One of the exhibits at the Oregon Zoo is the Backyard Makeover. There are two little demonstration “backyards” side by side. One is fairly standard: lawn with a fair-sized concrete patio, a few flowers along the fence, the fence is solid wood slats, one small tree and a birdhouse. The other has a smaller area of lawn, far more flowers & shrubs (of varying height), a couple of trees, the patio is made of stone blocks and has patio chairs on it, and the fence is slatted wood that lets a bit of light and air through but still affords privacy. The game is to find the seven things the same in the two yards, and to also notice what’s different about the yards. There is also some signage about what plants are in the yards, how the second, “improved” yard allows for more and more-varied wildlife passing through, requires less watering overall and gives reasons for using less (or no) pesticides and fertilizers. Next to these two yards is a booth where volunteers are often on hand to talk about how to reorganize your yard to bring in beneficial bugs, more birds & other wildlife, how to reduce use of pesticides & fertilizers, how to compost, how & why to set up worm bins and all that good stuff.
The last few years, the exhibit has been staffed by Oregon Zoo volunteers and Master Gardeners. This year, once a month, the exhibit is staffed by Master Recyclers (such as yours truly). We might not have been able to identify all the plants in the exhibit, but we did spend all day talking about composting and rainwater harvesting and why having more bugs in your yard can be a good thing. We also borrowed a worm bin from the Oregon Zoo horticulturists and invited kids (and the grownups!) to pet the worms. The kids were fantastic! They started out as or quickly became expert worm-handlers. We talked about where worms live, how to hold them, and what worms do in the bins and in the gardens at home. We only lost one worm to a very small toddler’s instinctive squishing as the worm wriggled about and tickled his palm.
As I (or another volunteer) helped the kids pet the worms, other volunteers talked with the grownups about recycling and composting and gardening questions. Most of the volunteers had some gardening experience and one of our volunteers is a long-time Master Gardener as well, so we were able to at least give good resources if not actual answers and advice.
The Backyard Makeover exhibit is a permanent part of the zoo, with volunteers available everyday 10am-4pm. Weekdays, the booth is usually staffed by Oregon Zoo volunteers, weekends by Master Gardeners, and for the next two months, Master Recyclers will be out there as well on the first Fridays. I will be back on September 2nd. I’ll do another “take a picture with the Trashmaster, win a prize” event as well. Come on out, say hello and pet a worm with me!