Create a masterpiece of a wildlife garden by mixing good old, everyday wildflowers with domestic varieties. Wildflowers are beautiful, colourful and hardy. At no cost, you can carefully transplant them from ditches, abandoned lots or woodland trails — first getting permission from the landowner, of course. Remember, never dig up rare plants!
The best time to transplant wildflowers is early spring when the soil is moist and temperatures are cool. Note the wildflower's environment. Is it shady, damp, sunny or dry? Try to duplicate those conditions as closely as you can when you transplant the flowers to your schoolyard.
If you see wildflowers you would like to transplant next spring, mark the location. Tag the plants with a small piece of wool. Then return in early spring to collect them, but don't take too many from one area.
Keep your eyes peeled for signs of a new development or highway to be constructed. That's an ideal spot to collect wildflowers that would be destroyed anyway.
Growing wildflowers from seeds can be quite successful, especially summer meadow flowers. Pick seed pods on a dry day just before they are about to burst open. Scatter the seeds right away on loose soil. Rake the soil lightly, but don't cover the seeds — that's the way nature does it!
You might want to "specialize" parts of your garden by planting plants that will attract certain species of birds, small mammals or insects. Why not create a butterfly garden? Who knows, you may set a trend in your neighbourhood!
Two types of food are needed for butterflies — food for the caterpillars and nectar for the adults. Butterfly caterpillars like asters, alfalfa, clover, violets, hollyhock, milkweed, black-eyed Susan, lupines, sedum and marigolds. They will also be happy with trees such as birches, aspen, willow, hackberry, cherry and oak.
Best nectar choices for adult butterflies are dogbane, milkweed, asters, goldenrod, fleabane, red clover, winter cress, self-heal, vetches, peppermint, globe thistle, purple coneflower, blazing stars, peonies and marigolds. Queen Anne's Lace, dill and parsley are butterfly treats, too.
Water, Water, Everywhere
You're not the only one who likes to have fun in water. Wildlife needs drinking water to live, of course. But birds also love to bathe in wet places.
A birdbath in your schoolyard can attract everything from songbirds to small mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects. It can be as simple as an upside down garbage can lid. If you build a bath for your animal friends, it should be no more than three centimetres deep with gently sloping sides and bottom. Roughen up the surface of the edge a bit to make a good perching surface.
It's best to place your water supply at least five metres from trees and shrubs where hungry cats may be lurking. Small animals will have plenty of time to get safely away from predators.
Robins and other birds are often attracted to a sprinkler in hot weather, not because they like to sing in the rain, but because moist soil brings worms to the surface. So, why not treat the birds once in a while? Practise water conservation by using a sprinkler hose filled with tiny holes to produce a fine spray of water. It uses less water than regular sprinklers. Best times are the coolest parts of the day — before 10 a.m. or in the evening — and only on calm days. Wind evaporates water quickly.
You'll be good managers if you keep the bath full, particularly in heat waves. And don't forget that birds need water in winter, too.
Handy Havens and Highways
Your schoolyard ecology centre won't be complete without handy hideouts and highways for wildlife. Learn how to make rock piles and brush piles for shelter and nesting dens for small birds and mammals. Don’t underestimate the importance of borders of hedges, fencerows, shelterbelts and windbreaks around your schoolyard or part of it. These bushy borders are like highways that let animals move safely from place to place.
And remember, your border doesn't have to be the perfect, neatly trimmed kind. You can have lots of fun designing a beautiful border of flowering shrubs and small trees to provide banquet meals as well as cover for wildlife. Your border will also cut windy blasts and drifting snow, especially if it's planted on the side of the prevailing wind.
It may be expensive to plant your border all at once. Add one or two shrubs each year to slowly build on the original Master Plan.
What if You Lose Touch?
Because you will be moving on to a higher grade each year, you may lose touch with developments in the schoolyard ecology centre. But that's how sustainable development works. You are managing today's resources (for wildlife and humans) for future generations to enjoy. Who knows? Your children may follow in your footsteps and attend the same school.
What about City Schools?
If you're in a city and your schoolyard is paved — don't despair. Why not adopt a corner of property at a nearby nursing home, day-care centre or park? It could be a great arrangement for both sides — one side providing a bit of green space, and you providing the muscle power.
An easy way to make a little green space in a paved schoolyard is with window-boxes. Colourful plants will brighten things up and may attract a butterfly or two. Vines can be planted along sturdy, metal fences to provide food and cover for wildlife. If bushes or trees grow near your school, you may be able to lure birds to a schoolyard bird feeder. A simple window-shelf feeder (perhaps close to your flowerboxes) will be easiest to make and should do just fine.
When you've put out your city feeder and filled it up, don't be discouraged if nothing happens right away. It can take many weeks before birds discover the free hand-out. Once they do, they will make regular visits if you keep the feeder full. Remember to refill it with fresh, dry seed after rain or a snowfall.
Urban schools can also concentrate on other important sustainable development schemes, such as recycling programmes.
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