Are you one of those people who care about our environment? Or do you take the natural world, all of the birds, the animals and the plants, for granted? Recently, I attended a lecture by Doug Tallamy, the author of “Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants” (April 1, 2009, Timber Press.) I came away from that experience with a renewed appreciation of the important and intricate web of wildlife that can exist within our landscapes.
In the cities and towns, and subdivisions where we live, a large percentage of the land is covered by hard-surfaced construction: streets, roads, driveways, and houses. Our subdivisions are about 92% grass with houses ringed with a narrow foundation landscape of often times “exotic” plants such as pears, rhododendrons, lilacs, yews, and burning bush. While beautiful, these planted strips are a barren wasteland to native insects and thus the birds that eat them.
Our municipalities and housing communities are human-dominated ecosystems. Our “food web” of the insects that are eaten by the birds; the caterpillars that become butterflies; the bees that act as fruit pollinators; and many other animal populations are vanishing because our landscapes and development don’t support them. Birds need insects to live! Insects need food. I believe it is our ethical responsibility and humanity’s moral duty to protect the earth and its creatures. We need to do something about this problem!
I believe that if enough of us care, we can transform suburbia from an environmental liability to an environmental asset. Wildlife is threatened when suburban development encroaches on once-wild lands. Beneficial insects are being deprived of essential food sources when suburban gardeners and landscape professionals utilize nonnative plant material exclusively. Dr. Tallamy declares thus weakened, the food chain will no longer be able to support birds and other animal life. There are 127 species of birds that are in decline according to the research that has been done. Ninety six percent of birds feed their young with insects.
Many of our clients love butterfly bushes (Buddleia spp.) By planting them, they believe they will be able to watch swarms of butterflies. While the bush does attract the adult butterfly to sip the nectar, the plant cannot be eaten by the caterpillar that morphs into the adult. To encourage butterflies, plants must be installed that feed these caterpillars and provide habitat for the hanging chrysalis. Buddleia is really just another exotic plant in the landscape. We need to be planting material that encourages life cycle growth and development.
What can you do personally to help the cause? Instead of having most of your property in lawn (which creates storm water runoff, needs chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and fungicides to be beautiful and perfect, and creates debris problems when cut) plant some native plants in your existing landscape. Add borders of some native trees, shrubs, perennials, and grasses. Creating green buffers will give you more privacy, beautify your views, and create more enjoyable outdoor living space. You will be building habitat to encourage birds, butterflies, and animals. Your place will become a haven for them and allow you to enjoy watching them come and go, eating the berries from the shrubs, picking the seeds from the perennials, and selecting the grasses for nesting materials. You can see them sheltering in the evergreens in the winter.
Imagine looking down at suburban neighborhoods from a plane. Imagine further that a neighborhood replaced some of their lawns with planted areas. If one entire neighborhood did it, can you imagine what an impact that would have on the view and on our environment? If lots of neighborhoods did that, we could save the ecosystem-sustaining matrix of insects and animals.
The solution could be as easy as planting some native plants.
To help you along the journey, there are lists that have been developed by Doug Tallamy placing a point value on various plants that rank the relative value of those to be considered. At the top of the list is an Oak tree with a point value of 534. River Birches are good at 413, Crab species at 311, Maples, 285, and Pines 203; while spruces are 30% of the Oak at 156. Some helpful perennials are: Asters, Black-eyed Susans, Gallium, Christmas Fern, Hayscented Fern, Filipendula, Joe Pye Weed. Shrubs include: Hammamalis, Arrow-wood Viburnum, Wisteria, Sambucus, Spirea, Rhus, Fothergilla, and Itea.
At Garden Design, we create beautiful, functional landscapes to meet the needs of our clients. We have been incorporating natives in our designs for many years because they’re beautiful. And, because we want to help! You can have a beautiful landscape and make a difference, just one plant at a time!