Central Virginia Organic Gardener

"And 'tis my faith that every flower enjoys the air it breathes." - William Wordsworth, 1798

Monday, April 22, 2013

Yard and Garden Sustainability

      On April 17, I went to the Sustainability and Nature Symposium at the University of Richmond. There I heard two leaders in the field, Dr. Doug Tallamy, author of "Bringing Nature Home" :  http://bringingnaturehome.net/  and Richard Louv. author of several books, including "Last Child in the Woods" http://richardlouv.com/books/last-child/   I have reviewed Tallamy's book in this blog, but this talk made me re-visit the power of his ideas.

     Tallamy answers the big questions: Is this planet in trouble? Yes.  Can we do something about it?  Yes. Can we depend on government to do the right thing?  No.  Can we, as individuals, do enough to make a difference? Yes.

     I will deal with these questions one by one. First the doom and gloom.  You have probably heard that we are in the midst of a mass extinction.  Species are vanishing at an alarming rate and it is due to our actions.  The planet is heating, weather getting more extreme.  But, as Tallamy and Louv both pointed out, doom and gloom does not motivate people.  Now for the second question about the role of government: the top ten priorities of the government, both legislative and executive branches and both political parties, do not include the environment, turning around habitat destruction and saving species.  But we really are enmeshed in a web of life and require other species for our food, to clean water and air (thank you plants!) and for satisfying our souls.

     The next question: Can we, as individuals, do enough to make a difference?  Tallamy says Yes! 

     And that is very good news.

     Tallamy's basic idea is that we have radically transformed our landscape so it no longer has the ability to sustain much life, or, in other words, we have reduced the carrying capacity of the land.  The most obvious example is an urban environment of concrete, asphalt, glass and steel.  Though pockets of life exist in these environments (some birds and squirrels in parks, rats, pigeons and cockroaches outside of parks), these areas are as good as a dessert to most animals.  A less obvious example is suburban settings.  On the 'burbs, we have lush lawns and specimen plantings that are green and green is good, right?  Not so fast.

      Here are two photos, one is of my front yard when we moved in, the other of it today, April 19, 2013.  The first is basically a dessert to many animals, except for the large pine tree, which offers a home to many birds and squirrels.  But grass provides little cover or nourishment to many creatures, while it takes many inputs: water, fertilizer, and herbicides.  The second photo is my yard today.  It is a much more inviting place, to creatures and to people.  Reading Tallamy, I realize I have made some mistakes, relying too much on non-native plants.  But I did some things right, using some native plants like American beautyberry, columbine, franklinia, native passion flower, and muscadine grape.  When we moved in we had dogwoods and Virginia creeper.  But I also have my share of non-natives, that offer little to native creatures. My big project is to inventory all the plants in my yard and slowly replace the ones less conducive to creatures with native plants that will provide shelter and food.  I will not get rid of all non-natives, but will establish a better balance, more natives than not.  If we all do this, or even a significant percent, we can create habitat and wildlife corridors in our neighborhoods.

     Check out Tallamy's website for a cool chart, listing, in rank order, plants and their utility to caterpillars.  Why caterpillars?  Well, remember the food web: birds and other animals eat the caterpillars, and in turn are consumed by creatures higher on the food chain.  This list is at: http://bringingnaturehome.net/news/what-should-i-plant
Next time: The words of Richard Louv. Happy gardening!


Mary Ann said...

Thank you for the environmental good work.

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Anita said...

Another good read, Judy. Again, you've injected another thought - native versus non-native plants. It has never occurred to me to connect the plants with the animals. I just figured if something will grow in a particular location, it must be alright to grow it.

By the way, I LOVE seeing animals in my yard, which is full of green grass, but since the wetlands are part of my back yard, I see deer quite often. I'm sure there are other creatures there too, like snakes. Of course, there is no lack of squirrels, and the singing birds, 24-7, is like music.

I'm glad we left lots of trees in the yard.