your wildscape special? For example, the story of creating it? The plants you use? Birds and other pollinators it attracts?
This garden is special to me because it is a fighter! It has survived and thrived what I call "combat gardening"--short growing seasons, frosts in early September, snow in May and late frosts again in June. It has survived cold summer nights, drying winds, little precipitation and every rodent imaginable under the hot sun!
It’s special because of the story of creating it, yes, but mostly because of all the birds and pollinators it has since attracted. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine having butterflies again--not with the strong winds we get up here at 8,700 feet! Starting out as nothing but a barren clearing, with many mistakes and much learned, its evolved over the last five growing seasons into a yard full of birds of every feather, bees, hawk moths and butterflies has been and will continue to be a labor of love.
Rudbeckia Goldsturm blooms in mid-to-late summer with an eye-catching display of golden flowers. Black Eyed Susan is very attractive to butterflies and the seed heads provide winter food for seed-eating songbirds as well. Reliable and tough, Rudbeckia tolerates both drought and clay plus easy to maintain.
Major Wheeler Honeysuckle (Lonicera) is a non-stop bloomer coloring the garden from late spring through the summer with showy clusters of orange-red flowers. Considered to be the longest blooming variety of honeysuckle and a superior flower for the hummingbirds. 2010 Plant of the Year.
Magnus is a distinctive, vigorous and large growing cone flower cultivar. The bright reddish-pink petals of its huge flowers are held flat as they radiate out from the cone, instead of curving backwards as is typical of most coneflowers.
Asclepias syriaca (Common Milkweed) is a gorgeous plant that produces purple/pink flower clusters that wildflower gardeners love and spreads quickly. This native perennial is a primary food source for the Monarch butterfly providing large leaves for caterpillars and big pink globe-like flowers that provide nectar for the adult butterflies. Planting it will help to support Monarch populations. Perennial.
Red Birds in a Tree is a rare perennial from the southern mountains of New Mexico and Arizona. It blooms all summer with spires of small red, white-lipped flowers that resemble a flock of red birds perched on a tree branch.
Blonde Ambition Blue Grama Grass (Bouteloua gracilis Blonde Ambition PP#22,048) is a native ornamental grass with a completely new look. The horizontal eyelash-like chartreuse flowers appear in mid-summer and age to blonde seed heads by fall. They are held on the plant right through the winter to provide many months of interest. 2011 Plant of The Year
Rose Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is a showy pink blooming Asclepias species that is a food plant for Monarch butterfly caterpillars and a nectar source for adult butterflies. Also known as Swamp Milkweed, it grows best in moist or wet soils.
Fireworks is well named. In late summer, the bright yellow sprays of tiny flowers look just like an exploding skyrocket on the 4th of July. A tall sturdy grower, it is a great companion for ornamental grasses and other late summer blooming perennials.