Healthy landscape, healthy heart

| by Lois Vitt Sale
Healthy landscape, healthy heart

As an architect, I often focus on elements in my environment that are building or system focused. But that perspective contradicts some of the moments in my daily life that I most treasure. I still think of the morning I was sitting on a bench outside my kitchen door enjoying a quiet cup of coffee before the day picked up speed, when all of a sudden a fox went whizzing by and disappeared down my driveway. Or the cold day when a coyote decided to warm himself on a patch of earth melted by the sun in a winter landscape.

I live in a mature suburban community about 25 miles west of Chicago. My home sits less than a quarter of a mile behind a major commercial artery populated with one and two story businesses with their requisite parking lots. Our community of 60,000 residents swells to twice its size daily from the influx of employees who keep our business sector robust. But our village, Downers Grove, is known for it's trees, and the streets of the community are tucked under a canopy of huge burr oaks, catalpas, maples and more.

So how do coyotes, fox, and a myriad of other furry and feathered friends fit into a community like ours? This is an issue we have taken up in a community commission I sit on in our village government. And opinions about the interface between wildlife and mankind range from shoot those appearing to pose a risk or a nuisance to people or their pets to a more laissez faire approach. I can report happily that no one in our village has underwritten a campaign to eradicate the coyotes. We have adopted a policy of educate, monitor and report.

But this issue comes back to my own yard. I am having a master plan for my several perennial gardens drawn up at the moment. We've lived here for nearly twenty years and my yard has evolved over those years as much as the house has. When my kids were little, the backyard sported a swing set and a playhouse. As they've grown and their play yard has been exchanged for football fields and nearby parks; and, we've been converting the yard to a series of perennial gardens and a rain garden (new this summer to help absorb the surcharge of rain from the downspouts off the back of our house.)

But I'm a total amateur gardener. I remember the year a local group asked to put my house on the garden walk because of the new green roof on my attached garage. I worked furiously to establish the gardens in the backyard that had been obliterated from the previous season's second story construction. Sympathetic tourists on the garden walk shared their view of new gardens with the three-year mantra, "sleep, creep, leap." It's been seven years since the garden walk and I've found a new category to add to their mantra — knee deep. Maybe better yet, over my head! Like so many other sustainable practice areas, it's very easy to put the technologies into place but it's far more challenging to manage those systems well. Beyond weed and deadhead, how do you keep a garden healthy and beautiful? How do you make sure your capitalizing on those rain barrels and composters?

Those are questions I'm seeking to answer, and for the moment, I'm saying "Uncle" and bringing in the pros to help manage my gardens. But in that process, I'm going to add the following design criteria: maximize the opportunities to enjoy the wildlife from inside my house. I want to see hummingbirds on Menarda (Bee Balm) right outside my kitchen window. Finches, bluebirds and butterflies are welcome because the moments when I see those creatures inspire the rest of my day.


Topics: Landscaping


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