Laudato Si calls each of us to action. Mother earth needs our help. Gardening for life is one way each of us can do our part. Much of the natural habit has been lost. But we can change that, one yard at a time.
Gardening practices have changed. Years ago, the conventional wisdom was that each fall, gardeners cut perennials to the ground and raked all leaves out of the garden. We are now encouraged to embrace a “messy garden” and to make sure the garden has native plants of many types (trees, shrubs, perennials, grasses, vines, and ground covers). Plants that produce fruit and seeds are attractive to wildlife. Such plants are a magnet for birds and chipmunks. Recently, I saw eight goldfinch feasting on dried seed-heads of black-eyed Susans. Plants that have hollow stems at the end of the growing season are also attractive to many insects who nest in these cavities. All of these resources are lost if gardens are cleaned to the ground.
Our gardening practices forever changed in 2009 after reading Doug Tallamy’s book, Bringing Nature Home. Our garden now may look messy to some, but to us, it is filled with life. In the fall, our gardening practices include leaving leaves in the garden where they fall and not cutting back plants that have dried seed heads on them (grasses, asters, goldenrods, coneflowers, sunflowers, coreopsis, and black-eyed Susans).
Wildlife needs gardens that provide a habitat with food and water and a place to live or reproduce. Pollinators such as native bees often overwinter in our garden and are doomed if we cut plants back. Some butterflies also overwinter as adults amazingly in garden debris such as fallen leaves or bark. Other butterflies overwinter in the chrysalis form in dried leaves. In the spring, birds rely on having an abundance of caterpillars from moths to feed their young and our plant choices encourage these insects. Come spring, we will wait until the temperatures have been in the 50-degree range for at least five days. That will give all our wildlife friends a chance to wake up and begin a new season. We are gifted in return by seeing our garden come alive each spring with pollinators, birds, mammals and occasionally spotting a toad or snake.