Cover image for The wildlife sanctuary garden
The wildlife sanctuary garden
Buchanan, Carol, 1952-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Berkeley, Calif. : Ten Speed Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xi, 209 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color) ; 23 cm
General Note:
"A Kirsty Melville book"--T.p. verso.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QL59 .B835 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



Carol Buchanan shows how easy it is to turn even a tiny urban plot into a wildlife haven for frogs, butterflies, birds, and other wonderful creatures. Includes a wealth of drawings, diagrams, and color photographs of wildlife sanctuary gardens nationwide.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Buchanan has had her own wildlife sanctuary garden in the Puget Sound area of Washington State for more than a decade. She explains the concept of this type of garden, tells readers how to design one, and discusses gardening with native plants. She gives tips on attracting squirrels, birds, butterflies, bats, bees, frogs, and toads. This author of Brother Crow, Sister Corn also explains how to build a water garden and gives advice on keeping pests at bay without using poisons. There are lots of lists: common butterflies and their foods; what to feed birds; plant nutrients; aquatic plants; ferns, grasses, and sedges; flowers and rushes; shrubs for wetlands; and trees for wet or damp woods. The paperback contains black-and-white diagrams and a color photo insert. --George Cohen

Publisher's Weekly Review

Buchanan writes for homeowners who, wanting more than an outdoor refuge of trees, vegetables and flowers, seek to entice wildlife to complete their landscape. Aware of the suburban destruction of ecosystems that support wildlife, Buchanan offers practical solutions for attracting birds and other wild creatures to apartment balconies, small city lots and suburban sprawls. Her plot of land is both a garden and a sanctuary, and she believes that it should also be a haven for people and wild creatures alike. She explains how to provide the essential elements of food, water and shelter within the four tiers of landscaping: canopy, understory, shrub and groundcover. She emphasizes using native and compatible plants for individual microclimates because they require minimal maintenance and are also attractive to area wildlife. Although other regions of the country are briefly mentioned, Buchanan focuses on wetland and woodland sanctuaries like those near her home in Washington's drizzly Puget Sound area, where her garden has been certified as an official Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary. Extensive charts of plants to attract birds and butterflies will be useful to gardeners anywhere, however, as will the multiple references to native plant societies and botanical gardens and arboreta. Of special note is her inclusion of the many Web sites gardeners can weed through. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One What Is a Wildlife Sanctuary Garden?                                 A wildlife sanctuary garden, no matter how small, is a haven for the wild creatures and the people who share the space. Without you and your family, it's not a garden; without the wildlife, it won't be a wildlife sanctuary.     A sanctuary garden will reward you hugely. In all seasons, it will have an extra dimension not found in most gardens. On warm summer days, in drizzly autumn, or in snowy winter, it will be alive with animals. The sight of them flitting and scurrying about, happily feasting or bathing or even squabbling, will brighten even the dullest mood.     A wildlife garden is a compromise between the purely natural, and the manmade. It is hospitable to wildlife, yet it is also for the people who live there, for you, your children, and your pets. Some people hold that the wildlife haven should be only for animals, as if human beings did not count in the scheme of things. That idea, it seems to me, looks at North America as if it had never been populated by people at all. Obviously, people were living here before European immigration, and they had their effect on the landscape, too. Indigenous people gardened, grew vegetables, tobacco, and orchards of fruit, and at times set forest fires to encourage berry plants to take hold in the aftermath.     People have long lived on this continent, but the original Americans had different ways of coping with nature than more recent arrivals have had. Immigrants brought with them the ideas of gardening formed in their home countries and cultures. The Cultural Basis of American Yards Prior to the early eighteenth century, Europeans, particularly of the English-speaking persuasion, assumed that the external, nonhuman world harbored evil and danger. Besides the physical dangers were the spiritual ones. People had believed for generations that the external world was a place of darkness and confusion, where devils lurked to ensnare the unwary. Folk beliefs spoke of trolls under bridges, and if educated people laughed at such stories, they nonetheless closed their doors and windows against the night air.     In the English language, the concept of nature as we understand it, meaning the nonhuman, material world, did not exist. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, nature first meant "the essential qualities and properties of a thing," and later, human nature. Not until 1662 did the word first appear in writing with what the OED has labeled its thirteenth meaning: "the material world, or its collective objects and phenomena, especially those with which man is more frequently in contact, the features and products of the earth itself, as contrasted with those of civilization."     The eighteenth century began in England with a collective national sigh of relief. The turmoil of the seventeenth century was over and royalty was once more firmly on the throne. Two revolutions, one violent and one peaceful, had replaced the Catholic Stuart line with the Protestant King William and Queen Mary in 1688. When Queen Anne succeeded to the throne in 1702, the educated classes settled down to enjoy the pursuits of peace, such as painting, poetry, and gardening. As they had revolted against the autocratic Stuart kings who had ruled during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, so now they revolted against what they perceived to be stilted formalism in the arts.     A group of wealthy young men who traveled to Rome and to Greece after the turmoil of the seventeenth century fell in love with the classical word. They sought artistic models in the arts of classical Rome, when a similar period of social stability during the reign of Caesar Augustus had led to an artistic golden age. Seeking to re-create that golden age, these young Englishmen imitated the classics in literature, painting, and gardening. They called themselves the "new classicists," or "neoclassicists." For them, nature meant something far different from the material world. Nature was defined by the neoclassicists as "the central idea and form which the particular struggles to attain." Or in less exalted terms, the world we perceive through our five senses is not reality, but an image of it. The rose a gardener grows is not the real one, but an imitation of the perfect flower that the gardener's rose is struggling to become, the ideal. It was a concept derived from classical literature, from Plato by way of Aristotle, from Homer, Virgil, and Pliny.     These young men came home from their journeys and, looking for the ideal hidden in the external forms, began to transform their estates into the ideal landscapes. They believed that ideal nature was primarily a mathematical concept and that nature was a matter of rectangles and circles. Their estates expressed this idea in the Palladian architecture. (In the United States we can see an example of Palladian architecture in Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello.) The object of landscape gardening was to make the external world conform to the ideal. Nature was to be subdued, tamed, civilized. The wild was the enemy of civilization. The Typical American Yard To some extent, American culture, as seen in our yards, appears to hold that opinion still. The concept of taming nature, of reducing the external world to its mathematical essence, seems to live in the typical American yard. Our homes often have rectangular lawns that must be obeyed--mowed, fertilized, weeded, and mowed some more--before you can have fun. People rush to mow the lawn on weekends, before they can relax or play with their kids. When the children are older, parents and children fight over the lawn, in one of those unending battles that pass from generation to generation: "Mow the lawn or you can't go to the movies!"     Lawns cause a lot of worry, too. Where I live, in western Washington, people complain about moss in the lawn, and with an average of fifty-three sunny days per year, there will be moss. You can bank on it. Where you live there's probably something else--bindweed or crabgrass or mole hills--that someone's always combatting in the never-ending (but unspoken) contest to have the most perfect lawn on the street. In the arid West the green lawn consumes so much of a scarce resource--water--that its use for lawns is being seriously questioned. Liberation! As a beginning gardener, I battled nature, too. When we moved to our home in Washington, my only idea of gardening was the American model: a lawn and a vegetable garden, with a few shrubs around the foundation of the house. Then Dick, my husband, and I made our first trip to England, and I came back with an inner eye full of the beauty of English perennial gardens. As I sought to make something of the sort here, I found myself in a constant war against this tricky climate. People said the garden was beautiful, but I wasn't having much fun. I was its slave, and I spent too much money on it, another source of stress.     Eventually, I relaxed and decided to go with nature, rather than fighting it. When I came to that realization, I felt liberated. I began to turn the garden back, if not to its original state, at least to a garden much different than I had set out to make. Fortunately, we had never put in a lawn, so we had relatively little to undo. When we first moved in, we had laid out the basic shape of the garden, and kept most of the native trees and some of the shrubs. The revision has been more a matter of putting plants compatible with the climate into the existing structure.     In deciding not to imitate English perennial gardens, we haven't done away with garden color. Something is in bloom every month of the year, but for much of the year the garden is primarily green, one of the most peaceful colors. Both animals and plants flourish and reward us in their own ways, with happy antics and consistent bloom. Our guests often comment on how peaceful the garden is now. Children love it because it's interesting and it's like being in the woods. They play tag along the paths and throw the dog's ball in the larger patio.     Over the course of the last dozen years, we have helped our garden become a wildlife garden, in essence giving it back to the animals and plants, while still living there. We now consider ourselves stewards of the property for those without the words to speak for themselves. Another name for this type of gardening might be stewardship gardening. A National Grassroots Effort We aren't alone in this effort, either. The nation seems to be finding itself in the midst of a revolution in garden thinking, in a kind of grassroots (pardon the phrase!) movement made up of gardeners all over the country. Partly as a reaction against the urban sprawl and agribusiness that have taken the biggest toll on the natural world, farmers are learning methods of sustainable agriculture that will help preserve the planet for future generations, and we urban dwellers are beginning to recognize the need to do the same. Rather than recreating the indoors outside, we seem to be more willing to let the outdoors be the outdoors, which also makes a great deal less work. Relax With a wildlife sanctuary garden you can relax. In fact, if there's a watchword for this type of garden it's that: Relax. You can kick back if you want to. There are always weeds to pull, but you don't necessarily have to pull them. If a weed flowers, somebody will feast on the nectar. If not, one critter or another will feed on the leaves or shelter under it or around it, or a bird will eat the seeds. How tidy you want your sanctuary to be is up to you.     Our garden isn't fussy anymore. Sometimes a weed is a weed; sometimes it's a native plant. It depends on where it is, what it is, and what sort of mood I'm in. Dick and I have a deal: Anything growing in the gravel paths or patios is a weed. That way he knows what to pull and what not to pull. We all strike a balance that suits our situation. You will, too.     Sometimes I'm moved to tidy up, but I generally resist it. I try to confine my activities to those that will help the garden. I rake leaves from places they might smother plants and from the paths and patios. I prune shrubs and smaller trees for their health first and secondarily for their appearance. Mostly, I just sit in the garden and read or write. I enjoy my garden; it regenerates nerves jangled from the stresses of corporate life.     Besides, being too tidy isn't a very good idea for the animals. They may hide in leaves or overgrown plants. A case in point: Our garden has lots of native sword ferns. Last year's fronds dry out, turn brown, and sag to the ground in the summer. Eventually, they become part of the soil in which the fern grows. (In nature, plants grow in their own litter.) Some people clip off these older fronds, thinking that they are unsightly and the plants look better without them. I don't do that, very often, and when I do, it's usually in the front yard, where a really untidy look might offend the neighbors.     Recently, I accidentally moved a bit too close to a fern for the comfort of the very young possum that had hidden under the sagging fronds. A couple of days before, I had buried two other small possums just its size. Apparently, something had happened to the mother, and three of her babies found sanctuary in our garden. For two of them, it was too late. This one, however, might survive.     I hoped I wouldn't be burying this possum, too. I moved away from the plant so as not to disturb the possum. I saw it two more times, once early in the morning as it walked along the branch of a tree and one afternoon as it sipped water from one of our ponds. By the end of the summer it had doubled its size, so maybe it has a good chance. It doesn't have to forage far for food and water, so the danger to it is minimized. With the dense canopy of leaves overhead, a hawk will have a hard time finding the possum. It has food and water and shelter, so it has a good chance of surviving. I hope.     After all, this wildlife sanctuary garden is an Eden of sorts. It's peaceful. Birds sing, and the little waterfall gurgles. Birds chirp and twitter and splash in the ponds. Over the fence come the outside sounds of children laughing, dogs barking, people calling to each other. The lawn mowers roar, but not for long, and mostly on late Saturday afternoons. Pretty soon, all is quiet again. I read, sip, nibble. Every so often I look up to enjoy the play of light in the green leaves, in the red or yellow flowers. I hear the sounds of squirrel paws or the flutter of bird wings in the water. On hot days the garden is ten to fifteen degrees cooler than surrounding yards. (I've measured that difference.)     It's a friendly garden, too. Neighborhood children love to watch us feed the fish in the ponds. When we have friends in, we hope for weather good enough to sit outside, even if we have to wear jackets, even if for only a little while. We sit in the larger of the two patios. We put our feet up and talk and munch and sip. Time passes. The heat of the day disappears. When a squirrel or bird comes in, we stop talking to watch it. Frogs serenade us. At night the raccoons and possums come out to forage. That's about as wild as our wildlife is. Size Is Irrelevant Ours is not a big garden. It's just a good-sized suburban lot, shaped like a frying pan, with the pan part about 90 feet by 100 feet. In all, it's roughly 12,000 square feet. However, size is meaningless. The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, for example, has certified every size property, from rural acreages to city balconies. Our friends Roxie and Denis have made a six-by-twelve-foot patch behind their condominium into a bird sanctuary by hanging feeders in the screening trees and filling a birdbath (see photo below).     If you live in an apartment, your lanai or balcony can also be a refuge for you and the creatures around you. All it takes are a pot or two of plants to attract pollinators, one or two bird feeders, a birdbath, and a birdhouse or some plants for shelter. Whether it's a balcony in Queens, New York, a suburban lot in Claremont, California, or acreage in the Flathead Valley of Montana, you can have a wildlife sanctuary garden. Basic Principles No matter what size you're working with, certain principles apply. The food sources should be those that animals recognize, so the plantings suggested in this book will be mostly native plants. Pollinators such as hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees, however, aren't fussy about native or nonnative plants. They'll happily draw nectar from any plant they recognize as food. We have both native and normative honeysuckles, and the hummers eat from both.     Plants depend on each other for sustenance and protection. They compete with each other, too, for nutrients, moisture, and light. This relationship of dependency and competition makes a plant community, and the plant community, together with its animals, forms an ecosystem.     While the focus of this book is on getting as close to an ecosystem as you can, it doesn't take a purist's approach. Anything you do for your haven is better than nothing. A couple of feeders and a birdbath are better than no feeders and no water. A windowbox of flowers for butterflies and bees is better than no flowers for them and other pollinators. A Dissonant Note Somewhere along the way, you'll discover that nature isn't always cute. A hawk may swoop in and grab that cute squirrel or pretty bird you've been watching. You may bury dead baby animals, as I buried the baby possums, or see some animal suffering. If you can, try to restrain your kindhearted efforts to interfere with nature. Rescuing the weakest of a litter and hand-feeding it does nothing for the long-term survival of the species.     I haven't put the little possum in a box for hand-feeding. That would terrify it. In providing a haven for its survival, I'm letting the wild creature remain wild. If it survives, it won't be so dependent on humans that it will be unable to survive in the wild without us. It will still maintain that innate caution that warns it that some of us may be dangerous. If I were to hand-feed it, I would only delay its inevitable death by starvation or from some hardhearted person.     Be prepared at times to have your heart wrung, but remember, too, that building a sanctuary garden is the right thing to do, given the dire state of wildlife habitats on the planet as a whole. The loss of habitat means the loss of many types of plants and animals, and perhaps threatens our existence as well. We may feel powerless on a global scale, but we can affect what goes on inside our own boundaries. And one yard multiplied by thousands is a lot of habitat for creatures endangered by the loss of theirs. What You Can Do Now While you're learning about your space and investigating the sources of information provided in chapter 8, you can do some things immediately to minimize the problems for wild creatures and for your family, like ending lawn treatments. Pesticides and commercial fertilizers on lawns seep down into the ground and are carried in the groundwater to the water table or into the water system. Eventually, these chemicals work their way back into your drinking water. Even in trace amounts they may build up over time and affect your family's health.     Exchange your gas mower for a push mower and get the benefits of the aerobics. Put up one or two feeders and keep a birdbath filled and clean at all times. Don't pull out existing plants that some animal might have come to rely on for nectar or seed. Gradually, you can decrease the size of your lawn and plant colorful flowers to attract pollinators.     Keep in mind that some creatures may already have made their homes on your property. Slower changes to your existing garden are better for them, and proceeding slowly enables you to enjoy each phase. Read about what birds, bees, frogs, and butterflies like. Make mistakes and learn from them. Let things happen. Throughout the life of our garden, learning has been a continuous source of fun. Why Make a Wildlife Sanctuary Garden? Ultimately, fun is the best reason for building a wildlife sanctuary garden. We began by trying to make an English perennial garden, then turned it into a sanctuary garden partly out of guilt and partly to stop the sheer labor of battling the climate. Now we would start out this way because it's such great fun. Do it for the sheer joy of it. Do it for your pleasure. I promise you, it's the most rewarding garden you'll ever have. Copyright © 1999 Carol A. Buchanan. All rights reserved.