Perception of care is the belief, on the part of a viewer, that a landscape is being taken care of by a human. This belief is often the difference between an observer complaining that a space is not being maintained, and an observer appreciating that the property owner is being ecologically responsible with their land.
It is important to note that perception of care is not about fooling people into thinking an area is being managed when in fact it is not. Rather, perception of care is about helping others understand that a planting is intentionally designed to look as though it was put there by nature.
Over the decades, natural gardeners have found that they can create perception of care by including elements that serve as signals that a yard is being taken care of. Effective signals include:
- Human-centric features. Elements that are obviously more useful to people than to wildlife – such as a bench, a path, or a statue – show that a garden is designed by a human and is intended to be welcoming to humans.
- Clear borders. A definite edge to a planting serves as a cue that a planting was established on purpose, and has not just sprung up on its own. A decorative fence makes an obvious border, as does a narrow swath of mulch or gravel, or a mowed strip.
- White things. People tend to perceive white things as clean and well-maintained, and this perception will extend to the entire yard. If the aforementioned statue or decorative fence is white, it will serve double-duty as a signal that this is a well-cared-for space.
- Explanatory signs. Nothing says “this is an intentional natural yard” like a sign bearing the text “This is an intentional natural yard.” A quick internet search will turn up many examples of signs identifying and explaining the importance of pollinator habitat, standing dead trees, and natural yards in general.
Some studies suggest that trying to make a natural yard look acceptable to lawn-loving neighbors can drastically reduce the yard’s value to wildlife, but a few well-placed cues to care can prevent conflict at little cost to the homeowner or the environment.