Opportunities wasted and opportunities seized

By Betty Struckhoff

Fall scene with Hickory, Red Maple, Paw Paw and Serviceberry

Fall colors

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.

Blooming golden ragwort and palm sedge in background

Golden Ragwort and Palm Sedge in spring

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.

Pagoda Dogwood with heavy snow

Pagoda Dogwood in snow

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.

Little Bluestem, Butterfly Milkweed in bloom, Goldenrod in bud

Little Bluestem and Butterfly Milkweed

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.”

Joe Pye weed in late summer with seedheads backlit by sun

Joe Pye Weed seed heads

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.

8 thoughts on “Opportunities wasted and opportunities seized

  1. Your article speaks to my heart and gives me renewed energy to continue making changes every year. Thank you.

  2. Congratulations, Betty! Achieving the Platinum Level is fantastic! We are working toward that as well, tackling the rest of the English Ivy and Euonymous. You, Fran Glass and Bill Hoss are an inspiration to us all.

  3. My problem is that I tend not to always agree with the priorities set by others. I have a monitor on my truck that can reduce my insurance if I drive following the priorities of the insurance company, but I only get part of the savings I could as I don’t agree with their “one size fits all” approach. The same with my garden. I have some English ivy that I brought from a previous home. It is a very old fashion variety and is not particularly invasive. I like spring beauties and only have a few that come up in my yard. I have a couple of clumps of Asian bamboo which I control by eating the shoots. While I have probably well over 50 native plants in my yard – including my own “prairie” – I prefer my own criteria for any additions.

  4. I am also dismayed when I see grass mowing on our highways. Lady Bird Johnson had it right, so why is it that so many states waste gasoline and people’s salaries and equipment upkeep on mown grass highway right of ways. Those are truly wasted opportunities.

  5. Thank you so much for your post. I think it’s so important that we teach our children these concepts from a young age. I’m going to plant my butterfly milkweed seeds next to my little bluestem. So pretty!

    • There’s also some Showy Goldenrod in front of the Milkweed, so we have nectar for the fall — and another season of interest!

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