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Grow wild: Bringing bush yards into backyards

Here’s a provocative statement to launch a blog post:  ‘Lawns are nature purged of sex and death. No wonder Americans like them so much,’ wrote Michael Pollan in Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education. Liking might be an understatement.

While this post references a US project, it can easily translate into an Australian setting.  Lawns are just as prevalent here as they are there. One month into Spring and lawns are being top dressed across the country with millions of dollars being sunk into greening the front yards of millions of housing blocks.  And the synthetic fertilisers will add to the ecological burden the waterways will have to bear over the coming years. 

Imagine for a minute, being another species, an insect, a bird, a lizard, it would be hard yakka to find much to eat in a lawnscape.  Regardless of the hard yards put into searching around, the result would be miniscule compared with the relative ease of finding a multitude of morsels to eat in a native wild yard.  So why do treat our companion native species with such contempt by offering them a landscape devoid of a nourishing ecosystem within our patch of ‘country’. 

If ever there was a need for the Wild Yards Project to be adopted by us Aussies it’s now.  Georgina Reid, in: Wild Yards Project: Wilderness Begins at Home (Planthunter, 16.09.2021) writes that: 

According to David Newsom, founder of Wild Yards Project, there are around 40 million acres of lawn in the USA. Pair this number with another – research from World Wildlife Fund suggesting that around 10,000 plant and animal species go extinct each year – and all of a sudden, David has a grand vision. He will encourage, inspire and support the transformation of petrochemically fuelled, ecologically depleted front lawns into vibrant and wild biodiversity hotspots. ‘I really see myself as a cheerleader, an evangelist for creating biodiverse and compassionate spaces, wherever you live.’

Wild Yards Project is an online platform dedicated to inspiring, educating and supporting people to re-wild their gardens. The seed was sown when David and his partner had their first child. ‘I began gardening because I was mortified by the thought my daughter would never see a butterfly.

And later …

David has big plans for Wild Yards Project – including an app that will connect yards and gardeners across the world: ‘Wherever you are, if you want to start creating native-based habitat, you can find someone nearby who’s done it.’ But as all gardeners can attest, change often doesn’t happen at the rate we might imagine it should. ‘Are progressive developers and council people dying to hear what we have to say? No, but there are tons of projects underway,’ David says. ‘The notion of what a garden is for is slowly transforming.’

Sometimes, the big problems of our time feel too heavy to lift. Sometimes, as individuals, we feel impotent, unable to enact the change our world urgently asks of us. But projects like Wild Yards, and similarly We are the Ark, led by Irish nature activist Mary Reynolds, remind us that the small things matter. ‘You know, 100 gardens a year are not going to address climate change, or offset in any calculable way the massive rates of extinction happening globally,’ says David, ‘but they’ll make a hell of a difference to thousands of species that are now inhabiting that site. When you have migratory birds coming through your site, when you’ve got a healthy lizard population, a diversity of bugs coming to your diversity of native flowers, you’ve done something. It’s not small, it might just seem small to you.’– 

Georgina Reid is a writer and designer, and the founding editor of The Planthunter. In addition to editing The Planthunter, Georgina contributes to a range of design and culture publications and speaks regularly about her work. Georgina’s first book, The Planthunter: Truth, Beauty, Chaos, and Plants was released in Australia by Thames and Hudson in 2018, and in the USA by Timber Press in 2019.  

Let Munibung Hill be an inspiration for our change of heart, our new way of thinking yard beauty,  our conversion landscape, our plant selection guide. The Munibung Hill website Flora Gallery contains a wide range of native plant species from which to choose.  Lake Macquarie Landcare has resources available, and local native plant and wildflower nurseries are good places to visit.  Time to start reimagining what beautiful looks like, time to get stuck into ripping up the lawn and giving nature the opportunity to grow wild – bring the bush yard in our backyard.  But don’t stop there. Do the front yard as well, so everyone can see that nature is more beautiful, more interesting and appealing, than any monoculture lawn could ever hope to be. Not to mention the bonus of less air and noise pollution from inefficient petrol lawn mowers. 

More at the Wild Yards Project    And more still at the We are the Ark site. Ark = Acts of Restorative Kindness.  And continuing on the theme is this story by Sirin Kale, in The Guardian, 6 August 2019: The rise of ‘ungardening’, How to turn a backyard into a wildlife haven.;    Practical methods at this stie: Turn lawn into an instant garden with sheet mulching;  More inspiration here: How to turn your yard into an ecological oasis;   Getting down to tintacks with this reference: What you can plant on nature strips in Australia (and how to do it), from Jane Canaway, ABC Everyday.