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View Diary: What is Sustainable Landscaping? (127 comments)

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  •  When I finally got my OWN land nine years ago, (24+ / 0-)

    I unleashed my pent up desire to garden sustainably...Since then, I've just about filled every square foot of this once empty acre of land, with native species, plantings for wildlife, and organic vegetable gardens.

      When we moved out here to our windy ridge, we were surrounded by sterile, mono-culture agricultural fields, and our neighbors on either side of us (both with far more land, but they waste it, in my opinion) cultivated nothing but several acres of lawn each (plus one, "saving grace" woodlot to our north).  There were no birds to speak of, except for sparrows, juncos and finches. No butterflies. The only small mammals were squirrels, rabbits and mice.  There was literally NOTHING growing on our lot but a magnificent stand of spruces--almost a hundred years old--on the southern boundary, and a ratty stand of silver maples, on the northern.

      Utilizing various wonderful sites ("The Wild Ones" is an organization based out of Wisconsin, devoted to wildlife gardening with native species, and the Backyard Habitat program sponsored by the NWF), the book you feature, and two others that were especially inspirational (the classic, Noah's Garden, by Sarah Stein, and the often overlooked by extremely accessible and encouraging Natural Landscaping: Gardening with Nature to Create a Backyard Paradise, by Sally Roth,  I went to work:

         My husband tilled under about 3/4's of the lawn--over the years; we were limited in our finances and had to do all the work ourselves, with our aging bodies-and I've replaced it with gardens comprised of native prairie flora and fauna, semi-arid plantings (mostly purchased from High Country Gardens), and little woodland sections filled with native fruiting shrubs and trees.  We intentionally leave the edges of our property "wild" and as untended as we can get away with (that's where the nettles grow--we eat them!--and the leaves remain completely undisturbed after they fall--many beneficial insects over-winter in leaf litter), and we've let the notoriously "messy" silver maples stand with broken snags and hollows in their branches, to provide homes for nesting birds and food for woodpeckers.

       I've planted raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, serviceberries, choke cherries, chokeberry, grey and pagoda dogwoods (both native species) and many different varieties of native viburnums, for cover...We use no chemicals whatsoever on the vegetable gardens (mostly in raised beds) or the remaining lawn or the beds. We dug a little pond--the most we could handle; didn't want to deal with fidgety pumps and constant cleaning, etc.--as a source of water, and placed bird baths throughout the yard, which we keep heated in winter...I leave all the seed-bearing flowers standing through the winter, as well as the grasses on the prairie portions, to provide additional feed.

       The results have been gratifying and impressive: Year before last (which was an excellent year; the drought sort of messed up last year), we observed many different woodpeckers (hairy, downy, red-bellied, red headed, and yellow-shafted flickers) feeding in our "snags" and nesting in the holes...Western AND eastern nuthatches and brown creepers walk up and down trunks, migrating thrushes of several kinds come through, as do blue birds, several species of warblers, and a host of small, interesting sparrows (my husband can identify them all; I forget their names...but some are chipping sparrows and song sparrows).  I've seen scarlet tanagers--that was exciting!  And brown thrashers, indigo buntings, rose breasted grosbeaks, orioles, mourning and turtle doves, crows, jays, and a huge flock of various finches now live here all year. We even get occasional, exciting visits from Coopers and Red Tailed hawks!  And great horned owls call from the tops of the spruces on cold winter nights....

       Strangely, it wasn't until this year that two ubiquitous, but longed for, birds finally found our haven: we now can hear the songs of cardinals and chickadees, and see them flash about in the snow, as well. I missed them.

      Many butterflies live in the prairie plantings, we've seen the occasional cecropia moth--alas, we haven't seen a luna or a "yellow emperor" giant night moth since we lived deep in the woods 30 years ago--and honeybees have found my heirloom apples and my domestic cherries and plums.  The squirrels are still here, but also raccoon, and opossum wander freely at night (so much for growing corn! Ah, well), we've seen weasels and lots of ground squirrels, ground hogs,  and the occasional red fox...

      I can NOT overestimate the satisfaction converting our single acre has brought us. What was once a dead, empty "lawn" is now a small, but lively, intricate, teaming eco-system, and becoming healthier and more diverse with every passing season.  The stinking giant corn and soybean fields still surround us--vast acres of dead soil and nasty chemicals--, our Old Fool neighbors still spend the better part of their lives stinking up the air driving their noisy lawn tractors, but our little oasis in the middle of Ag Business Wasteland has taken hold, and the creatures have found it.

      There's so much more to do! I can't wait for spring.


    •  Thank you for the history of converting (13+ / 0-)

      your yard. You should diary this!

      Trickle Down Economics 101: They get the golden parachute, we get the golden shower.

      by NoMoreLies on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 10:09:20 AM PST

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    •  Wonderful account! (14+ / 0-)

      You are a person after my own heart! I think a diary on this might inspire people, much as Sara Stein's "Noah's Garden" inspires, but for a different kind of habitat.

      We are doing something similar on our acreage in SE Nebr which was just bare pasture 25 years ago. We planted ankle-high windbreak trees which are now practically forest, hedgerows, a large organic garden, lots of restored prairie,  a water drainage garden, no pond as yet. My orchard has been problematic. The climate is harsh on fruit trees, plus I have never really tended them as much as they would like.

      The last year I was growing food (before my illness), I weighed all of my produce throughout the season, and it came to 1,000 pounds--half a ton!

      I love it that Obama's channeling Harry Truman: "I don't give 'em hell; I just tell the truth and they think it's hell!"

      by sillia on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 10:33:23 AM PST

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      •  That's just great, and on such a larger scale, (10+ / 0-)

        it's a lot of work!  I live on southern edge of the Buffalo Wind Ridge (I can see many windmills from my front yard) and the wind stresses all my plantings, too. The trees not sheltered by the house literally grow sideways!  

          I've planted 7 heirloom apple trees, two northern peaches, three pears, two cherries--red and black--and an apricot, so far (NOT native, but I've also planted more native fruit bearing trees than non-native, to compensate) but my "harvest" has been disappointing so far, too. I don't prune as severely as I should, and some years it's literally so windy (we have long "blows" that last for days and nights without stopping) that the blossoms can't get pollinated before they dry up....Rabbits killed both peaches and one apple during some deep snow winters,  and I lost the pears to blight...But you never know what might just "take" so I keep on keeping on.

        •  Yes, we keep on replanting (7+ / 0-)

          every other year or so, but it seems slightly futile as far as the fruit trees go. People around here do grow fruit, though--you see articles in the newspaper about some 85-yr old retiree who harvested 100 bushels in his backyard, LOL. Those folks are in town and somewhat more sheltered, plus who knows what dreadful toxins they spray on them!

          I do think we could get better results if we paid more attention to the fruit trees, but it does get to be a lot of things to look after all at the same time.

          As far as the vegetable garden work, I have raised beds that I converted to the Ruth Stout hay mulch system. I LOVE this method! It is much less actual work, although you do have to tend & fuss a little bit every day to keep it going. For me, since my office is in my home, going out and tinkering gently for 20 minutes a day is not a problem, it's a nice break. If you do that and keep the hay thick enough, you never do get weeds, watering is much less, the plants grow bigger--basically we thought the results were fabulous starting with the second year in. With my illness I'm not able to even do the little that's required so it's all abandoned for now. Maybe in a year or two I can start up again.

          The most "work" I had when I was growing food with the hay mulch system was all the food processing, LOL. I mean, you do actually have to do SOMETHING with all that stuff. But wow, does the food taste better--I really, really miss it!

          I love it that Obama's channeling Harry Truman: "I don't give 'em hell; I just tell the truth and they think it's hell!"

          by sillia on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 11:09:05 AM PST

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    •  Wonderful (5+ / 0-)

      Thanks for all the detail, it's inspiring!

      Practice Vipashyana- Occupy Awareness

      by cantelow on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 11:04:58 AM PST

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