Two decades ago, Harford County was a rural farming community, far removed from metropolitan Baltimore. Bel Air, the county seat, was a sleepy town, surrounded by mid-sized farms and dense stands of hardwood trees. Until a few years ago, a small herd of dairy cows could be seen grazing on a farm a few hundred yards from busy Harford Mall.
That farm is now a huge shopping center. A few miles away, on new Route 24, thousands of homes, condos and apartments cover land previously inhabited by whitetail deer, ring-neck pheasant, gray squirrel, bobwhite quail, fox, raccoon, opossum and nearly 50 species of birds.
This is not an isolated incident. Large tracts of land throughout the county are being purchased for residential development, forcing wildlife into smaller areas that in some instances, are incapable of providing birds and animals with suitable habitat to ensure their survival.
Although a few fast-growing trees have been planted in some residential development areas, other than squares of manicured grass, most of the land is still devoid of vegetation. A few resourceful homeowners, however, landscaped their small parcels by planting seedlings supplied by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Forestry Division. These individuals established miniature wildlife preserves in their back yards.
First and foremost, establishing a backyard wildlife preserve doesn't require a huge tract of land. A relatively small parcel, just 50 x 125 feet, is more than adequate to attract, feed and support a variety of small mammals, amphibians and birds. All that's required are a few plants and a detailed landscaping plan.
Last year, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources handed out free pine tree seedlings to more than 10,000 people attending the Maryland Home and Flower Show, an event held every March at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium. This year's theme is "The World Around Us" and showcases more than 175,000 square feet of home and garden exhibits.
The north hall of the Cow Palace is where homeowners will find several spectacular gardens landscaped for both beauty and wildlife. It's like walking through an indoor forest, surrounded by dense foliage, low-growing evergreens, a variety of flowering plants and cascading waterfalls. Winding brick and stone pathways lead visitors through a maze of landscape designs that can be adapted easily to their own back yard and all are conducive to supporting various forms of wildlife.
A small rock garden planted with native, woodland wildflowers can easily be established in a partially shaded area of lawn. This can contain a variety of plants such as violets, butterfly weed, American columbine, bluebells, fireweed, common milkweed, sweet william, cardinal flower and turk's cap lily. These plants attract butterflies, moths, hummingbirds and orioles and only takes up a space measuring 8 x 12 feet.
A border of trees, including white dogwood, pin oak, hickory, mountain ash and mulberry provides an variety of nuts and berries to feed squirrels, chipmunks and in developments bordering farmlands whitetail deer. In an open area adjacent to the rock garden, a small pond can be constructed by digging a hole and installing a relatively inexpensive plastic liner and filling it with water. Potted water plants, such as water lily, produce beautiful flowers throughout the summer while providing habitat for frogs, salamanders and water turtles, while also providing a source of water for birds and mammals.
If your yard is fenced in, plant trumpet vine, bush honeysuckle or flowering clematis along the fence, which not only hides an ugly chain link fence, but also provides a source of food for butterflies and various song birds.
The time to plan your backyard preserve is now. Spend a day at the Home and Flower Show, talk with DNR foresters, wildlife biologists and local landscapers about ways to landscape for wildlife. It's one of the few home project you'll learn to love.
This year's Home and Flower Show will be held March 10-14, admission is $7 for adults, $5.50 for seniors and $2 for children under 12. Advance discount tickets are available at all First National Bank of Maryland locations.