Organic gardener growing food and flowers, lovin' pollinators and birds.

Make the Garden a Welcoming Habitat

Carole Sevilla Brown spoke during the
CMGA Symposium Saturday at Manchester
Community College in Manchester, Conn.
MANCHESTER, Conn. - Conservation biologist Carole Sevilla Brown feels all gardeners should take the Hippocratic oath: first, do no harm.

Brown was the keynote speaker at the Connecticut Master Gardener Association's Symposium Saturday. She explained her five pillars of ecosystem gardening and how gardeners can create habitats for native wildlife.

"We've paved over so much of the country [and] destroyed so many habitats," said Brown. Recent satellite photographs have shown that lawns now occupy more than 50 million acres in the United States. In addition, lawn irrigation on the east coast accounts for 30 percent of total water usage. On the west coast, that number is even higher - 50 percent. To save water, she recommended reducing lawn coverage in the garden by 10 percent every year.

"We need to rethink what a good-looking property looks like," said Brown.  "Healthy soil is able to fight disease and pathogens." One teaspoon of healthy soil contains more life than above ground; adding chemicals to the soil makes it sterile. "We are creating crack-addicted soils" by adding chemicals, she said.

Wildlife on the Decline
The list keeps growing for native species on the decline in America, including butterflies, dragonflies, frogs, bees, mussels, clams and fish. (The monarch butterfly has been given the most press lately, given its steep population decline over the past three years. Read more about the dwindling numbers in The New York Times.)

"Our gardens may actually be the last line of defense that wildlife has," said Brown.

Gardeners can do simple things to help native wildlife, such as not applying chemical fertilizers and pesticides to the garden. According to Brown's slides, chemical fertilizers are applied at a much higher rate in residential areas then in agriculture areas.

Pesticides such as RoundUp not only destroys milkweed (the host plant for monarch butterflies), but indiscriminately kills good and bad bugs in the garden. "Ninety-six percent of land birds need insects to feed their young. No insects equals no birds," she said.

Brown discouraged the practice of gardeners creating a "plant zoo" in their garden. "A specimen collection is not an ecosystem," she said. Instead of planting one of each plant, she recommended planting multiples.

More importantly, when making plant choices, it's necessary to include native plants in the garden design. This is one of the best ways to attract more native wildlife. "Most butterflies are specialists," she said. "If you don't have plants they need to lay their eggs on, they move on. If you have a host plant, they will stay."

Another easy way to create a habitat is to not remove fallen leaves from residential property in the fall. Insects such as butterflies lay their eggs on the fallen leaves to overwinter in the garden. Leaves can be put under shrubs as a natural mulch or collected in a compost pile, as opposed to being put out on the curb in brown paper bags. (Brown said 25 percent of landfills are filled with garden waste.)

"A lot of wildlife lives in those leaves," she said. 'When we take those leaves away, we take away the homes of wildlife we are trying to help."

To learn more about Carole Sevilla Brown, visit her website at

1 comment

  1. Jen,
    Thank you so much for this wonderful synopsis of my talk at the CT Master Gardener Symposium last weekend. It was so lovely to meet so many friendly and passionate gardeners.


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