Savannah Botanical Blog

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How to Turn Your Backyard into A Private Wildlife Sanctuary


July 8, 2020

Lorena Romo

From honeybees to beautiful birds, it’s easy to make changes to your backyard that will attract wildlife. Our guide explains how you can transform your backyard and turn it into your very own wildlife sanctuary.

Wildlife plays a vital role in securing a healthy environment, whether it’s insects, birds, or mammals. With more humans encroaching on the planet than ever before, it’s so important now to make sure that each one of us does our part to preserve the wildlife in our environment and our communities. A healthy wildlife population ensures healthier plants, cleaner air, and a better balance in nature overall. If you appreciate nature and want to encourage more wildlife activity in your own backyard, there are several things you can do to attract animals and insects alike. Read on for some helpful tips you can use to preserve and promote healthy wildlife right where you live.

The Benefits of Creating Your Own Wildlife Sanctuary

Spending time outdoors can make you feel at ease, reduce stress, and give you time to clear your mind. When you create your own wildlife sanctuary, you’ll also get to enjoy the sights and sounds of mother nature in your own backyard. From singing birds to buzzing bees and scampering squirrels, wildlife is fun to watch and also brings about feelings of harmony and calm. By making a few changes to your backyard, you can become a part of the nature that surrounds you. You’ll also feel good knowing that you’re contributing to a healthy environment while encouraging pollinators, birds, and other creatures to thrive.

Creating a DIY wildlife sanctuary in your backyard is also a wonderful way to educate your children. This hands-on learning experience will spark the imagination and encourage your kids to want to learn more about science, animals, and the environment as a whole. As you bring in more plants and flowers, you’re also contributing to cleaner air and a better world. 

DIY Wildlife Sanctuary: How to Attract Wildlife

No matter where you live or the size of your backyard, it’s easy to attract specific species to your sanctuary. Remember to be patient when attempting to introduce new insects and animals to your backyard. It takes a little bit of patience and ingenuity, but eventually, your backyard will start to buzz with the activity of new creatures making it their home.


Bees are some of the world’s most important pollinators, so it’s always good to encourage them to thrive. Plant a few native wildflowers and other attractants that will lure bees to your garden or landscape. Look for flowers that will thrive in your specific region and plant them in the backyard to attract bees and promote healthy pollination.

  • Bee Fountain: A bee fountain (or bee bath) is a wonderful way to encourage bees to thrive in your yard. This small fountain provides water to bees to keep them cool, feed their babies, dilute honey, and aid with healthy digestion. Take a shallow dish and place it on top of an inverted pot. Place river rocks at the bottom so the bees won’t drown, then fill it with fresh water somewhere in your garden.
  • Bee Hotel: This “insect hotel” is designed to attract solitary bees so they have a place to lay their eggs. Bee hotels include several cavities or holes all placed inside a single structure. You can make a bee hotel yourself using a wooden frame with hollow stems or empty bamboo canes placed inside These bee hotels are also available at many garden stores.


With their fluffy tails and charming mannerisms, squirrels are a fun addition to any backyard wildlife sanctuary. These little animals are easy to entice, and they’ll provide you with tons of entertainment and an enjoyable environment.

  • Nut Bowl: Squirrels love nuts, so fill up a tray with a selection of sunflower seeds, unroasted peanuts, and corn kernels. Keep your squirrel nut bowl away from bird feeders so that the squirrels will enjoy their meal without disturbing your feathered friends.
  • Squirrel Baffle: If you really want to enjoy your backyard wildlife sanctuary, add a squirrel baffle to the mix. These hanging contraptions give the squirrels a place to exercise, jump, and play. Squirrel baffles can feature a cone shape that wraps around your bird feeder pole, or they can be a cylinder that you attach to the pole to keep the squirrels away. Hanging baffles with a dome shape is the best option to enjoy the squirrel’s shenanigans.


The type of birds you attract to your backyard will depend on your region and climate. However, most birds respond favorably to anywhere they can enjoy a bath, a safe place to nest, and some food.

  • Birdhouses and/or Nesting Boxes: A birdhouse or nesting box provides native birds with a safe place to rest, lay eggs, and raise their young. Most birds prefer their nests to be in a hidden area, so place your birdhouse on a tree among lots of branches. Extra foliage will give the birds the privacy they need and keep them safe from predators.
  • Birdbath: It’s easy to attract birds by adding a simple birdbath to your backyard. This addition is especially helpful to birds during the hotter months of spring and summer. Make sure your birdbath is constantly full of clean water and change it often. Put gravel in the bottom of the birdbath so they can maintain their footing and place it near a shady area so the water doesn’t get too hot.


These tiny birds are one of nature’s most fascinating creatures. You can lure hummingbirds to your backyard by providing them with an extra boost of energy in the form of delicious nectar. Hummingbirds migrate, but they stop in specific areas for a set period of time to feed before moving onto their destination.

  • Nectar (Hummingbird feeders): Your hummingbird feeder should be presented in bright colors that resemble a flower, such as yellow, red, purple, or pink. To feed your hummingbirds, fill the reservoir with homemade nectar and avoid store-bought nectars, particularly the red-colored type since it’s actually dangerous to hummingbirds. Mix one cup of white granulated sugar with four cups of water and stir it thoroughly till fully dissolved. Hang your feeder from a tree branch or on your back porch and enjoy watching these tiny birds hover, squeak, and feed.


Butterflies are some of nature’s most beautiful insects. Their colorful wings add beauty to your backyard, and they also serve an important purpose as pollinators for plants and flowers.

  • Butterfly Garden: The best way to attract butterflies is to plant a variety of flowers they enjoy. Make sure you plant a diverse mixture of flowers to encourage several different types of butterflies to visit. Plant flowers in a myriad of colors, shapes, and sizes and rotate your flowers to grow throughout all four seasons. Use shrubs or trees to protect butterflies from the wind so they can pollinate your garden in peace.
  • Caterpillars: You can also welcome caterpillars to your backyard, which are basically baby butterflies. These little crawling insects need a host plant where the larvae can feed. Research which caterpillar host plants will thrive in your area and include them in your butterfly garden so you can watch the metamorphosis take place.

Other Wildlife

Besides honeybees, butterflies, birds, and squirrels, you can do some things to attract other wildlife species, too. First, mimic or recreate the natural environment that animals are used to by minimizing excess clutter in your yard. Look for native plants and only use them in your garden or backyard. Wildlife knows which plants, trees, and flowers belong where they live and which ones do not. If you provide a source of water and food, it’s almost a guarantee that wildlife will come. Just make sure that you’re not encouraging animals to visit if you live in an area with a lot of traffic or where wildlife might not be welcomed by your neighbors. The key is to promote a healthy habitat by encouraging animals, birds, and insects to live here safely.

Do’s and Don’ts

As you plan your backyard wildlife sanctuary, there are a few important do’s and don’ts to keep in mind:

  • DO: Try to keep species separated to promote harmony and prevent overcrowding or fighting.
  • DO: Keep birdbaths, feeders, and other items clean and sanitary as much as possible.
  • DO: Provide natural sources of shelter for wildlife by planting shrubs and evergreen trees.
  • DON’T: Allow your backyard to become cluttered. Remove old furniture and toys to open up the backyard so animals will want to stay.
  • DON’T: Use dangerous pesticides and other chemicals to keep weeds under control. Always choose organic plant food and pesticides so that your wildlife and the environment stays safe.
  • DON’T: Feed your wildlife table scraps, processed food, or any other form of “human food” as this can be detrimental to the wildlife population.
With a bit of patience and some creativity, you can start your very own private wildlife sanctuary at home. Remember to use native plants and flowers to entice pollinators like bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Clean feeders and baths regularly and watch your wildlife flourish as you contribute to a healthy population of these important insects, animals, and birds.

How to Create a Sustainable Garden for your Family

Want to lower your monthly grocery bill and eat healthier? There’s no better investment than a vegetable garden. And if that garden allows for you to reduce, recycle, and reuse items that would otherwise go to waste, you’re doing your part to create a healthier environment, too. Creating a sustainable garden for your family is inexpensive and easy - even if you’re not the “green thumb” type. Here are some tips to keep your garden and the planet green.

Pick Plants Wisely


Native plants will naturally thrive under the climate conditions in your backyard. Others will struggle because they're not acclimated to the temperature or conditions. For Garden's Sake carries tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, and other common veggie plants selected to do well in Ge.

Going native means is environmentally-friendly because it also encourages the use of companion plants. Native plants use less water and fertilizer than invasive varieties. Companion plants attract pollinators while repelling pests. Including both in your garden means better crops with less waste and fewer chemicals.

Note: Native species aren’t just great for gardens! If you’re looking to add beauty to your property, native trees offer many of the same benefits as native garden plants.


Location, Location, Location


A garden costs more and uses more resources if it’s in the wrong spot. Before you dig in, check out this checklist.

  • Full sun – You can create shade for those plants that prefer it. But you can’t add more sun to a garden dug in a shaded area.
  • Convenient location – your garden should be easy to access. The closer it is to you, the better attention you’re likely to give it. And the more likely you’ll be to spot issues early.
  • Nearby water source - The last thing you want to do is drag a hose across the lawn to water your plants. Make sure you have a sprinkler nearby, or the hose extends to the garden.
  • Clutter-free – lots of critters that are bad for your plants make their homes in piles of wood, leaves, and the like. By putting your garden in an area free from this kind of clutter, you’ll lower the risk of damage caused by rodents, animals, and insects.

Rise Above or Get Down and Dirty?


The next thing to consider is whether you’ll be planting in a raised bed or into the ground. Raised beds offer protection from some pests. You can fill them with soil and nutrients, so you’ll have greater control over your soil’s composition. To make things more eco-friendly, you can make raised beds from old storage containers or discarded pallets.

Planting directly in the ground cuts your expenses and offers you as much garden space as you have yard. It is also sustainable since all you need is a shovel. Tilling soil is labor-intensive, though. And your soil’s composition might not have the same level of nutrients you’d find in the soil you purchase. If you’ve never done either, consider doing a small raised bed and a small plot in the ground to see which works best for you

Soil Additives and Fertilizers


There are plenty of fertilizers and additives used to help gardens grow. But not all are appropriate for every plant. For tomatoes, cow manure and eggshells are common additives. Strawberries like phosphorus and potassium. Some gardeners begin preparing their soil the fall before they plant. Others mix compost or all-purpose fertilizer into the soil during planting and never add anything else. If you plan early, you can add different materials to areas of the plot where different crops will grow.

Have Fun, without Spending a Ton

The most important ingredient in any garden is your enjoyment. Simple, sustainable gardening is a great activity for any age. If you plan carefully, you can save a fortune on your grocery bills. So grab the family, pick out your favorite seeds and seedlings, and get ready to garden. Just don’t forget your gloves—blisters don’t care how eco-friendly your methods are!

Jay Betts is a graduate from the University of Texas at Austin, regional representative for LawnStarter, a creative entrepreneur and an avid gardener. He enjoys hiking in nature and following a minimalistic lifestyle
Looking for Pearls: Camellias a beautiful discovery at Savannah Botanical Gardens

Looking for Pearls: Camellias a beautiful discovery at Savannah Botanical Gardens


Early on a cool, damp morning last week, I met Ron and Belinda Jacob at the Savannah Botanical Gardens on Eisenhower Avenue. The fog had crept in on little camellia feet.

We were alone there, whispering in the quiet mist, with only the clear call of a tufted titmouse echoing from the bare trees. The Jacobs were leading me to see the Ann Reinhard, a camellia that grows only in the Savannah Botanical Gardens. Against its dark green leaves, its red blossoms seemed to cascade like a haunting flurry of poppies on Armistice Day.

The camellia was discovered growing in the Savannah Botanical Gardens some 20 years ago, but until it flowered, no one knew what variety it might be. Last February it bloomed, and local camellia expert Gene Phillips determined it was a hitherto unknown variety.

It is what is called a “chance seedling,” a plant that has come from a natural pollination, a seed formed by serendipity. On some past warm winter day, the right encounter of a bee carrying pollen from the anther of one flower to the pistil of another started the Ann Reinhard life cycle.

The Jacobs and the staff of the Savannah Botanical Gardens began the process of submitting the previously unnamed camellia for inclusion in the national Camellia Registry. They cast about for an appropriate name, when everyone seemed to have the same thought at once to name it in honor of Ann Reinhard.

The beautiful circa-1840 German-vernacular building that sits on the edge of the 10-acre Savannah Botanical Gardens is named the Reinhard House. It first stood on the Reinhard Farm near Wheaton Street downtown. Indeed, eight acres of the farm were purchased in 1853 to become the Catholic Cemetery.

The house was slated for demolition to make way for the Truman Parkway. It was saved and moved in 1992 by the Savannah Area Council of Garden Clubs. It now serves as the SACGC headquarters and as the information center for the Gardens.

A year ago, I saw the Ann Reinhard at the Jacobs’ invitation. She had only a few blooms then, but she is covered with flowers now. Ron said the bitter winter of 2018 seems to have caused Savannah’s camellias to rebound mightily this year.

He was captivated from the beginning with the simplicity and elegance of the Ann Reinhard’s single (one row of petals) blossoms. Camellias originated in Japan, where simplicity is valued aesthetically. Indeed a small, red, single camellia can be seen at Magnolia Gardens in Charleston, where it was imported from Japan in the 1700s.

The Savannah Botanical Gardens have 67 varieties of camellias, all but one identified. The Jacobs took me on a magical tour of singles, doubles, anemone forms, peony forms, rose forms, formal doubles — an enchanted walk, close to nature, next to Hospice House.

We visited the Tama-no-ura variety, a red-and-white single, similar to the Ann Reinhard. It was found in the wild on an island of the Nagasaki Prefecture in 1947 by a charcoal burner. With its white edging and golden stamen tops, one bloom seemed to float above the palm of Belinda’s hand.

The fluffy rose-pink blooms of the R.L. Wheeler variety hovered over a lush stand of azaleas. The Jacobs knew it originated in Macon in 1949. They showed me the reticulata hybrid Crimson Candles, its dew-covered rose-pink petals resembling a music-box ballerina.

I was struck by the Charlean, with large, pink-orchid petals and airy pinkish filaments. Ron pointed out that there is a story behind every camellia, and Belinda said they had met the flower’s namesake. The woman Charlean is the granddaughter of the originator, William Stewart of Savannah.

Ron showed me the Betty Sheffield with its loose peony form. It is whitish with blotches of red and pink and is noted for “sporting,” where different colors appear on the same plant. Like the Ann Reinhard, it was a chance seedling from Quitman found in 1949.

Our camellia journey took us to the majestic white Sea Foam, which originated in Fernandina Beach, the fluffy High Society from Albany, the luxurious Royal Velvet from California.

The Jacobs knew the names of every camellia we passed. They knew the legacy carried in those names. They knew the ethereal beauty. They themselves helped name the Ann Reinhard, who passed away in the 1800s. I saw on Phillips’ website a just-introduced pink lavender camellia, the Jennifer Ross, who has been in heaven since 2005.

Ben Goggins, a retired marine biologist, lives on Tybee Island. He can be reached at 912-786-6181 or

Garden Safety for Dogs Who Like to Dig

Spring is near and that means it’s time to start planning that vegetable or botanical garden you’ve always dreamed of. But you have one problem and it’s got four paws. Don’t let your curious canine thwart your proposed plot -- you can keep Spot safe and show off your green thumb. Here’s how:

Plant this…

One thing you can count on is that your dog will want to explore the garden. It’s in his nature and he is fully equipped to inspect (and dissect) every bloom or bud. Unless you plan to install a barrier around the entire garden, you’ll need to focus on dog-safe flowers and edibles.


  • Cilantro
  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • Basil
  • Ginger
  • Rosemary
  • Lemon balm
  • Parsley
  • Chamomile


  • Green beans
  • Asparagus
  • Sweet potato
  • Carrot
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Peas
  • Celery
  • Garlic


  • Snapdragon
  • Aster
  • Marigold
  • Hibiscus
  • Sunflower
  • Tiger Lily
  • Zinnia
  • Impatiens
  • Spider Ivy

Not that…

Even if you fence the perimeter, it’s best to avoid the most toxic plants. Here are the worst offends and why they should be nixed:

  • Carnation – Causes gastrointestinal disturbance
  • Iris – Southern Living notes that Irises can cause vomiting and lethargy
  • Lily of the Valley – May cause serious health issues including seizures, heart arrhythmias, and death
  • Peony – Causes excessive drooling and diarrhea
  • Begonia – Ingestion may trigger issues swallowing
  • Geranium – As beautiful as it is, geranium is toxic and can cause low blood pressure, skin rashes, and loss of appetite
  • Aloe vera – While good for the skin, aloe vera can cause tremors and upset stomach if eaten
  • Azaleas – One of the most beautiful flowering shrubs, azaleas are a big “no” for homes with dogs since eating them can cause digestive issues and weakness
  • Boxwood – Causes vomiting, often to the point of dehydration
  • Amaryllis – This bulb produces glorious blooms but is extremely dangerous to dogs and can cause abdominal pain and hypersalivation
  • Caladium – Large and interesting leaves are an open invitation for dogs that can trigger respiratory distress and trouble walking
  • Daffodil – We know them as “buttercups” but these sweetly scented spring bloomers can cause convulsions and cardiac arrest
  • Hyacinth – Dogs and cattle should steer clear of hyacinth, which can cause damage to the esophagus

 Avoid dangerous chemicals and mulch

Pesticides don’t discriminate. Certain chemicals, such as 2, 4 dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (also known as Agent Orange, according to Dr. Karen Becker), are in widespread use in popular lawn care products. Unfortunately, this and many other pesticide and herbicide chemicals have been linked to a number of health issues in dogs including canine malignant lymphoma and bladder cancer. Scientific American offers more information on how pesticides affect animals and also provides advice on which pesticides are safe for humans and pets.

Give Rover other interests

One of the best things you can do for your pet during the spring, summer, and fall, is to allow him access to areas where he can roam free without worry of accidentally ingesting toxic plants or chemicals. There are numerous dog parks throughout most major municipalities. These planned recreational areas will allow your dog to run free, explore, socialize, and burn off pent-up energy so he or she isn’t quite as likely to nose around in your garden. To find the nearest dog park to you, refer to a site like, which lists dog parks on a city-by-city basis, such as: Madison, Knoxville, Indianapolis, Albuquerque, San Jose, Portland, Miami, Calgary, Saint Paul and Raleigh.

Other tips and ideas

Start training your dog is early as possible to stay away from off-limits areas. If possible, secure your dog on the deck or in another fence-in area while you are planting, weeding, or harvesting in the garden. Make sure to take a time out every half hour or so to play with your pet and keep plenty of toys handy so that he will always have something to do while you’re digging in the dirt.

Don’t let the fear of hurting your beloved furry family member stop you from enjoying the bounty of a southern summer. Take preventative measures to keep him – and your garden – safe and always call your vet immediately if you believe your dog has ingested anything he shouldn’t have.


Maria Cannon

SACGC Information

Savannah Botanical Garden
1388 Eisenhower Drive
Savannah, Ga. 31406
(912) 355-3883


Contact: Betty Ward

(912) 355-3883


Access to all public areas of the garden is FREE, however, a small fee may be required for groups of 10 or more.


Open daylight hours 7 days a week - year round.

Savannah Botanical Gardens

The SACGC, Inc. Botanical Garden is owned and operated by Savannah Area Council of Garden Clubs, Inc. The site was conceived and designed in the late 1980's as an all volunteer effort and is located just minutes from Savannah's Historic District.

The garden includes both formal and naturalistic plantings as well as a two acre pond, amphitheater, nature trails, archaeological exhibit and the historic Reinhard House.

Savannah Botanical Gardens Info

1388 Eisenhower Drive
Savannah, Georgia 31406
(912) 355-3883


Mon - Sat: 8:00 am - 8:00 pm
Sun: 8:00 am - 8:45 pm


Access to all public areas of the garden is FREE, however, a small fee may be required for groups of 10 or more.