But I’m not doing anything special to turn my plants into superheroes. All I did was select the right ones at planting time – and plant them with TLC.
SHARON — From a home base in the forested hills of the Northwest Corner, a nonprofit organization called Homegrown National Park (HNP) hopes to take a stab at healing one of the world’s great wounds: the decimation of biodiversity.
To do so, HNP pursues one major goal—to encourage homeowners across the country to plant native plants in however much of their property they’re able and willing to do. Whether it’s a container garden in the window of an urban apartment, or stewarding rolling acres of meadow.
On the subject of container gardening, HNP has found some viral success. A HNP TikTok video titled “Container-friendly Native Plants for Eastern Temperate Forests Ecoregion” has amassed 4.4 million views, with a number of others collecting hundreds of thousands as well.
This sort of grassroots success is exactly the sort that co-founder and Sharon resident Michelle Alfandari is striving to cultivate. Alfandari, a marketer and entrepreneur, founded HNP in 2020 with Doug Tallamy, a nationally renowned scientist and professor at the University of Delaware, and author of “Nature’s Best Hope.” Through HNP, Alfandari and Tallamy hope to promote a groundswell of participation in home-scaled ecology. Tallamy handles the science side of the messaging through speaking engagements and video lectures, and Alfandari tackles the marketing, managing, and outreach.
HNP’s messaging gears toward positive and encouraging — but Tallamy doesn’t pull punches when he describes the scale and severity of the threat the world is facing.
I have been writing The Ungardener column for a little over a year. If you are a reader then you are likely aware that these articles exist to cajole, inform or otherwise persuade you to get rid of the invasive plants on your property and to cultivate the growth of native plants. There are many ways to write about the topic and, with a few exceptions, I have stuck to the most positive ones as they are nicest to both write and, I hope, to read. Also, my sense is that the topic of invasives so easily leads to negativity, guilt and fear — clearly not the best motivators to action.
Similarly, when I visit people’s property, as I have with each of the 16 participants in my Woodland Workshop, I am always looking for the nicest elements of each property. This might be a beautiful tree, a small patch of trout lily or an area of native strawberry and partridge berry groundcover. It is easier to begin a difficult and potentially long endeavor bolstered by the notion that you are saving something beautiful from disappearance. It gives a sense of what can be — the potential that is waiting to be unleashed. I also am confident that once people get on with the work, their senses become heightened in a way that is tremendously fulfilling and reinforcing. These successes give us confidence and inspiration to address, in our own way, what would otherwise be a scary reality.
This story previously appeared in Connecticut Gardner magazine: Millions of people will flock to national parks this summer, anticipating the oceanside cascades at Acadia, the wildlife at Yellowstone, or the views at Shenandoah. All these worthy destinations delight their visitors at the same time as they preserve extraordinary elements of the natural landscape and provide wildlife habitat.
But, according to some ways of thinking, the national parks are more like nature museums than nature itself.
One of those thinkers is Dr. Douglas Tallamy, whose 40 years of research have aimed to understand how insects interact with plants and how such interactions determine the diversity of animal communities. He is probably familiar to many Connecticut Gardener readers through his books and many talks and webinars…
Janet and Jeff Crouch of Columbia, Md., enjoy a yard of native flowers and plants instead of a grass lawn. “Your yard is not the place for such a habitat,” their homeowner association told them. Credit…Jason Andrew - NYT
THEY FOUGHT THE LAWN. AND THE LAWN LOST
After their homeowner association ordered them to replace their wildlife-friendly plants with turf grass, a Maryland couple sued. They ended up changing state law. Read on. | by Cara Buckley | The New York Times | December 14, 2022
Dr. Tallamy, whose book, “Nature’s Best Hope,” urges homeowner to change their yards into conservation corridors, said that because so much property in the United States is privately owned — as much as 78 percent — owners had to be enlisted to grow native plants that support biodiversity. “This idea that humans and nature cannot coexist is destroying the entire planet, which in turn is destroying humans,” Dr. Tallamy said. “The only way forward is to coexist.”
For the Crouches, giving in was not an option. They hired a lawyer and contacted every wildlife and environmental group they could think of, along with local legislators. After a year and a half, still at an impasse with the homeowner association and fearful that one day they’d come home to find their garden mowed down, they filed a complaint in Howard County Circuit Court. “The overall principles are bigger than us,” Mrs. Crouch said. “We had an opportunity and even an obligation to see it through as best we could.”
Two months after the Crouches filed their complaint, a Maryland state representative asked if they would allow their case to form the basis of a new environmental law. Dozens of states have passed legislation to promote the health of pollinators, which include bees, wasps, bats and butterflies, while some have curbed the authority of homeowner association edicts during droughts. But the Maryland law was the first in the country to limit homeowner association control over eco-friendly yards, said Mary Catherine Cochran, former legislative director for Maryland State Delegate Terri L. Hill, a Democrat who co-sponsored the legislation. The measure gained bipartisan support, passed with near unanimity, and became law in October 2021.
“Maryland was a big deal,” Dr. Tallamy, the ecologist, said. “Now people know if they fight back, they can win.”
One way to add diversity to your yard is to mow the less essential parts of the lawn less often: Maintain paths and areas around seating, but let the grass in other areas grow longer or introduce native plantings there. Credit...Margaret Roach
YOUR LAWN QUESTIONS, ANSWERED
No, mowing less often doesn’t mean more ticks. And there’s a way to get around those homeowner association rules. Read on. | by Margaret Roach | The New York Times | June 29, 2022
Calling the tens of millions of acres of lawn in America “an ecologically dead status symbol,” Douglas W. Tallamy, an ecologist at the University of Delaware, encourages us to do better and help regenerate biodiversity by planting more natives.
And that means replacing some of our lawn.
In his 2020 book, “Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard,” he challenged readers to help create what he calls a Homegrown National Park. His proposal: that a network of individual efforts can add up, and will help to offset the fragmentation of the greater landscape.
Now, in an online Homegrown National Park campaign, participants can commit their land to the movement by joining an interactive map and displaying a sign that tells neighbors what they are doing.
Your Lawn Questions, Answered
No, mowing less often doesn’t mean more ticks. And there’s a way to get around those homeowner association rules. Read on. It’s time, Dr. Tallamy said, to “bring the private landowner back into a critically important position in the future of conservation.”
THE RISE - ANN BEAUTY - OF THE NATIVE PLANT In an era of climate change, homeowners and landscapers are learning what ecologists have known for decades: It’s time to shed the mighty American lawn in favor of native plants and perennials. | by Chris Moody | The Washington Post | April 4, 2022
Plants and animals evolved over millions of years to survive in cooperation with one another. Replacing natives with foreign exotics such as turf grass or invasive vines can disrupt that delicate ecological balance, says Douglas Tallamy, a professor of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware. At a time of anxiety over the effects of climate change and the mass extinction of wildlife, ecologists say that planting natives can provide an opportunity to make a difference.
“We have to expand beyond lawns,” says Tallamy, a native plant advocate and author of “Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard.” “It’s the low-hanging fruit because it’s the easiest one to fix and it’s the most detrimental.”
… While pondering the millions of acres of native landscape repurposed for alien turf grass, Tallamy had an idea. Despite federal conservation efforts like the system of national parks that protects natural spaces, government action would never create enough space for habitat renewal. But small private action, if accomplished on a collective scale, could make a difference. He launched an initiative to persuade Americans to plant natives on their property instead of grass, one household at a time. He called it Homegrown National Park.
Planting a tree and seeing it grow and thrive is one of the most long-lasting and fulfilling gardening experiences. I feel that way about the gingko in our front yard, but when it comes to wildlife value, a gingko is almost like having a plastic tree in your yard—it has zero value to the little critters that make nature work. A gingko attracts no caterpillars at all (which are essential for birds to raise their young), but a native oak, on the other hand, supports more than 550 species of caterpillars. According to Doug Tallamy, a professor of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware and a leading voice in the movement to plant more natives, a single pair of chickadees needs 6,000 to 9,000 caterpillars to feed one clutch of young.
Douglas Tallamy signs books at a Dinner on the Prairie event in Burlington.
The setting was idyllic. Acres of restored prairie surrounded over 125 dinner guests on Molly and Jeff Keller’s North Breakenridge Farm in Burlington on Saturday, July 17. The sun shone softly in the west, and the grasses and “forbs”, or flowers, of gold, white and blue swayed in the refreshing breeze.
Douglas Tallamy, the event’s speaker, may well be the current “rock star” of gardeners and conservationists across the country. Tallamy is a professor of entomology – a “bug guy” – at the University of Delaware.
His 2020 book, “Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard,” is a New York Times Best-Seller.
YARDS WITH LESS GRASS AND MORE PLANTS HELP FIGHT CLIMATE CHANGE In 2020, Americans spent $105 billion keeping their lawns verdant and neat. But our love of grass comes at an environmental cost. | by Tik Root | The Philadelphia Inquirer | July 10, 2021
Summer is officially here. For many Americans, that means blankets of grassy green for kids to play in.
There are an estimated 40 million to 50 million acres of lawn in the continental United States — that’s nearly as much as all of the country’s national parks combined. In 2020, Americans spent $105 billion keeping their lawns verdant and neat.
But our love of grass comes at an environmental cost.
GARDEN DESIGNER Butter Wakefield’s London backyard, above, has nary a blade of grass out of place. Except, that is, for an untamed patch that contains what many people might deem weedy eyesores: tufted vetch, ragged robin and knapweed. Bracketed by a close-cropped carpet of grass and conically manicured yews in her tidy back garden, the wildflower strip gives the space an unexpected “wow factor,” Ms. Wakefield said.
Landscape designers and home gardeners are beginning to embrace the feral beauty of what might be called “welcome weeds”: pop-up native plants whose reputations are being elevated from squatting carbuncles to prized members of the flora-scape.
(Michael Parkin for The Washington Post)
Summer is officially here. For many Americans, that means blankets of grassy green for kids to play in, or families to picnic on.
There are an estimated 40 million to 50 million acres of lawn in the continental United States — that’s nearly as much as all of the country’s national parks combined. In 2020, Americans spent $105 billion keeping their lawns verdant and neat. But our grass addiction comes at an environmental cost.
If 2020 was the year of vegetable gardening, perhaps 2021 can be a time to shift our focus to the broader ecosystem – not just for the sake of our wilder neighbours, but for our human communities, too.
One leader in this movement has been American ecologist Douglas W. Tallamy, whose book Nature’s Best Hope urges readers to set aside half their properties for native plants, a concept he calls Homegrown National Park. It’s an idea that has captured many imaginations, and for good reason, says Carly Ziter, a professor of biology at Concordia University who specializes in the ecology of urban environments. “It might feel uncomfortable at first to do these things because we’re used to a certain aesthetic,” she says. “But often when people start seeing the bees and butterflies and birds come back, it’s really gratifying and they want to do more.”
To say that Michelle Alfandari was ultra urban would be an understatement. Living in New York City with her artist husband, Tom Goldenberg, she traveled the world creating new licensed branded businesses for companies as diverse (but always sophisticated) as The New York Times, the Tour de France and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
When she and Goldenberg moved to Sharon, Conn., a few years ago, Alfandari literally stopped and smelled the flowers. .. Alfandari has partnered with Tallamy to create Homegrown National Park, a call-to-action to restore biodiversity, one person at a time, by planting native plants and removing invasives. They invite everyone in America, no experience necessary, to get on the interactive Homegrown National Park map by planting native in their yards, whether it’s a few feet or a few hundred acres. READ THE FULL ARTICLE PDF
In honor of Earth Day, we are building a shire in our backyard. Not the dictionary definition of a shire, (meaning a county in England). But rather, the fantasy world one, as featured in the series of movies based on the book, “The Hobbit.” It was my husband’s idea. He noticed that a turned-over tree stump took the shape of Frodo’s front door. Our imaginations took over from there. Building a fantastical, productive ecosystem of native plants took on a fun twist.
“Connecting gardening, people, and ecological stewardship
In many ways, the question of why we garden—and why we value visiting gardens — is philosophical. Gardening has always been an activity that draws people together through the sharing of seeds saved from previous years with our neighbors, the sharing of divisions of our favorite plants with friends, and, importantly, the sharing of advice and lessons learned with those who are new to gardening.
… Douglas W. Tallamy, a renowned University of Delaware entomologist, is also a supporter of the Two Thirds for the Birds initiative… Garden Conservancy Director of Public Programs and Education Patrick MacRae spoke with Doug virtually about the connections between native plants, bird populations, and our gardens. Here are some highlights from that conversation…” READ THE FULL ARTICLE PDF
Photo credit studio2013/Getty Images
“Entomologist and University of Delaware professor Douglas Tallamy encourages people to think about their yards as wildlife preserves, where trees serve as major anchors. His new interactive website invites users to chart their own planting efforts toward biodiversity with others across the nation.
Tallamy’s latest book about oak trees illustrates the benefits trees bring to any landscape. One excerpt reads, “A yard without oaks is a yard meeting only a fraction of its life-support potential.”
And, seeds are easily available and free — just scoop out a hole in a spot with a lot of soil volume and space to spread, and drop an acorn in.”
Blue jays are one of the principal agents of oak dispersal by burying acorns for winter storage far from the parent tree. (Doug Tallamy/Timber Press)
“One uplifting way to mark the hardships and sorrows of a year like no other is to plant a tree.
As it grows, it will be a reminder of the time the world shut down and of those who died in the pandemic. A young tree, vigorous, aiming for the stars, also allows us to look forward and to share in its vitality.
But don’t plant just any tree. Make it an oak.”
Photo by Doug Tallamy
“Oaks support more life-forms than any other North American tree genus, providing food, protection or both for birds to bears, as well as countless insects and spiders, among the enormous diversity of species. Oaks also supply more of what he calls “fascinating interactions,” intimate details the book chronicles, month by month… There’s a payoff for the environment, yes, but also for each of us, in the bonds of personal connection. He [Doug} feels it, down to the last acorn.”
PODCASTS with Margaret Roach and Doug Tallamy
- How conservation starts in your yard: Doug Tallamy on 'Nature's Best Hope'
- The garden as habitat, with Doug Tallamy
- How effective are nativars? with Doug Tallamy
- What I learned about pollinators and other beneficial insects in 2018
Photo: University of Delaware Entomologist Dr. Douglas Tallamy has found in his research that eliminating insects from the garden also eliminates the native birds and other types of wildlife that eat the insects.
CREATING A HOMEGROWN NATIONAL PARK | Berkshire Botanical Garden Be-a-Better-Gardener | by Thomas Christopher | 03.04.21
“Social media and the Internet in general have been attracting a lot of criticism recently, and deservedly so. Still, we shouldn’t lose track of the fact that these means of communication also have the power to do good--even in the garden. Consider, for example, what Michelle Alfandari and Douglas Tallamy are accomplishing with their new website, homegrownnationnalpark.org.
Dr. Douglas Tallamy, an entomologist (insect researcher) at the University of Delaware, has attracted a lot of attention in gardening circles over the last dozen years with his championship of insects’ role as the base of the wildlife food chain. Eliminating insects is something gardeners have done very effectively over the last generation by planting species of foreign origin that are inedible to our native insects. When you do this, Tallamy has found through his research, you also eliminate the native birds and other types of wildlife that eat the insects.”
READ THE FULL ARTICLE PDF