It's vitally important to me that we create landscapes that do more than just look pretty to one species. In a world of climate change and extinction gardens need to be filtering water, sequestering carbon, adding to biologic diversity, and helping wildlife complete their life functions. While I strive to design spaces that look beautiful to us and that work with their owner's lifestyles, I'm also designing gardens that echo prairies -- stylistically and functionally. If we can bring a bit of the prairie into our daily lives, perhaps we'll be more likely to learn about and restore wider swaths beyond the garden fence. Tallgrass prairie is as effective at scrubbing CO2 from the air as the Amazon rainforest, yet far more threatened -- and the wildlife that need it still exist, even if on the margins of our man-made world. The tallgrass supports pollinators crucial to our food supply, absorbs and filters up to 9" of rainwater per hour (think about that in an urban flood scenario), amends and enriches soil, and provides a truer sense of the region than monocultures of corn destined for feedlots or gas tanks.
If what we see every day in urban centers is lawn and the occasional foundation bed of a few types of common shrub, we'll assume this is landscaping, that this is natural and the ideal. But if what we see is native diversity teaming with butterflies and birds, not only will our physical senses be intrigued and enlivened, but also our psychological and emotional senses. Study after study shows kids with a schoolroom view of nature, combined with play in wilder-based spaces, have increased test scores, are more creative, work better in groups, and have fewer emotional problems. Patients in hospitals with views of trees and flowers recover quicker. Neighborhoods with mature street trees and established garden beds have increased home values and less crime. Yet the majority of our urban and suburban areas are mostly in lawn, one step up from concrete (maybe).
I drive around town with images in my mind superimposed on what is actually out the window. I see streets edged in prairie grasses and spits of flowers with butterflies dancing above them, families stopping along the sidewalk to watch the artful play. I see business parks with benches and paths weaving through prairie mowed once a year. I see planters downtown filled with native plants calling home wildlife we never knew existed or thought extirpated. I see highways into town flushed with color from spring into autumn. I see homes dropped not into a 19th century park-like setting of weekly-mowed lawn, but a prairie-like setting of drought tolerant natives that mitigate the need for storm drains, fossil fuel use, and toxic pesticides / fertilizers that pollute our bodies, soils, and drinking water.
In the world you live in, what do you see? What are you doing? How can we do more and welcome all of us home into the places we love or want to love even more? Is your landscape a place to know your home better by welcoming the lives of other species?
"Study after study shows kids with a schoolroom view of nature, combined with play in wilder-based spaces, have increased test scores, are more creative, work better in groups, and have fewer emotional problems. Patients in hospitals with views of trees and flowers recover quicker."
And it's likely that most of those people benefit from natural landscapes without even knowing the reason why. It seems like a large majority of the human population is superficially satisfied with landscapes as devoid of nature as a Walmart parking lot - because, you know, cities - so this is just another situation like poor diet and lack of exercise. We know it's good for us, but just can't bring ourselves to do it.
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