As humans we have a tendency to divide our lives and spaces into compartments. This is very useful when we want to keep our dirty dishes separate from clean dishes. But it this same way of thinking leads to cities and suburban areas where we completely remove natural areas for the sake of providing a “liveable” area. In the past we’ve even gone so far as to put our creeks and streams into pipes underneath our houses, draining and filling wetlands along the way. We still like to mow big lawns because lush, green, well-manicured lawns are a social status symbol, even though our lawns are an ecological wasteland. Increasingly we are finding that having separate places for “nature” and for “living” harms our physical and mental health, not to mention the health of the environment.
Many groups have recognized this problem and are working diligently to help us find ways to bring nature back into our built infrastructure as rain gardens that act as passive filters for storm water, native plantings that provide beauty for us and habitat for pollinators, and corridors that reconnect natural areas and allow wildlife to move between them. We can bring nature back closer to us by planting native species in our landscaping. Maryann Whitman sent me information about the upcoming Wildflower Association of Michigan Conference in East Lansing March 8 and 9. If you’ve been wondering how to get started with native landscaping, or have been doing this for years and want to up your game, this conference will be a good fit. Visit http://www.wildflowersmich.org/index.php?menu=5 for more info. I’ve found that planting native plants in my landscaping provides a great opportunity to learn about that plant and see it change through the seasons.
On the other side of the coin we sometimes expect our natural areas to look like gardens. Mowed paths winding through fields of manicured wildflowers, not a weed in site. But in an excellent post earlier this week, Chris Helzer with The Nature Conservancy in eastern Nebraska challenges us to think about the value of the “ugly” places in our natural areas. These areas might not fit our preconceived ideas of beauty, but they often play an important role in providing a diversity of habitats that allow many plants and animals to exist side by side. Check out The Prairie Ecologist blog (http://prairieecologist.com/2015/02/04/seeing-past-the-ugliness/) to read more.
I try to practice what I write, so consider volunteering to tend a native plant bed or control invasive plant species if you’re interested in learning more about applying these techniques on your own land or landscaping. Let’s bring nature back home!