M I S S I O N - D R I V E N L A N D S C A P E S
Where It All Began. I spent most of my childhood playing in a woodland plot of land at the edge of our yards, where the lawnmowers stopped, in a tiny town in northwest Indiana. My friends and I would spend all day in the woods building forts, creating obstacle courses, clearing paths, constructing tree houses and exploring every inch of this little wilderness in our neighborhood. We were very fortunate to have little patches of wild land at the edges of our neighborhoods while we were young and bored.
Recognizing the Need for Change. Unfortunately, most of these woods didn't make it for the next generation to experience. As the years went on, the woods around our neighborhood shrank to make way for housing developments and during my last visit to my beloved woods I shuddered when I saw a subdivision of million dollar homes encroaching on our old tiny paradise. Luckily, my relatives still own a small parcel of it but this is all that is left of the original Oak Savanna that was once an expansive natural park-like combination of hardwood forest and tallgrass prairie that stretched from northeast Illinois, through northwest Indiana and into southwest Michigan. This mash-up of the eastern forests with the western prairie created a unique ecotone landscape around the southern shores of Lake Michigan.
Righting Our Wrongs. The virgin prairies, savannas, wetlands and forests are nearly all gone, we can’t manufacture new ones. We can preserve what is left and restore what’s been battered but protected nature preserves make up only a miniscule portion of a landscape dominated by development and agriculture. The brilliant entomologist, writer and garden ecology guru Douglas Tallamy suggests the answer lies in our own yards.The conversion of yards from sterile, resource-intensive ornamentation to functioning habitat of high-quality native plants, grasses, shrubs and trees is “Nature’s Best Hope” - the title of one of his recent books (the subtitle is “A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in your Yard”).
Landscapes with Purpose. I can relate to this grassroots call-to-ecological arms because I’ve been devoted to it ever since my wife and I reclaimed the yard of our first house in Chicago and converted it back to native prairie/savanna in 2004. Since then I have helped friends, relatives, neighbors, two elementary schools and one Buddhist temple convert their own patches of land to tiny but high-functioning ecosystems. Beginning in 2012 I became active in the volunteer ecological restoration movement, working with land trusts, land conservancies, park districts and forest preserves to restore preserved land to high-quality natural systems as close to their original ecosystems as possible. I learned a lot about the nuances of plant communities and their relationships to topography, hydrology, mycology, climate and the faunal community while doing back-breaking work for coffee and donuts! This is ecology, the interconnected web of the natural way of life on our planet.
Garden Ecology Approach. This “new approach to conservation” that “starts in your yard” is called garden ecology. The garden ecologist is different from a conventional landscaper or a traditional gardener in that this new approach is purpose-based and the purpose is to reconnect our own human habitats with the nature thread. Most yards are severed from the natural systems that they’re plopped down into because conventional gardening focuses solely on ornamentation rather than function and interconnectedness. The only thing that my own garden ecology approach has in common with conventional gardeners is that I also strive for beauty.
Local Roots. Earlier this year I began working for the brilliant native plant nursery, Hidden Savanna in Kalamazoo, Michigan. While cooped up for hours in a very non-climate controlled shed during the Spring, planting seedlings into pots I got to know owners Chad and Kristen very well. I learned more about horticulture, gardening, and ecology during those three months than I have in class semesters and volumes of books. Chad and Kristen got to know my work as an ecological gardener, restorationist and amateur naturalist as well. They encouraged me to turn my hobby into a business.
How I can help you. So here we are. I design, install and maintain native gardens. I also offer ecological restoration services such as invasive plant removal, site preparation and natural shoreline restoration. My aesthetics lean towards the orderly and somewhat formal but with the high-functionality of diverse plant selections. I consider all of the ecological factors and natural history of your yard but I’m also serious about curb appeal, sight lines, harmonious flow with architectural design and other elements of domestic ecology. This wide-angle lens is essential in order to create a beautiful garden that functions properly as a life-sustaining habitat and as independently as possible with little maintenance needed following establishment.