We purchased 52 River Avenue in 2019 after having lived across the street at 48 River Avenue since 2005. We spent a decade repairing and restoring our old Victorian house before we began to learn about the importance of pollinators and how to support them through landscaping.
In 2018, we overhauled our landscaping at 48 River to harmonize with the traditional style of the house and neighborhood. Full foundation beds, large perennial borders, a vegetable garden, hedges with hydrangea and Crepe Myrtle, and native trees grace the property. We planted many native plants, specifically to attract butterflies. At that time we also made the decision to limit pesticides and decrease the amount of grass we have (a work in progress).
Almost immediately I noticed the difference in how many butterflies, bees, and birds we had in our yard. Every afternoon, I would have many monarchs which I love. I was hooked. I started reading everything I could find about gardens and how to protect our winged wildlife.
The more I read, the sadder I became. Monarch populations are down by 80% on the east coast. The Eastern Monarch was recently added to the endangered species list, something that only occurs when a species is seriously threatened. We know honey bee populations face similarly dire prospects. Both butterflies and bees need food, places to lay their eggs, and pesticide-free spaces. And if we provide these, other pollinators benefit too.
Our local bugs are also incredibly important to support. Caterpillars, which eat very specific native plants, are a key food source for birds. Without caterpillars, our birds won’t survive. We know that bird populations in America have dropped by over 25%, largely from food and habitat losses. We can provide this food and habitat for birds, bugs, and pollinators in our gardens. A native white oak tree is a host to 537 types of caterpillars. In contrast, a Gingko tree (which is widely planted but not native) can only be eaten by 4 types of native caterpillars. If we have a forest of Gingko trees, our caterpillars– and, by extension, our birds– will literally starve.
In all of my reading, there is some good news. We can all help. If we go back to native plants, less lawn (which is a disaster for the birds and butterflies), and pesticide-free gardening, we can create little oases for our winged neighbors. If we all did this in our yards, we could piece together a living habitat for them again.
When 52 River Ave went on the market, we saw an opportunity to create a sanctuary for butterflies, birds, bees, and native plants. The lot is ~1 acre and previously had a single-family house and pool. Instead of a house, we imagined this space as an expansive pollinator garden, designed to feed as many local creatures as possible.
As we designed this garden, we operated with several principles:
Plant only native plants (this is the best food source for our birds and butterflies)
Work with the grade of the land
Minimize the need for irrigation
No lawn (this is the equivalent of a food desert for wildlife)
Ensure a clean water source for birds
Over the past three years, we have started our garden journey. It is a work in progress. We plant and watch and learn. And we enjoy the Monarchs, birds, and foxes that now stop through our garden.
Memekas is the Lenape word for butterfly. The Lenape were the original people of the Jersey Shore, and we wanted to recognize their legacy with our garden’s name. A map of their territory can be found here.