Make Your Yard a Refuge
Alongside climate change, we are witnessing what Elizabeth Kolbert refers to as the sixth mass extinction event on Earth: insects across the planet are dying off, with one in three species listed as endangered as of 2019, and a recent report found a majority of bird species in the United States are declining in population too. Much like the climate crisis, the causes of this biodiversity crisis generally stem from human behavior. Through our actions, we all have the power to create real, lasting impact in our communities and our environments. Especially when we join together and move towards better ways of living.
One such action is growing native plants in and around your home or “rewilding” your garden, while advocating for native flora throughout your community. In this way, you can make the area around you a refuge to the birds, insects, fungi, and more in desperate need of native green spaces, while also making a more climate-resilient community for you and your neighbors. For example, you can add native wildflowers to attract bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. Native flora is also a great way to support soil biodiversity. By relinquishing some gray infrastructure back to green, we can increase the space native species have access to. Planting native flora provides native fauna a distinct advantage against their own invasive rivals, as they have evolved alongside these plants and some have developed symbiotic diets and behaviors. Plus they make for more beautiful surroundings for you to enjoy!
BECOME A REWILDING GUARDIAN Rewilding does not mean planting and forgetting. Humans have been managers and protectors of native habitats across the globe for generations, and we have an important role to play as we attempt to return to a more harmonious relationship with the world around us. While native plants will usually require less maintenance than an invasive species because of their natural acclimation to your area's climate, monitoring any space you’ve cultivated will be important to ensure weeds and other pests don’t encroach on the refuge you are creating. And while you are performing this maintenance, you can switch to electric gardening tools to reduce your climate pollution! By acting as a manager and a guardian of a native garden, you will grow closer to your own habitat, and you will have the opportunity to witness native plants and any animal visitors they attract as the seasons and weather change.
An added benefit to a native green space is that the plants are accustomed to your area’s natural climate. This means areas prone to heavy rainfall will have natives that thrive on mass amounts of water and can act as stormwater retention solutions and help to mitigate flooding, while areas prone to drought will have native species that need little water to grow.
FINDING AND PURCHASING NATIVE FLORA Despite their many benefits, native flora can be hard to find at big box retailers. It’s best to look for a local plant nursery, many of whom specialize in native plants and would be able to assist in planning any projects to ensure the right plants are put in the right places. Pop up sales in the spring and fall of local plants are common in some areas and can be found online or by asking around. Local landscapers can also be a great resource in planning gardens and acquiring native plants.
It’s possible, with the right know-how and care, to gather seeds and clippings from native plants near you to propagate your project. If you are going to do so, you must be mindful of foraging and clipping with respectful for the ecosystem you are harvesting from. Robin Wall Kimmerer offers great advice in this regard. A few of her suggestions for an honorable harvest are to (1) ask permission of the ones whose lives you seek and abide by the answer, (2) take only what you need and leave some for others, (3) use everything you take, and (4) share as the Earth has shared with you. For her full guide toward harvesting from the Earth, you can read her book, Braiding Sweetgrass.
However big or small your space may be, native plants are an incredible way to exponentially increase their benefits to you, your community, and your ecosystem. Happy growing!
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