The zoo and your own

Shovels and pitchforks littered the ground as gardeners gather around for a Saturday of "full-contact landscaping" on Aug. 13.

Woodland Park Zoo horticulturist David Selk enthusiastically explained the projects the participants were undertaking in the zoo's butterfly garden, then set the teams to work.

"OK, everybody, time to get dirty!" he said.

This was the first Backyard Habitat Workshop that the zoo has offered. Its goal: to help participants provide food, shelter, water and nesting sites, all components of habitat, for wildlife in their own gardens.

Once they provide these things, participants can have their backyards certified by either the National Wildlife Federation or the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

"We ask people to make a commitment to get their backyard certified," said workshop coordinator Terry O'Connor. "And we follow up with them."

The workshop, offered in conjunction with the Seattle Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Federation and the Washington Native Plant Society, teaches participants natural ways to cultivate soil and treat insects and how to select native rather than invasive plants.

"Because we work with a team of partners, we all have the same goal but different perspectives and expertise," O'Connor said.

During the two-day workshop, the 32 participants learn how to start working now to improve their yards. By developing an action plan complete with specific goals and a time-line, O'Connor said, gardeners come out with concrete goals.

"Some of us have lots of habitat; others start with a new home and a clean slate," she said. "What are you going to do in the next couple of weeks? After other workshops, you take information home and say, 'Maybe I'll get to it.' What we really want to do is teach skills. That's how we're different than other workshops."

Last Saturday was a day of hands-on learning. Once they were divided into four teams, the participants removed invasive plants, improved soil with organic Zoo Doo and added new native plants to the butterfly garden.

Barbara Scheffler of Wallingford and Marcia Reed of Fremont tackled a Larafera plant.

"I wish you would come to my yard," Reed said to fellow participants. Reed has been gardening intensively for five years, and because her yard is too much to manage, she attended the workshop to get some new ideas.

"I'm going to redo it," she said. "I'll just take it out and put in more natural things."

Reed said she's enjoyed the whole workshop, but that the overview of how to create different levels with native shrubs was the most helpful.

The goals of the participants may vary, but no matter what their level of expertise or the amount of time they choose to spend, the resources available are helpful to all.

"It's important to work with nature, rather than against it," said E.J. Hook, who led one of the teams. "You don't want to be a slave to your garden."

The class will be offered again in late fall (dates still to be determined). Classes are popular, so visit for more information about upcoming programs.

Create a bird-friendly backyard

* Re-create the multiple layers of plant growth found in natural areas.

* Increase the number and type of plants growing in your yard.

* Avoid invasive exotic (non-native) plants.

* Limit the size of your lawn for less mowing, less fertilizing, less watering and less pollution.

* Select plants that will provide a food source for all seasons.

* Avoid the use of insecticides and pesticides.

* Supply a source of water; dripping or running water is a better attractant than still water.

* Plant a variety of annual flowering plants that can supply nectar for hummingbirds and butterflies.

* Provide birdhouses, nest boxes, roosting and perching places.

-Tips from National Wildlife Federation,[[In-content Ad]]