Kay Charter, the inspiration behind Saving Birds Thru Habitat, says she’s not a gardener. That designation goes to her late husband Jimmy and to her grandmother, who raised both food and flowers.
Kay, who earned a history degree, is an advocate for birds and focuses on educating people in what they can do to help stem the bird population decline.
When Kay and her husband, a Northern Michigan native, moved to the Northport area from California in 1986. In 1990, they built a home in the woods on Grand Traverse Bay. There, as she planned gardens, “Native plants just felt right to me.” Together the couple created an interesting garden with walkways, a stream with a recirculating pump and a little bridge.
Several years later, Kay’s concern with the decline of the bird population became a priority. “I realized that taking habitat away from the birds was driving the decline. I was driven to do something about it and that’s still alive in me today,” she says. The result: they sold their home and bought 47 acres where they built a small home and began teaching people about habitat and the importance of it in songbird survival. While they didn’t start out to create a non-profit organization they eventually did, donating two and a half acres of their property to the cause. There they built a nature center and began to install native plant gardens; one was created by Four Seasons Nursery owner Brian Zimmerman.
She and Jimmy converted a fallow field on their own property into a native prairie. Jimmy spent much of his time removing non-native plantings - some– as Kay explains – no one saw as bad. Today Saving Birds Thru Habitat is a model for people who want to learn about reducing the loss of bird species and wonder what they can do about the problem.
On the day of the tour Omena resident Janet Dickerson will be on hand to help with plant identifications. Tour participants will be able to take a woodland walk, enjoy the property’s stream, waterfall and pond and view native wetland plants. An earth window graphically demonstrates the deep roots of native plants as far as four feet down.
For those who want to learn more either before or after the tour, Kay advises “Read Doug’s Book.” She’s referring to Doug Tallamy’s book Bringing Nature Home. “It gives you a greater understanding of the interrelationship between plants, insects, caterpillars and birds,” she says, “and provides the reader with a greater understanding of the importance of intact ecosystems. They perform in nature more effectively and efficiently.” For example: trillium requires ants to plant the seeds for more trillium. Ants take the seeds into their nest, eat the edible part and put the inedible parts in their compost piles. Copies of Tallamy’s book will be available for purchase on the day of the tour.
Another book Kay recommends is Noah’s Garden by Sarah Stine. A formal gardener who moved from New York City north and bought a parcel of land that she saw as a palette for her plants. Then she watched as the wildlife disappeared. “It’s really essential reading if you want to understand the connection,” Kay says. Copies of both books can be purchased at the end of this post if you’re unable to get to Saving Birds Thru Habitat.
Saving Birds Thru Habitat is located on Putnam Road, west of Omena. It will be one of eight gardens on the Northport Area Heritage Association’s fundraising tour on July 31. The tour, which runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., is $25. Students and children are free. Tickets are available at the Pennington Collection, Tamarack Gallery and the Northport Museum or they can be purchased the day of the tour at the various locations.
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