Home sweet home — for the birds and the bees too

Kris Dreessen

Sharyan Yerger let her grass grow because she likes fireflies and wanted to attract them. Her back lawn soon became a wild meadow. In the second year, she woke up one night, looked out her window and saw hundreds of yellow flickering lights.

“It’s an electric light show back there,” says Yerger, smiling and surveying the knee-high grass that dominates the western yard where the insects congregate. “My neighbors come with beer for the show.”

Neighborhood kids also stop to see how the tadpoles are faring. Each spring, water collects in her pool cover; frogs and toads like to lay their eggs in the tiny pond. Instead of tossing it all when she opens the in-ground, she transfers the water into a large plastic tub — a kiddie pool for the ‘poles.

She and the kids watch the eggs transform into full-size amphibians. Yerger even weights a wooden plank so they can hop on out to dry land when the time comes.

“It’s really fun,” she says of the tadpoles. “There’s hundreds. Hundreds. There’s so many.”

Her Clover Hills Drive home is a stone’s throw from busy Monroe Avenue in bustling Pittsford suburbia, but on less than two acres of land, Yerger has created an Eden of wildflowers, native plants, trees and shrubs for herself — and creatures great and small.

She doesn’t use pesticides, composts her own leaves and food for rich soil and lets nature run its course, with her at the reins — pruning, weeding and planting where she likes. In return, butterflies visit often, deer bed down in the backyard and a friendly robin comes running every time she unearths worms. Sometimes, there’s so many finches in her towering spruce that the tree looks full of little lemons.

We can do it too, she says.

The Genesee Land Trust wants to show aspiring gardeners, wildlife lovers and the green-minded how to do the same at their own properties, just as elaborately or in just a few simple steps. The nonprofit organization is hosting a Backyard Habitat Tour on Saturday, June 21, highlighting property owners who are making their lawns comely, so wildlife will come.

It’s a fundraiser for the organization, which protects 3,000 acres of land in the Greater Rochester region for preserves and conservation easements, in which landowners retain their rights but agree not to develop the land. The trust has preserves in Greece, Chili, Macedon, Penfield and Grosnell Big Woods in Webster, as well as a 115-acre organic farm in Wayne County. It has easements in a handful of Monroe County towns, including Mendon, Pittsford and Webster.

Sharyan’s yard is one of six featured on the tour in Pittsford, Brighton and Penfield. She and other owners will be on hand to talk about what they’ve done and offer tips as visitors stroll alongside blooms, buds and shrubs.

Gardeners have a visceral connection to their land, and when they spend time on their knees with their hands in the dirt, they are making a difference, says Margaret Potter, assistant director of the land trust. The tour, she says, is an extension of the trust’s mission to protect open space, natural habitat and farm land that are being diminished.

The idea is that each person can make a difference in their own way. The tour helps them discover how to do so.

Featured owner Carol Southby, of Penfield, recycles many things for use in her garden and has an advanced science degree. She’s also president of the Rochester Butterfly Club.

“Their garden alone is worth the ticket price,” says Potter, “because she teaches so much.”

Penfield gardener Georgena Terry has created a wooded trail to a 25-acre meadow, where visitors can see bobolinks. She actually rents the land from its owner to keep it wild; from the summit, it’s a clear view of the last open space of in Penfield.

“It’s the ultimate lesson in caring for the environment and natural habitats,” says Potter.

She characterizes Yerger as “very Mother Earth.”

Indeed, when Yerger moved in with her family and husband, Bruce Kleene, they actually “de-developed.” They replaced the tennis court with a nice side yard and a tree from the redwood family that they bought as a $5 seedling. It now stretches 10 feet to the sky. They ripped out some of the giant paved driveway to create a small walkway garden with flowers and shrubs.

Feeders welcome her feathered friends to the front yard and she’s pretty sure a fox has moved in under that lemony spruce. Swallowtails are already making their summer appearances, and in a few months, she’ll savor peppers, lettuce and other veggies, which she grows in the fenced-in pool area. The  fence deters the hungry deer. Bloodmeal — a dried concoction of well, blood — helps curb deer appetite for her tulips and other blooms.

Creating habitat can be small, or big, says Yerger. Plant one buddleia bush and some butterflies will come. Hang a bird feeder.

“Everybody does yard clean up. When you do yard clean up, you can find a place to compost leaves and put some sticks in the leaf pile. Some critters, that’s all they need,” she says. “Just decide to do one thing ... there are a million little things to do.”

Contact Kris Dreessen at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 253, or at kdreessen@messengerpostmedia.com.