Why is That Blog necessary?

That Blog has now been active for three years, and currently has nearly 200 posts. Those posts document numerous benefits of natural yards, and also report on clear signals that the era of the lawn is rapidly coming to a close.

During that same three-year period, however, the acreage of lawn in the United States has continued to increase, alongside ongoing suburban sprawl, as lawn remains a default landscaping choice in many parts of the country. And, studies still find that many people do not understand or value the many crucial services that urban nature provides for us.

A fascinating report from 2015 – just after That Blog was launched – investigates why experts on the importance of urban nature struggle to communicate what they know to laypeople. The fundamental finding of this report is that while experts recognize that nearby nature is absolutely critical to human health and wellbeing, the average person views nature as a sort of bonus amenity that is nice to have around if there is any space left after inserting houses, schools, workplaces, roads, parking lots, and all the other manmade infrastructure a community needs.

The report finds that many people also struggle with the basic idea of nature in cities. Urban dwellers often don’t view their local parks as nature, despite the presence of trees and other plants. To many Americans, “nature” means someplace vast and far away, the kind of place we visit occasionally on vacation.

In other words, the average person thinks that nature only counts if it’s big, and that we can “stock up” nature to sustain our wellbeing throughout the year. In contrast, experts understand that people benefit from nature as small as a pocket park or a residential yard, and that we need daily exposure to nature to really be at our best.

After comparing the views of laypeople to the knowledge of experts, and examining the communications gap between the two groups, the report concludes that people would value and support urban nature more if they understood that:

  • nature benefits us even when it is small.
  • we benefit from experiencing nature, rather than simply using it as a place to take a walk and get exercise.
  • nature benefits us in specific ways, via mechanisms science can explain.
  • nature is an essential component of urban design; we cannot live without it.
  • we can choose to have more nature in our cities!

For three years, That Blog has examined how even a small planting provides a wide variety of benefits, explored how we feel when we look at naturally-growing plants, explained how plants support our physical and mental health, expressed that natural yards are a great choice for our neighborhoods, and encouraged everyone to garden sustainably with nature!

Until public understanding and acceptance of urban nature is in line with what experts have long known, That Blog is still necessary. In the coming months, That Blog will cover the impacts of global warming, how to be a good neighbor to plants, and what happens to people’s wellbeing when nearby nature is destroyed. But first, That Blog will tackle head-on the key question: How can one yard make a difference?

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Why is That Blog necessary?

What’s new in natural yards? May 2018

A recently-published study (authored in part by That Blogger’s former thesis advisor) examines how Wisconsinites think about their urban trees.

A 16-page survey sent to homeowners in and around Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, and Wausau asked people a variety of questions about trees. One set of questions regarded benefits and problems related to trees. Under the header of benefits, survey respondents most strongly valued trees for their ability to make a place look nice, provide shade and cooling, improve air quality, and generally enhance the livability of a neighborhood.

But about half of the homeowners said they were “strongly concerned” about the risk of trees or branches falling and damaging things. People within city limits (as opposed to those living in the suburbs) and people with smaller lots tended to be more worried about this risk, possibly because a falling tree or branch on their property was more likely to hit something. People who saw trees as dangerous, the study found, valued trees less overall.

The survey also asked who homeowners trusted for help and advice related to trees. The results showed that respondents trusted tree professionals more than any other source of information. Averaged across the four cities, 62% of people said they would trust a landscaping company or tree service, while only 14% said they would trust the staff of a non-profit organization. This is surprising and worrying, as such professionals have a financial incentive to suggest whatever service is most profitable for them, rather than the service that is best for the tree and its neighbors (human and otherwise).

The survey’s demographic questions turned up some interesting findings. Women rated trees more highly than men did, and millennials valued trees more than baby boomers, though these younger folks tended to have fewer trees on their own properties, likely because their lots were smaller than those of their more senior neighbors. Older homeowners, in contrast, expressed more concern about trees “growing too big, making a mess, or blocking scenic views”.

Finally, most people who answered the survey thought that their neighbors valued trees and took good care of trees. But, as with many domains of life, people rated themselves even more highly on questions about recognizing the importance of trees and properly caring for trees.

The relatively-brief, highly-readable report can be found here.

What’s new in natural yards? May 2018

What’s new in natural yards? May 2017 #2

As the number of monarch butterflies continues to decline, scientists have calculated that more than 1.8 billion new milkweed plants need to be planted in order to provide monarchs with enough places to lay their eggs and recover from the brink of extinction.

“‘To put that in context, that’s more than three milkweed plants for every man, woman and child in the United States,’ said Karen Oberhauser, professor and conservation biologist in the University of Minnesota Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology.”

The good news is that milkweed – the only plant monarch butterflies will lay their eggs on – is easy to grow. The milkweed family contains over 100 species. Wisconsin alone has native milkweed species that will grow in wet spots, dry spots, sunny spots, and shady spots. Milkweed is able to thrive in roadside ditches and along the edges of farm fields, and was once so abundant across America that many cities labeled it a noxious weed and forbade property owners to plant it.

Now, attitudes towards milkweed are changing. But attitudes are not enough. If we want to protect monarchs before it’s too late, we need to actually plant milkweed in our yards – and lots of it.

Any native plant nursery should have local milkweed species available as plants and seeds. Right now is the perfect time of year to add some to your garden.

 

What’s new in natural yards? May 2017 #2

Who else is writing about natural yards?

Madison’s Isthmus newspaper ran an article in 2012 that declared the age of the turf grass lawn to be over.

The New Yorker published a similar article in 2008.

The New York Times Magazine printed an article questioning lawns as early as 1989.

Bringing Nature Home comprehensively describes why natural yards are critical to the preservation of ecosystem services.

Silent Spring, a landmark book in the environmental movement, discusses how maintaining lawns through applications of chemicals is harmful to homeowners as well as to wildlife.

(Outside the Madison library system? Find the books on Amazon here and here.)

Who else is writing about natural yards?