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a monarch on a native aster in our city lot

The past 5 years, I have been replacing many of the “non-native” plants with “native” perennials on our city lot. I am trying to create a more natural landscape that invites + provide for local wildlife. For example, in my Modern Day Kitchen Garden/Urban Potager, I rotate crops throughout the season between garden beds or through succession planting to keep our soil healthy. Often I use non-native annual herbs or flowers to provide extra food for bees, butterflies and birds to enjoy. To me Biodiversity is learning to “balance” which native plants/non-native plants work best in your growing area to provide for nature while growing food. It is a constant “discovery” from season to season. Each growing area is unique, so what I find works best for me, may not work best for you. The key is to start experimenting + the best place to begin, is right where you live!

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To me Biodiversity is learning to balance what nature needs to help us all live a healthy + productive life.The Quad Cities is an urban area, but over the years some of the wildlife is invading deeper into our city life. I don’t remember growing up and seeing coyotes or deer running through our suburban areas.I lived up near Chicago as a child + we never had coyotes running through our yards jumping fences. The deer population in our cities is becoming larger, and the coyotes are coming into our cities to hunt the deer and find food. I do not fault the wildlife for coming into our urban areas to search for food since we are taking up more of their fields to live and roam. As we learn about creating more natural landscapes + growing more edible foods on our city lots, we need to work with the local wildlife and native pollinators.

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wild bergamot/Monarda fistulosa is a lovely plant that looks like a sea of purple in your garden mid summer

Permaculture + Food Forest are great approaches to providing food in our cities, but when some edible perennials have the potential to escape and become invasive to our woodlands, I cannot support those plants. I am very careful what I incorporate into my Modern Day Kitchen Garden/Urban Potager. If I discover a new edible perennial or annual food plant, I research it extensively to make sure it has NO potential to become invasive to local forests if it escapes my yard.I do not have much space, so growing and experimenting with a variety of plants is a yearly project. I am continually adding, removing and exploring the potential of what “can be” useful in our small space for ourselves and nature.

I shared a blog post by Kathy from The Violet Fern about Douglas Tallamy, and how she attended a lecture he was giving near where she lived here. The reason I am bringing up her blog post is he wrote the article I was reading, on Backyard Biodiversity!

 ” A Call for Backyard Biodiversity”

Douglas Tallamy.

You have probably never thought of your property as a wildlife preserve representing the last chance we have to sustain plants and animals that were once common throughout the US. But that is exactly the role our suburban and urban landscapes are now playing – and will play even more in the near future.If this is news to you, it’s not your fault. We were taught from childhood that the plantings in our yards are made mostly for beauty; they allow and encourage us to express our artistic talents, to have fun, and to relax. And whether we like it or not, the way we landscape our properties is seen by our neighbors as a statement of our wealth and social status.But no one has taught us that we have forced the plants and animals that evolved in North America (our nation’s biodiversity) to depend more and more on human-dominated landscapes for their continued existence. We have always thought that biodiversity was “happy somewhere out there in nature”: in our local wood lot, or perhaps our state and national parks. We have heard nothing about the rate at which species are disappearing from our neighborhoods, towns, counties, and states. Even worse, we have never been taught how vital biodiversity is for our own well-being.( read more here)

If you read my blog, you know how much I detest the obsession of “lawns” and how we spray too many chemicals on the blanket of green that runs for miles throughout our cities.  Grass can be a part of our landscape( if you like it), but when it makes up 90 percent of each city lot, where do our bees, butterflies, birds, and other creatures live? How do they eat + raise their families?

How does Biodiversity loss affect me and everyone else?

Well.
You see.
It’s like this…
Biological diversity is the resource upon which families, communities, nations and future generations depend. It is the link between all organisms on earth, binding each into an interdependent ecosystem, in which all species have their role. It is the web of life.The Earth’s natural assets are made up of plants, animals, land, water, the atmosphere AND humans! Together we all form part of the planet’s ecosystems, which means if there is a biodiversity crisis, our health and livelihoods are at risk too. (read more here at WWF)
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Solidago or common name goldenrod attracts many native pollinators…
One day this summer, I ventured out to my front yard, and there was a lovely fawn standing in front of me. My first reaction was,awww-adorable but then, uh oh,where is mama! We both stood there and stared at each other till this lovely creature gracefully, trotted off into a neighbor’s yard. Later that day, a neighbor yelled over to me that another deer was stuck in her fence. I slowly approached the back of my yard; that bumped up to hers and saw a lovely deer laying upside down with its hoof caught by my neighbor’s chain link fence. It upsets me to see nature’s beautiful creatures in pain. I could see my presence was causing her distress, so I went inside + waited for animal control to arrive. It seemed like it took forever for him to come. When he did, it took seconds for him to detach her from the fence + for her to run as far away from all of us; she could get!
 It is encounters like these that make me think about what I do on my small city lot makes a difference to wildlife.
 Over the years, I have planted more native bushes at the rear of my back yard, so the deer do not jump my fence. This winter I am adding more native plants to my city lot, to work with nature, not against her since Biodiversity is at the heart of my city lot!
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adding a native bush like Physocarpus opulifolius or common name-nine bark can provide a native privacy fence….
 Let’s Make 2015 the year we MIX it UP everyone!
We can still be artists in our gardens, but don’t forget the wildlife as you create….
Here is a great resource to identify what native plants are best for your growing area

Written by Robbie

M.S. Education, , Organic Gardener, soil + nature lover, former modern dancer

34 comments

  1. Keep beating the drum, Robbie! So glad you are out there as a shining example of what is possible. Everyone can play a part, if everyone did as you do, we would see a marvelous transformation.

    1. Actually, Eliza I have a drum hanging on my wall from teaching modern dance in the old days-maybe I should get it out and run up and down the street BEATING my DRUM for nature! Doubt I can leap like I did in my younger days but I can sure make a lot of noise! lol

  2. Robbie, so much (good) food 4 thought in here!!! Your concern & diligence in protecting other habitats from accidental dispersal is laudable. Wish we could expect the same from everyone with interests in this area. (I’m also thinking of everything we’ve been adding to the environment with scant regard to negative, cumulative or other unintended impacts.) Looking forward to more productive discourse in 2015!

    1. Me, too:-) + Lori your “Soil Day” is another great way to make a difference! Soil building is a great way to make a BIG change!!!

    1. I know:-)I am trying to get it out there but too often we don’t pay attention until it knocks us down-sure hope that we all catch on soon:-) I have great faith in people + believe we will ALL catch on:-)

  3. Such a great post Robbie! Yes, we have to shift our mindset that Nature is not OUT THERE SOMEWHERE but right in our backyards, sidewalks, city lots. I love Doug Tallamy’s insight about a homegrown National Park. We can all create one together with our yards and gardens. One can obtain a list of native plants for his or her state or province by visiting the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower site. I believe it is wildflower.org. A great resource for learning more about native plants. I have purchased two used books on Florida native plants so I can learn while I’m here in Cedar Key. I feel very much out of my element since I am used to knowing so much more in NY! I can’t wait to garden again. I remember a rabbit became stuck in our chain link fence and my husband donned his big work gloves and saved him or her. What will this year bring to the garden I wonder? Hopefully frogs if I get my pond going! Thanks for mentioning me Robbie. I love to spread the word about Doug Tallamy’s work. Did you know he is soliciting pictures of birds with “food” (insects) in our gardens to further his research?

    1. Oh Kathy, I have a post in the making you will love about an extension of ALL our yards:-) It will be an idea you will love! I have checked out that site,too:-) I have lists of native plants in my files, but I have to admit some are not really good for small lots. I pick and choose so there is a diversity out there for the wildlife.
      Thank you for sharing him + educating me about his work. I was stunned reading this:-)
      “We have planted Kousa dogwood, a species from China that supports only a few insect herbivores, instead of our native flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), which supports 117 species of moths and butterflies alone. In hundreds of thousands of acres, we have planted goldenraintrees, ginkgos, and dawn redwoods from China instead of one of our beautiful native oaks, and in doing so we have lost the chance to grow and support 534 species of caterpillars, all of them nutritious bird food. My research has shown that alien ornamentals support 29 times fewer animals than do native ornamentals”
      WOW..that is a significant amount! I am glad the Pin Oak is here in my yard and this past year we had her trimmed so she stands tall and beautiful. Your post made me “appreciate” my Pin Oak.There is a world living in her that many of us never see, but they need her:-) She has a strong trunk and I am grateful the man who built this home put her in our yard. It is important we make our plantings Make a difference!
      I have to admit , I am still going to put some elephant ears and banana plants in my yard, for me….you know , a girl has to have fun! I give the wildlife in my yard- a lot of stuff to feed on all growing season. I have a lot of birds that are flying back and forth all day long + there have been a few times, they run into me! I am a part of the garden now to them-lol I hope he never stops researching.

      1. Robbie, I hear you. I planted a Hibiscus – eye candy – for fun but I am really into Elephant’s Ears and really want to plant Lotus in / around my pond. It’s all about balance. I planted a Pagoda Dogwood – hardier than Florida Dogwood. It is going to really take off this year I hope – it had the most beautiful berries last year for the first time which I know the birds appreciate. I can’t say enough about Dogwoods! I can’t wait for your post!

      2. I love my Lord Baltimore-he is EYE-CANDY! WE just gotta have our “edgy” plants! Bring some of that warm weather back with ya, OKAY:-)pretty please:)

  4. You are heralding the new year in with very wise words Ms Robbie. We all need to be thinking about making our gardens more organic and resilient for ourselves AND for the native animals. The possums and wallabies rule the roost outside Sanctuary. I have precious little say in what they do and don’t eat. I have been shoring up Sanctuary and building up the soil, the biodiversity inside and the wide variety of edibles but soon, it will be time to look outward to the rest of the property and what then? Native plants don’t get eaten, it’s as simple as that. A mix of native and hardy exotics that are able to fill a gap in seasons where food is at a minimum is important for animals and for the environment at large. We forget, we are just passing. We have this world for a generation and then we pass it on and what we pass on should be better than when we arrived here. Too much has degraded and gone due to our greed. Lets turn it around and hand something beautiful over to our children and their children to live in and to love just like we do. A wonderful post and some seriously good links Robbie 🙂

    1. amen sister! Great comment and I agree with every word + sentence in this great response:-)
      “We forget, we are just passing. We have this world for a generation and then we pass it on and what we pass on should be better than when we arrived here”
      Just beautiful, I hear a post coming out of you soon to GET this message out..the more of US that talk about this the better:-)
      Your possums + wallabies sound a lot like our rabbits. I had to chicken wire my blueberries in and hope they would survive for they chewed them to the ground last winter. They eat so many of my seedlings that I do have to protect some of my food. I am not putting it out so early or near where they hang out. The poor rabbit won’t get the picture that my dog eats her babies—I know really sad + I hate it when it happens- 3 times last growing season. The poor thing! They breed too rapidly. She likes my yard for the fox or coyote don’t eat her in here, but my dogs eat her litter. I also found they eat less of my food if it is near where Chance ( my younger dog) hangs out. I even put out some extra clover for her at the edges of the yard for when she comes in at the edges, she leaves my stuff alone. Our relationship is in the experimental stages:-) The woodchuck was put some where else by my neighbor. He was destructive and the dogs were not always nice to those critters….it is a balancing act + learning to co-exist in the same space. But…we have to learn to share for we do not own it:-)

      1. I think the liberating thing is knowing that we might be losing some garden produce/plants, but we are experiencing a window of opportunity to get up close and personal and co-exist with our animal friends. As you say, we don’t own it so we need to know how to “tithe” to our furry mates with grace ;). I have 8 baby artichokes growing on the new artichoke that grew from the poor artichoke that was snapped off by the possums. If they snap it off again, I am sorry, everything I said about “Grace” there, will need to be replaced with a string of words that simply can’t be reproduced here in polite company! 😉 (Do as I say not as I do? Methinks I have some learnings to do yet wise sage! 😉 )

      2. LOL….too funny! I have to admit, I have my moments like that but I live too close to neighbors, so I have to go inside and shout it in a pillow!
        You have some acreage where you can scream, yell and jump up and down and no one will call the police to report a crazy women next door:-)
        “tithe” to our furry friends-LOVE IT
        p.s. I got my black sunflower seed + it is planted in a tray-I can hardly wait!

  5. As always Robbie, you are passing on such an important message and doing it so beautifully. I am with you all the way – work with nature and she will work with you.

    1. And together:-)we all can get the word out:-) Karina, your beautiful photos today, when I visited your blog would make anyone want to keep “nature” beautiful, for you live in such a magical place..it makes you want to take care of it:-) I feel in our urban areas, people too often forget “nature” is at their doorstep and needs us:-) but too often they walk right past it for it is not a “great view across the way” but right at their feet!

      1. You’d be amazed Robbie that even people living here can take nature for granted. As you say we just need to keep getting the message out there.

  6. Such a beautiful post, Robbie–you doing your thing! I love the new look (yet staying with the purple that I love!) I can tell you’re getting charged up for the new year and can’t wait to see what you’ll be bringing us. I just posted and you were the center piece. Hope you don’t mind my bragging you around ! 🙂 ♥♥ You have so much to offer others, I can’t keep it all to myself!

    1. I just read your post + I am so glad you got checked! It is uncomfortable but well worth the squeeze! I know it is awful:-) To be in your “hero” garden is such an honor for you are always my number one hero, in this world. You are amazing + what you tackle every day “is” living with an incurable illness, but one that is beatable. What is so great about blogging is that we find each other….us fighters + we are part of a bigger club-SURVIVORS…we listen, + support one another and never give up the good fight! You touched my heart today:-) thank you so much from the bottom of my heart:-) You are the best!+ I have some surprises for you this summer!

      1. Surprises? For me!! Woo hoo! Are you going to teach me how to build two-story ladders to go really really vertical? Lol! I can’t wait! Ah, you touch my heart every time we connect! ♥

  7. I live in the country, in The Dartmoor National Park which is 954 square kilometers of open space and natural wilderness. My garden and field is teeming with wildlife and native species…and yet- even here, I have seen a dramatic reduction of hedgehogs, certain birds, bees and butterflies in the 35 years I have lived here.
    I am so far away from suburban space or city, that you post made me embarassingly aware of how out of touch I am with how important the bio diversity message is to those living in towns. Well, to all of us, wherever we live.
    Thank you so much for opening my eyes and waking me up. I followed your link to Food- Forests and was amazed at what I read. These forests must be incredible to see!
    I always say this, but your blog is amazing and this particular message very powerful.

    1. :-)Hi Karen:-) That is an eye-opener to find out you are seeing a decline in diversity-wow. I have heard it from other people that live in the country. Last summer, I introduced more host plants on my city lot for monarch butterflies. I had been doing that the for the past few years. I would read about what plants were host to particular butterflies + other native pollinators. The decline of our Monarch was a great concern to me as to many people. I had not seen many butterflies the past few years on my lot + it concerned me, so I started adding more native plants. Last summer, I counted 7 monarchs + 4 that greeted me every day for months until the weather became too cold. When I was a child monarchs were something we had all around us as well as other butterflies. I ride along the river and counted less butterflies on my bike ride near a natural forest that same day. It stunned me + so I added a few more to my property last fall. I rotate my mixed beds of annual vegetables, flowers + herbs but I surround each growing area with native perennial plants as well as host plants. I was so delighted to see those 4 healthy butterflies in my area that it motivated me to grow extra plants to pass on to others:-) A little effort on all our parts does help, so I hope we all listen to Mr. Tallamy and planting natives among our other plants:-) I hope he keeps on researching and educating us all:-)

  8. I agree wholeheartedly that biodiversity should be our main concern but I sometimes wonder how we’re supposed to stop our planet from drifting into disaster. Well, it’s not our planet because surely it’ll shake us off easily and start afresh but people don’t realise that ressources are limited. As for native/exotic plants: I do not only confine myself to native plants because I think one can have both and the palette would be rather limited but in a small garden it’s wise, especially in confinded places (towns) where wildlife is dependent upon finding the right food.

    1. I could not of said that any better! I have been reading a bit more about the arguments native vs the EVIL non-natives…and I agree with your approach. They have some of my favorite annuals that bees love in our small, urban garden ( cosmos !) and it makes me wonder:-) I also read an article by our University extensions on natives and some of them are not suitable for city gardens and sometimes natives can become invasive. Also when we started documenting “native” plants how do we know they were before 1600 here in America…what was brought here by man, or animal. It is an interesting debate + I believe your comment best summarizes how I feel,too. I have a balance of “well-behaved” natives and non natives in my yard and only those that provide what my small city lots needs to produce food and provide for nature…works for me:-) I do feel he has a good point that we need to consider if something could become an aggressive problem. I planted “shiso-britton” a few years ago + now I see it taking over sections of my yard + this year, I will be taking it out since it is spreading horribly! Choking out what is around it. I looked it up and sure enough it is on the USA invasive list now. I observed it and could see how it was behaving. It did concern me even before, I read it was invasive. I feel, we all have to evaluate our sites since we spend a lot of time in nature..it will be obvious who the invasive plants are or who will become:-) Not rocket science:-)lol..simple observation + not all behave aggressively. Shoot we would not have the foods we eat, if we were limited to just local foods…would be pretty scarce and boring:-)

  9. A great post as usual Robbie. You have a much richer flora than we do here. Ours is the poorest in Europe. We only have 32 species of trees. I do believe in planting native flowers and indeed I have wild flowers in my orchard. But I plant exotic trees and shrubs and just have native ones in my hedge. I agree that bio diversity is vital though and I hope your message gets across and that The Great American Lawn and all its chemical care will become a thing of the past.

    1. Hi Chloris, I have continued reading more of this subject + it really is something, us gardeners can observe and protect. I mentioned in another response to a comment, that I read a bit more on the subject after my post. I feel his article is important to those of us that are in the city:-) for we need to provide for nature since there is not much else around. We also can have balance on our city lots. I started researching native plants + what is a “native” plant? It all depends on when they first started documenting or have evidence that a “particular” plant was in the area from other resources. One list has plants listed as “invasive” another has it as “potential-invasive” or not on the list at all. I read through the list and it amazed me that some of my best bee-friendly annuals, I use in our potager are considered “invasive” now in the USA. The bees love “cosmos” sulphureus + bipinnatus. The bees cover these from early summer to late fall. They love these as much as they do our native asters. I mix them up + I don’t feel I see a need to stop using them in our landscape. These are native to Mexico which borders our country. It is getting a bit extreme with everything being invasive we plant. I also read in our University Extension that some “natives” can become invasive in small gardens, so it really depends on the plant. As gardeners we observe and watch and can tell when something is becoming a bit out of control. I also read that our Native Americans cultivated certain plants by “weeding” around them, so they were protected before we came to this country. How do we know what was here before documentation? I feel you are acting responsibly with your acreage for you have balance + I feel, I will do the same with my small space:-) Like I have said many times, I am not a “purist” for I often spend my time in the “gray” area of life:-)

    1. I just stopped over to your blog-beautiful! Right back at ya-ditto-what a great blog:-) I just read the post about Frogs:-) OH what a beauty. I look forward to reading all about your beautiful
      place where you live + amazing photos:-) what fun to meet over the cyber fence + I bet you don’ t have 14 inches of snow-LOL…I am so happy to have discovered you ,too!!!:-)

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