When editor Catherine Johnson looks out the window at her 10-acre farm in Klein Lake, she sees a place of welcome for the creatures of the Coast. Her hanging bird feeders offer a buffet for birds. Her compost box has an open top for visiting ravens. Natural indigenous species flourish in her garden. As an avid naturalist, Johnson wanted to pass on her knowledge and interest in nature by advocating the type of environment that would attract birds, butterflies and small animals. She edited a draft manuscript by author Susan McDiarmid on the subject and was encouraged by publisher Hartley & Marks to develop the concepts into a general how-to book for North America, Welcoming Wildlife to the Garden: Creating Backyard & Balcony Habitats for Wildlife.
The package was enhanced by tapping into the talents of Edward Turner, graphic artist and woodworker, who drew up plans for 44 relatively simple construction projects including swallow nest boxes, bat nurseries and butterfly houses. The swallow nest box is one of Johnson's favourites; she enjoys watching the swallows swoop and the fledglings leave their nest. Some of the projects are simple enough for children to make at home, such as a hummingbird feeder cut from an old pop bottle. Recently, the book has been chosen by the American Independent Booksellers as their pick of the month, nationwide. The handsomely illustrated 246-page book is a gold mine that mixes ecologically sound advice with lyrical observations on nature. It also covers practical concerns such as what to do if a bird flies into the windowpane and balances this information with charming stories such as an account of the Gibsons couple who discovered an exotic hummingbird in their yard and immediately became host to birders from all over the world. A number of these stories are told in short sidebars along with extracts from a 1953 book by Edwin Way Teale, Circle of the Seasons, that Johnson cites as an influence on her life. "I've been reading it for 10 years; I read one passage a day," she says.
Johnson is actively involved as a director of the Ruby Lake Lagoon Society, a group that is promoting and fundraising for a nature interpretive centre. She has also worked with the Stickleback (a small fish) Recovery Program for Texada Island and has been involved with West Nile virus research for the Coast. Her environmental agenda is clear: "Traditional gardening often attempts to force order on the natural world," she writes. She advocates the habitat garden in which native plants rule the day and there's less lawn and more cover for animals to visit and nest. This is not only suitable for rural areas, she points out, and she spends several sections of the book on describing how urban nature lovers might build habitat on their apartment balconies or how they can develop greenways through their city neighbourhoods. Welcoming Wildlife to the Garden by Johnson, McDiarmid and Turner, is available from Hartley & Marks Publishers for $29.95.