Growing a Greener World in the Garden

A new TV show puts NWF's Certified Wildlife Habitat program in the spotlight; see how gardeners are going green and watch the episode

09-10-2010 // Edited by Kelly Senser

“A shining example of one couple’s determination to make a difference using natives” is how Growing a Greener World co-host Patti Moreno describes the home landscape of Dale and Pat Bulla. The Austin couple and their Certified Wildlife Habitat garden were featured in a recent episode of the public television series. (Note to viewers: They appear around the 11-minute mark.)

The Bullas’ habitat is home to roughly 200 species of native plants, and the pair regularly shares plants and seeds with schools and other groups working to create their own wildlife gardens. Forgoing use of pesticides and fertilizers and collecting rainwater are among the retired teachers' eco-friendly practices. They use the harvested water to fill birdbaths and help young plants get established.

“The big picture is trying to leave a lighter footprint,” says Dale. “Saving water, reducing chemicals and taking good care of the Earth—that’s who we are.”

Like the Bullas, more and more people around the country are gardening with sustainability in mind. Here are a few examples of green practices, described by gardeners in their own words:

Saved seeds from garden

Saving Seeds

Lisa Gustavson, Upstate New York

"One of the ways I’m growing a greener world is by saving seeds each year from our gardens. Our organic open-pollinated/heirloom vegetables produce many seeds that can be easily saved and planted the following season for a new harvest. The bonus? The seeds produced have adapted to our growing conditions over time, which means a more sustainable garden each year!

"Saving seeds is a wonderful way to save money (including on the packaging and shipping of seeds) and even a small harvest will yield enough seeds for plants to fill your garden and share with friends and neighbors. It’s not only vegetable seeds we save; we collect seeds from our annuals, herbs and wildflowers as well. (Perfect for donating to school and community gardens to help them begin growing a greener world, too!) Saving seeds isn’t difficult and it’s a fun way to teach children and adults alike about the joy of growing."


Kids growing sunflowers in the garden

Connecting Kids with Nature

Debi Huang, Los Angeles

"I’m growing a greener world by connecting my kids with nature every day. We especially enjoy exploring our own backyard, its wildlife and the natural treasures waiting to be discovered there. That’s why earlier this spring we planted our first vegetable garden.

"Even at 5 ½ and 2 years old, the kids are a big part of the gardening process. Together we’ve learned about planting, watering, growing and harvesting food from the earth. We’ve also realized a lot more, like how butterflies, bugs and birds benefit from our efforts. And though our veggie bounty was small, the kids saw only success. In fact, we loved our vegetable garden so much that we added flowers and a birdbath to our outdoor space this summer!"


Compost bin

Composting

Chris McLaughlin, Northern California

“I'm growing a greener world by utilizing what I consider to be the greenest practice ever: composting. This green practice literally makes more earth. It's sustainability at its finest for plants and the other living organisms on this planet—not to mention that it reduces the amount of waste that would otherwise end up in landfills or dumps. Kitchen waste, cardboard, paper and yard or grass clippings are all ideal compost ingredients. These organic materials make up two-thirds of the garbage Americans toss out each year. A whopping 75 percent of organic resources can be put right back into our yards and the earth.

“Composting also helps create a healthy environment for wildlife. Wildlife has been dealt a raw hand due to the degradation and loss of habitat. By amending your soil with compost, you’ll bring with it microorganisms and macroorganisms that support wild animals and plants. In addition, because composting reduces the need for chemical herbicides and pesticides, you’ll automatically be making your garden a more environmentally friendly place.”


Fall leaves

Making Use of Fallen Leaves

Carole Brown, Philadelphia

"Every year there is a very common sight in my neighborhood: tall paper bags stuffed with fallen leaves awaiting pick-up by the city waste department. And waste is exactly what this is: We truck away our yard waste after blowing it into piles with gas-powered blowers, a large source of noise pollution, and then we truck in compost to replace the nutrients we just sent away.

"Leaf litter is a vital ingredient in the wildlife garden. It is the bridge between the soil environment and the above-ground ecosystem. As the leaves break down, they provide the soil with nutrients and welcome organic matter. Many butterflies and other insects overwinter in the fallen leaves. When we throw away the leaves, we are destroying the next generation of butterflies in our gardens. Leaf litter is also home to many beneficial spiders that consume garden pests. In fact, the deeper the leaf litter is the more spiders make their home there. Don’t throw a good thing away."


Cloudless sulphur caterpillar on partridge pea

Reducing Turf Grass

Mary Keim, Central Florida

“My husband and I are both nature lovers. It seemed only natural to try to bring more species to our yard. A typical lawn, with a monoculture of turf grass, does not support many species. As Doug Tallamy explained in Bringing Nature Home, ‘Simpler in this sense is synonymous with impoverished.’ Most kinds of turf grass are water thirsty. As water becomes a more limited resource, we can’t afford to waste it watering our turf. Maintaining a grass monoculture requires polluting fertilizers and pesticides as well as air-polluting lawn mowers. Thus, planting for diversity involves reducing turf grass.

“We have planted mostly Florida native plants, with at least 50 native species on our 1/3-acre lot. We have chosen species that require watering only to get them established. If they die after that, it was not the right plant for that place. Our plants have ‘jobs’ to do beyond providing beauty: serving as butterfly caterpillar host plants (e.g., partridge pea for the cloudless sulphur, left), providing berries for birds (e.g., American beautyberry), attracting hummingbirds (e.g., firebush), or providing nectar for pollinators (e.g., spotted bee balm). We have removed invasive exotics and even some showy non-invasive ornamentals if they were not drawing diversity to the yard. We mow our remaining grass with an electric mower. Gardening for wildlife can be hard work. But that work is rewarded when a black-throated blue warbler shows up during an Audubon committee meeting at your house or a giant swallowtail emerges from the chrysalis on your Hercule’s club.”


About the Contributors

Carole Brown is a conservation biologist with a passion for teaching people to garden sustainably, conserve natural resources and create habitats for wildlife. Check out her website, Ecosystem Gardening, and watch for her book, Ecosystem Gardening, due out this November. Follow her on Twitter: @CB4wildlife.

Lisa Gustavson gardens in upstate New York. She is the author of Get in the Garden. Follow her on Twitter: @getinthegarden.

Debi Huang is a Los Angeles-based wife, mom and adventure guide for two young boys. Her blog at Go Explore Nature is all about getting kids and families outdoors and connected to nature. Follow her on Twitter: @GoExploreNature.

Mary Keim teaches biology at Seminole State College of Florida. Her hobbies include birding, butterflying, native plant gardening and nature photography. Check out her images on Flickr.

Chris McLaughlin is a garden writer and suburban farmer in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Composting (Alpha, 2010). Follow her on Twitter: @Suburban_Farmer.

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