There is nothing quite as peaceful and calming, yet as vibrantly alive, as visiting a wildlife garden. If you are lucky enough to have one in your back yard or neighborhood, you know what I mean. The busy activity of birds, butterflies, bees and pollinators amid the color and texture of the native plants is mesmerizing. Wildlife gardens can be shady, sunny, wet or dry. The key is that they contain native plants suited to the site. That means we plant the right plant in the right place. Why native plants? Native plants are best suited to supporting our native insects. That’s because ninety percent of our native insects are specialists and can only eat a particular native plant or family of native plants that they have evolved with over time, and I’m talking about a long, long time! Please view author and entomologist, Doug Tallamy’s, explanation of the native insect, native plant connection.
For quite a while I’ve been promoting more of these dynamic landscapes through talks and workshops in communities around the country. Last year I wrote a blog, “Wildlife Gardens by Example.” The blog outlines what I consider to be a key component in establishing more native, wildlife friendly landscapes. That component? Leading by example. This is an excerpt from that blog:
Here’s what I started to think about. What if places frequented by many people, every week, became good examples of sound environmental practices and advocated for conservation landscapes? You know, wildlife gardens. What if they planted wildlife habitat instead of lawn? What if the people who visited observed these landscapes and learned about the benefits of these wildlife gardens and acted on changing their own yards to include natural landscapes? Hmmm….
Well, as it turns out, there seems to be a growing, maybe even exploding number of homeowners, organizations, churches, businesses, schools and communities who are leading by example. If we plant, they will see, if they see, they will plant! A meadow planting, as many are discovering, can help mend the rift in the ecosystems that we have destroyed by planting lifeless, homogeneous, chemically dependent lawns.
This homeowner in Wisconsin decided to replace his monoculture lawn with a diverse, prairie planting. The neighbors were so excited by the wildlife garden, they too are reducing their lawn, turning a large part of their front yard into a prairie. That is good news for birds, butterflies, bees, other wildlife and human life. Yes, we too benefit from these landscapes because there is no need for pesticides, fertilizers, excessive water consumption and polluting, petroleum fueled, equipment to maintain wildlife gardens.
As your land–and you–go dormant this winter, dream about how, come Spring, you could transform your dull, high-maintenance lawn back into something like the warm and welcoming home for fellow critters it used to be.
Over the next months I will highlight, in a series I call “Wildlife Gardens by Example,” individuals, organizations and communities who have committed to healthy landscapes and responsible stewardship of the environment. First up, Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, Vienna, Virginia. Wolf Trap has created a one acre, native meadow, in a high visibility area, so that their half million visitors can experience the process, the beauty and the benefits of a wildlife garden!
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