In my other life, I’m the spokesperson for Be a Habitat Hero, which aims to inspire gardeners to devote space to restoring habitat for songbirds and pollinators, hard-working species facing increasing loses from development, pesticide use, climate change and other factors.
Research shows landscaping that relies on native and regionally adapted plants, mimics the structure of natural habitat (meaning it has a prairie-like character if the natural habitat is prairie, desert-like character if it’s desert, woodland if the natural habitat is woodland, and so on), and uses no or little pesticides can make a positive difference in preserving diversity of songbirds and pollinators.
Songbirds are not only beautiful and fun to watch, they are critical to controlling spring and summer insect populations.
Pollinators–the thousands of species of native pollinating insects, birds, and bats–are critical to our food supply. If they don’t have enough habitat to sustain their populations, we won’t have enough food.
(Want to know more about pollinators? Watch this informative and funny short video from The Nature Conservancy. Full disclosure: it features me. Not as a pollinator.)
Habitat gardens, also called “wildscapes” (landscaping for wildlife, not landscaping gone wild!) can actually increase songbird and pollinator diversity.
They also save water, a crucial resource in the arid West where the Habitat Hero project is based. Some 60 percent of domestic water use in the West goes to landscaping, largely to lawns, which are biological moonscapes–unfriendly to most wildlife–and often unhealthy to humans and pets as well because of the high amount of pesticides used to maintain them.
I don’t usually talk about Habitat Hero in this space because, well, I work for the project, a partnership between Audubon Rockies, Terra Foundation, Plant Select® and High Country Gardens. So talking about it feels a little like a commercial.
Except that the mission of Habitat Hero is very much my personal mission:
Replace lawns with gardens that nurture birds, pollinators and people too. Save water for our region’s rivers and re-discover the joy of connecting with nature. Heal the earth, one landscape at a time.
My own landscaping, both at my former home, Terraphilia, and my new one (still mostly dirt yard complete with steep slopes and continuing construction) is very much aimed at restoring habitat for “the little guys who run the Earth,” as biologist E.O. Wilson put it.
I live in the high desert of the Southern Rocky Mountains, where growing lawns requires a ridiculous amount of irrigation and maintenance (our average annual precipitation is about 10 inches, less than a third of what’s needed to maintain a lawn).
So I’m seeding in native bunchgrass meadow with wildflowers (using a custom “Roadbase Mix” from Western Native Seed) where I want grassy swards, and planting a variety of gardens based on native shrubs, wildflowers and grasses where I want a more formal look.
Growing a habitat garden, native meadow or wildscape isn’t as easy as ordering sod and laying it down like so much outdoor carpet. But unlike lawns, wildscapes and habitat gardens are actually good for the earth and its inhabitants, including people. And the joy of watching hummingbirds and butterflies return to stay, or seeing goldfinches clamber over sunflowers pulling out seeds is worth the effort.
It’s a way to heal our own plot of earth, one garden at a time. So join us: Be a Habitat Hero.
(If you live in Colorado or Wyoming and you want to learn more about habitat gardening, we’re offering a series of workshops this spring featuring renowned plantswoman and author Lauren Springer Ogden, and yours truly. You can also hear me speak on the topic at Pro-Green Expo in Denver and the Western Landscape Symposium in Pueblo, Colorado.)