Although the weather this month hasn’t always been seasonal, May is Garden for Wildlife Month. As summer finally approaches at the end of the month, however, it’ll soon be the perfect time to take a stroll along Lake Michigan—and the lush gardens that wrap around Shedd’s exterior. You won’t be the only visitor: If you look closely, you’ll notice that the carefully planted gardens surrounding Shedd serve as a welcome sign to birds and insects of all kinds.
Shedd’s gardens are sustainable and 100 percent organic, nurtured especially to attract wildlife. Ruby- and golden-crowned kinglets nibble on prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepsis), a native grass. Robins, cedar waxwings and gray catbirds usually beat us to the fruit on the serviceberry bush (Amelanchier). We planted black chokeberry (Aronia meloncarpa), the tart berries of which tempt the jays, and eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana), whose fruits draw thrushes and warblers.
Of course all these songbirds catch the eye of predators, and a Cooper’s hawk and a red-tailed hawk occasionally hunt in our gardens during the summer.
Thousands of insects have also set up house in our landscape, feeding swallows, warblers and other insectivores. They provide the added benefit of pollination and integrated pest management, which means the bugs we like eat the bugs we don’t like as well.
“Diversity in the landscape helps maintain a healthy balance among the species living there,” says Shedd horticulturist Christine Nye.
The rich avian diversity in our gardens is helped by our prime position along Lake Michigan and one of the major migratory flyways that stretch from North to South America. Our gardens provide an important rest stop for birds in transit and high-quality nesting habitat for both summer visitors and year-round residents.
You can create a similar sustainable resting spot for wildlife in your own backyard. In addition to the plants mentioned above, try one of our native milkweeds (Asclepias), which are available at many garden stores and nurseries. The fragrant orange flowers will not only please you—they’ll act like a magnet for pollinators—insects that eat harmful pests while helping to keep your garden lush and blooming. Milkweed is a favorite of many butterflies, including the monarch, which depends exclusively on milkweed as a place to lay eggs and as a source of food for the caterpillars.
Both butterflies and bees love the tall purple spikes of our native blazing stars (Liatris), which pair beautifully with milkweed flowers. And our native alliums—the onions that gave Chicago its name—have delicate pink, orb-shaped flowers that butterflies, like the monarch shown above, love, yet a tough constitution that lets it weather our city’s climate with ease.
—Mileva Brunson, marketing