Imagine opening your door to a yard filled with wildflowers and teeming with butterflies and songbirds. Imagine yard maintenance transformed from the joyless tasks of mowing and pruning into a simpler, more rewarding role of nurturing and curation. Imagine creating a landscape design that is not just ornamental beauty, but becomes a back yard nature preserve all your own.
If you think about it for a moment, you’ll realize we’ve been building ‘wrong’ for decades. We find a beautiful parcel in some location just right for a dream home. We pick a home plan or hire a designer. Then, to build the home, we tear open a scar in that beautiful parcel, build, and then cover the remains of the scar with lawn and landscape plants chosen for eye appeal. In doing so, we lose something precious: we’ve disturbed and altered the original biosphere, introduced plants that don’t belong, and created a desert island in the local food chain. In essence, we’ve destroyed the very thing that drew us to buy that beautiful parcel. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Geobarns has been building homes, utility buildings, and commercial venues for more than three decades, often in locations with strict conservation standards. Over the years, Geobarns has developed a robust process of ‘site stewardship’ to minimize the impact of construction and restore the natural landscape after completion. While the process is specific and unique to each of the clients’ building sites, the Site Stewardship principles can be applied anywhere.
Our foundational principle for conservation is simple: no matter what property any of us may own, we are all merely temporary caretakers. We must be good stewards of the land, to disturb it as little as possible, and to conserve and nourish it for future generations to enjoy as much as we do. – Casey Williams
Geobarns believes that the design of buildings and the experience of living within them is linked to the health of the land surrounding them. Our wellbeing is dependent upon nature, the resources it provides, the forms of life it supports and the food it generates. Therefore, landscaping isn’t something done afterwards; it becomes an essential design element as important as siting, drainage, floorplan, and finishes. And it isn’t just ‘landscaping,’ it’s restorative landscaping: repairing the impact of construction and restoring the original ecological web of species and relationships. This is essential to being a good steward of the land, whether a home owner, builder, or designer.
Here are eight principles from Geobarn’s Site Stewardship process you can implement yourself:
- Incorporate a diversity of native plants, which provide habitat and food sources for insects at the bottom of the food chain.
- Minimize lawn and diversify these areas with clover, thyme and other low-growing herbs and legumes, which minimize fertilizer demand and provide nectar for local pollinators.
Plant natural plant communities or guilds that are multifunctional and are naturally found growing together. These plants provide the benefits of natural fertilizing, repelling pests, attracting pollinators and other beneficial insects, creating mulch, and suppressing grass.
- Reduce use of pesticide, herbicide, soaps, driveway sealants and de-icing salts that are toxic to both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.
- Manage stormwater, minimize erosion, and enhance soil quality by adding compost, incorporating native plants, preventing compaction, and maintaining or establishing pathways and areas for infiltration.
- Conserve water by hydrozoning plantings and collecting rooftop water for nonpotable uses, such as irrigating gardens, livestock, recreation, etc.
- Limit use of exterior lighting and incorporate “Dark Sky Lighting” to protect the night skies from light pollution, shield glare, and avoid disruption to circadian rhythms and insect populations.
- Become an advocate for plant and insect conservation by helping to increase awareness and appreciation of insects and countering negative perceptions. This can also involve getting involved in local politics, supporting science and voting!
Too often, we think of human activity and wildlife habitats as forces in conflict. This doesn’t have to be true. Although human activity is negatively impacting our planet in many ways, we are a native species like any other. We can resolve the conflict.
The solution is to use our knowledge, science, and technology not simply to mitigate negative impacts, but to build a harmonious relationship between our human dwelling places and the natural environment where we build them. Your property and your home can be part of the solution while still providing the lifestyle you want. With forethought and planning, the natural environment and your home can flourish together.
Resources Geobarns recommends:
Nature’s Best Hope by Doug Tallamy, Professor and Chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware
Audubon Native Plants Database: www.audubon.org/native-plants
Backyard Parks: www.HomegrownNationalPark.org
Geobarns is based in White River Junction, Vermont. Learn more at Geobarns.com
Casey Williams is a Partner with Geobarns in charge of Site Stewardship and Conservation. Casey holds a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science and a Master’s degree in Urban and Environmental Planning, both from the University of Virginia. Her previous experience includes natural resource management, environmental education, community collaboration, and permaculture design. She lives with her husband and twin daughters in Charlottesville, VA and spends every moment she can outside studying and absorbing the beauty around her.