A common way to find Karen in her yard

Karen's Story

Growing up in suburban Chicago, nature was a corner vacant lot. My butterfly collection came from the alley and specimens off the grill of the car. I learned about birds and fish from family in rural Iowa and nature diversity from family station wagon vacations across the country. After college, I moved to Pennsylvania where I discovered warblers and got obsessed with birding locally, across the US, and other countries. I was amazed that some people knew what tree a bird was perched in. So I learned plants and studied behavior. On slow days, I started to look downward at the wildflowers blooming. Then, I noticed what was pollinating the flowers.

I bought my first camera at age 11, purchased from baby sitting money, and upgraded to an SLR in college. Once I started my working career, photography was reduced to a vacation hobby. All that changed in 2009 when I purchased my first digital DSLR. My goal was to document the native bee pollinators in our yard. Instead, I couldn't stop at bees and discovered an entirely new and fascinating world of insects I barely knew existed, let alone in my yard.

Ever since, I have focused on photographically capturing and learning the native plant and insect behavior and interaction that I observe. I have participated in "citizen science" throughout my adult life and contribute insect sitings to several organizations.

Gary's Story

Growing up in Iowa I spent a lot of time exploring creeks, weedy undeveloped lots, and woodland areas. Not really a nature-nerd, my relationship with nature seemed natural and normal. Even while studying for an engineering degree at ISU, some of my strongest memories are nature discovery experiences.

As a young working adult, Karen talked me into attending a beginning bird-watching class. I found myself enamored with the little woodland jewels they called warblers. Warblers led to all the other birds – equal opportunity interest! Birds led to plants, mushrooms, rocks; really anything natural (and with a field guide). With Karen by my side I would deep dive into each thing and then move onto the next. I’m a generalist at heart!

Life presented me the opportunity to change careers. So I followed my interests to achieve a BS Horticulture degree that led to starting my own landscape design business. My passion then and now is ecologically healthy landscapes comprised of native plant communities. The habitat I designed and created with Karen at our home has been my lab for this work.

I’ve long enjoyed photographing plants and landscapes, but Karen’s interest in photographing the critters of our yard has rubbed off on me. I now greatly enjoy the same passion for beauty in the close-up imagery of nature surrounding me, finding something extra special in revealing the lovely moths attracted to our lit porch.

Gary relaxing at a local park

The Story of Our Yard

In our wildest dreams, we never expected to discover the number and types of species of plants and animals that now live or visit our property!

In 1999 we purchased a 4 acre rural residential lot that was a fallow cornfield of noxious weeds surrounded on 3 sides by small woodland patches and hedgerows of mostly invasive shrubs. Gary created a Landscape Design Master Plan that we methodically executed over many years. The primary habitat elements of our property are the 2+ acre meadow, extensive gardens of native plant communities, a 1/2 acre of woodland, and a naturalized pond with stream. The pond adds much needed habitat diversity to our dry rocky upland slope. We enclosed an acre of the property with deer fencing for protection against browsing.

What we have come to realize, through our careful observations and photographic record keeping, is that the diverse native plant dominated habitats that we’ve created are magnets for attracting birds, mammals, and a diversity of arthropods - insects and spiders - we didn't know existed.