I love spending time in parks and nature preserves, admiring the plants and trees and wildlife. So it makes sense that I'm trying to incorporate those same natural things into our backyard habitat. When we moved into our house four years ago, we were lucky to get a bigger yard than our previous house, but, of course, we knew we would have to put in some work. And we've accomplished quite a bit. But, as any gardener would know, there's always something more to do.
This spring was so slow in coming. Finally, the weather warmed up, and everything seemed to turn green in the blink of an eye. We observed a "No Mow May", and let the grass grow, and the dandelions flourish. The early pollinators were well-served in our habitat this season.
But when it came time to mow, and get to weeding, it was a little overwhelming. Especially since our lawnmower tanked out. Fortunately, we were able to borrow one from our in-laws, and the grass is looking tidier. Well, shorter anyway. But as far as invasive weeds go, we're still working on it.
It made me wonder if we should hire some goats to graze in our yard. The hiring of a herd of goats has become a sound way of removing invasive weeds and overgrowth. It's environmentally beneficial - no chemicals or fossil fuels are used in the process, the goats have a minimal carbon footprint, they leave behind a beneficial, pre-pelleted quick to dissolve composting fertilizer that benefits all plants and animals in the local ecosystem, and it would be a lot easier on my back.
But, seriously. I recently spent part of an afternoon at Elm Grove Village Park, where they hired a herd of goats to graze and clear a section of the park that needed work. It would have been very labor intensive, and cost prohibitive to do it any other way. The benefits were great, they were good workers, and everyone who passed by the area where the goats were grazing enjoyed their presence immensely. Both kids and adults (including me).
I spoke to one of the owners of the grazing business, Grazing Goats Wisconsin. She explained to me that the goat crew at Elm Grove Park consisted of 40 goats, mostly adults, with some young ones, as they need to remain with their parents. Grazing is a family trait after all. They can forage between 150-200 lbs of roughage and vegetation per day. I watched in amazement as they moved through the area, eating leaves, chewing on sticks, invasive weeds and Buckthorn being demolished in a completely environmentally friendly way. There are a multitude of situations where grazing goats are extremely beneficial. Check out their website for more details. Here's a short gallery of some of the adorable grazing goats.
We're trying hard to plant as many native plants, trees, and shrubs in our garden as we can, in an effort to benefit local wildlife and the local ecosystem. It doesn't mean we don't have non-native plants, but we try to avoid non-native invasives, and there were some plants already there when we moved in. That said, we're not experts. Gardening can be so rewarding, but it can also be overwhelming. We research and decide on plants that we think will work, and I go to the garden center, and then every bit of knowledge and research I've done just vanishes. Poof! So I wander the aisles and read labels and feel totally defeated. Usually I end up buying some annuals instead, take them home, put them in some pots, make the patio look festive and colorful. But the garden needs work. What to do?
Get out two of my favorite books about gardening for wildlife. The Humane Gardener by Nancy Lawson, and Nature's Best Hope by Douglas W. Tallamy. Both of these books discuss the value of gardening for wildlife, and they do it in very approachable ways. They tell their stories, they break it down. They give examples. They remind you not to panic. Take it step by step. One section of garden at a time. Both are doing their best to educate and inspire gardeners of all kinds to include native plants, flowers, trees and shrubs in their landscapes. Gardening for wildlife not only benefits wildlife, but ourselves as well. Re-reading their books, I can make a list for myself. Refresh my memory as to what plants to look for. And, often, it turns out, I'm already familiar with a lot of the native plants they recommend.
More help is usually available at local perennial farms and garden centers. When I'm really puzzled, I visit some of my favorite greenhouses for help. They will know what plants are natives, what invasives to avoid, what plants complement each other. Invaluable information.
I try to go with a specific area in mind so that I can explain what I'm working with. And what I hope to accomplish. Also, never underestimate the benefit of a Smartphone and one of the plant apps available. I use PlantNet. It's been very helpful in separating weeds from the good stuff as it pops up in the garden.
Two of my recent favorite local perennial garden shops are: Northwind Perennial Farm, in Burlington, and Genetti Gardens & Gallery, in Delafield. They are two distinctly different shops, but both are extremely helpful, and knowledgeable. On top of that, the grounds at each are so beautiful. I could wander at each one all day.
Northwind Perennial Farm: Just wandering the incredible landscaped grounds will leave you feeling peaceful and inspired. Every time I visit I discover something new. They grow their own perennials, they do garden and landscape design, they know their stuff. The farm is charming, and the shop features all kinds of amazing nature and gardening related art and gifts. They offer different workshops and events throughout the year as well. Here's a short gallery of photos from a recent visit.
Genetti Gardens & Gallery: Master gardener and sculpture artist, Joeann Genetti-Teeple, has built something beautiful and inspiring both in her gardens and her gallery. Her art studio and shop reside here, along with the gardens, which are officially considered a "pocket park". Her sculptures are integrated within the landscape, along with a multitude of other inspiring garden art, plants and decor. She sells perennial plants, and is available to hire for specialty garden design projects as well as custom sculpture and lighting designs. I could spend hours just taking in the beauty of the gardens here, and Joeann is a true delight. Here's a short gallery of a recent visit.
We've got some gardening challenges ahead for us, but with resources like these, and a bit of hard work (and maybe some goats?), we'll get there. Happy Gardening, Friends!
A traveler, singer, novice photographer, humane gardener, and nature lover.