Suburbia was created to provide space, perhaps for families or those who don’t click with city life, regardless it provides open air and an opportunity to create an oasis for yourself. In principle this is beautiful; having the option to create a garden where nature can flourish is something to take advantage of. Yet is it apparent that while the option exists in the suburban context there are few who take full advantage of the opportunity. As such we must ask ourselves: "Why have we undervalued the opportunity to harmonize with the environment that provides for us?" and "What does flourishing mean in the context of suburban landscapes?"
To begin with one must consider: Why are suburban landscapes not flourishing? In answer to the question, suburban gardens are not flourishing because we have traded biodiversity for chemistry and cultural aesthetics. Simply put, we have created great imbalances in our backyards as a price for conformity. The predominant, yet antiquated, philosophy of design no longer exemplifies a concern for a flourishing environment and has demoted our connection to the land. Today even our relationship with our lawns has stagnated to complacency. They have become status symbols married to uninformed expectations of how they should look and this is a marriage that needs to be dissolved. We have limited the food sources of insects by developing bug resistant plants and using alien species that do not synergize with the local populations. Even when we look at lawn maintenance, the common standard for how it looks has forced us to use machinery like lawn mowers and blowers, and input excessive amounts of pesticides and fertilizers, not to mention excessive water usage. The average homeowner, unwittingly chooses to employ these methods which contribute to the decline of the prey/predator cycle and causes pollution, the result of this can be exemplified in algae blooms in ponds.
From an ecological perspective, to create a flourishing landscape is to create gardens that provide numerous services to the bioactivity of your property. These services can be identified as, but not limited to:
The Observation Of Local Predators And Prey: As you plant a more diverse backyard you will bolster the diversity of species on your property. In doing so you create a loop, as more diverse animal and insect species are attracted to your landscape they will provide benefits for the local flora which in turn will attract more beneficial species and so on and so forth.
Studying The Growth Cycles Of Insects: While most fauna like birds, deer, and squirrels participate heavily in supporting a biodiverse, flourishing environment it is the insects that will provide the most tangible benefits.
The Measuring Of Soil Quality: Gardeners can gain insight into the chemical balance of their gardens by testing the compounds found within. This information allows one to provide the necessary nutrients to your landscapes without needing to resort to unnatural options as is the status quo.
Of course there are other ways to determine how successful your garden is; however the aforementioned methods provide a diverse insight into what your plot may need to flourish.
Finally, what does a flourishing, suburban landscape look like? As discussed there are a number of metrics that one can employ to determine how successful and healthy the environment is. One of the easiest ways to establish this baseline is simply to look at how much of your space is simply pure lawn. From a design perspective the American dream of a white picket fence and a lawn for the kids has set suburbia back to the sixties where it has remained to this day. When designing or reshaping your plot remember this mantra regarding the lawn, “Less is more”. If you are to employ less lawn then what should rise in its place? A greater diversity in trees and shrubs will not only provide for a number species but also will improve soil quality and help to control runoff. Naturally the goal is to use native species, a flourishing garden is ripe with natives that synergize and support the natural cycle.
Water sources can also play a key role in improving biodiversity. While a commitment and an investment, standing pools with proper oxygenating plants will attract amphibious fauna that will help to remove pests that will harm both your garden and other species. This also provides clean water for other animals that may not have access to unpolluted sources. One can also provide intentional breeding habitats to appeal to the species that need support. For example bee and insect hotels will take up minimal room on your property while providing exceeding benefits to the plants and trees.
All in all the backyard is a place of cycles of food and of life and death. Our approach for the last 80-100 years has been to provide space for the humans that live on the property. However this archaic way of thinking is what has contributed to the declining animal and plant populations in suburbia. While the more permanent solutions are out of our hands we can still participate as agents of change. Ask yourself now: Does my garden flourish naturally or have I created a manicured facsimile? If you come to the conclusion that your garden has room to grow, help it to do so.