Gardening & More: Exploring a local family’s backyard, a certified wildlife habitat full of herbs, fruits and vegetables
She and her husband Leon used to buy organic produce, but said that got too expensive when they had their children Beatrice, 10 and Henry, 7.
By growing organic gardens, they created a supportive environment for wildlife, as well.
The Goldthwaits shared their yard and many gardening tips during the Lancaster Garden Walk in July.
To qualify for the certified wildlife habitat designation, individuals must provide food, water, cover and a place for wild animals to raise their young. Find more information on the National Wildlife Federation website at www.nwf.org.
While I was at the Goldthwait residence, I saw bees buzzing around a purple coneflower in the grassless front yard and birds drinking and splashing in a small fountain.
“Birds like running water,” Molly Goldthwait said, adding that the birds wait for her to turn the fountain on in the morning and then fly through the trickle. Robins also stick their tails in the water.
The Goldthwaits watch the activity from the front of their house and keep tabs on a robin’s nest from the kitchen window.
Goldthwait described the gardens as “messy,” with vegetables, herbs, fruits and flowers all mixed together.
“I have oregano in the front yard,” she said. “The plants don’t have to be segregated.”
Plants can be difficult to place into categories. Is lavender an herb or a flower? A nasturtium is a decorative orange flower, but it is edible and has a delicious taste, very much like a radish. So, is it a vegetable or a flower?
The Goldthwaits have heavy, wet, clay-like soil. In a swampy area where even privet wouldn’t grow, the couple are growing elderberries, birch trees, pussy willow and hostas.
Their pond is a closed ecosystem. The plants growing there are hardy and the pond is deep enough to support fish and frogs over the winter.
“I don’t refill the pond with a hose, so the water level is low this year,” Goldthwait said. She said the low water level can be attributed to this summer’s dry weather.
Five frogs and some fish came to the pond on their own. Goldthwait said she believed that the fish eggs must have come on a plant or on the beak or feet of a visiting bird. “All that is very exciting and fun for the kids,” she said.
The yard also has a sandbox and small swimming pool for the children.
Goldthwait personalizes the yard with crafts she makes, as well as with her large paintings.
One thing that amazed many Lancaster Garden Walk visitors was how green the Goldthwaits’ lawn was, even without much rain. The family posted a sign with tips on keeping lawns lush, especially during our dry weather.
Let the weeds grow! This lawn is full of creeping plants that are much hardier than regular grass, like clover, potentilla, ajuga, pennyroyal and dandelions.
Stop mowing when the weather is hot. So what if it’s long? It is soft underfoot. If you must mow, mow high.
Goldthwait also offered the following advice for new gardeners:
– If you’re just starting out, start small.
– Choose plants that are native and they will take care of themselves.
– Ask relatives or neighbors for plants. Gardeners are usually looking to give away extra plants, so they can make room in their gardens for something new.
– Plant daylilies.
– Plant something you can eat. “Put basil in a pot on your back step and you can brag to people, ‘I grew this.”
Connie Oswald Stofko is publisher of Buffalo-NiagaraGardening.com, the online gardening magazine for Western New York. Email Connie@BuffaloNiagaraGardening.com.