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A National Park in Your Own Yard?

By Amy Izzo-Olander

Maybe it was frustration from being locked in due to COVID or maybe it was the book I had just finished, but last spring I started ripping English ivy out of my wooded backyard. I had become determined to be part of the “Homegrown National Park” idea and determined to influence a few others to join in.

While I fully support national and international efforts at changing environmental policies in order to protect our planet, I’m often overwhelmed and feel small and helpless. That’s why the idea of the Homegrown National Park appeals to me. The idea, proposed by Douglas W. Tallamy, is simple- each of us can create refuges for birds, pollinators and a host of other wildlife by planting native plants in our yards instead of lawns. He states
that by doing this, “We create biological corridors that connect preserved habitat fragments with one another” so that migrating species can continuously find what they need. When enough of us do this, it may be as effective as preserving a national park size piece of land. I love the simplicity of this idea.

In his book, Nature’s Best Hope, Tallamy puts the responsibility of building refuges in our own hands. It’s estimated that in the U.S, twenty million acres of land is covered with lawns which are considered ecological dead zones because they do not provide the services that are needed for our ecosystem. Our yards need to help sustain our food web, taking energy from the sun and passing it on to other organisms- which are lacking
on manicured lawns. They must sequester carbon and manage the watershed- which native plants are more efficient at doing, in part because of their deep root systems. And our yards need to support a diverse amount of native pollinators. For example, research shows that oak trees support about 557 species of native caterpillars found in the mid-Atlantic region. Our lawns and non-native trees can’t do that!

So I pulled the ivy. And pulled more ivy. Then planted about 100 shade tolerant native plants, shrubs, and trees. Now I wait to see what my new plants will bring. Seedheads of Rudbeckia and bee balm are already supplying finches with a feast of seeds. Next spring, ephemerals will greet me early as they offer pollen to the first appearing insects. Flowers for every part of the season will help the pollinators, and host plants will be
there for the caterpillars. And I get to watch it all.

While I still work to support environmental policies, it’s satisfying knowing that my yard can help our wildlife. My next challenge is to convince my neighbors, and those who read this, to connect their yards to my “national park” so that we can build a “Homegrown National Park” here, on LI, right in our own yards. Autumn is a great time to plant, will you join me?

Getting started with your native garden
It’s easy to get started because there are so many wonderful resources available to us. Be sure to check that anything sold as “native” is actually native to LI. Try to stick to straight species, not cultivars, if possible. Autumn is a great time to plant.
The Long Island Native Plant Initiative has great information and plant sales.
Facebook group: LI Native Plant Gardening Group offers great info, support and links to native plant sales.

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