Add a Mini Nature Center to Your Wildlife Habitat Yard
Updated: Apr 27
OR How I created the Homestead Nature Center with a little help from my family
As restorative as my naturescaped yard is for the ecosystem, there is only so much I can do to nurture nature in my small semi-urban .2 of an acre property, particularly when all the yards around me look like they did in the 60s (grass lawn, bushes trimmed into hedges, intentionally planted invasives like liriope and English ivy etc.). Add the pesticide, chem green, ridder critter, and mow & blow crew trucks rolling through my streets from sunrise to sunset and I imagine it must be a tough life for the wildlife in my neighborhood!
I started thinking about ways I could give out informational flyers and maybe even native plants to people who were open to having a healthier yard. Doug Tallamy suggests turning our yards into a national park to make a habitat pathway for wildlife. If our yards are each a national park, then why not have a mini nature center at the edge of my yard, just like you would find at the entrance to a park!
I looked online and I found the outdoor brochure boxes like real-estate agents use and outdoor message centers like you might find at a park, but these were not exactly what I envisioned for a small yard resource station. The solution was using a pre-made book box as my nature center.
For my birthday my family helped make the idea a reality and gave me a new eco-friendly box (made from recycled milk jugs). My husband installed the box and cut and painted new shelves to I could put a few different informational flyers on them.
We had some lively family brainstorming sessions to come up with the perfect name: Homestead Nature Center. I love it because of the layered meaning; we live on Homestead Avenue and the idea of a nature center with a name that also means the house and land around it fits perfectly into the idea of local conservation starting in your own yard. My daughter ordered custom-made tags for the nature center from a personalized gift shop on Etsy.
I made informational signage and laminated them to place on all sides of the nature center.
I have a shelf for small pots of an easy-to-grow native plant. My intention is to put a different plant in it every month or maybe little native plant seed packets in the winter. My native plant choice this month is wild strawberry (fragaria virginiana).
I made a flyer about the free plant (native wild strawberry) for adults:
I made a flyer about the free plant (native wild strawberry) for kids:
I made a flyer called Preserving Nature Locally: Basic Ways to Make a Yard Healthier For People, Pets, and Nature. Hopefully if education creates change then this will move the needle a bit towards people realizing they can be better stewards of the environment starting in their own yard.
I can switch out the informational flyers. I have a long list of ideas for future flyers including: butterflies need both flowers and host plants, the dos and don't of attracting hummingbirds to your yard, how to protect our native bees, what birds need to survive in your yard, make your yard a firefly nursery, nature-friendly lighting solutions, why native plants are so important, add your yard to the pollinator pathway, and insect-friendly mosquito control (such as Biogents). I added labels to the plants to give them a better chance of success in their new homes.
I’m sure I’ll need to problem-solve and evolve my idea of the nature center as time goes on. For example, I didn’t anticipate the condensation that is forming on the windows of the nature center from the plants I'm giving away. My husband is going to drill a few unobtrusive holes on all three sides of the nature center right under the roof to let some air in without letting the elements in. Hopefully that will do the trick.
I was so excited to share my nature center with my first "customer", a bright inquisitive young guy who walks by my house all the time with his family and was happy to test-drive the process for me and maybe give me some feedback next time I see him. I hope there will be many more adults and kids who also stop by. Now I just need to get the word out that my mini nature center exists!