What happens when an area has a lot of natural yards?

A post from a few months ago reported that when a HOA changed its landscaping from turf grass to native plants, it won awards. But that’s just one natural yard. What happens when a small geographical area has a lot of natural yards?

It wins awards.

Last fall, Medina County in northeastern Ohio accomplished its goal of having 400 natural yards. The tally included 360 private yards, 13 gardens at schools, 20 gardens on farms, and 7 gardens in public places. A garden counted towards the total if it provided the four things that wildlife need: food, water, cover, and places to raise their young.

After officially reaching its goal, Medina County received an award from the National Wildlife Federation, honoring them for their achievement in providing wildlife habitat. The county originally decided to embark on this project in order to help pollinators – and, indeed, gardens that counted towards the goal have been observed to host more pollinators and other wildlife.

Medina County doesn’t plan to stop establishing native plant gardens now that it’s had this important success. Rather, the county is seeking to add 100 more gardens to its tally each year for the next several years.

The fact that Medina County wants to create lots of native plant gardens is important. In doing so, the county is making a statement that native plant gardens are not harmful or unsightly. It is saying that native plant gardens should not be tightly restricted in number or size or location. It is expressing its belief that, when it comes to native plant gardens, you can hardly have too much of a good thing.

Native plant gardens are good. More of them is better. You can do your part by adding native plants to your land, and by encouraging friends and neighbors to do the same.

What happens when an area has a lot of natural yards?

What’s new in natural yards? February 2019

Almost two years ago, That Blog reported that the rusty-patched bumble bee had recently been added to the endangered species list. Now, there’s a happy update: in 2018, more of the bees were seen in more places than in 2017, a year which itself had increased sightings as compared to 2016.

It’s important to remember that the seeming increase in the bee’s numbers and range might be because scientists are working harder to find it. However, it’s also true that the Endangered Species Act has successfully protected 99% of the species that have been added to it.

It is well within our power to save species from extinction, when we choose to do so. If we simply plant a variety of flowers in our yards, leave a little bit of bare soil, and refrain from spraying pesticides, we have created a new area of habitat for rusty-patched bumble bees. Every person who does this contributes to the continued existence of an animal that used to be common in our country.

This spring, make a mindful choice about what you want to pursue: a picture-perfect lawn, or a planet that thrives with wondrous biodiversity.

What’s new in natural yards? February 2019

What is low-hanging fruit?

The phrase low-hanging fruit refers to easy and effective ways to begin solving a complex problem.

This phrase is often used in business. If there is some simple process change that your organization could implement to increase efficiency and make customers happier, that is low-hanging fruit.

The phrase can also be used in our daily lives. For example, consider the problem of cleaning your house. Sorting through all the clutter in the attic is a daunting challenge. But maybe, in half an hour, you could straighten up the stuff that has accumulated on the kitchen table, and make the heart of your home feel neater and brighter. That’s low-hanging fruit.

What is the low-hanging fruit when it comes to solving our present environmental crises? America’s greenhouse gas emissions are mostly coming from the transportation sector, but addressing that means changing the whole way we move people and goods, and that’s a complicated problem. The way we produce food is wiping out wildlife habitat, destroying soil, and polluting water sources, but fixing these problems means overhauling our entire farming system, and that’s a huge, thorny challenge.

What can we do, right now, to help slow or even reverse the damage to our environment?

We can change the way we garden in our yards.

Imagine if everyone just stopped doing yard work: no more mowing, no more leafblowing, no more watering, no more spraying of pesticides. As That Blog has documented for three and a half years, this would have rapid and meaningful environmental benefits: less greenhouse gas emissions, less toxic chemicals in our environment, less water pollution, less water waste, less noise, more wildlife habitat, better human health and wellbeing – and, as we sit back, relax, and solve all these problems by simply letting plants do what they naturally do, there is virtually no evidence that some other set of problems will crop up.

This past October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – a working group of nearly 100 leading climate scientists from dozens of countries – released a report stating that we have barely a dozen years to take drastic action to protect and restore our environment. Achieving the targets the scientists say we must reach will mean that we must rapidly make massive changes to the way we travel, the way we produce food, the way we build our houses, and many other aspects of our lives.

If we fail to immediately tackle the low-hanging fruit – if we do not stop burning fossil fuels to prevent plants from growing, if we do not stop using disposable items when perfectly good reusable alternatives are available, if we do not stop spraying toxic chemicals to kill harmless insects – there would seem to be little hope that we will make meaningful progress on the actually difficult challenges that we must solve in order to save our civilization and our planet.

What is low-hanging fruit?

What happens when lawns are replaced with thriving plants? #1

The people responsible for the change win awards.

A few years ago, mainly due to the efforts of one resident, a homeowner’s association in Colorado organized residents to change how they landscaped. The neighborhood converted 250 private gardens from lawn and pruned shrubbery to native plants, replaced turf grass in sidewalk strips with alternative plantings, and added vegetable gardens. After making this change in their own neighborhood, community leaders engaged in advocacy work to persuade homeowners in other neighborhoods to do the same thing.

These leaders, through their homeowner’s association, won no fewer than three awards, including one from a wildlife-focused non-profit, one from a non-profit that focuses on conserving water, and one from Colorado’s state government.

The property owners see tremendous savings on their water bills.

It was actually the water issue – not concerns about wildlife or about sustainability in general – that first prompted these local leaders to do something about their landscaping. By replacing lawn with less thirsty plants, and by watering the remaining lawn through more efficient methods, the homeowner’s association reduced their water usage by a staggering 15 million gallons per year. The residents of the neighborhood, who had been splitting the total cost of the community’s water usage, saw dramatic savings on their utility bills. Plus, the local water company rewarded them with additional rebates for their conservation efforts.

Property values go up.

After slashing water consumption and changing the look of the neighborhood by adding vegetable gardens and native plants, the homeowner’s association noticed that the sale prices of condos in the community were going up. And this was not a coincidence or an unusual experience: a community in Illinois called Prairie Crossing was designed from the outset to incorporate native plantings and other lush vegetation, and people there remain in their homes for much longer than is typical in other communities. When residents of Prairie Crossing do move, it’s often just to a bigger or smaller house in the community as their life circumstances change.

 

Non-lawn alternatives are still unfamiliar to many people, prompting fears about the negative impacts they may bring about. But in reality, people who have given up their lawns find that they enjoy huge financial savings, a more beautiful community, and broad appreciation for their efforts.

What happens when lawns are replaced with thriving plants? #1

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? April 2018

New Jersey has long been known as the Garden State. Now, it’s taking further steps to live up to its nickname.

Recognizing the opportunity created by its miles upon miles of highways, New Jersey has passed a law that landscaping projects alongside highways must use only plants native to the region. The law, which was passed last spring, went into effect in the fall. It applies to new roadway projects; it doesn’t require immediate re-planting along existing highways.

The law was drafted by Republicans in the state senate and assembly. It proved wildly popular among lawmakers from both parties: of 106 senators and assemblypersons who voted on it, only two were opposed.

There are lots of reasons in favor of planting natives, but the bill’s proponents focused on just a few of them. First, following the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy in the fall of 2012, many New Jerseyans realized that plants native to the mid-Atlantic coast were better at withstanding these kinds of storms than exotic plants from around the world. As they ride out bad weather, these hardy plants go right on preventing flooding and erosion – services that non-natives stop providing when hurricanes wipe them out.

Native plants are also better at sustaining native animals. The new roadside plantings will serve as vital corridors for birds, butterflies, and other wildlife moving through the state.

Finally, the lawmakers noticed that natives are cheaper. Why? Because natives, once established, happily take care of themselves, while non-natives need constant expensive maintenance and often die anyway, leaving nothing to show for the investment.

The New Jersey lawmakers hope that more people will take up gardening with native plants. In the next post, That Blog will look at different ways native plants can be used.

What’s new in natural yards? April 2018

What’s new in natural yards? March 2018

One of the earliest posts on That Blog highlighted the plantings at the Wisconsin governor’s mansion, as an example of respectable people having natural yards. Now, the governor and first lady of North Carolina claim that they have the first true natural garden at a governor’s residence.

First Lady Kristin Cooper took the lead on the project, which began last summer. The primary goal was to create a garden that would provide habitat for North Carolina’s native birds. In the course of doing so, the garden will also educate North Carolinians about the importance of habitat, and encourage them to plant similar gardens in their own yards.

The first lady and her husband, Governor Roy Cooper, are taking their job as natural gardening role models seriously – they’re already actively working on establishing a native plant garden at their own private residence.

The garden at the executive mansion was officially dedicated last October, during a Native Plants Week declared by Governor Cooper. The garden is 400 square feet and includes about 1,000 plants representing 25 native species. As the plants grow, they will attract butterflies, bees, and birds. In time, the garden itself may grow to cover a larger area.

In the next post, That Blog will visit New Jersey to see what that state is doing to promote native plants.

What’s new in natural yards? March 2018