For the birds? For sure, but for family, too

A back yard is transformed into a wildlife habitat - and a great place to grill out.

Published May 29, 2007

PORT RICHEY - LouAnn Brockett grew up on a farm in Ohio and never forgot her love of the outdoors.

When she moved to Pasco County five years ago, she settled into a 1,400-square-foot house in Embassy Hills, partly to be near her parents, partly because she liked the area and its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico.

"I love west Pasco because it still has a rural feeling, plus everything that you need is right here," said Brockett, 42, a good-natured mother of two who wears Tweety Bird shorts that declare "Born Bad."

Everything she needs is just minutes away.

Including Home Depot.

Brockett's enthusiastic weekend visits to the store elicit good-natured groans from her teenage daughters - Dakota, 15, and Kelli, 13 - because they know it means more puttering in the back yard.

It's no ordinary back yard, either.

Brockett's little swatch of Eden - replete with dozens of hand-painted birdhouses and ceramic animals, a miniature picket fence, statues, fountains and flowers - recently earned certification from the National Wildlife Federation as a wildlife habitat site.

Proof is in the official sign on the fence.

And the parrots, opossums, falcons, woodpeckers, blue jays, sparrows, mourning doves, mockingbirds, red-wing blackbirds and bald eagle that find their way to the little yard nestled behind the house, which sits on a quarter-acre lot.

How did she get to be the proud caretaker of a designated wildlife sanctuary?

"You have to provide for things like shelter and nesting as well as food and water sources," said Brockett, who applied for the NWF program after reading about it online.

The family received the designation in February.

Dakota and Kelli say they bring all their friends over to see the yard. They both worked side by side with their mother to create the sanctuary.

"We plant things, we weed the beds, we water them in the evening - it's very stress-relieving and therapeutic," Dakota said. "I love the satisfaction of knowing it looks nice, but I also enjoy seeing all the birds."

Said Kelli: "I just love being able to enjoy the water and the birds and all the lizards and animals."

It's inviting for people, too.

Even on a hot Florida spring day, the garden flourished with crotons, miniature roses, white poinsettias, blue salvia, bleeding heart, lilies, cacti and hibiscus.

A paved walkway allows visitors to meander past the pond and ceramic frogs, turtles and manatee that the family made. A gnome, angel and alligator add to the collection of statues that makes wandering this miniature paradise so much fun.

"The girls even made lizard houses and painted polka-dot walls on the insides so the lizards would feel at home," Brockett said, laughing.

The bird and reptile houses - including one birdhouse built to look like her father's old church in Ohio - hang along the privacy fence, adding color to the yard.

Brockett wanted to turn her back yard into a place that would not only attract birds and wildlife, but also serve as an outdoor room where she could entertain her big extended family, who have all migrated from the Midwest to Pasco. Her parents live in Hacienda Village in New Port Richey, where her 80-year-old father, a retired United Methodist minister, is a community chaplain.

"We have a blast with Mom and Dad," she said. "My family totally loves coming over and sitting around."

The back yard has an above-ground swimming pool and a deck, fire pit, hammock, outdoor shower and colorful plastic Adirondack chairs, including some in hot pink.

A sign over the pool reads: "Brockett's Beach." Once a week the family comes over to grill out.

In both the front and back yards, they added solar lighting to add a soft glow in the evenings.

"It's so peaceful. Especially late at night, it's just so beautiful," Brockett said.

"A few weeks ago we even got up at 2 a.m., brought some blankets out and sat in the Adirondack chairs.

The occasion?

A meteor shower.

Something they could see perfectly from their paradise.

"I love my yard," Brockett said. "It's neat and trim like a park, but it's also a natural place for the wildlife."

Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at ebettendorf@hotmail.com.