Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshop – Wildlife in the Garden

– Posted in: Garden Design


Hey, all! It’s time to start a new Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshop. And as I mentioned in February’s kick-off post, this month’s topic is wildlife in the garden: the good and the bad. The pretty and the creepy. If it’s out there and you’re not responsible for taking it to the vet, it counts.

I used to be really into feeding wild birds, until it became too expensive. Once I stopped, I realized that I didn’t need to do it anyway. Because I wait until spring to do my garden cleanup, there’s plenty of seedheads and stalks to provide winter food and shelter, and there are always wild birds flitting among them. In the summer, the robins insist on nesting in the climbing rose right by my side door, even though they know I go in and out all the time and will agitate them continuously.


I also find lots of little nests in the shrubs and perennials.


One concession I’ve made is in not cutting back as many perennials as I used to, after exposing several nests like this one during an early-June pruning frenzy. Boy, did I feel bad about that.

upper-meadow-back-corner-4-sept-27-07Even if I kept my garden carefully trimmed, perfectly tidy, and utterly pest-free, however – which I have no interest in doing – I figure I’d still have plenty of birds and other wildlife to enjoy, thanks to the 2 acres of meadow area that wrap around my house and pastures, as well as the old hedgerows between me and my neighbors. I mow the meadow only once a year, usually in early spring, so between that, the many seedling Eastern red cedars (Juniperus virginiana) that have sprouted up, and the diversity of woody plants in the hedgerow, there’s ample habitat for all kinds of critters.

habitat-sign-echinacea-calamagrostis-kf-july-19-07Even though I live in a rural area, folks around here generally don’t care much for unmown areas, unless they are fields cut each summer for hay. So I took the step of getting certified as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat through the National Wildlife Federation and sprang for the expense of this spiffy sign. I doubt it has changed the minds of those who seem to think I’m living next to an abandoned property, or that I’m too lazy to mow “properly.” But I have seen a number of people walking or driving by who have stopped to read the sign, and several of them have asked me to explain more about the program when they see me working out there, so I guess the message is getting out.

I know it’s important to nuture the diversity of herbaceous and woody plants in the meadow, but sometimes I wonder if it wouldn’t be just as useful to grow nothing but milkweeds (Asclepias), because they seem to host such a variety of neat bugs, including the larvae of monarch butterflies…


…various adult butterflies…






…and ladybug larvae.


But then, there are plenty of other interesting plants that provide food, shelter, and nesting sites for cool critters, including various spiders…



…and praying mantises.


Of course, some forms of wildlife are less desirable than others. Deer? Oh yeah, they’re here too.


Ugh. I don’t want to think about that.

Now it’s your turn to share your thoughts and experiences about wildlife in the garden.

  • I know lots of you enjoy feeding backyard birds. Do you add plants specifically for them too, or do you have tips for incorporating feeders and water sources into your yard? Any pointers for gardeners who are interested in drawing more birds to their gardens?
  • What kinds of plants and gardening practices do you use to attract and protect beneficial insects?
  • How about you butterfly gardeners – care to share your tips and experiences?
  • I believe some of you have also gotten certified with the NWF’s Backyard Wildlife Habitat program (or, as they call it now, the Certified Wildlife Habitat program); what did you think of the process? Would you do it again? Do those of you in other countries have similar programs?
  • What about dealing with the troublemakers? I’m sure many readers would appreciate hearing about any successes you’ve had in finding ways to keep rabbits, deer, and other problem critters from devouring your garden.

If you’re new to the GGW Design Workshop, here’s how it works: Write a post on anything related to wildlife in the garden on your own blog and give us the link below, or simply leave a comment if you don’t want to do a separate post. If you’ve written about the topic in the past, those links are equally welcome; it’s not necessary to create a new post to participate.

At the end of the month, I’ll gather all of the links into one summary post for easy reference. If you’re interested in checking out previous GBD Workshops, you can find them here:

Paths and Walkways
Fences and Walls
Arbors and Pergolas
Color in the Garden
Container Plantings
Front-Yard Gardens
Stone in the Garden
Decks, Porches, and Patios
Garden Whimsy
Trellises and Screens
Water in the Garden
Sheds and Outbuildings
Incorporating Edibles
Kids in the Garden
Labeling and Record-Keeping
Pets in the Garden

Don’t forget that you’re all welcome to go back and add links to these older posts.

A final note: Our July topic will be designing with bulbs – both hardy and tender kinds. So you have plenty of advance notice to take pictures of your spring bulb displays and plan ahead for summer, too.

Nancy J. Ondra
Nan gardens on 4 acres in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In the firm belief that every garden ought to have a pretentious-sounding (or at least pretentious-looking) name, she refers to her home grounds as "Hayefield." There, she experiments with a wide variety of plants and planting styles, from cottage gardens and color-based borders to managed meadows, naturalistic plantings, and veggies--all under the watchful eyes of her two pet alpacas, Daniel and Duncan.
Nancy J. Ondra

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42 comments… add one

Leave a Comment

Sunita March 1, 2009, 5:19 am

Fantastic post! I loved reading about all the creatures in your garden and the photos … gorgeous!
Wildlife in my garden? Its practically crawling ! In fact, I think more than half the posts in my gardening blog are about the creatures that I bump into in my garden 😀
Yes, I do have a birdbath … a natural depression in a rock … that has turned out to be the local community centre for everything that flies, walks or crawls. Apart from that, I havent done anything to actively invite them, except doing nothing to disturb them. It seems to work.

I’m glad you’re joining us this month, Sunita. You’re right that your entire blog counts for this topic! Here’s a direct link to The Urban Gardener so our readers can find you.

joco March 1, 2009, 10:29 am

My post is recycled and a litle grim. Even though I hesitated at first, I think maybe it might do some good submitting it.
See what you think and sling it if you don’t think it is appropriate.

It *is* grim, but I think you raise a valuable point, Joco.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter March 1, 2009, 11:52 am

I have so much on this topic I might have to break it down into two or more posts. My adventures with the squirrels are approaching epic proportions.
After reading your post & seeing your photos, I seriously think I need more Milkweeds, all different kinds. (I have only one kind of Milkweed, for now.)

You know how people say that dogs live up to their names, so you shouldn’t give them names like Killer or Fang? Perhaps that applies to naming gardens as well. I mean, “Squirrelhaven”? Word gets out, you know.

Greg W March 1, 2009, 1:52 pm

Thanks for talking about the Certified Wildlife Habitat. It’s a great tool for creating maintaining the necessary habitat for wildlife.

My garden is young, will turn four this year so I don’t have the variety of wildlife I see in your wonderful photos but it will get there in time. Your photos are inspirational.

Thanks, Greg. My garden is only starting its eighth year, but the meadow had a big head start, because it was formerly a hayfield. Simply changing the mowing time from midsummer to early spring allowed the milkweeds that were already here – including Asclepias syriacus, A. incarnata, A. purpuracens, and A. tuberosa – to finally bloom and multiply. Many other really cool plants – including terrestrial orchids – are showing up now too.

Benjamin March 1, 2009, 2:36 pm

Milkweed = monarch
Fennel = swallowtail

Right? I’m not trying to be glib, just want to make sure people plant billions more of each, but especially milkweed! Oh, our poor monarch populations….

Yikes! Of course, you’re right. Fixed now. Thanks, Benjamin.

Town Mouse March 1, 2009, 2:57 pm

There’s some evidence that it’s best to plant the milkweed that’s native in your area (of course, it’s probably also best waterwise). Here’s an interesting post:

Thanks for that link, TownMouse. I was looking for more information on that issue a few months ago. I note that they say “Alkaloids from the wrong milkweed (South American, Mexican, etc.) can expose the butterflies to predation. If the monarch or other butterfly has not evolved with the milkweed they have no tolerance for the particular alkaloid of the species.” When I brought up this issue before, someone pointed out that predators wouldn’t be able to tell which milkweed a monarch had fed on. And I wonder how exactly “no tolerance for the particular alkaloid” is expressed. Even though we have many native milkweed species here in PA, the monarchs seem to favor the non-native A. curassavica for egg-laying. I don’t know how, or if, the larvae feeding on that species affects their development. I’ll have to start looking into that again.

Town Mouse March 1, 2009, 3:03 pm

First rule for wildlife: Don’t spray, not even Roundup. I had an experience with a salamander this months that really made me think. I was so excited about finding it, but probably would have never seen it had it not been poisoned. Still talking to my neighbors. Anyway, here’s the post:

I appreciate that link too, TownMouse!

Xris (Flatbush Gardener) March 1, 2009, 9:06 pm

I plan and plant for wildlife. I put up a bat house, hoping to counteract in some small way the devastating impact of White-Nose Syndrome. It’s no two acres of meadow, but I’m planning to complete requirements to certify my yard and gardens as a Wildlife Habitat this year. The one element I’ve been missing is water.

My most publicized visitors are welcomed but unbidden. I was interviewed by the New York Times last summer about the raccoons visiting my backyard, and documented in my blog.

As interesting, but less charismatic, are the numerous native species of bees that visit my gardens. I documented the Cellophane Bees nesting in a sandy patch of ground last year. I’m looking forward to their progeny’s emergence this Spring.

I too found water to be the biggest challenge for the habitat certification. I put out shallow dishes for the birds and bugs, but they seem to prefer my alpacas’ water tubs and buckets. I change the water several times a day, so it seems to be working out ok (not that I could stop the birds from drinking there, anyway).

I’d never heard of Cellophane Bees, so I tracked down your post. Very cool! Here’s a direct link to Colletes thoracicus (Colletidae), Cellophane Bees. And a direct link to your primer on Bat Houses, too.

Shady Gardener March 1, 2009, 9:14 pm

Great ideas!! I’m waiting for a bit to do my dog post… We’re still in the Winter mode, but hopefully by the end of the month – Not! 😉 I Love the idea of the wild animal post. Will participate. Meanwhile, you should see my Muse Day post. ha.

Hey, how appropriate, Shady! I think it’ll be quite a while until we see centipedes again. Digging time seems a long way away at the moment – brrr.

Dee/reddirtramblings March 1, 2009, 10:00 pm

Cool, I’ll try to join in this month.~~Dee

That would be great, Dee. I look forward to seeing what you come up with.

ForestWander Nature Photography March 2, 2009, 5:57 pm

These are great nature shots.

You have a talent and eye for beauty.

Thanks for visiting.

Yvonne Cunnington March 2, 2009, 8:24 pm

Great post. Love your meadow! Here in the country on our 10 acres, we have all sorts of wild visitors. We also have a meadow, and it teams with birds and butterflies: We don’t have a fence, but only rarely get deer. I’ve seen the odd deer track, and one spring a deer deadheaded my Queen of Night tulips.

We’ve had snapping turtles come through ( ) and a coyote feeding on crabapples at the end of the winter ( ), but my signature wild friends are the barn swallows that nest with us every year. They have become like family. I love them dearly.

Here are some pictures with blog posts:,,

The swallows do make a bit of a mess in the barn, but nothing a power washer won’t take care of. I’m looking forward to welcoming them back this spring.

Thanks for your post and the invitation to share. You’ve reminded me of all the pleasures in store once the weather warms up.

Cheers, Yvonne

This is awesome, Yvonne. Thanks for taking the time to gather and share these with us.

Debra Lee Baldwin March 3, 2009, 3:01 pm

My nemesis is the pocket gopher. If it’s spring, those randy pests are multiplying, eyeing my garden and eating the roots of everything from citrus to succulents. Sometimes when pausing in the garden, I’m not kidding, I hear chewing. I get rid of one gopher (using the Maccabee trap, which is not kind, but effective) and I swear, a new one parachutes in. I wonder: How widespread are gophers? Nan, do you have them in your area? (I’m in SoCA.)

Ooh, they sound terrible. We don’t have pocket gophers here in PA, but we do have voles and groundhogs, which can be devastating in their own ways.

David March 5, 2009, 3:16 pm

I was just referred to this website and I am looking forward to spening more time here- it looks wonderful! A couple of months ago I started my own blog about willdife gardening, specifically with native plants, in a small city lot in Missoula, Montana. I hope you’ll stop by to check out my posts- most are really relvant to GGW.

Welcome, David! I’m glad you found us. Thanks so much for the link to your blog. You’re right – it’s perfect for this month’s topic. Thanks too for adding some links to previous GBDWs.

Sweet Bay March 9, 2009, 10:44 am

This is a great topic for a blog. I am working on a post and will put it up later.

Beautiful photos, especially the bee on the Butterfly Weed.

Thanks, Sweet Bay. I’m glad to hear that you’ll be joining us again this month.

Sandra March 9, 2009, 2:02 pm

Carol at Colors of the Garden has me hooked on the site. I am working on a post and will put it up later.

We’re glad you found us, Sandra. We look forward to seeing your post!

Gloria March 9, 2009, 2:52 pm

I like this blog,great gardens and pictures.
Pollinators-welcome is my blog about creating a wildlife habitat in an urban garden. We learn more every season. So to join in this month here are a few links to past posting about wildlife in the garden.

Great to see you here again, Gloria! I’m so glad you shared these links. Your entire blog is a super resource for all interested in this month’s topic.

Frances March 10, 2009, 4:22 pm

Hi Nan, this was a great topic, one that most of us do in one way or another. Love all your milkweed! My post is up:


Yep, we’re getting lots of great links on this topic. I’m delighted to have yours too, Frances. Thanks, as always!

Lois J. de Vries March 13, 2009, 11:58 am

Hi Nan,

My post is up:
Thanks for making me think about what a rich habitat we have!


Super, Lois – I’ll be over for a visit soon!

Mr. McGregor's Daughter March 13, 2009, 5:50 pm

Post #1 is up, “CSI -Critters in the Garden”.

Ooh, how intriguing. I can’t wait to see what you’ve come up with for us, MMD.

Pam Kersting March 14, 2009, 10:16 pm

Great post, as always. I’ve got lots of bees and insects as well in my garden. Since last month’s post still applies I’m relisting it for this month’s Design Workshop! Here it is:

Yep, it’s perfect for this one too. Thanks, Pam.

VP March 19, 2009, 1:24 pm

Hi – after last month’s pets, it was just a small step to wildlife 😉

My post’s up – there’s a simple make for everyone who’d like to attract ladybirds (aka ladybugs) and solitary bees plus some useful website resources in addition to my usual blethering on about my garden!

I love the title, VP. I’ll be over to check out your post soon. Thanks for joining us again this month!

Craig @ Ellis Hollow March 20, 2009, 6:51 pm

Hey Nan: Got a post up on deer for this month’s workshop:

Keep up the good work and keep me posted.

Oh, deer – I knew someone would have something to say about them. Thanks for the link, Craig.

Genevieve March 22, 2009, 1:24 am

This was perfect timing for me as I was in the middle of a six-part series on attracting birds in the Pacific Northwest. Here’s the first post which links to the rest:

Super, Genevieve; I’m so glad you joined us this month. What a great series!

patientgardener March 22, 2009, 3:24 pm

Hi – my post on wildlife gardening is here – this is one Design workshop post I can do.

Yay – I’m glad I found a topic that fits for you this month. Thanks for leaving the link.

Sweet Bay March 23, 2009, 3:51 pm

I have put up a post here:

I’m so happy you joined us again this month, Sweet Bay. I’ll be over for a visit soon!

Carol March 25, 2009, 10:13 am

Deer leave their fauns to nap in my shrubberies… I have acres in wildlife conservation … fields of blueberries that I share with the birds… shrubs and trees that provide fruit… I too leave old flower stalks to stand over winter and watch as birds feed on the seeds. Great site you have! Thanks! Carol

Lovely to have you join us this month, Carol! Thanks for sharing the stories and images of some of your visiting wildlife.

Carol March 25, 2009, 10:21 am

A couple more things… I raise monarch butterflies in the summer … let plenty of milkweed grow, have blue bird and tree swallow houses up, have wild honeybees in an old maple, tons of birds nest in my shrubberies… the habitat I helped to create (work with nature) attracts… hawks, fox, coyote, deer, bobcat, bear, wild turkeys and more. Wonderful living with all these creatures.

LINDA from EACH LITTLE WORLD March 25, 2009, 11:09 pm

This monthly series is always of interest. Your own post is a wonderful visual treat with all the critters and the intense color of the milkweeds. I am going to have to consider adding some to my garden.

Luckily no deer problem here, and only raccoons now and then. Our creatures are more on the positive side: birds, bees, and ducks. You can read about them here:

Thanks so much, Linda. I loved the story of Fred and Ethel!

ESP March 25, 2009, 11:32 pm

Late with this one!
Here is a ground blue-margined beetle and a trap door spider I recently “happened upon” at a property I have been working on. It just goes to show there are amazing creatures to be found, even in a “Hell-Strip.”

Not too late at all, ESP. I enjoyed reading about your adventures.

Jim March 26, 2009, 4:34 am

It’s an old post, but after re-reading it. I think this qualifies. Unless, of course, you are opposed to eating the wildlife.

Well, that’s certainly one approach to wildlife-unfriendly gardening, Jim. But hey, if they wildlife isn’t going to be friendly, why should you be?

Mr. McGregor's Daughter March 26, 2009, 8:57 am

Here’s part II, the positive wildlife post:

Thanks, MMD! Great photos.

Shady Gardener March 28, 2009, 12:16 pm

Hi Nan! I’m so glad people are participating in your meme! It’s still March, so I’m “under the wire!” 😉 I just posted this morning. Have a great day!

Yep, you’re in! Thanks for sharing your garden visitors with us. Here’s a direct link to your post.

Jan (ThanksFor2Day) March 28, 2009, 12:41 pm

I’m big on birds…backyard feeding, mainly. I don’t do anything special other than provide a variety of birdfeed and a source of water, in the winter especially. They love my heated birdbath since the water never freezes and they come in droves to drink fresh water! Other critters on the annoying (but entertaining side) include squirrels. I’ve got a wordless post up right now about them. But there are LOTS of words that I could say if I wanted to! If I don’t write a separate post to join in with you, my whole blog is pretty much critter-filled and critter-focused!

Absolutely, Jan – I’d say that your whole blog qualifies. I especially enjoyed seeing your Winter Backyard Bird series.

Jan (ThanksFor2Day) March 28, 2009, 12:45 pm

…oops, I forgot to mention my butterflies! They are my favorite critters in the summer, and I do have plants to attract them. I am working on adding more this spring and summer. They are in the ground as well as in pots, in the form of both perennials and annuals. I’m planning to add dill and parsley next to my petunias on the deck this year…that ought to really draw them to the deck. Haven’t yet experimented with milkweed, but am thinking about it.

Surely you’d have room for at least *one* milkweed, Jan! Though it sounds like you already have plenty of goodies to feed the butterflies.

Sue March 28, 2009, 11:48 pm

I enjoyed reading about your wildlife. Your photos are awesome! I am amazed at your ladybug larvae!

I have a link in my sidebar about wildlife in my yard. The posts on the bottom of that page address the topic more directly.

Great, Sue; thanks! Here’s a direct link to your wildlife-tagged posts.

Chookie March 29, 2009, 6:31 am

I hope you like my offerings — I have two posts, the main one at Looking forward to visiting everyone else’s!

Thanks for sharing these two stories, Chookie! Finding out that you too have stick insects (or as we in the US often call them, walking sticks) led me to do a little reading-up on them. I had no idea that they are so widely distributed.

Heirloom Gardener March 29, 2009, 6:26 pm


Here’s a post about the latest in my war against the wildlife in my vegetable garden:

It’s a “Dear Messrs. Groundhog, Rabbit, and Squirrel” letter about my latest effort: a chicken wire raised bed cover.

-Heirloom Gardener

That’s a serious – and hopefully seriously effective – bed cover there, HG!

Sue March 29, 2009, 8:37 pm

Thanks for putting the link in, Nan! I posted another one today with a link back here, but I’m not finished. I have more pics, and I want to address your questions.

I’m going to see if I can put a link to my new post. It’s

You did it! Thanks, Sue.

Meems @Hoe & Shovel March 29, 2009, 10:18 pm

Hi Nan,
Such beautiful captures of your wildlife. I just love your fields next to your house. Good idea to post a sign. You must have a glorious display of constant helpful friends in your garden.

I just posted my most recent post on critters in my garden yesterday… not realizing that this was your topic of the month. I adore all the living things that join me in my garden. I’m counting on them to keep things growing and blooming ‘with’ me.

I’ll leave the link here and then I’ll go back to my post and add a note at the bottom to link back to your post.

I also have a link on my side bar that will take the reader to all my critter posts at once:

(I sure hope I just made a lick of sense.) Thanks for a great post, Nan.

Yep, got it, Meems! I’ll add your links. Thanks!

matthewstrutt May 31, 2017, 3:23 am

really interesting post and also appreciate your knowledge and research. I am a garden lover so, I know the value of garden and I am sure that your given ideas will definitely boost the quality of the gardens. keep inspiring the gardeners. Thumbs up!

Fran Sorin June 19, 2017, 4:52 am

Thanks Matthew!

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