Long Island’s native flower, shrub and herb gardens completed at Oyster Bay during the pandemic attract visitors on foot and on the wing.
At Theodore Roosevelt Sanctuary and the Audubon Center, 21,000 native plants have taken root in the ground and the birds have taken notice, center director Kathryn D’Amico said.
“The food they need is there and the nesting material they need is there,” D’Amico said. Just a few years ago, hummingbirds never stopped at the sanctuary, but “for the past three years, all spring and summer, I see hummingbirds every day,” she said.
Once-rare sightings of goldfinches and wood thrushes have become commonplace, she noted.
The gardens were designed to create an ecosystem to support the birds and serve as an educational tool for the people of Long Island.
“To attract birds, you have to give them a habitat, you have to provide them with food sources and insects,” said Molly Bourne, principal of Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects PC, the Manhattan-based landscape architecture firm that designed the gardens. “And so the way to do that is to use native plants, and native plants attract certain pollinators.”
The sanctuary gardens are a “bird bodega” in an area that is one of the biggest stopovers for migrating birds on the East Coast, Bourne said.
According to experts, what’s good for birds also has benefits for owners. This year, the Audubon Center received a $20,000 grant from the Long Island Community Foundation to help fund its programs — including workshops — that teach the benefits of “going native” to professional landscapers as well as non-professional gardeners. professionals.
“Native plants require much less water than a lawn or ornamental plant,” D’Amico said. “Generally they adapt to their location and do not need irrigation and watering.”
They also don’t rely on fertilizers and pesticides like non-native species do, because they evolved for that environment, she said.
Jessica Gurevitch, a professor of ecology and evolution at Stony Brook University, said while this is generally true, climate change and invasive insects and diseases mean even native species can sometimes need help. assistance.
“We had a very severe drought on Long Island … and when the conditions changed a lot, you might still have to use water even for native species,” Gurevitch said.
The coveted suburban lawns offer little to native wildlife.
“All the native plants in this area of the island have co-evolved with the birds and caterpillars and all the other insects and wildlife in the habitat,” D’Amico said. “So once you take those things out… What you’re basically doing is creating this food desert.”
Gurevitch said that while people can buy colorful plants for their gardens at chain stores like Home Depot, they can lack diversity.
“Our landscapes are becoming homogenous and there is no more room for native plants,” Gurevitch said. “Non-native species are often very poor substitutes for supporting the birds, butterflies and other organisms we love.”
The shrine gardens were designed to be residential scale to show visitors that they can incorporate certain native plants on their own properties, Bourne said.
NATIVE PLANTS BY ZIP CODE
Audubon provides an online source to search for native plants by zip code. Some examples in Oyster Bay, postcode 11771 include:
Anise-scented goldenrod (Solidago odora)
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
Scottish Bellflower (Campanula rotundifolia)
Flower-cardinal (Lobelia cardinalis)
Coastal Plains Trumpet (Eutrochium dubium)