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

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

(I presented this program for the first time on February 17, 2022 for CU Maurice River at their CU Social)

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 of hours pulling together some of the stories that unfolded in the garden.

There is a 45 minute MONARCH EPISODE  because one very big story had to be told, that of Monarchs and milkweed. 2021 was a very good year for Monarchs in my garden and hopefully yours too. I had Monarchs in the garden daily from mid-June on. I found lots of eggs, lots of caterpillars, watched and filmed a Monarch caterpillar going into it’s chrysalis in the garden (what a happenstance gift that I was at the right spot with my camera when that five minute transformation occurred). I discovered five different chrysalises in the garden, and watched and filmed the Monarch emerging from two of them. So of course, the Monarch’s story had to be told so I could share this priceless footage.

There is a 45 minute UNFOLDING WILDLIFE GARDEN episode because there were so many other wildlife garden stories to be told.  Filming covers all of 2021, capturing the unfolding of four seasons in Pat Sutton’s 44-year-old wildlife garden. It showcases her favorite visitors while also demonstrating how (and why) she maintains her wildlife habitat in many, many maybe-new-to-you wildlife-friendly ways. Learn firsthand the many reasons why Pat is a “hands off” gardener after the hard work of spring clean up and readying the garden. This approach leaves a great deal more time for study and learning, rather than fussing, fussing, fussing with deadheading, removing spent stems, moving plants, etc.

Hopefully each episode will be as riveting to viewers as it was to Ben and I as we put it together. We had such fun with these episodes that many more will follow focusing of 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 gardens.

Through 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.

Busy water features draw in 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.

A din of calling Green Frogs on many summer nights led to their egg masses being discovered the next day. 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.  Pat will also include how she is addressing “Privacy LOST” after a neighbor took down lots of vegetation.

Life cycles occur on a daily basis. Each year Monarchs can be found in this garden daily from mid-June on, mating and laying eggs, helping to swell the summer population so that by fall the migratory population is robust and substantial. This year Pat witnessed and filmed a Monarch caterpillar in its “J” position metamorphosing into its chrysalis, and several Monarchs emerging from their chrysalises in her garden. Will these magical moments be shared in the presentation? You bet!  These mesmerizing moments will help to tell the story that wildlife gardens like Pat’s (and hopefully like yours) contributed directly to a heartening and hopeful migration of Monarchs through the Cape May Peninsula in Fall 2021.  A wonderful 25,000-30,000 Monarchs were counted on October 1, 2021, lifting off from overnight roosts in the Cape May Point dunes to continue their migration.  On October 21, 2021, another push of migrating Monarchs gathered at lands end.  They lingered at nectar and safe roost sites until October 22 when winds calmed and they could continue their migration.  I couldn’t be there to witness it, but ‘m told that the numbers were comparable to the October 1st exodus, so roughly another 25,000-30,000 Monarchs.

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

You may also 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 prove very helpful during the Virtual Tour and afterwards!

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

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)