Pullquote: Just think of your property as a sanctuary — for people, plants, and wildlife.

There are different ways to think of the greenery that surrounds your house. Some of the most familiar are <lawn, yard, or garden>. While each of these words has positive associations for most of us, and connotes a certain level of functionality, what if we started to think of the greenery that surrounds our homes in other terms — <habitat, ecosystem, or sanctuary?> How would those words change the way that we conceptualize, plan, and care for that space?

Many of us moved out to the suburbs looking for more space, but not all space is created equal. A little more indoor space is nice, sure, but it’s the verdant outdoor landscapes that tend to draw us away from the cities. Countless studies have been conducted on – and literature written about – the deep and basic need of every human being to connect with nature. Even the science shows that the sights, smells, sounds, and feel of greenery – from a 100-year-old oak tree towering above, to a single blade of grass underfoot – fill us with a unique brand of joy and tranquility.

Nature is often thought of as wilderness on a grand scale, not a small outdoor space with a patio. But, I believe that such an all-or-nothing approach alienates us from the very accessible nature that is available every time we open our back door. Connecting with the proximate soil, plants, birds, and insects links us to the land and beneficial wildlife the world over; it grounds us in our history and imbues us with the importance of protecting our future.

So, how do we create sanctuaries to surround our homes? While every person’s vision will yield something different, there is one rule of thumb that can make the process pretty easy: work with nature, not against it. Try to use the systems that nature already has in place, rather than dismantling them and artificially reconstructing them. A good example of this is how we use our fallen leaves in the autumn. Leaves are nature’s compost, good enough to feed the most spectacular forests in our country. So, rather than having someone come in to blow, gather, and dump them in the fall, and then cart in and spread mulch in the spring, just shred the leaves and put them on your beds, or leave them in a thin layer on your grass. As an added benefit, many important insects like to live in leaf litter.

Another wonderful example of working with nature is using plant material native to our area. Native plants are naturally pest-resistant, support a vast array of insects – and, in turn, the birds that eat them. They have adapted over millennia to fare well in our soil and water conditions. When deciding where to add native plants, it’s key to remember that layers matter. So, think in terms of groundcover, shrubs, taller shrubs, smaller canopy trees, and then towering canopy trees.

Aside from saving yourself the hassle of caring for a non-native plant, by planting native species of plants you also are advertising to every songbird, butterfly, caterpillar, bee, and ladybug, that your garden is a friendly place for them eat, shelter, and nest. (Just make sure you have a birdbath to provide water to the grateful wildlife.)

So, no matter how big or small each property is, let’s forget about trying to make a perfect <lawn> – that flat, huge expanse of immaculate grass. Let’s aspire to something far loftier. Consider turning it into a <sanctuary> – for beneficial wildlife, for our community, and for you. And add a birdbath

<— Andrea Alban-Davies, Rye Garden Club Conservation Committee >

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