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Now that a number of us are working from home and most of our parks are closed or restricted, our natural landscapes have narrowed to become our own front and backyards. Whether you need a break from the computer, an activity for kids who are bored or restless, or just some fresh air from being cooped up all day, your own yard can offer a natural respite.

It might be helpful to try to channel the curiosity and wonder we often experience when we travel to a new or exotic destination and try to see our own landscapes with new eyes, taking the time to notice new leaves or buds, hearing bird calls, smelling flowers or a crushed leaf. While we may be tempted to notice all the weeds or how high the grass has grown, if we look closely without doing anything for a few moments, we may see the bees pollinating our flowers or a robin looking for seeds or worms. 

A boulder water feature in a client’s garden invites birds like these Cedar Waxwings to visit their garden.

Making Our Gardens More Wildlife-Friendly

This time spent close to home offers us the opportunity to both appreciate and assess our current landscapes, and to begin to imagine creating more wildlife-friendly gardens. This would not only give us more to observe and appreciate, but also play an extremely important role in wildlife conservation. 

Doug Tellamy, professor of entomology and wildlife ecology at University of Delaware and author of Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, urges, “Because nearly 85% of the U.S. is privately owned, our private properties are an opportunity for long-term conservation if we design them to meet the needs of the life around us. In order to have functioning ecosystems we need to redesign residential landscapes to support diverse pollinator populations and complex food webs by replacing half of the area dedicated to lawn or non-native ornamental plants with diverse plantings of native woody and herbaceous species.” 

His new book published in February of this year, Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard describes how we as homeowners can make our gardens into “conservation corridors that provide wildlife habitats.” In Chapter Eleven, he lists action items that we can do to create a Homegrown National Park in our own yards.

  1. Shrink your lawn by half, thinking of it as more of an area rug than wall-to-wall carpeting.
  2. Remove invasive species before they get out of control.
  3. Plant trees, shrubs and perennials considered “keystone” that form the backbone of local ecosystems. The National Wildlife Federation’s Native Plant Finder lists the native plants in your zip code that are the best host plants for the caterpillars of the butterflies and moths in your area.
  4. Be generous with your plantings in terms of number and diversity, adding understory trees and shrubs to provide different levels.
  5. Plant for the local bees or other insects that only feed on certain species.
  6. Network with neighbors to have a bigger impact.
  7. Create spaces under trees for caterpillars to pupate with logs and natural leaf litter.
  8. Do not spray insecticides or herbicides and limit fertilizers that encourage weeds and native species don’t need.

Gardening with wildlife in mind can bring us joy, beauty, entertainment and satisfaction that we’re helping provide the food and habitat our wildlife need. 

Getting Inspired at the Bringing Back the Natives™ Virtual Tour

Cover of Bringing Back the Natives Garden Guide

Wondering where to begin? For both inspiration and ideas, consider accessing the Bringing Back the Natives (BBTN) virtual tours and talks beginning this Sunday. The BBTN Tour normally provides participants with a one-day opportunity to visit local California native plant gardens.

Of course, this year’s tour will be different. It will be free, virtual and spread out over three Sundays – April 26, May 3 and May 10.

Each Sunday, from 10 am to 3 pm, you will be able to hear different people talk about their gardens, beginning with author Doug Tellamy on April 26th at 10 am. Our own Susan Friedman’s garden will be on the tour, as well as one of our client’s garden in San Ramon. Susan will be giving a talk on May 3rd on “A new living landscape: inviting biodiversity to your own front yard.”

You do need to register for the live events on Sundays to get links emailed to you. You can also download the free 2020 Garden Guide, which contains descriptions of all 43 beautiful gardens and links to the website for more information. We hope to “see you” on the tour!

Bird-friendly Gardens

If you are particularly interested in encouraging birds to visit your garden, you can check out the Audubon Bird-Friendly Garden Link. You can enter your zip code to find the native plants that will provide the best food and habitat for local birds.

Wildlife Webcams and Podcasts Can Help Provide that Nature Fix

Observing the wildlife in our own backyards can definitely help us cope with our shelter in place restrictions. However, if you want a wilder nature fix, you can check out some of these webcams that were mentioned in a San Francisco Chronicle article “Wildlife webcams a virtual stress reducer for many” on April 10th:

If you like listening to podcasts, the article “Wandering Souls, Let a Podcast Take You There” in The New York Times’ Sunday Travel Section a couple of weeks ago listed a number of podcasts, including one from the “National Parks Service” available on Apple Podcasts. 

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Kalich - Boulder fountain, Japanese maple tree, native planting, stamped concrete

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