Roger and Barbara Falk love their backyard.
In fact, it’s one of the main reasons that they bought the home in Spirit Lake when they moved to the area 14 years ago.
“When I was growing up, we would vacation here. I was born in Jackson, MN, and once we got married and had kids we would come here on vacation,” Roger said. “When we were looking to retire, it was one of our top places.”
They lived and worked for many years in Illinois, and it was one of their shared interests in that state that helped them pinpoint the Spirit Lake home as the perfect one for them.
“Really what we loved is that the previous owner had nicely
landscaped this yard,” Roger said. “We knew that we wanted to add native plants and pollinators even when we bought it.”
Barbara volunteered with the Nachusa Grasslands, a 3,800-acre preserve that consists of large remnant prairie, woodlands and wetlands which is being reconnected through habitat restoration.
“He started coming with me and it sparked his curiosity,” Barbara said. “We came here with a little bit of knowledge of knowing we wanted to plant some native prairie plants that are native within a 50-mile radius and we went from there.”
After doing more research and talking with some like minded people, the Falks started introducing native plants to their own garden in 2006. They didn’t start with a blank canvas, but instead chose to work their native plants in with their existing cultivar plants, which are plants that are cultivated plants — not native plants.
“You have to be careful when selecting plants to make sure they are native and not cultivars of the same variety,” Barbara said. “I’m not saying to not plant cultivars. I do that. I grow some of them and I just mix them together.”
Their garden space now includes everything from lilies to blazing star and milkweed. They also grow native yarrow, compass plant, indigo bush, foxglove beardtongue, ironweed, wild sage and wild garlic to name just a few.
Planting natives requires patience.
“It can take some varieties two to five years before anything grows so you have to be patient, which can be tough,” Roger said.
Together the native plants and the cultivars create a pleasing outdoor space that is enjoyed by humans as well as animals.
Their garden has been named a Certified Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Foundation. To be a Certified Wildlife Habitat you must create a space that provides food, water, cover, places to raise young and show these to be sustainable practices.
The Falks enjoy watching the myriad wildlife that comes through their yard including a large variety of birds, deer, rabbits and more. They’ve seen a number of pollinators as well from monarch butterflies to bumblebees, honeybees, wasps and more.
“We do it for the wildlife — all the wildlife from the insects to the deer. We don’t just do it for pollinators,” Barbara said.
“Owning a wildlife habitat is fun. It keeps an old man busy,” Roger said. “It keeps me busy and we absolutely love the wildlife that we get to see,” Roger said.
It’s a passion that has grown year-to-year. And it’s a passion that they share with others through their work with the Dickinson County Nature Center and leading the Coffee and Grounds group at Iowa Lakeside Laboratory.
If people are interested in adding some native plants to their own gardens then the Falks have some tips: Check out field guidebooks and speak with experts.
Adding native plants that attract wildlife is something they would love to see more people doing.
“People don’t need to go crazy and start their whole gardens over from scratch. They can just start small,” Barbara said. “We both really enjoy and love the Lakes. We want the water to be clean and we feel like our little spot is doing its part to help enhance the Lakes overall. It’s for everyone to enjoy, not just us.”