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The Common Good: Nature's Home is Our Home

If there is a silver lining to our current shelter-in-place existence, it is the gift of time for reflection and appreciation for our home, friends, and family.  It’s also an opportunity to reconsider the concept of the common good.   We comply with the coronavirus directives because we care not only for ourselves, but also for our city, neighbors, elders, and children—a collective wellbeing.  What if we used this time at home to look around it and expand the common good to include the miraculous diversity of nature starting with plant and animal life in our own backyards?  It sounds simple but there are some old habits and beliefs in the way.
Differentiating Pests from Allies
The idea of the quick fix -- apply a chemical and get on with your day -- lingers as the central remedy for the home gardener seeking fast growth and low maintenance. We’re too busy bringing in the money to do more than survive while forgetting what truly surviving is. We kill insects in our gardens with a commercial spray, whose actions we do not truly understand, not considering that it will also kill our allies -- like the spider that naturally traps and eats the very insects we want to kill.  This and other intricate food webs can be tapped for our benefit and the health of the environment around our homes. Here’s a belief we need to reconsider: the myth of Count Dracula has caused us to fear rather than respect the reputation of bats. Bats, in fact, eat thousands of insects we consider to be pests. If you were to hang a bat house in your yard, they will do the mosquito control for you!  Another belief is that opossums are simply vermin to be killed or chased out of our yards. But they eat the ticks, the same ticks that transfer Lyme’s disease.  Opossums eat ticks by the thousands -- up to 4,000 per week, the National Wildlife Foundation reports, but we have been conditioned to fear and exterminate anything wild even if its’s part of the intricate web of nature. There is no refinement in this way of life.
Think Ecosystems with Just a Little Lawn
We must recalibrate our ideas of suburban, urban and rural beauty and residential landscaping to meet a measure of this reconnection to the natural world. Closely shorn “perfect” grass lawns require pesticides, herbicides, gallons of water, and workers to maintain it.  But we know better now. Thoughtfully, everyday, we now acknowledge and lend a hand in repopulating the world with a diversity of plants.  While grass strips can assist us moving through the landscape or allowing a few play areas, they provide a “cue to care”. They illustrate to our neighbors that we are managing our spaces, that the designed lawn paths and edges can also be planted with alternative grass varieties that do not need heavy care and less mowing. Alternatives to grass such as sedges, ground covers and native grasses that don’t require fertilization, pesticide use, or mowing, serve a healthy, natural community around us, supporting healthy pollinators, birds and mammals.
Reinforcing a healthy system also means providing sufficient water. Native plants have evolved to thrive with the natural rain cycle of your area, but sometimes they need help.  You can manage water run-off from your roofs, patios, walks and driveways by creating rain gardens instead of the burdening the overloaded civic storm water systems or creating seepage problems for your own or your neighbor’s foundations.  These eco-system solutions can be easily instituted simultaneously with the expansion of naturalized gardens.
Adaptation and Balance
In Menno Schilthuizen’s insightful book, Darwin Comes to Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution, he noted that the ubiquitous English Sparrow which thrives here in the US and is considered an invasive species, has become locally extinct in its native home, London, where it evolved. The problem is not enough insects. They were literally starved out. These scenarios are happening constantly all over the planet; nature is surviving and even thriving with us in our more urbanized and suburban areas. Many studies seem to indicate that more biological diversity exists in these settings than commercially, chemically supervised farms. Astonishing when you think about it, but also a hopeful note to think that what we have so systematically destroyed, we can not only protect the remnants of, but encourage a balanced support for increasing that observed diversity.
What’s Next – Make Your Home Nature’s Home
Across the nation, many of us are in shelter-in-place orders to do what naturally helps to slow the curve of a pandemic. Many feel “stuck” at home. But as we learned, there is opportunity. When we venture out into our little pieces of the world around our homes we can shift from the idea of having a chore we must complete, to seeing how much life is or is not there.
So seize the day. Start now to bring more life to your garden! Let’s all reconsider the meaning of the common good and make our homes, nature’s home too. Plant more native plants and trees.  And once you’ve done that, allow them to do their jobs with the least disturbance to the soil as possible. Let them act as a green mulch to cover the earth and support the biological growth of larger more diverse communities of fauna around their home and yours. Just consider them your new neighbors. Welcome them and get to know them, they are your friends and allies!

Edited by Sara Livingston