The Unfolding of Pat Sutton’s 44-year-old Wildlife Garden

The Unfolding of a Wildlife Garden, One Year in the Sutton Garden

I will be presenting (in person) the “Unfolding Wildlife Garden” Episode for the first time on February 20, 2023 for the Southeast Chapter of the Native Plant Society of New Jersey at Stockton University, Room 246, Unified Science Building, 7:00-9:00 p.m.

I presented the 1st draft 1 1/2 hour program (virtually) on February 17, 2022 for CU Maurice River.  Unbeknownst to Ben Werner and I, the Zoom platform had issues with video and apparently viewers watched a jumpy picture during portions of the presentation.  We have still not learned of a solution on the Zoom platform.

About the presentation:   Ben Werner and I worked on this project all of 2021 (getting video footage and stills) and since then have put in 100s and 100s of hours pulling together some of the stories that unfolded in the garden.  So far we have completed two episodes.  There are many more stories (Episodes) to be told.

“UNFOLDING WILDLIFE GARDEN” EPISODE

The 55-minute “UNFOLDING WILDLIFE GARDEN” episode includes all four seasons in Pat Sutton’s 44-year-old wildlife garden (as of 2021).  This episode showcases Chocolate Cake native nectar plants month-by-month, nearly all of which are also host plants.  Spring nectar offerings begin in Pat’s woods, a third of their property that they recovered from invasives in 2009.  Summer nectar offerings occur throughout the property, but largely in their sunny perennial garden, which sits entirely on their septic field.

Pat’s study of native pollinators (bees, ornately-patterned flies, wasps, beetles, butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds) is woven throughout this episode.  Pat has studied life cycles and life histories of butterflies and moths for the past 40+ years (and more recently those of bees, flies, wasps, and beetles).  Life cycles occur on a daily basis in this wildlife garden.  The knowledge Pat has gained from life cycles she’s witnessed has greatly influenced how she maintains her wildlife garden.  The fragility of insects in all stages of their life cycle is at the heart of Pat’s “hands off” approach.  She sees her garden as a safe supermarket and nursery for pollinators.  In fussed over gardens (think dead heading, cutting spent stems and seed heads, etc.) the very pollinators drawn in are likely to find themselves in a dead end death trap, where their eggs laid, or feeding caterpillars, or fragile chrysalids are tossed into the  trash or brush pile with clipped plant stems and seed heads  . . . and none of us want that!  A hands off approach leaves more time for study, learning, and joy.

The transition of “Cover” provided in this wildlife garden will be showcased, from brush piles in late fall through winter, to robust stands of perennials, trees, shrubs, and vines, including a number of native evergreens.  The film will showcase busy water features which draw wintering birds to heated bird baths, and migrants and nesting birds to a whole array of warm-season water features (from misters to fountains to bird baths).  The Sutton’s bird feeder array is showcased in conjunction with the fact that they’ve documented over 213 bird species in their yard in the past 40+ years.  Viewers will also see how Pat addressed “Privacy LOST” after a neighbor took down a hedgerow of invasives.

Monarch Episode

The 45-minute MONARCH EPISODE  came about because 2021 was a very good year for Monarchs in Pat Sutton’s native plant wildlife garden (and hopefully your garden too).  She had Monarchs in the garden daily from mid-June on. She found lots and lots of eggs and caterpillars from June through late fall.  She watched and filmed a Monarch caterpillar going into it’s chrysalis in the garden (a happenstance gift that she was at the right spot with her camera when that five-minute transformation occurred). She discovered five different chrysalids in her garden, and watched and filmed the adult Monarch emerging from two of them. So of course, the Monarch’s story had to be told so she could share this priceless footage.  This episode covers the many native Chocolate Cake nectar plants month-by-month that draw in and benefit Monarchs, in addition to the native Milkweeds they need for egg laying.  It showcases the many predators that target Monarchs (at all stages: egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, and adult) and other butterflies and moths.  And finally this episode conveys that each Monarch that survives to adulthood and begins its journey to their winter roost sites in the mountains of Mexico,  is not only a survivor, but a miracle!

Consider booking one or both of these episodes for your group!

Hopefully each episode will be as riveting to viewers as it was to Ben and me as we put it together. We had such fun with these episodes that many more episodes will follow focusing on different aspects of wildlife gardening!

Pat hopes these presentations will convert attendees to her wildlife-friendly garden methods as she showcases discoveries she made that would not have survived in more heavily tended, fussed-over gardens.

Through the early years of Covid, an unsettling and uncertain time, the Sutton’s wildlife garden soothed the soul, entertained, and educated. In this wildlife habitat so much happens right before your eyes, with layer upon layer of nature unfolding. Migrant and nesting birds find countless caterpillars and other juicy treats, as well as plentiful fruits and seed heads. Varied and beautiful pollinators benefit from native perennials, trees, shrubs, and vines that offer a cascade of blooms from early spring until blooming shuts down with late fall’s first frost.

A din of calling Green Frogs on many summer nights led to their egg masses being discovered the next day.

Life cycles occur on a daily basis. The Monarch’s life cycle is fairly easy to witness in a wildlife garden.  Because of the abundance of native plants in a true wildlife garden, many other life cycles are also occurring that are rarely discovered but just as fragile!

You may want to download and print the latest update of Pat’s “Gardening for Pollinators” Handout (CLICK HERE), which includes lots of sage advice, Chocolate Cake nectar plants month-by-month, and sources of helpful signage.  It will save you from making mistakes that all of us have made and help you create a healthy and safer wildlife garden.

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For twenty-three years (1991-2014), Pat Sutton led “Tours of Private Wildlife Gardens” in Cape May County  

Pat and Clay Sutton’s garden during the July Tour 2014

For twenty-three years (1991-2014), I led “Tours of Private Wildlife Gardens” in Cape May County.  I saw these tours as one of the best ways  to “grow” more wildlife gardeners.  You can see the excitement in the photo above as tour participants find, study, and share with each other butterflies, spiders, caterpillars, native bees, frogs, turtles, hummingbirds, and the beautiful nectar plants, host plants, wildlife ponds, water features, and habitats that have attracted them.

Initially I led these tours for NJ Audubon’s Cape May Bird Observatory, where I worked as the Program Director.  Between 2007-2014 I led the tours for NJ Audubon’s Nature Center of Cape May.

Many of the owners of these beautiful, private, wildlife gardens had taken workshops with me and / or attended these tours.

Many garden owners shared with me that a personal goal was to have their own garden included on these tours.  The number of wildlife gardens grew and grew.  Eventually there were so many educational gems to share that I broke Cape May County into three regions and led back-to-back tours, covering different parts of the county each day.  I led these tours in July, August, and September so attendees could see first hand the different “Chocolate Cakes” in bloom month-by-month and the variety of wildlife attracted.

On the final tour, garden-owner Gail Fisher presented me with my very own Chocolate Cake made by her Mom (it was delicious).

And to further spoil us on that final September 2014 garden tour Gail Fisher served homemade Chocolate Cupcakes.

TAKE A VIRTUAL TOUR OF PRIVATE WILDLIFE GARDENS

Many of the gardens that were included on the Cape May County tours can be seen in the photo galleries below.  These photos (taken over the years) truly record the evolution of these private wildlife gardens and may give you some great ideas for your own garden.

  • South Tour (Cape Island: Cape May, Cape May Point, West Cape May, and Lower Township)
  • Mid-County Tour (North Cape May, Villas, and Erma)
  • North Tour (Cape May Court House, Goshen  . . . including my own garden, Dennisville, Eldora, South Seaville, and Ocean View)

Gardening for Pollinators

Snowberry Clearwing nectaring on Wild Bergamot in Pat Sutton’s wildlife garden on July 11th

Learn how to create a garden to benefit ALL pollinators and beneficial insects.

For Pat Sutton’s frequently updated

“Gardening for Pollinators” HANDOUT   (6-7-22 update)

CLICK HERE

I’ve studied butterflies (and moths) for 40+ years, but am relatively new to identifying all the other pollinators in my garden.  I’ve photographed these other pollinators for years and am now going back through photos and getting help with ID from Heather Holm’s three amazing books and iNaturalist!  I’m learning so much natural history from Heather Holm’s books and from iNaturalist, for instance that a wasp I’ve found nectaring in my garden, the Four-banded Sand Wasp (or the Four-banded Stink Bug Wasp) targets Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs as prey.  How cool is that ! ! ! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2015 Gardening for Wildlife WORKSHOP SERIES

Every walk down your garden path is full of wonder: Cloudless Sulphur caterpillars on Partridge Pea

 

Hi Gang,

I had a ball leading tours of private butterfly gardens in South Texas in early November at the 2014 Texas Butterfly Festival.  Leaving Cape May when the butterfly season was coming to a close and heading to an area swimming in butterflies, including many exotic strays from Mexico, was a treat for this wildlife gardener.

 

Speaking of wildlife gardens
I can’t wait to once again teach
the series of 6 in-depth

“Gardening for Wildlife” Workshops (pdf)
on select Saturdays and Sundays
February 28 – March 28, 2015,

 the perfect time to shake off winter
and begin planning and planting
(or enhancing) your property and wildlife garden.

 

Every walk down your garden path is full of wonder: Monarch caterpillars on Common Milkweed

Learn to create gardens and habitats in little time, save money (by encouraging seed production rather than hampering it with traditional gardening practices), and see long-term results (by implementing wildlife-friendly garden practices rather than traditional wildlife death-trap practices).

Many (1000s) have taken these workshops, been empowered, and created habitats that have given them pleasure for years to come.  They know and I know that there is nothing more special than stepping out the door into a habitat that YOU created, a habitat that fills up with wildlife visitors galore: hummingbirds, butterflies, caterpillars, chrysalises, dragonflies, ladybugs, many different native bees, beetles and other fun pollinators, songbirds, frogs, turtles, moths at night, and more!  Every walk down your garden path is full of wonder, learning, delight, awe . . . almost like traveling to an exotic land, but that exotic place is your own back (or front) yard.  There is nothing more gratifying than knowing that you provide safe haven for all these creatures.

Consider joining me for one, two, three, or all six of these workshops (discounted fees when you sign up for any 3 workshops).  Native plants and wildlife-friendly practices are the key and will be emphasized and detailed throughout.

I present a zillion one- to two-hour programs each year and maybe you’ve attended a few of these. I love teaching them, but (with only one or two hours) they are more one-sided presentations, me sharing fun natural history information and images with you, the audience.

These workshops offer the opportunity to be far more in-depth and interactive and are more likely to empower you, take you to the next level.

The 5-hour format (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.) allows for:

  • an interactive workshop atmosphere
  • each workshop covers a unique aspect of wildlife gardening (in-depth)
  • each workshop builds on the others, but is not repetitive (so you’ll want to try and attend all 6 to maximize your learning opportunity)
  • resources (handouts and circulated books) will be shared and showcased
  • you’ll learn how to utilize these resources (find answers to burning questions you may have)
  • time for in-depth questions
  • time for in-depth answers
  • during a working lunch we’ll brainstorm (as a group) each participant’s specific challenges (you’ll draw a rough sketch of your yard and submit a photo of your sketch that I’ll  project so we can all see it for this brainstorming)
  • time to get to know one another and learn from each other (of garden triumphs and tribulations, successes and pitfalls). Nothing beats collective experience and roundtable discussion
  • each workshop will culminate in a site visit to a nearby backyard habitat (including my own and others) where wildlife-friendly practices and design and plant selections will be showcased
Eleanor Engel in her six-year-old meadow

So, what do you say! Will I see you in late February & March?

Take advantage of the discount by signing up for any 3 of the workshops.  Sign up today and begin getting ready for the workshops. Draw a rough sketch of your yard, indicating structures (and hardscapes like driveways, decks, etc.), existing habitats (lawn, forest, lone trees, shrub islands, gardens, bird feeding station, brush pile, etc.), and mark NORTH, SOUTH, EAST, WEST on the sketch. Take time to note the sun’s path through your yard and where the sunniest areas are. Begin making a wish list of the elements you want to add as well as the elements you need to work around.

****************************************************************************************************

2015 GARDENING FOR WILDLIFE WORKSHOPS

with Pat Sutton (pdf)

for NJ Audubon’s Nature Center of Cape May
1600 Delaware Avenue, Cape May, NJ 08204 (609-898-8848)

  1. Saturday, February 28 – How to Create a Backyard Habitat for Wildlife
  2. Sunday, March 1 – How to Create a Wildflower Meadow (from small “Pocket Meadow” up to sizable meadows)
  3. Saturday, March 7 – How to Create a Butterfly & Hummingbird Garden (to benefit all pollinators: moths, bees, & more)
  4. Sunday, March 8 – Battlestar Backyardia – Battling the Alien Invaders (How to Recognize and Deal With Invasive Species)
  5. Saturday, March 21 — How to Create a No-Fuss Wildlife Pond
  6. Saturday, March 28 – Landscape Design With Wildlife In Mind
Common Green Darner laying eggs in Sutton’s wildlife pond

Time: 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 pm.

Where: Please note that the 6 workshops in this series will be held at the Cape May Bird Observatory Center for Research & Education, 600 Rt. 47 N, Cape May Court House, NJ 08210 and not at the Nature Center of Cape May in Cape May.

Limit: 20 participants;  preregistration required  (through NJ Audubon’s Nature Center of Cape May, 1600 Delaware Avenue, Cape May, NJ 08204; 609-898-8848 — if you reach their message machine, do leave a message . . . they’ll get back to you).

Cost/workshop (includes handouts):
$35 member of NJ Audubon Society, $45 nonmember
Sign up for any 3 workshops for a discount:
$75 member (or $25 each); $105 nonmember (or $35 each)
All workshops include a site visit to a nearby wildlife garden (Sutton’s garden and others).

********************************************************************************************************

2014 Gardening for Wildlife WORKSHOP SERIES

Josh GDN w-sig
Josh Nemeth in his 2-year old garden, dripping with Tiger Swallowtails (7-21-13)

Hi Gang,

It’s been a wild, cold, and snowy winter.  I’ve been enjoying all the birds that are finding refuge in our wildlife garden.  Our heated birdbath has attracted 100s of birds this frozen winter, including a normally very secretive Hermit Thrush and a quite uncommon wintering bird, a Gray Catbird.

Speaking of wildlife gardens, I can’t wait to once again teach the series of 6 in-depth “Gardening for Wildlife” Workshops (pdf), on Saturdays (February 8 – March 29, 2014), the perfect time to shake off winter and begin planning and planting (or enhancing) your property and wildlife garden.

Mildred Morgan GDNw-sigMany (1000s) have taken these workshops, been empowered, and created habitats that have given them pleasure for years to come.

They know and I know that there is nothing like stepping out the door into a magical wonderland that you yourself created, full of hummingbirds buzzing about,butterflies dancing from flower to flower, Monarch caterpillars hiding under Milkweed leaves, hungry songbirds dropping in during migration for a hearty caterpillar meal,dragonflies galore, more frogs than you realized lived in your area (perched on every last lily pad in your pond).  There is nothing more gratifying than realizing that you have truly provided safe haven for all these creatures

humm-perched-w-sig.jpgConsider joining me for one, two, or all six of these workshops.  Native plants and wildlife-friendly practices are the key and will be emphasized and detailed throughout.

I present a zillion one- to two-hour programs each year and maybe you’ve attended a few of these. I love teaching them, but (with only one or two hours) they are more one-sided presentations, me sharing fun natural history information and images with you, the audience.

These workshops offer the opportunity to be far more in-depth and interactive and are more likely to empower you, take you to the next level.

The 5-hour format (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.) allows for:

  • an interactive workshop atmosphere
  • each workshop covers a unique aspect of wildlife gardening (in-depth)
  • each workshop builds on the others, but is not repetitive (so you’ll want to try and attend all 6 to maximize your learning opportunity)
  • resources (handouts and circulated books) will be shared and showcased
  • you’ll learn how to utilize these resources (find answers to burning questions you may have)
  • time for in-depth questions
  • time for in-depth answers
  • during a working lunch we’ll brainstorm (as a group) each participant’s specific challenges (you’ll draw a rough sketch of your yard and submit a photo of your sketch that I’ll  project so we can all see it for this brainstorming)
  • time to get to know one another and learn from each other (of garden triumphs and tribulations, successes and pitfalls). Nothing beats collective experience and roundtable discussion
  • each workshop will culminate in a site visit to a nearby backyard habitat where wildlife-friendly practices and design and plant selections will be showcased

Eleanor & Gordon GDN-2-w-sigSo, what do you say! Will I see you in February & March?

Sign up today and begin getting ready for the workshops. Draw a rough sketch of your yard, indicating structures (and hardscapes like driveways, decks, etc.), existing habitats (lawn, forest, lone trees, shrub islands, gardens, bird feeding station, brush pile, etc.), and mark NORTH, SOUTH, EAST, WEST on the sketch. Take time to note the sun’s path through your yard and where the sunniest areas are. Bring a wish list of the elements you want to add as well as the elements you need to work around.

****************************************************************************************************

2014 GARDENING FOR WILDLIFE WORKSHOPS

with Pat Sutton (pdf)

for NJ Audubon’s Nature Center of Cape May
1600 Delaware Avenue, Cape May, NJ 08204 (609-898-8848)

  1. Saturday, February 8 – How to Create a Backyard Habitat for Wildlife
  2. Saturday, February 22 – How to Create a Pollinator Garden (for Butterflies, Hummingbirds, Moths, Bees, & More)
  3. Saturday, March 1 – How to Create a Wildflower Meadow
  4. Saturday, March 8How to Create a No-Fuss Wildlife Pond
  5. Saturday, March 22 – Battlestar Backyardia – Battling the Alien Invaders (How to Recognize and Deal With Invasive Species)
  6. Saturday, March 29 – Landscape Design With Wildlife In Mind

edit-edit-Leopard Frogs in Sutton Pond 8-1-10-byPSutton-processed by Kevin KarlsonTime: 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 pm.

Where: Please note that the 6 workshops in this series will be held at the Cape May Bird Observatory Center for Research & Education, 600 Rt. 47 N, Cape May Court House, NJ 08210 (and include a site visit to Sutton’s nearby wildlife gardens) and not at the Nature Center of Cape May in Cape May.

Limit: 20 participants; preregistration is required (through NJ Audubon’s Nature Center of Cape May, 1600 Delaware Avenue, Cape May, NJ 08204; 609-898-8848 — if you reach their message machine, do leave a message . . . they’ll get back to you).

Cost/workshop: $35 member of NJ Audubon Society, $45 nonmember (includes handouts).
As of 2-13-14, sign up for last five workshops for a DISCOUNT:
Members: $150 ($30/workshop) and 20% off in the gift shop
Non-Members: $200 ($40/workshop) and 20% off in the gift shop
********************************************************************************************************

November Butterfly Gardens in South Texas

web-Queensssss
Queens (and a Monarch or two) on Blue Mistflower

I just returned from a far and distant land where thousands upon thousands of butterflies filled the many native plant wildlife gardens that I visited during my 10-day stay, which included the 18th Annual Texas Butterfly Festival.

Many of the butterflies were exotic (to me) southern species that just make it into the United States.

Since my first visit in 1979 to the Lower Rio Grande Valley, I’ve made 7 additional trips.  That first visit in 1979 was kind of scary.  It was in spring and Clay and I witnessed major fallouts of Broad-winged Hawks and other migrant birds at places like Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.  Exiting the refuge and looking north we cringed.  Farm fields stretched as far as we could see without a tree or hedgerow in sight.  How could these migrants survive once they left refuges like Santa Ana NWR?

web-Mexican Bluewing
Mexican Bluewing

Thirty-four years later I am hopeful and hugely impressed with favorable changes to the landscape in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, changes that include natural corridors of native plants running between many of the protected parcels.  The official Birding & Butterfly Map of the Rio Grande Valley (available for free at nature centers throughout the Valley) directs visitors and residents to 86 sites, many of which have extensive butterfly gardens planted with native nectar and host plants benefiting all pollinators and attracting insect-eating birds galore.

The area is a bonanza for those of us in the north, whose gardens have been quiet for a good month.

Read my latest post, “South Texas Butterfly Gardens in Late Fall,” on Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens to learn more about:

  1. My recent trip
  2. The “Landscaping for Butterflies” tour of private gardens I led as part of the Texas Butterfly Festival
  3. All the resources available to Lower Rio Grande Valley residents guiding them to plant NATIVE
  4. And to see photos of some pretty jazzy butterflies

Black Cherry vs Bradford Pear

Cecropia Moths-w-sig
Cecropia Moths are one of 456 butterflies and moths that lay their eggs on Black Cherry

Black Cherry, Prunus serotina, is one of THE most important trees for wildlife.   I’ve watched 53 different species of birds feed on the fruits, including Black-throated Blue Warblers.

Learn why Black Cherry is a far better tree to plant than Bradford Pear by reading my latest column on the Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens website (where over 20 of us contribute educational and informative columns to guide and encourage wildlife gardeners, so they don’t make the same mistakes we did).