McLeansville, N.C. Gary Carter is cashing in on the natural look. By converting his three-acre property into wildlife habitat, he turns camera-carrying visitors into paying customers while beefing up his own photo stocks.
Not a bad return for providing food, water, shelter and a place for a colorful array of birds, butterflies and animals to raise their young. Many are visible year-round from his backyard windows in this fast-growing section of west-central North Carolina.
Carter and his wife, Janice, receive advice from a former classmate who suggests the appropriate blooms, fruit and nut trees along with berry-producing shrubs to enrich the many photo setups.
Want images of Eastern bluebirds? Aim at that split-rail fence framed by the flowering dogwoods. Hope to record the action of some woodpeckers and nuthatches? Pre-focus on that standing dead oak a few yards away.
Looking for cardinals, jays, mourning doves and juncos? Swing your camera toward that ground-level fountain spilling over into a shallow pool.
Wild turkeys? Work from a camouflage photo blind set in the corner of an adjacent woodlot. While you're at it, keep an eye on the brush piles if its images of rabbits, possums and raccoons that you want.
Whatever your landscape theme, design is just as important as the plants you select. And you can make over your yard in whole or part in one year or a dozen.
Carter started with help from the National Wildlife Federation's Backyard Wildlife Habitat Program, which certifies and suggests options for people who garden with the needs of birds, animals and insects in mind.
"It gives me a place to photograph birds because I don't get to as many locations as others do," says Carter, a nature photographer. "Farmland and good hunting land is disappearing in the area I'm in. This plant-enriched layout gives us a chance to view wildlife close by, and it gives them a place for shelter."
The National Wildlife Federation launched its program in 1973. Some 50,000 people and three-plus decades later, the program is growing at the rate of nearly 10 percent per year, says Mary Burnette, a communications manager at the federation.
"The initial impetus was just to give people a convenient way to converse with nature on a local level," Burnette says. "What we've seen over the years is people growing interested in compensating for habitat loss in their communities. It's the first step in environmental stewardship."
If anything has changed over the years, it's the federation's emphasis on choosing native plants over exotics for wildlife habitat.
"Natives require less water, less fertilizer, less pesticides and generally less care," she says.
Connie Stoops, a freelance writer, photographer and lecturer from Marshall, N.C., also uses wildlife as the focus for her lifestyle and career.
"This kind of landscaping can give you a great deal of personal enjoyment," says Stoops, who with her husband, Pat, a retired wildlife biologist, offers up her 128-acre mountainside "teaching farm" as a pastoral setting for nature photography and wildlife habitat workshops.