CHATHAM, NJ - The Great Swamp is one of the more well-known national wildlife refuges. But few people know that Chatham Township is also the home to another certified wildlife habitat.
That's because it is located in the backyard of a residence on Fairmount Avenue, where Caroline Yourcheck started from scratch and turned a barren yard into an incredible habitat for plants, birds and her pet turtle, Tuggy,
When Yourcheck and her husband, Jeffrey Gerson, were looking to buy a house in Chatham, they looked out the back picture window and saw an incline with practically nothing on it but dirt.
"I said to myself, 'this yard needs a garden'," Yourcheck said.
It is now certified as as a wildlife habitat by the National Wildlife Foundation because it includes four basic elements: "food, water, cover and places to raise the young."
Since she began in 2005, Yourcheck has planted 26 Japanese Maples, more than 10 Weeping Hemlocks and a number of other specimens such as a Chinese Snowball Viburnum, which is known to grow in South Carolina; Coral Bark Japanese Maples, and a peach tree, just to name a few.
A personal trainer by day, Yourcheck had an epiphany that made her quit her gym.
"I was out in garden, covered in sweat and I realized that I was having a great time and getting a great workout at the same time," Yourcheck said.
That's why she is in the process of writing a book she plans to publish called: Power Gardening - Lose Weight and Weeds.
Just listening to Yourcheck speak about the rich soil she makes with her own leaves can be a workout in itself. The passion she has for gardening puts her on a natural high that she wants to share with everyone.
"It becomes an obsession rather than a hobby," Yourcheck said. "This is not work to me, it's fun."
Yourcheck has planted every tree, flower and bush herself. Gerson estimates that what is planted there now is worth about $50,000.
"She plants everything by herself," Gerson said. "She did it from scratch."
Yourcheck has a B.S. in biology and an MBA in business. She also earned her Master Gardner certification from Rutgers.
A researcher for author Michael Pollan, Yourcheck has such a green thumb that she got in some trouble as a member of Chatham's Community Garden last summer.
"I almost got kicked out because my tomato plants were growing so tall that they were blocking the sun from the other gardeners," Yourcheck said.
Caroline Yourcheck talks about combining workouts and gardening
Watch Caroline Yourcheck's walking tour of her wildlife habitat garden
Caroline Yourcheck talks about what she has planted in her backyard garden