Channeling Rocky Mountain National Park, Honey Brook resident Dan Lindley turned an excess of rocks into this rock garden.

Earlier this summer, I proposed an informal garden contest, inviting readers to write and tell me how their property or gardens could be part of a “Homegrown National Park.” (Homegrown National Park — HNP — is the brainchild of Doug Tallamy, presented in his recent book, “Nature’s Best Hope.”) The idea is that if homeowners across the country, gave up a portion of their lawns to native trees, shrubs, and flowers, it would create the largest national park in America. With most of us spending more time at home during the pandemic, I wanted to know how people were planting, tending, and enjoying their own “parks,” without the hassle of reservations, entrance fees, travel costs, and standing in line. I also asked people to consider if their landscape reminded them of a particular national park.

As the entries came in, with photos and detailed descriptions, I was so impressed. I could picture myself in these people’s gardens and landscapes, and could see the ways in which some of the landscapes emulated our national parks. What a journey I’ve been on!

Without COVID-19 in the picture, as well as back-to-back heat waves this summer, I would have already been out visiting these gardens in person, instead of relying on photos and words to tell the individual stories. Now, with the final entries in my hands and a bit of a break in the weather, I’m looking forward to seeing some of the garden entries in real life, making my final decisions, and sharing the winning Homegrown National Park pieces with you. In the meantime, I want to share some observations.

First, I love running these contests, because they let me experience the extended community of gardeners that exists in our beautiful Philadelphia-area counties.

Second, just as I can’t name only one U.S. National Park as my favorite, so I found it nearly impossible to select just one winner of the Homegrown National Park contest. This is why, despite photos, I need to go out and see some of these gardens with my own eyes.

Third, while the individual stories were different, each of the entries contained very similar elements: attention to beauty, planting for pollinators and other wildlife, an enduring vision, a willingness to experiment, patience, dedication to the task, and plenty of physical work. I also could see the path to amazing transformations, whether on a small, suburban, duplex yard or on a two-acre lot.

Fourth, I realized that in striving to create a HNP, each property owner/gardener did something more difficult than preserving a landscape that was already remarkable. Each of these people created, by hand (and in some cases with earth-moving equipment) their own oasis.

Fifth, it occurred to me that most people who visit a national park stay there for only a short time — maybe even just a few hours — and see the main highlights. The draw is the awesome spectacle and grandeur. Homegrown National Park is so different. Here in our backyards, we have the opportunity to experience the natural world in a much more intimate way, noticing the small things, all through the seasons. We get to see birds nesting and fledging, and follow the life cycles of butterflies and moths. We also enjoy the sense of stewardship, as we tend our own piece of the “park.”

Finally, I realized that the most important common ingredient to all of the entries was love — love of place, plants, pollinators, people, and perpetuity. That shone through in every word.

Thanks to all those who shared their gardens with me. In Chester County: Gary and Susan Erb, Ruth Osborn, Gary Liska, Don and Barb Knabb, Dan Lindley, Deb Kates, and Pat Vitale. In Berks County: Chris Bielecki and Mike Foster.

Note: If you submitted an entry but don’t see your name here, please let me know.

Pam Baxter is an avid organic vegetable gardener who lives in Kimberton. Direct e-mail to, or send mail to P.O. Box 80, Kimberton, PA 19442. Share your gardening stories on Facebook at “Chester County Roots.” Pam’s book for children and families, Big Life Lessons from Nature’s Little Secrets, is available on Amazon, along with her companion field journal, Explore Outdoors, at

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