From Backyard Lot to Bird Haven

An Urban Gardener’s Story

Photo Credit Lisa Musgrave

How do you turn a tiny urban plot into a four-season habitat for birds?

Pam Karlson told us, in her virtual talk, “Birds in the Garden.”

Karlson is a certified professional gardener and garden designer.  

Today, Karlson’s yard is a haven for more than 100 species of birds, 200 species of plants, and hundreds of butterflies and pollinators.

But 25 years ago, it was just a weedy, unpromising patch of lawn, located  ½ mile north of the Kennedy Expressway, near an airport runway, a firehouse, and a hospital. 

She had not yet discovered that it was located on the Mississippi Flyway, a major migratory route.

At the time, a yard filled with birdsong seemed unimaginable.

But she imagined it anyway. 

She succeeded so remarkably that naturalist Douglas W. Tallamy featured her in his celebrated book, “Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard.” Karlson is a testament to what Tallamy calls “the power of urban lots.”

Karlson started with the basics —

Food, water, and shelter.

Which berries, blooms, and seeds entice the widest variety of birds?

Which water features should you add?

Which plants provide the best shelter?

She created a stream, a waterfall, and a pond; learned how to landscape in layers; and searched out plants that would thrive in her heavy clay soil.

Bit by bit, she created a bird-friendly habitat that proves that, no matter where you live, you can create a habitat in your yard.

With bird populations plummeting, it is incumbent upon us to do so.

In Karlson’s words, “Our native birds need all the help we can provide.”

The program was hosted by Go Green Northbrook, the Northbrook Garden Club, and the Northbrook Public Library.  For more information on plants, birds and further resources, click here

Alanna Gordon