This Week's Poll

Comments - bottom of page


Branford SV4C’s Garden now a Certified Wildlife Habitat

By Jill Childs

One local learning center has found an exceedingly fun and interactive way for students to experience nature, and in the meantime, has met the National Wildlife Federation’s Million Pollinator Garden Challenge. Last week, Suwannee Valley 4Cs, Branford Learning Center was awarded the title of a Certified Wildlife Habitat and is now one of hundreds of thousands who have created a space for declining pollinator insects, such as butterflies and bees.

Several years ago, Mary Ann Van Heusen and her co-teachers began a gardening project that would give their students a chance to interact with nature and learn in a fun, hands-on environment. Van Heusen stated, “My co-teachers and I wanted to be able to give our children positive methods to learn about plants and animals that also make learning fun.” The garden has grown from a raised bed vegetable garden to a thriving garden with fruits and herbs, a butterfly garden, and “Birdville.”

Alice Snipes learns how to prepare the soil with teacher Mary Ann Van Heusen. -SVT Photo by Jill Childs

One of the co-teachers, Patricia Taylor, has a “green thumb” that she has passed on to the students. The students have taken ownership of the garden and have even named their plants. They have learned responsibility and respect for wildlife, and have broadened their understanding of scientific principles and vocabulary. While many people may not know that ladybugs belong in a garden to eat the aphids so that the aphids do not eat the crops, Van Heusen reported that these children specifically ask to put the ladybugs in the garden “so that they can eat all of the aphids.”

Although the outside area is full of natural tools for education, alongside the normal play equipment found at most learning centers, there is no shortage of smiles on the children’s faces. The children enjoy the garden and often find themselves drawn to the windows to watch the birds and creatures of the garden.

Teacher Mary Ann Van Heusen showing the children how get started. L-R are Emily Espinoza, Shelby Snipes, Ja’Mica Green, Alice Snipes, Alison Westbrook and Jenna Bradow. -Photo by Jill Childs

The garden is full of details that add character and fun, such as the sign that says “Every birdie is welcome” in Birdville. The root view garden is another touch that adds interest, as children can see the roots growing in the glass container garden that meets at eye level. Van Heusen and her co-teachers add something new to the garden each year; they are hoping to add a butterfly house and a ladybug house by the end of the school year, and then to increase the number of cover-providing plants for Birdville.

In a culture that is accustomed to going to the store to buy pesticide sprays when crops are being ravaged by insects, many people have little experience with alternate and sustainable methods of gardening. However, these children will grow up with the skills to grow their own food in sustainable, nontoxic fashions.

To meet the qualifications of being a Certified Wildlife Habitat, a garden must provide food, water, cover, and places to raise young. The National Wildlife Federation’s Garden for Wildlife program “encourages responsible gardening that helps pollinators and other wildlife thrive. It encourages planting with native species like milkweed and discouraging chemical pesticide use.”

According to David Mizejewski, naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation, “Turning your space into a Certified Wildlife Habitat is fun, easy and makes a real difference for neighborhood wildlife.” The size or type of space does not matter when meeting the standards to be certified. This program encourages people to take steps toward sustainable gardening no matter their location, whether it be a container garden on an apartment balcony or the crops and gardens of a large farm. For more information on the Garden for Wildlife program, visit