New Brunswick

Fredericton man 'gives back to nature' with bee and butterfly oasis in his yard

When it comes to his lawn, Rhett Wyntjes doesn't care what the neighbours think. But he does care about the species that live there.

Rhett Wyntjes of Fredericton tends to his property by leaving it alone for the most part

The temperature might be dropping, but ground bees are still flying around Rhett Wyntjes's property this time of year. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC)

Rhett Wyntjes has a thing for the birds and the bees.

The Fredericton resident has barely touched his push lawn mower since moving into his south side home four years ago. It's so he can protect wildlife and have a safe space for butterflies, ground bees and other insects.

"Once you get over the fear of, 'What are the neighbours going to think?' you're fine," said Wyntjes, standing in front of what he calls collection of plants. 

"It could become the joke of the neighbourhood."

Rhett Wyntjes doesn't do much to his lawn. And he's proud of it. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC)

Dwarf juniper was the first plant he ever planted — and his outdoor hobby grew from there.

He collects everything from pumpkins, creeping thyme, tulips, magnolia, rose bushes, lupine to lilies, black-eyed Susans, poppy plants and white pine trees — his favourite. 

The Fredericton resident spread milkweed seedlings all over his property to feed the endangered monarch butterfly. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC)

There are also 40 evergreen that run along his property line, creating a whole other area for the wild bees to live in. There's also mint in the backyard, which Wynjtjes claims could supply the entire city of Fredericton. 

His yard is his way of giving back to nature.

"Here's my little national park within the city of Fredericton and I'm fending away the lawn mowers on either side," said Wynjtjes, who is in the military and has a background in wildlife management. 

This man's unmowed lawn is a haven for critters

3 months ago
Duration 1:47
Rhett Wyntjes hasn't mowed his Fredericton lawn in years as part of a personal effort to give back to nature. 1:47

He knows most of the plants by heart. For others, he keeps a plant label in the ground nearby as a reminder.

Wyntjes has scattered wildflower seeds and milkweed seedlings across his property to attract monarch butterflies, an endangered species that travels to Eastern Canada and the United States from Mexico.

A rose bush found on the side of Wyntjes's home in Fredericton. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC)

He's also planning to plant blackberry and raspberry bushes to add to "the oasis" in coming years. 

"Our beautiful golf course lawns look really nice but they're a huge resource suck with water and mowing," said Wyntjes, who grew up on a farm in Red Deer, Alta.

"It does absolutely nothing for the wildlife."

'Messy lawns are great'

Jess Vickruck, a Fredericton entomologist for Agriculture Canada, said there would be hundreds of different species on Wyntjes's property, including a variety of ground bees that vary in size.

A glimpse into Wyntjes's backyard. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC)

Most of them are small and nest in the ground, dig their own tunnels and nest under twigs.

Vickruck said the butterflies would also rely on the flowers Wyntjes has planted to collect pollen and nectar to survive. 

Wyntjes said he spends a lot of time weeding the creeping thyme in front of his home. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC)

"We have this sort of cultural pressure to maintain, what everyone thinks, are pretty lawns," she said.

"From an insect's point of view, messy lawns are great."  

The need for bugs

But why not just get rid of the insects?

Vickruck said insects help with pollination, which in turn help food crops grow. Other animals like birds, rely on these tiny bugs as a food source.

"Everything is connected," said Vickruck, who also has a background in wild bee biology.

"You shift around the availability of organisms at any part of that food web, there are repercussions that cascade everywhere."

A lupin found in front of Wyntjes's house. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC)

Wyntjes's wife isn't as enthusiastic about the natural look — particularly with the extra visits from ants, chipmunks, groundhogs and raccoons. But she's coming around, especially with all the different floral colours popping up in spring. 

One of the blueberry bushes found on Wyntjes's property. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC)

"So long as we get to mow a little bit around the edges and kind of keep it contained a bit, she's on board."

As a joke, he tells her to try to spot bees and butterflies on the neighbours' mowed lawns.

There aren't many.

"You don't see them go to the neighbour's yard," he said. "They just up and leave and go to their next patch of refuge."

No-mow summer

Campaigns like No-Mow May, created by U.K.-based Plantlife and adopted by the Nature Conservancy of Canada, have tried to persuade Canadians it's OK to let their lawns grow wild, and have been gaining momentum.

"For Rhett, it's No-Mow all summer," he said. 

Wyntjes refuses to rake the leaves in his back yard, because the nutrients from those leaves will eventually return back into the soil. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC)

Wyntjes also refuses to rake the leaves in the fall, which eventually decompose and return nutrients back into the soil.

And there are insects like moths, butterflies beetles and ground nesting bees that will use the leaves as a place to find shelter and hibernate over winter. There are also blue jays, cardinals and chickadees. 

'Better than a parking lot'

Vickruck said lawn care is also about finding balance. She keeps her front lawn mowed but leaves the leaves and the grass in her backyard.

A row of about 40 trees surround Wyntjes's backyard. He keeps them there to add a variety of shelter for the bees. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC)

"A big field of lawns is certainly going to support less species than a forest, or a wetland or grass that has all kinds of different species," she said.

As for Wyntjes, he's going to continue with his outdoor project, no matter what the neighbours think.

"This is kind of like my art piece and it will continually change."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth Fraser

Reporter/Editor

Elizabeth Fraser is a reporter/editor with CBC New Brunswick based in Fredericton. She's originally from Manitoba. Story tip? elizabeth.fraser@cbc.ca

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