The Right To Native Plants

The Crouches, after a long legal battle with a neighbor and their homeowner’s association, can now keep their yard native (They Fought The Lawn, And The Lawn’s Gone, NYT, 12/14/22. It cost them $61,000 and a number of years to win the right to plant and keep natives in their yards where they wouldn’t be forced to have lawn.

The science supports them. Lawn is at best a missed opportunity to create local habitat. The lawn itself is mostly composed of plants that were imported for grazing or that are invasive, but which contribute little to local nature. These manicured, treated, mown and blown iridescent rectangles of chemically treated and regularly sprayed monocultures add little to the local ecology.

We have industrialized lawn care and left our open spaces to be taken over by invasive plants, What is left of local plant life cannot support anything like a vibrant animal population. We must plant native plants or watch our local wildlife vanish. If I was a member of a home owners association, I would start to ask whether it was time to address these outdated bylaws, and embrace emerging science. That the results are also more beautiful and easier to maintain are of course two other important considerations.

We all owe Janet and Jeff Crouch a great debt of gratitude for standing up for themselves and for Nature, and for having us all step back so that we can all begin to understand the consequences of our actions, collectively. Somehow the suburban lawn got codified into law. Given what we understand of local ecosystems, and wildlife habitat, our way of tending to our properties is due for a global change.

The determination of the Crouches’ helped change state law in Maryland. There will be further implications elsewhere, as the article pointed out. Home owner’s associations across the country have bylaws that stipulate an aesthetic of finely manicured lawns. What if you could create a beautiful native oasis, save money, and do right by nature all at the same time? We’d say we are ready for this.

Long Island home owner’s associations should review their policies on landscaping and groundskeeping. Those were written when we didn’t understand how destructive certain practices in planting and maintenance have been to the environment, especially within the immediate community. Again, it would not take much, given all the resources now expended to keep the landscape artificial, to restore nature to the area, and with that convert a sterile gated community into a nature sanctuary, with all the side benefits of that — cost savings, quality of life, appealing to new demographics.

On the individual level, we are finding out increasingly that we have unwittingly turned our neighborhoods into ecological dead zones; The Long Island Conservancy, inspired at its inception by the work of Prof. Douglas Tallamy, maintains that we must all strive to build native habitats in our yards, and move away from lawns, if we want to have any local wildlife left. Find room for local nature in your yard. Much depends on it.

The Crouches well understood that without native plants, there wouldn’t be any pollinators, and without them, whole species would vanish. What if the many gated communities on Long Island could be transformed from ecological deserts they are at present into oases for local habitat, for songbirds, for species now on the brink?

So much effort is expended as we try and keep alive plants from other continents and climates. Natives do not need extra water, or fertilizers, or pesticides. They thrive instead. The Crouch’s yard is a textbook example of what happens when you go native — it comes roaring back.

This is the bioswale of native wildflowers we first planted in June 21st, 2020:

Bioswale, Late October 2022
Bioswale, December 2022

It is I am sure jarring to see a yard go from full flower to brown stalks in two months, but this is indeed nature. Instead, we seek things that stay green year round, somehow thwarting nature. People still water, fertilize, and seed their lawns in November. Not coincidentally, there are lawn care products for that now.

Nature is at it’s most beautiful when we just let it be. Let the leaves fall where they will. Our natives thrive in our sandy nutrient poor soil. Why do we work so hard to get something from elsewhere to take?

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