The lawn at the Bishop Wild Bird Sanctuary that is going to be turned into a Native Plant Garden.

The lawn at the Bishop Wild Bird Sanctuary that is going to be turned into a Native Plant Garden.

Native garden blooms at bird sanctuary

Migrating birds have stopped at Kalamalka Lake for thousands of years. One woman’s love of birds and her foresight means there will always be a place for these visitors.

Lydia Bishop established the Bishop Wild Bird Sanctuary in 1980 and it is now administered by a not-for-profit foundation which began with the North Okanagan Naturalists Club. There are six board members, with president Vivian Merchant.

The 4.2 acre Coldstream property was originally a place for summer guests of the Kidston family to stay. John and Mabel Bishop of San Francisco used to visit and liked the area so much they moved there in 1935 and Lydia Bishop grew up there. The original house, Miktow, built in 1904, burned in 1960 and was replaced by the present house but the original stables and some outbuildings remain.

The present resident caretaker is Aaron Deans, a professional biologist who moved to the house with his wife, Laisha Rosnau, a novelist and poet and Vernon native, and their two young children last spring.

“We want to make this unique and beautiful place more accessible to the community with more education programs and tours,” said Deans.

Over the years, the grounds were planted with a variety of trees, some rarely seen in the area, including red and white oaks and gingko biloba. The Pacific Willow is said to be the largest in the province. There were large, English-style perennial gardens and lawns. Birders report that more than 125 different species have been sighted at the property, most of them migrating in spring and late summer and early fall. There are about 30 resident species, and some breed in the gardens, including mourning dove, quail, ring-neck pheasants and song sparrows, as well as several varieties of woodpeckers. There are also bald eagles, loons, osprey, hummingbirds, goldfinches and the yellow-rumped warbler.

The sanctuary provides education programs for local students.

“We focus on slowing the children down, to let them have the time to sit quietly and observe and listen in this wonderful setting, to connect with the natural world,” said Deans. “We call this green time. I think today’s children have what I call nature-deficit disorder, a lack of time to play outside and explore. That is probably true for adults as well.”

The board of directors of the Bishop Wild Bird Sanctuary is working on a plan to remove the lawns and replant them for the Native Plant Garden project. This will be a demonstration garden for the community with workshops by master gardeners, a chance for volunteers to help maintain the sanctuary and a place to come for walks or to hold small events.

“We are going to put in trails, a gazebo, a water feature in a natural damp spot and create more habitat for birds, wildlife, insects and butterflies. We will water some of the plants at first to get them established and then they will be self-sufficient,” said Deans.

There has been a lot of research done to prepare the soil for different plants and to find local sources for native plants. Volunteers will be able to help plant the garden with the 1,200 plants while learning about native plant gardening from a master gardener.

“This is going to be beautiful. There is so much that can be done with xeriscaping. We will have signage on the plants so that people can learn about them.”

The native plants used will include elderberry, big sage brush, Nootka rose, pasque flower and red raspberry.

“I’m excited about planting a tripod with a video camera and documenting all this with time lapse photography.”

The Bishop Wild Bird Sanctuary is funded by an endowment, which needs to be built up to meet current costs, grants from Community Futures and VantageOne Credit Union and private donors. People can buy memorial benches or make donations. Tax receipts are available. Seed money for the Native Plant Garden Project came from the Jim Grant  Foundation.

Some of the plants from the perennial garden were salvaged by Vernon Garden Club members for their own gardens and sale at the Vernon Farmers’ Market last year.

There will be a community perennial plant salvage event April 2 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and the Native Plant Gardening  event will be April 30 and May 1. Volunteers are needed for planting and to build trails and restore fences and outbuildings.

For more information about plant salvage, planting, tours, volunteering, other events or becoming a Friend of the Bishop Wild Bird Sanctuary, call Deans at 250-542-5122 or e-mail The website at is planned for an April 1 launch.


Vernon Morning Star