New Homeowners Install Bird and Bay-friendly Gardens

Orange Butterfly Milkweed blossoms were beginning to open on a hot Saturday in June as Tynita Cummings planted her new Bay-friendly garden at her home in Hurlock. Tynita is one of six Habitat for Humanity Choptank homeowners partnered with Pickering Creek Audubon Center in the Native Habitats for Habitat program, which works with homeowners to install native plant gardens at their homes. Each garden serves multiple purposes of landscaping the home with beautiful plants providing nectar, seeds and fruit for birds and pollinators, and helping to clean our local waterways.

Easton homeowner Keisha Temp is thrilled with her new Bay-friendly garden.

The Native Habitats for Habitat program, supported by a Chesapeake Bay Trust Outreach and Restoration Grant and Audubon, kicked off in March with a gardening workshop led by Pickering Creek’s Krysta Hougen and Jaime Bunting. The workshop was open to current Habitat for Humanity Choptank homeowners or homebuyers who wanted to learn more about landscaping for wildlife with native plants and are interested in attracting birds to their yards.

Ultimately the program envisions homeowners being ambassadors for native plants and habitats in their communities. Workshop participants learned gardening and landscaping basics, such as preparing a site for planting, choosing native plants that will be successful at a given site, suggestions for tools, and how to properly plant, weed, and maintain a landscaped yard.

Pat Ingram, Program Coordinator for Habitat for Humanity Choptank, shared the importance of homeowners participating in ‘sweat equity’ hours at the workshop. “The culminating event was digging in the dirt and actually planting pollinator-friendly perennials. All our homebuyers and their coaches attended, earning three ‘sweat equity’ hours toward their individual goals. Sweat equity takes the place of a down payment on their homes. It is usually accumulated by building on the job sites, but workshops that provide information enhancing their ability to be successful homeowners are vitally important. The Native Gardening workshop more than lived up to this mandate,” explained Pat.

Beyond the March workshop, which drew nearly 40 Habitat for Humanity Choptank participants, Pickering Creek continues to work closely with six homeowners selected for the Habitats for Habitat program. Homeowners surveyed their yards and considered a variety of factors, including preferred size and location of a garden, sunlight, soil moisture, color preferences of blooming flowers, and desirable wildlife, such as birds and butterflies, they’d like to attract with a garden.

The homeowners and Pickering Creek staff collaborated to finalize plans and each homeowner prepared their site by turning over the soil and adding compost. Homeowners invited friends and family members to help on their planting day when Pickering Creek arrived with plants and mulch.

“I was not unhappy to get rid of the wire grass that was once my ‘front lawn,’ ” commented homeowner Nora Skiver. “The work was difficult at first, spreading new topsoil and compost, but planting day finally came. I was like a kid on Christmas morning. It was hot when they arrived; we placed plants and then planted. Then the rain poured, and we were all soaked, but what fun! My mailman commented several times as the garden progressed and said he could not wait to see the end result. It is truly a beautiful transformation.”

Pickering Creek staff will continue to consult one-on-one with each homeowner every month through summer and fall and will help to prepare the gardens for winter. Next spring, homeowners will have the opportunity to expand their garden or add new features.

Cambridge homeowner Nora Skiver poses in front of her newly planted Bay-friendly garden.

“Working with Habitat for Humanity homeowners is a natural fit for us,” said Krysta Hougen of Pickering Creek. “We enjoy the opportunity to share the benefits of using native plants with a new audience and we are so excited to connect Habitat for Humanity Choptank homeowners with plants that will become beautiful features of their homes.”

Pickering Creek Audubon Center will be offering native plant gardening tips for Habitat Choptank ReStore customers in the fall. Habitat homeowners will be able to earn sweat equity during short presentations and Pickering staff will be available to answer questions and offer suggestions for anyone who visits. The ReStore location is 8610 Commerce Drive in Easton.

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