Building an Ecosystem for Earth Day: The Shire in my Backyard

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.

About native plants

I am excited to have a whimsical, natural retreat in my backyard. But also enthusiastic that this decision creates an opportunity to showcase native plants. Native plants are usually taken for granted. When creating gardens, people often choose ornamental plants. However, plants native to your local environment, will thrive with less care and expense. With just a little reconsideration, many gardens would not only be attractive but also support the environment.

The wildflowers we find in untamed fields are often unjustly called weeds. Most of us do not consider the reason for that label.  What is the difference between a wildflower and a weed really?  Dandelions are knocked hard, but you can eat a dandelion in a pinch.  Toddlers everywhere express undying affection with handfuls of crushed dandelions. Yet, we mow them down to get a sea of uninterrupted green lawn.

Copyright © 2021 by HOMEGROWN NATIONAL PARK™

The Problem with lawns

A green lawn is a dead ecosystem. Or rather more poetically, a biological desert.  This is chilling phrasing. It stands in stark contrast to our perceptions of a space for children and adults to play and relax. Pristine lawns convey a sense of peace and calm. Until we face biology. The biological damage of turfgrass is brutal:

  • Lawn irrigation uses 8 billion gallons of water daily.  This is more water than is replaced through rainfall.
  • Forty percent of chemicals used to grow weed-free lawns are carcinogenic.
  • Forty – sixty percent of lawn fertilizer drains into surface and groundwater. It kills the small organisms and contaminates drinking water.
  • The amount of oxygen produced by a lawn is only a fraction of what was produced by the original ecosystem.
  • The habitat of native bees is destroyed when a lawn replaces a natural ecosystem.

The list is longer, but I don’t want to crush your soul. (Although, for those of you who are over mowing, this is nothing but good news.)

If you cringe at an overgrown, yard –no worries. Keep reading.

Copyright © 2021 by HOMEGROWN NATIONAL PARK™

The Homegrown National Park Project

I would like to introduce you to the Homegrown National Park project.  This is a grassroots effort by homeowners, property owners, land managers, farmers or anyone with access to yard to create a healthy ecosystem using native plants. Dr. Doug Tallamy, professor of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware, and Michelle Alfandari are leading the initiative. Their project goal is to convert half of privately owned green lawns into twenty million acres of native plantings. According to their website, its the “largest cooperative conservation project ever attempted”.  In doing so, the project restores desperately needed biodiversity and ecosystem health. 

Copyright © 2021 by HOMEGROWN NATIONAL PARK™

And not only does it create good ecological health, it is also beautiful.  Their Instagram account contains some incredible photos of the variety of possibilities for a breathtaking and ecologically healthy yard. And, it requires less work, expense, and maintenance. Using native plants doesn’t require you to tame nature. But rather, it encourages us to work with its strengths. In doing so, beauty and sustainability can coexist harmoniously.

Helpful Resource for our Ecosystem

 Check out their website. You will find excellent resources including short step-by-step articles to help you start. And you can also sign your yard onto their map so that you can become part of the grassroots movement. #getonthemap

Culturally, we see lawns and lawn maintenance as a sign of luxury and good citizenship. However, if we care about the health of the planet, then we discover a lawn is a wrong path.  And, if we spend just a moment considering the root of this practice, we realize that lawns are have been commercialized as symbols of wealth and status.  A lawn maintenance industry has profited from keeping that image alive.

More moderation is the key. Lawns do not need to be erased but instead we should strive for balance in our approach. We need a small shift in our perspective about the importance of a sweeping lawn. Making these changes will have an impact on local ecology, and making these changes together could lead to transformation.

Special thanks to the team at Home Grown National Park. Copyright © 2021 by HOMEGROWN NATIONAL PARK™.  Used with permission.

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