“Is it alive?” asked Tynita Cummings, one of six Habitat for Humanity homeowners participating in Pickering Creek Audubon Center’s Native Habitats for Habitat program. She pointed to a plant with brown leaves from last year that she had been puzzling over to Pickering Creek naturalist, Samantha Pitts, during a garden visit late one summer evening. “Maybe it didn’t make in through the winter after all,” Tynita added, with a little edge of worry crossing her face.
“It’s alive and doing great. It just needs the old growth to be cut back,” Samantha reassured her after closer inspection. She pointed out the healthy new growth coming through last year’s brown stubble. “You’ll want to trim last year’s leaves back early in the spring.” “Oh, I didn’t know that,” replied a relieved Tynita as they continued their walk about the yard and moved easily on to other garden questions. The relaxed atmosphere where homeowners feel free to ask questions about their garden is the result of time well spent by Pickering Creek Audubon staff.
For the past two summers, Pickering Creek has worked closely with the same six Habitat for Humanity homeowners to establish gardens using native plants to beautify their yards, improve water quality and benefit wildlife. Most of these homeowners had little, if any, gardening experience, but they were willing to take on the challenge of trying something new. Audubon staff took the time to understand the homeowners’ goals for their yards and to be present over time to answer questions, check in on how the gardens were growing, and to resolve gardening challenges everybody faces, like staying on top of pesky weeds.
“It’s been both humbling and rewarding to work with these homeowners and see them take real ownership of their gardens in addition to navigating the challenges of work, family and homeownership,” notes Samantha. “I remember visiting one of our families with a single working mother who has a very difficult garden site with heavy clay soil. I found that she had successfully cleared an entire garden bed absolutely full of weeds in tough soil for the first time in her life… and it looked fantastic.”
Funding garnered through the Chesapeake Bay Trust’s Outreach and Restoration Grant has done more than insure installation of six Bird and Bay-friendly gardens. A cordial and productive partnership has flourished between Pickering Creek and Habitat for Humanity Choptank throughout the project. Beyond work with the initial homeowner gardens, Habitat Choptank and Pickering Creek hosted two native plant gardening workshops held in March of 2018 and 2019, giving 50 Habitat homeowners and staff a chance to learn more about the value and use of plants indigenous to the Chesapeake Bay region. Additionally, two “Pickering Creek Days” at the Habitat for Humanity Restore in Easton reached over 100 visitors who walked away with new native plants to try and tips on native garden care for all seasons.
The successes of these smaller activities led to a highlight of collaboration this summer. Pickering Creek and Habitat for Humanity partnered on a tree planting workshop day that engaged participants in planting native trees at Habitat’s new St. Michaels build site, which includes plans for seven homes. Participants learned about tree care and correct planting techniques as well as the unique value of having native trees in the yard. They also discovered how trees could be part of best management practices for water quality and learned about upcoming opportunities from Envision and the Choptank’s Landowner Assistance Coordinator, Whitley Grey.
While the Native Habitats for Habitat program successfully wrapped up at the end of the summer, the growing partnership between Habitat for Humanity and Pickering Creek Audubon Center will continue to flourish.