July 20, 2008

CS Couple’s Backyard Haven Earns State, National Recognition

By Mary Vinnedge, The Eagle, Bryan, Texas

Jul. 20--Kenneth and Sue Gleghorn of College Station are just wild about wildlife.

The retired couple in particular welcome birds and butterflies to their five-acre mostly wooded home site in southern Brazos County. They also have the pleasure of watching opossums, raccoons, deer, rabbits, box turtles, frogs, a bobcat and more ... with many of the sightings from their screened porch or at their bog pond.

The couple's nature-friendly efforts recently earned them a Texas Wildscapes designation from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

They learned about the Wildscape program, designed for urban and rural properties, during a trip to Fort Davis. A yard there had a sign indicating the homeowner had received the designation, Sue Gleghorn said.

"We thought, 'We're already doing that. Wouldn't it be neat to have the sign?'" she said.

So they applied in the spring, and about four to six weeks later, learned they had received the certification, which requires a $15 fee for registering (visit www.tpwd.state.tx.us/huntwild/ wildscapes/certification for details). The Gleghorns join more than 4,000 Texans in that achievement.

The couple also have received a harder-to-achieve certification, "Best of Texas Backyard Habitats," awarded through the National Wildlife Federation, Sue Gleghorn said. (There's a $30 certification fee for that program, she said.)

They will purchase the signs for each designation, she said. "The money is for a good cause," she added, and the signs might encourage more people to befriend wildlife and become good stewards of the planet.

Although the Gleghorn property is larger than a typical suburban lot, Sue Gleghorn said, homeowners in cities can still develop a wildscape and reap its pleasures.

"Find plants that attract butterflies instead of just ornamental flowers. Put out feeders with water sources, and you'll be surprised at what you attract. We feed black-oil sunflower seeds -- most birds like them -- in squirrel-proof feeders."

The Gleghorns, both members of the Brazos Valley Men's Garden Club, attract many butterflies with Turk's cap, butterfly weed, passion vine, Dutchman's pipe, crinum lilies, an orchid tree, columbine and dill that were pass-along plants acquired during the club's plant exchanges. Lantana given to the Gleghorns by a neighbor also attracts butterflies, and a sweet bay tree -- also from the club's plant exchange -- attracts bees.

Sue Gleghorn, 68, who started gardening after retiring from the College Station school district in 1999, believes that organic gardening practices, such as using no poisons, have helped the property become a sanctuary for many species. The Gleghorns especially enjoy screech owls, cardinals, bluebirds, Bob White quail and even two pheasants that they believe wandered over from a nearby property.

Kenneth Gleghorn, 71, comes from a gardening family and always has a vegetable garden. Gleghorn had to clear some land to ensure enough sunlight for raising vegetables, and he gives away surplus from his harvest, which thrived this spring.

"We're burning up right now. Earlier, I had a good corn crop, and I have watermelons and cantaloupes."

The secret for his vegetables and her flowers?

"We've built the soil with tons of compost," he said. "Your soil is like you: You need to feed it all the time." Gleghorn further enriches his soil with horse manure, which is higher in nitrogen and fiber than cattle manure, he said.

Gleghorn waters his garden, which is in raised beds to improve drainage, using "gray water" that's stored and then pumped after showers, washing-machine rinses, the dishwasher -- everything but sewage, he said. They are careful to use only non-phosphate detergents (phospates in detergents damage soil and water), he said.

The couple also harvest rainwater in a 1,550-gallon barrel that catches run-off from their roof. They further conserve water by keeping garden plants mulched at all times with hay and leaves.

One of Kenneth Gleghorn's endeavors was to build a bog pond at a low corner of their property. It's about 35 by 15 feet, in a kidney shape, and patterned after one that Joe Novak built at Texas A&M's Holistic Garden, Gleghorn said.

"I dug it with a tractor, 2 to 3 feet down," he said, and planted water lilies and other thirsty plants that were given to him.

"Wildlife come for the water, which is low right now [because of the drought], so I can see the tracks of box turtles and rabbits. I once surprised a deer there," he said. "We didn't put frogs there, but they're there. They found it somehow."

Raccoons, turtles and snakes feed on the frogs, "but there are always enough that survive to seed the pond," Gleghorn said.

So what do the Gleghorns hope to achieve next?

"We want more buterflies and birds," Sue Gleghorn said. "We'd like to have painted buntings. They're in a field next to us. We want more bluebirds, although they may want more open areas than we have."

--Mary Vinnedge is features editor of The Eagle. Her e-mail address is [email protected] theeagle.com.


--Texas Wildscape information: www.tpwd.state.tx.us/huntwild/wild/wildscapes/certification. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Web site gives how-to instructions that include creating your landscape plan, which starts with determining what types of wildlife you wish to attract; click on "Technical Guidance."

--Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife, a book by Noreen Damude and Kelly Conrad Bender (Texas Parks and Wildlife Press, about $25).

--Best of Texas Backyard Habitat (National Park Service designation): www.tpwd.state.tx.us/huntwild/wild/wildscapes/certification/best_of_tx.

--Texas A&M University Holistic Garden: http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/holisticgarden, which is behind the Horticulture and Forest Science Building on the West Campus.


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