We deeply appreciate all those that came before us and taught us to embrace and respect the land, water and wildlife.
Come explore the Great Bay Community Wildlife Garden! This beautiful demonstration garden is a place where everyone is invited to relax and get inspired to make their yards more wildlife friendly. This page explains the garden’s design so you can find a few ideas for your own yard or window box.
Address: 80 College Road, Stratham. Visitors can park at the Chapman’s Landing boat launch and follow the footpath into the wooded garden. All are welcome to visit this public garden, but dogs should be on a leash.
The Story of this Site
Once part of the Wiggin family land, this 2-acre parcel had a two bedroom ranch house, garage and shed when NH Fish and Game purchased it in 2001. Over several years, the buildings were removed, invasive plants were contained, and the Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve developed the Community Wildlife Garden. A team of landscape design students at UNH contributed to the design and several local firms volunteered their time to fine tune plans, survey the site and create the pond and fencing (see list of contributors at the end).
As You Walk the Garden, Notice…
Pollinator and Butterfly Gardens: Throughout the garden, we are growing native plants that flower at different times of the year and attract different pollinators, including bees, butterflies and birds. Our pollinators especially like Joe Pye Weed, Garden Phlox, Bee Balm, Ironweed, and Goatsbeard.
A Water Friendly Entrance: As you walk down the entrance footpath, you’ll see a brackish wetland area to your left that drains into the large salt marsh beyond. Throughout this garden, you can find landscaping ideas that support wildlife and protect water quality. For example, using gravel rather than asphalt on the walkway allows rain to soak into the ground, and the sumac trees along the steep embankment keep the soil from eroding and sliding down into the wetland. The sumac is also great for wildlife – caterpillars feed on sumac leaves and flowers, and birds come in droves to munch on the caterpillars.
Hard and Soft Mast: Food is often the first thing to draw wildlife into our yards. To provide a diversity of food, we have planted both “soft mast” plants, such as blueberry, dogwood and spicebush that produce berries which attract birds, as well as “hard mast trees” that produce nuts that are sought after by squirrels and chipmunks.
Green Gardening Shed: Our tool shed has solar panels on the roof that power a water pump for our pond. Gutters drain to a rain barrel and rain garden, helping protect water quality.
Living Fence: Along the property line, a living fence includes vines and discs of wood, which, in addition to adding an interesting architectural element, also support insects.
Water: Water is an incredible draw for wildlife of all kinds. If you look closely at this constructed pond, you will find bullfrog tadpoles and dragonflies. The rim of the pond has a gentle slope and fallen trees, which help turtles climb in and out of the pond. Some sections are more than four feet deep, which means that even in the coldest winter months, there is unfrozen water at the bottom where frogs and turtles can survive the winter. Native aquatic plants like blue flag irises and pickerel weed add beauty and attract pollinators. A solar powered pump bubbles water in the pond, which deters mosquitoes from breeding here.
Post and Beam Arbor: In the center of the garden is an arbor that was built to match the dimensions of Thoreau’s cabin on Walden Pond. Even the flower bed under the arbor is the same size as Thoreau’s bed. The timbers were reclaimed from four NH buildings, including a 1771 building in Portsmouth – which means the timbers are older than America!
Phenology Garden: Around the arbor, we’ve created a “phenology” garden, which is a place where scientists and volunteers routinely record the timing of ecological events, such as when different flowers bloom. Thoreau’s writings documented the timing of key seasonal changes, for example when robins returned or lilacs bloomed, and now, over 150 years later, we are noticing that the timing of their life cycles are changing. Over the last three decades in NH, winter weather in New Hampshire has decreased by three weeks, which affects the emergence of flowers, leaves and insects and is enabling more ticks to survive the winter.
Dry Stone Wall: This wall is considered “dry” because there is no cement holding the rocks together, which is good for wildlife. Chipmunks and small mammals can find safety within the rock crevices. Garter snakes, which help control mice population, like to hide in the rock wall while they shed their skin.
Fern Forest: Volunteers have worked hard to clear invasive bushes such as honeysuckle, black swallowwort, and buckthorn from the understory, leaving space for ferns, trillium, bloodroot and jack in the pulpit to flourish.
Standing Dead Tree or Snag: We have left dead trees standing because they provide nesting and foraging sites for birds. For example, woodpeckers find ample insects to eat in wood that is starting to decay, tree cavities are sought after nesting spots, and hawks prefer the unobstructed view from leafless limbs when hunting. Larger dead trees may even be home to a porcupine or owl.
Viewing Platform: Follow the path out to a viewing platform overlooking the salt marsh. Saltwater from the Atlantic Ocean travels 20 miles through the Great Bay estuary to reach this marsh. Twice a day, the tides rise and fall by 9 feet here, flooding the marsh with vital nutrients and sediment. Early settlers harvested salt marsh hay here and today the marsh provides critical habitat for numerous bird species. As seas rise, we expect this marsh will slowly migrate inland. Protecting a buffer around wetlands, like this garden property, protects water quality and also gives wetlands the space they need to adapt to a changing climate.
Compost and Brush Pile: As you walk along the wooded path, you’ll see we have created compost piles and brush piles to allow plant material to decompose on site. These piles also provide a safe place for rabbits and other small animals to hide. A varied landscape, with open and shaded, wet and dry areas, attracts a diversity of wildlife.
Gardening for Wildlife Tips
There are many ways to make even small gardens more enticing to wildlife.
- Food: Choose native plants that produce flowers, seeds and berries.
- Shelter and a Place to Raise Young: Diversify the features and structures in your yard. Trees, shrubs, fallen trees, rocks, and brush piles provide protection for wildlife. If you have a large lawn, consider making a no mow lawn area or creating a new garden bed.
- Water: Avoid or minimize the use of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides to protect water quality on and off your yard. Consider adding a low bird path or a pond to your yard.
To learn more, visit:
The Great Bay Community Wildlife Garden – on Facebook
Plant with a Purpose – National Wildlife Federation
Creating a Backyard Wildlife Habitat – NH Fish and Game
Contributors – Putting the “Community” in Wildlife Garden
Many volunteers and organizations have contributed to this garden, including: Great Bay Stewards, Natural Resource Conservation Service, NH Fish and Game Department, NH Charitable Foundation, NH Department of Agriculture, UNH Cooperative Extension Natural Resource Stewards, UNH Master Gardeners, Robbi Woodburn from Woodburn & Company, Doucet Survey Inc, West Environmental, C G H Excavation, Chester Hollow Water Gardens, John Hart from UNH, The Timberland Company, Somersworth Youth Connection, Americops NCCC, Rockingham County Conservation District, Rolling Green Nursery, the Urban Forestry Center, Strafford County Conservation District, Baker Newman Noyes, Calypso Agency, Revision Energy, Berwick Academy’s Environmental Science Club, Griffin Gardens, Lorax Landscaping, NH State Nursery, Dover High School Alternative Program, Scamman’s Home and Garden Center, UNH Thompson School students, UNH PROVES.