Open Gardens Project – Featuring Mitch & Carol’s Habitat

Site Information: Located in South Beaverton, Mitch & Carol’s habitat has part sun conditions and includes a pond and water gardens.

Camas meadow above the pond.

What inspired you to enroll in the Backyard Habitat Certification Program?

We have been developing our backyard habitat since 2004. Over a period of four years we built the pond with a stream, waterfall, water gardens, and a bog, and planted many species of native plants. Not all of our plants survived, and some needed to be removed as they proved to be too aggressive. In the past few years we have been replanting some native plants that we had lost, and thinning others that had spread too much. We were thrilled when the Backyard Habitat program came to Beaverton and signed up as soon as we could.

BEFORE: Before we started, our yard was two levels with bark dust next to the deck, and a weedy lawn toward the back fence

How would you describe your habitat?

We do light irrigation in the gardens, and we try to use only natural remedies except in cases where an invader cannot be easily controlled. When we have to use a herbicide, we apply directly to the leaves with a paper towel instead of spraying. Our streams are favored for bathing by many birds, and our pond is habitat to chorus frogs, water striders, and the occasional northern red-legged frog. We also get occasional visits from mallards, kingfishers and great blue herons, which are attracted by the goldfish.

BEFORE: We removed all the rocks and set them aside to be used later. We hired a backhoe to dig out the main part of the pond. The dirt removed was used to elevate and grade the upper part of the yard so the stream would run downhill to the water garden and then over the waterfall into the pond.
AFTER: The pond and waterfall 12 years later.

What changes have you observed as a result of creating habitat?

Since the first day we put water in the pond, we have had chorus frogs. We enjoy hearing them through the spring and early summer. We also have a stable population of water striders, and often see other aquatic insects. The stream and surrounding gardens attract many birds, including spotted towhees, pine siskins, lesser goldfinches, song sparrows, Bewick’s wrens, robins, house finches, black-capped chickadees, chestnut-backed chickadee, bushtits, red-breasted nuthatches, and many others.

BEFORE: Concrete block walls were used for the sides of the lower part of the pond, and for the upper sides of the pond and areas that would become flagstone patio. The deepest part of the pond is 4 feet, with a sloping bottom and a bottom drain at the lowest point. Water moves into a horizontal flow biofilter at the side of the deck through the bottom drain and a stream at the far end. The pumphouse is on the side of the house, and feeds the stream origin in the far corner of the yard through a pipe along the outside of the fence. The pond is about 20 ft long, 10 ft wide, and 4 ft at the deepest point. There is a shallow shelf running along the sides adjacent to the patio.
AFTER: It was thrilling when we first turned the pond pump on, but we still had a lot of work to do to install a pathway and gazebo in the upper part of the yard, and many more plants to plant.

What were the two most significant challenges you encountered while creating habitat, and how did you address them?

The biggest problem we encountered was maintaining species diversity and the removal of some more aggressive natives that we had planted. Some of the more sensitive species are difficult to keep alive, and there are some plants we regret having introduced to our yard.

BEFORE PHOTO: The entire pond, streams, and water gardens are contained in rubber pond liner (Firestone Pond Guard). Pond liner was installed first, and the rock walls, streams, waterfalls, and flagstone patio were installed on top. This section is the stream that connects the pond to the filter. It will flow under the flagstones.

What resources did you find especially helpful?

We designed and built the pond using web resources. For native plants, we have found a lot of resources on the web, and we consult with experts and native plant nurseries frequently.

BEFORE PHOTO: The horizontal flow biofilter (front – before the pond liner is installed), and the pumphouse (rear). After installing the liner, the filter was divided into sections using matala mats including a sediment settling area at the bottom drain outlet. The water then flows through a chamber full of biofilter material that encourages bacterial growth, and then into a chamber with the pond pump inlets. The filter has bottom drains for easy cleaning. The pump is a low-pressure, high efficiency external pond pump that moves around 4,500 gallon per hour.

How do you enjoy your Backyard Habitat throughout the different seasons? What are its highlights in each season?

  • In the spring it’s listening to the chorus frogs, and watching a progression of species flowering – from early spring with trout lilies, trilliums, bleeding heart, skunk cabbage, etc., to late spring with penstemons, prairie mallow, columbines, cinquefoil, mock orange, ocean spray, etc. This is the time of year we are most likely to get visits from mallards.
  • During summer evenings it’s nice to sit on the patio and enjoy the chorus frogs.
  • During the fall many plants have nice colors, including the paperbark birch (ornamental tree), dogwoods, and the birch-leaved spirea.
  • During the winter we see some birds that are not around in the summer such as varied thrushes and Townsend’s warblers. We often have mixed flocks moving through the yard with thrushes, bushtits, chickadees, and others.
AFTER: Garden next to the waterfall.

What part of your backyard habitat are you most proud of?

The pond, stream, and water gardens were a major accomplishment, but we generally tried to create a diversity of habitats. We have rock gardens along the top of the rock wall on the side of the pond and on the side of the patio. We have tried to maintain a sunnier meadow with prairie species in the center of the yard where it gets more sun. The water gardens and bog support a diversity of wetland and aquatic species.

AFTER: View from the side patio showing the gazebo in the background.

Is there anything else you’d like to add about your journey?

It’s a journey that continues as we are always on the lookout for new species to plant. We have enjoyed creating somewhat natural habitats for plants and the animals that are attracted to the yard.

Share this post: