Within my own hometown of Fort Wayne Indiana, I have become aware that most people have some knowledge of native plants and the importance of reducing their use of pesticides.
But change is often difficult. It requires us to shift our momentum from one direction to another. Shifting direction takes effort to get started, and we are creatures of habit and comfort. In order for this change to occur, we must first be educated on why change is needed, and then we must decide that change is worthwhile to us or that maintaining the status quo would be detrimental to us.
Surveys have shown that many people find native landscaping and natural areas attractive in park settings. Surprisingly to the researchers, “97% of the park visitors surveyed enjoyed the unmowed portion of the park. They did not perceive the substantial unmowed areas as “unmanaged” or “messy;” and, instead, visitors celebrated the open invitation to more pollinators and flowers.”
An unmowed area is a habitat for a bouquet of life. The roots of the plants are engaged in a vibrant microbial dance within the soil…Small insects such as ants, aphids, beetles, and spiders busily scurry up the plant stalks, larger insects, birds, frogs, lizards, and small mammals’ prey upon them. Those predators are themselves prey to even larger animals, like raptors and large mammals. All these complex interactions can be found in one small patch of unmowed space (Rodomsky-Bish, B, 2016).
The appeal of these naturally beautiful, ecologically healthy spaces is largely agreed upon, but many of us have trouble envisioning it in our own yards. This is in large part because everyone else’s yards look the same and forced conformity is a strong predictor of behavior.
”NATURALLY BEAUTIFUL, BIODIVERSE SPACES ARE APPEALING TO MOST PEOPLE, BUT THEY HAVE TROUBLE ENVISIONING HOW THEIR OWN YARDS CAN BE DESIGNED SIMILARLY.
Perhaps it’s conformity rather than a personal desire that provokes most of us to continue to maintain our lawns as monocultures of mowed grass and our landscapes as a few simply spaced plantings around our homes.
Shockingly, my findings paint a very different picture of what most of us really think about our yards.
Survey results showed that many homeowners want to mow and fertilize their lawns less frequently. Most homeowners think soil health is extremely important and not a single person said they do not want birds, butterflies, and pollinators on their property.
The majority of homeowners say high chemical, labor, and water inputs harm the environment and hinder beauty in the landscape. The majority of homeowners said chemicals and non-native plant use is an environmental concern (Rozelle, 2019).
So why do we continue to maintain our yards in ways that are detrimental to the beauty and health of the ecosystem? Do we really perceive that our yards should be neat and tidy?
For us to consider changing our habits and shift our ideas of beauty, we must look at beauty and health differently.
Beauty and health are central to us living happy lives. Unfortunately, without tangible ways to experience a beautiful and ecologically healthy yard, most of us will have a difficult time envisioning something if we cannot see, hear, smell, taste, or touch it. The problem in our geographic region is that there are very few alternatives to traditional home landscapes that can offer these transformational sensory experiences to act as catalysts for ecological health.
It is my hope that as you are educated on the importance of beauty and ecological health in your own yard, you will catch the vision and opt for a more sustainable approach in caring for it. The truth is, most of us will need tangible examples of what and how before we make this shift.
For those of you acting as pioneers, you will be foundational in helping others catch this vision. You will be change agents within your own neighborhoods and towns as your yards become places of great beauty and ecological health. Your yards will be places to play and rest in and take refuge in. Places where all things live in harmony and nature will sing her praises.
It is my hope that as a result of experiencing these beautiful and healthy landscapes, others that live nearby will be inspired to make changes in their yards and then entire neighborhoods and cities will be transformed. As we work to care for our yards, we will be caring for ourselves and will inspire others to do the same.
Perhaps Robin Wall Kimmerer said it best when she said, “Action on behalf of life transforms. Because the relationship between self and the world is reciprocal, it is not a question of first getting enlightened or saved and then acting. As we work to heal the earth, the earth heals us.”
WHAT IS BEAUTY?
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines beauty as “the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit. The experience of beauty often involves an interpretation of some entity as being in balance and harmony with nature.”
Beauty is often viewed as subjective; we’ve all heard that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
I would like to propose that nothing can be beautiful if it is beautiful through the observation of only one of our senses and/or nothing can be beautiful if it is not fully beautiful. In other words, something can only be seen as beautiful if it is observed to be appealing through all of the senses and/or it can only be seen as beautiful if it is beautiful throughout its entire being, inside and out.
Brian Zahnd says that “if the end is to be truly beautiful, the means have to be beautiful too. In other words, if the results are to be truly beautiful, the process has to be truly beautiful as well.”
WHAT IS ECOLOGICAL HEALTH?
Ecological health is the relationship of human health to the health of the environment or ecosystem. You can not have human health without the health of the ecosystem in which we live.
”YOU CANNOT HAVE HUMAN HEALTH WITHOUT THE HEALTH OF THE ENVIRONMENTS AND ECOSYSTEMS IN WHICH WE LIVE.
Lee Jong-Wook states that “As with all forms of life, humans are fundamentally dependent on environmental quality and ecosystem services for their well-being and quality of life. Locally, regionally, and globally, ecosystems and the services they provide are under considerable stress and undergoing rapid change unique in human history with profound implications for human health. Nature’s goods and services are the ultimate foundations of all life and health, even though in modern societies this fundamental dependency may be indirect, displaced in space and time and therefore poorly recognized” (Schettler, 2006).
Plants are a vital component of ecosystem health. Plants are the basis of the food web. Plants take up the sun’s energy and convert it into plant tissue. Plants provide us with clean air to breathe, cool the earth, and remove harmful carbon from the atmosphere.
Plants filter, purify, and store water, allowing water to stay in our soils rather than being washed away downstream and eventually carried many states away. Plants hold soils in place and move nutrients from the soil to their tissues to the animals and people that eat them.
Plants blanket the landscape and their diversity provides us with beauty and well-being.
When I asked homeowners how they relieve stress, almost all respondents reported that they go outside to relieve stress, and 24% of respondents spend time in their own yard to relieve stress.
Nature exposure has a positive effect on emotional well-being and mental health. Studies have shown that natural settings are more effective than built settings in reducing levels of stress, and nature exposure benefit children and teenager’s mental health.
Another interesting study found that in urban neighborhoods, for every additional 10 trees on a block, that correlated to a 1% increase in the self-reported physical health of residents (Rozelle, 2019).