Spring has arrived here in Wisconsin, and I'm anxious to see what's going to rise up in the garden in the coming days. We planted several new native plants last summer, and I'm hoping they come back strong this season.
When we decided to pursue creating habitat in our yard and garden for wildlife, we knew it would be essential to include native plants. Even so, I felt like I needed to know more. So, I've been reading books about it. Books about saving our birds, and our bees, and the bugs, and the earth.
One recent book, NATURE'S BEST HOPE, by Douglas W. Tallamy, was eye-opening, and, actually encouraging. Tallamy's overall message is that we can mitigate a lot of the natural crises of our time, the loss of pollinators (bees and butterflies), birds, and more, by creating native plant habitat in our yards, both front and back. By incorporating native trees, shrubs, and plants, we can help to sustain the natural world by increasing the overall wild space collectively with our neighbors, instead of leaving it solely to nature preserves, parks, and wildlife areas. Obviously, those green spaces are essential, but our own gardens can create a corridor between those spaces that doesn't currently exist.
Tallamy gives a great deal of background in the book, explaining the ecological chain of plants, trees, insects, birds and other animals. Plants native to our local environment provide better food and nutrients to the insects, that, in turn, become a plentiful food source for birds and other animals. Non-native plants (plants imported from other countries and environments), may grow fine in our yards, but they do not provide the sustenance needed, though they might in their original habitat.
A popular example of this would be planting for Monarch butterflies. In recent years, there has been a strong push by gardeners of all walks of life, to help shore up the declining population (down 90% since 1992) of Monarch butterflies. By planting native Milkweed, we supply the only appropriate plant to feed the Monarch caterpillar. Once it has become a butterfly, it can feed on other native plants such as: Coneflower, Bee Balm, Sunflowers, Daisies, Asters, Phlox and more. Hence, the recent popularity of butterfly gardens, which are beautiful, and prove beneficial to other insects and animals as well.
One of the things I like about Tallamy's proposition, is that you can contribute to this solution no matter where you live: rural, city, suburb. You can plant a native garden in pots on a little balcony, you can increase habitat in the smallest of yards just by planting a tree, by skipping the use of pesticides, by reducing the size of your lawn by including native plants in your landscape. Suburban yards often have more space, and more opportunity to include native plants and trees in the landscape and garden. Native plants and trees can be used in the landscaping of office buildings, college campuses, even in shopping center parking lots. The idea is to create a thoroughfare for wildlife.
The prospect, as Tallamy explains, doesn't have to be overwhelming. Start simple: stop using pesticides, add a native tree or shrub to your landscape. Incorporate a few native plants into your garden. Substitute native ground cover for some of your lawn. Then build from there, one bit at a time.
As a birder, I have noticed the sad decline of wild birds over the past ten years. Tallamy's book has renewed my hope that we can help the plight of declining birds, bees, and butterflies, by embracing the use of native plants, trees, and shrubs. This spring migration season, listen for the birdsong in your neighborhood. Relish it. Then plant some natives in your green space, and know you play in part in their return next year, too.
NATURE'S BEST HOPE by Douglas W. Tallamy, Timber Press
For a list of native plants in your region, visit the National Wildlife Federation Plant Finder Website
A traveler, singer, novice photographer, humane gardener, and nature lover.