Having It All

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.

 A Monarch Waystation Garden  -- Click on picture to learn how!

A Monarch Waystation Garden  -- Click on picture to learn how!

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).

 Japanese Pachysandra - It's everywhere, but not native.

Japanese Pachysandra - It's everywhere, but not native.

 The Allegheny Spurge - just like pachysandra -- but native!

The Allegheny Spurge - just like pachysandra -- but native!

 

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.

 The ever-popular Boxwood -- not native, but in most gardens, including mine!

The ever-popular Boxwood -- not native, but in most gardens, including mine!

 Inkberry Holly - Boxwood's twin, but NATIVE!

Inkberry Holly - Boxwood's twin, but NATIVE!

 

 

 

 

Sarah OlveraComment
Going Native?

When I first started to learn about native vs. invasive plants, I saw things as pretty black and white. Native = good; non-natives = bad. I started hatching a plan to get rid of everything non-native and replant everything “native.” My first hint that I might be over-simplifying (and in for a TON of work!) was when an informed friend asked, “Native? How far you going back?”

 The single Japanese Maple we've been nurturing back. To save or not to save?

The single Japanese Maple we've been nurturing back. To save or not to save?

He had a point. Landscapes and ecosystems change over time and not solely because of human intervention, so what era should I be returning my land to? What about that Butterfly Bush that feeds dozens of butterflies at the of the summer? It’s not native, but it sure seems to help!

Something didn’t jive completely with my own common sense, but I wasn’t well enough informed to know what approach to take. And then I met Amanda, (PLAN it WILD co-founder), who had a very common sense solution: Support Habitat.

 My mess of a Bamboo patch. They drifted from a neighbor's yard and have quickly expanded in ours.

My mess of a Bamboo patch. They drifted from a neighbor's yard and have quickly expanded in ours.

Habitat support has less to do with whether a plant is native or not, and more to do with whether it’s helpful to the ecosystem.  Through this lens, there are plants that are harmful, neutral or positive helpers; regardless of whether they are native or not. For instance, I have a lovely Japanese Maple that I nurtured back to life when we first moved in.  It’s not native, but it’s not exactly hurting anything (although you shouldn’t let a horse eat it). Just one is pretty neutral. Bamboo, however, with its pervasive ability to multiply quickly, is taking over a patch of our land and killing off other, more helpful species in the process. There isn’t anything that needs to eat bamboo around these parts. Perhaps some creatures have adapted to make it a part of their diet, but it doesn’t need to be here, and it’s taking over for something that would be far more beneficial – so the bamboo is harmful and it’s coming out. But, the Butterfly Bush? It’s staying, at least until we can fill in the yard with native butterfly food. I’m learning quickly that the world of invasives is shades of gray (green!).

 Butterfly bush (on left) with the new patches of wild flower beds to begin replacing it.

Butterfly bush (on left) with the new patches of wild flower beds to begin replacing it.

With the ‘use your yard to support habitat’ approach, the questions become more interesting. What kinds of habitat do I have on my property? What’s already here? What ought to be here, but isn’t? What does it need to support itself? What help can my land be to nature?

An assessment from PLAN it WILD has answered those questions for my little parcel of land and I can’t quite describe the joy in opening the report. It’s something like this: We pass these trees, shrubs, birds and bugs every day, but not quite seeing the world they’re living in. Reading the assessment was like an introduction to great neighbors we hadn’t known were there – and with a way to invite more in.

Habitat assessment aerial.png

 

Connected. Connected to something larger than myself. That’s what it felt like.  

 

And with that…our plan begins!

Sarah Olvera
The Revolution in my Backyard

Like most people, I used to judge my yard on how nice (or not!) it looked:

Flowers blooming: check

Lawn’s mowed: check

Leaves blown: check

But, now, I see it as the way I can change the world.

Yes, really. The whole world. Let me explain.

Everything in nature depends on something else. And not just on one “something”, but a whole array of processes which have to happen in order to deliver those “somethings” on which all creatures, great and small, are relying.

 The invasive grasses taking over a patch.

The invasive grasses taking over a patch.

Although it’s mostly talked about as a “chain”; it isn’t linear. It’s a circle -- one giant circle of dependency. Mess with one thing on the circle and changes happen along the rest of it. We, as humans, are neither sitting atop any chain nor standing off to the side separated from the circle. We are on it. Whether we like it or not; we are part and parcel of nature.

So, whatever we do sends ripples into vast ecosystems that we have little knowledge of, for better or worse. I am not a biologist, nor a naturalist. I have very little understanding of what impact my decisions have on the web of nature, beyond the basics. But this short article made me start a revolution.

Here was the takeaway:

There is no longer enough public or preserved land to support nature’s ecosystems. Let that sink in for a minute. Case in point, about 60% of wildlife has been wiped off the face of the earth in the last 40 years. What magnitude of an effect does that have on the circle? (Which, remember, we’re on!)

The cavalry is not coming. This is up to us.

 My front yard (overgrown) flower garden.

My front yard (overgrown) flower garden.

Here’s the good news. You know where there is enough land to maintain necessary ecosystems? Backyards. Yup, surprise! Your yard and mine can turn this around!  With all the doom and gloom we hear day after day, I found this to be pretty great news. Here is something I can do that will have a direct and positive impact in the world.

By planting things that support nature, and getting rid of things that don’t, we can reconnect and rebuild functioning ecosystems. I started in my yard about 4 years ago and have had some successes (bluebirds!) and some failures (weed-whacked wildflowers). But, boy, there’s a lot to know and a lot to do -- and probably like you, I’m busy!  Saving nature sounds pretty important though, so I was delighted to find PLAN it WILD. They already know how to do all this and they’ll make a plan specific to your yard and help you implement it.

 This is how a revolution starts! The site assessment of what habitat the land can support.

This is how a revolution starts! The site assessment of what habitat the land can support.

So, PLAN it WILD is now going to help me with my little 3-acre patch of the world and I’m going to chronicle it here. You (and I!) will see the impact of their work, learn the hows and whys of the plan, what works – and what doesn’t. We hope you’ll come along for the journey and get inspired to make some tweaks – big or small – to your backyard too!

Together, we could be the cavalry.