I’ve registered our house and yard for Pennsylvania Audubon’s “Audubon at Home” program, and today is the day: I’m going after as many of those invasive non-native plants that are creeping all over our yard as possible. Get ready, English ivy and Virginia creeper (thanks to our friend Sharon Henks for helping me name some of the enemies). The Audubon at Home program is a way to consciously dedicate part of your home, office, school or park property as genuine habitat for birds. When you register, you sign a Healthy Yard Pledge to
--Reduce pesticide use
--Protect water quality
--Remove invasive exotic plants
--Plant native species
--Support birds and other wildlife on your property.
It’s not hard, and it makes sense. It’s interesting, though, how ingrained some bad habits can be. Owning a home that depends on a backyard septic system has forced us to be more conscious and careful about our water use. But it was only six or seven years ago, not long after we moved to our current home, that our neighbor Patrice made me aware that the Sevin Dust I was instinctively reaching for as soon as some little bug started chewing on the leaves of my dahlias was maybe not such a good idea. I’d seen my parents use that stuff regularly on the plants in our garden growing up; they were of a time and place where you grabbed what the market had to offer to try to improve your chances of a healthy harvest. It did unnerve me a bit, reading the fine print about how long you needed to wait, after powdering a vegetable plant, to eat what grew there, and how carefully you needed to wash what you were about to eat. Now I’ve learned to try to grab Japanese beetles with my own fingers early in the morning. And, more often, I guess I’ve just learned to share.
I’ve tried, through the years we’ve lived here, to plant mainly native species. There are nice native plant sales in our area each year; a favorite of mine happens every May at the Wildland Conservancy’s Poole Wildlife Sanctuary in Emmaus, PA (http://wildlandspa.org/index.html). But now it’s time to put some real energy into getting rid of species that crowd out the good stuff (good, for instance, for the birds). My husband is less than supportive of this part, since he loves anything that’s green and thinks it all should stay. So I’ll be fighting this battle on more than one front. Wish me luck.
The longing for perfection—the perfect lawn, the perfect garden—is there in most of us, and it’s hard to fight sometimes. In the case of our yard and garden, I’m helped here by my own laziness, or maybe more accurately, my desire to do other things besides pruning and trimming and constantly mowing with my free time. But that longing for perfection always bears scrutiny. It’s a uniquely American thing when it comes to the perfect lawn, as the writers of a number of interesting books in recent years have pointed out. (For a terrific review of some of these books by Elizabeth Kolbert in the July 21, 2008 New Yorker, go to http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2008/07/21/080721crbo_books_kolbert.)
It’s time to seek another kind of perfection now—one that has to do with the survival of living species on earth, ourselves included. Some consciousness-raising about our own backyards is a good place to start. Check out the national Audubon at Home program at http://www.audubon.org/bird/at_home/HealthyYard_BirdHabitat.html#, and spread the word.