Pride in Reclaiming Nature
“The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Using this quote as a metaphor on how one mind is common to all men (and women), it trandscends the allegorical imagery and stands alone as a powerful certainty: our future can be impacted by what we do today.
The act of planting a seed can literally be the lineage for a thousand forests.
This article may be a little deep, but the topic is becoming more of a priority in my life. Throughout my career I’ve observed transformations of landscapes, some good and some not so good. I’ve read numerous papers, articles, and books on topics like “the new urbanism,” or “the sense of place,” or “crossing the transect.” All of which are great discussion topics on how we, as a society, could be living a “better” way of life.
However, after all the academia has been studied, after all the intellectual conversations, and after all the handwringing about poor design decisions after catastrophic events, for me it really comes down to four things: preservation, conservation, mitigation, and restoration.
Recently, I have been giving some talks about landscape design, and I get asked the question “how can we be better stewards of the environment…how can we as individuals make a difference?” I have a few answers.
I believe that any improvement, no matter how small, can have a positive impact on the environment. Go ahead and plant some pollinator-friendly plants, install a rain garden, convert some lawn into meadow or a planting bed filled with natives, get yourself a rain barrel and harvest some rainwater.
On a slightly larger scale, talk with your neighbors and see if they are interested in combining efforts to turn portions of backyards into areas of biodiversity and ecological value. This cumulative effect can have a huge impact.
Take it a step further and approach your homeowner association to see if they are interested in converting the buffers surrounding the community into wildlife corridors to start the process of mitigating and restoring ecological systems.
I understand how hopeless it appears when farmland turns into new developments almost overnight. How traffic explodes exponentially, not only as our population is growing, but also because we live in a highly desirable place to live, work, and play (that’s the new urbanism coming out). Everybody seems to have a solution or at least an opinion on the matter. I look at it a little differently though, from an alternative perspective. I don’t think development will stop anytime soon, but I do think we can do better. What did Maya Angelou say? “When you know better, you do better.”
Preservation and conservation will always be of paramount importance. Preserve the most we can and conserve our natural resources to the best of our ability. After preservation and conservation, mitigation and restoration then take center stage. What happens when we mitigate something? We reduce its impact or lessen its severity. And when we restore something, we try to bring it back to its former glory. How do we do this in a development?
We can increase the buffers and make better choices in their design. This goes for your backyards too. Imagine if there is a 25-foot buffer along the back edge of your property and a 25-foot buffer on the development next to you. Then imagine converting 25 feet of your property and 25 feet of the property on the opposite side of the buffer as well.
Boom, you just made a 100-foot buffer that could one day be a vibrant wildlife corridor consisting of a canopy or shade tree layer, an understory or flowering tree layer, and a ground plane layer that includes herbaceous plants like ferns and perennials, along with shrubs of all types and sizes.
As we progress further into the 21st century, we must be mindful of our planet, and all the life on it, as a living ecosystem. As humans, we have a unique and important aspect of living on earth—we can influence its functions. We can destroy, ravage, pollute, and conquer. But we can also preserve, conserve, mitigate, and restore.
Plant a seed, an acorn, a bulb, and watch it grow. Be the parents of a thousand forests. Be proud to be a tree hugger. Be proud to be an environmentalist. Be proud that you just took the first step in reclaiming nature.
Be proud and let’s garden together! ▼
Eric W. Wahl, RLA is a landscape architect at Element Design Group and president of the Delaware Native Plant Society.