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Sandy Hook Couple Enjoys Gardening On The Wild Side



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Sandy Hook Couple Enjoys Gardening On The Wild Side

By Dottie Evans

Over the past 16 years, Dan and Vicky Maresca have created a nature sanctuary in their Sandy Hook backyard that is not only beautiful but also hospitable to local wildlife through four seasons of the year.

Believing they had fulfilled most of the criteria needed for National Wildlife Federation (NWF) Backyard Wildlife Habitat certification, the couple recently completed a number of forms and submitted photographs of their two-acre property at 80 Great Ring Road.

On July 16, they received official word that their property had been added to the national roster of more than 40,000 backyard wildlife sites nationwide created by individuals, families, schools, businesses, and community groups to “attract a variety of birds, butterflies and other wildlife while helping to protect the local environment.”

“It’s nice to have the recognition, but that wasn’t why we did it,” Mrs Maresca said during an August 23 interview.

More important has been the daily pleasure of watching small dramas and routine comings and goings as wild creatures pass through their yard –– some for only a day, some for a season or more.

Yes, creating a NWF Backyard Wildlife Habitat has been hard work, she says, “but the joy is in the doing.”

“I love animals. And I would so much rather be outside in my garden than inside vacuuming my floors,” she joked.

Vicky Maresca is the acknowledged creative force behind the perennial beds and water gardens, and Dan Maresca calls himself the “hired man” who helps realize her visions. He is the one who puts up the feeding stations, and she keeps them filled. He builds the dry stonewalls leaving chinks between the stones big enough for chipmunks to hide. She plants the native grasses for mice to use in making winter nests. It is a joint venture all the way.

 “We don’t use insecticides or pesticides and we don’t cut down trees. We would rather trim trees to maintain their health. I always call in a licensed arborist to do the job, not a hacker with a chainsaw,” Mr Maresca said.

Their minimal lawn has been carved out of third growth forest, and the three small streams crossing the property provide fresh water most of the year –– though two usually dry up over the summer. Evergreens such as holly and white pine have been added for winter cover.

“We always put our Christmas tree out after the holidays because the birds use it for shelter,” Mrs Maresca said.

Her perennial gardens are carefully planned to provide food for wildlife. Purple coneflower and sunflower, as well as certain annuals like impatiens and cardinal flower, have attracted butterflies and hummingbirds. When left to dry on the stalk, the coneflowers and sunflowers go to seed and become food sources for many small birds during a hard winter.

“You should see the goldfinches go after them when there is snow on the ground. That’s why we don’t cut them back until spring,” said Mr Maresca.

Over the years, the Marescas have spotted some unusual visitors including flying squirrels, pheasants with chicks, pileated woodpeckers, and screech owls.

“We had a red-tail hawk fly right over the house one morning. It caught a mouse and we watched out the window while it ate the thing on our deck,” Mr Maresca said.

The Marescas also feed the deer –– a practice they recognize is controversial.

“Deer need food because their habitat has become so reduced. We find that if we put food out for them in a special place, they don’t eat our plants or go after our feeders. Last winter we had 18 bedded down over by that pine tree,” said Mrs Maresca.

Vicky Maresca has worked as a part-time bookkeeper at WMNR in Monroe, and her husband works full-time at Imagistics International in Monroe. Weekends are spent outside in the yard, filling feeders and birdbaths, assessing and repairing damage by unknown critters, watering plants, and maintaining the property.

Mr Maresca says he fights the “usual battles with the squirrels, moles, and voles.”

“We find that spraying castor oil discourages the voles. We’re trying to drive them back away from the gardens because they eat our bulbs and roots.”

Both agree that spring and fall are their busiest times. But on a late summer afternoon, they might snatch an hour on the back deck to watch the hummingbirds visiting the nectar feeders. Even then, something always needs doing. Like putting out citronella candles to discourage the wasps.

“Paradise is a work in progress,” concludes Dan Maresca.

A planning guide and kit may be obtained from the Backyard Wildlife Habitat website at www.snwf.org/backyardwildlifehabitat) or by calling 800-900-2656. Free informational brochures are also available by calling 703-438-6100, or by writing NWF, 11100 Wildlife Center Drive, Reston, VA 20190.

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