Raleigh Now Spotlight: Executive Mansion Garden

When migrating birds stop through Raleigh this spring, they can count a formal Victorian garden at the North Carolina Executive Mansion among their pit stops. Last fall, Audubon N.C. revamped a traditional garden to incorporate over 1,000 native plants that will benefit pollinators and birds. The plot should be in full bloom this month. “As birds, both resident and migratory, come through Raleigh, these native plants will provide a valuable source of food for them,” says Greg Andeck, Audubon N.C.’s director of government relations. “We want to set the birds up for success on to the next destination in their migratory path.”

First Lady Kristin Cooper is an avid birdwatcher, which helped inspire this creative solution to a landscape complaint, says Kim Brand, coordinator of Audubon N.C.’s bird-friendly native plants programming. “There was a big privet hedge that had overgrown,” and rather than trim it back, Audubon N.C. replaced the plant and its encompassed beds with native varieties. “This is exactly what we want people to do. We want them to look around, realize that their privet hedge is not providing food or support to birds and wildlife, rip it out, and plant something native.” (A diagram of the Executive Mansion’s beds is at right.)

This spring, moss phlox, blueberries, and dwarf crested iris will likely be the first to bloom, with many more to come (see sidebar at right). Using plants like this in a formal setting is unique, Brand says. “It’s a different look. But it goes to show that a native bird-friendly garden doesn’t have to be wild and messy looking.”

The native garden is a groundbreaking move for a governor’s mansion: Already, Audubon South Carolina has received a grant from Audubon International to replicate this project (“it’s a bipartisan national effort,” Brand jokes). Andeck says others will hopefully follow. “We’re planting the seed to see where else this idea can pollinate.”

You can visit the garden as part of Executive Mansion tours, but the point is that you can do this at home, Andeck says. “Anyone can put a native plant seed in the ground. It doesn’t have to be a designed area, it can be a small container on your back stoop. ”  
–Jessie Ammons Rumbley