Updated: Dec 10, 2022
By Mara Soloway, I Start Wondering Columnist
While I appreciate the annual celebration of Earth Day, I feel we should focus on the care and feeding of our planet much more often. Mother Earth has long put enormous effort into sustaining the environmental systems that sustain us. These days, those life-giving systems are suffering under dire stress.
If we want to be good children to Mother Earth (and leave a healthy planet for our children and grandchildren), we should give her the gifts of our ecological and sustainable actions every day. Women have long taken the lead to nurture themselves and our families through gardening. With an eco-friendly way of operating, we can provide nourishment back to Mother Earth and provide food and shelter for other living creatures.
My garden is my homage
Garden of Wonder
My garden is my homage to Mother Earth. I’ve turned the perimeter of my extensive corner-lot backyard from a monoculture lawn that requires extensive watering and feeding to survive into garden spaces friendly to pollinators, birds, and wildlife. Here I do no harm to my ecosystem and the larger web of life with pesticides; the front yard is also chemical-free. When I poison insects, I poison lizards and small birds. When I poison them, I poison hawks and other wildlife.
But I don’t let garden pests run rampant – I squish scale and aphids with my garden gloves. No pesky pest will suck the life out of my Black-Eyed Susans, Clasping Coneflower, Coreopsis, and other perennial wildflowers! I cheer on the ladybugs and dragonflies, the lizards and the birds, and any other pest-eating critter I see. I wish them bon appetit and, just as Marie Kondo tells us when giving away household goods, I thank them for their service.
Spurred by trial and error, I now host drought-tolerant natives suited to my coastal Texas climate in USDA planting zone 9. I adore my plants for their beauty and their utilitarian aspects. All types of pollinators love the wildflowers. The milkweed is the host plant for the Monarch butterfly, passionflower for the Gulf Coast Fritillary, and dill for Swallowtails. Hummingbirds can fuel up for their migrations north and south on the tubular flowers of the Firespike and Hamelia; resident birds find shelter and berries in various other shrubs and in trees.
If you have a plot of land–or even just an apartment balcony–you can help Mother Earth and find beauty in growing something green. So many resources exist that can help you to start exploring what plants are best suited for your climate and USDA zone. One thing will lead to another in your journey – your plants will grow and so will your earth-friendly sensibilities.
Women Who Grow and Nurture
Here are two ecologically minded women that might inspire you as they do me:
The Humane Gardener (@humanegardener) and wrote a book with the same name. She is all about building a backyard habitat for wildlife. In one of her recent Instagram posts, she talks about how excited she was to have a bunny eating one of her Black-Eyed Susans and what a gift it is to give sustenance to a wild creature! Not everyone appreciates an animal “destroying” a favorite plant.
You might know Margaret Roach’s work
the leading garden writer worked for many years at Martha Stewart Living and now is the garden columnist for the New York Times. Her book A Way to Garden shows her incredible flair for putting beautiful plantings together with advice on what tasks to do each season. Follow her on Instagram at @awaytogarden and check out her sage advice on her website and podcast.
Make Your (Flower) Bed
Based on my experiences, here are my top eight tips to grow a nature-friendly garden of any size in any zone.
1. Begin by Researching
Make lists and decisions about what plants work in your zone and in the space you have. Check your local agriculture extension office, Facebook groups – anything plant-related.
2. Stick to Native Vegetation
Stick to native trees, shrubs, and flowers that are drought tolerant and perennial for best longevity. Standard ubiquitous landscaping plants are sometimes invasive species that are used because they grow quickly. Many provide no sustenance.
3. Bird Feeders and Birdbaths
If you find bird feeders too messy, have a few birdbaths. Keep them clean and filled. Provide water in bowls at different levels on the ground for other creatures.
4. Pledge to Go Pesticide-free
This includes using weed-and-feed products because some birds forage in the grass; research organic ways to keep the grass healthy. Don’t subscribe to chemical lawn care services. Learn to love or at least like garden-friendly bugs and insects; squish the pesky one with your gloved hand.
5. Bee Houses
Provide homes for bees by purchasing bee houses. Leave stalks of plants that die in the winter for carpenters and other solitary bees to drill holes and nest in.
Plant host plants for the caterpillars of butterflies and moths that travel through or live in your area. Milkweed is well known as the host plant for Monarchs; discover what other Lepidoptera would like to eat.
7. Be a Snob
Be a snob about where you buy your plants – look for local shops that sell pesticide-free plants grown in your state. Avoid plants sold at big box hardware stores.
Set a lawn chair in the middle of your lawn or on your balcony and enjoy the sights, sounds, and scents of your biological haven.
I can’t wait for the day when homeowner associations like the one where I live – stodgy organizations with no sense of ecology that encourage us to spread pesticides and pre-emergents – see the beauty and the ecological sense of turning lawns into pollinator, bird, and wildlife havens. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to stop and smell the literal and figurative roses as you chat with the gardener? She would likely give you a bouquet and some berries to take with you. I think our Mother would be very happy with this scenario!
What actions do you take to help Mother Earth? What green social media accounts do you like? Let us know in the comments below.