Local home certified as Wildlife Habitat

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Community > Barranca Mesa home has garnered numerous awards

By Gina Velasquez

Selvi Viswanathan is a proud nature enthusiast. Her house on Barranca Mesa is decorated with several gardens and is a certified Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation.
She has won several awards for her gardens through the Los Alamos Garden Club. Her butterfly garden and bird garden won first place in 2013 and 2014, respectively.
The butterfly garden was planted in honor of her mother. She also has a hummingbird garden in memory of her only sister.
She achieved certification in 1995.
Viswanathan has recently developed a sensory garden, which has five different planters with plants and flowers that each represents the five senses.
For the sight planter, there are several brightly colored flowers. Sound has a waterfall fountain. Touch consists of plants with texture, such as a cactus and a plant soft, fuzzy leaves. Taste has planted spices and herbs. Smell has sweet scented flowers.
Viswanathan said she hopes her 5-year-old grandson will enjoy the garden and learn from it.
She came up with the idea after attending the Demonstration garden, she said. “We had cut down three Piñon trees which were not looking good and also (the garden) needed more sun. So this area seemed like a perfect fit for the sensory garden,” Viswanathan said.
It is still in progress with the help of gardener Joe Vangese and his son Neil.
Originally from South India, she lived in New York City and became interested in birds after visits to the Museum of Natural History. She moved to New Mexico with her husband, Nathan, in 1978 and has lived in home on Barranca Mesa since 1985. Joe Vangese has been helping Viswanathan with xeriscaping the gardens since they have lived on the mesa. “Without them, I would not be able to do this myself,” Viswanathan said.
A retired real estate agent, Viswanathan is an active member of the Pajarito Environmental Education Center and serves on the board of directors. She is currently PEEC’s volunteer of the month.
Viswanathan now strives to make Los Alamos as a whole a Certified Wildlife Community. The criterion is to have sites that provide food, water, cover and places to raise young. Public places already certified are the Demonstration garden, Mountain Elementary School, The Fuller Lodge Memorial Rose Garden, PEEC and the Unitarian Church.
Viswanathan’s son Hari has always helped with gardening and is also an active with PEEC. He was one of the panel members of the Certified Wildlife Habitat forum on June 11, and spoke about “How to Discourage Wild Animals From Becoming a Nuisance.”
“I have given talks on various trips I’ve taken such as tigers in India, the Galapagos and the Amazon/Cloud Forest in Peru,” Hari Viswanathan said.
He also shows people how to set up Critter Cams.
Selvi Viswanathan owes her time at PEEC to Becky Shankland who was also one of Hari’s teachers in high school. “She was a great and tough teacher,” Hari Viswanathan said. Hari now works at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Hari’s wife, Gowri participates at Earth Day activities with a Save the Tigers booth.
When the Critter Cam came out by PEEC a few years ago, Viswanathan wanted to try it out. She now owns two of her own cameras and it continues to take photos of wild animals coming into her yard. She has caught images of foxes, bears, birds and even a bat.
The home sits on a “finger” between two canyons on Barranca Mesa with a view of a raven’s nest across one of the canyons and wildlife sightings are abundant.
A pond in the backyard is on the edge of one of the canyons. Viswanathan has named the area, “Warbler Pond” for the birds that used the pond as a birdbath. Now the nearby Critter Cam takes photos of many animals she does not see in person. Viswanathan recalls a mountain lion that she said was a shock to see on camera. “I was afraid that after mountain lion sighting some may want me to get rid of the pond,” she said. “But I had a few emails that said mountain lions are part of our life chain and we should protect them. This is why I felt why (Los Alamos) can become a certified community habitat.” She has not seen a mountain lion up close.
As a tradition from when she was a child, Viswanathan feeds the birds in the garden and pond, even before her own breakfast. “It’s a habit,” she said. “Now that bears are invading the yard, I need to bring all feeders inside in the evenings, then have them out again in the morning.”
Viswanathan would like for Los Alamos to become a community wildlife habitat in two years. “Los Alamos is a natural fit, we don’t have to do much because the elements are already here.”