With more than 30 years of gardening and farming under her belt, local resident Amy Williams said it’s impossible not see how delicate the ecosystem is in a garden, how it works together and how everything has a purpose.
“Even things we see as pests serve a purpose,” Williams said. “A few weeks ago I saw a tomato horn worm in the garden and at the same moment, a wasp swooped down and attacked and ate it. It was amazing.”
Her love for nature made the recent certification of her yard as a wildlife habitat with the National Wildlife Federation and Texas Conservation Alliance extra special.
Her yard, in the Langwood neighborhood just west of U.S. 290, also serves as an urban farm that William utilizes in making canned and pickled vegetables, jams, sauces and more, which she sells through her business Underhill Urban Farm Co.
According to the National Wildlife Federation, to be certified the area must have at least three food sources, which can be supplied by native plants, feeders, foliage or pollen. There must be at least one water source, like a stream or bird bath, two places of cover for animals to take shelter from bad weather, to hide or to hunt from, and two places for animals to raise their young, like mature trees, a thicket or a nesting box.
Lastly, to be certified, there must be at least two sustainable practices implemented, such as soil and water conservation or organic maintenance methods.
“Yes, you could technically have a bird bath and call it a water source but I wanted to make sure that what we had was actually sustainable and could support not only life, but the lifecycle of wildlife,” Williams said. “So, we put in a pond and it now serves as a water source for birds and insects, including our bees, and an environment where toads breed and tadpoles are raised.”
Williams grows milkweed for monarch butterflies and dill and parsley for swallowtails. In the last year, she’s been focusing on increasing native plants and has tripled the amount of pollinator plants. Her garden also features feeders, bird and butterfly houses and a fire bush that the pollinators and hummingbirds enjoy.
“Each year we see an increase in birds nesting and are frequent guests at Texas Wildlife Rehabilitation facility with displaced fledglings,” Williams said. “We have become the ones to call when that happens.”
To produce Underhill Farm Co.’s blackberry vanilla Jam, Williams planted blackberries a few years ago that have since spread, which increased production, meaning she doesn’t mind sharing with the birds.
“I just giggle when I see the birds swipe a few," Williams said. "I’m happy to share."
Her garden is grown organically, she said, and pesticide-free as well.
Williams said certification helps raise awareness and will hopefully inspire others to make a difference, no matter how small, in addressing the issues leading to declining habitat for wildlife.
While her flock of chickens, potbelly pig, beehive, numerous cats and dogs, and the visiting birds and occasional opossum weren’t included in the certification, all of the effort Williams has made benefits them.
This fall, Williams also plans to release a book that will include recipes and tips on gardening and supporting wildlife.
“I think for the most part, I feel like what is good for nature is good for us,” she said.
A few tips
Williams said the easiest thing someone can do to support the wildlife in their own backyard is to avoid pesticides.
“There are lots of organic options that work just as well, if not better, and they will not harm you or wildlife. Just swap it out,” Williams said.
She also said for those who like planting flowers in the spring to opt for ones that will attract pollinators and feed them after the winter, like sunflowers, zinnias and coneflower, or to use a wildflower or pollinator seed mix. For people who prefer to plant herbs, she suggests African blue basil, bee balm, borage, lavender, Anise Hyssop, parsley and dill.
“The easiest thing to do is not rake the leaves in the fall,” Williams said. “It can provide nesting material for birds, caterpillars can overwinter in the leaves, and birds and toads use it for food and shelter and nesting material. Also it makes a great mulch compost fertilizer.”