Plant selection is more than just gardening; it’s restoration. Over the course of a few centuries, we have changed the topography and soil chemistry of every corner of this country through agriculture, industry, and urban development. We have altered the places where native species were once able to establish themselves successfully, and our local ecosystems have suffered as a result.
Coneflower, Milkweed, and Beebalm make up almost 30% of the native plant market. You can find them in almost any garden center on the east coast, and we’re sold and told to plant them every year. But if these native plants are so important, durable, and easy to grow, why don’t we see them in the wild? In truth, these types of plants used to dominate the landscape, but after decades and centuries of altered topography and over development, their habitats have all but disappeared. In the sink-or-swim world of natural selection, native plants have fallen into two camps: specialized and generalized communities.
Establishing native species on your property allows for ecosystem processes that can’t be achieved with common lawn grass or ornamentals. If you want to rebuild and strengthen the natural habitat in your backyard, that plan has to include native plants. There are many, many important reasons to start restoring your property with native plants, so let’s start with the basics.
I have been asked several times in the last two weeks just when it’s safe to get rid of leaf litter without hurting the insects that have spent the winter within it. An urban legend called the 50 degree rule seems to be very popular these days, but it is just that: an urban legend. I am hearing that all insects will have emerged from your leaf litter or the dead stalks of your meadow plants after varying numbers of days when the daytime temperature is above 50 degrees: 5 consecutive days over 50 degrees, 7-10 days consecutive days above 50, or just several days above 50 whether or not they are consecutive are all popular counts.
I thought I would open this, our first newsletter, with a reiteration of what Homegrown National Park™ is all about, and why it and other conservation efforts around the world are so urgently needed today. There have been 5 great extinction events in the history of life on earth; each one came close to eliminating life altogether and after each one, it took many millions of years for life to rebound in the form of new species.
The Challenge Bird-friendly backyard programs must succeed. They are the best option for increasing bird populations on a yard-by-yard scale. Bird-friendly programs will fail, however, if they do not start by protecting birds against what is killing birds in yards — unprotected windows. We must recognize that windows are part of the backyard ecosystem. If we do not, the gains in bird population from bird-friendly backyards will be negated by bird deaths hitting windows.
I’ve been thinking a lot about mud which eventually made me think of other things, including non-gardeners.
As we emerge from the longest, strangest, discombobulating, navel gazing winter of lockdown, spring has arrived. Warm and sunny weather is melting the snow and ice creating a slippery stew of mud and deep grooves on our dirt road destined to splatter whatever you are wearing or driving. Mud becomes a constant consideration for all we do from the least messy way to walk to our mailbox, or the less treacherous route to drive. One day, anxious to get to my second Covid vaccine appointment, I drove faster than the 20 mph speed limit on our unmanageable road, and the mud took over. As I was about to veer off the road, I had just enough time to regain control while considering the irony of a head-on collision with a tree while en route to the life-saving jab.
It’s been five years since leaving NYC and trading in my high heels for muck boots and life on a dirt road. It still feels like freshman year at the University of Dirt Road.
When I traded 40 years of NYC for full time rural country living it was because I had this urgent need to be “outside;” it was more than Central Park or weekends in the countryside could deliver. I, who had spent the happiest part of my adult life traveling for business to major cities around the world, surrounded by humans, concrete and the occasional city park, now had this inexplicable need to be closer to nature.
Based on this rather sketchy notion, my husband Tom and I upped and left NYC. How we landed in a house on a dirt road in rural New England is a story for another time. Suffice it to say that the decision to live full-time countryside had nothing to do with gardening.