Garden Photo of the Day

Stephanie’s Wildlife Haven in New Hampshire

For this gardener, critters and crawlers nibbling on plants is a sign of success rather than a source of frustration

close up of a metal frog on a moss and fungus covered tree stump

Hey GPODers! No preamble from me today, Stephanie included a beautiful description with her submission so we’re jumping right in:

Hello! I’m Stephanie and I live in an adorable brick 1955 home in Exeter, NH. My husband and I have been restoring the property for the last five years of ownership, after years of overgrowth and sick hemlock trees. We had to remove the bulk of hemlocks in the backyard due to damage from wooly adelgid, but it created an open space that encouraged eastern bluebirds to nest, broad-winged hawks to hunt, pileated woodpeckers to forage in, and a slew of other birds such as Carolina wrens, house wrens, downy and hairy woodpeckers, yellow-bellied woodpeckers, black-throated blue grey warblers, blue-grey gnatcatchers, and many others. We also have bobcat, fox, opossum, skunk, bunny, deer, turkey, racoon, and a variety of amphibians and invertebrates. We even saw a black bear walk through the backyard last year!

It’s important to us to serve the wildlife around us, and we do that a variety of ways. One is by planting native plants in amongst other cultured favorites. Cold stratifying plants in the winter is my favorite–I get to garden in my kitchen in January, get my hands dirty and smell rich soil, and then put the seed trays out into the snow where nature does the rest. We rent mason and leaf-cutter bees from Rent Mason Bees to add more native species to our property. We also support the other native species we’ve identified, such as the green sweat bee, with wild patches of grass and flora all over the property. We don’t discourage critters from eating the garden–a nibbled garden proves a diverse and healthy habitat. We also leave lots of leaves around and in the gardens, leave the plant stems in the winter and through much of the spring and even summer, pile brush and branches in the woods, and very rarely mow or just mow small areas of the yard. We do have a tidy property where it needs to be, otherwise, it is allowed to be a bit wild and overflowing with flowers. I planted pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea, Zones 3–8) on the property specifically to host American lady caterpillars–at this time of year there are about 30+ baby caterpillars munching away at the plant, making it look rather terrible. However, once those cats turn to butterflies, the plant blooms and regrows its leaves, and the caterpillar cycle begins again until the fall. The plant has only grown in size over the years, and we’ve supported countless butterflies. We also grow a variety of milkweeds, yarrow, columbine, grasses, and asters. We’ve been lucky enough to have many native plants just show up on our land which had almost no flowers growing when we purchased it. We see pussytoes (Antennaria plantaginifolia, Zones 3–9), hawkweed (Hieracium lachenalii), fleabane, bluets (Houstonia caerulea, Zones 3–9), snakeroot (Ageratina altissima, Zones 3–8), Jack-in-the-pulpits (Arisaema triphyllum, Zones 4–9), mosses, clovers, daisies, and so many others. Instead of planting a typical grass lawn, we’ve added clover or native grass seeds that can grow as they like.

I have loved gardening since I was a child. My great Uncle Hans was a florist and had stunning gardens, simple, with plenty of wildness around the property and the most beautiful compost pile I’ve ever seen. My mother would build tunnels with trellised mini pumpkins for my siblings and I to walk through, and I looked forward to the open house at Ellison’s Greenhouses each spring where I would pick my favorite Johnny-jump-up (Viola tricolor, annual) for the garden. I love seeing violas and foxglove growing where I didn’t plant them, whether it’s on our brick steps covered in moss, in between the brick patio, or in a garden bed. I would love our yard to look and feel like an ‘English garden’–full of thick beds of flowers, vining plants trellised along the house, and edible plants throughout.

long row of wild white daisiesWild daisies that planted themselves–lucky me!

lots of green plants around a houseHosta and a sea of green sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum, Zones 4–9)

close up of various pink flowers growing in a wild gardenBleeding hearts, Jack-in-the-pulpit, and foxglove.

small frog pond with flowers in the foreground and backgroundA homemade pond for wild frogs, painted turtles, and any critter to enjoy. Foxglove and aster in the foreground.

yellow parsnip flowers in the foreground and white wild daisies in the backgroundWe’ve left parsnip in the garden and allowed it to bloom as it is a favorite of swallow tail butterflies (foreground) and have started some garden beds around the wild daisies.

small wren house with bright pink flowers in the foregroundDon’t make the mistake of posting a wren house below your bedroom window–they start their mornings very early, and despite their small size, are the loudest, most verbose singers!

close up of slugs eating a leopard plant leafThe leopard plant (Farfugium japonicum, Zones 7–10) is a slug favorite! Happy to share! The plant does just fine despite the activity, and blooms every other year.

naturalistic garden bed with lots of pink flowersFoxglove, wild carrot (Daucus carota) (lower right), rhododendron, meadow rue (tall on the right), wild aster.

Goatsbeard with ferns and other foliage behindGoatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus, Zones 3–8), wild aster, and fern.

a brown slug on Sicilian honey garlic flowersFoxglove, Sicilian honey garlic (Nectaroscordum siculum, Zones 5–10) (formerly Allium bulgaricum), and a brown slug.

close up of a metal frog on a moss and fungus covered tree stumpHeuchera(coral bells) with the red flower, moss and turkey tail fungus on the stump, spent forget-me-nots (Myosotis sylvatica, Zones 5–9) in the back, left, daylilies in the background.

I don’t think any of us need these signs to know that Stephanie is a steward for all the living things that visit her garden. What a magical place to take in the wonder of nature. Thank you for sharing your haven for wildlife with us, Stephanie!


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View Comments


  1. sandyprowse 06/26/2024

    Stephanie: This was the most interesting article ever. It expanded the subject matter from decorative gardening to the inclusion of birds, wildlife and insects. You have made me aware that we are all in this together, whether we be a caterpillar, deer, human or a slug. I personally learned a lot from your way of gardening highlighted in this article. Thank you for that and all that you do. My heart opened after reading about your garden.

  2. [email protected] 06/26/2024

    So interesting to see what a wild but a bit curated garden can be! Love it. I always encourage wildlife but a bit afraid to let things go naturalistic. I just moved to a new house in town from a 8 acres property....and have a part that is a bit wild and I want to keep it gave me many ideas....thanks and congrats on the wonderful gardens.

  3. User avater
    simplesue 06/26/2024

    I love your "live & let live" attitude, allowing the slugs & caterpillars to feast and plants allowed to be wild and supporting wildlife & nature instead of fighting it!
    And it's a beautiful garden that you created & allowed to create it's self!

    Also I really enjoyed your submission description/story on your garden....I can just imagine the magic of being a little kid and running through tunnels with trellised mini pumpkins that your mom made!

  4. btucker9675 06/26/2024

    I admire your allowing slugs to munch everything, but not quite ready to do that! I don't use poisons but do "euthanize" them when they're getting too prolific. This year I am really struggling to save my garden from the Japanese beetles - thousands of them! Love reading articles telling me to pick them by hand and put them into soapy water... that would literally take me the rest of my life! I've mainly just given up but will apply something to try to control the number of grubs in the soil. Your garden and house are completely charming!

  5. user-6841468 06/27/2024

    we saw this yesterday... nothing new?

  6. TheBarefootGardener 06/27/2024

    We are like minded gardeners. I leave areas of my yard unmowed as well
    An amazing number of native plants pop up and I enjoy the diversity. I supplement with planting native plants in my beds and am starting a Pocket Prairie in my side yard. My frog pond is partially dug but I have water plants in an old galvanized tub in the meantime. Francoise the frog has taken residence. Love what you've done and encourage everyone to go "au naturale"!

    1. User avater
      simplesue 06/27/2024

      Oh that's so cute how that frog took up residence in your pond!

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