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Green Landscaping: Greenacres


Wild Ones Handbook


"I want us as a culture to depart from the old tradition of evaluating land according to what can be extracted as a commodity or abstracted from it as a social asset and turn instead to a new tradition of valuing land for the life it harbors." -

Sara Stein



How to Naturally Landscape Without Aggravating Neighbors And Village Officials
by Bret Rappaport, Attorney & Wild Ones President

There are five things the pioneering natural landscaper should do to minimize potential conflicts with his neighbors. They fall broadly into the categories of reasonableness and sensitivity to the feelings and concerns of others. The five guidelines can be remembered by the acronym BRASH (that is: that Nature's message and beauty are subtle, not BRASH).

Humans prefer a sense of order and purpose. A wild yard can conflict with that preference and, therefore, can cause discord amongst neighbors. A simple border can alleviate this problem, making both the natural landscaper and his neighbor happy.

Humans will accept something that looks like it is intended, while they will reject the very same thing if it looks unintended. That concept translates to the first rule on how to make your natural landscape acceptable to neighbors -- Put a border around it.

The border can be lawn, or a hedge or a fence. It can be a series of low native plants, or a stone or woodchip path. It really doesn't matter. The point is that by placing a border between your yard and where it meets the sidewalk or a neighbor's property, you have accomplished two things: First, it is clear that the yard is the product of intent and effort, not neglect; second, you solve the practical problems of large native plants flopping over into others' yards or obstructing drivers' and pedestrians' sight lines.

Remember that although you have a right to your coneflowers or prairie grasses, your neighbor has the right to clipped lawns, plastic geraniums, and cement lawn deer. Nothing repulses more than arrogance.

Don't be an arrogant natural landscaper. Don't be a self-righteous natural landscaper. Remember that you are a pioneer who is trying to win converts, not a martyr willing to go down in a flood of litigation and neighborhood disgust. Natural landscapers who consider themselves better than their neighbors serve only to undermine their own cause.

You have good reasons to naturally landscape your yard -- let others know that before you start. If you tell your neighbors why you're tearing up the lawn, or planting native plants, or constructing a water garden, chances are that they will accept it. There are two aspects of advertising: before and during.

Educating your neighbors and local officials before you begin your natural landscape project is essential. Telling them what you're doing and why you're doing it, increases understanding and reduces apprehension. If you have the conviction to do the right thing, then you should have the conviction to tell others why you're doing it.

Once planted, I suggest a sign. Signs tell neighbors, village officials, and passersby that your yard is intended to be the way it is, that your yard is a special place, deserving of recognition and admiration, not contempt. Wild Ones has a sign available to members. It can be purchased through your local chapter or mail-ordered from the address on page 3. Write to us to learn the current price plus mailing costs.

The journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step. So, too, does a successful natural landscape.

You will reduce expense, increase the effect of your learning curve, enjoy your efforts more, and engender less hostility from neighbors if you start in small steps. No one wants an entirely naturally landscaped yard, edge-to-edge, to spring up over night. That's not how Nature works, that's not how your yard should work.

Urban and suburban natural landscapers cannot recreate wilderness even if they wanted. Moreover, most of us landscape with a view toward wildlife and Nature because we recognize that we are a part of Nature not apart from Nature. We enjoy the birds and butterflies that will call our land home. Your landscape should be humanized.

This can be accomplished by running a woodchip or stone path through the yard, placing a bench to create a sitting area. Other human elements, like birdfeeders or birdbaths, are a good idea. I have even seen gazing globes used to create an interesting effect in the natural landscape. Sundials are a nice touch. I have a small windmill and old wagon wheel among my prairie plants.

Such artifacts serve three purposes. First, they show the outside world that this property is part of a plan -- an intended, designed and purposeful land use. Like the frame idea, people will accept that which they know is intentional as they will reject the same thing if it appears random. Second, such artifacts lend a sense of welcome to people. Natural landscapes are less threatening if they contain inviting human touches. These touches do not, however, detract from the natural landscape's purpose of providing habitat for native species, and working with, rather than against, Nature. Third, these human touches offer the landowner opportunities -- the opportunity to incorporate these artifacts in the overall landscape plan, and the opportunity to enjoy them once in place. It is pleasant indeed to sit on a bench from which one can watch the butterflies nectar on the Coneflower or the Goldfinch drink from the Cupplant.


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