A Beautiful Wildlife Garden–A sustainable, pollinator/wildlife, organic, pesticide-free (from both chemical and organic use), waterwise, and various elements and uniquenesses.
Redefining beautiful–Beautiful is not a bright yellow forsythia blooming in the spring with zero nectar and zero pollen for the honeybee. Yes, it is the host for one beetle, the fourlined plant bug, Poecilocapsus luneatus, not one you really want to have anyway. Beautiful are large numbers, like a 104 on Dough Tallamy’s list, the number of hosts to use viburnums, for example, or 557 for our native oak.
These numbers indicate the number of moths (and butterflies) that use these plants as hosts. The caterpillars are needed to feed the brooding birds. We at Bee Better want to focus on the plants to make the garden more beautiful based on the many benefits they provide.
3412 Yelverton Circle
Raleigh, NC 27612
1/2 acre inside-the-beltline Raleigh
20 years in this garden with a major plant renovation seven years ago.
My entire life has been dedicated to working for a better environment. I spent 20 years as an air pollution engineer for both industry and under contract with the EPA. (I have both a BS and MS in environmental engineering and science.) My specialty was measuring pollutions from hazardous waste incinerators and cement kilns that burned hazardous waste, plus other unique and hard-to-test stationary sources. In 2001, I started a garden maintenance business to help homeowners with their gardens. In 2005 I continued with this endeavor while my writing career took off.
Today after countless magazine articles in most national, regional, and local titles, three books, and contributions to several other ISBNs, I lost my way on my purpose in my environmental mission. My passion is, and from here on, about the betterment of the environment. And I’m not doing it out in the countryside, but rather in the city a block for the Raleigh Country Club. Wildlife gardens don’t need to be wild-looking. It’s all about redefining BEAUTIFUL.
I’m stepping aside from writing about other people’s gardens, and focusing on the mission to Bee Better! www.beebetter.info
It’s also important to note I’m not following a celebrity insect. What I’m doing in Helen’s Haven, the Bee Better Teaching Garden, is about sustainability. The garden is so much more than saving the bees or monarchs or even pollinators as a whole. It’s about sustainability, and when this occurs, everyone wins.
THE DESIGN BASIC AND RENOVATION IN 2011
When my husband and I moved to this home and garden in 1997, we both were working full time as environmental engineers, and we had a one-year-old.(We would later have two more. Now, those kids are 21, 17, and 16-year-olds and know all to well how to live a sustainable lifestyle.) Not only do I attribute the sustainability of the garden to a better environment, but it’s also such a cost and timesaver; I could work full time, garden, and still able to be an active parent to my kids, teaching them along the way.
As I got more and more involved in gardening, and particularly during the decade I served on the Board of the JC Raulston Arboretum; I lost my way. I wanted everything—every new cultivar, introduction, and fancy-dandy, including double flowers that provide little to no access to nectar and pollen.
In 2011, I looked at my garden I wondered if it could ever be my FOREVER garden. Like a FOREVER home, I wanted to be sure the garden was everything I wanted it to be and accessible. I redesign around paths. I evaluated the half-acre to go forward with my true passion. I considered every single plant and design perspective in the garden.
I started by trading out purely ornamental trees such a crape myrtle for something better suited for the wildlife and provided fruit for the birds and my family if anything was left. In the case of one crape myrtle, I replaced it with a serviceberry, Amelanchier × grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’ for another replacement, I planted a sweet cherry tree, Prunus avium ‘Stella’. There were many more additions.
Here is a list of fruit trees on Helen’s Haven.
For the butterflies, I created this list of host plants, then made certain I was growing many of them or at least one within each butterfly need. I added as needed. This list is specific to my ecoregion 231, for butterflies that are within my range.
I learned organic may be better for us, but not so much for the wildlife. Check out this story on organic parsley
For butterfly nectar plants, I have many umbel-shaped plants for easy landing, including liatris, lantana, dill, carrots, parsley, zinnia, yarrow, milkweed, pentas, and many others. They are planted in large swaths to make foraging easy.
For the European Honey Bee; I also keep abreast so I can educate folks about trends where there is even evidence the unskilled hobbyist beekeepers may be adding to the problem. I believe I’ve added to that problem since I’m a twice failed beekeeper. This is exactly why I started the non-profit Bee Better so can we focus on educating about the plants. If someone wants to do their part, in addition to sustainability, they can grow certain beneficial plants. Did you know, we have more agricultural hives now that we did before CCD? But this is falling on deaf ears to those who want to save something and others profiting from it.
For our native bees, they are the plants you see them on. Research from Penn State found that our native bees, particularly the carpenter and bumble bees only alight flowers that have a protein to lipid ratio to satisfy their needs. Honey bees, on the other hand, will each junk food as in any flower available for easy foraging. This is why Peter Lindtner research from Longwood is so important. Bee Better concludes, when a garden has limited space, it’s best to first study the plants that provide the highest content of nectar and pollen if you want to help save the bees, and then plants lots of them.
For the Hummingbirds, my list is coming soon.
It’s not just rather you do and don’t use pesticides in your own garden, consider your source selection, as well. Before you buy, ask if the plant or seed has been treated with neonics. In Helen’s Haven, the Bee Better Teaching Garden we use no pesticides, organic or otherwise
When we had the worst drought in 100 years in 2007, I redesigned my garden to be watering sustainable.
Today, all the water that falls on Helen’s Haven, The Bee Better Teaching Garden stays on the property except the concrete driveway. If I could break it up more from where it’s already cracking, I would if I didn’t think that would be the last straw to break my marriage in my quest to build an example garden to share with others about the power of sustainable garden.
The Oasis Beds
The Transitional Beds
The Xeric Beds
City of Raleigh composted leaf mulch,
To make compost, I wasn’t interested in red wigglers in my house, and we don’t have a garage to store them, so I went the earthworm route. I made a bin to compost, and the soil is rich in our native earthworms making compost to use or not. It’s a great way just to have waste reduced in a timely fashion.
Composting all Biomass from Property
The garde was designed with a lining of boxwood hedges. I also have a boxwood collection. (Boxwood flowers are a 2 and 2 from the Lindtner pollen and nectar study.) The idea was to have a formal element that remained constant while the rest of the garden could be wild. Giving the garden structure allows for more latitude in other areas of plantings.
These hedges allow me to compost my biomass in place. Spent debris are cut and layered behind the hedge. It can’t be seen from the back porch or even walking the “soccer field.” At the end of the season, I cover with pinestraw I forage from neighbors and other streets (with permission, of course!)
I’m a big fan of flea markets and country junk/antique shops. The elements in my garden have been found, installed (by me), and embellished over time. Unfortunately for marketing people, I don’t have any elements that can be ordered out of a catalog. I’ve set out to make my garden uniquely mine, for better or worse 😉
Steps in the Mixed Border
Below is a picture of the garden when we bought the home
in 1997. The year before we bought the property when this picture was taken, Hurricane Fran came through and took out about 30 pines.
Christmas 2002, I asked my husband for new steps to go up into the Mixed Border.
The structure was found at the Raleigh Flea Market (BTW, we have a VERY good one.) For years it didn’t have a roof. I would add lights to gussy it up, also adding a gravel base and a cute table and chairs. There is something important about having a garden space where you look back at the home.
After about ten years, I decided the gazebo need a roof. By this time, the garden was growing a series of outbuildings so I could fully live the country life. There were the Garden House and the coop, each with a painted tin roof. It was time for the gazebo to have the same. Given the gazebo is on the opposite side of the Garden House, it added a nice balance to the back garden. I found a retired trellis maker to see if he could make the roof. It was a challenge for him, but he was game. He did a beautiful job on the roof, but the ends didn’t match up. The metal structure wasn’t level, and that wasn’t what he was hired to do. It took a while, at least three hours, but I did manage to level it and the roof lined up perfectly.
Tobacco Stick Fence
In the south, tobacco farmers modernized the curing of tobacco. In the past, sticks were cut to hang the tobacco for curing. As the curing barns were modernized, the sticks became obsolete. If you keep an eye out, you may find them for sale. The first I saw them for sale was at a local garden center for $3.00 each. There were sold to be used as a unique plant stake for the garden. They didn’t sell well at that price. I now see them at the Raleigh Flea Market for about 50 cents each. But the best deal, if you are in the know of an old barn being sold and the owner wants them hauled off. I was able to get 600 hundred sticks this way. I stored them for a few years until I figured out what to do with them. In the meantime, I had used reed hiding fencing material to cover the chainlink fence of the property behind me. One day I realized, I could make panels with the tobacco sticks to replace the reed hides. Now I have this awesome tobacco fence that is uniquely mine.
There is maintenance involved, but it’s worth it. Each winter, on a clear day above 50ºF, I glob on Thompson Waterseal to protect the wood. The fence has been up for six years now with no sign of decline.
Building the coop was above my abilities, so I hired my friend, David Spain, to build it for me. It has a red roof.
The Chicken Run
My job was to build the chicken run. It wasn’t my best work, but it serves the purpose.
Again when projects are unique, they don’t happen overnight. For a couple of years, I admired the structure at a local flea market shop. I pined for it, but the kids were still using their playset. When I designed the garden, I set the kids “soccer field” on the access to the playset. I knew once they were done with the playset, I would have a room of my own. My husband wanted me to wait a year afterward just to see if they showed any nostalgia over their past. No way. The playset was replaced with an iPhone, and they, sadly, never looked back.
Before frost, I put tropicals, mostly citric trees in there.
I did manage to put this structure up by myself using zip ties. Over the years, I added plexiglass and a red roof. I finally have a room of my own.
Sleeping Porch and Hanging Garden
For Christmas one year, I told my husband I wanted a daybed to replace the settee on the back porch. (We added the covered porch to the house in 2005.) About four years ago, I told my husband I love my garden so much and all the critters around me, I want to be able to sleep out there. He didn’t think much of the idea. So one day when he was out of town, I looked through Craig’s List and found a white, daybed (without mattress) for sale. It was not a fine piece of furniture, maybe something they added to a spare room, topping out at maybe $300.00. I got it for $75.00. At the same time, I was trading up one of the kid’s beds from a twin to a double, so I also had the mattress. I painted it brown, one of my garden accent colors.
Cedar arbor for hardy Kiwi
One of my winter projects is to score several cedar posts and make this look better and enlarge it.
NC artist Tinka Jordy
NC artist Thomas sayre–a model of Terroir. Thomas makes models of his vision before setting out to cast the final piece. Since I arranged for the sale for the final piece, Thomas gifted to me this model.
NC artist Virginia Gibbons
The entrance arbor
The Mixed Border
The River Bed
The Front Parterre
The Pollinator Bed
For the Butterflies:
By planting butterfly host plants, you can fully sustain a butterfly habitat. it takes more than nectar-rich flowers such as zinnias, although they are needed. You need to provide for the entire life cycle from egg and larvae with host plants, chrysalis with dense plantings, and then the nectar-rich plants for the adults to sip.
If you want to attract the zebra butterfly, you need to plant its only host plant, the pawpaw tree (you need two) Asimina triloba. The zebra butterfly isn’t the only butterfly that has a very specific host plant. Most are familiar with the monarch needing milkweed, but did you know so does the queen? Same family. Same needs. There are several more examples I can add.
Host plants by butterfly, click here.
Butterflies in Helen’s Haven, The Bee Better Teaching Garden.
Common Wood Nymph
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
Great Spangled Fritillary
For the Birds:
Having supplemental feeders outside the window of your favorite chair is just the beginning of a bird habitat. In fact, a true bird-friendly garden wouldn’t need these feeders at all. Rather, the diversity within the garden provides your feathered friends all they need. Of course, we want to watch the birds, so supplemental feeders are always welcomed.
By planting seed-bearring perennials, such Echinacea spp. and Rudbeckia spp. the yellow finches will be fed and give you joy.
By adding fruit-bearring trees and shrubs, such as Ilex spp. and Vaccinium spp. the bluebirds, robins, and other fruit eaters will be fed.
Birds that visit Helen’s Haven
2015 Sustainable award from the city of Raleigh
Executive director of BeeBetter.info, an educational nonprofit helping homeowners build better backyards for birds, bees, and butterflies.
One of the best things that came from Bee Better are the forums. In 2017, we began with this idea to have a forum, a gathering of those interested in learning how to Bee Better. We meet in the Bee Better Teaching garden, my home garden, Helen’s Haven, to discuss specific topics about sustainability. In 2017 we have expended the meetings from four to five with the following agenda.