Gardening is an
addiction — the more you fail and succeed, the more passionate you
become about plants and the wildlife that comes with them.
First, you have
one camellia, and then you have two or three.
First, you have
one birdhouse, and then you have several. Birdfeeders come next.
That is how it’s
been at the Menke house in southeastern Virginia, where Mathilde’s
passion for the outdoors has turned her 43-year-old yard into a
work never ends," says Mathilde.
always something that needs to be done."
"something" chores add up to year-round beauty.
Virginia bluebells, tulips and peonies bloom and beehives wake up. An
azalea garden flowers with red, white, pink and orange blossoms. A
40-year-old lilac bush is still there, going strong in spite of the
heat and humidity that often plagues vigor.
In summer, it’s
the 100 or more Eastern black swallowtail eggs Mathilde and husband
Hans save before birds get them, and later release as beautiful
butterflies. Lavender, salvias and milkweeds are also there for the
benefit of other butterfly species.
In fall, asters,
goldenrod and zinnias continue the colorful show and wildlife
hollies, camellias and hellebores brighten the cold days.
easy to pick three favorite plants for each season from the nearly 200
plants I care for in our backyard habitat," says Mathilde, when
asked to name them.
"All my ‘dirt
babies’ are special and thrill me."
To maintain the
garden as a wildlife habitat certified through the National Wildlife
Federation, Mathilde planted dozens of common milkweeds, as well as
swamp and whorled milkweeds.
case, more is better," says Hans.
past two years, we saved more than 50 monarch eggs, cared for them to
make it through caterpillar stage and then released the emerged
for a successful season this year, and will add tagging to our program
as a certified Monarch Waystation."
waters, feeds fish in the pond, lays out plans for new plants, removes
old growth as needed, Hans helps in other ways. He makes and maintains
garden structures, including three copper tubing arbors for roses and
purple hyacinth bean. He lays out pathways and borders them with
recycled wood planks.
importantly, he photographs their garden in all its trials and
tribulations, including the trees that were downed and removed after
Hurricane Isabel in 2003.
cut the last pine tree that survived, we left about 18 feet standing
to provide a place for woodpeckers and hung a bat house on it,"
removal increased the sun exposure, and we were able to add a
vegetable garden plot for parsley, strawberries, cucumbers and a
variety of herbs to flourish."
Even though both
are in their 70s, the couple has not stopped doing what they love
doing in their garden. They just do it slowly and methodically.
doing it together and pace our daily tasks so the garden remains a joy
and not a chore," says Hans.
recognize that even with limitations placed upon us with advancing age
and health issues, gardening can be and is part of the therapy to
Learn how to get
your garden certified as a wildlife habitat through the National
Wildlife Federation at www.nwf.org and as a Monarch Waystation at
10 MENKE MOMENTS
— More than 20
different kinds of birds feed, nest and visit the garden, according to
occasionally raid the couple’s 12 birdfeeders.
— They turn
lavender stems into fragrant sachets and bundles to give to friends or
stash in drawers; bees love lavender, and deer avoid it.
— Lady Jane
and Cynthia tulips come back every year, and multiply for a
"glorious mass of early color."
— The mauve
flowers of common milkweed come with an added bonus — a strong old
rose fragrance, and a "food not on any deer menu."
Zahara start flowering in summer, and really shine in fall.
Butterflies and bees adore the low-growing flower, and deer leave them
Virginia bluebells produces pink buds that turn "the most
— A beekeeper’s
hive resides in their yard as part of their effort to help vanishing
— They created
a pond framed with goldenrod, lavender and daylilies; an adjacent bog
that helps biologically filter pond water is home to native plants
such as pitcher plants.
— Salvias in
all shades of blue, lavender and purple "keep going and
going," providing food for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.
Black and Blue salvia is one of their favorites.