By Betty Struckhoff
I’m not a native plant purist, but one thought often enters my head when I see a vast expanse of mown grass while driving on a highway: What a wasted opportunity!
My yard has grass, but only enough to give a sense of order and to preserve a hill for occasional sledding. The rest is a continual work in progress, initially inspired by the woods I grew up around and later by things I learned from Wild Ones members and others.
So when St. Louis Audubon created its Bring Conservation Home program, I jumped on board as a volunteer habitat adviser. It’s fun seeing other people’s yards and introducing them to the delights of native landscapes. Still, I resisted having a consult done on my own yard (free to advisers). It’s my space after all; I have my ideas of what I want to do, my own priorities, and plenty of other resources to call on.
That changed when I participated in the consult for another adviser. It turned into a long, meaningful conversation about what we are trying to accomplish and how best to get there. I wanted another such experience, so I offered my yard as the subject.
We surveyed; we talked; it was good. When the report came to me, I read it and put it aside.
But then, gradually, my mind saw the opportunities! The area with invasive English Ivy and Euonymous could host Ninebark shrubs and a Carolina Buckthorn that would attract birds and help screen an unsightly view. A Screech Owl box might bring closer the eerie hoots we occasionally hear at bedtime. Moving my bird bubbler and adding a native shrub might make it more popular.
So, over the course of almost two years, I made most of the changes suggested in the BCH report and achieved Platinum status. One of my favorite outcomes — a neighbor enjoying my back porch noticed a melodic birdsong and said, “I don’t think we have that bird on our side of the street.”
I still have my mom’s Purple Iris and the Boxwood at the foundation of the house. An Azalea will stay at my front door as long as it thrives with no special care. And I am slow to replace the non-native Pachysandra with something more interesting. But my yard grows more vibrant every year as I add more native plants and they mature.
I encourage everyone in the St. Louis area to consider having a Bring Conservation Home consult. Who knows what opportunities you will discover.