Summer Solstice: Restoring Healthy Habitat

Sunset over the Sangre de Cristo Range on summer solstice

Yesterday was the summer solstice here in the Northern Hemisphere, the day when the sun seems to “stand still” in its apparent northerly movement. In a few days, the sun’s rising and setting points will gradually begin to move south, until at the opposite end of the year, the winter solstice, the sun will stand still again before beginning to move back north.

The solstices are the year’s hinge points, marking the change from lengthening days with more hours of sunlight, to shorter days with more hours of darkness. Summer solstice is the longest day of the year, winter solstice the longest night.

At summer solstice, I pause to appreciate the diverse community of lives—our own included—that animates this extraordinary planet.

Western tiger swallowtail butterfly drinks nectar from Rocky Mountain penstemon in my “unlawn”

These lives breathe with us, as plants do, exhaling the oxygen we need and inhaling the carbon dioxide we and our industrial processes respire. They filter and clean the earth’s supply of fresh water; they interact with each other in ways that keep their populations healthy and stable. Perhaps most importantly, they provide the color and sound and motion—the inspiration—that makes this planet awe-some, pulsing with life.

At Solstice, I also consider how my daily life contributes to leaving this earth and its living community in better shape than I found it. One way I have chosen is to restore the landscape where I live—my yard and its surroundings—to a healthy mix of mostly native species. To that end, here are three inspiring and informative new projects to help recognize, understand, and restore healthy yard habitat:

Urban and Suburban Meadows, the how-to book from The Meadow Project

The Meadow Project from Catherine Zimmerman

With over 48 million acres of lawn in the U.S., a film aimed at helping people just say NO to thirsty, pesticide ridden, energy consuming lawns.

That cover quote sums up the point of Zimmerman’s book and DVD: how-to guides for  converting sterile, poison-laden lawn to healthy, thriving meadows of native grass and wildflowers. Chapters range from the why (save water, save energy, rid your landscape and home environment of poisons, welcome birds and butterflies) to the practical considerations of design, how to know what’s native, how to remove existing lawn, whether to use plants or seed, and ongoing maintenance. Although the material is most applicable to the East and Midwest, the ideas and design principles apply to those of us in the arid West as well. No matter where you live, this beautiful and informative book/DVD set will inspire yard transformation.


Habitat sign for Bring Back the Pollinators Campaign

Bring Back the Pollinators Campaign from The Xerces Society

The non-profit Xerces Society protects invertebrates (critters without backbones, from dragonflies and butterflies, to the corals that build coral reefs), and has a strong program on invertebrate pollinators. These native bees and other insects are essential to the reproduction of most flowering plants and help provide much of the food we eat.

Xerces’ new Bring Back the Pollinators Campaign aims to improve habitat and raise awareness of these “little guys who run the world.” Native bees, beetles and butterflies are the easiest and in some ways most rewarding wildlife to restore habitat for: they’re inoffensive, fascinating to watch, and don’t need much.

Bring Back the Pollinators is based on four simple principles:  grow a variety of pollinator-friendly flowers, provide nest sites, avoid pesticides, and spread the word.

It’s hard to argue with that—and who could resist that fun sign?


Perpetual Bee Calendar from Celeste Ets-Hokin

Garden Variety Native Bees of North America Perpetual Calendar from Celeste Ets-Hokin

This gorgeous new calendar/bee ID guide pairs information on some of the more common species of North America’s 4,000 species of native bees with a gardening calendar that never goes out of date. The introduction describes native bees and how—and why—to create habitat for these hardworking pollinators in your yard. The photos by Rollin Colvile will charm you, and the descriptions by Ets-Hokin will hook you on learning and observing native bees. (Proceeds from the calendar benefit The Xerces Society and The Great Sunflower Project.)

Summer solstice has passed, but the growing season still stretches ahead of us, full of promise. Don’t waste it!