Growing up near a watershed in Northern California, I was fortunate during my childhood to have had direct and constant contact with nature. I would spend hours outside, observing native plants and animals, digging in the dirt, and making a general mess exploring my backyard. The smells, sounds and textures of the landscape wove themselves into my everyday experiences and became a powerful influence over my decision to pursue a career in science and conservation. While parks and nature preserves are wonderful to visit, there is something very profound about being able to sustain a dialogue with the environment on a daily basis. Now that I live among housing developments and manicured lawns, how can I bring a little wildlife back to my home without having to pitch a tent in a forest?
The National Wildlife Federation provides tips for creating a backyard habitat that draws wildlife and promotes sustainable gardening practices. The organization even offers official certifications for homes that have met their guidelines through the NFW Certified Wildlife Habitat Program. Planting native species with a minimum of pesticides and fertilizers will help attract local fauna as well as reduce water consumption and pollution from runoff. Removing lawns and replacing them with vegetation that animals can use for food, cover, and places to raise their young helps to establish a thriving ecosystem.
Backyards can be customized depending on the types of wildlife you wish to attract. Bird lovers can contact their community’s Audobon Society for information on how to become a way-station for migrating fowl and a home for year-round residents. Many branches of the Society also offer certifications as official backyard or balcony sanctuaries.
Flower enthusiasts should encourage pollinators by growing their favorite nectar-rich plants, setting out bird feeders, or even keeping a hive of bees. Butterfly admirers here in California make sure to include the milkweed on which Monarchs lay their eggs and the caterpillars feed as well as hang hummingbird feeders. Small ponds provide a place for animals to drink, bathe, and feed on the algae and insects that inhabit them.
Apartment and condo dwellers without yards can take advantage of balconies and roofs to add a little nature back into their living spaces. The online article “Geek Gardening: A Wired Guide to Domestic Terraforming” offers some examples of how to transform lounging areas into productive gardens. While most of “Geek Gardening” is focused on food production, the blueprints laying out how to best maximize the use of a limited area are great sources of inspiration. Plants best suited for your area’s climate can take the place of the fruits and vegetables, although any amount of green is good for the soul and health of wherever we hang our hats.
As for my patch of earth, I have decided to start planting drought tolerant species native to California. Luckily, there are a number of nurseries nearby that specialize in regional flora close to where I live. Alongside my herbs, fruits and veggies are sages, buckwheats, fuscias, lupins and a couple of baby oaks. I have already begun to see insect, lizard and bird activity, and am hoping to catch some glimpses of a mammal or two. As a nature nut, it’s nice to know that I’m not only official, but certified.