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Right at Home: Go Native!

Updated: May 19, 2022

By Victoria Rolfe / Red Hook, N.Y.

Victoria enjoys shopping at a nursery that specializes in plants native to her area.
Victoria enjoys shopping at a nursery that specializes in plants native to her area

Spring is in the air, and our thoughts are turning outward, most notably to our own yards. I have mentioned a few times in this space that we can change the trajectory of the world one backyard at a time, and now comes a great opportunity for you to do just that.

The garden centers are starting to fill up with spring inventory, and we are itching to get out there and beautify our yards but I would like you to take a few moments before you rush there and stop to give it a little thought first.

We tend to view our landscape as an extension of our home, and thus want to decorate it. But when it comes to the great outdoors, our own property is much more than just a pretty place to look out upon or sit and relax in. In the grand scheme of things, it is NATURE. Here’s a staggering statistic: 86.6% of land east of the Mississippi is privately owned. So, when it comes to preserving nature, we cannot look to “them” to do it. It is up to US!

As this country became developed and neighborhoods and suburbs sprung up throughout the land, the urge to tame nature into pretty little scenes took hold, and the landscaping industry was born. The typical suburban home was nestled into some bushes and a few trees were scattered in the yard, with maybe a flower bed or two. And, as with many industries, competitive pricing and mass production took over.

 Typical American home landscaping
Typical American home landscaping

And because we are “decorating” our yards, beauty became paramount. Landscapers went far and wide to find beautiful plant specimens that they imported from all over the world. And horticulturists began playing with species to come up with more and more colors and bigger and prettier blooms.

The problem with all this is no one was taking into consideration the impact this was having on nature itself. So now, fast forward to the 21st century and what do you see? Millions of suburban houses throughout the land with almost identical landscaping. And big-box-store garden departments selling the same 20 or 30 species of backyard plants from sea to shining sea.

Oh, we see variety too, but mostly it is from all those hybrid cultivars that the breeders have been churning out to produce ever bigger double flowers, or grow to a certain size, or that don’t make a mess in the landscape, or are resistant to certain bugs or diseases.

Now you might be wondering what is wrong with that. So what? At least they’re plants, right? Well, unfortunately for nature, wrong! Nature has evolved a very delicate balance through the millennia and relies on plants that have been around for the ages. Most wildlife depends on specific plants to survive, and those imported exotics might as well be plastic as far as they are concerned.

The monarch butterfly survives solely on the milkweed plant (asclepias) for its food source
The monarch butterfly survives solely on the milkweed plant (asclepias) for its food source

And you might not care about the bugs who can’t get a bite to eat around here, but if you care about yourself (and the rest of humankind), you should. We are a part of that delicate balance too, and the more insects and caterpillars we lose for good, the closer we get to losing our own food supply that depends on this equilibrium to grow.

Noted University of Deleware entomologist Doug Tallamy has shown that one native live oak tree supports over 500 species of caterpillars, while an imported gingko tree hosts only five. And native plants not only host the nature that we are so reliant on, they help save the planet in so many other ways. A plant adapted to this area will be perfectly suited to the water supply that naturally occurs here, saving precious water by requiring many fewer (if any) supplemental waterings.

They will also be perfectly suited to the soil content in our area and thus require fewer artificial fertilizer supplements, which can leach into our ground water and be another source of pollution). And the pests that bother them will also have natural predators living here, thus requiring few if any pesticides to keep them looking good.

A majestic oak nurtures a plethora of native fauna
A majestic oak nurtures a plethora of native fauna

All plants (especially those big trees in our yard) will capture the carbon that we are continually spewing into the air that leads to climate change, but a native tree will do so much more for us.

So, it’s time that we stop thinking only of beauty and our own enjoyment of the plants that we choose for our yards but give thought to how we can contribute to our natural world and do our part for the planet as well. Since, at least in this neck of the woods, most of the planet IS our backyards, it is truly up to us.

A riot of native rudbeckia, phlox and daylilies feed the pollinators while beautifying the authors garden
A riot of native rudbeckia, phlox and daylilies feed the pollinators while beautifying the author's garden

I ask you to think about this as you head out to the garden centers this spring. Look around for purchases that might help our tiny native friends, such as bird houses, bee boxes, bird baths and butterfly puddlers. And when it comes to your plant purchases, look at the plant labels and talk to the nursery men and women, and whenever you can, choose native!

I thank you for your consideration, and your Mother Earth will thank you too!

This bee is so happy to find a native clethra (summer sweet) bush to chow down on
This bee is so happy to find a native clethra (summer sweet) bush to chow down on

A long, long time ago, after the birth of her third child, Victoria made the life-changing decision to leave the work world behind and devote herself to being a full-time mom and homemaker. Along with her new title of Domestic Engineer, she took on the role of the Chief Home Economist for the family.

At first, it was scary to try to live on less than half their income, but Victoria found that she not only rose to the challenge but thrived in the enjoyment of learning to live their best life with limited resources. She embraced this new frugal lifestyle of the at-home-mom and went on to add a fourth child to the mix. And their family was complete.

Along the way she acquired a great deal of wisdom in how to not only avoid debt, but pay off mortgages early, buy cars for cash, travel on a shoe-string budget, and send kids to college with no student loans, all while also saving a tidy nest egg for retirement. She currently educates others in these skills through her business Bright Future.

Now living the life of a modern homesteader in the Hudson Valley, New York, Victoria has added gardening to her list of skill sets as she grows many of her own vegetables to supplement her family’s primarily vegan diet. And she has come to realize that this waste-not, want-not, carbon-friendly, sustainable life she is living is not only benefiting her own family but also our Mother Earth, and that each of us has the obligation to live a responsibly sustainable life not only for ourselves, but for the greater good of our community, and our planet. We can all do this one household and backyard at a time. We are the world! And it all begins right at home.

Victoria can be reached at

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