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.

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

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)

Leave the Leaves

While working on and researching a program on this topic I’ve been contacted by some folks who could not attend.  So I am sharing here excellent resources that will help anyone and everyone understand the value of fallen leaves.  I will list these resources here so that you can read them, study up, digest the information, and value and cherish fallen leaves as much as I do.

First you’ll want to read Doug Tallamy’s book, The Nature of Oaks.  This book richly covers the benefits of oaks and all their leaf litter.  If you’ve never heard Doug Tallamy speak about this topic, attend a presentation or google “Doug Tallamy Youtube Nature of Oaks” and watch one of his presentations that occurred in your region.  Be sure to listen until the Q&A session when attendees ask the very questions on your mind, like “But, what am I to do with all my Oak leaves?”  “Won’t they kill my grass?”  etc.

While you’re at it, read all 3 of his books.  They will change your life.

Since Doug Tallamy’s first book, Bringing Nature Home, he has shared the top native plants used by butterflies and moths as host plants to create the next generation. Tallamy refers to these plants as the “Keystone Native Plants.”  He is partnering with other organizations, like National Wildlife Federation, to share Keystone Native Plant information across the country.

For an annotated list of the Keystone Native Plants for your area, go to the National Wildlife Federation Garden for Wildlife website.  Here you’ll find ten different “Keystone Native Plants” Ecoregion handouts (as of February 2022), with others undoubtedly planned. This plant list should be the backbone of your plantings. If you live in southern New Jersey like me, scroll down to “Eastern Temperate Forests – Ecoregion 8″ (which covers nearly all of the East).

Oaks are the top Keystone Native Plant! Then Black Cherry and Beach Plum. Then Willows. Then Birch. And so on. These are the trees that are supporting many, many hundreds of butterfly and moth species. Value these trees and their fallen leaves. You will have made your trees “Ecological Traps” if you instead rake up the leaves, bag them, and send them away (along with all the life they hold and support).

Heather Holm’s 3 books on pollinators of our native plants are beautifully illustrated and packed with natural history information, including where and how our pollinators survive the winter . . . many do so in leaf litter!

Visit Heather Holm’s website and click on the link “Plant Lists & Posters” for beautifully presented and illustrated Native Plant Lists, pollinator fact sheets, and posters, many of which are free to download.  These materials will further help you understand life cycles of our pollinators and teach others!

Also on Heather Holm’s website, click on her latest project “Soft Landings.”  Soft Landings is all about leaving the leaves and planting diverse native plants under Keystone trees and shrubs rather than mowing so that the hundreds of species of butterflies and moths using these Keystone trees and shrubs might complete their life cycle and survive.  The downloadable free poster, “Soft Landings” tells the story beautifully. It should convert kids of all ages (yes, I’m talking about big kids too . . . adults) to leave the leaves where they fall.

One more excellent resource to better understand why you want to leave the leaves is the booklet “Life in the Leaf Litter,” by Johnson and Catley, published by the American Museum of Natural History and available on their website as a free download.

Shade Gardening in Your Leaf Litter

Once you’ve read all these terrific resources about just how important leaf litter is, begin shade gardening in leafy spaces on your property . . . in under your trees and shrubs (rather than continue to mow these areas) or along a path through your woods.

Shade-loving perennials will color your leafy spaces in the early, early spring when spring ephemerals bloom and in the fall when the many shade-loving, fall-blooming perennials bloom.  Through the summer months the fall bloomers will add a lovely layer of green to your leafy areas.

To help you along your way with SHADE GARDENING, go to my resources on this topic and learn what has survived and thrived in my shady spaces.  Remember to use as many Keystone Native Plants as possible!

Now with all the time you have available because you are NOT raking your leaves  (nor bagging them up and sending them away), dive in to all this reading and help convert others to LEAVE THE LEAVES!

Severe Drought in the Wildlife Garden, Summer 2022

It is early September and our 45-year old wildlife garden should be beckoning me out the door to enjoy drifts of blooms, butterflies dashing about, and countless other pollinators.

Instead the garden and yard are mostly brown with very little blooming. Buds are forming on fall blooming goldenrods and asters, thankfully, so there will be some color and nectar and pollinators to come. But for right now our wildlife garden and yard is sadly depressing. Blooms are scarce and butterflies and other pollinators are too. Tree and shrub leaves are curled up and / or falling like late fall leaves. As one who has keenly studied pollinators, I fear that many butterfly and moth caterpillars have succumbed or fallen from food sources (while attached to dead and dying leaves). Next year’s butterfly populations (and probably populations for years to come) will certainly be affected.

Just last summer (and most summers) this is what our garden looks like.

Goshen, in Cape May County, NJ, has experienced a severe drought this summer. Joe Martucci, the Meteorologist for the Press of Atlantic City, recently put it into perspective with the following key points: (1) 2022 began with a deficit of rainfall since last winter, (2) it was the 3rd driest July in 100 years, (3) it was the driest summer since 1966, (4) it was the 3rd hottest summer on record (since 1895), and (5) it was the hottest August on record.  Couple all of that with our yard’s lack of rainfall and it is a wonder anything is alive.

Since October 2013 I have been a volunteer weather observer with CoCoRaHS (the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network), a nationwide legion of volunteer data collectors. So I have accurate rainfall data for our yard. Too, CoCoRaHS provides comparative 30 Year Average by PRISM rainfall for our area. The numbers this summer are scary. We saw 7.1” less rainfall this summer (June, July, and August) than the 30 year average. That is mega!

RAINFALL            30 Yr Avg              2022
                                   By PRISM        Sutton Yard
June                              3.26”                    0.84”
July                                3.86”                    2.45”
Aug                               4.34”                     1.07”
TOTAL                        11.46”                    4.36”

How to Cope with Drought:

  1. Plant NATIVES. If this concept is new to you, read Doug Tallamy’s books. My “Gardening for Pollinators” handout (click HERE) directs you to many resources to help you select the most important (to wildlife) and suitable (to your site, soils, and conditions) natives for your area.
  2. When establishing a pollinator garden, set up a watering system to keep your wildlife garden alive during severe drought so you and pollinators do not lose nectar sources (and host plants for future generations). During droughts when natural areas are crisped, our tended gardens may provide the only nectar! This same watering system will make it easy to water new plantings (until they get established). Realize that even natives need some assist when first planted and during severe drought. 

3.  Incorporate rain barrels into your landscape. I’ve set up two rain barrels (one at each end of our back roof) and have two hoses from each running out into the garden where I’ve planted native perennials that like “wet feet”: Cardinal Flower, Swamp Milkweed, White Turtlehead, Turk’s-Cap Lily, Red Beebalm, Common Boneset, etc. I am very grateful for the rain barrels and what they accomplish; much of the year they stand empty.

4.  Plant native trees and shrubs in fall (rather than spring) when rains and snows are more likely. This way new plantings will get the rainfall they need to get established and be less stressed. Summer plantings can be done, but only with lots and lots of watering during dry stretches. Spring plantings should be fine unless our “new normal” includes regular summer droughts.

5.  If you plan to travel (or be away for lengthy periods like we were) in summer, make arrangements with a friend to water if there is no natural rainfall. Summer travel is much of the reason our garden is so baked (all told we were away for 31 days).

6.  If plants look dead, don’t give up on them too soon. Cut off dead growth so the plants instead can focus on supporting live and/or new growth. Hopefully the roots have some life left. Wait until next spring to see. You might be pleasantly surprised by the resiliency of native plants.

CoCoRaHS, the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network

Years ago I began keeping my own rainfall records because I quickly learned that available rainfall data shared in the local newspaper from nearby towns was inches different from the rainfall in my own yard. A gardening friend alerted me to CoCoRaHS (click HERE). I joined CoCoRaHS, bought their official rain gauge, put it up, and became part of the team. 

A friend who lives three miles away joined CoCoRaHS the same day and we began logging in our data simultaneously. Immediately it was evident how different the rainfall was just three miles apart. For example, on October 13, 2013, my gauge held 0.75 inches of rain and three miles away my friend’s gauge held 1.29 inches of rain. Who would have thunk?

Consider joining CoCoRaHS, a great citizen science project. Let your friends, co-workers, and family know about it so more and more sites can be added to the data. Imagine what we all can learn together.

On CoCoRaHS’s website you can look at the entire country, your region, state, or county and see the rainfall recorded by the network of observers on any given day, month, or year-to-date. It’s fascinating if you’re a keen gardener and/or a weather geek.

If you have any comments or questions, please use the “Comment” option at the end of this post, so others can benefit from everyone’s comments, questions, tips, and answers.

Tours of CU Maurice River Gardens on Sat., September 17, 2022

Hi Gang,

In recent years CU Maurice River has been hard at work (along with terrific gardening volunteers and growing volunteers) designing and creating rain gardens and pollinator gardens with native plants.

WheatonArts Pollinator Garden

I can’t wait to lead a tour showcasing and sharing three of these native plant wildlife gardens that CU Maurice River has created (and maintains) at public sites in Millville, NJ: (1) First United Methodist Church Serenity Garden, (2) Downtown Millville’s Neighborhood Wildlife Garden, and (3) Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center’s Circle Oasis.  In addition, the September 17th tour will include two private home gardens set in a suburban community.

Saturday, September 17, 2022
Pat Sutton Tour of CU Maurice River Garden Network
in Millville, NJ (Cumberland County)
( Rain date Sunday, September 18)
9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. (Morning Tour)
1:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. (Afternoon Tour)

Millville Neighborhood Wildlife Garden

Join CU Maurice River and Pat Sutton to experience the benefits provided by these revitalized areas that together function as a network of urban green spaces supporting ecological and community health. Every garden is unique and has a story to be told.  Karla Rossini, CU Maurice River’s Executive Director, will share each garden’s story with the group.

At the end of each tour, stay on to socialize and enjoy light refreshments in the last garden.

In the past, Pat Sutton’s Garden Tours with CU Maurice River have filled up quickly.  Please RSVP as soon as possible to be guaranteed a spot.

Registration required:
Cost: $30 for CU Maurice River members / $40 for non-members.
Morning Tour (sign up HERE)*
Afternoon Tour (sign up HERE)*
*the same gardens will be visited on each tour
Call CU Maurice River at (856) 300-5331 for more information

Pat Sutton lives near Cape May, New Jersey. She has been a working naturalist since 1977, first for the Cape May Point State Park and then for 21 years with New Jersey Audubon’s Cape May Bird Observatory, where she was the Naturalist and Program Director (1986 to 2007). Pat has a Masters Degree from Rowan University in Environmental Education and an undergraduate degree in Literature from the State University of New York at Oneonta.

Today, Pat is a free-lance writer, photographer, naturalist, educator, lecturer, tour leader, and wildlife habitat/conservation gardening educator.

Pat is a passionate wildlife habitat gardener and advocate for butterflies, moths, bees (all pollinators), birds, dragonflies, frogs, toads, and other critters. Pat has taught about wildlife-friendly and native plant gardening for over 40 years. Her own wildlife area is a “teaching garden” featured in many programs, workshops,  garden tours, and some books.

Native Plants Struggle During Drought

Hi Gang,

Dreaming of rain filling our CoCoRaHS Rain Gauge, here with 0.75 inches of rainfall (from better times)

I am writing this on August 3rd.  It has been a relentless hot and rain free July into early August for our South Jersey wildlife garden. We were away in late June and the first week of July. Upon our return, we feared the worst, but were heartened to find that my CoCoRaHS Rain Gauge (a citizen science rain, hail, and snow network across the US, Canada, and the Bahamas) held 2.10″ of rain. YEA, the garden was alive and lush.

But during the month since, the extreme heat has continued and all rain storms have missed us. Predicted storms move east, reach the Delaware Bay, and fizzle. Upon reaching the bay, storms move north of the Cape May Peninsula or south of us and leave us parched for rain. Severe weather needs warm waters to draw from, and in our case, the cold waters of Delaware Bay take the oomph out of storms heading our way. We call it the Cape May Bubble and it is really getting old.

Fifteen-year-old Flowering Dogwoods in our woods look near death, covered in curled up and withered leaves. Flower beds of native plants are still blooming, but running through their blooms in a flash, in fact so quickly that the garden and its pollinators are left wanting for more.

Our decision now is not whether or not to water, it is a matter of triage. We are watering plants most desperately in need of water to keep from losing them.

If you, like me, are watering to keep your wildlife gardens alive for all the pollinators and other wildlife dependent upon them (knowing that nearly all nectar in the wild is gone, cooked to a crisp), let me highly recommend a post shared on Izel Native Plants, “Diagnosing Problems in the Summer Landscape,” by Chelsea Ruiz, a Horticulturalist and Garden Writer.

Chelsea Ruis shares sage advice about how to properly water natives as you diagnose their problems.

Join me in a Rain Dance?

Pat

Some Sources of Native Plants in 2022

Ruby-throated Hummingbird nectaring on White Turtlehead in Pat Sutton’s Wildlife Garden with Cardinal Flower all around, August 5, 2021

Once hooked on wildlife gardening with native plants, it can be a real challenge to find native plants.  Yes a few have been mainstreamed, and the nursery down the street may carry them.  But BEWARE OF CULTIVARS OF NATIVE PLANTS.  Cultivars are plants created or selected for specific characteristics such as early blooming or color, often at the expense of nectar, berries (the plants may be sterile), and sometimes even the leaf chemistry is changed so the plant can no longer be used as a caterpillar plant.  We (wildlife gardeners) want the nectar, the berries, and we want the leaf chemistry intact so our butterflies can create the next generation!

That said, some straight natives might be ill behaved and total thugs, overwhelming other plants in your garden and leading to hours and hours spent thinning them every single year.  This is the case with Cutleaf Coneflower.  In 2009, a friend shared a cultivar of this plant with me (Cutleaf Coneflower, Rudbeckia lacinata “Herbstsonne,”) that is a Chocolate Cake, always full of pollinators, and not a thug at all because it is sterile.  I’ve raved about my Cutleaf Coneflower for years, many have planted the straight native, and been frazzled by its rambunctious wanderings.

Be careful too that your plants are Neonicotinoid free.  Neonicotinoids are systemic (get into every part of the plant, including pollen, nectar, even dew) pesticides that are applied to many commercially-available nursery plants and are harmful to bees, caterpillars, moths, butterflies, and other beneficial pollinators.

Speak up when you purchase plants.  Ask if the nursery uses Neonicotinoid Insecticides. If they don’t know what you are talking about, it sounds like a nursery to avoid. If they proudly share that they do not use Neonicotinoid Insecticides (verbally and/or on their website), they are a nursery “in the know” and a nursery to support. The Xerces Society’s publication, “Protecting Pollinators from Pesticides: Buying Bee-Safe Plants,” addresses asking nurseries these important questions and is available HERE.  There is a complimentary Xerces Society publication for nurseries, “Offering Bee-Safe Plants: A Guide for Nurseries,” available HERE.  Let nurseries you frequent know about it.  If you find that any of the nurseries on my list are “in the dark” and still using Neonicotinoids, please alert me ! ! ! 

Around the world steps are being taken to protect pollinators from neonics. In 2018, the European Union voted to completely ban all outdoor uses of three types of neonics (citing their impacts to honey bees). Canada followed suit, planning to phase out all outdoor use of three specific neonics in 3-5 years (2021-2023) because of impacts to aquatic ecosystems. In 2016 Connecticut became the first state in the nation to restrict the use of neonicotinoids when the legislature unanimously passed An Act Concerning Pollinator Health (banning sales of neonics for use by general consumers in backyard garden settings). Soon after, Maryland passed a similar bill that restricts the sale of neonics and bans their use by consumers.  And in January 2022, New Jersey became the 6th state to pass a similar bill to save pollinators by classifying bee-killing neonicotinoids (also known as neonics) as restricted use pesticides.

Educate yourself about Neonics by reading the following:

  1. Xerces Society’s “Protecting Bees From Neonicotinoids in Your Garden, 2nd version (includes list of products with neonics in them).”
  2. Xerces Society’s How Neonicotinoids Can Kill Bees, the Science Behind the Role These Insecticides Play in Harming Bees (in-depth study, 2nd Edition)
  3. Xerces Society’s “Neonicotinoid Movement in the Environment” POSTER (how neonics move through the landscape and are being found even where they were not used)
  4. American Bird Conservancy’s  Neonicotinoid Insecticides Harm The Little Creatures, including how 90 percent of food samples taken from Congressional cafeterias contain neonicotinoid insecticides (highly toxic to birds and other wildlife) .

HUGE IINSECT DIE-OFF / INSECT APOCALYPSE

  1. A car “splatometer” study finds huge insect die-off
    Nov. 13, 2019, by Damian Carrington, Environmental Editor, The Guardian
    Measuring how many bugs fly into car windshields might sound silly. But to scientists predicting an “insect apocalypse,” the numbers are deadly serious.
  2. Insect apocalypse’ poses risk to all life on Earth, conservationists warn        Feb. 12, 2020, by Damian Carrington, Environmental Editor, The Guardian

BIRDS ARE VANISHING

  1. “Birds are Vanishing from North America”
    The number of birds in the United States and Canada has declined by 2.9 billion, or 29 percent, over the past 50 years (1970-2019), scientists find (Science, 2019).
  2. “A Neonicotinoid Insecticide Reduces Fueling and Delays Migration in Songbirds,” by Margaret Eng, Bridget Stutchbury, Christy Morrissey.  Science, 13 September 2019, Vol. 365, Issue 6458, pp. 1177-1180.

WHAT WE CAN DO

Here are just a few of the things that each and every one of us can do:

  1. Plant NATIVES, especially Keystone Species (read Doug Tallamy’s books to understand what Keystone Species are).
  2. Ask nurseries you frequent if their native plants have been treated with Neonicotinoids (see Xerces Society’s document, “Protecting Pollinators from Pesticides: Buying Bee-Safe Plants,” noted above, for tips and how to ask these important questions) . If they don’t know, ask them to find out. If the answer is yes, don’t purchase and explain why, that Neonics are hazardous to the wildlife you are trying to attract and benefit.
  3. Leave fallen leaves on the ground: they are full of insect life, they protect tree and shrub and perennial roots, they break down and naturally nourish your soil, and they prevent erosion. Listen to Doug Tallamy’s talk about his latest book, The Nature of Oaks (search youtube Doug Tallamy Nature of Oaks), and learn that oak leaves are the BEST fallen leaves to LEAVE on the ground because it takes them so long to break down (3 years or more). All that time (3+ years) they are providing for an abundance of LIFE that needs fallen leaves to survive
  4. DO NOT USE Pesticides (including Organic – they KILL too) or Herbicides or synthetic Fertilizers.
  5. Turn outdoor lights OFF at night (use motion sensor lights instead).
  6. Remove as many invasive plants as possible on your property
  7. Share some of your native “Chocolate Cake” perennial divisions (that are also Keystone Species: Asters and Goldenrods, for example) with others to help get them hooked
  8. Read and give Doug Tallamy’s books (Bringing Nature Home, Nature’s Best Hope, and The Nature of Oaks ) to family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors.
  9. If you ever have a chance to hear Doug Tallamy speak, BE THERE and bring your neighbor, friend, family member, landscaper, lawn care service worker so they can learn to speak the same language. In the meantime Google “YouTube videos (or podcasts) Doug Tallamy” and you’ll have dozens to choose from, many of which are keynote talks he’s given about the importance of insects, native plants, and much more. Watch them and they may change your life and/or the way you view life. Share them with neighbors, friends, family members, co-workers.
  10. Read and give Heather Holm’s books (Pollinators of Native Plants; Bees, An Identification and Native Plant Forage Guide; and Wasps, Their Biology, Diversity, and Role as Beneficial Insects and Pollinators of Native Plants) to family members, friends, co-workers, and neighbors to help you (and others) understand beneficial pollinators and provide for their nesting needs by leaving stem stubble during spring garden clean up, standing dead trees, utilizing fallen branches and tree trunks to line garden or woodland paths, leaving fallen leaves, and avoiding too much hardscaping, mulching, and turf so that ground-nesting pollinators have places to nest.
  11. Share all this with your neighbors, friends, co-workers, family

Some Sources of NATIVE PLANTS: 2022
by Patricia Sutton
click here for the 5-page printable pdf

2nd Edition (4-11-22)

To help people find the top ranked plants in their county Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home, is working with National Wildlife Federation on their Native Plant Finder website.  In browsing this site, there are many, many plants for my own area (Cape May County, NJ) that I have been promoting for years and know to be TOP ranked plants that are not yet included . . . so keep checking back and realize that this is a work in progress.

The Jersey-Friendly Yards Website has many helpful resources. Use their searchable plant database to help you select plants for your site. The database has many filters including a “native plants only” filter showcasing @ 300 natives, as well as filters for wildlife value, region, ecoregion (including barrier island/coastal, Pinelands), deer resistant, light requirement, soil type, soil moisture, drought tolerance, salt tolerance, bloom color, bloom time, plant type, and more.   The site also includes a list of nurseries that sell natives county-by-county.

The Meadow Project (“Urban and Suburban Meadows” and “Hometown Habitat” by Catherine Zimmerman) shares an excellent state-by-state “Find Native Plants” link, with many additional sources of native plants.

Be sure to also check with your state’s Native Plant Society to see if they have a list of nurseries that carry native plants and if they share information about Native Plant Sales.  The Native Plant Society of NJ’s Native Plant Nurseries list includes the percentage of natives that each nursery carries, so you can readily see which nurseries you can let your guard down in and which you need to pay sharp attention.

 

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 ! ! ! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s Bugging Your Jersey-Friendly Yard? (2021 Webinar Series)

Hi Gang,

There is so much to learn about beneficial insects. Many individuals get excited to plant native milkweeds to benefit Monarchs, then panic when Milkweed Bugs and Milkweed Beetles appear that also need Milkweed. Here is a great opportunity to add to your understanding and education — learn about beneficial insects drawn to our wildlife gardens and in need of our help.

Jersey-Friendly Yards has a terrific Line up of speakers and topics as part of their 2021 Webinar Series: “What’s Bugging Your Jersey-Friendly Yard?” Bug experts will teach how to recognize beneficials versus pests, show how to manage pests safely using non-toxic methods, introduce attendees to the buggy relationship between plants and insects, and teach how to build a buggy web of life in your yard using native plants. I am honored to be one of the speakers along with Heather Holm, Kelly Gill, Dr. Dan Duran, and others.

The 2021 Webinars will be free and provided via WebEx Events. They will be held on the second Tuesday of the month from January to June at 7:00 pm.   The first one is coming up on January 12, 2020.  The live sessions will be an hour long with time for questions. To join the webinars, you will need either a computer, tablet, or smartphone with speakers. You must register to attend these webinars. After each webinar and with presenter permission, Jersey-Friendly Yards will add a link to a video recording of the webinar on their “What’s Bugging Your Jersey-Friendly Yard?” website.

For full details and to register go to the Jersey-Friendly Yards 2021 Webinar Series: “What’s Bugging Your Jersey-Friendly Yard?” Website HERE

(While you are on the Jersey-Friendly Yards Website, be sure to explore all the wonderful resources to help you create a healthy, native, wildlife-friendly landscape)

Here are the 2021 Webinar dates, topics, and presenters:

January 12, 2021 — Getting to Know the Good Guys: Beneficial Insects in the Landscape — Not all bugs are bad, so let’s meet the beneficial insects in your backyard. Predators, parasites, and pollinators—learn about how to recognize these good guys, their biology, and how to keep them happy in your yard. Presenter: Sabrina Tirpak, Principal Laboratory Technician, Rutgers University Plant Diagnostic Laboratory.

February 9, 2021 — Myth Busters: The Truth About What’s Bugging You — Insects are the most diverse group of animals on Earth. With over 1 million described species, insects account for about 75% of all animal species. Insect diversity is essential in maintaining functional ecosystems, productive natural areas and working lands, and overall biodiversity. However, human perceptions of insects are often negative resulting in insects being misunderstood, underappreciated, and in some cases, unnecessarily feared. This session will cover a variety of “insect myths vs. truths” with the goal of reversing common misconceptions. Presenter: Kelly Gill, Senior Pollinator Conservation Specialist, The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation; Partner Biologist, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Mid-Atlantic / Northeast Region.

March 9, 2021 — Cultivating Respect for Insects: An Overview of the Ecosystem Services That Insects Provide — Simply put: all life on earth depends on insects, for more reasons than most people realize. This talk will explore some of the immeasurably important ways that insects keep ecosystems functioning, including nutrient recycling, pollination services, and trophic interactions. It will also cover ways in which we can conserve much-needed insect diversity in our own yards. Presenter: Dr. Dan Duran, Assistant Professor, Rowan University Department of Environmental Science.

April 13, 2021 — What Lurks Above and Below: Spotted Lanternfly and Crazy Worms — The invasion has begun! Two non-native species: spotted lanternfly and Asian crazy-worms have already made it into New Jersey’s agriculture, yards, gardens, and forests. Learn the tools to how you can fight back, including their identification, biology, impacts, research, and control measures. The talk will also include how non-native pests have a serious negative impact on ecosystems and their health. Presenter: Paul Kurtz, Entomologist, NJ Department of Agriculture

May 11, 2021 — Attracting Bees and Beneficial Insects with Native Plants — Most insects have a positive impact in our landscapes. Native plants can be selected to attract specific bees and beneficial insects including predatory and parasitic wasps, beetles, flies, true bugs, and lacewings. Learn about the predator-prey relationships of these flower-visiting beneficial insects and how they help keep problem insect populations in balance. The life cycles, diversity, and nesting habitat of native bees will also be discussed along with examples of native plants for different site conditions. Presenter: Heather Holms, Author of the books Native Plants for Pollinators and Bees: An Identification and Native Plant Forage Guide.

June 8, 2021 — Ferocious Dragons and Dainty Damsels — This primer to the winged jewels known as dragonflies and damselflies will cover the most common species, their natural history (life cycle, seasonality, what they prey on, and who preys on them), and how to identify one from another. Sutton, a long-time successful wildlife gardener, will share how to lure these ferocious mosquito predators into your own yard by creating a no-fuss wildlife pond. Presenter: Pat Sutton, Educator, Naturalist, Author

I know I’ll be virtually attending every single Webinar. “See” you there?

Happy Wildlife Gardening,

Pat

2020 VIRTUAL Tours of Pat Sutton’s Private Wildlife Garden

2020 VIRTUAL Tours of Pat Sutton’s Private Wildlife Garden (43 Years in the Making)

Our wildlife garden has evolved over the last 43 years from a lawn and very few plantings (a Lilac bush and Day Lilies) to probably 100+ native plants and many different components (perennial garden, pocket meadow, shade trees and gardens, wildlife ponds, native woodland, living fences, etc.)  that all lure in and benefit wildlife.  Read this brief history to learn more.

This was the 4th year I led tours of my wildlife garden for CU Maurice River, a non-profit organization doing great work in South Jersey.  With Covid-19, the 2020 Tour was filmed on July 2nd and folks could join the tour VIRTUALLY on Tues., July 14, 2020.

If you missed this garden tour, there is a 2nd opportunity to join me for this Virtual Tour.  It will be one of many fun offerings as part of the 2020 Wheaton Arts Virtual ECO WEEK.  Details follow:

2020 Wheaton Arts Virtual ECO WEEK
includes

WHAT
VIRTUAL GARDEN TOUR
of Pat Sutton’s Private Wildlife Garden
40+ Years in the Making

WHEN
Friday, August 21, 2020
6:00 – 8:00 p.m.

WHERE
From the comfort of your home

Registration for this event is FREE!   But you need to click on the Registration Link HERE.  This Virtual Tour (a narrated video tour) will be followed by a Live Q & A session and is sponsored by CU Maurice River.

After you register, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining this selected Zoom webinar. Participants may join and rejoin the webinar at any time during the scheduled presentation.

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About the VIRTUAL Tour of Pat Sutton’s Private Wildlife Garden in Goshen, NJ (Cape May Co.), largely a NATIVE PLANT OASIS (filmed on July 2, 2020)

I’ll bet many of us have gardened more than normal this year, the year of Covid-19. Our wildlife garden and working in it has kept me sane during these uncertain times. I must give some credit for my sanity too to all the garden visitors I’ve discovered, learned about, and enjoyed this year. There have been so many fun sightings perhaps because we’ve been home a lot, out in the garden more, and savoring more. I hope this has been the case for you too.

I enjoyed sharing my garden with CU Maurice River on July 14th and am looking forward to sharing it again during the Wheaton Arts ECO WEEK.  If you should join me and see the footage, keep in mind it hasn’t always looked like it does now. Like each and every one of us, I have made some serious mistakes over the years and paid dearly for them. I love sharing my garden, not only because it is packed with Nature Happenings, but also because in doing so, I might help save others some of the angst and frustration I went through. I love sharing my garden also because I have learned so much about wildlife gardening and how wildlife responds to habitat. Truly, create it and they will come!

We see so much in our little 1/2 acre for many reasons. We barely have any grass left to mow. There are robust native perennials and understory trees and shrubs under all of our trees, not lawn. Rather than fight their thugishness, I am thrilled when shade-loving perennials I’ve planted like Common Blue Wood Aster seed further and further out into the lawn each year. More native plants and less lawn equals more habitat. One section of what had been lawn is an itty bitty meadow instead (12 feet x 12 feet). The meadow of native grasses and perennials compliments the formal perennial garden and hosts nectaring and egg-laying butterflies and other pollinators, nesting Box Turtles, and more! Our woods take up about one-third of our property and are filled with native trees, shrubs, vines, perennials, grasses, a sizable brush pile and many smaller brush piles, a butterfly house (made of overlapping branches with roofing shingles in between to keep weather out), and a seating area that is always cooler than the garden and overlooks a busy Hummingbird feeder (Meghan got footage of a hungry female during our virtual tour from this seating area). Many of the butterflies that nectar in our garden lay their eggs on native trees, shrubs, grasses, and vines in our woods. The woods were an impenetrable wall of Multiflora Rose until 2009 when we reclaimed them, so many of the native trees and shrubs are eleven years old. In ridding the woods of invasives the seed bank of natives had a chance. The transformation has been complete, but does take routine vigilance because the very birds we attract are eating invasives elsewhere and sprinkling seeds of those invasives in our woods and elsewhere on our property.

So, join me if you can for this 2nd airing of a 2020 Virtual Tour of my Private Wildlife Garden. CUMR’s Meghan Thompson did the filming.  I’ll be narrating the garden tour, which will include some of my favorite garden still shots from this spring and past magic moments. This virtual presentation will showcase many of the pollinators and sights from this season.

You may also want to download and print the latest update of my “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 prove very helpful during the Virtual Tour and afterwards!

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For twenty-three years (1991-2014), I 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)

2018 Tours of Private Wildlife Gardens

2018 Tours of Pat Sutton’s Private Wildlife Garden (41 Years in the Making)

Our wildlife garden has evolved over the last 41 years from a lawn and very few plantings (a Lilac bush and Day Lilies) to probably 100+ native plants and many different components (perennial garden, pocket meadow, shade trees and gardens, wildlife ponds, native woodland, living fences, etc.)  that all lure in and benefit wildlife.  Read this brief history to learn more.

This year I am excited to share that I will be leading tours of my own wildlife garden for CU Maurice River, a non-profit organization (registration will be required through CU Maurice River, not through me).  Sign up for the session that best fits your schedule:

  • August 25, 2018 (Saturday) — 2 tours: 9:30 a.m. to Noon (Morning Session), 2:00 to 4:30 p.m. (Afternoon Session) — LIMIT/tour: 20.   COST/tour: $20 (CU member), $30 (nonmember).   Contact Citizens United to Protect the Maurice River and its Tributaries at the office (856) 300-5331 to register and pay for this garden tour or reserve your spot online by clicking here .  Sunday, August 26 is the Rain Date.  For program write-up on CU Maurice River’s website click HERE.

Join Pat Sutton for a tour of her 41-year-old wildlife garden in Goshen (Cape May Co.), NJ, and opportunity to study and identify pollinators with Pat.  This garden showcases many different ways a habitat can offer the basics: food, cover, and water.  This ½ acre property includes two wildlife ponds, a pocket meadow, extensive shade gardens, wildlife corridors, shrub islands, a woodland of native plants (saved from a jungle of Multiflora Rose in 2009), an extensive pollinator garden (full of hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees), native nectar plants galore, an extensive array of native host plants, feeding stations, many and different water features, as well as many fun garden features and design ideas.  This totally educational experience will benefit and dazzle long-time gardeners and new-to-wildlife-gardening participants alike.

2018 Tours of Chris and Arnold Clemenson’s Private Wildlife Gardens

Clemenson Farms Native Nursery is a wholesale nursery, but they do host special “Retail Sale Days” each year for the general public.

During their Saturday, June 16, 2018,  Retail Sale Day (10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.) I will be leading 3 tours of Chris & Arnold Clemenson’s beautiful private wildlife gardens in Estell Manor (Atlantic County), NJ.  These gardens showcase many, many lovely and beneficial native plants.

Three Tour Times: 10:00 a.m., 11:15 a.m., or 12:30 p.m.

Tickets are $12.00/person.

Interact directly with Clemenson Farms Native Nursery (not with me) for tour tickets, which are available by reservation or on day of sale. Places are limited and these tours are popular, so reservations are recommended. To reserve your place on a tour, email Christine Clemenson at cac.clem3@gmail.com with your top two time slots. Payment due on day of sale.

Tour ticket includes a Clemenson Farm garden map and plant list. Bring a camera, binoculars, and walking shoes. You’ll go home with plant pictures and  practical ideas for transforming your garden into a pollinator paradise!

NOTE: Gardens will be closed to the general public during tour times, but open after the tours are completed.

Clemenson Farms Native Nursery’s 2018 Retail Sale Days: May 12, June 16, and September 15.  Don’t miss these great opportunities to purchase locally grown natives.  Print their list of available plants and bring it along so you don’t forget anything!

For twenty-three years (1991-2014), I 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)