Sue Gallinger’s garden is the opposite of formal. A walk around her one-acre lot takes in lawns, trees, and flowerbeds — some quite manicured, others an unruly assortment of wildflowers and bee- and butterfly-friendly plants that many would consider weeds (think milkweed, goldenrod, nettles). There are birdhouses, a feeder here and there, and a tiny pond. “It’s always a work-in-progress,” says Gallinger, who credits her love of nature to a youth spent roaming in the fields near Stony Mountain, Manitoba.
Her husband, Mike Gallinger, is with the military, which has meant many moves over the years, but that never stopped the avid gardener from nurturing a garden at each stop along the way. For the past nine years, the couple has been based in Ottawa, giving Sue the opportunity to work on a longer-term garden.
In 2015, she set up Wildlife-friendly Yards and Gardens, a Facebook group designed to keep friends and family in the loop as she turned her Limoges-area garden into a wildlife haven. The page quickly morphed into a much larger concern. Sue now manages a group that sees more than 200 members — both newbies and experts — sharing gardening ideas and inspiration.
What prompted you to launch the site?
I was really inspired by an American professor by the name of Doug Tallamy and his book Bringing Nature Home. Essentially, he talks about the importance of planting native species to make a welcoming environment for wildlife. I really wanted to raise awareness and hoped my website could play a small part in getting others to think about what changes they could make to their own gardens.
You’re not evangelical, though. No pressure.
I like to think that every little bit helps. So even if this Facebook page motivates just one person to put in a bird bath or plant a native tree, that will make a huge difference. One oak tree, for example, is home to over 500 species of insects — and then there are all the birds and mammals that use it.
What types of things do members post?
Members love to share pictures. Often they just post shots of things they’ve seen in their yards. We also share questions and ideas and interesting articles, as well as pictures of plants or bugs we’d like help identifying.
You have over 200 members and counting. Do you have a sense of who they are?
It started off with a few of my friends and family and has spiralled from there. Someone shared it with the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club, and that brought in a lot of members. What’s interesting to me is that I assumed that everyone joining would be an amateur like me, but there are also a lot of experts who like to share and comment — ecologists and biologists, people with PhDs in related fields. It’s a fascinating group of people. They have a wide range of experience but share a passion.
Is that intimidating?
A bit! I post a lot of pictures of my own garden and what I’m doing, so I sometimes wonder if the experts enjoy studying my experiences and errors through a microscope. For me, this site is about learning — if I make mistakes, I want to be corrected.
But it’s fun, right?
Oh, definitely. I love gardening anyway, but running this Facebook group gives me even more of a sense of purpose — I’m in the fresh air and enjoying my garden, but now I remember to take more photos and jot down interesting observations. I love being a part of what I believe is a burgeoning movement to make gardens more natural.
Has the site changed significantly in the two years since you launched?
At the beginning, most of the posts were by me and about my garden, but as the site has grown in membership, there has been a flurry of activity from others. It’s amazing to see what others are doing — I see their problems and solutions and think about how I can apply their experiences to make my own garden more wildlife-friendly.
What’s your reward?
Having someone tell me that my site has changed the way they think about gardening. People want to see birds and butterflies and bugs in their gardens — they want their kids to see nature in their backyards. When I hear that someone has learned something from my site, that something on the site has compelled them to change how they’re gardening in order to support nature,
I feel great.