Certified Wildlife Habitats – Uplifting or Unsightly?
My property was certified a couple of years ago by the National Wildlife Federation as a Wildlife Habitat. At the time, I made a conscious decision to focus my habitat-creating efforts on the back yard, out of sight of neighbors and passersby who might not appreciate the beauty of a more natural landscape. The front yard is filled mostly with native plants, but is kept neatly trimmed, with defined borders and a green (and organically-maintained) lawn.
People tell me that I’ve “sold out”, that I’ve “caved in to conformity”, and that nothing will change unless people like me “take pride in nature.” What they mean is that, by making my front yard fit in with the neighborhood, I’ve somehow damaged the cause of organizations that promote natural habitats. That, somehow, I’m ashamed of nature. Huh????
What they seem to miss is that “natural” doesn’t have to mean overgrown, wild, or unkempt. Wildlife need four things: food, water, cover, and a place to raise their young – all of which are provided in my beautiful, pesticide-free front yard (although the certification was based primarily on my back yard, I’ve also incorporated the necessary components into my front yard). They don’t need an impenetrable thicket, swamp, or mass of wildflowers (not that any of those would be unwelcome to many wildlife).
By making my front yard look somewhat similar to what is considered “normal landscaping” around here, I’m showing people how they can create a more natural environment while staying within their comfort zone. The Certified Wildlife Habitat sign is prominently displayed by the walkway to the front door, inviting questions from many visitors who are surprised to learn that the front yard is indeed a wildlife habitat. My back yard is certainly not to everyone’s taste, but few would argue that the front yard is ugly, showing that even a small piece of land can be both a wildlife habitat and beautiful.
My belief is that more people can be encouraged to create spaces for wildlife if they see firsthand that they don’t need to grow a meadow or a tree plantation. Already, one of my neighbors has removed a large section of lawn and added native plants to her front yard. Others have started planting shrubs and flowers for butterflies. Slowly, we are transforming our small section of town into a haven for wildlife. And it all started with a cleverly “disguised” wildlife habitat…
What have been your experiences with wildlife habitats and natural gardens?