Richard Louv

Recipient of the Audubon Medal

Author of the International Bestseller Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder

© 2016 Richard Louv

Original website by Juxtaprose | Developed by Hop Studios | author photo by Eric B. Dynowski

From the Blog

How to Create a Neighborhood Butterfly Zone, and a Homegrown National Park

Every December, my wife, Kathy, delivers small gifts to the neighbors on our block, usually a jar of home made jam or a little vase of dried flowers, or something like that.

Now she’s come up with an idea for a different kind of gift. She announced it as we were working on our yard. “This year,” she said, “I could give seeds or little starts of butterfly-attracting plants, suggest they plant them, and then our neighborhood could become a butterfly zone!” That’s a terrific idea, I thought. And, as I discovered later, it would be one way to build what Doug Tallamy suggests: a “Homegrown National Park.”

Our goal was to revive our struggling yard by planting part of it with species native to the San Diego bioregion, and support native birds, butterflies and bees (especially the California species; honeybees are, in fact, not native) and other insects essential to pollination and migration routes. These, in turn, nurture and grow wild populations of animals and plants. Tallamy, chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware and author of “Bringing Nature Home,” makes the case that everyday gardeners are the key to reviving urban biodiversity - maybe global biodiversity.

As I quoted him in “The Nature Principle,” Tallamy argues convincingly that it “is now in the power of individual gardeners to do something that we all dream of doing: to ‘make a difference.’ In this case, the ‘difference’ will be to the future of biodiversity, to the native plants and animals of North America and the ecosystems that sustain them.” He’s not only referring to our gardens, but to your yards—a massive replacement of traditional lawns with attractive and productive native species. But where to start? What plants to plant?

He’s not only referring to our gardens, but to your yards — a massive replacement of traditional lawns with attractive and productive native species. But where to start? What plants to plant?For guidance, I searched the free-range contents of my office for Tallamy’s book, and of course couldn’t find it. Researching native species on the Internet, I quickly became frustrated. So I wrote Doug this email plea: “If you were to pick three to five native Southern California plants that would nurture more critters and insects in a backyard in San Diego, what would they be?”

“You would think that would be an easy question,” he answered. But it’s not. He knows the answer for the mid-Atlantic states because he and an assistant spent two years creating a data base, but then his research money dried up. Someone should remedy that. If we’re going to get serious about applying the Nature Principle to our yards, then someone needs create a national (no, make that international) database, so that anyone can plug in their ZIP code and find out about the best native species, and how to plant and nurture them. Maybe conservation groups and native plant nurseries - and there seem to be more of them these days - could collectively foot the bill.

In any case, I kept plugging, and eventually found Las Pilitas Nursery, a native plants nursery about 30 miles from our home. Its Web site offered a list of the San Diego region’s native species and fulsome information on the ins and outs of planting and maintaining native species. So the information is out there, at least in places with good native plants nurseries. But if we want to build our continent’s biodiversity, that information should be readily available to everyone, and part of a larger campaign to create, say, a Homegrown National Park made up of tens of thousands of miles of back yards that would serve as a new kind of wildlife corridor. That’s what Tallamy would like to see happen.

“The single most effective thing we can do is build biological corridors that connect isolated habitat fragments,” Tallamy wrote in his email. “That will take the collective effort of all the landowners in between any two fragments. At the level of the individual, if each person manages his or her property as a living entity instead of an ornament, we would be there.”

The suburbs have more lawns, but the goal could be pursued in urban neighborhoods, too, through portions of community gardens and public parks, window boxes and rooftop gardens.

We wouldn’t have to wait for a massive revival of biodiversity to see some benefits. “People could connect with nature at home, every time they looked out their window or got the mail,” Tallamy wrote. “Each little connection with nature is restorative and rejuvenating, but it’s best if it happens a hundred times each day.” To illustrate the benefits his family receives, he attached a photo. “Here’s what my wife and I saw when we looked out at our garden fence yesterday.” In the photo of his lush property, wild turkeys perched on a backyard fence.

So Kathy and I headed off to the native plant nursery and came home with more plants than we could plant in a weekend. I should add here that I’ve never been all that attracted to gardening. But the act of creating a backyard wildlife habitat (as the National Wildlife Federation and Audubon have suggested for years) does capture my imagination, especially if our yard is part of a new nature movement that not only conserves but “creates” nature.

Maybe even the world’s first Homegrown National Park.


Richard Louv is the author of THE NATURE PRINCIPLE: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder and LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. He is Chairman Emeritus of The Children and Nature Network.

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I LOVE this idea! We have native nurseries in Central Florida. The idea of making my neighborhood a butterfly zone is so exiting. Thank you to you and your wife, and Happy Gardening! Great blog!
Becky Nickol

I’ve found is very interesting for the appreciative sensation. By the way this is really brilliant thinking for creating neighborhood. I like these ideas and appreciate Homegrown National Park. I think it’s naturally good solution in gardening. 😊

Hi Richard, me and my wife also love to plant and we often offer in December such gifts to our neighbours like described by you in your post. Keep up the good work!

Thanks for such ideas giveaway! It’s great tutorial!! 😉 I appreciate that ideas very useful for creating Neighborhood Butterfly Zone and a Homegrown National Park. Keep it up though! 😊

A great idea! This reminds so much of the growing Anastasia movement in Russia. People are encouraged to establish their own family domains where a supporting natural environment is planted. Basically every family has a lot of one hectare (100 m x 100 m). There are no fences, other than natural fences (bushes). These ecosystems are still connected with the neighbouring ones and the butterflies would naturally be able to fly freely as well.

Hi, Richard, Great post. I’ve been writing about that very thing on my blog for years now—to reconnect the habitat with itself and to STOP treating “our yards” as blank pieces of canvas. They are not.
They are small patches of a broader spectrum of landscape far older than we and it’s time we started to realize and honor that fact.
Good for you for bringing it to your readers’ attention! PS: You might try Texas sage or baja fairyduster for additional bees!

Most states have native plant societies. A quick search will find them. They are your best resource. They hold talks, plant sales, and often experienced gardeners are more than willing to give you all kinda of tips on getting started.
The CA Native Plant Society has many chapters which host native garden tours where one day in April dozens of homeowners open up their yards to give tours where anyone can learn about the ins and outs of gardening with native plants. In Santa Clara Co. it’s called the Going Native Garden Tour. Our State Governmnet has actually declared a week in April to be Native Plant Week. Go online and a little research will reveal more info than you’ll ever know what to do with.

What a wonderful and innovation idea it is to encourage people around our neighborhood to start a Butterfly Zone!! It would be really great to plants that attract butterflies and thus develop a “Homegrown National Park”!! I can just imagine that little children getting excited with the nature around them and getting used to protecting our environment in the bargain!! I think that this is an effective way of making our neighborhood of the need to turn back to nature!!

It is only effort like this that could preserve the memory of wild life of the world…the world otherwise is moving away from the natural life. In one article on migratory birds I read, “Over the years, the arrival pattern of migratory birds in India has constantly been on a decline which went unnoticed despite the cries of bird watchers all over the country, thus making the current situation reach a critical stage.”

This is a sad truth, and soon there will be no migratory birds

That’s a good idea - giving seeds as gifts! Sometimes people are just so busy to think of even planting something. But if you “plant” that idea in their minds by making it easy for them - they already have the seeds, they might think of gardening and who knows they might even enjoy it and become a hobby.

What a lovely idea! This is so original and is a great way of bringing a garden to life while doing your bit to keep things natural. I’m a big fan of birds and have always left food out so I can watch them from my conservatory but this will take things to a new level

That’s just so wonderful! Having those animals and butterflies around gives you a peaceful and serine felling.

This a a novel idea. My wife and I love butterflies.
Tess believes that butterflies are reincarnations of loved ones we have lost. Besides all that plants support all life, and anyone can make a differece by taking action.
Great Story,

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