Belle Tool Box

Longfellow: A Certified Wildlife Habitat Neighborhood

What would our community look like if we valued all life forms, not just humans? The experience of walking down the street might be quite different.

We’d see colorful yards full of nectary flowers like bee balm, coral bell, meadow blazing star, asters and hyssop. We’d smell fragrant milkweed, honeysuckle, and flowering tobacco. We’d walk through a food forest of fruit and nut-bearing trees and shrubs. We’d hear the rustle of tall grasses, trickling water, chirping birds, crickets and maybe even frogs! We might even regain the magic of days full of butterflies and nights lit by fireflies!

Habitat MapA project underway in the Greater Longfellow Neighborhood aims to make this a reality. Daniel Schultz and the Longfellow Environment Committee are working to get their community certified by the National Wildlife Federation as a Certified Wildlife Neighborhood.

The project will ultimately include 150 home yards, 4 schools and 4 common areas. Right now the project has certified, or is in the process of certifying, 48 yards. Dowling Environmental School, Sanford Middle School, and most recently the Anishinabe Academy (part of Anne Sullivan School), have become certified schools.

“I’d like to see every school in the neighborhood become certified, using their outdoor space as a classroom,” Schultz said. “Some of these kids never get out into nature.”

Epworth Church became the first certified common space, gaining points for its rain garden. (Not surprisingly, Epworth Church hosts this flower-friendly neighborhood’s garden club.)

Belles Toolbox

Belle’s Toolbox on 42nd Ave S.

Belle’s Toolbox – a children’s garden and learning center – is the second common space.

Schultz observed that the Midtown Greenway lies along the north edge of the neighborhood. Certain plants and landscape features could allow the Greenway to qualify as a certified common space.

Supercharging the Program with Mentors

This year the wildlife project added a new feature: people who want to create wildlife-friendly yards can be matched with a garden mentor to help them plan their project. A dozen people applied for and have been matched with mentors – master gardeners, landscape designers, foresters, and other experienced gardeners. The mentors will help the new gardeners identify native plants and where they can be purchased (or shared).

For the past two years, the project has also hosted a native plant sale.

Becoming a Wildlife Certified Habitat

Certification means you’ve taken steps to provide the four components that wildlife need to survive:

  • Food
  • Water
  • Cover
  • A place to raise young

Our yard is one of the 48 certified yards. We didn’t work at it intentionally; not at the beginning. It just developed over time. When I met Dan, I was eager to have him take a look. He brought the checklist provided by the National Wildlife Federation and we easily fit. “You’re only missing an ocean and a cave,” he said.

We sent in our form and were approved. You can choose to purchase a sign, but we didn’t.


Grasshopper rests on dill.

We Started with Food

When we began our yard transformation, we wanted to grow food. Lo and behold, squirrels love tomatoes and apples. Raccoons like grapes. Birds like greens and seeds, cherries and serviceberries. Bees and other insects like dill, oregano, nasturtium, cucumber, tomato and borage flowers.

And the children at the local daycare center who walk by our house on their way to the park every day? They love the black raspberries that grow by the sidewalk!

Is there anything left for us? Yup, even if the squirrels take a nibble out of a tomato every evening, we still have plenty. Sharing food is a sacrifice we’re willing to make so that humans aren’t the only living things in our community.

WaterfeatureAdd a Little Water

Water is usually the sticking point. Very few yards make water available at all times.

When we decided to add a water feature – a small pond and waterfall – we did it to add beauty to the garden. It wasn’t until later that we noticed how attractive it was for birds and mammals. After talking with Schultz, we added a shallow birdbath (filled with rocks and water) for the bees.

“Water is the critical piece, especially in winter or drought. Moving water, like a pond with a pump, can help prevent mosquito breeding, but I don’t worry too much. There are lots of places where mosquitoes can breed and we don’t even think about them – like gutters that haven’t been cleaned out.”

Water is particularly important for amphibians and Schultz has received occasional reports of toads and frogs near the falls and in the river gorge, but no reported sighting of snakes or turtles in the area.


Unknown little visitor

A Place to Call Home

As our household learned more about pollinators, we became aware of the problem of too much grass and mulch. Many of our native bees are ground-dwellers. They need bare dirt, but they have a hard time finding it when we homeowners are so intent on keeping every inch covered.


Am I a yellowjacket?

“It’s a tough call,” Schultz says. “I think of mulch as a necessary evil when you’re smothering weeds and preparing for new plantings, but it’s advisable to phase out mulch over time, where possible.”

Knowing that ground-dwellers needed space too, helped us make the decision to allow a little portion of our yard to return to the wild. We don’t go into that area except to remove invasive weeds once a year.

We also changed our fall clean-up habits, leaving some tall dried stems to stay in the garden, and dried seedpods and grasses. Some types of bees use these to overwinter. In the spring we can cut them down and move them to the wild area where they can decompose.


One of 7 baby bunnies born in the strawberry patch

Welcome the Young

It’s easy to get excited about baby robins in the nest, but what about baby eagles? Living with an eagle’s nest in your yard may take more of a commitment. Schultz shared that entire carcasses of prey can fall from their heavy nests.

“We’ve been ruled by rabbits and squirrels for a long time. With the return of these apex species – eagles, hawks and falcons – it’s becoming a more balanced environment. I’ve even heard reports of coyotes in the river gorge and deer on the River Road.”

Become a Certified Wildlife Habitat Neighborhood

Any community can become more welcoming to wildlife. Check out the National Wildlife Federation website to learn what you can do, and how you can make your yard a certified wildlife habitat. To learn more about the Longfellow project, visit the website at

Leslie MacKenzie is a Hennepin County master gardener whose yard was certified as a wildlife habitat in 2016. She loves goldfinches, is growing accustomed to bees, and would really like the mice to stay outside.

Leslie MacKenzie

About Leslie MacKenzie

Leslie lives in the bungalow neighborhood of Longfellow, South Minneapolis, one block from the Midtown Greenway. She and her husband are organizers of a neighborhood sustainability group, Transition Longfellow, and Leslie also works with Transition Twin Cities. She blogs on energy, gardening, and sustainability topics at

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4 thoughts on “Longfellow: A Certified Wildlife Habitat Neighborhood

  1. David MarkleDavid Markle

    For a long time I lived in a little house in back of a house, on the West Bank. I stopped parking In the small area between the two houses, but the shade from the buildings and trees prevented me from growing a lawn. I let it go wild, under management. I also encouraged wild flowers in a somewhat sunnier area on the other side of the house. How lovely when I opened my front door during the growing months, to get a little touch of woodland foliage. On one of those days I emerged and was very surprised to see a woodcock descend and probe for food with its long beak. At my side my observant cat rushed forward, the bird elevated and seemed to want to continue its search in what had apparently become an attractive food source, but unfortunately my wonderful pet kept it away.

    I also enjoyed friendly visits by raccoons, and found morels sprouting there and in the blocks close by. I proposed rehabilitating the little cottage, and taking care of the center of the large, squarish block for the benefit of all the residents, but the redevelopment politics of the West Bank killed my effort. A few years later I visited a day care house that had been established next to my former plot. The Minnesota Tenants Union had asked me to visit the licensed day care provider and hear her complaints about the landlord. That organization, the West Bank CDC, had been improperly trying to tell the day care coop how to run its operation and had engaged in questionable practices, such as letting vanish, without an accounting or explanation. an equipment replacement fund into which the providers contributed: ultimately the WBCDC took care of the providers’ pushback by killing the daycare leasehold coop.

    After I listened to her sad story, we went outside where she said, “Just look around here: they’ve been removing bushes and trees, and it used to be so nice. I heard that there used to be some guy back here who made it beautiful, and now look!” I said, “Do you know who that was?” pointing to myself.

    The redevelopment efforts of the West Bank CDC. and of Augsburg College up the street, had accomplished incremental “desert-ification” of the neighborhood. No more wild flowers, no more morels.

  2. Jenny WernessJ BModerator  

    Thank you for writing this, what a wonderful neighborhood project. I may try to get my yard certified too!

  3. Jack

    I live in Longfellow, and my yard could probably be certified. I think I have all the elements. I have a couple neighbors who could, perhaps, also pass the muster.

    Thanks for the link –I will investigate.

  4. Liz

    Super cool! I’m in Bloomington and have a large native plant garden, certified monarch waystation and wildlife habitat. If only I could convince my neighbors. It’s tough when people are so tied to the concept of a golf course lawn, even when they see the abundance of life, all the cool birds, pollinators, etc that respond to being provided even a small amount of habitat. Hard to convince the neighbor who mows his lawn twice a week, waters it 10 hours a day, sprays it with chemicals, gets rid of every single fallen leaf (disposing of them in plastic bags!) and seems to have no appreciation for wildlife and the environment in general. Lawn grass is the most irrigated crop in the US, and we could make such a difference if we got over our obsession with it.

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