At Art of Stone Gardening, we are passionate about building gardens that check all the boxes:
And while all 3 of those boxes are important, the third one can be the trickiest. How does one make a sustainable garden? What does it even mean to be sustainable? How does that benefit me? Trying to “make a difference” and at the very least, feel like you’re not making matters worse can be overwhelming; but that’s why I’m here to help. And I know a lot of other people who want to help too. I’ll get to them later.
When you think of the word “sustainable” you might think of its meaning in a literal sense. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, sustainability means, “The ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level.” But when you apply the term to real life and current trends, you probably associate it with the environment and people’s overall concern for Earth’s natural resources. When people talk about sustainability these days, they are most often referring to a method, product, or company’s ability to use resources in a way that does not deplete or damage them. When applying this concept to gardening, sustainability is about intentionally planting so as not to cause ecological damage and in fact, help the surrounding ecosystem. Some might think that gardening in general is a form of service to the environment. But without any knowledge of the habitat you are planting in, gardening can be very harmful and unsustainable.
People have a lot of varying opinions on sustainable practices in the garden. Overall, sustainable planting has a lot to do with conserving water, using less energy, recycling garden waste, and being cautious of chemicals like pesticides that can damage nearby plants. Here’s a list of basic methods for creating a garden that is good for its ecosystem.
One very important sustainable practice I like to highlight in my own designs is native planting. Being intentional with what plants you select for your garden is essential for many reasons. For one, native plants are usually less work because they are meant to grow in the habitat you are introducing them to. It is both economically costly and environmentally costly to introduce a foreign or invasive species into your yard because it puts a demand both on your wallet and on the surrounding land to sustain them. Non-natives can also outcompete native species and take over their space, which then contributes to the crisis of extinction for many plants essential to North America’s ecosystems.
Someone who knows a lot about native planting is Douglas W. Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants. This book was very eye-opening for me. It taught me a lot about the magnitude of issues our environment is facing in the U.S and the solutions right at our fingertips. In his book, he explains the loss in richness of our ecosystems and how we can help restore them just by planting a few natives in our yards. He writes, “…today, most of the surviving remnants of the native flora that formed [ecosystems] have been finished off by development or invaded by alien plant species. Too many Oak Parks, Hickory Hills, and Fox Hollows—developments named, as the environmentalist Bill McKibben has noted, for the bit of nature they have just extirpated—have been built across the country.” Tallamy then goes on to explain how the small patches of fully functional habitat left throughout North America cannot sustain the survival of our native wildlife and plantlife. There are many parks and national parks in the U.S. that seem to keep up the facade that our natural ecosystems can “dodge the extinction bullet” by relying on their space alone, but Tallamy argues that we as individual gardeners have to step in if we want our land to avoid environmental extinction. He states, “…for our own good and certainly for the good of other species, we must do better. Native plants will play a disproportionately large role in our success.” To do this, Tallamy introduced the concept of a Homegrown National Park.
Homegrown National Park
After Doug Tallamy wrote his book on the importance of planting native species, he created Homegrown National Park, a grassroots call-to-action organization that brings people together in hopes of restoration for North American habitats. Its mission is, “To restore biodiversity and ecosystem function because every human being on this planet needs diverse highly productive ecosystems to survive.” The organization aims to spur “individual homeowners, property owners, land managers, farmers, and anyone with some soil to plant in” to grow natives and remove invasives. With a goal of 20 million acres of native plantings in the U.S., it is the “largest cooperative conservation project ever conceived or attempted.”
So have you ever wanted to grow your own national park? Now is your chance! Homegrown National Park stresses that time is of the essence. To join in on the thousands of people planting natives and creating their own Homegrown National Parks, all you have to do is create an account on the website and record your plantings. This will “put you on the map.” The website has an interactive map that will show you all the plantings and data recorded from people across the U.S. It serves as a community-based visual to encourage planters in their efforts and bring people together in the fight for restoration. All 50 states are active and in Georgia, 42 counties are active. You can even zoom in on the county itself to see the specs. The site currently boasts 9,279 map entries and will be expanding into Canada soon!
Doug Tallamy is the T. A. Baker Professor of Agriculture at the University of Delaware, where he has taught insect-related courses for 40 years and written over 100 research publications. He works in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology and his book, Nature’s Best Hope, is a New York Times Best Seller. If you’re interested in the subject, I highly recommend his aforementioned book, Bringing Nature Home, a winner of the 2008 Silver Medal by the Garden Writers’ Association. Not only does it contain an important message, it also provides an extensive and well-researched list of native plants to grow in their respective regions. It is an invaluable guide for anyone wanting to join in planting a Homegrown National Park.
I will leave you with Doug Tallamy’s message:
Our National Parks, no matter how grand in scale, are too small and separated from one another to preserve species to the levels needed. Thus, the concept for Homegrown National Park, a bottom-up call-to-action to restore habitat where we live and work, and to a lesser extent where we farm and graze, extending national parks to our yards and communities.
#onthemap #startdigging #onthemap