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Natural Awakenings Charlotte

Wing Haven Gardens and Bird Sanctuary

Mar 01, 2006 12:00AM

Charlotte’s Pocket of Paradise

By Lisa Moore

Tucked away on a quiet street in Myers Park lies Wing Haven Gardens and Bird Sanctuary. Against an urban setting, these beautiful gardens and grounds are maintained for the community to enjoy and to educate the public on wildlife and horticulture.

This three-acre haven is a respite from the busy city life and is the perfect size for children to experience the wonders of nature. With woodland trails, lovely vistas and formal gardens, Wing Haven is captivating in all seasons.

Started in 1927 by Elizabeth and Eddie Clarkson, Wing Haven has a sweet and unusual history. As a little girl, Elizabeth enjoyed watching her parents garden and dreamed of having a home with a big yard to create her own secret garden someday.

After marrying Elizabeth in her native Texas, Eddie returned to his job in Charlotte and waited for Elizabeth to join him. In the meantime, he oversaw the building of the dream home she had envisioned to complement their garden. Eddie had the two-story house built on land that had once been the bare fields of a 1000-acre cotton farm.

After completion, Elizabeth excitedly arrived in Charlotte, hopped off the train and immediately asked Eddie to take her to their new home. As Eddie pulled up in front, Elizabeth gasped. The stark, solitary house stood in a field of red, hard mud with only a few short green pine seedlings and a single, spindly willow oak in the back yard.

Not discouraged, Elizabeth started gardening the next day with pure love and dedication. Over time, she and Eddie transformed Wing Haven into a tranquil refuge with enchanting themed paths that combine formal gardens with wild woodlands. Today, this inspiring oasis is a perpetual tribute to their love for nature and each other.

During a lengthy illness that required extended bed rest, Elizabeth enjoyed watching the birds outside her window and became inspired to start a bird sanctuary. Wing Haven is now home to over 150 species of birds and wildlife attracting birdwatchers from around the state.

In an article published in Audubon in 1945 Elizabeth wrote, “Up to that time all plants and shrubs and trees had been selected for their contribution to the garden picture, but from that moment when I suddenly became interested in birds, each addition was weighed also from the ‘bird’s point of view,’ and bird baths, feeding stations, suet baskets, and hummingbird feeders became garden necessities.”

Keeping the wildlife in mind, Wing Haven gardens organically and strives to keep the lush habitat as healthy as possible. “We don’t use any type of pesticides or fertilizers that would be harmful to the animals,” says Dia Steiger, Executive Director of Wing Haven.

Throughout the gardens the emphasis is on plantings for the birds and wildlife to provide food, water, cover and nesting sites. Interspersed into this pocket of paradise are ponds, fountains, reflecting pools, statues and plaques, that reflect the spirit of Wing Haven’s creators.

The Clarksons gave the gardens to the Wing Haven Foundation in 1970 and it is maintained with the Clarksons’ spirit and intent. Wing Haven provides a number of environmental education programs on horticulture, ornithology and ecology. The popular Winter Garden Series offers numerous classes on a wide variety of gardening topics for adults. Children’s Garden programs involve a range of outdoor, hands-on activities designed to playfully expose little ones the natural habitat.

Wing Haven also takes part in outreach programs for at-risk kids, such as the Preschool Environmental Educational Program or PEEPS. “We bring the kids to Wing Haven monthly so they can experience the garden and seasons throughout the year. We work with seven different preschools and this program has been in existence for twelve years,” Steiger states. In addition, a birdwatching program for youths is also ongoing at Wing Haven.

There is no charge for admission to Wing Haven, but donations are appreciated. Those who become members can enjoy numerous benefits such as gardening tips, a quarterly newsletter and class discounts. Guided tours of the garden fare are available for groups of all ages.

Wing Haven is open to the public on Sundays from 2-5pm, Tuesdays from 3-5pm and Wednesdays from 10am-noon.
For information call 704-331-0664 or visit

Lisa Moore has a B.A. in Journalism from the University of South Carolina and is continually inspired by the power of Mother Nature.

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