Last weekend was the large Northwest Flower and Garden Show in Seattle. Running for four days, the show’s theme this year was Once Upon A Time…spectacular gardens with stories to tell. The show consisted of a large show garden area with over 20 individual gardens, a container garden display with over a dozen displays and funky junk gardens which are created by high school classes using reused materials. This year a high school senior had a full show garden display featuring reused materials called Paradise (to be) Regained, which was very impressive. While wildlife habitat is not often prominent in these shows, this year there was at least one seminar about backyard wildlife habitat and another about designing for pollinators. There was also a large marketplace which included many educational booths, two being the National Wildlife Federation and Bats Northwest, both of which I volunteered at. It was great fun to hear visitors’ stories and answer questions about wildlife habitat. It would have been nice to see other groups like the Washington Butterfly Association, Seattle Audubon and other local organizations. Hopefully more wildlife-related groups will participate in the future and even teach some seminars and design or partner on a show or container garden!

Not surprisingly, none of the show gardens really designed specifically for wildlife habitat, but I noticed elements of most of the gardens that could easily have been modified for use as habitat. I found many of the gardens overall design to be wildlife-friendly. Many of them had natural-style landscaping with dense plantings, water and art. The plantings were lush and if some of the plants were exchanged with similar species that provide wildlife benefits, I think many of the gardens could have been wildlife friendly quite easily. Following is a photo essay that describes some of the elements of the gardens I observed and how they could have been improved upon for wildlife.

(Click on any image for a larger view and to visit the album with more photos of the gardens below as well as ones not mentioned.)

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These beautiful pillars were from the gardened titled Shamazan – Where Gifts and Wildings Grow. They could easily have been modified to create cavities for nesting birds or solitary bees. They appear to be hollow and could have been built with ‘compartments’ inside which could have provided a nest colony for bumblebees on the bottom, and birds or solitary bees higher up. Additionally they could have been constructed in such a way to incorporate a bat house. Being hollow, they also could be adapted for roosting swifts.

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This interesting structure was from the garden titled, Wish ‘Shoe’ Were Here. The walls have some greenery growing in vertical panels up and if planted with a flowering vine, this could be very beneficial to hummingbirds and other pollinators as well as being very beautiful. The modulars of the vertical panels could also have the potential of creating nesting, roosting or general sheltering compartments inside. This metal wall could make a very interesting yard fence or other artistic structure in many applications where ground plantings may not be possible.

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These metal structures were in the garden titled, Life’s Journey in a Garden. Filled with rocks and mosses and topped with a mini green roof, these structures could already be valuable to wildlife. If some wood were added, or other debris these could be even more attractive to a variety of insects to hide in. The rocks on the bottom in this one are all flat and aesthetic, but if a cavity was created in the center, with a passageway, the base could be used by snakes, lizards or small mammals. These structures have great potential for a whole variety of wildlife species and could be made into a huge variety of shapes and sizes. With the plantings on top in a green roof motif, it makes them very attractive as well.

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These fantastic wood structures were found in the garden titled, Once Upon A Thyme. I think these would be excellent nesting structures for birds if horizontal platforms were added in the sides of the arches. Another option is growing flowering vines inside to attract butterflies and hummingbirds to the arches, although these are very aesthetic even without any plants. I also imagine this would be a great structure for spiders, although that may not be an attractive idea to some people. If the sides were filled with more wood or other materials, these could make excellent shelter for a wide variety of wildlife species.

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This green wall was part of the garden called, Next Stop, Hotel Babylon which also included a green roof. The green wall was Verawall, a modular  green wall system which looked like it consisted of mesh pockets. Green walls have great potential for habitat, but unfortunately it’s not yet been pursued to any extent.  These pockets could be turned into little insect hotels by filling them with materials that are beneficial for sheltering insects such as bark, twigs or cones. They could also be planted with flowering plants beneficial to pollinators. Some pockets could be lined to collect rain water which would provide a water source for wildlife as well.

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This rain garden was titled, The Frog Prince with ‘greenstyle’. I like that the rain garden features a green roof, rain chain and the pond, but the design could be beautiful and provide habitat too. The green roof, which is simply planted with grass, could have wildflowers scattered in adding food for pollinators. Although the pond already looks good for wildlife, it could have terraces on the edges underwater, or slopes to make places for frogs and turtles to easily get in and out. I really like the balance between the ‘nature’ and the ‘living’ spaces in this design.

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I saved my favorite for last. This sedum garden was found in the container garden display and I was struck by it. Sedums are very popular for green roofs because of their particularly tough qualities, and they’re usually placed on a flat roof, sometimes dressed up by planting them in patterns. This display illustrates the extent of what can be done with sedums in a creative, artistic way. They fill all manner of containers, from an old tool box to a wagon and even a tackle box, and they are arranged beautifully. Reclaimed materials such as boxes, chains and decorations mixed with collected materials such as shells and and rocks make this themed garden fascinating to look at. This design should be used as inspiration for green roofs, balconies and other places with harsh growing conditions where sedums are used out of necessity but not really desired, because this display challenges that notion.
Kelly Brenner

Kelly Brenner

Kelly Brenner is a naturalist and writer based in Seattle. She founded and writes The Metropolitan Field Guide, a blog for ideas, thoughts and resources for the design of urban wildlife habitat and has contributed articles to a variety of other websites and publications.

Kelly has a certificate from the University of Washington in non-fiction writing. She continually takes classes and attends talks on various natural history topics. In 2009 she earned a bachelors degree in landscape architecture from the University of Oregon.

She's also an avid photographer focusing on the natural world.
Kelly Brenner

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  1. Kelly, this is a great post. Not only a solid analysis of the flower show, but your approach is very creative. Future show participants should consult with you to improve upon the wildlife factor of their displays.

  2. Your favorite that you saved for last is done by The Lusher Life Project. Mari Malcolm is the owner.

  3. Nice shots and interesting critique. I agree that designing a garden should automatically include designing for wildlife. Thanks for the facebook “like.”

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