Where I used to work, there was a saying on a white board that read:
“Free. Cheap. Great . Pick two.”
It served as a reminder to internal clients that they can’t have it all. And I feel like that’s the case with a lot of things. Take dieting: “Yummy. Low Carb. Convenient. Pick two.” See how that works? Until recently, I thought of being “environmentally friendly” in the same sort of way -- as if I’d have to sacrifice beauty in my yard to plant habitat supportive plants – or that it’d be more work to create ecosystems than not. I couldn’t have beautiful AND habitat supporting AND low maintenance. I was wrong.
It occurred to me while tackling a small section of our backyard recently: putting in habitat supporting plants was equal to the amount of work as putting in non-native or non-habitat making plants. Seems obvious now. You still just dig a hole, cover it up, give it some water; but the difference to the eco-system could be really positive if you’re planting with the environment in mind– all for the same amount of work. And, for nearly every plant we see in a “non-native” landscape, there’s typically a native equivalent, which is just as pretty (ie: boxwood vs. inkberry; Japanese pachysandra vs. Allegheny spurge).
So what really is the obstacle for homeowners to plant for better ecosystems? I’m sure there are plenty at an individual level, but mainly, I think it’s awareness. First, an awareness that our actions have great impact and the nature that surrounds us isn’t something we’re disconnected from -- and then an awareness of what choices there are to make. And that last part might seem daunting. I for one have at least four ridiculously thick books on native plants that I had every bit of good intention to devour and become incredibly knowledgeable on all things habitat-supporting! But that didn’t happen – and, I’ve found, it’s really not required to get going. All we need to do is start to ask a question or two before we plant. The first: “Is this supporting habitat in my neck of the woods?” A quick Google search can get you an answer – but if you want to make it super easy – just ask your local garden shop if what you’ve picked (or what they’re recommending) is native to the Northeast. If it is, chances are you’ll be doing a favor for the ecosystem in your neighborhood.
Maybe we can have it all.