Back in the day.(can you guess what my favorite TV Police show is? Just asking!).
In one of the years after I became a Master Gardener we had a Continuing Education Class given by Carol Heiser who at that time was Habitat Education Coordinator , DGIF, VA .She talked about turning our backyards into certified Wildlife Habitats Homes. There were strict guidelines and requirements to meet. After several weeks I forwarded my application and photos to Carol and in 2005 I was awarded Certificate #7 has having a Habitat Home. In 2007 I became a VA Master Naturalist (Cohort 1, HRC) . I decided it would be fun to use my training to identify and list all the flora and fauna living in my Habitat Home.
My suburban home sits on a 0.31 acre lot in the Denbigh section of Newport News. The house is a two story Dutch Colonial with an attached two car garage, a 12ft x12 ft deck and a 10’x12’x10′ storage building.
We had the front yard landscaped with Gardenia bushes , dwarf Nindidas, dwarf English Holly and two female American Holly trees. Some years later I planted a Japanese Red Maple and a dwarf Crepe Myrtle in the front yard.
The rest of the flora resides in the backyard. There are 14 canopy trees 40-60 ft, 18 Understory tree 10-30 ft, 33 shrubs, 8 vines. The largest trees are a Willow Oak, Red Oak, 2 Maples, 3 Sweet Gums, 7 Loblolly Pines,and a Magnolia.
Understory trees include Crepe Myrtle, Sourwood, Camellias, Pear, Rose of Sharon, a Snowball tree, a Golden tipped Cedar tree , Yaupon hollies and two female American Hollies
.The shrubs are comprised of Azaleas, Privet, Nandida, Blueberry bushes, Fetter Bushes, Beauty Berry. The vines consist of Wisteria, Trumpet, Virgin’s Bower Vine, English Ivy, Clematis, Vinca, Dead Nettles,, and Cat Briar.
The flowers showcased (excluding the Fish pond and Butterfly Garden) are Roses, Spireas, Hostas, Iris, Day Lilies, Hydrangeas, Sweet Spice, Carolina All Spice, two patches of Milkweed., various annuals in containers , flower boxes and hanging baskets.
In 2011 I found a pretty wild flower growing along the road to our airport and transplanted a few of them in the back yard. Over the years they taught me an important word in my gardening lexicon- INVASIVE.
It is the Carolina Wild Petunia- Ruellia caroliniensis – a native wild flower.
Carolina Wild Petunia
In my ignorance I lucked out by planting a bed of Iris and Day lilies along the south side of our house and a large bed of Hostas on the north side. Both plantings took to their locations like a drunk drinking Ripple. I gave up on establishing grass in the backyard (too many trees) and grew moss instead. It solved the problem and I don’t have to mow it!
There are several odd plants that enjoy the yard and over winter in the garage;
An Orchid Cactus, a Carrion Plant and a Pregnant Onion, they also come with stories.
The Orchid Cactus
My Uncle Mike Nieznay immigrated to the USA from Poland in the early 30s. In order to expedite his citizenship he enlisted in the Army (he was stationed at Ft Story as a member of the Coast Artillery on December 7, 1941-( A day that did live in Infamy). He served in Europe until 1945 and then was sent to the Pacific area in preparation for the invasion of Japan. He was mustered out in Honolulu later that year. On his way stateside he “smuggled” a stem of the orchid cactus growing next to his barracks as a reminder of the time he spent in Hawaii. He and my Aunt Mary bought a country store in the Pocono mountains in Pennsylvania where I spent my boyhood days hunting , fishing and prowling the woods. As Paul Harvey said, “The rest is history”. I always admired the gorgeous flowers of the plant and took some home to Bethlehem , Pa. When I settled here in 1979 I brought a scion of the plant to Newport News. The final part of the story is that Uncle Mike always wanted to take Aunt Mary to visit Hawaii but his heart gave out and I promised myself I would take Miss Ellie there in honor of the two most beautiful people I ever knew. In 2000 we made it to Honolulu and on an excursion to the Punch Bowl National Cemetery we found the Orchid Cactus blooming. We bowed our heads and said a prayer to my Uncle Mike and Aunt Mary.
I bought the Carrion Plant at a yard sale in Aurora , Colorado in the late 70s and it moved with us to Newport News in 1979. It winters over in our garage until May and spends it’s summer on the deck. It is a native to the deserts of South Africa. It uses flies and carrion beetles as pollinators by attracting them to the large hairy starfish shaped flower that exudes the smell of rotten meat. It blooms during the summer and fall. Great conversation piece but guests seem to lose their appetites. Interestingly this plant is in the milkweed Family.
The Pregnant Onion is not an onion and can not be eaten. It’s home are the deserts of South Africa.
It reproduces both sexually via a flower stalk and seeds and asexually by budding off complete “baby” plants that burst through the skin of the “pregnant” mother plant. This occurs all year long. The flower stalk usually forms in late summer. This plant is virtually indestructible. Miss Ellie admits to the fact she hasn’t met a plant she can not kill except for the Onion. I bought the plant ( they are all mothers) in 1985 at a local plant sale. I filled numerous containers with the her offspring to give to my friends. I finally couldn’t keep up with her progeny ( and also ran out of friends to give the babies away as gifts)
Because of the length of the article & photos I will divide it into four parts: Flora, Birds, Mammals, Amphibians & Reptiles.
Oh about the TV Police show- It is Blue Bloods on CBS