“Come forth into the light of things, Let Nature be your teacher.”
Much of William Wordsworth’s poetry reveals his deep wonder at the world of nature. His conviction was that a connection to nature is critical for living a life of fulfillment, security and morality. Though poetry has long faded as a cultural catalyst, poets remain among my mentors.
Another nature lover, and mentor to me, is my closest neighbor, Kathleen McInnes, in whose garden I have seen wonders and found inspiration. Originally from Los Angeles, it was when Kathleen visited the Olympic National Forest that she fell in love with the nature of the northwest.
“Especially moss,” she laughs. “This sparked me to leave Los Angeles for Seattle.”
Her life changed again when a friend took her bungee jumping over the Nanaimo River on Vancouver Island where she met her husband, Chuck. These two adventurers moved to Vancouver, but they had a shared goal for something more.
“When I was living in Kitsilano,” Kathleen says, “it was my dream to have a backyard habitat. I read book after book.” And so, they found Point Roberts and in three quarters of an acre, have developed a haven of a habitat for wildlife. “The Point is a natural habitat already – when you’re connected to nature it’s constantly fascinating.”
It seems natural that in tandem with a devotion to nature, Kathleen lives a reflective life. “My mother raised me with a practice of yoga and meditation.” As a yoga teacher in Point Roberts, Kathleen has shared her love of yoga and meditation with our community for 16 years. This dovetails with the fulfillment she finds in nature. The fulfillment that Wordsworth so deeply believed comes from nature.
The design of Kathleen’s garden has purpose. She has chosen thoughtfully, with plantings that attract a variety of species. When I ask her what she plants for the birds, this is her answer, off the top of her head. “The elderberry shrub is loved by most birds, but especially the cedar waxwings, white crowned and song sparrows and finches. And if it’s an Adams elderberry, it will also attract butterflies. Weigela and honeysuckle for the hummingbirds, raspberries and blueberries for robins, finches and sparrows, kale seed heads are loved by the American Goldfinch. Arbutus berries for the varied thrush, sunflower seeds for the grosbeaks, chickadees and downy woodpeckers. Cotoneaster berries in winter for thrushes, robins and towhees.”
For a neophyte birder, living next door to Kathleen is the mountaintop. I hear an unfamiliar bird call and she instantly identifies it. Chuck has mounted a bat house high on a post by the Arbutus tree. We need bats. They dine on mosquitos.
We need all the creatures found in a backyard habitat and many are struggling to survive. Kathleen’s overriding focus now is the plight of the pollinators – the bees and butterflies. “We want to keep eating and we know that vegetables and fruit need pollinators. They support us and we need to support them.”
Her reading these days includes voracious dives into The Xerces Society, literature, whose goal is to protect pollinators and expand their habitats. “I start reading and I can’t stop.” She is eager to promote ideas that will benefit our community. “If we all did just a little ... an area in your yard dedicated to pollinators, with native seeds, shrubs and trees, where an insect can make its home – nesting and laying the larvae which feed on the nectar of the native plant.”
And here’s the part I like best – it’s okay to get a little messy in the garden. What if not every leaf was raked in the fall? What if a patch of them – or even all of them – was left until the first frost? It’s in these fallow leaves that insects and bees nest. I left the cottonwood leaves where they fell. I left them all winter and the sky did not fall. In the spring, after a few mows, they just seemed to mulch in.
The “No Mow May” movement is easy to get on board with. For that one month in late spring, not mowing your lawn will allow the wildflowers and clover to bloom and provide nectar for the native bees emerging from hibernation. With Kathleen’s encouragement, I left large swaths of my lawn alone, and I didn’t stop with May. All through summer and on into fall, the only mowing was to create meandering paths through the now tall grass.
Kathleen has left several decaying logs in her yard, around which she has landscaped and in which bees make their homes. Mason bees in particular love this woodsy opportunity.
Thanks to her garden wisdom, Kathleen and I now have a connected habitat. Our two yards blend seamlessly with a large bed of native wildflowers, sown expressly for the pollinators.
Turning lawn into a habitat for the bees and butterflies is a simple process. “First you remove the grass,” Kathleen says, “which is easily done with black plastic or with layered mulch, which is cardboard covered by bark mulch to inhibit the grass growth. Leave it through one growing season, remove the dead grass and sow the native seeds.”
I’m walking with Kathleen through clouds of lavender and Joe Pye weed, where the loud hum of bees is intense and industrious. A tall stand of softly purple milkweed nurtures the Monarch butterflies. It takes about a year to see the results of sowing a wildflower meadow, and each year the seeds will just keep multiplying. The source of the seeds is: northwestmeadowscapes.com.
“Chuck and I are a good team,” Kathleen says, “because we both love this and he does a lot of the work.” He dug the pond dotted with waterlilies and created the waterfall where dragonflies and other insects gather and where a pair of mallards raise their young every year.
They have created a little paradise where I can hear the words of the English philosopher, John Ruskin, a devotee of Wordsworth.“It is the poetry of Nature which uplifts the spirit within us. And which opens to our imagination a world of spiritual beauty and holiness.”
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