I recently learned that only 20 per cent of us react to the messages about global warming by actually doing something about it. A few “run out and buy a Prius” but some people respond to the doom and gloom messages by purchasing a gas guzzling SUV. It seems that we would rather go out in style and comfort, if we are going to go “out” anyway. So the thinking goes.
I have a better suggestion and it is as convenient as your backyard or condo balcony. Plant a garden or some containers on your balcony. Here is how and why:
1. Bring back the birds. Many butterflies, song birds, and raptors (not the basketball team, but hawks and the like) are in decline in Canada. I suggest that you put out some citrus fruit, cut in half to attract Baltimore orioles (no, they are not JUST a baseball team). Or mush up a banana into an old saucer and place it where butterflies can access it. As for the insectivore song birds, place nesting boxes in open spaces where they will access their new home, build nests, mate, lay eggs and have a family.
Raptors are a different matter as they prefer mice and (sadly) small birds as bait. The mice and field rats we can do without. As for the other birds that they enjoy, this is life in the wild. Jody Allair, biologist and science educator at Birds Studies Canada, tells me that the presence of raptors in your neighbourhood is a sign that there is a healthy rodent population. Nature has her own way of balancing these things out and if we have learned one thing, it is to not mess with her. Just ask the Australians whose land is overrun with rabbits because someone thought it would be a good idea to introduce them to this foreign land.
2. Soak up the rain. When excess rain runs off your property, it takes a lot of toxins with it. Storm water causes all kinds of problems for our municipalities. You can help by building a rain garden.
Dig a deep depression in your yard where rainwater drains or divert rainwater to an existing depression in your yard. Plant this area with ‘marginal’ plants that thrive in moist soil and tolerate periods of dryness come summer.
Some of these plants include water iris, marsh marigold, many native ferns, bergenia and cimicifuga. There is a series of excellent how-to videos on the subject at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_W5CF7qoex0&list=PLByURgHp4aTsnh2xkdVw7J28AQIYMIECF.
3. Grow trees. TD Bank group and Nature Conservancy Canada produced a study recently which determined that an acre of forest can provide up to $18,000 in important environmental services such as reducing floods, air pollution and sequestering carbon.
Trees can create habitat for song birds and other wild life.
Trees produce oxygen.
Trees sequester carbon and filter toxins out of rain water.
Trees are our friends.
While you may not have an acre to plant, just planting one tree makes a difference environmentally. And mentally, for us, as we tend to relax more when we are in their company. And it is much nicer to have a picnic under the cooling shade of a tree than on your driveway.
4. Leave it alone. Resist the temptation to sanitize your garden. Let leaves decay on the ground. Allow some firewood to rot and host beneficial insects to your yard. Build an insect hotel and a still-water garden to enhance the biodiversity in your neighbourhood. When you enhance the quality of the environment in your own yard, the whole community benefits.
Remember: rot and decay are your friends. When a tree dies, cut it down and leave some of it on the ground to rot. Beneficial insects, microbes and even small rodents will help it to make a contribution to tomorrow’s garden by breaking down the organic substance that it is made of to help generate new soil.
5. Convert your power. I hate leaf blowers. But I don’t hate them all equally. An 18-volt lithium ion rechargeable model is much easier on the nerves, the environment, our ears and neighbourly relations, than the screaming two-cycle blowers. Have you noticed how users of the gas-powered leaf blowers wear ear protection? What about the people within proximity? Just asking.
With recent advances in rechargeable battery technology, now is an appropriate time to make the switch. Look for rechargeable lawn mowers, hedge trimmers and even chain saws. Now this is what I call progress.
And finally, while I am talking about power equipment, could we reserve just one day a week for quiet? I would prefer Sunday, but I am not picky.
Just pick one.
And enjoy your own quiet.
Mark Cullen is lawn and garden expert for Home Hardware, member of the Order of Canada, author and broadcaster. Get his free monthly newsletter at markcullen.com. Look for his new bestseller, “The New Canadian Garden,” published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and Facebook.